"Does the Bible support slavery?" That is the topic of today's post and the title of Chapter 30 of Natasha Crain's Keeping Your Kids on God's Side. When an apologetic book for Christian parents necessitates a chapter on defending, I mean, defining biblical slavery, you know there's a problem. Natasha asks:
"So what should parents do? We need to proactively address these passages with our kids before they encounter the twisted, out-of-context interpretations skeptics enthusiastically promote."
I just have to say, self-righteous statements like that are what keep me motivated.
In addressing the title of her chapter, Natasha states, "There’s actually not an easy answer to that question. It completely depends on what a person means when they say 'support'.” And skeptics are accused of offering the "twisted" interpretations? Let's look at the God quote above one more time. "...and they may be your property." I'd call that support, and to state otherwise would be a twisting of colossal proportions. Natasha begins her defense by categorizing the specific types of slavery in the Old Testament:
1) Indentured Servants (Male or Female): While Natasha concedes that this was not an ideal situation for the Hebrews, she points out that indentured servanthood among fellow Israelites was voluntary and concluded after six years time. Let's look at this a little more closely in Exodus 21:2-6 (ESV):
2 When you buy a Hebrew slave, he shall serve six years, and in the seventh he shall go out free, for nothing. 3 If he comes in single, he shall go out single; if he comes in married, then his wife shall go out with him. 4 If his master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall be her master's, and he shall go out alone. 5 But if the slave plainly says, ‘I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free,’ 6 then his master shall bring him to God, and he shall bring him to the door or the doorpost. And his master shall bore his ear through with an awl, and he shall be his slave forever.
So, here's the catch. Should the master give the male slave a wife during his servanthood, and they have children, the husband can leave after his six years, but the wife and children "shall be her master's." What if he loves his wife and his children? Oh, no problem. He can stay, too, and be the master's slave forever. It's totally voluntary. What a convenient setup for the master!
2) Servant Girls as Future Wives: Let's go ahead and look at the scripture in question. Exodus 21:7-11 states:
7 “When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she shall not go out as the male slaves do. 8 If she does not please her master, who has designated her for himself, then he shall let her be redeemed. He shall have no right to sell her to a foreign people, since he has broken faith with her. 9 If he designates her for his son, he shall deal with her as with a daughter. 10 If he takes another wife to himself, he shall not diminish her food, her clothing, or her marital rights. 11 And if he does not do these three things for her, she shall go out for nothing, without payment of money.
Natasha explains, "To understand what's going on here, we need some context." Umm, no, we really don't. What we have here is the typical misogynistic, patriarchal system that the Bible fully endorses. The Israelite daughter, whose only intrinsic value was a monetary one, could be sold as a slave. If she didn't "please" her master, she could be returned to her family. I need only to think of my two daughters to fully comprehend the depravity of this situation. Natasha summarizes the verses above by concluding that "there is nothing in this passage about a daughter being sold into perpetual chattel-like slavery (for sex or any other purpose). This passage speaks to an arranged marriage contract and the legal protection of the girl’s rights in such cases." The "girl's rights"? What rights? The right to be used in any way that was beneficial to the patriarch?
3) Foreigners: Okay, we're finally addressing the introductory quote at the top of the page, applying to foreign slaves. Natasha fully recognizes the quandary that such verses create for the Christian:
"Frankly, addressing the question of slavery would be much easier if this particular passage didn’t exist, but it would be disingenuous to ignore it. Foreign slaves could be held for life and passed down as a 'possession.' The law did state that they were not to be mistreated (Exodus 23:9; Leviticus 19:33-34) and, generally speaking, Israel’s slave laws were much more moderate than those of surrounding nations. However, the fact remains that God allowed the Israelites to permanently hold foreign slaves."
Of course, it would be easier if Yahweh had not outlined specific instructions regarding the treatment of foreign slaves, but that is the reality of the holy text that Christians uphold as divinely inspired. Natasha advises her Christian readers to remind skeptics that the same God who endorsed and set the standards for these different forms of slavery also created man in his image. She goes on to note that "God made no humans to be property. Any institution that treats humans as property is clearly not a reflection of God's ideal." I can only assume that the verse below is an accurate representation of God's ideal.
Exodus 21:20-21 (ESV) 20 “When a man strikes his slave, male or female, with a rod and the slave dies under his hand, he shall be avenged. 21 But if the slave survives a day or two, he is not to be avenged, for the slave is his money.
If God wanted to establish a more ideal situation, he certainly could have done so by creating more ideal standards of societal behavior. He set forth standards of fabric to be worn (Deuteronomy 22:11). He cared about how one was to cut his hair (Leviticus 19:27). He cared about the types of animals that could be eaten (Leviticus 11). Yet, the basic principle of human equality and rights seems to have slipped his mind.
As Natasha states, ignoring biblical slavery would certainly be disingenuous, but to state that God merely "tolerated it in certain forms" when he, in fact, provided the rules is hypocrisy at its worst. Christians, you're better than this. Your ideals far exceed the god you worship.