I have had a viewer directed here by the blog Narrow Way Apologetics, a post about how Old Testament “Slaves” were employees. The argument is pretty simple; if you look at the context, “slaves” were obviously people who hired themselves out. They weren’t slaves so much as butlers and gardeners. Perhaps these “slaves” needed the money or perhaps they were working off a debt.
The argument goes so far as to quote Exodus 21:16 “He that stealeth a man and selleth him, or if he be found in his hand, he shall surely be put to death.”
For anyone wondering, this is advanced cherry-picking. Taking one sentence that commands against theft and framing it in a context that makes it look as if the Bible is against the ownership of people and slavery is a little more convoluted that the normal method of only picking nice passages. This argument hopes you won’t have a Bible to hand to check, or it hopes that you will agree that the Bible doesn’t support slavery; the argument must be right. So, as a quick note, here are some more passages. Where I deemed it relevant, I’ve added a little commentary (this is actually the comment I left under the post a year ago, so I’ve done no work at all here):
“However, you may purchase male or female slaves from among the foreigners who live among you. You may also purchase the children of such resident foreigners” — Leviticus 25: 44.
If you can buy a person from other people, that person is a SLAVE.
“If you buy a Hebrew slave, he is to serve for only six years. Set him free in the seventh year, and he will owe you nothing for his freedom. If he was single when he became your slave and then married afterward, only he will go free in the seventh year” — Exodus 21:2.
If you can dictate to them their freedom they are SLAVES. If the slaves marries while under your servitude the wife stays as your possession.
“But if he was married before he became a slave, then his wife will be freed with him. If his master gave him a wife while he was a slave, and they had sons or daughters, then the man will be free in the seventh year, but his wife and children will still belong to his master. But the slave may plainly declare, ‘I love my master, my wife, and my children. I would rather not go free.’ If he does this, his master must present him before God. Then his master must take him to the door and publicly pierce his ear with an awl. After that, the slave will belong to his master forever” — Exodus 21:3-6.
This does deserve a little more discussion, I admit. So, children can be born belonging to their father’s owner: SLAVES (it is definitely “property” and not “employee”. Imagine if you had a child and your boss could take that child from you and claim “I own that child”). After that you can, admittedly, volunteer to stay; look at what the freed slave has to say, do you think best two of three counts? Notice how a man can talk for his wife… but I digress. The translation does say SLAVE and MASTER and BELONG. This is undoubtedly the talk of owning people. SLAVES.
“When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she will not be freed at the end of six years as the men are. If she does not please the man who bought her, he may allow her to be bought back again.” — Exodus 21:7-8
Notice a general trend: a daughter can belong to her father to the extent to which she can be sold. Moral? The daughter must “please” the man who bought her. Notice ‘serve’ would have done. It’s not conclusively sex-slavery, but it’s interesting to see how the lexis always changes around women in the Bible. Remember: the women that have not known a man by lying with them… (Numbers 31:18). But I digress again… human being sold from one person to another: SLAVE.
“But he is not allowed to sell her to foreigners, since he is the one who broke the contract with her. And if the slave girl’s owner arranges for her to marry his son, he may no longer treat her as a slave girl, but he must treat her as his daughter. If he himself marries her and then takes another wife, he may not reduce her food or clothing or fail to sleep with her as his wife. If he fails in any of these three ways, she may leave as a free woman without making any payment.” — Exodus 21:9-11.
Even if you change the word “slave” her to “employee” it’s pretty sinister. It’s not demonstrably slavery, although it’s pretty close. Notice how, without breach of contract, freedom would normally come at a payment: SLAVE.
“When a man strikes his male or female slave with a rod so hard that the slave dies under his hand, he shall be punished. If, however, the slave survives for a day or two, he is not to be punished, since the slave is his own property” — Exodus 21:20-21.
They are his own property, he may beat them so long as they don’t die. SLAVES.
“Christians who are slaves should give their masters full respect so that the name of God and his teaching will not be shamed. If your master is a Christian, that is no excuse for being disrespectful. You should work all the harder because you are helping another believer by your efforts. Teach these truths, Timothy, and encourage everyone to obey them” — 1 Timothy 6:1-2.
Notice we’re into the New Testament now. SLAVE.
“Slaves, obey your earthly masters with deep respect and fear. Serve them sincerely as you would serve Christ” — Ephesians 6:5.
It’s the fear element that makes the shift from maltreated employee to slavery: SLAVE
“The servant will be severely punished, for though he knew his duty, he refused to do it” — Luke 12:47-48.
God advocates the ownership of people under a financial contract, where the owned person has no say. God advocates that an owned person must serve the owner. God advocates the exchange of people as property. This is not employment, this is slavery.
I hope you have enjoyed this brief Biblical lesson.