Slavery and Evil

Is slavery always evil? If it is, why is it permitted in Scripture?

I’ve wondered the same question. On this particular matter, I am not knowledgeable enough to speak. What I can say, however, is that the first order of business is to define the word “slavery”.

Did you have a particular definition in mind that you would like to base the discussion off of?

Here’s an article on this subject from that should be of interest: “Does God condone slavery in the Bible?

Yes, slavery is evil. In scripture, God is a God who delivers us FROM slavery. In the OT, God delivered the Jews from literal slavery. In the NT, Christ delivered us from slavery to our sins. I cannot think of any scripture that promotes the use of slavery, quite the opposite.

“And do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna.” Mathew 10:28

  1. Some defend it by saying that it was not “slavery” as we understand it today. While there is certainly some merit and validity in that position, personally I still have some difficulty.

  2. Some would prefer to say that while it is correct to say that the Bible is a divine and blessed document and is in some respects without error, there is however “moral error” in the bible just like there is scientific error in the bible, and that the bible evolves and develops in its moral understanding and interpretation of Gods will just like people have evolved in their understanding of the physical universe. There is a moral arch of sorts in the development of the bible, until we get to Jesus, where there is to some extent a moral revolution. Accept for the ten commandments, we no-longer have to follow the old moral traditions because of Jesus. We no-longer go to the old testament for our moral values.

Some even go as far as to say that there is a development in the very concept of God throughout the bible; in the sense that our understanding of what God is evolved in to monotheism as we understand it today.

These, what you might call, liberal understandings of the nature of the Bible, are valuable in that they free us from much moral difficulty. But it creates a problem in terms of heresy. If these ideas are not compatible with the Catholic faith (i don’t know) we have to either reject them or reject the authority of the Pope to define theological truth.

What ever the answer is, it is my position that slavery is always wrong, and if the Church were to say that it were okay, i would no-longer be a Catholic.

Read these informative articles about indentured servitude in the Bible:

Christians and slavery:

Read these informative articles about indentured servitude in the Bible:

Christians and slavery:

You didn’t post any particular scripture to support your assertation, but I’ll answer with what I believe you’re talking about.

The Holy Bible doesn’t support slavery so much as it tells us how to behave in a proper manner if in that situation.

Slavery was very common at that time (as it still is) and it makes sense that a Christion convert could be a slave or even an owner of slaves.

First we would need to define slavery to consider whether it was evil. Slavery definitely contains the idea of ownership in the work of another human being. Most everyone thinks there is nothing evil about this. Parents are able to compel their children to work. Divorced wives can compel their husbands to work. The state can compel a parent to work. Most westerners believe they can compel health care workers to provide for them. So forced labor is pretty common and widely accepted.

Slavery generally contains the idea that you can buy and sell a slave which is merely transferring ownership in the slave. This tends to be viewed especially negatively. A parent can transfer ownership of their child, who they can compel to work. So even in modern America we have some notion of transferring the title of humans.

One aspect of some forms of slavery that was most objectionable was the literal owning of the life of the slave. In some forms of slavery, like the United States, you did not own the life of the slave but only a portion of their labor. Thus you could not kill your slave. In other forms, such as Roman, the master did own the life of the slave and could kill him at his pleasure.

I’d also note that the US Constitution only outlaws private slavery. It specifically allows slavery if the state is the master and the person has been found guilty of a crime. Of course when the state is the master we call it a prison gang and no one seems to be bothered by it.

In summary I think most of us have no problem with forced labor. But we do have a problem with slavery. The problems is more in the word than anything else.

The position of Scripture is that if you are a slave, be a good Christian and work for your master. If you are a master, be a good Christian and be kind and generous to your slave.

Ephesians 6:5 Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear, trembling, and sincerity, as when you obey the Messiah. 6 Do not do this only while you’re being watched in order to please them, but be like slaves of the Messiah, who are determined to obey God’s will. 7 Serve willingly, as if you were serving the Lord and not merely people, 8 because you know that everyone will receive a reward from the Lord for whatever good he has done, whether he is a slave or free. 9 Masters, treat your slaves the same way. Do not threaten them, for you know that both of you have the same Master in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him.

Here are Christ’s words according to St. Bridget of Sweden in Revelations. I wonder though how people during the time of Christianity understood slavery and that it was a sin to own slaves: they were supposed to free them.

Book 1: Chapter 129:**“The righteous person, whoever he or she may be, should also consider the material sustenance of the infidels converted to the faith so that they do not have to beg or be oppressed in slavery or be deprived of their corresponding rights. He should also take diligent care that such a convert should be continually instructed in the holy Catholic faith and in holy examples of virtue. It is indeed pleasing to me that pagan converts should see habits of holiness and hear words of charity. Many Christians come to the pagans undisciplined and in a state of moral disorder, boasting that they kill the pagans’ bodies and gain their temporal possessions. This pleases me about as much as those who sacrificed to the molten calf in the desert. Therefore, anyone who desires to please me by going to the pagans, let him first pluck out his eye of avarice and worldly fear. But he should keep his eye of compassion open along with his understanding so as to win their souls, desiring nothing but to die for God’s sake and to live for God.”

Book 7: Chapter 28 **Now, however, know that in the Neapolitan citizenry many different horrible and secret sins are being committed which I am not relating to you. But instead I am speaking to you now about two kinds of open sins that greatly displease my Son and me and all the heavenly court.
The first sin is the fact that in this said city many buy pagans and infidels to be their slaves and that some masters of those slaves do not bother to baptize them and do not want to convert them to the Christian faith. And even if some of them are baptized, their masters bother no more, after the slaves’ baptism, to have them instructed and trained in the Christian faith or to train them in the reception of the Church’s sacraments than they did before the slaves’ baptism and conversion. And so it results that the said convert slaves, after accepting the faith, commit many sins and do not know how to return to the sacraments of penance and communion or how to be restored in the state of salvation and of reconciliation with God and of grace.
Moreover, some keep their female servants and slaves in extreme abjection and ignominy, as if they were dogs - selling them and, what is worse, frequently exposing them in a brothel to earn money that is a disgrace and an abomination. Others, in fact, keep them in their own houses as prostitutes both for themselves and for others; and this is extremely abominable and hateful to God and to me and also to the whole heavenly court.
Some other masters so grieve and exasperate these said servants of theirs with abusive words and blows that some of the said servants come to a state of despair and want to kill themselves. Indeed these sins and acts of negligence much displease God and all the heavenly court.
For God himself loves them because he created them; and to save all, he came into the world, taking flesh from me, and endured suffering and death on the cross. Know too that if anyone buys such pagans and infidels with the intention of making them Christians and wants to instruct and train them in the Christian faith and virtues and intends, during his life or at his death, to set these slaves at liberty so that the said slaves may not pass to his heirs, such a master of slaves merits much by this and is acceptable in the sight of God. But know for very certain that those who do the contrary will be heavily punished by God.

Answer to the question, no - it is not always evil. This is the 13th amendment to the Constitution:

Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, **except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted,** shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
Section 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

If we forced prisoners to do labor, that would make them slaves. If they were convicted for being a serial killer without error or possibly mitigating circumstances such as severe abuse, they would be unworthy of life so enslaving them as punishment for their sins instead of imposing the death punishment would not be evil.

You say they would be unworthy of their lives, but that is a false inference. Rather they would prove unworthy of a particular kind of freedom because they intentionally put other peoples lives in danger, which is something different and has no relation to their intrinsic value as a living person. The captivity of criminals is a necessity and is not the same thing as slavery.

In antiquity, slavery existed for three reasons: debt slavery, prisoners for crime, and prisoners of war. We are familiar with the transatlantic slave trade between the West and Africa which was sustained mostly by kidnapping.

This form of slavery was punishable in the Old Testament by death.

“Anyone who kidnaps another and either sells him or still has him when he is caught must be put to death.” Exodus 21:16

Because it was so easy for antiquity’s slavery to be transformed to the transatlantic slave trade, it makes sense for us to overall ban slavery to prevent any sort of abusive potential.

They didn’t put other people’s lives in danger. They killed them. Justice says that they deserve to have done to themselves whatever they did to others.

Unless it is absolutely necessary to cause death, vengeance killings are never morally justifiable; I don’t care what the government says.

They are pretty much the same. A prisoner has limited freed. So does a slave. In most forms of slavery the slave did have some freedoms. A prisoner can be compelled to work. So can a slave. As I said earlier compelling people to work is actually very common in our society. What distinguishes modern systems from old slave systems is that the only master is the state. But the state can be the cruelest master. In fact the state is particularly keen to enslave people to fight in its wars. Of course in war the chance of death and disfigurement is great. Contrary to popular opinion most masters tried their best to protect the life of their slaves out of economic concern. The state has not tended to show such concern in the past. Going back to the comparison of prisoners, in America the state keeps its prisoner slaves in the most wretched conditions where a system of extreme violence prevails.

Showing likenesses does not mean they are the same thing. Slavery is based on the idea that there is an intrinsic underclass or subhuman culture that we have the right to enslave. Imprisonment for a crime is a just form of punishment enacted for the safety of the community, and has no reference to their nature, class, race, or culture.

According to your elasticated idea of slavery it could be defined as being just about any form of restriction including moral law and legality.

I am not saying that a state cannot turn into a slave state or be immoral, but I think you are making a straw-man of slavery in-order to make slavery appear moral.

Of course they are not the same. But they are similar on the key points. The relevant question is not is slavery good or bad. Almost all agree that slavery can be good. The question is how does one become a slave. You can become a slave through debt or losing war. You can also become a slave by being born into a democracy and being a male during wartime. Being born a slave or forced into it without cause might be immoral ways of becoming a slave.

No, I believe I defined slavery as forcing someone to provide work for you. The law where it simply restricts freedom is not slavery. The law where it compels you to work is slavery. This would include conscription.

No I’m not making a straw man. I’m trying to better define the word and explore the ideas. Most people condemn slavery while having no problem forcing people to go fight in wars where they might well die. Most people seem horrified at what men of old did to their fellow man in slavery while not flinching at the number of murders, masquerading as abortion, committed in our modern societies. If you define a fetus as non-human then you can justify killing it. If you define it as human then you, hopefully, cant justify killing it. The details about an issue are important.

@ everyone in this thread. Consider this blog post that criticizes Christian apologetic defense of slavery in the Bible. Also consider reading or skimming through the comment section. I used to participate on the comment threads of that blog (as a dissenter, being a Christian, and the majority population there being non-believers), but not longer do, and haven’t done so because of the hostile environment.

Part of the post:

"I’ve had enough. I am sick and tired of Christian intellectuals, from Paul Copan (my friend), to Victor Reppert and a lot lower down the totem pole to David Wood, in their attempts to say that the slavery in the American South was different than what the Bible allows, and so it should never have been used to justify it. If you want to see me hot tempered, then just raise this asinine argument. I try to get along here at DC by being respectful of Christian beliefs, but on this issue I cannot bend for one nanosecond.


ask why God did not condemn slavery in no uncertain terms, if he authored the Bible?..and say it often enough that no one could misunderstand, just like he purportedly did with murder and rape? He could have said, “Thou shalt not trade, buy, sell, or own slaves,” and said it as often as needed so that we’d understand. ’

At the time in which I commented on that blog post, I had not yet come back to the Church. Therefore, what I would have written (to address slavery in the Bible in relation to morality), as a Catholic, may have differed, perhaps even substantially, in some respects.

I acknowledge that slavery is a difficult topic. We simply cannot assert that slavery in the Bible wasn’t really slavery. We have demonstrate that. And yes there are nuances that can be sufficiently demonstrated – but that is namely with regards to Hebrew slaves. It is no simple task to address the biblical issue of Gentile (pagan) slaves owned by the Israelites, as it relates to morality of slavery.

Again an agreeable definition of slavery is crucial. Once, in an online discussion with someone,
I had been talking about slavery in principle, whereas the other person was alluding to specifically American Southen slavery (so we were not on the same page), and I told him that
“[my explanation was based on the] BASIC definition of slavery, which is the ownership of a human being. The definition says NOTHING about how they are physically treated and/or what a slave’s environmental conditions are.”