No, the Bible does NOT condone slavery, nor does it directly condemn it. The Bible did acknowledge slavery and gave instruction on how slaves should be treated.  In Deuteronomy 15:12-15 we read, “If your brother, a Hebrew man, or a Hebrew woman, is sold to you and serves you six years, then in the seventh year you shall let him go free from you. And when you send him away free from you, you shall not let him go away empty-handed; you shall supply him liberally from your flock, from your threshing floor, and from your winepress. From what the LORD your God has blessed you with, you shall give to him. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God redeemed you; therefore I command you this thing today” (NKJV). We can see from this passage that although God allowed slavery, He took care to make sure that slaves were treated well and He even provided for their freedom after they had served their master for six years. Hebrew masters were to ever remember that they were once “a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God redeemed you.” It is very instructive to read what follows in verses 16-17, “And if it happens that he says to you, ‘I will not go away from you,’ because he loves you and your house, since he prospers with you, then you shall take an awl and thrust it through his ear to the door, and he shall be your servant forever.” From this we learn that a slave that loved his master and was prospering with him could choose to give up his freedom and remain a slave for life. This may sound strange to us, because of our views of slavery in the past few hundred years. Slavery in the Bible was NOT based on race or skin color, but more on economics. If people couldn’t pay their debts and provide for their families they could sell themselves as slaves. To be fair, the Bible also speaks of slaves who were prisoners of war, but in most cases slavery was based solely on economic reasons.

This was certainly the case in the New Testament, and here too God regulated slavery among Christians by giving instructions to both the slave and their master. We see this in Ephesians 6:5-9, “Slaves, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ; not by way of eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. With good will render service, as to the Lord, and not to men, knowing that whatever good thing each one does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether slave or free. And masters, do the same things to them, and give up threatening, knowing that both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no partiality with Him.” Commentators have often pointed out from this passage that we can apply these same principles in the “employee-employer” relationship for an employee does SERVE his employer in much the same way that a slave served his master in Biblical times. And notice that Paul reminds Christian slaves that first and foremost they are “slaves of Christ.” No Christian would look upon this as a bad thing, for we willingly desire to be “bond-servants” to Christ. He “served us” by giving His life for us, and now we should gladly “serve Him” as our Master.

I alluded above to the fact that there were slaves in the Bible who were prisoners of war. They were treated poorly and were looked upon as mere possessions. That is the kind of slavery we are accustomed to thinking of, for in the last few centuries people have been taken by force and sold as slaves. I’m not just thinking of the inhumane treatment of black people, but also what we refer to as “human trafficking,” where people are kidnapped and sold into sex slavery or into slave labor. The Bible strictly condemns this kind of slavery, as we see in Exodus 21:16, “He who kidnaps a man, whether he sells him or he is found in his possession, shall surely be put to death.”

We may still ask the question, “Why didn’t Jesus or His apostles speak out against slavery?” In the book of Philemon we have a case where the apostle Paul actually sent a slave named Onesimus back to his master Philemon. Why didn’t he demand that Philemon set him free? Perhaps there is no pat answer to this question, but we have noticed that God made provisions to insure that slaves were treated fairly and with respect. And we must remember that the Lord Jesus and His disciples were not really concerned with reforming society through revolution, but with reforming souls through salvation. They knew that if a soul would repent of their sins and receive God’s salvation, it would change them from the inside out. It would change the way they think and act! History has proven that the abolishment of slavery is due, in large measure, to the change of heart that came about through the teachings of Christianity. So, if even though God didn’t condemn slavery in the Bible, He did provide salvation for sinful man that would eventually lead to slavery’s demise.  (191.5)  (DO)