How the Bible doesn't exactly condone slavery

Is the slavery in the Bible like the slavery we know from history? Not exactly. Is there much room for moral criticism given what the Bible says about slavery? There’s good reason to doubt that.

There’s some good stuff in that blog, but the rhetoric and spin is so heavy that it isn’t likely to help anyone actually struggling with that topic.

Here’s just one example. He looks at some verses in Exodus 21: “When a slave-owner strikes a male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies immediately, the owner shall be punished. But if the slave survives for a day or two, there is no punishment; for the slave is the owner’s property. … When a slave-owner strikes the eye of a male or female slave, destroying it, the owner shall let the slave go, a free person, to compensate for the eye. If the owner knocks out a tooth of a male or female slave, the slave shall be let go, a free person, to compensate for the tooth” (Exodus 21:20–21, 26–27).

This is his take on these verses:

To summarize: If an owner kills their slave, they’re punished. Makes sense. If the slave is dealt a significant injury, such as the loss of an eye or a tooth, they must be immediately freed. If the slave is only dealt a small injury such that they quickly recover (i.e. within 1-2 days), the owner is not punished. Clearly, such a quick recovery would suggest that the injury wasn’t a big deal to begin with, although the owner may admittedly be able to get away with minor discipline like a slap. Overall, this passage clearly bans the abuse of slaves.

Note the ‘clearly’s and the difference between recover and survive, between strike with a rod and slap. Even if you translate the Hebrew as “recover,” the contrasting situations are whether the slave dies immediately or recovers within a couple days. More likely it is whether the slave continues to live at least a few days (as in more literal or older translations, such as the NASB or KJV). This is recovering – or not immediately dying – from a life-threatening injury, not getting over the sting of a slap!

The amount of spin in his explanation is dizzying. And if this is how he deals with a text that anyone can quickly look up, how much do you think skeptics are going to trust his reading of history?

I have a soft spot for apologetics, but this kind of apologetics gives the rest of us more to apologize for. We need to spin less and be more fair to other perspectives if we want anyone outside of our echo chamber to consider our message. I know that’s something I need to work on too.


I’ve never understood any ‘moral criticism’ of Jesus made entirely in hindsight from the C18th at the earliest by naive liberals.

Perhaps they were reacting to the holocaust of the Atlantic slave trade which was well established for two centuries by then.

That’s a valid criticism. I’ve revised that section of the article to note that what’s going on isn’t really a slap at all, more like a rod hitting. But the idea that there’s any “spin” is ridiculous. The NIV reads “if the slave recovers after a day or two”, not “survives”. I took a look at the Hebrew and found out you were right that this really should read “survives”. But that’s hardly my fault or involves any “spin” going on. I simply read a reputable translation and made a simple mistake. Looking at the NRSV, it does in fact read “survives”.

Furthermore, you fail to note anywhere in your comment here that this same article constantly points out moral problems in the Torah’s treatment on slavery before moving on to the NT. You make it sound like it’s trying to justify ever tittle and tattle of how the Torah treats slaves, when the explicit point of the article is that the Torah’s laws are morally imperfect and temporary and these problems in slavery are all fixed when Jesus comes along and perfects the Law. Of course, it’s easy to dismiss the whole article when you’re offering more of a caricature of the argument.

I have a soft spot for apologetics, but this kind of apologetics gives the rest of us more to apologize for. We need to spin less and be more fair to other perspectives if we want anyone outside of our echo chamber to consider our message. I know that’s something I need to work on too.

There’s little to nothing that this article gives anyone need to “apologize” for. What should be apologized for is dismissing an article with dozens of points as dishonesty and spin on the basis of one mistranslated reading. The article has been corrected. Are there any other mistakes or “spin” in the article you see? If there are, please discuss it with me in a way that doesn’t immediately presume dishonesty. The way apologetics is advanced, you see, is by offering constructive criticism rather than dismissing a whole and massively thorough article that discusses thousands of years of history on the basis of a single mistranslation. Since I have fully edited the article to retract this error, I believe you should also retract your comment.

Hi Korvexius, I’m just getting going on a move across the country right now, so I’m not able to respond in detail.

Sorry for being so harsh on your blog post. I didn’t realize it was yours – I thought you were seeking feedback on someone else’s article. I can see how “spin” would come across the wrong way, and I only mentioned the positive in passing in my first sentence.

My example wasn’t meant to caricature the article, but to give one clear example of something I found throughout, especially in the Old Testament section. While you may not have been trying to exonerate the OT, you borrowed quite a bit from Paul Copan who does, often with what I called “spin.” Also, do you think you were as fair and even-handed to Thom Stark as you wished I had been to you? I’ve read a book from each, and while Stark is cranky and rude, he also tends to be right. The way you lean on Copan and throw sand at Stark was partly why I felt the need to respond. I think Stark does the Christian apologist a favour in seeing what won’t preach beyond the choir, and I thought he deserved a fairer hearing.

Anyway, I’m glad you edited the article and I retract what’s now been corrected. And sorry for being harsh in my critique.

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

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