Some people say that the Bible promotes slavery and other social evils. Others say that it does not. What does the Bible actually teach about slavery?
Slavery has been a major institution in the world since the beginning of time. The most ancient documents we possess from Egypt and Mesopotamia refer to slavery in the third millennium before Christ. Almost every known people group has owned slaves. The Muslims had slave armies such as the Janissaries and Mamelukes. African tribes had slaves, as did the Pre-Columbian Indian empires and the peoples of East Asia. China abolished official slavery in 1910, and India officially abolished it under British suzerainty in 1843. The history of slavery in Europe and North America is well known. What is less appreciated is that American Indians and even some light-skinned blacks had slaves. Human Rights Watch estimated that in 2009, 28 million people were enslaved worldwide, a business worth $91 billion annually.
Slaves generally came from the following sources:
1. Prisoners of war – men were often killed but could be enslaved. Women and children were a problem. After war it was impractical to have thousands of women and children, often unable to support themselves in the Bronze Age, without having someone responsible for them. Therefore they were enslaved, a practice considered a humanitarian improvement on mass slaughter (Numbers 31, Deuteronomy 20:10-18).
2. Free parents with excessive debt could sell their children.
3. Children of slaves often automatically became slaves.
4. Children abandoned at birth could be collected and sold as slaves.
5. Slave traders captured free people, men, women and children, and sold them to others as slaves. This activity was punishable by death in Israel (Exodus 21:16).
6. Slaves could be bought and sold, or given as gifts or inheritance to others.