The claim is often made that the Bible approves of slavery, implicating God as its supporter, since rules governing slavery can be found in the both the Old and New Testament. Since virtually everyone agrees that forced, involuntary servitude is morally wrong, how can Christians justify the Bible's apparent support of slavery?
First, we must recognize that the Bible does not say God supports slavery. In fact, the slavery described in the Old Testament was quite different from the kind of slavery we think of today - in which people are captured and sold as slaves.
According to Old Testament law, anyone caught selling another person into slavery was to be executed: "He who kidnaps a man, whether he sells him or he is found in his possession, shall surely be put to death." Exodus 21:16
What the Old Testament Says About Slavery
So, obviously, slavery during Old Testament times was not what we commonly recognize as slavery, such as that practiced in the 17th century Americas, when Africans were captured and forcibly brought to work on plantations. Unlike our modern government welfare programs, there was no safety-net for ancient Middle Easterners who could not provide a living for themselves. In ancient Israel, people who could not provide for themselves or their families sold them into slavery so they would not die of starvation or exposure. In this way, a person would receive food and housing in exchange for labor.
So, although there are rules about slavery in the Bible, those rules exist to protect the slave. Injuring or killing slaves was punishable - up to death of the offending party.
“If a man strikes his male or female slave with a rod and he dies at his hand, he shall be punished." Exodus 21:20
"If a man strikes the eye of his male or female slave, and destroys it, he shall let him go free on account of his eye. And if he knocks out a tooth of his male or female slave, he shall let him go free on account of his tooth." Exodus 21:26-27
Hebrews were commanded:
Not to make their slave work on the Sabbath
Exodus 23:12 "Six days you are to do your work, but on the seventh day you shall cease from labor so that your ox and your donkey may rest, and the son of your female slave, as well as your stranger, may refresh themselves.”
Not to slander a slave
Proverbs 30:10 “Do not slander a slave to his master, Or he will curse you and you will be found guilty.”
Not to have sex with another man's slave
Leviticus 19:20 “Now if a man lies carnally with a woman who is a slave acquired for another man, but who has in no way been redeemed nor given her freedom, there shall be punishment; they shall not, however, be put to death, because she was not free.”
Not to return an escaped slave
Deuteronomy 23:15 "You shall not hand over to his master a slave who has escaped from his master to you."