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Does the Bible really endorse slavery (as Sam Harris claims)?

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A few days ago, in a debate that ventured toward the issue of slavery, between Atheist Sam Harris and Ben Shapiro, Sam Harris claimed:

“Slavery is endorsed in the Bible, it’s explicitly endorsed in the Old Testament.”
(Sam Harris)

So, if God is good and moral, why would He endorse or encourage slavery?
Well actually, Harris’ statement is assuming that the Law represents God’s ultimate high moral standards.
However, Jesus is teaching us that the Law is representing a compromise on God’s behalf because of the catastrophic moral situation Israel was in: “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to…” (Matt 19:8)
Meaning, that God did not at all “endorsed slavery”, but merely acknowledged the reality on the ground (people had slaves) and commanded to put boundaries and restrictions on the way one behaves to his slave (Exodus 21).
 
Taking a “bird’s eye view” of humanity’s progress across the timeline of the Scriptures, we can see how the status of slaves, gradually changes from degradation to a restoration of human dignity.
In ancient Near Eastern culture, treatment of slaves is brutal and demeaning. Slaves do not have the value of other human beings. They have no rights and are subject to corporal punishment and are even put to death without regard for their humanity.
Moses’ laws regarding slaves, while far from ideal, bring a big improvement over the ancient Near Eastern culture: punishments are limited. There is a more humanized attitude toward slaves. Runaway foreign slaves are given refuge in Israel (Deut. 23:15-16), versus being put to death as they would be in the surrounding cultures. We should also point out that slavery in the Bible never approximated American slavery, with its denial of full personhood.
The New Testament provides a further improvement over Moses’ laws: Christian slaves in the Roman Empire are considered equal to their masters in the body of Christ (Gal. 3:28). Masters are to take care of their slaves, and slaves are encouraged to seek freedom (1 Cor. 7:20–22).
 
In summary, Harris’ is holding to a very simplistic, bias and shallow approach to the Bible, only to try and promote the atheistic agenda.
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Dr. Eitan Bar
Dr. Eitan Bar
Dr. Eitan Bar, a native Jewish-Israeli, born and raised in Tel Aviv, Israel. Married to Kate (since 2007), raising their son Asaf in Israel. Eitan holds to a B.A. in Biblical Studies (Israel College of the Bible. Jerusalem, 2009). and an MDiv Equiv. He also holds to an M.A. in Theological Studies (Liberty University. 2013). In 2020 Eitan received his Doctorate (DMin, Middle East Studies) from Dallas Theological Seminary.
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