Slavery in the Bible is not the same as the chattel slavery of America

by Matt Slick
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Chattel slavery is the kind of slavery where the person has no rights, can be sold, traded, who does not share in the benefits of his labor, who generally is a slave perpetually, and who is completely controlled and owned by someone else. 

A chattel slave is an enslaved person who is owned for ever and whose children and children's children are automatically enslaved. Chattel slaves are individuals treated as complete property, to be bought and sold. (

Chattel slavery, or the owning of human beings as property able to be bought, sold, given, and inherited, is perhaps the best known form of slavery. Slaves in this context have no personal freedom or recognized rights to decide the direction of their own lives (

Chattel slavery is not biblical slavery

Chattel slavery is not the same kind of slavery that was depicted in the Bible. In chattel slavery, people do not have any rights at all, but, in biblical forms of slavery, those who were slaves, either by indentured servitude, capture, or punishment, were awarded rights.

  1. A slave could voluntarily decide to stay as a slave (Deut. 15:16-17).
  2. When a slave was freed, he was to receive gifts that enabled him to survive economically (Deut. 15:14). 
  3. A Hebrew slave could become free after six years of service (Exodus 21:2; Deut. 15:12), released during the year of Jubilee (Lev. 25), by marriage of the master's son or if refused was then set free (Exodus 21:7-11), due to injury (Exodus 21:26-27), and by purchasing his own freedom (Lev. 25:47).
  4. An escaped slave was not to be returned as was property (Deut. 23:15–16).
  5. ​The slave was a member of the master's household (Lev. 22:11) and was required to rest on the Sabbath (Exodus 20:10; Deut. 5:14).  A slave could inherit property (Genesis 15:2-3), be in control of entire households (Gen. 24:2), and were sometimes trusted advisors (1 Sam. 9:5-10).
  6. Treatment of slaves was not to be severe (Lev. 25:43, 53).
  7. A master who punished his slave who then died, was to be punished himself possibly with death (Exodus 21:20). Slaves were considered as a form property (Lev 25:46; Ex 21:32; Lev 25:39-42) but not in a strictest sense, since escaped slaves were not to be returned as was property (Deut. 23:15–16).
  8. Kidnapping someone to make them a slave was prohibited (Amos 1:6) and was punishable by death (Deut. 24:7; Exod. 21:16) 


Where chattel slavery meant that the person who is serving as a slave had no rights at all, biblical slavery was different. Should a slave escape his abusing master, he was not to be returned as was property (Deut. 23:15-16). Upon being freed, a slave was to receive gifts that enable him to survive economically (Deut. 15:14). Slaves were members of the masters household (Lev. 22:11), who could inherit property (Gen. 15:2-3), and be in control of entire households (Gen. 24:2). Slaves were not to be treated severely (Lev. 25:43, 53) and punishment that resulted in the death of the slave could result in the execution of the master (Exodus 21:20). So, though slavery was a reality in the ancient Near East, the kind that was recorded in the Bible was not chattel slavery, the kind that was practiced in the Americas not so long ago.





About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.