In Exodus 21, God is telling Moses what the laws should be concerning slaves and servants among the Israelites. If this is the same God who made all of mankind in His own image, then why would he abet slavery in this way among his own people?

This is also the chapter that says punishment should be administered on an "eye for eye" basis (v23-26). Why would God instruct Moses to introduce this law and yet come to earth later on as Jesus and teach that we should always forgive others when they sin against us?

Basically, it just seems that the law concerning the Israelites, despite being given to Moses directly from God, is not in the same spirit as the messages that Jesus gives in the new testament. Is this God of ours really never-changing? If so, then why do we have this apparent double standard?

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    God doesn't change, but humanity does. As we evolve, he makes different covenants with us. Commented Feb 17, 2012 at 22:01

2 Answers 2


The letters of Paul tell us that the law was given to show us that we do not measure up. It is impossible to live a God pleasing life by works. So failing was an expected part of the laws. So things would exist that were humane, and God gave guidelines on how to go about all this.

Even more, we live in a fallen world, and God gives us means to survive in a doomed world.

Like God never intended poverty. Yet he gave laws on how to treat poor people: let them work themselves. Don't hand out, but let some crop stand in the edges of the field and do not glean what fell to the ground.

In the new testament God made it possible to please Him - He has done that in the OT too, granted, as you find the principle saved by faith in the OT too. Or just look at what David did: ask for forgiveness and trust the Lord. Jesus fulfilled the law, he did both parts of the covenant: give the rules and fulfill them.

And still Jesus did not address slavery. Paul even told slaves to honor and obey their masters. God new that following the ten commandments or the commands and example of Jesus, led by the Holy Spirit, would lead to a God pleasing lifestyle with His saints.

God gives us opportunity to follow Him and change (back) into His image, while giving us guidelines and rules to go about it in the meantime.

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    Welcome to Christianity.SE, and great first answer!
    – Caleb
    Commented Sep 29, 2011 at 12:12
  • Welcome to Christianity.SE! God knew following the ten commandments...would abolish slavery how do you know what God knows if he didn't communicate it? Commented Sep 29, 2011 at 12:17
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    @CiscoIPPhone: deduction from His omniscience and the fact that it happened historically. Sure you could argue that it was the bible leading up to abolishing slavery, but it was bible believing people that started the process and followed through. Commented Sep 29, 2011 at 12:24
  • How do you know that the 10 Commandments will abolish slavery? They haven't yet... do we have some confidence based on the Bible that slavery will be abolished some time in the future?
    – Flimzy
    Commented Sep 29, 2011 at 18:19
  • I will edit my comment about slavery, it was made to light weighted. Commented Sep 30, 2011 at 7:08

There have been egregious applications of slavery throughout history which have dehumanized people (often through racist justification) by arbitrarily deeming them property of another person. From my understanding, slavery in OT Jerusalem was not like that. It wasn't ethnically-based (Jews were often slaves of Jews), and it was temporary. It was more of an indentured service-type arrangement in which the slave settled his real debt to his slave master.

Regarding the laws of Isreal, I think it's important to realize that there are three categories of law:

1) the moral laws being a sort of universal trascendent set of standards (summarized by Christ as first, love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and secondly, love others as you love yourself...once we have those down pat, we should be good to go ;) )

2) The civil laws in many ways were application of moral standards, but in some ways were not nec. so. These, I think, are what set the nation of Israel apart. As God's chosen nation, they were the standard-bearers of his Word and were to set an example as an (imperfect) version of a holy nation. In the old testament, converts became Jews and so they were expected to uphold the civil law of Israel. In the New Testament, though, the gospel went forth to all nations; instead of bringing people into Judaism, the Gospel transcended national identity (there is neither Jew nor Greek). So gentiles were not expected to behave as Jews -- though there was some considerable strife amongst the apostles here in the begining. (To be fair, they weren't expected to behave as Gentiles, etiher) The civil laws of Israel were not longer applicable, per se. to the Christian. Civil law is still an applicable concept, but we can't expect secular nations to adopt the same codes as ancient Isreal.

(I would note here, too, that there is a distinction between an individual application of the law, and the State's. The State had authority to mete out justice in ways the individual did not. For example, I would contend (though honest arguments can be had regarding this) that the death penalty is a perfectly valid application of state justice which is consistent with Bibilical teachings, becasue the State has the authority to "wield the sword" in ways in which the individual does not.)

3) The ceremonial law was the law of the temple and the rituals of sacrifice for atonement (see: Leviticus). The book of Hebrews addresses the cessation of sacrifices. (esp: Hebrews 10:17-18), but basically, as moral laws were inevitably broken, the priests had been instructed to perform sacrifices on behalf of the people. Some of these were rather complex and precise, and there was a good deal of instruction surrounding these processes. When Jesus -- referred to as the Lamb of God -- died as the ultimate atoning sacrifice, these practices were identified as "shadows" which had not offered atonement in and of themselves, but rather pointed to a coming atonement found in Jesus. These prepared the people's minds for the signficance of what Jesus had come to do. Once he atoned for the sins of the world, the cermonial sacrifices were not only no longer needed, but also borderline blasphemous (at least by my reading) as they suggested a certain need for continued atonement beyond Christ's shed blood.

In many ways the civil law and the ceremonial law went hand-in-hand as specifics of Israel. As a nation, they were particularly shown two things with these laws which prepared them for Jesus. 1) Ultimately the standard for holiness is not going to be achieved by giving man a law...no matter how simple the law was (see: Garden of Eden) or how complicated and nuanced it might be (see: Deutoronomy) people managed to break it...the law reveals how deeply sinful man, but it does not save him (see: Romans 3:19-21 esp.) 2) also, the consequences of sin against God -- the Lord of all --are not trifling. Atonement requires the shedding of blood...either the blood of the lawbreaker or a substitute.

Once Jesus came and both upheld the law and died for those of us who didn't, the presentation changed a bit, though the story and flow remains necessary to set the stage. Ironically (maybe?), Jesus actually revealed a stricter moral law (see: Sermon on the Mount) which challenges man to weigh his thoughts and desires more than just his outward actions, but he also revealed a grace that saves inspite of our trangression from the law. Our disobedience isn't simply swept under the rug, but, instead justice was served when "[f]or our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." (2 Corinthians 5:20-21 ESV) As we come to understand the grace that is offered to us as sinners, it becomes natural to extend that grace towards those who wrong us.

Bearing in mind the distinction between individual application and corporate application, and understanding our universal need to grace, I think that's how things like "eye for an eye" (state, civil law) can be compatible with things like "turn the other cheek" (individual, moral application).

  • Welcome to Christianity.SE! I'm loving seeing people jump in with good effort first on their first answers.
    – Caleb
    Commented Sep 29, 2011 at 14:33
  • +1. Its good to see new, knowledgeable people joining the site! This was nice answer. Very complete, and well-written. welcome to the site! Commented Sep 30, 2011 at 1:18

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