Why does covetousness get a commandment and not slavery?

I don’t buy the “cultural acceptance” argument. There are lots of things that cultures have accepted over the years, but remain a sin.

Slavery is one thing.

Covetousness can lead to many things including murder and rape.

Slavery, as practiced by Israel, was not a moral evil. Slaves had rights and could not be abused by their owners without the owners suffering consequences of the Law. And slavery was not a life-long condition unless the slave wished it. Every seven years slaves were to be set free. If they weren’t there were also consequences in the Law for that.

In modern times we have forms of slavery although we don’t think of it as that. When people must work at a certain occupation for others because there are no options due to the covetousness of others, that too is slavery. Perhaps we should be more concerned about the evils of our own times. :slight_smile:

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Slavery doesn’t lead to murder and rape? :confused:

The commandment not to steal removes the possibility of engaging in the slave trade and this has been recognized since the time of Moses. Exodus 21:16 says, “Whoever steals a man and sells him, and anyone found in possession of him, shall be put to death.”

Because the Jews could not legally participate in the slave trade, they only got their forced laborers from volunteers, such as the patriarch Jacob, and prisoners of war. The Law also protected the civil rights of these “slaves” – who are more properly called servants. The law of Moses was actually very advanced for its time on this issue, and therefore I don’t think it’s fair to say that it was immoral.

Under the law of Moses servants had:

Right to life – Exodus 21:20 – Marriage rights – Exodus 10-11, Exodus 21:4 – Kinship rights – Exodus 21:3, 9; Leviticus 25:41, 47-49, 54

Protection from breach of contract and physical violence – Exodus 21:20-21, 26-27 for foreign or Hebrew servants; Exodus 21:8 for a Hebrew daughter in a marriage; Leviticus 25:39-41 for Hebrew servants.

Right to one day free from labor, participating in the Sabbath with other free servants – Deuteronomy 5:14, Exodus 20:10.

Access to liberty and freedom of movement – Leviticus 25:40-45, 48, 54 for Hebrew indentured servants; Deuteronomy 15:1, 12; 23:15 for foreign or Hebrew servants; Exodus 21:8, 11 for a Hebrew daughter in a marriage.

All servants maintained their rights unless voluntarily relinquished – Deuteronomy 15:16-17, Exodus 21:5-6.

The person who had a servant was accountable to the law for their treatment of the servant, whether the servant was a foreigner or a Hebrew – Exodus 21:20-21, 26-27.

If a person who had a servant struck the servant and knocked his tooth or eye out he had to let the servant go free – Exodus 21:26-27.

Under the Law of Moses you could purchase women and men who voluntarily sold themselves into indentured servitude but you could not sell them – Exodus 21:2, Leviticus 25:39, 42, 45, Deuteronomy 15:12.

Enslaving someone against their will or selling people into slavery was forbidden – Exodus 21:16, Deuteronomy 24:7.

Any servant who ran away was automatically allowed to go and live as they chose. It would be illegal to oppress the servant or return them to whoever they worked for – Deuteronomy 23:15. Thus it was automatically a voluntary system, because at any time you could leave and you would be free forever. It was entered into to avoid poverty or for payment of debt (which was released every seven years; Deut. 15:1, 12).

The Law of Moses protected the Hebrew indentured servants from permanent debt and if the servant was released in the year of debt-cancellation, the person who the servant had worked for had to give them generous supplies from his own store – Deuteronomy 15:13-15.

Servants were to be included in community feast, Deuteronomy 12:12; the Feast of Booths, Deuteronomy 16:13; and the Feast of Weeks, Deuteronomy 16:10.

Under the law of Moses the only income priests received was from some offerings made under the sacrificial code and from the tithe. Usually the offerings of food were only to be eaten by priests because it had been ritually sanctified and could not be eaten by a non-priest. According to Leviticus 22:10 a priest could not offer it to lodger, hired work or guest but Leviticus 22:11 makes clear that a priest could share the food with a servant.

Death of a servant caused by a domestic animal had to be compensated – Exodus 21:32 – but the death of non-servants did not have to be compensated unless the animal was previously known to be a danger (see Exodus 21:28-29).

Oh my. That doesn’t help at all. In fact, it suggests to me that maybe there isn’t a good answer to this. Slavery was “not a moral evil?” And If there are forms of slavery that exist now, does that mean I should just stop thinking about it?
I hope I misunderstood you.

Wow it must have been great to have been a slave back then!!

dmar198 gives a fuller account of slavery in Israel. But this answer is the answer because slavery, in and of itself, is not wrong. People can bind themselves to others in life-long servitude if they wish. What is wrong is forcing people into such a state of life against their will and against the Laws of God, and then treating them like mere property with which owners can do whatever they wish. This is where the morality of slavery comes into play–if it is imposed, is against the Laws of God, and how slaves are treated.

Well, I appreciate that, but slavery was and is a great moral evil. I am Catholic and not trying to be unchristian, but the fact that Jesus really never spoke out against it surprises me. I don’t accept that divorce is worthy of specific mention but not the enslavement of others.

Well, I appreciate that, but slavery was and is a great moral evil. I am Catholic and not trying to be unchristian, but the fact that Jesus really never spoke out against it surprises me. I don’t accept that divorce is worthy of specific mention but not the enslavement of others.
I won’t post on this anymore. I was hoping that there was some explanation that truly makes sense. I’ll keep looking.

St. Paul condemns human trafficking in 1 Timothy 1:10 - “for slave traders and liars and perjurers…[are] contrary to sound doctrine.” St. John condemns human trafficking in Revelation 18:13. Galatians 3:28 and Ephesians 6:8-9 assert the equality of slaves. I think it’s important to recognize that the reason slavery is prohibited today is because of Christianity.

In addition, I think it is important to mention the changing meaning of “slave” through the centuries. In Latin the word is “servus,” from which we derive both our words “servant” and “serf.” As the Roman empire transformed into a feudal system, “servus” came to mean “serf” rather than the classic slave, and thus it made its way in an acceptable form into Catholic literature.

One thing that the serfs had in common with slaves was that their labor was used to benefit another: the lord, who was not the same as a master, because he did not have absolute rights over his serfs, and his serfs had rights against their lord. Serfs could accumulate property without limits, as long as they paid their lord his due (taxes, fees, etc). It was not unknown for a serf to become financially richer than his lord, and to buy his own freedom.

In the 1800s, the Church declared, with reference to serfdom, which in Latin goes by the same name as slavery, these words:
“Slavery * itself, considered as such in its essential nature, is not at all contrary to the natural and divine law, and there can be several just titles of slavery * and these are referred to by approved theologians and commentators of the sacred canons. For the sort of ownership which a slave-owner has over a slave * is understood as nothing other than the perpetual right of disposing of the work of a slave for one’s own benefit - services which it is right for one human being to provide for another. From this it follows that it is not contrary to the natural and divine law for a slave * to be sold, bought, exchanged or donated, provided that in this sale, purchase, exchange or gift, the due conditions are strictly observed which the approved authors likewise describe and explain. Among these conditions the most important ones are that the purchaser should carefully examine whether the slave who is put up for sale has been justly or unjustly deprived of his liberty, and that the vendor should do nothing which might endanger the life, virtue or Catholic faith of the slave who is to be transferred to another’s possession.” (Holy Office, Instruction 20, June 1866)
At first glance this passage appears to contradict the Catechism, which says:
2414 The seventh commandment forbids acts or enterprises that for any reason - selfish or ideological, commercial, or totalitarian - lead to the enslavement of human beings, to their being bought, sold and exchanged like merchandise, in disregard for their personal dignity. It is a sin against the dignity of persons and their fundamental rights to reduce them by violence to their productive value or to a source of profit. St. Paul directed a Christian master to treat his Christian slave “no longer as a slave but more than a slave, as a beloved brother, . . . both in the flesh and in the Lord.”
However, the contradiction is only apparent. The form of slavery which the Holy Office was referring to in 1866 was serfdom, in accordance with the change in meaning of the word “servus”. And it explicitly says that the rights of the serf must be maintained and he must not be deprived of liberty unjustly. The Catechism agrees with this by saying that men may not be bought, sold or exchanged “in disregard for their personal dignity” – there is a way to exchange men in a way that respects personal dignity.

This actually happens quite frequently. At my former job, sometimes I was required to work for another company, e.g. when my company shipped bad parts to another company, I was sometimes sent to sort out the good parts and the bad. On contract my presence and my labor were exchanged to the other company for a temporary period, but this was not contrary to my dignity. Authentic serfdom, in respect of peoples’ rights, reflects this kind of dignified exchange of persons, where serfs maintain their personal freedom, within limits, and their ability to own and accumulate property, a basic human right.

Another point that should be considered is that some people are justly deprived of liberty and put to forced labor, and this includes people in prison. The 13th Amendment on slavery in the U.S. Constitution explicitly makes an exception for the imprisonment of criminals and permits them to be put to forced labor. This is not contrary to dignity, provided they are not overworked, because they have to be in prison anyway, and they might as well be contributing to society by their strength.

Anyway all of those points need to be considered in understanding that, properly understood, the Church has always condemned slavery (in its modern sense), but permitted a type of serfdom (which is a form of slavery) when the rights of the serf are respected and his dignity maintained.

I hope that helps. God bless!****

You think you aren’t a slave? Slavery works on several levels. Just because you get paid doesn’t mean you aren’t bound to someone/something else for your means of survival. Ask yourself, how do spend most of your days?

Ecclesiastes 5:7
“If you see oppression of the poor, and violation of rights and justice in the realm, do not be shocked by the fact, for the high official had another higher than he watching him and above these are others higher still.”

We are all slaves to someone. Its who you make the master of your heart that counts. (and this is where covetousness comes in - Who does your heart serve?)

Slavery was, is and always will be a great evil. Anyone who says otherwise doesn’t know what they are talking about.

People were selling their own brothers into slavery for profit, killing their own brothers to gain an inheritance, drinking blood and eating human flesh, having sex with their mothers and fathers and siblings and animals, and sacrificing children to the god Molech. It got so bad that God was going to wipe out the entire creation in the flood. God spared Noah but Noah’s son “uncovered his father’s nakedness” right after the flood ended - that means that he had sex with his mother.

It was bad. The Mosaic law given by God was the first attempt to control what was an out of control situation. The law of Moses were the first controls on these behaviors. The ten commandments are more than controls however - they are a set of moral imperatives which man was never to transgress. The ten commandments were a line in the sand which no man was to cross.

Slavery was always bad. God’s rules about slavery were the first controls on what was an out of control situation. Slavery was ended - that’s what the Book of Philemon is about. Ones’imus was sent back as a free man.

Perhaps this is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back for ever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave, as a beloved brother, especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord. So if you consider me your partner, receive him as you would receive me. (Philemon 1:15-17)


I agree that the abuses that often came with slavery are evils, but permanent servitude entered into of one’s own free will is not. Please see my 2nd post in this thread. :slight_smile:


When a man strikes his male or female slave with a rod so hard that the slave dies under his hand, he shall be punished. If, however, the slave survives for a day or two, he is not to be punished, since the slave is his own property. (Exodus 21:20-21 NAB)

When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she will not be freed at the end of six years as the men are… (Exodus 21:7-11 NLT)

However, you may purchase male or female slaves from among the foreigners who live among you. You may also purchase the children of such resident foreigners, including those who have been born in your land. You may treat them as your property, passing them on to your children as a permanent inheritance. You may treat your slaves like this, but the people of Israel, your relatives, must never be treated this way. (Leviticus 25:44-46 NLT)

…etc, etc, and so on.


Hmmm, yes. :slight_smile: These laws govern who could be enslaved and how slaves were to be treated and consequences for abusing them. It says nothing at all about the rightness or wrongness of slavery itself. And slaves were set free every seven years in Israel. That was part of the law, as well.

Naturally, in our times and in many ancient cultures slavery, as it was practiced, is/was a great evil. Still, the idea that one may enslave oneself voluntarily is not wrong. We have all sorts of this kind of slavery in our own day in the West. The word slavery has taken on a bad connotation because of the abuses of slavery, and no one in our times should be compelled into slavery nor be abused as a slave, but in and of itself, it is not evil.

Are you suggesting that all the slaves in Israel were there because they chose to be?

So that makes it ok?

Except that it didn’t end.

The meaning of the word back then and the meaning of the word for us now is different. Back then, most spaves were either people who had fallen into debt or prisoners of war. The only other option with the prisoners of war was to kill them; people did not have the resources then to build prisons for them as we do now.

For us, esp Americans, the word reflects the American cultural past of buying people, shipping them far awayfrom their homeland, and keeping them and their descendants in an enforced and fairly unrestricted servitude. This is indeed a great wrong, but it is also *different *from what was going on in OT times.

Christ also didn’t speak out against abortion or homosexual activity. However, this does not mean that He thought they were all right.

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