Exodus 21:1-6 (NIV): If you buy a Hebrew servant, he is to serve you for six years. But in the seventh year, he shall go free, without paying anything. If he comes alone, he is to go free alone; but if he has a wife when he comes, she is to go with him. If his master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the woman and her children shall belong to her master, and only the man shall go free.

But if the servant declares, ‘I love my master and my wife and children and do not want to go free,’ then his master must take him before the judges. He shall take him to the door or the doorpost and pierce his ear with an awl. Then he will be his servant for life.

In this passage, when an Israelite buys a fellow Israelite as a slave, the slave is to serve a maximum of 6 years. But if he decides to continue to serve his master, then his ear is pierced, then he serves his master for life.

But in order to keep his slave forever, I can see the master giving him a woman as his wife as an incentive, because the passage states that after 6 years of service, the slave would be allowed to go free, but not his wife and his children. So then, the slave, not wanting to be separated from his family, would have no choice but to become his permanent slave.

Is that really what this part of the law means, that a master may permanently enslave someone by giving them a spouse?

  • 3
    Perhaps it's simply a matter of the wife not having fulfilled her 6 years yet? Aug 2, 2022 at 1:43
  • "Is there anywhere in the Bible which gives a loophole to this injunction here, which would allow the slave and his family to go completely free from their master?" Questions asking for a search of the Bible aren't permitted here sorry. I don't think that this question should have been closed as a duplicate of that other question, but it's still not on-topic. Questions need to stick to asking about the passage, not inquiring about the whole rest of the Bible. However I think this question can be edited to just stay within this passage, so I've gone and done that for you. Hope this edit helps.
    – curiousdannii
    Aug 3, 2022 at 1:41
  • @curiousdannii It was an arbitrary decision to close down my question. I was indeed asking about the specific passage of Exodus 21:1-6. And I did ask for other passages to make sense of the passage. Is not Analogia Scripturae a valid hermeneutic? Thank you for opening my question.
    – sam kim
    Aug 3, 2022 at 16:38

1 Answer 1


Applying the valid hermeneutic Analogia Scripturae, I find that Leviticus 25:39-46 may shed some light on Exodus 21:1-6.

Leviticus 25:39-46 If a brother of yours becomes so poor with regard to you that he sells himself to you, you shall not subject him to a slave's service. He shall be with you as a hired man, as if he were a sojourner; he shall serve with you until the year of jubilee. He shall then go out from you, he and his sons with him, and shall go back to his family, that he may return to the property of his forefathers. For they are My slaves whom I brought out from the land of Egypt... As for your male and female slaves whom you may have - you may acquire male and female slaves from the nations that are around you... You can use them as permanent slaves. But in respect to your brothers, the sons of Israel, you shall not rule with severity over one another.

So it seems that a fellow Israelite cannot be permanent slaves, but other Semitic persons can be.

The word "Hebrew" in Exodus 21:1 when speaking of a "Hebrew slave" seems to originate from Eber the descendant of Shem in Genesis 11:16, and is referring generally to the Semitic people from that lineage. This is confirmed by Potipher's wife referring to Joseph as "Hebrew" in Genesis 39:14. There is no way Potipher's wife would have known about the house of Israel.

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