Why Didn’t the 10 Commandments Forbid Things Like Rape and Slavery?

Christians are occasionally asked thought provoking questions such as why God didn’t forbid sinful behaviors like rape and slavery in the Ten Commandments, as found in Exodus chapter 20. The quick answer to that question, is that it does so by giving an overarching, governing principle that automatically forbids the sinful behaviors under consideration. In fact, all of God’s law can be summarized by the two simple commands to “love God” and to “love your neighbor as yourself.” If truly followed, there would be no need for subcategories of prohibitions.

Further Consideration

The appropriately named “ten commandments,” God’s initial ten laws that He gave to Israel, inscribing them onto stone tablets with His very own finger, prohibit coveting and adultery. The way biblical law works is you have overarching, umbrella commandments with more nuanced and detailed commandments within subcategories under them. As I said above, all of the law can be summarized in two commands: Love God and Love your neighbor. If I love my neighbor, I will not enslave them nor will I abuse them. Then, there are subbrackets under those laws, such as the law against coveting (which includes coveting someone sexually, leading to rape) or adultery (also condemning rape). Lastly, there were even more nuanced laws regarding sexuality elsewhere in the Pentateuch that did indeed condemn rape and menstealing (more on that in a moment). More recent English translations butcher some of these passages about sexuality, which is one of many reasons I use the Authorized Version (KJV) in my reading, studies, and preaching.


Regarding slavery, we often approach the subject from a modern American perspective, equating all servitude with the shameful institution that existed prior to and resulted in the Civil War. But the historic fact is that servitude was far more diverse than the menstealing of Africans in United States history.

A word on laws governing slavery itself: The Bible, many times, gave principles for navigating the broken systems of men. Sometimes there were even laws given because of the hardness of the hearts of those at the time of the law’s writing (such as Moses’ writ of divorcement). That is not necessarily an endorsement of a system or institution, but more of a guideline for handling life within a framework. So we have laws on marriage, even though marriages might have began through espousal, courtship, etc., but no endorsement of espousal over courtship over “dating.” Similar to marriage are commands about living under various styles of secular government. No one style of government is endorsed by scripture (outside of Israel, which was a theocracy) but there are many commands about interacting with and living under government. Commands teach us how to live in the world as we find it, with greater overarching ideals that help us make it a better place (such as loving our neighbor, which has lead to eradication of slavery in locations throughout history). The law gave Israel ways to structure the institution of slavery/servitude, not necessarily endorsing it (again, as with divorce, types of governments, etc). Jesus’ sermons on the actual intent of the law give great insight into this.

It’s difficult for us to conceive, but being a servant was chosen by many people as an alternative to starvation. People became servants in several ways. They might be conquered in a war. They might be born into slavery. They might volunteer for it. Or they borrowed money they could not repay, and would have to work off their debt as a servant. It’s a broken world, and this is one more effect of such brokenness. But even then, the law forbid menstealing and provided relief and freedom for servants such as in the Year of Jubilee, the law freeing a Hebrew servant the 7th year, etc. Interestingly enough, while the Ten Commandments were given in Exodus chapter 20, a law forbidding menstealing is actually found in Exodus chapter 21.

In Conclusion

Both the Old and New Testament give us commandments and instruction for navigating the broken world in which we live, but putting into practice the “weightier” matters of God’s law, we actually move towards eradicating many of these broken systems.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *