Being Questioned #2 – more on slavery and Bible interpretation

In comments regarding my original post on Mr Rudd’s (mis-)use of the Bible on slavery, I received a number of criticisms regarding my own approach to Bible interpretation and what it says about slavery.

For example, selective use: the BIble has contradictory material on the topic, so how can I justify (cherry-)picking and choosing, in regards to the texts I emphasised?

And there was the question of why the Bible never seems to say outright: slavery is condemned. And couldn’t it simply instruct believers in the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ just to free all slaves immediately?

Must regulation and permission mean endorsement?

More broadly there was dispute over my contention that the description and regulation of slavery did not amount to endorsement.

Perhaps most pointedly, people noted this sentence of mine:

“Slavery is presented as unequivocally unpleasant and cruel.”

They then cited quotes from the Bible to counter this claim, and also to suggest that the regulation or permission of slavery therein described was as good as endorsement of the institution. The passages cited included such as Exodus 21:20-21, Deuteronomy 20:10-11, and even Jesus’ description of slaves in obedience (or otherwise) to their masters in his parables.

But the most notable and pointed counter-example to my contentions seems to have been Leviticus 25:44-46, with its permission for the Israelites to enslave people from surrounding foreign nations, and to treat them as property.

44 ‘Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves. 45 You may also buy some of the temporary residents living among you and members of their clans born in your country, and they will become your property. 46 You can will them to your children as inherited property and can make them slaves for life, but you must not rule over your fellow Israelites ruthlessly. (NIV84)

As one friend put it to me, “The Bible is pro-slavery. As long as it is Israelites owning people from other countries.”

I hope I have represented these objections fairly, because I believe they are probably the most powerful objections to the more generous view of the Bible’s over all approach to slavery that I advanced. There is no doubt that verses like these seem truly difficult for a modern person like myself to grapple with (along with such matters as holy war, and what is commonly called patriarchy). Typically they make us recoil.

And there is no doubt that living as such a slave, whether an Israelite, or a foreign slave within Israel, or a slave in the Graceo-Roman world of New Testament times must have been difficult, and sometimes harsh, terribly so.

And yet the Bible, especially the Old Testament, seems to permit slavery.

Let me say a few things in response. For a start, my comment that, “Slavery is presented as unequivocally unpleasant and cruel” came in a specific context – that of expounding the Exodus as a paradigmatic episode of the Old Testament. It involves God’s rescue of his people out of slavery! It was in that context (citing Exodus 2:23-25), I suggested slavery is presented as unequivocally unpleasant and cruel.

I did not write that sentence as my summary of the Bible’s overall balance of teaching, but as a description of what that part of Exodus – becoming paradigmatic as it does for the Bible – taught about slavery.

However I can see that this sentence could easily and reasonably be taken as my overall summary. And I also agree that I might have done well to specifically reference the ‘difficult passages’ (like Lev 25:44-46) when I explained that the Bible honestly recorded and regulated slavery.

My intention was to show that Mr Rudd’s cursory efforts to construe the Bible’s teaching on slavery were woefully inadequate and imbalanced. I could and probably should have avoided the impression of being selective myself. And as you see here, I think I would have been wise to say that the Bible not only describes and regulates, but also permits slavery at points.

I would still maintain that even this permission is not the same as endorsement.

As an illustration, in the original passage in dispute on Q&A (Matthew 19:7-8), Jesus notes that Moses permits divorce. And the believer knows that what Moses permits, God permits. But Jesus points out this was never God’s original intent. God does not endorse divorce.

just say slavery is immoral and slaves should be freed?

Here’s where one might also answer the question of why the Bible never simply just commands the immediate freeing of all slaves.

And many commenters helpfully supplied suggestions along these lines.

  • Slavery was entwined in the whole agrarian economic system, that a utopian wholesale release would have meant societal collapse.
  • Some slaves were most likely better off as slaves (or indentured labourers/bond servants) than being free but destitute.
  • In the often deadly and vicious struggle for survival between warring nation states, of which Israel was one, the only realistic alternative to slavery for captured/defeated foreigners was death, unless you wanted to be attacked and killed by your released and regrouping enemy yourself.
  • Under the rule of the Roman empire, it was simply not possible to declare the overthrow of slavery – remember that Spartacus’ massive slave revolt failed, being brutally suppressed by the Roman Senate that viewed this as a completely unacceptable undermining of Roman society.
  • Nor, I understand, was it even always easily possible, legally speaking, for an individual in the Graceo-Roman simply to free all his or her slaves, in all circumstances.
  • And once again, slavery could be a quite reasonable experience for some (certainly not all) slaves in this period, and in certain circumstances, was probably better than the alternative, for example, if it meant destitution.

In other words, we are dealing with very different contexts from our own situation as voting citizens in a modern Western democracy. God’s people for most of the OT were then constituted as a theocratic nation state in an intense struggle for survival, not to mention purity. In NT times, they were scattered throughout the Roman empire, without any political power, indeed under the imperial power of Caesar and his legions.

Simple biblical condemnation or a blanket instruction to free all slaves is wonderfully attractive as a sentiment and pathetically ineffective and meaningless as a practice in those contexts.

As someone commented somewhere (sorry not to cite you, but at over a thousand comments in different places, I’ve lost track), I think there is an arguable case that taken overall we can suggest that,

The Bible does not condone slavery, but rather addresses believers in the midst of societies that did.

And outright denunciation is never the only way to address a social evil.

I personally think gambling is immoral, an absolute blight on our society, a complete failure to apply the ethic of love, and a dreadful stewardship of the resources God has granted us. And the pokies are the worst of all, with their deliberately addictive design. I wish my comments against the pokies attracted the attention I’ve got on this issue.

However simple denunciation doesn’t get me far in addressing this social issue in Australia.

Instead, I accept that Australia permits gambling. And I understand that some good can even be retrieved (although I think it very limited) from the proceeds of gambling, e.g. via registered clubs’ community donations. And so I support regulating the availability and advertisement of gambling. The strategy I support to see change in this area is gradual increase in regulation, both for its harm minimisation and educative value.

But I would be mightily offended if that was construed as endorsement of gambling. I want to see gambling completely subverted by a far better way of life.

Smorgasbord or Degustation?

With that, I come to my last point of what is already a very long post. It’s to suggest that for all its variegated material, some of which is sometimes difficult to harmonise, yet the Bible has an overall trajectory or story arc.

I am suggesting the Bible is more like a degustation menu than a smorgasbord at your local club.

The smorgasbord may not be put together with any overall rhyme or reason, beyond trying to appeal to a wide range of people within the confines of convenience and price. You can pick and choose what you want. And others can be disgusted at the things you choose to select, while wolfing down the food that’s congenial to their tastes. And so likely as not, there is no overall theme or direction to the food.

A degustation menu by contrast (and I may be showing my culinary inexperience here) is a carefully planned tasting menu of multiple dishes, prepared carefully by a chef, served in a particular order, with a particular theme and direction in mind. It may involve quite disparate ingredients at different points that do not obviously fit together at first glance. Some flavours might at first surprise or even shock. And yet, in the hands of a master chef, those who approach the experience with an open mind and palate discover there is an inner logic to the arrangements, which, when it all comes together, takes you in a certain kind of very enjoyable culinary direction!

For all its incredible variety of material and unusual ingredients and bumpy episodes, I think there is an overall logic and direction to the Bible.

Most basically, the Bible’s development and direction is from promise (Old Testament) to fulfilment (New Testament).

In slightly more detail, it charts a course from Creation through Fall/Sin, and Redemption – Foreshadowed then Fulfilled – eventually to New Creation.

In particular, the person of Jesus Christ is the fulcrum and fulfilment of this trajectory.

I think that because Jesus’ own teaching suggests it – he has come to fulfil the Law and the Prophets (Matt 5:17-18); all Old Testament Scripture points to Jesus as the Christ, and in particular to his sufferings and subsequent glories (Luke 24:25-27). And I personally am persuaded by the evidence for the resurrection that I ought to trust Jesus.

However I have also then found that in experience, this provides a coherent and plausible way of reading the Bible in practice. It makes sense of the various elements of the Bible at its different stages.

There is not a straight line application from every Old Testament command or narrative or character to myself. (And so the shellfish and poly-cotton objection really does not bite.) And although I am much more closely connected into the overall storyline at the New Testament part, yet even there I need to understand particular parts of the New Testament in terms of the overall trajectory, and consider differences as well as similarities between the various characters and situations described there and my own situation.

So, for example, Christians today are motivated by the gospel of freedom in Christ and the NT provides our fundamental ethics. Yet under the providence of God our political and economic situation, in a modern democracy and following the Industrial Revolution, as part of their submission to the governing authorities, it was possible for Christians and others to exercise their influence and voting power to urge the overthrow of the slave trade, and then over following decades, the abolition of slavery; something impossible in NT times.

Yes, this involves some nuance and subtlety at points. And not all who take the Bible as possessing an overarching unity agree on every detail of interpretation or application. But it consistently makes sense to many of us. It is the most wonderful degustation menu.

Applied back to the specific issue of slavery, the starting point of the Biblical menu – creation – explains clearly why – contra Mr Rudd’s implication – slavery can never be seen as a natural condition. Humans are pictured created free, not owned by other humans.

But Sin’s entry into the world changes and mars everything, and provides conditions where slavery (and other ills) can develop, with those often dreadful results.

Yet Redemption Foreshadowed – especially in the Exodus – shows that freedom (from sin with its consequences, earthly and beyond) rather than slavery is God’s intention and purpose in his intervention in history. It also creates a society – Israel – where the ill of slavery can be regulated and sin ameliorated, albeit imperfectly, with ongoing pointers to liberation (such as the Jubilee ideal).

And Redemption Applied – through the death and resurrection of Christ – shows that the ultimate issue is not merely temporary human, but the forgiveness of sins and release from the powers of death and darkness. Spiritual freedom in Christ transcends temporal enslavement and transforms one’s future.

And so we come to New Creation – where there will be no more slavery of any kind – since in the New Jerusalem, there is no more sin or crying or pain. As Paul says in Galatians 4:26…

But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother.

I know many prefer the smorgasbord approach to the Bible, or feel that is all it lends itself towards. But I find the degustation approach to be wonderfully satisfying.

I’ll give Jesus the last word, from John 8:31-36, for this is where I believe the Bible’s overall  trajectory takes you…

31 To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

33  They answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?”

34 Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. 35 Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.


P.S. I have tried – however inadequately – to feel the force of those who objected to the views I expressed. If you continue to disagree and care to comment, can I request that – in the interests of greater understanding – you indicate what you think the relative strengths of my argument are, as well as explaining (rather than just asserting) the weaknesses you see remaining.

If you just think I’m stupid and deluded, there’s no need to tell me again. I got that message loud and clear from about 300 comments on the various forums in the last 24 hours. And I doubt any of you can surpass Richie’s outstanding effort yesterday!

26 thoughts on “Being Questioned #2 – more on slavery and Bible interpretation

  1. Good on you Sandy! I have enjoyed all of your thoughts on this, it has promoted so much discussion in our networks!

    Much love in Christ

  2. Pingback: PM misrepresents the Bible | The Briefing

  3. I have just read your very well reasoned article after coming home from night duty. Thank God someone has had the time to give a well thought out rebuttal. I am extremely disappointed in Kevin Rudd’s behaviour towards Julia Gillard and in his backflip over “gay marriage” for apparently sentimental reasons (i.e. the desire of one of his aids to get married). He did not seem to have any principles about it and seems to have a very superficial understanding of and relationship with the God of the Word of God!
    Although I would normally lean toward Labour after Christian Democrat I will probably not do that in this election. But who to vote for? I don’t agree with the Greens view on these matters although I do think they are a little more honest about where they stand. And it has always mystified me that so many Christians are such strong supporters of Liberals who they seem to think are God’s representatives in Australia! What about Greed being Idolatry!
    Anyway thank you for speaking out as the Church is meant to do especially on spiritual and moral matters.
    I think we are moving into a greater phase of deception when someone like The President of the USA or the Prime Minister of Australia can come out so much against the Truth of God’s Word.
    The amazing thing is that Julia Gillard, who is a self professed atheist I think, remained strongly opposed to “gay marriage”. It reminds me of the son in the Bible who said “Yes” but didn’t obey his father and the son who said “No” and did obey.
    God Bless You and give you abundant grace.
    Your Sister in Christ

  4. Sandy-I have had much more severe censure than Richie gave you yesterday, as no doubt have, but rarely so eloquently.

    Thank you for your great efforts. The Briefing has certainly become more widely known!

  5. I think it’s fair to say that the Old Testament has nothing negative whatsoever to say about Israelites owning slaves from other countries. In fact they are commanded in Deuteronomy 20 to take them:

    “10 When you march up to attack a city, make its people an offer of peace. 11 If they accept and open their gates, all the people in it shall be subject to forced labor and shall work for you. 12 If they refuse to make peace and they engage you in battle, lay siege to that city. 13 When the Lord your God delivers it into your hand, put to the sword all the men in it. 14 As for the women, the children, the livestock and everything else in the city, you may take these as plunder for yourselves.”

    I disagree that they have to do this out of political or economic necessity or that it would be “too hard” not to have slaves, given that they have just escaped as slaves and presumably don’t have any. Surely God being God could have thought of a third option.

    I also can’t see that this is any different to slavery in the US, given Exodus 21:20-21:

    “Anyone who beats their male or female slave with a rod must be punished if the slave dies as a direct result, but they are not to be punished if the slave recovers after a day or two, since the slave is their property.”

    i.e. this is acceptable treatment of a slave you have captured from another country.

    So I think it’s unreasonable to say slavery is permitted but not endorsed. It’s never even questioned that it might be wrong to enslave people from other countries, rather it’s commanded. This goes beyond endorsement in my opinion.

    The fact that the New Testament has slightly more encouraging things to say does not change the past. I can’t write something that says ‘enslave people and kill the ones who don’t surrender and take their women’, and then 1000 years later write, ‘if you’re a slave try for your freedom maybe? otherwise be good to master’ and have this seen as ‘crystal clear’ condemnation of the slave trade as the Archbishop has described it.

    So essentially I don’t think this can be swept under the carpet as ‘a trajectory’ towards something better. It is appalling.

    • Ben, thanks for replying. I won’t say much. I’ve said stacks and stacks already and wish for the gift of conciseness sometimes.

      I’d be interested to know whether you feel greater force to some of my arguments rather than others.

      I’d add that (to paraphrase), “Surely God being God can think of a better way” is a bit question begging. I venture that God often – perhaps more often – works through human individuals and structures, rather than by simply over-ruling them and their personhood and knocking down the structures flat (though that sometimes happens).

      That also means the canvas he is now painting on is deeply marred with sin, personal sin of individuals humans, structural evil and so on.

      That he could do it differently – hypothetically – doesn’t mean he should. That would be to presume we know better than him.

      I can certainly feel the moral and emotional force of saying that “To permit such suffering as slavery etc means you better have a jolly good reason for it, and I just can’t see it.”

      But when I look to what I know of Jesus Christ, I am not so ready to write off God’s trustworthiness in the sometimes mysterious ways he chooses to superintend human affairs.

      Apart from that, let me leave it as is, so readers can make their own assessments.

      Thanks for talking Ben, rather than shouting, if you know what I mean.

  6. Who decides on the “carefully planned tasting menu”?

    Your strength – “And outright denunciation is never the only way to address a social evil”

    But can you honestly say that homosexuality is a greater social evil than slavery in this day and age or any other?

    • Jason, in my analogy – and I’d hesitate to take it too far as it was the first time I gave it a run – the master chef is the one who decides on the degustation menu. His knowledge and experience and skill brings the disparate elements together in a way and order that works (possibly in surprising ways).

      God – revealing himself in Christ – is the master chef with Scripture, as it were.

      Thanks for noting the strength. I appreciate that.

      No, I wouldn’t say homosexuality is a greater social evil than slavery, nor worse than other forms or sexual immortality, nor worse than much more socially acceptable sins (even among Christians) like pride and greed. I wouldn’t try to rank them.

      But I do think it is a sin and am not hiding that, although that’s not really been my purpose in this series of articles.

      And I do think that retaining the current definition of marriage is good for society, and especially for children, over the long haul. But I’ve discussed that elsewhere on The Briefing site.

      I’m sorry that the discussion causes so much upset. Hence I try to take a fairly methodical and (hopefully) polite approach to it and avoid the fiery rhetoric. I appreciate you did the same too.

      • You’re welcome Sandy.
        And thank you for your answer.
        Personally, this discussion causes much less upset than confusion, I am no closer to understanding who has the correct interpretation and of which part of the scriptures one would apply for any given issue.
        Surely, all scripture is to be followed or none of it.

        • The answer might be in the way the NT writers use the OT. I think there are a few key principles they use.

  7. Thank you Sandy for your leadership in this issue. Thank you too for copping the barbs and brickbats from people who have taken issue with what you have said. Whenever this issues is raised I have a tendency to think – “Not again!” and want to hide in a corner. That is not the Christian response. Your main articles have been clear explanations of Biblical Christianity. Your responses have been courteous and patient even when it seems that you could be sorely provoked. Thanks for honouring your Lord and dealing with this issues with patience, respect and clear godliness.

  8. I have been wondering what would happen if the foreign slaves converted to the Israelite religion. My understanding is that the Israelites viewed membership in their nation along religious lines, and that foreigners were frequently accepted into their nation if they convert. Would this be the same with slaves, thereby pushing them into the Israelite slave rules? Any thoughts?

  9. One tack to take regarding the debate about Christianity and slavery is to ask why slavery is wrong.

    Given theism (especially Christianity) I can make a case that people being made in the image of God have value and that therefore they shouldn’t be enslaved by other people.

    What case can the non-theist make about the rights and wrongs of slavery – it is difficult or impossible for the non-theist to ground their argument about the value of people or against slavery in anything objective. If people don’t have objective value and if moral rights and wrongs can’t be grounded how can opposition to slavery have any meaning.

    The christian argument against slavery (and for human rights in general) makes sense – the arguments put forward by non-theists against slavery (and for human rights) make less sense.

    • Giving no consideration to the idea that people were made in the image of gods would lead you to think people have no value? Really?

      • Hi Jason
        I imagine we both believe that people have value and that we both believe in human rights. However the question though in my mind is what is the _objective_ basis for such beliefs.

        For human rights and the value of people to be objectively true then such ideas must have an authoritative source. If there is a personal God he would constitute that source and human rights would make sense.

        It is difficult to see what that basis would be for the non-theist though. If evolution is true – survival of the fittest (however you like to frame it) – , then I don’t see how you can get a basis for human value or human rights from that. If human value comes from majority opinion – if human rights is just a matter of opinion – well majorities of people can and do think otherwise at times to devalue others and deny the rights of others. So if there is no objective basis, then the ideas of human rights and people having value don’t make too much sense. How can you get values and human rights out of moving particles.

        I’m interested in how you ground your belief that people have value or that human rights is a legitimate concept.


        • You avoided my question Derek…If you woke up tomorrow in a world without any experience of gods, without any knowledge of your current faith in god, would you be a bad person performing bad deeds?

          Yes or no.

          You do not need to answer the following questions but would do well to consider them.

          If there was no god, no Christ or Christendom:

          Would you no longer understand pain or pleasure?
          Would you not know suffering when you seen it?
          Would you feel anything at all?
          Would you love your wife? Your children?
          Would you understand your emotions when your winning or losing?

          For a thing to be objectively true it needs to be true regardless of our consideration of it. No authoritative source is required. Just that it be fact without our thoughts on the matter.

          There appears to be no objective basis for you to act upon right or wrong. But it only appears that way.

          Setting aside the law of the land (majority opinion) and your ability to understand and explain your emotions and senses (evolution), would not leave you bereft of any ability to act in a reasonable manner as the smoke rose around you and the flames began to lick upon the ceiling of your home? As the temperature rose and your breathing became difficult would you just sit there?
          Or would you act to save yourself, your family, your frail elderly Mother? Given enough time perhaps also attempt to save the family dog and the family photos or other inanimate items of sentimental value.

          Without a god and your beliefs would you really be incapable of relating to your neighbour should his great misfortune lead him into this circumstance.

          If it happened to one who was not your neighbour, a total stranger on the other side of the world, you’d have no empathy?

          I don’t care how much sin you think you were born with. How much evil you think lurks inside you. I think your a good person like all people and would act accordingly.

          • Hi Jason

            “If you woke up tomorrow in a world without any experience of gods, without any knowledge of your current faith in god, would you be a bad person performing bad deeds?”

            I’d be the same person as I am today except that my sin wouln’t be covered by Christ’s righteousness!

            “Would you no longer understand pain or pleasure? … Would you love your wife? Your children? …”

            I agree that people feel and think and love whether they believe in God or not. We all bleed …

            My main point is just that human rights makes more sense under theism than atheism – that’s all


  10. Isn’t the point that we shouldn’t rely on the Bible for guidance on certain issues like slavery and homosexuality? That ancient customs and practices are outdated guides to how we should behave today? This appears even in the New Testament, when Christ told us not to caught up in a web of rules but to do one thing: love your neighbour.

    Does it need to get any more complicated than this?

    • James, if you’ve decided Jesus is a reliable guide, then you would investigate and weigh all his teaching, not just pick and choose one comment.

      If you decide Jesus is more than just a reliable guide, but actually the Lord Christ, risen from the dead (a conclusion I have drawn), then you would take all his teachings as authoritative.

      This includes his teaching that the OT Scriptures cannot be broken, that he come not to abolish but to fulfil the Law, etc. So – filtering through a promise-fulfilment approach – you’ll still be informed for ethics by the OT Law as wisdom.

      But even sticking with Jesus alone. You’ve really just cherry-picked one thing from his teaching: love you neighbour.

      Ironically, even at that basic level, you’ve missed the most obvious point that in the immediate context, he said that was the second of two great commandments, the first being to *love God* with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.

      It’s a mistake to think you are doing right if you try to love your neighbour without being interested in what loving God also means for that.

      However Jesus said many other things in the form of instruction and imperative:
      * Honour your father and mother.
      * You cannot serve both God and Mammon.
      * If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.
      * Watch out for false prophets.
      * Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.

      On some occasions, he intensified moral commands from the OT Law, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

      Many of these other commands taught by Jesus fill out what love for God and for neighbour looks like.

      Without such teaching “love your neighbour” is just in danger of becoming a sentimental, “You do your thing, and I’ll do mine and so long as we don’t get in each other’s way, it should all be fine.”

  11. Thanks for both posts Mr Grant, good thoughts. It’s encouraging to see others standing up for the truth of God’s word and defending it by explaining it clearly (not by just asserting that our human wisdom is right, but by showing what God says in his word). Keep up the good work! Hebrews 12:1-2.

  12. Thank you Sandy for revisiting your first rebuttal, much food for thought in your open and honest wrestling with very difficult and nuanced questions,

  13. Thanks to Peter and others for the courtesy.

    I appreciate those who agree and encourage me for what I’ve written.

    I appreciate perhaps even more those who disagree and yet do so kindly.

    Believe it or not, that’s the better way to understand and sometimes learn from each other, than just by shouting.


    Thank you for patiently giving a thoughtful and considered reply. However, your defence of the Bible’s view of slavery does not sufficiently answer the objections raised.

    Which alternative fits the data on this issue better? Is it more likely that the Bible is, or is not, the product of an all-knowing God with a ‘degustation’ menu of progressive revelation purposefully designed to reveal his will and transform people for the better? Let’s see:

    1. Your strongest reply regarding OT slavery:

    “the only realistic alternative to slavery for captured/defeated foreigners was death, unless you wanted to be attacked”

    That is insightful but insufficient for two reasons. First, were those really the only two alternatives to a very resourceful God who was determined to make Israel noticeably different to the nations (Deut 4:5-6)? Second, because as any parent or psychologist will tell you, people need to know the reason(s) behind a command/instruction. Whether a teenager or even a two year old, the motive behind a command makes a decisive difference.

    Sandy, you avoided a misunderstanding of your attitude to gambling by explaining your motivations and the reason for your actions. God did not explain his reasons for establishing slavery at Sinai for the first time in 400 years of Israelite experience. It is apologists who attempt this. Any doubt about God’s motives could have been removed if the reason really was as your say above in the quote. However, the data fits perfectly with the Bible texts not being an inspired degustation menu.

    2. Your strongest reply regarding NT slavery was:

    “Slavery was entwined in the whole agrarian economic system …”

    This could possibly be considered a sufficient answer if the accusation was “why didn’t the Christians just fix their society?” However, the accusation is about why did God not even suggest to masters, as a possibility, that setting slaves free would fit well with the overall trajectory of ‘freedom’ that the Christian revelation takes (or something along those lines). You are created a ‘straw man’ to whom you then gave your answer:

    “Simple biblical condemnation or a blanket instruction to free all slaves is wonderfully attractive as a sentiment and pathetically ineffective and meaningless as a practice in those contexts.”

    Why would condemnation need to be “simple”? Why could God have not added at least one more sentence say to masters “slavery is a concession” or add even more explanation. Why would the only alternative need to be a “blanket instruction to free all slaves” and not a suggestion to masters that they could consider freeing some slaves where possible and where the slaves would not be worse off? Why not?

    The offhanded comment in 1 Cor 7:21 is addressed to slaves, not masters. Paul helps the master Philemon to get his slave back again for service, even though both slave and master were Christians.

    Therefore whether considering OT slavery or NT slavery, it is more likely that the Bible was not the product of an all-knowing God with a degustation menu to reveal his will and transform people for the better. Without sufficient justification for the teaching on slavery, Christians are simply left to avoid leaning on their own understanding because their own understanding leads them away from trusting God with all their heart (Pr 5:6). On the topic of slavery, Christians must resort once again to the idea that God has hidden these things from the wise and learned (and the average reader) through Satan blinding the mind of unbelievers (Matthew 11:25, 2 Cor 4:4)

    Other aspects of Christianity will continue to hold Christians within the flock but the Bible’s discussion of slavery is not something that actually helps hold people. It does not read as an obvious example to Christians or non-Christians of God’s grace and wisdom. It’s not something brought out at the forefront of evangelism. It is a topic about which damage control must be undertaken and clever defences given.

    Every Christian who cannot see this conclusion demonstrates the power of their personal ‘confirmation bias’ which also allows Mormons and Muslims to continue with beliefs that range from mildly odd to breathtaking weird.

  15. I thought the law regarding slavery showed the very practical nature of the law, to a very hard-hearted people and thus highlighted God’s resourcefulness. I think the analogy to the certificate of divorce at the time, shows the reason behind regulating the practice, and didn’t need to be stated. For the people at the time, it would have been clearly seen as regulating some of the very barbaric forms of slavery.

    There were laws that directed the freeing of slaves over time. But as Sandy helpfully points out “Simple biblical condemnation or a blanket instruction to free all slaves is wonderfully attractive as a sentiment and pathetically ineffective and meaningless as a practice in those contexts.” I think it’s a fair point.

    God’s creational design, before the law was given, already gives the answer as to whether slavery is part of God’s ideal or not. And God’s revelation to his people in, and following Christ, shows the intent of the law and it’s limitations because of the people’s hard hearts.

    The NT speaks to Christian slaves on how to live under the system in place in society. But it also speaks to masters (who have become Christians) on how they should treat their slaves. In following this instruction, it revolutionises the relationship between slave and master into something that is even better than an employer/employee relationship.

    I’m pretty satisfied with the degustation menu analogy.

  16. “I’m pretty satisfied with the degustation menu analogy. Allah had many prophets at different times, including Jesus but clarity really came with Muhammad.” said Abdul from Bagdad.

    I’m pretty satisfied with the degustation menu analogy. Joseph Smith was God’s instrument to bring final the final message, though the Holy Spirit brought us clarity about polygamy a little after Joseph.” said Bob from Salt Lake City.

    “I’m pretty satisfied with the degustation menu analogy.” said Simon Finley.

    Simon, thanks for reinforcing my point about ‘confirmation bias.’

    Simon, if you are sincerely interested and open then I am happy to elaborate on why the evidence more objectively points to the Bible (and Christianity) being merely a movement of human ideas (without divine forethought) – ideas that are adapted to the circumstances of each era.

    If you are out to confirm your bias by presenting evidence such as merely quoting Sandy’s straw that I refuted previously then let’s not bother.

    To preempt one response at this point: yes I myself am open. I was convinced by the same side of the evidence as you are, but the more I studied and evangelised, the more I saw how I was filtering the evidence and subtly confirming my bias.

    It takes a quite strong confirmation bias in a modern information age to justify this stunning movement of morality:

    – turning a woman into NaCl for looking back (maybe it was her internal motivation more than the outward action that caused the problem but see the motivations below …)
    – glorying in the revenge on the Egyptians by stealing from them after killing their firstborn, then singing for joy at their gasping for air as they die in the Red Sea.
    – stoning your friend’s ADHD or autistic child to death
    – cutting off a woman’s hand who was motivated by protecting her husband
    – killing the men and taking the women you want when you launch an attack on a neighbouring country
    – killing all the humans in Canaan but saving the fruit trees
    – punishing for disobedience an Israelite man who was motivated to show mercy to a toddler on the run/crawl in Jericho when he should have been hacked down in the street (just like the man in London recently).
    – kill a man for instinctively reacting with the good motivation of protecting the Ark of the Covenant from smashing.
    – singing songs of revenge about the happiness of smashing babies heads on rocks.

    Of course, on the other hand, there are positives examples in the Bible of justice, mercy and morals. However. This is exactly what you’d expect for a purely human (not divine) movement of human ideas on morality – societies would not function if they were all bad. So mounting positive examples does not add to your case.

    These kinds of positives can also be found in other ancient societies where we see things like freeing all slaves on regular occasions. The difference here is that Israel only freed their own people not that of other nation who were willed to their children.

    It required striking your father to be worthy of death in the Code of Hammurabi, not just for cursing your parents as the Bible has it.

    Have you read any law codes of other ancient nations Simon?

    Simon, I think you will find your statement fits quite well with the other law codes in a number of instances:

    “I thought the law regarding X showed the very practical nature of the law, to a very hard-hearted people and thus highlighted Y’s resourcefulness”.

    A movement in morals shows nothing divine either since all societies/groups get to reflect on the past and make improvements – wisdom in hindsight.

    I may be wrong but the strained and/or insufficient arguments by Sandy and yourself have not caused a need for revision of my revision, as interesting as the arguments are – I still have great affection for these arguments of your since they were dear to me for many years.

Comments are closed.