The Bible and Slavery

November 17, 2011

I recently had a conversation with someone about the issue of slavery in the Bible.  He expressed that it was one issue that kept him from believing that the Bible was inspired by God.   I thought I would use the conversation as a blog post and not let the research I have done go to waste.

I have heard other objections and questions on slavery before.  Some of the typical things said are; If slavery is objectively wrong, why would God allow it?  God command the Israelite people to take slaves.  Christians in the southern United States had slaves and used the Bible to justify their actions.  The Bible never says that slavery is wrong.   As I mentioned before in a previous post that most of these are Straw Man arguments that misrepresent the truth of the matter.   Here is what the Bible does say about slavery.

First, we must realize that slavery was not God’s original intent for mankind.  We see this in another issue that was raised to Jesus in Matthew 19:3-8.

Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”  “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’?  So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.”  “Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?” Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning.

Perplexed by the first answer that Jesus gave them, they asked Jesus about the laws of Moses that concerned divorce.  Jesus response was to the heart of the issue and pointed to the source of the problem, the harden hearts of the people.  God’s original design was for no one to experience divorce, but since the fall and the sinful nature of man, God gave Moses rules to help protect the people involved in the divorce.  The same principle can be applied to slavery as well.  Slavery was not God’s original plan from the beginning, but because of men’s sinful nature, God gave rules to help regulate and protect those who were slaves.

Secondly, the Biblical idea of slavery is not the same as African slavery that most Americans think about.  Leviticus 25:25-55 outlines the laws that God set for Israel to follow concerning someone who owed a debt and could not pay it.  God allowed them to sell themselves voluntarily and work off their debt.  The person who bought them could only keep them for a maximum of 7 years and then they had to let them go free, regardless if the debt was paid off or not.   I won’t go into all the details you can read it for yourself, but God set rules up concerning slavery after it had already been in practice so that people would not be taken advantage of by others.  The first slaves in the Bible came from Ham, one of the sons of Noah.

Not only was Biblical slavery or being a bond-servant voluntary but we know that they were not treated like slaves in America or other parts of the world with the respect of harshness and physical violence.  Many of the slaves were treated just like family and friends.  They were given positions of leadership in the home over children and possessions.  The story of Joseph is a great example in Genesis 39.  Realizing that not everyone might not treat their purchased slaves as they should, God also set up laws concerning the treatment and protection of the slaves.   Deuteronomy 23:15-16 says “If a slave has taken refuge with you, do not hand them over to their master. 16 Let them live among you wherever they like and in whatever town they choose. Do not oppress them.”  This gave the slaves a way out of the arrangement if they were being treated unfairly.  In Exodus 21:16 God strictly forbid the kidnapping of an individual and selling them as a slave.  In the same chapter, God also declared that if even an owner hits a slave and damages as little as an eye or tooth, that the slave can go free and the debt is canceled.  As you can see this is vastly different from the African slavery that was practiced by those in America and other parts of the world.

The most popular verses that are used by those who argue against the Bible are found in Leviticus 25:44-48.

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.  47 “‘If an alien or a temporary resident among you becomes rich and one of your countrymen becomes poor and sells himself to the alien living among you or to a member of the alien’s clan, 48 he retains the right of redemption after he has sold himself. One of his relatives may redeem him:

Those who argue against the Bible will use this verse claiming that God commanded or gave permission to Israel to take slaves from the other nations around them.  The way the words are used make it look like that is the intent, but the truth is the scripture is not taken in context and if you look at the surrounding text and the language you can come to the correct meaning.  First, God has just laid out the laws concerning treating their own countrymen as slaves and warned them to treat them not like a slave at all, because they are Abraham’s children.  When the scripture says that they may keep the slaves from another country for life, it only meant beyond the 7 years maximum because they were not part of the nation of Israel.  When the debt was paid off the slave could go free.    In verse 44, the word “come” literally translates from the Hebrew word meaning “that exist” this makes the implication of the verses read differently. It would appear that God was referring to the slaves they already had possession of.  To further add a nail in the coffin, when you look at this verse in context with all the other verses that we have examined you can’t interpret it as a command to take slaves, because God has already spoken against it.  The idea that scripture interprets scripture is in play here.

One last objection that I have recently heard was that if God was an omniscient God, He would have know how people would have misused God’s Word to defend and justify horrific versions of slavery, Why didn’t God say or do something to stop it by including it in the Bible.  Yes, he would know that men would pervert his original design for life, but the question I have is would God break the free will He gives to man to stop the horrific treatment of a slaves.  I believe the answer is No.  We do know that any one can twist the Bible to make it sound like it supports their point of view on an issue.  It is easy to take one verse or a group of verses and single it out to read like you want it to.  Unfortunately, the slavery that was practiced  by the Christians in the southern United States was wrong, and those who were Christians didn’t bother to look at what the word of God had to say about the issue.  They were wrong.   At the same time there were also many other Christians who knew that it was wrong and choose not to participate.  Truth be told in history, it was the Christians who sought to free the slaves in England and America.  A popular Christian minister, William Wilberforce was one of the ones leading the charge in England.

As always, questions, comments, and discussions are welcome.


Atheism and Morals

November 11, 2011

If  you missed the first blog about morals and God you can click here and read it if you want to gain an understanding of morals from a Biblical view-point.  In my second blog about God, Morals, and Atheism I want to talk about the way that atheism views morals.    I want to be careful to describe their view of morals correctly because then I want to test it with some questions. After reading books by atheists and talking with them this is what I have found in general about what they believe about morals.

Since most atheists ascribe to Darwin’s theory of evolution, it would not surprise you to find that they believe morals have evolved as well.   They use the example of animals that have a basic conscience that can show fear and shame with their actions.  One website explains “Morals are, basically, the rules by which our social groups function. They ensure that things are reasonably fair and that relationships run reasonably smoothly. Social groups simply wouldn’t survive without rules, so the evolution of the ability to create and follow rules should be expected.”   Atheists also claim that morals have evolved over time and this proves that moral evolution is true.  They claim that we no longer follow the morals of the Bible like slavery, treatment of women, and war.

From here there is a divide about how some atheists see the individual evolution of morals.  Some insist that morals as an individual trump the morals of a society.  Others see it the opposite way around that in order to survive as an individual, humans somehow find it in their best interest to work together as a society to survive.  In the late 19th Century most atheists seem to take the individual viewpoint of morals.  Atheist philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche remarks “Equality is lie concocted by inferior people who arrange themselves in herds to overpower those who are naturally superior to them.  The morality of ‘equal rights’ is herd morality and because it opposes the cultivation of superior individuals, it leads to the corruption of the human species.”   New atheists like Sam Harris who are seeking to find a naturalistic view of morals, look more toward the influence of the culture as to defining the morals of an individual.  In his book, The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins uses 4 main ideas that can create a cultural view of morality.  They are altruism, kinship, reputation, and fear of punishment/desire for reward.  But both Dawkins and Harris admit that natural will give little help in cultural morals because the individual will fight against other individuals.  There seems to be an evolution of the way things are explained as it comes to morals.  Others might call this a change of mind.

What about the claims of atheists?  Are we really not that much different from all the other animals?  Have morals changed from the times of the Bible?  How do morals evolve?  All that being said, these are some questions that I believe need to be answered and I have difficulties that I have found with the idea of evolutionary morality.  Here are a few thoughts.

1. Are humans really not that much different from the animals?  Darwinism would have you think not, but one look around at the world tells the real story.  Biologist have been experimenting with primates for years, trying to teach them sign language, teach them behaviors, and more, but the best that can be observed is a mimicking of human behavior for a short time for a reward.  Animals are still called the savage beasts for a reason.

2. What about the claim that morals have changed over time?  The idea that we are no longer the selfish individuals of the past or of the Bible?  One look at the last century will tell you that indeed we are not becoming more morally evolve.  The 20th century was the bloodiest centuries of in history.  David Berlinski, in his book The Devils Delusion, outlines all the wars that have been fought and the number of deaths that been as result.  The numbers are over 160 million total.  The Biblical view of slavery is a bit of a straw man argument and was never anything like the African slave trade of the recent century. There is still mistreat meant of women today, perhaps as much as there was in history.  Take a look at the issue of sex-preference abortions that take place in China and India because families don’t want a female child they will terminate the pregnancy in order to try to have a boy. Also just  take a listen to a few Hip Hop songs and you will understand what some people still think of women.  Since the rise of atheists in the 19th century, as far as evolving morals, I see things actually getting worse, not better.

3. How do morals evolve?  This is perhaps the biggest leap concern I have with evolutionary morality.  How does a cell produce thought, a conscience, or morals?  Naturalists who argue for evolution want to say the brain is so highly developed, which it is, and it gets to the point where conscience is born.  This is not the traditional view of the human mind and body that are separate and that the human soul exists separate of the body.   Atheists want to argue that some how, the matter created the mind.  They try to explain it with the complexity of the brain and the long time that has passed to allow slow changes to create a mind.  But, no matter how complex something is, or how much time might pass, cells don’t grow feelings, atoms don’t feel things.  Science has no explanation for this as of yet, perhaps they might in the future, but I doubt it.   There is more to add to the brain/mind discussion but I will save those for another post.

4. There is also another area in morals that has a wide range of thoughts by atheists.  It is the question, Are morals objective?  From a Biblical perspective the answer is an easy, yes.  The Christian worldview has no issues with objective morals or right and wrong because they come from a transcendent God who sent the standard.  On the atheist side of the coin there is wide debate between atheists.  If you ask an atheist whether Rape or child abuse, which is a current topic in the news with Penn State, is objective wrong, they will most likely say yes, it is universally observed as wrong.  They may however be hesitant to say yes because they cannot explain where this universal moral comes from.

I will address some other thoughts related to morals in the near future.  As always, questions, comments, and discussions are welcome.


Defining Terms: Strawman Argument

November 9, 2011

In my last post I used the phrase “Straw Man argument.” I wanted to explain what the term meant and give a few examples of it in apologetic discussions.  The term Straw Man fallacy can also be used interchangeability.

Straw Man Argument – Straw man arguments involve misrepresenting the view-point of someone else to make it easier to knock down.  This can be done by defining a term incorrectly, not presenting all the facts or view points that might be controversial, it can even been from out-right purposeful lying.

Apologist Chris Sherrod uses the example of a statement often made by Darwinian Evolutionists.  “You creations don’t accept the fact that evolution can be observed.”  Here the mistake is referring to the type of evolution that is described.  Macro Evolution vs. Micro Evolution.  Christians do see and support micro evolution, it is also called adaption.  What has never been observed is macro evolution where living organisms change species.

Just this afternoon I went to hear a man, who called himself an atheist, speak on the subject of America not being a Christian nation at it’s foundation.  During the question section of his time he began to talk about the Biblical view of slavery and how Christians have changed their view of slavery over time.  He made several comments hinting that God approved of slavery or that enslaving other slaves from other nations was commanded by God.    He told the group that there were verses in the Bible where God instructed them that it was okay to have slaves and even referenced the apostle Paul saying that Paul instructed the Slaves to obey their masters.   I saw the straw man argument that was being build up before my eyes.   At the proper time I spoke up and called the argument for what it was.  I told the man that he was misrepresenting the Biblical idea of slavery and that no where did God command the Hebrews to take slaves and make them their own.  When he said I was wrong, I asked him to produce the verse, and he could not.   I shared a few differences between Old Testament Slavery and the typical African slavery that many people think about today.  I didn’t want to take up his time with the students, so I quickly wrapped it up and we agreed to talk over email in the future.

I didn’t have to mention that  Biblical slavery was voluntary by the person so that they could work off a debt owed that they could not pay.   These slaves were treated as well as the friends and family in the home.  They were given rights just as a free person was.  After 7 years the slave had to be set free, no matter if the debt was paid off.  One last thought that I wished I would have mentioned was that just because the Bible talks about something like slavery or divorce for example, it doesn’t mean that God approved of that action or practice.  Much of the Bible is descriptive and not prescriptive.  It describes the people and their actions.  People who are imperfect sinners, just like me, who make wrong choices.  I don’t know if he was unaware of the differences and the straw man argument that he was building, but  I felt compelled to speak up and not let the truth be misrepresented.  If any of the students from the Parkview SSA club are reading this,  I wanted to let you know that I actually started this post 2 days ago and did not start it today because of the discussion we had.  I had a bit of writers block until today.

The best way to defend against the straw man fallacy is to know your stuff.  To know what you believe and why so that you can stop the straw man from being easily pushed over in an argument.  This takes time and effort on your part, but if you are going to allow God to use you in helping people understand the true Biblical worldview, it is a must.  One of the ways that I try to help maintain as much knowledge that I can is through taking notes.  Research shows that if you take notes within 24 hours of learning you can remember 90% of what you learned.  I use a computer program to keep all my notes together in one location where I can categorize then by subject and easily find them when I need them.

As always, questions, comments, and discussions welcome.