A.S.K 3 – Does the Bible Condone Slavery?

I am grateful for the enthusiastic response so far for A.S.K and for the encouragements from others: This one is from a man I greatly admire and respect – whose job is to work with teenagers.

‘If you’re a teenager trying to follow Jesus it is more than likely that you’ve asked most of the 52 questions that David Robertson tries to answer. These are real questions and David doesn’t fudge the answers. Like a friend of mine who worked with young people, he doesn’t think he is the fount of all knowledge so, whatever the question, he begins by finding a Bible passage that speaks to the issue and roots his answer there. This is not just an AMA (ask me anything) session. This is; what does God’s word have to say? Then when he gives his answer he asks us to pray. That’s is because we’re not dealing with theoretical or academic concepts. These questions are real and affect our lives. They turn us to God in worship and thanks and encourage us to bring our concerns to him.
David Robertson is real. He talks about his own experience and the struggles he has gone through. And he is never boring; always gettng to the point and not confusing us with jargon. It’s not going to give you easy answers but they are satisfying.
You can dip into this book or read it through. If you’re serious about following Jesus it will not only strengthen your faith but it will equip you to speak confidently to others about it.’  Andy Bathgate – SU Scotland

Meanwhile – here is Question 3.

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BIBLE READING: 1 Timothy 1:1-11

TEXT: We know that the law is good if one uses it properly.
We also know that the law is made not for the righteous but
for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, for the sexually immoral, for those practicing homosexuality, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine that conforms to the gospel concerning the glory of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me (1 Timothy 1:8-11).

 

This is a great and important question. It is also one that is asked a lot – not least because there are parts of the Bible that seem, in the light of our culture, to be horrific.

Do you know what the word ‘zeitgeist’ means? It refers to the mood, spirit or understanding of a particular time or culture. Can we judge people from another culture and another era by the values of ours? The answer really has to be no. We can’t. But the Christian has a different perspective because we believe that every era and every culture can and should be judged by God. This is where the problem behind the question lies. It’s not that God does not count – it’s more that there seems to be a change in standards. But is this really the case? God’s character does not change. He is always holy, glorious, good, loving and just. His law, based upon his character, does not change – murder is always wrong. Rape is always wrong. Stealing is always wrong. Racism is always wrong. False worship is always wrong. Sin is sin.

I don’t think that there is a change in standards. It’s just that God reveals himself and his will gradually. It’s a bit like a curtain being pulled back slowly and the light being gradually let in. It’s what we call ‘progressive revelation’. God’s law reveals more and more of his standards and as it does so, it shows up our sin and the sins of our culture. Paul gives an example of us when he speaks to the philosophers in Athens:

‘In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead’ (Acts 17:30-31).

You see that everything leads up to Jesus.  As Paul tells the young man, Timothy, in today’s passage ‘the law is good if one uses it properly’.

 

ask-FINALThere is also another principle called ‘accommodation’. When God communicates with us he needs to accommodate himself to us, so that we can understand and apply what
is being said. Accommodation also means that God reveals himself in the context of our culture and seeks to change it through his Word. It is evolution not revolution.

It is also an important principle to remember when we are reading the Bible that much of what we read is descriptive (describing what happened) and not prescriptive (telling
us what should happen). For example, when we read about Jephthah sacrificing his daughter, that is not a command for fathers to do likewise today!

Let’s see how this works out in terms of slavery. Some people think that the Bible condones slavery. I don’t. I think it regulates it in cultures where it was practiced, (Abraham’s and the Greco/Roman culture in which the New Testament was written) but the teaching of the Bible as a whole is against the idea and practice of slavery. So in the passage we read we find that slave traders are guilty of breaking God’s law … if there are no slave traders, there will soon be no slaves!

You also need to remember that the Bible is not primarily a law book, or a ‘how to’ book. It is a revelation both of God and a description of the sinfulness of humanity and the remedy that God has provided to deal with that sin. The fact that God accommodates himself to us in order to reveal his glory and lead us to repent of our sin, does not mean that God approves of our sin.

At the end of the day, Paul gives us a great standard here. Everything must conform to the sound doctrine that conforms to the gospel concerning the glory of the blessed God. Once you get that as the big picture, the smaller details will fall into place.

 

CONSIDER: What do you think would have happened if we had been given all God’s law at once and told to obey it immediately or be destroyed? Why do you think God gradually revealed the gospel?

RECOMMENDED FURTHER READING:

God’s Big Picture – Vaughan Roberts

PRAYER: Lord God, we thank you for the wisdom in your Word. We thank you that over hundreds of years, you gradually revealed your will and Word, until the final Word, Jesus Christ came. We bless you that he is the bigger picture and once we read your Word in his light – it becomes so much clearer. Help us to understand and apply it today in our culture, in the name of Jesus. Amen.

You can purchase A.S.K on Amazon, or from CFP, or Ten of Those or at any good bookshop.

A.S.K – 2 – Trusting the Bible

In Conversation with Andy Bannister – A.S.K and Australia

A.S.K- 1

 

13 thoughts on “A.S.K 3 – Does the Bible Condone Slavery?

  1. Sam Harris has some interesting things to say about this question in his book “Letter to a Christian Nation” – obviously a little different to what David is pushing here.

    1. Perhaps Harris is unaware of a main theme of Exodus, of people rescued from slavery. Scripture is replete with echoes of exodus.

      1. Yet as soon as the Israelites invade Canaan they enslave the Canaanites, God tells the Israelites to kill every boy and every woman, except for virgin girls to be used in sex slavery. So much for the Bible being a bedrock of morality!
        “Numbers 31: 17-18 Now therefore kill every boy, and kill every woman who has been intimate with a man in bed. But all the young women who have not experienced a man’s bed will be yours.”

  2. Andrew,
    How old are you?
    Although you are seeking to widen to question to morality in general, which is far beyond the scope of David’s article from the book, here is a link to a quite long article, which includes links to lengthy videos of Dr Peter J Williams and Clay B Jones, Biola University, addressing as well as references to Paul Copan and Matthew Flannagan’s , Did God really command Genocide.
    By the way Andrew, how will you be placed before the Judgement Seat of God?
    https://isjesusalive.com/killing-the-canaanites/lengthy

    1. @ Geoff
      Of course Yahweh commanded genocide.
      If the question continues to be asked generation after generation then there is most certainly a dark cloud hanging over this issue that Christian apologists trip over themselves to provide an answer that will placate the fluttering hearts of believers.

      And furthermore, explicit rules were laid for the handling and treatment of slaves.

      By the way Andrew, how will you be placed before the Judgement Seat of God?

      By the way, Geoff what evidence do you have for this supposed ‘Judgment Seat”?

      1. Douglas,
        According to you, the Bible is historical fiction so there’s no point in seeking to engage with you.

      2. I agree, Geoff that, based on the evidence ( or lack thereof) I consider it is historical fiction.

        However, you among many teach it as fact so surely it is in your interest to demonstrate the claims you make, especially if you are going to teach it as fact to children.

  3. Douglas,
    According to you,
    1 God does not exist.
    2 The Bible is fiction.
    3 The God who doesn’t exist commanded something which didn’t happen.
    4 You base your moral superiority, judgement, on logical nonsense which you want to indoctrinate. Nonsense. Callow nonsense, from a man who ought to have thoughtfully grown, been educated out of it. But no, age entrenches you in your self made bunker. Lobbing damp squibs with self satisfied glee.

    1. According to you,
      1 God does not exist.

      Wrong. There is no evidence to support the claims made that any gods – including your god – exists. Feel free to offer evidence any time you like, Geoff.

      2 The Bible is fiction.

      The term I generally use is Historical fiction. There is a difference. You can look up the term on Google, I’m sure, yes?

      3 The God who doesn’t exist commanded something which didn’t happen.

      On this point we are in agreement. Based on evidence of course. Yet, you believe it is fact and teach/preach(?) as such.
      For me, as an adult, I have no major issues with what you personally believe. Other than if you wish to preach/teach it in the public market place, and especially to kids, to further extend your Christian-based worldview then I think it only fair and honest that you at least provide evidence for such claims that we can all check.
      Surely this isn’t too much to ask?

      You base your moral superiority, judgement, etc etc

      I have made no declarations of moral superiority that I can recall.
      Although, based on the biblical text , it isn’t too difficult to be more moral than the god Yahweh.

      Human morality developed out of the need to cooperate as groups – way back when before Yahweh was invented – and is a simply by-product of evolution.
      It can ( and has) even be observed in other animals.
      Feel free to demonstrate how you arrive at the notion that your morality derives from your god. With David’s leave, of course, maybe we can discuss it?
      It’s a public holiday down here today, business is quiet, and the West Indies / Bangladesh match is at drinks. Give it your best shot. Let’s talk evidence shall we?

  4. Indeed Douglas, let’s talk evidence, but we’ve been here before ad nauseum.
    1 There is no God, let’s have the evidence please., from your omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence.
    2 The Bible is fiction, let’s have the evidence.
    3 As for the question of morality without God you’ll have to do far better than that. Again, it is callow, maybe the product of philosophy of empirical, fixed mind, scientism.
    Enjoy the cricket as long as the morals of fair play and cheating doesn’t get in the way.

    1. 1 There is no God, let’s have the evidence please., from your omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence.

      I am not denying your claim that there are any gods – or in your case one god, Yahweh. How can I?
      What I am saying is that, the evidence presented does not demonstrate the veracity of your claim.
      Thus, I am fully entitled to dismiss it.
      Just as you dismiss any claims for Thor, Odin, Vishnu or Hannuman etc.
      All I am asking for is evidence . Geoff. Are you able to grasp such a simple basic concept? It really is a straightforward request.
      And please, do not come back and ask: ”What evidence would you accept?” as I have absolutely no idea. That is the most honest reply I can give you.
      Thus, I stand by the belief that, an omniscient,omnipotent god would know exactly what evidence would convince me.
      But a very good start would be by presenting the evidence that convinced you, Geoff.
      That cannot be too hard surely?

      2 The Bible is fiction, let’s have the evidence.

      Once again. That is not what I have ever claimed. I consider the bible to be Historical Fiction.
      It is in your best interest to fully understand this term in the context of out ongoing dialogue.
      To this end you need to demonstrate the historical veracity of the parts of the bible you consider to be Historical Fact .
      Pick something from the text – anything you like -and present the evidence for it.

      3 As for the question of morality without God you’ll have to do far better than that.

      I don’t have to.
      I base my claim on the evidence provided by scientists who study evolution/biology/natural history and their related fields etc
      You claim our mortality derives from your god, Yahweh.
      I say: Okay. Provide the evidence to support that claim.

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