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August 13, 2009

Comments

For a great discussion of Old Testament ethics that includes slavery, check out the Peter Williams audio found here at Apologetics 315.

Amy,

I think that your response to the question of slavery is reasonable, and I can understand why someone reading it would be content to move on to other concerns. However, I personally think that it falls a little short. (I apologize for the redundancies to follow.)


I don’t think the comparison of divorce to slavery holds up, for two reasons.


First, divorce is explicitly condemned as immoral in both the OT and NT. But at no point in the Bible is slavery explicitly labeled “immoral” or “sinful”. God takes the time to say kill those who gather sticks on Saturday, but slavery? Eh, who cares? Jesus was asked about slavery, just as he was asked about divorce, so it’s not like it’s a matter of just forgetting to say something about slavery. Jesus had a golden opportunity to condemn slavery, just as he condemned divorce, but he blew it.


Now, does that mean that God actively says that slavery is actually “moral”? I guess that depends on whether on not you think that slavery can be morally neutral or not. If it can be morally neutral, then you can conclude that a failure to label something as “immoral” does not necessarily mean that it’s automatically “moral”. Maybe God just forgot to give an opinion about the morality of slavery while He was busy instituting the death penalty for gathering sticks on Saturday or when he was condemning the mixing of wool and linen. But I would have thought that the slavery question is not something that would be considered the moral equivalent of “none of the above”.


The second reason why the comparison to divorce fails is that God never actively promotes or encourages divorce. However, in the OT, the taking of slaves as “plunder” is actually required as part of the process of military conquest. God says, go make slaves of certain people, *especially* the virgin females, nudge, nudge, wink, wink. (Conquest is another odd business for God to go into, but that’s another story.) It’s nice that one was not allowed to “kidnap” a fellow Hebrew, but there were plenty of other sources of slaves. Similarly, 19th century Americans did not have to “kidnap” to get their slaves, the slaves were provided by tribal warfare and “slave hunts” in Africa. And the Israelites could mistreat their slaves, they just couldn't mistreat their slave in certain specific ways that significantly damaged the property (and that's just good business practice). Further, the slavery “regulations” in the OT actively promote and perpetuate the institution by making slaves inheritable and by automatically condemning the offspring of slaves to slavery. This is going beyond just telling people to be nice to slaves; this is playing an active role in keeping slavery rolling along for thousands of years.


Could it be that God didn’t condemn slavery because it was the wrong time and place?


Well, when is it the right place and time? In saying that God can’t do something at a certain time and place is to diminish the power of God over people. The OT is full of examples of just how “persuasive” God can be when He doesn’t like what people are doing. Is the OT God shy or demure when He thinks that people are sinning? Jesus asked people to do all kinds of things that were extremely challenging, given the time and place, but he didn’t try to end slavery.


Besides, this is the rationale of the 18th and 19th century American slave holders. Jefferson knew that he was a flaming hypocrite because he owned slaves, but he just couldn’t quite find the right time and place to free them (mainly, he claimed, for financial reasons). The 19th century slave owners said that they couldn’t possibly free their slaves, because the poor old slaves would be lost without their dear massa to guide them. You see, it’s never the right time and place to end slavery.


Can something be legal and yet not moral? Of course it can be….when humans write the laws. Humans write laws to regulate all sorts of immoral activities. That’s what humans do. But is that what we expect from God? When God hands down laws in the OT, isn’t it reasonable to assume that these are based on what is moral and what is not? Why would God write laws that tolerate and/or promote immorality? We expect that from humans, but from God?


And could slavery have been permitted to “teach God's people both the condition of their own hearts and a crucial truth about their great, good God”? This is the best that God can do? He has to condemn millions of people to centuries of suffering just provide a little “compare and contrast”? No one has to beat me bloody before I conclude that I really, really, really understand and appreciate the difference between being beaten bloody and not being beaten bloody. Humans are pretty smart. Give us some credit. I think that we can figure some things out without the need for extremes like slavery as a "methaphor" or lesson by contrast.


Yes, Christians were prominent in anti-slavery movements of the 18th and 19th century. But it took one thousand, seven hundred years or about 600,000 days after Christ for Christians to get around to this, and it also took a considerable boost from philosophical movements, like the Enlightment, that were not necessarily closely tied to the Bible.

In end, the most charitable interpretation that one can hold is that the Bible does not explicitly say “slavery is moral”. It seems to lean more to the side of “slavery is moral” than to the side of “slavery is immoral” (just ask my slave holding Southern Baptist ancestors), but I guess you can say that the Bible avoids coming right out and saying “hooray, slavery!”. But that’s about as far as one can reasonably go. And if nothing else, I find that very, very disappointing.


I think that there is a much simpler explanation for the passages in the Bible that deal with slavery. The explanation is that the writers of the Bible did not think slavery was wrong. It was a part of their culture, they didn’t question it, it wasn’t condemned as immoral because it didn’t occur to the writers that it *was* immoral. When in the Bronze Age, do as they do in the Bronze Age. When a part of the Roman Empire, do as the Romans do. I understand this, and I wouldn’t particular condemn the writers for what they did. But does not lead me to conclude that they wrote was inspired by God; they was simply “inspired” by their contemporary cultures, and nothing more.

I'm sorry, but I just expect better from the Creator of the Universe. I know, I know, it's not up to me to decide how God should be. But, still, the OT God in particular is such a disappointment. He is, however, what you'd expect if He was created from the minds of people.

(By the way, the link to Apologetics 315 doesn’t work.)

I like the post, and I agree with it. Yet I would just like to point out a common error that many people make: To the question, "Did God condone slavery?" the answer must always be YES. This is true even given the arguments set out by this blog post.

The reason? It comes down to the definition of "condone", something which many people misunderstand.

Condone - to regard something that is considered immoral or wrong in a tolerant way

God indeed tolerated slavery while still viewing it as wrong, hence he did condone it. I think a better title for the post might have been, "Did God approve of slavery?", to which the answer of course would be NO. To condone something is effectively to allow or overlook something that you do not approve of.

Otherwise, great post.

Amy and Joe,

Thank you for the interesting discussion. You both raise good points.

Amy, I understand your comments about suffering (including slavery) being used to "accomplish a purpose even greater than the suffering". I guess I just tend to focus more on the plight of those that suffered than on those that benefited. It just seems like an awful lot of suffering to teach an elect few a lesson.

Amy, do you follow the Reformed viewpoint? I know Greg K does, but I don't assume that all do at STR.

Joe, you provide a very simple and straightforward explanation for all of this. It does indeed appear to be what we would expect if "created from the minds of people".

Joe, I am not sure that Thomas Jefferson could be considered a Christian. Though the Bible was an influence in his life, he was more influenced by philosophers like John Locke.

Also, there are verses in the NT that give reference to God viewing men of equal worth whether they are master or slave. This was really the worst thing about Western slavery. That the slaves were inferior in worth to the masters.

Joe wrote:

>>”Could it be that God didn’t condemn slavery because it was the wrong time and place?
Well, when is it the right place and time? In saying that God can’t do something at a certain time and place is to diminish the power of God over people.”

Joe wrote “didn’t” then two sentences later he wrote “can’t” in reference to God’s power.

Obviously, just because God “didn’t” it doesn’t follow that he “couldn’t”.

Just wanted to point that out.

KWM,

I see your point about didn't and can't. When I choose the word "can't", I was thinking of the argument that God didn't end slavery in the OT, because it would have been too difficult (for various reasons already discussed). If something isn't done because it's too difficult, that suggests that, on some level, it "can't" be done. However, I admit that I'm getting into semantics here, and I don't disagree with your point.

Arthur,

I'm not sure that Jefferon's religious affiliation is particularly important to the point I was trying to make, although I would agree that TJ was almost certainly not a Christian as most define the term. My point was about the nature of the rationalization that a given time is not a good time to end slavery.

Joe:

>>I think that your response to the question of slavery is reasonable

That alone makes my day, and I'm not kidding.

>>First, divorce is explicitly condemned as immoral in both the OT and NT. But at no point in the Bible is slavery explicitly labeled “immoral” or “sinful”.

This is indeed a distinction, but it doesn't speak to the way I used the illustration. The only point of the slavery example is to show that regulations don't necessarily mean God likes the practice. The way to tell how infinitely better God considers freedom to be than slavery (even regulated slavery) is the Exodus, God's constant reminders to them that He rescued them from slavery, the comparisons of sin to slavery and freedom to being with God, etc.

>>God takes the time to say kill those who gather sticks on Saturday, but slavery?

A post on that is in the works, as well. Flagrantly breaking the sign of the covenant with God was practically the most serious crime they could commit for a myriad of reasons. I've seen similar differences in punishments even this last week in our own country. A protestor gets beat up, and the cops break it up. But a guy holds up a sign saying "Death to Obama," and he's instantly in jail (as he should be). How can it be that holding up a sign gets a worse punishment than physically harming another human being? The answer is obvious, correct? It's not just "a guy holding up a sign," it's the dangerous/treasonous ideas behind the sign. For a similar reason (but, I think, an even more serious one), gathering sticks on a Sunday got a worse punishment than slavery.

>>Jesus was asked about slavery, just as he was asked about divorce

Which passage are you talking about here?

>>Can something be legal and yet not moral? Of course it can be….when humans write the laws.

Also when humans have to follow the laws. God has never been interested in the kind of revolution that would completely destabilize a culture. He knows our limits. And don't think He isn't still showing us the kind of mercy He showed them. We're as blind to our cultural sins today as they were to theirs. Who knows what we're doing today that God is patiently enduring that we can't even recognize. This is a great reminder of how far human beings are from perfection and how much we need God's mercy, lest we ever think our culture has arrived. Thank God we don't have to be perfect--then or now--in order for God to come down and meet us where we are.

>>It just seems like an awful lot of suffering to teach an elect few a lesson.

Jim, good question. If God is worth it, then it's worth it. If He's less than worth it, then it's not worth it. The answer depends on the greatness of God. You can't tell just by looking at the suffering whether or not it was worth it.

But I'm curious--would you really have rathered that those who were bankrupt and had no way to survive and no way to pay the debts they were responsible for had no recourse like choosing to be a slave for six years (in the case of the Israelites) to work off their debt and be provided for (with all the safeguards in question put in place, of course)?

>>Amy, do you follow the Reformed viewpoint?

For the most part. I'm undecided on the question of baptism.

Amy,

The NT examples I'm thinking of are in Luke 12:45-48 and Ephesians 6:5-9.

I understand that Luke 12 is a parable, but there's no hint that Jesus saw anything wrong with slavery. Here's a chance to talk about slavery, whether one is talking in parables or not, and there's no hint that Jesus finds the concept or institution of slavery objectionable. There's nothing to suggest that Jesus wants to challenge a practice based on many centuries of tradition, including OT tradition. Instead, slavery just acts as a convenient teaching tool. It's certainly not something to be criticized. Is this actively condoning slavery? I suppose that depends on how you interpret the word "condone", but I think that we can say that slavery doesn't seem to bother Jesus very much.

I know that Ephesians is the word of Paul, so I shouldn't attibute this directly to Jesus, but presumably, the "inspired" Paul speaks for Jesus in some way. (If Paul isn't "inspired", then we throw out half of the NT, right?). Apparently, Paul isn't bothered by slavery either. There's no suggestion that slavery is wrong or that the slave has a God-given "right to liberty", if I may cite Jefferson, again. At best, Paul seems indifferent to the institution of slavery, because who cares what happens to you on Earth? Why should anyone object to being a slave when there'll be pie in the sky when you die?

In both cases, both men seem to accept slavery as a given. It's just a part of their cultural landscape. It's just the way things are, and it's no big deal. Though Jesus and Paul would directly challenge the status quo in many other areas, neither seems to have thought of challenging slavery. It's true that there aren't that many passages in the NT that deal with slavery, so that leaves the door open to interpreting things in a variety of ways. But it's the very absence of passages that tells you that slavery is the norm, everyone accepts it and no one is going out of his way to challenge it.


A correction:

Given that Jesus talked about slavery in the context of a parable, I was probably wrong to say that he was "asked" about slavery. It was Jesus who brought up the issue of slavery as a means of making a point.

One more missed opportunity.

Matthew 8:5-13

Joe,
As several posters have previously said, you don't know which "type" of slavery the passages are referring to.

It is entirely possible that both Jesus and Paul had the "indentured servitude for a debt" kind of slavery in mind. In that case, a discussion of all types of slavery in general would be a distraction from the point of the passage: Paul's point was the importance of being a good witness in any and every situation (Ephesians 6:5-9). Jesus' point was the importance of taking seriously the responsibilities you have as a servant of Christ (Luke 12:45-48). The final case was the healing of a man's servant. This man cared enough about the state of his servant to come and ask Jesus to heal him, that doesn't sound like the attitude of someone who thinks of his servant as "just property."

As a question to you:
Why would a Bronze-age tribe that was in a struggle for its very existence (look at the passages with regard to how often Israel was abused by the surrounding nations) be so careful to regulate the treatment of slaves, prisoners of war, and "getting a day off"?

Wouldn't anything that made them seem more vicious be a benefit to them, causing their enemies to be more fearful? Assyria built an empire on that concept, many cities would simply open their gates and let the Assyrians do whatever they wanted rather than suffer the unbelievably brutal punishment for rebellion.

Israel, on the other hand, was a place where the poor would always have something to eat (Lev 19:19), slaves would not be mutilated or killed (Exodus 21:26-27), and everyone, including slaves, got one day off a week (Exodus 20:10). That doesn't sound like the kind of rep a minuscule nation on the crossroads between the two most powerful nations in the Middle East (Egypt and Assyria) would want to develop. If only humans are responsible for these laws, why would they institute regulations that would tie their hands in so many areas?

Joe,

I know we’ve gone back and forth over these issues and I do not want to turn you off from asking good questions, but yet again you have the historical background and contexts wrong on these passages. Please do not assume I mean cultural relativism. I don’t.

In the NT, it was the Romans who had a system of slavery in place. It is common knowledge that this form slavery (once again) was different than the institution of modern slavery. Slaves (or servants or bondservants) worked for pay and could gain freedom.

Even Paul mentions this in 1 Corinthians 7:21 “Were you a slave when called [to Christ]? Do not be concerned about it. (But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity.)” Why would Paul urge current slaves or servants to try to get free if he was indifferent to slavery?

He is giving advice to those who find themselves in difficult situations when they become Christians. It would be similar to a husband or wife becoming a Christian and the other spouse remains an unbeliever. Should the Christian wife leave the unbelieving husband? Paul says no even though these differing beliefs could cause more tension in the relationship. Paul’s reason is that perhaps the Christian wife will convert the unbelieving husband. Perhaps Paul has something similar in mind in Ephesians 6.

In 1 Timothy 1:9-11 Paul writes, “understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted” (emphasis added)

According to this passage, Paul teaches that “enslavers” are lawless and disobedient and contrary to sound doctrine. Isn't this the unequivocal renunciation of slavery that you say doesn't exist?

In light of the above passages, it would seem that when Paul urges slaves and servants to obey their masters in Ephesians 6:5-9, it actually makes sense. The context in view seems to be answering the question of what Christians should do when they become Christians. Should slaves just abandon their masters and run away? Would that really be good advice in the Roman world? I don’t think so because they would likely get killed for that. Paul’s advice seems to make sense given the passages mentioned above. But if they can gain freedom, certainly go for it (1 Corinthians 7:21).

Does this help when speaking of Luke 12 and Matthew 8? I’m actually unsure of how those passages fit into what you seem to be saying. How are these passages supporting slavery?

Joe, these are the types of things I have meant all along about understanding the context of a passage.

I think Luke 4:18 applies (Jesus reading from the scroll):

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.”

"As several posters have previously said, you don't know which "type" of slavery the passages are referring to."

True, but you don't know either. I can't prove what kind of slavery Jesus and Paul had in mind. But it seems a bit of stretch to assume that they were limiting themselves to just indentured servants". Given that there were plenty of "true slaves" around, and given that Jesus and Paul make no effort to say "I just mean indentured servants", it seems like an assumption of convenience to say that Jesus and Paul were specifically refering to just one type of "slavery". Unfortunately, we can not go back for clarification.

And again, at no time in the NT, is the institution of slavery condemned, challenged or declared sinful. This is the dog that didn't bark. Are slave owners told to be nice to there slaves? Yes. Are they told that slavery is wrong and that slaves should be freed? No. Slavery IS discussed. It's never condemned.

"The final case was the healing of a man's servant. This man cared enough about the state of his servant to come and ask Jesus to heal him, that doesn't sound like the attitude of someone who thinks of his servant as "just property."

At the risk of sounding callous, sick and dead slaves perform poorly. If my car isn't running, I take it to the shop. I still think of my car as property and not as someone to love. Now, maybe the centurion cared about his slave and maybe he didn't. Point is, you can't tell from the data provided in the NT.

"That doesn't sound like the kind of rep a minuscule nation on the crossroads between the two most powerful nations in the Middle East (Egypt and Assyria) would want to develop."

I don't think that we have much of an idea what the Isrealite's rep really was either way, but it's certainly true that a nation can be "nice" and still be a formidible foe (see U.S., WW II). I suspect that Israel's rep varied quite a bit over time for many reasons as the nation's fortunes rose and fell. Most significantly, it almost certianly depended on the size of its armies and the relative recentness of military success. And I'm honestly not sure, but I seem to recall that some cities surrendered to the Israelites without a fight just because of "rep" alone when Joshua was doing the genocide thing. But I don't see any evidence that giving slaves a day off affected the nation's rep one way or another. One can speculate, but there's no evidence to support the speculation.

"If only humans are responsible for these laws, why would they institute regulations that would tie their hands in so many areas?"

We have no idea as to the extent to which these nice ideas were put into practice, although the Sabbath thing was probably honored with some regularity. We simply don't know how slaves were really treated, but we do know that there were plenty of "legal" ways to beat a slave in the OT. You can inflict a lot of pain and a lot of damage, and as long as the slave is back at work in a couple of days, it's cool. As long as the owner didn't do certain specific things, as far as I can see, there was no legal appeal if the slave felt he or she was unjustly treated. And there's the other bits about slavery that nobody seems to want to talk about (kids become slaves, etc.)

We can read about these rules from a distance of thousands of years, but we don't really know what it meant to be an OT slave (although I can guess what it meant to be a captive virgin female). However, history shows that the institution of slavery corrupts, and even when there are rules in place, it is the nature of power that those in power will abuse their power. So, if OT slavery is not identical to 19th century slavery in every single detail, let's not go to the other extreme and turn these slaves into the Bronze Age equivalent of "happy darkies".

Were the poor always fed? We don't know. Why would you feed the poor? Well, we know that the indebtedness of another could mean that you had a slave coming your way. And presumably, a poor man could swing a sword as well as a rich man, and in warfare, every body counted. The point is that nations institute regulations for many, many reasons, and what appears to be "altruistic" often serves as a policy that benefits the state more than one might think.

Joe
Jesus had a golden opportunity to condemn slavery, just as he condemned divorce, but he blew it. "

I am afraid that you are mistaken here. Jesus was on a mission to erradicate the worse form of slavery of all...slavery to sin. His whole life and ultimately the laying down of his life was dedicated to that mission. So, you are just plain wrong to say that Jesus never said anything against slavery. His whole life, death and ressurection is a giant statement that paints it as a moral wrong.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.”

I think that the words "captive" and "oppressed" could refer to many things. For example, the "oppressed" and "captive" people could have easily been the occupied nation of Isreal.

Now, it's nice of Jesus to say that things will get better if you're "oppressed", and it does show some senstivity. That's a positive thing. But he didn't really deliver the goods, did he? The captives weren't released and the oppressed weren't set free. And Jesus didn't say, "Hey, slaveowners. You're all evil sinners. Free my people now". Now, I understand that Jesus could have been referring to rewards after death, but that's not really addressing the very real problem of the here and now of the first century.

Joe,
Don't know if you missed it but read my previous post. You are sadly mistaken on several things which I mentioned. What is your response? Specifically I'd like to hear your response to 1 Timothy 1:9-11.

>>Apparently, Paul isn't bothered by slavery either. There's no suggestion that slavery is wrong or that the slave has a God-given "right to liberty"

The Bible is more interested in how we act as individuals within our situations in our relationship with God than in radically changing our situations. This is why the Marxists were generally not fond of Christianity. The Bible was never a "utopia now" kind of book. Whether that's good or bad depends on your view of what's most important. But I think that God would not impose a radically foreign system for which they had no cultural background as support, but instead give them one that would be familiar to them, yet where the institutions were redeemed in many ways.

>>You can inflict a lot of pain and a lot of damage, and as long as the slave is back at work in a couple of days, it's cool.

It seems to me that the law was only about whether or not the owner would be punished. The slave would be set free after any damage, according to the law I quoted above.

>>although I can guess what it meant to be a captive virgin female

No, you probably don't know. They treated them as wives.

Deuteronomy 21:10-14--When you go out to battle against your enemies, and the Lord your God delivers them into your hands and you take them away captive, and see among the captives a beautiful woman, and have a desire for her and would take her as a wife for yourself, then you shall bring her home to your house, and she shall shave her head and trim her nails. She shall also remove the clothes of her captivity and shall remain in your house, and mourn her father and mother a full month; and after that you may go in to her and be her husband and she shall be your wife. It shall be, if you are not pleased with her, then you shall let her go wherever she wishes; but you shall certainly not sell her for money, you shall not mistreat her, because you have humbled her.

>>The captives weren't released and the oppressed weren't set free.

Louis's comment speaks to this exactly.

Amy,

I am continually impressed by the thoughtful and clarifying nature of your reasoning.

Thank you.

-Bruce

Amy,

"The slave would be set free after any damage?"

How does this follow from this?

"If, however, he survives a day or two, no vengeance shall be taken; for he is his property."

By the way, what happens to a woman who leaves her "husband" after she has been "humbled" and has no family to go to?

Tom,

Don't know if you missed it, but you never got back to me on my description of OT slavery. Were there any errors?

“How are these passages supporting slavery?”

Didn’t say they “supported” slavery. Said they treated slavery as a cultural norm. Said they suggested that slavery was a part of the landscape and not something than anyone thought worthy of directly attacking. That’s different from saying that the passages supported slavery. Again, we come back to the question, if I fail to condemn an institution, am I “supporting” it or “condoning” it? I think that’s up to you to decide.

Roman slavery..

I suspect that like the context of OT slavery, the context of Roman slavery was a little more complex than the picture you present. Roman slaves revolted. More than once. Doesn't sound like Happy Times Farm to me. The phrase “historical context” includes many things.

http://www.unrv.com/culture/roman-slavery.php

"Why would Paul urge current slaves or servants to try to get free if he was indifferent to slavery?"

I understand your point, but why not condemn slavery itself? It's great if you happen to be in a position where you can buy your way out. But what about the rest of the slaves? As with the OT, some might gain their freedom, but as long as the institution remained, most slaves would die as slaves. It really doesn't take much gumption to say, "if you're in a bad work environment, try to get a better job". Not quite the condemnation I'm looking for.

“1 Timothy 1:9-11”

I did not know of this verse, so points for you. And finally, one point for Paul. Finally, in one place in the entire NT, in a laundry list of bad people, someone says that slave traders are bad. Paul expends far more words bashing gays than slave traders, but he does say that slave traders are bad. Doesn’t say that slaver holders are bad, of course, just slave traders. No call to end slavery. No call to free slaves. Doesn’t condemn the institution of slavery. Don’t know why Jesus forgot to say slave traders were bad, but at least this is something. A little progress. After a long, dark passage through the OT, we have a glimmer of light. You were right, I didn’t know about this.

Of course, it directly contradicts Leviticus 25:44-46. But then this would take us down the rabbit hole where things that are moral in the OT are immoral in the NT, and vice versa.

To all,

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that there are no signs of progress in the Bible. As I said way back when in the other post, maybe the Israelites stood a little taller than some of the surrounding tribes, though by today’s standards, they were Lilliputians. And I do think that there is a lot of good stuff in the NT until it goes off the rails with that “believe Jesus is God or face eternal torture” thing. But at least the NT is an improvement over stoning everybody for everything.

But in the end, as Tom would say, it’s all about historical context. I think that what we see in the Bible is a long line of people trying to work out various moral codes for various times and various places. Tom is right. Understand the historical context, and you understand the Bible, though perhaps not in the way that he means.

Sometimes, the Bible moves the ball forward a bit, in terms of building better societies, but mostly it’s just a product of its times, and it’s always the product to the minds of men. That’s why when we look back at the OT, we see “moral monsters”; it’s a long way from the Bronze Age to the 21st century, and the starting point looks pretty awful from the current end point.

But if one can look at the Bible as a product of its times and as humans trying to bumble their way forward, at least it makes a certain sense, and it serves as a valuable record of human cultures as each culture wrestled with the question of how are we to get along with each other. Look at it in any other way, and you have to choose between deep, deep disappointment or a lifetime of endless excuses, rationalizations and special pleading in order to keep this alive as the Word of the Creator of the Universe. Personally, I’m tired of disappointment and don’t have the energy any more to make excuses.

Thanks for an interesting discussion. Whether or not I agree or disagree with the points of view at STR, this blog does discussion right.

>>How does this follow from this? "If, however, he survives a day or two, no vengeance shall be taken; for he is his property."

That doesn't say what happens to the slave. Like I said, it seems that passage is about the vengeance that will be taken on the slave owner for what he did.

This passage seems to address what will happen to the slave:

"If a man strikes the eye of his male or female slave, and destroys it, he shall let him go free on account of his eye. And if he knocks out a tooth of his male or female slave, he shall let him go free on account of his tooth."

Any damage--even as little as a tooth, and the slave is free, regardless of what happens to the slave owner for the damage. The law didn't make it easy for cruel slave owners to keep their slaves; also, like I said, if the slave leaves the master, nobody is allowed to send him back.

>>By the way, what happens to a woman who leaves her "husband" after she has been "humbled" and has no family to go to?

I would guess that she would have to find someone else to marry. But this is a very good question that speaks to one of your earlier objections about why women weren't automatically released after a certain amount of time as men were. I honestly think that was for their own protection and provision, just as you suggest here, basically because they became wives to the men (I'm not sure this was the situation in every case). Leaving her husband after she has been "humbled" is the same problem as divorce (which is why God hates it!), but again, we're back to the reality that it happens.

There's another passage on taking female slaves in Exodus 21. If a man gives her to his son, he has to treat her as a daughter. If he has her for himself, he has to treat her as a wife, and if he takes another wife, he's not allowed to reduce her food, clothing, or conjugal rights. If he ever deprives her of any of these things, then she can go for free.

All of these things are designed to protect the women, and I happen to not think men are as much of a monster as you seem to think. The men loved their women and took care of them back then just as you do today. It's not like these men were chaining up women in their basement!

(Bruce, I appreciate the encouragement.)

"Any damage--even as little as a tooth, and the slave is free."

I don't think so.

20 If a man strikes his male or female slave with a rod and he dies at his hand, he shall be punished.

21"If, however, he survives a day or two, no vengeance shall be taken; (M)for he is his property.

So, clearly, you can damage your slave with your rod up to the point where the slave can not survive for a day or two (if your beaten slave survives for a day or two, it's cool). That's a lot more than "any damage - as little as a tooth".

I think the reason why teeth and eyes are specified is that both are important to survival, especially the eyes. Slaves can still be valuable after a serious beating, but lose an eye, and your value decreases significantly.

If a slave escaped from his master for whatever reason, you were not allowed to return him.

See Deuteronomy 23:15-16. Reading the whole chapter for context I think these verses the tell Hebrews not to return foreign-owned slaves to their foreign owners.

I don't think these verses apply to Hebrew owned slaves.

What do you say?

RonH


So what's your point Joe? Yours too Ron, while we're at it...

>>>"So, clearly, you can damage your slave with your rod up to the point where the slave can not survive for a day or two (if your beaten slave survives for a day or two, it's cool). That's a lot more than "any damage - as little as a tooth"."

Joe, the verses you are commenting on deal with consequences for the slave owner. Yes, being beaten within a day or two of your life is a lot worse than losing a tooth, but these two verses say nothing of what happens to the slave as a result, only the owner. It seems to me (and I'll speculate a bit here) that when you take the eye and tooth verses and see that slaves are released for that kind of mistreatment, it would seem reasonable that the slave who's beaten that savagely and lives will go free, even if there aren't harsh consequences for the owner. Now, you can certainly say you think that harder punishments should kick in for the owner well before then, but this says nothing of what happens to the slave as a result of those verses. You'll have to look to the eye and tooth verses to find that.

And I think it's possible that those verses don't just warrant the slave's freedom solely on the basis of injuries to eyes and teeth. The OT concept "eye for an eye, tooth for tooth" is understood to carry weight beyond just eyes and teeth. The principle behind lex talionus(sp?) is that when you take or injure, justice demands that you are repaid in equal measure, but not beyond. Eyes and teeth may just be some idiomatic cultural expression of the time meant to convey more than just what's at face value, such as if I told someone not to harm one hair on my head, I wouldn't mean they could beat me senseless as long as they left my hair intact. The phrase carries with it more than just the literal understanding.

BC,

"I'll speculate a bit here."

Yes, exactly.

Given that the other verses are very clear about when a slave is to be released as a result of a specific act by the owner, the omission of a clear call to free the slave after a beating is striking. If the rules make an effort to make it clear when a slave is to be freed, then the absence of a command to free the slave after a beating is much more likely to mean that the slave is not to be freed. I can't prove this, of course, because as is often the case, the Bible is maddeningly unclear. But to conclude that a slave is to be freed after a beating is to read much into the text that isn't actually there.

Does anyone here really think that the Israelite owners of slaves were not allowed to beat their slaves? Are there any slavery systems where there is no penalty when the slave refuses to work? As I've said, the system is inherently corrupting, because in any slave system, people must be force to do things against their will.

If you kill my family and take me away as a captive to a strange land, just how are you going to get me to do ANYTHING for you? Beat me? Starve me? Take your pick. Why should I take one breath that benefits the people who destroyed my world? Don't you understand that I hate you with every fiber of my being? You'd better beat me, and you'll be damn lucky if I don't try to kill you.

Prince,

The point? Folks keep trying to minimize the realities of Bronze Age slavery. Now, I can't say exactly where Bronze Age slavery falls on the spectrum between complete and total freedom to live one's life as one pleases and 19thn century American slavey and Nazi concentration camp, although I think this is a lot close to the 19th century than people seem to think. But does anyone here really think "oh, it wasn't so bad". Really? Anybody want to sign up fo this deal?

And please remember, the ONLY evidence that we have regarding the nature of slavery in Israel in the Bronze Age comes from the writings of the slave holders themselves. Imagine reading an account of American slavery written solely by the 19th century leaders of the American South. Think you'd get an accurate picture?

If you want to say the slavery was part of God's plan, that's ok. I can't disprove the hypothesis that something is a part of the plan of an invisible being. God's plan can be whatever you want it to be. But please don't minimize the fundamental problems of slave systems. I got enough of that from my ancestor.

This is obviously a touchy subject for you Joe. Maybe there are some underlying issues that you have that are bugging you....

>> This is obviously a touchy subject for you Joe.

Wow, imagine slavery being a touchy subject. Just imagine people being troubled by it. How weird!

Wow... Weird... Jim, wow...

"This is obviously a touchy subject for you Joe. Maybe there are some underlying issues that you have that are bugging you".

I am unable to find words acceptable to STR with which to reply.

(Not that I object to STR's rules.)

May I take a different approach? I've heard talk about the realities of the Bronze Age. But what about the many instances in the Bible that talk about people begging to be slaves? Or people attaching themselves to others? Check out Joseph's story (particularly the famine part), Ruth, or even the parable of the Prodigal Son. Life as a slave to the land in a time of famine - was that more or less harsh than being a slave of a people group that had a moral code? Why was it that the Jews had rules about slaves - was it because God wanted them to have slaves, or maybe because it was a reality of people "attaching themselves" to the Jewish people? Personally, if God is blessing a group of people I would like to be a part of it. At what cost? No one can serve two masters. I serve the one who can bless and provide. How about you?

Joe
" As I've said, the system is inherently corrupting, because in any slave system, people must be force to do things against their will."

I think that this is just plain mistaken. Every individual wants their life to count for something. To be useful to others along the road of life is a basic need within each one of us. To deny this drive and to commit to a life of self absorption is to cut off a large portion of your life's fulfillment. Even under a system of slavery, an individual can and did find fulfillment in the service to his master. This was particularly true if that master was benevolent toward him and made provisions for his basic needs. The reality is that there were many more instances than you are willing to admit(due to prior commitment to a particular view), where a slave found pleasure and fulfillment in serving his master. This is not dissimilar to any other work situation that you find in the workplace today. Unless you are willing to say that someone can find no satisfaction in a job well done simply because that job was done under the system of slavery, I think you will be hard pressed to prove my points invalid.

Ok, I give up. Let's all going hands and sing.

Carry me back to old Virginia,
There's where the cotton and the corn and taters grow,
There's where the birds warble sweet in the springtime,
There's where this old darkey's heart am long'd to go,
There's where I labored so hard for old massa,
Day after day in the field of yellow corn,
No place on earth do I love more sincerely
Than old Virginia, the state where I was born.

Aww, don't pout Joe...

I'm not pouting. Just accepting reality.

For future reference, you all should stick with the "It's God's Plan" argument. I don't really buy it, but as I said before, I see no way to disprove it, because God's Plan can be anything one needs it to be. Any possible observation can be taken as support for the hypothesis; it's unbeatable. On the other hand, the arguments where you all act as apologists for slavery? Not so attractive.

Well, as God says, arbeit macht frei. Auf wiedersehen.

Joe, I have a quick question and maybe you've answered this allready (Ive been working all week so I havent had any time to join these lovely discussions!)

Could you define slavery?...... Rather... Could you define a form of slavery that, in your mind, is always wrong? I just get the impression that the term you are working from is, a bit off. Perhaps. I could be wrong. And if your burnt out I understand! I certainly sympathize with the feeling of being alone talking to a bunch of people that disagree with you!

Oh!
One more thing;
"Look at it in any other way, and you have to choose between deep, deep disappointment or a lifetime of endless excuses, rationalizations and special pleading in order to keep this alive as the Word of the Creator of the Universe."

Joe, with respect, I dont think that was a very thoughtful conclusion. Yes you may be incapable of seeing it our way, but certainly, from my observations, everyone here has been atleast honest about the reality of whats printed, right thier in our lovely book. If it were hidden, then I think you'de have a case.

Off topic, though.

For future reference, don't come on a Christian site and expect support or expect us to agree with you. The reality is, He lives... Good day brother.

LoL
Prince!
Prince. Keep in mind there are millions of people who dont share in our worldview. Thank God for people like joe, and we should do our best to atleast understand and respectfully address his disagreements. Its easy to throw your hands up and bail out (to which, I am excessively guilty of), but you know, maybe he'll come around. But I personally (and im speaking to you now joe) am glad you do come around these forums, despite all the heartache you bring me sometimes! lol!
;)

And prince that wasnt a slam on you. Im just sayin. And if it was, then include me in that slam.

We would be better off to sing Amazing Grace. We would be wise to learn from the author of that hymn. Not only by what he wrote, but what inspired him to write it.

I cannot reconcile men such as John Newton and William Wilberforce with a "morality" that you claim Christianity "condones" or "approves."

It was precisley the Christian faith of these men that caused them to live lives that changed the world. Either they were profoundly confused by what the Bible taught or you are.

That last post was intended for Joe.

Jennifer Aniston, God bless you ;-)

Didn't expect agreement. Was just suprised by some of the arguments. So it goes.

>>the ONLY evidence that we have regarding the nature of slavery in Israel in the Bronze Age comes from the writings of the slave holders themselves.

Except that all the Israelites were slaves in Egypt. And God keeps reminding them of this, citing their own experiential knowledge of slavery as the reason why they have to treat the poor and oppressed well.

(Good points, bc.)

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