Not Cease from Exploration

Friday, June 21, 2013

Slavery and the Bible

Anyone who has spend any tine reading the Bible and considers the topic of slavery will tell you that there is nothing in the Bible...old testament or new...that states it is morally wrong for one person to own another.  In fact, the Bible is full of advice on HOW slaves should be kept.  Prohibition?  Heck no; if anything, the Bible is something of an instruction manual on slavery.

Take for example the first book of Timothy (1 Timothy).  This book of the new testament represents a series of letters written by the Apostle Paul to a minister in Ephesus, basically providing guidance and support to a young Christian church.  1 Timothy references slavery several times.  Here are some examples*.

1 Timothy, Chapter 6, verses 1 and 2:

"Let as many servants as are under the yoke count their own masters worthy of all honour, that the name of God and (his) doctrine be not blasphemed."

"And they that have believing masters, let them not despise (them), because they are brethren: but rather do (them) service, because they are faithful and beloved, partakers of the benefit.  These things teach and exhort."

Now there are many other references to slavery in the Bible, and just to make the point I'll list just one more, from the first book of Peter, chapter 2, verse 18:

"Servants, (be) subject to (your) masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the harsh."

We won't even bother going into the old testament, which is rife with slavery references.  Oh what the heck, here's one.

Book of Exodus, chapter 21, verses 20 & 21:

"And if a man smite his servant, or his maid, with a rod, and he die under his hand; he shall surely be punished."

"Notwithstanding, if he continue a day or two, he shall not be punished: for he (is) his money."

Point made.  Not only does the Bible say it's okay to own slaves, but it describes how slaves should be treated (beating is okay, just don't beat them to death or the master should be punished).

What's the point of this post?  Well simply put, the Bible gets it wrong about slavery.  Very wrong.  Every good Christian would agree that, in this day and age, the mere concept of slavery is morally abhorrent.  Yet those who believe that the Bible is incapable of being wrong are left trying to explain the slavery verses as either:

a) Having to be taken in the context of the time (when slavery was "okay")

b) Being metaphors for something else (such as the relationship between man and God)

Now I've seen a third explanation, one of "...but slavery was different back then..." (see reference HERE), which I condemn as being, well, full of crap.  Owning someone is, well, owning someone, period.  If you own another human being you are engaging in slavery.  That fact that you may treat your slaves well doesn't make it "slavery lite".

Anyway, either way noted above represents a slippery slope for anyone who takes a literal interpretation of the Bible to heart, for then everything in the Bible could potentially be either taken in context or metaphorically.  There is simply nothing about the Bible's treatment of slavery that would make it so special...so different...that it falls into it's category of "Everything BUT slavery should be taken literally".

So, if the Bible...

...gets it wrong about slavery OR

...treats slavery within the context of the times OR

...treats slavery as a metaphor

...then isn't it possible that the Bible also gets other things wrong too?  Maybe other things written in the Bible have to be taken within the context of the times?  Maybe other things in the Bible aren't so much actual instructions as they are metaphors for other things?

I'm not condemning anyone who posses a strong faith and views the Bible with honor and reverence.  What I'm doing is pointing out an obvious contraction in everyone who uses the Bible some kind of moral brick to throw through the windows of others who they deem as being possessive of moral failings.

To quote the Gospel of John, chapter 8, verse 7:

"So when they continued asking Him, He lifted up Himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her."


(*The citations provided are from the King James Bible, with apologies to the good priests and sisters who taught me religion in high school.

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