Deeper Waters Podcast 12/22/2018: Richard Averbeck

What’s coming up? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters to find out.

If there’s any dark spot in the history of America, it’s slavery. When we think about the Civil War, we think about slavery. While it was defended and sadly, even an organization like the SBC was founded to defend it, today, you will have a hard time finding anyone who supports the practice.

Yet we find so many people talking about it today for one reason. It’s in the Bible! When we read the Bible, it looks to many people like God approved slavery. Does that mean what went on in the Civil War had his stamp of approval? How are we to understand texts in the Bible about slavery?

After all, the text says at times that you can beat your slave if he is disobedient. It says that a person who leaves his master will not be able to take his wife and kids with him. It says that slaves can be bought from the surrounding nations and they are slaves for life.

Can we defend any of this? Is this what we can expect from the supposed loving God revealed in Jesus Christ? Surely God could have given us a better system than this couldn’t He?

To discuss these matters, I’m bringing on a specialist in slavery in the Bible with an emphasis on the Old Testament. We’ll be talking about the Bible and slavery. Did what happen in the Bible match the New World scenario? What was life like in the Ancient Near East? Does that make a difference when it comes to slavery? To discuss these questions, I’m bringing on Richard Averbeck to discuss them.

So who is he?

According to his bio:

Richard (Dick) grew up on a dairy farm in Wisconsin and came to know the Lord when he was 18 years old at the University of Wisconsin, River Falls. About two years later (January, 1972) he transferred to Calvary Bible College in Kansas City where he began his academic study of the Bible, theology, and the biblical languages (Greek and Hebrew). It was there that he met his wife, Melinda.  

 

After his graduation from College in 1974 Richard and Melinda were married and moved to Grace Theological Seminary in Winona Lake, Indiana. In 1977 Richard completed the Master of Divinity program at the Seminary and they moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to pursue the Doctor of Philosophy program in ancient Near Eastern Studies and biblical Hebrew at the Dropsie College for Hebrew and Cognate Learning (now known as the Annenberg Research Institute of the University of Pennsylvania).

 

In 1980 Richard completed his class work for the Ph.D. degree and they moved back to Grace Theological Seminary where he took a position as a professor of Old Testament Studies and taught until 1990. During that time Richard and Melinda became the parents of two boys, Nathan and Micah. They now have two grandsons: Jaycob 17 and Levi 4 ½. He finished his dissertation on the Gudea Cylinders, a long Sumerian temple building hymn (from about 2100 BC), and received the Ph.D. degree from Dropsie in 1987.

 

From 1987 to 1989, while continuing to teach full-time in Old Testament Studies at Grace Theological Seminary, Richard engaged in the study of biblical counseling under his colleague at the Seminary, Dr. Lawrence J. Crabb, Jr. He received the Master of Arts in Biblical Counseling (MABC) degree in 1989, and is presently a “Licensed Professional Counselor” in the State of Wisconsin. From 1990 to 1994 Richard taught full-time at Dallas Theological Seminary in the fields of Old Testament Studies and Biblical Counseling, and carried on a part-time private counseling practice. In 1994 the Averbecks moved to Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin for Richard to take-up his present ministry as a full-time professor in the Old Testament and Semitic Languages Department at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (TEDS), Deerfield, Illinois. In 2010 he also took on the Directorship of the PhD program in Theology Studies at TEDS.  

 

Richard was the Director of the Spiritual Formation Forum for about ten years from 1997 to 2007. The major concern of the Forum was to assist in the development of spirituality and spiritual formation ministries in Evangelical Christian institutions such as Seminaries and Graduate Schools, Colleges, International Ministries, Campus Ministry Groups (on secular campuses), and Church Denominations as well as individual local churches. Richard continues to preach, teach, and publish in the field of Spiritual Formation.

 

Richard has published numerous articles in the fields of ancient Near Eastern Studies, especially Sumer and Sumerian literature, the relationship between ancient Near Eastern Studies and the Old Testament, the Old Testament Law, especially the ritual law and priestly theology of the Old Testament (Leviticus, the tabernacle, the sacrificial system, etc.), the latter in Walter Elwell’s Dictionary of Biblical Theology (Baker, 1996); Willem VanGemeren’s New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis (Zondervan, 1997); and David W. Baker’s and T. Desmond’s Dictionary of the Old Testament: Pentateuch (InterVarsity Press, 2003). He was Chair of the Biblical Law Section of the Society of Biblical Literature from 2004 to 2010, and serves on several other professional society committees. Richard also co-edited and contributed to Crossing Boundaries and Linking Horizons: Studies in Honor of Michael C. Astour on His 80th Birthday (Bethesda, Maryland: CDL Press, 1997), he was the main editor and a contributor to Life and Culture in the Ancient Near East (Bethesda, Maryland: CDL Press, 2003), has published on the Gudea Cylinders and Sumerian Creation Texts in The Context of Scripture volumes 2 and 4 (the latter forthcoming), and has published numerous other articles in these fields.

 

In recent years, Richard has become engaged in the renewed scholarly discussion about the early chapters of Genesis. He was one of the five main speakers at the Bryan Institute symposium on reading Genesis 1-2, September 29-October 1, 2011, Chattanooga, Tennessee, along with Todd Beale, C. John Collins, Tremper Longman III, and John Walton. Richard’s chapter is entitled: “A Literary Day, Inter-Textual, and Contextual Reading of Genesis 1 and 2,” in Five Views on Genesis 1 and 2, ed. Daryl Charles (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, forthcoming 2013). He is also the author of “The Three ‘Daughters’ of Baal and Transformations of Chaoskampf in the Early Chapters of Genesis,” in Chaoskampf in the Bible and the Ancient Near East, ed. JoAnn Scurlock (Winona Lake, Indiana: Eisenbrauns, forthcoming 2013). Most recently he has been appointed a co-director of the “Evangelical Theology and the Doctrine of Creation Project” funded by the Templeton Religion Trust through the Henry Center for Theological Understanding at TEDS.

 

Richard is currently committed to several book writing projects including: A Priestly Theology of the Old Testament; The Old Testament Law and the Christian; A Rest for the People of God: Reading the Old Testament for the Christian Life; and commentaries on the books of Leviticus (in the Evangelical Exegetical Commentary forthcoming from Logos Research Systems) and Numbers (in the Biblical Theology for Christian Proclamation Commentary Series forthcoming from Broadman & Holman).

I hope you’ll be looking forward to this episode. If you’ve done any internet discussions on Christianity, you’ve probably come across this topic. May this episode equip you to better understand the Bible and slavery. Please also go on iTunes and leave a positive review of the Deeper Waters Podcast.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Why I Don’t Take Internet Bible Critics Seriously

Should you really pay attention to that critic? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Let’s be fair. There are some skeptics out there that do their homework. They do try to really find out what scholars in the world of the Bible are saying and make reasonable cases. I disagree, but at least they are doing their due diligence.

The majority are not.

For the past couple of weeks or so, I’ve been going through a big book. It’s Behind The Scenes of the Old Testament and it’s about 512 pages and most of these pages have plenty of lines on them. It’s the kind of book that these same skeptics will not even read. It would be practically a miracle if they even skimmed it and looked at the pictures.

And yet, these same people will think they can speak with authority on the events in the Bible. They will speak on slavery in the Old Testament and all they have is their knowledge of the Civil War in America and the fact that they are offended and think that is sufficient. Never will they dare ask questions like, “What is slavery in the ancient world? What was the purpose of it? What other alternatives did they have?”

Let alone do these people really have an understanding of the Law for Christians. Many think that the Law was meant to lead us to some kind of Utopia and everything in it is a moral principle for all time. It’d be kind of hard for a Christian to say this since Jesus in the New Testament said that Moses permitted divorce to the people because their hearts were hard. This is not to say there are no moral truths in the Law, but the purpose of the Law is not to produce perfect people.

Too many critics of the Bible read the Bible from a modern Western perspective and then look back on the dumb and unenlightened culture they see in the Bible thinking they’ve made a powerful critique. Argument from outrage is a favorite. God did XYZ! What kind of God would do this? The conquest narratives are a favorite. Lately, I’ve seen David’s baby dying as a result of David’s sin as an example of this. (Strangely enough, these same people will also defend abortion. Go figure.)

My advice to Christians on this is to first off not take such critics seriously. If someone is not willing to read and study life in the Ancient Near East, they shouldn’t comment on it. If they do, we shouldn’t take their comments seriously. I say the same thing about Christians who want to go and critique evolution, but will never ever pick up a book on science in their lifetime. Reading your favorite Christian who argues against evolution without studying science yourself and just repeating what they say is just as bad as reading a new atheist on the Bible and repeating what they say without studying it yourself.

Let me make a caveat here. If you are a Christian and you do read the science and you do want to argue against evolution, have at it. It’s not the route I take as evolution is a non-issue to me. I just don’t repeat the arguments. Someone could be making powerful arguments against evolution or talking nonsense. I don’t know.

Also Christians, if I go after the atheists for doing this, I want to be fair and go after us. Too many of us who are Christians don’t bother to study the context either. We take one little section out of a prophecy and either make it about the end times in a dispensational paradigm (As if the prophets never ever said anything about their own culture) or they make it about themselves.

Let’s go with an example. In Jeremiah 29:11, God tells the people that He knows the plans He has for them, plans to prosper and not harm and to give them a hope and a future. Great passage. It’s used so many times in cards for college graduates and such. Horrible interpretation right there.

Jeremiah is making this point to Israel as they are going to Babylon. If you are sending a card to a college graduate who’s part of a covenant people and is being shipped off to Babylon, then that’s okay. If not, you might want to rethink it.

“Great. So are you saying this verse is useless aside from historical information?”

Not at all. We could apply this to us today. Picture a pastor saying this.

“The children of Israel had received a promise from God. They were about to face suffering and that suffering would make them wonder about the promise. They would doubt it and think God had failed them to let this happen. God assures them that is not so. In the same way, we today are recipients of the promises given to Israel and in Christ. We can often go through hardship and suffering still where we wonder if God has abandoned us. Hebrews tells us that God will never leave us or forsake us. As there was a purpose for the children of Israel going into Babylon, so there is a purpose for our suffering and Romans 8 tells us that God will work all things for good to those that love the Lord. Whatever you are going through in your life, realize that God is in control. As He did for the children of Israel in being with them in their suffering, so will He be with you.”

There. If anything, this is a richer understanding I think because it is connected to the New Testament. In the passage in Jeremiah, we can know that some of the people who went to Babylon never came back. After all, the return was about 70 years later. In the New Testament, some promises are individualized, such as Romans 8. We will all in Christ be resurrected in new and glorified bodies and each of us will give an account of what we have done and each of us will be treated accordingly. At the same time, we are a community in Christ and should live that way.

Studying the context of the passage goes a long way and will help us. Critics of the Bible need to really work to study the text instead of thinking that outrage is an argument. Christians need to study it because we think it comes from God and we need to treat it seriously and not misapply it. Will we always interpret it properly? Of course not, but we should always seek to bring the best information to the table that we can.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Book Plunge: Why Christianity Is Not True Chapter 5

Can we trust the Bible? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

We’re continuing through David Pye’s book. This chapter is on the Bible and I was really looking forward to dealing with something more meaty. Much of what I have seen so far seems to be much more experience oriented. I came here hoping to get a lot more.

I hate to say that I did not get that.

So let’s go through and see what I did get.

Pye starts with the canon. In this, he asks some good questions Christians should ask. The problem is, that’s all he does. He asks the questions. The only scholarship he goes with is Elaine Pagels. There is no hint of interacting with Michael Kruger or Lee McDonald. Both of these scholars have written well on canonicity and the forming of the canon, but their works are absent. A good basic look can be found here.

Generally, a book had to be by an apostle or an associate of an apostle, it had to be received by the majority of the church as a whole, and it had to be in line with the tradition known to everyone that went back to the historical Jesus. Pye instead quotes Pagels who says

Contemporary Christianity, diverse and complex as we find
it, actually may show more unanimity than the Christian
churches of the first and second centuries….Before that
time, [the end of the second century] as Irenaeus and
others attest, numerous gospels circulated among various
Christian groups, ranging from those of the New
Testament, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, to such
writings as the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Philip,
and the Gospel of Truth, as well as many other secret
teachings, myths, and poems attributed to Jesus or his
disciples.

She goes on to say that

We now begin to see that what we call Christianity – and
what we identify as Christian tradition – actually
represents only a small selection of specific sources,
chosen from among dozens of others. Who made that
selection, and for what reasons?

For the latter, as said, these are good questions. Unfortunately, no answers are apparently sought for them. For the former, I challenge Pye to find me one time where these other Gospels were accepted on a major basis by the early church. You can find an isolated church that used something, such as the Gospel of Peter, but these are the exception. There was never any doubt about the four Gospels we have today.

In response to all that Pagels says, Pye answers that

I shall not here be pursuing answers to this question. I’m simply flagging up that there were many writings about Jesus, but only some of them were included into the New Testament. Christians may assert that it was the hand of God that determined this – that is, it was God Himself who ensured that only those writings that He had inspired were included in the New Testament. But we may reasonably speculate that in fact it was “power struggles” in  the early Church and/or historical accident that determined what was included and what
excluded.

Yes. Answers will not be pursued, but let us speculate sans history and make the judgment. I wonder if I would be allowed to do the same thing with the sciences. Perhaps sans evidence, I should say people who embrace atheism are just wanting to live sinful lives without having to face a judge one day. It is a reasonable speculation on my part, so why not?

Pye then goes on to say picking and choosing is a problem. Some people choose what they want to accept and what they want to reject. Absent is any consideration on looking at hermeneutics and how to examine a case and apply it properly or the relationship between the two testaments or even examining the cases historically and choosing to use that which holds up historically. Pye goes even further saying that even if you go with 100% in the Bible, you’ve still trusted your own fallible judgment.

Heads he wins, tails you lose. So apparently if you don’t believe everything, you’re picking and choosing. If you do, you’re also picking and choosing. Absent is any notion that someone could choose to believe the Bible because they have studied it and seen that it holds up.

From there, Pye goes on to talk about moral problems. He treats the Bible as if it was an instruction book on how to live the good life. It contains instructions on that, but that is not the purpose. The ultimate purpose is how to know about Christ and His Kingdom. Living a good life is tied into that, but the Bible is much more than that.

Pye then gives us Deuteronomy 21:18-21

When a man has a son who is rebellious and out of
control, who does not obey his father and mother, or take
heed when they punish him, then his father and mother are
to lay hold of him and bring him out to the elders of the
town at the town gate, and say ‘This son of ours is
rebellious and out of control; he will not obey us, he is
a wastrel and a drunkard.’ Then all the men of the town
must stone him to death, and you will thereby rid
yourselves of this wickedness.

So how many people have applied this to their lives? Pye says this thinking that the rules of a political nation in a covenant relationship with YHWH as their king and set apart from the rest of the world as a political institution and as an old covenant must surely apply to us the exact same way. It doesn’t. Today, there are great works to read on this like William Webb’s Slaves, Women, and Homosexuals or John Walton’s Old Testament Theology For Christians here. It’s understandable Pye did not read these if they were not yet written. It is not understandable that it appears that nothing was read. My own response to this can be found .

Sadly, Pye continues with listing some other passages. All he gives is the references. It strikes me more as “This offends me and therefore it’s wrong.” There’s no attempt to understand the culture. There’s no attempt to show that Israel was supposed to be a utopia on Earth for all time. Nothing.

I can happily say Israel was not the perfect society. It was not meant to be. It’s a stepping stone. Slavery, for instance, was a reality for everyone in the ancient world. If you go to someone today and tell them you support slavery, much of the world will look at you aghast. If you go to the ancient world and say that, they will do the same.

One wonders what people like Pye expect. Was God supposed to create a Wal-Mart immediately for everyone to work at? The reality was that in the ancient world, if you didn’t have money or resources, you had to serve someone who did. Actually, if we thought about it, that’s still the way the world is.

Still, let’s humor him. First, Exodus 21:7-11.

If a man sells his daughter as a servant, she is not to go free as male servants do. If she does not please the master who has selected her for himself, he must let her be redeemed. He has no right to sell her to foreigners, because he has broken faith with her. If he selects her for his son, he must grant her the rights of a daughter. If he marries another woman, he must not deprive the first one of her food, clothing and marital rights. If he does not provide her with these three things, she is to go free, without any payment of money.

Today, a woman can often work for herself and doesn’t have to marry. Not so in the ancient world. A woman would be provided for by a man and one of the best ways also was making sure she had descendants. A man who sold his daughter was not getting rid of her. He was trying to assure a better life for her by giving her to someone who could provide for her and to unite two families together. In this case, the man must provide for her. He is not to deprive her even of marital rights, a good way to make sure she can still have children. This is a system to protect the woman in that society.

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.

This is again a society that out in the wilderness does not have a jail and also since slaves were day-wage earners, depriving them of financial income would mean starvation of some kind. Physical discipline was what was done. Why is the slave owner given the benefit of the doubt? Because the slave is his property. The slave represents his income. The owner wants to keep his income. Note also as we see later that if even a tooth is knocked loose, the slave goes through. This is set up to put limitations on things and protect the slave.

Deuteronomy 7:1-2

When the Lord your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations—the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites,seven nations larger and stronger than you— and when the Lord your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy.

Again, this is common in acts of war and also hyperbolic. One only needs to go through Joshua and find out that the land is described as having the inhabitants driven out and lo and behold, there they are. Pye could see this as a contradiction. It’s not. It’s hyperbole. Ancients spoke this way. Keep in mind also these people knew Israel was coming. If they wanted to escape, just pack up and move. Again, Pye could bear to read people like Copan, Flanagan, and Walton.

Joshua 6:20-21

When the trumpets sounded, the army shouted, and at the sound of the trumpet, when the men gave a loud shout, the wall collapsed; so everyone charged straight in, and they took the city. They devoted the city to the Lord and destroyed with the sword every living thing in it—men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep and donkeys.

This is more of the same and we need not say more. We could say that these acts of war are not mandated for all people in all times and all places. They are for a specific people in a specific place at a specific time in a specific situation.

Pye goes on to list contradictions. He gives two. How did Judas die and what about the genealogies of Jesus? I will happily grant the genealogies of Jesus is one that has had much wrestling done with it. The early church itself had a number of solutions to the problem. For Judas, many say that Judas hung himself and later the rope broke and his body fell and burst open. Even if this is not what happened, it is still something possible and plausible. Finally, none of this shows Jesus did not rise from the dead. Christianity does not depend on inerrancy.

Pye also brings up the whole “Dear Dr. Laura” letter. My ministry partner has a great video on that. By the way, just on the side here, I think the lady who does the voice work for the main female character in the video sounds totally hot!

But now, Pye comes to what he thinks is the most important section of the chapter and one of the most important ones of the book. This is where he is going ot show the Trinity is unbiblical. As one who has interacted with cults in the past, I came here hoping for a great metaphysical argument.

Instead, I got a question.

Where does the Bible say to worship the Holy Spirit?

That’s it.

No. Really. That’s it.

So because this command is not there, then it doesn’t matter if the Holy Spirit is called God, speaks as God, is personal, and does everything else. The Bible has to explicitly say that you are to worship the Holy Spirit. Without that, every other piece of data can be there, but it’s somehow incomplete.

The only reference he makes here is to Billy Graham. Billy Graham was indeed America’s pastor, but he would have been one of the first to tell you he wasn’t an academic. There are a number of scholarly works on the Trinity that are available to be read and these by academics. Why weren’t they sought out?

Pye goes on then to say that

The absence of authority in the Bible for worship of the Holy Spirit should be a cause of disquiet for all Christians. And for those Christians who are adamant that the Bible alone is their authority the problem is enormous. Such a Christian faces the following choice:-

1. He must find a passage in Scripture in which the Holy Spirit is worshipped (ideally several – to avoid reliance on a single “proof text”)

or

2. He must stop worshipping the Holy Spirit given that there’s no authority for this in the Bible

or

3. He continues worshipping the Holy Spirit – but thereby accepts that the Bible is not his sole authority for what he believes.

To begin with, a Catholic or Orthodox Christian would say the Bible is not the sole authority and have no problem. Do Protestants have one? Not at all. Pye has confused Sola Scriptura with Solo Scriptura. No Reformer ever said the Bible was the only authority. None of them said the church fathers or tradition were irrelevant.

What Pye is doing is taking the position of the Bible as the ONLY authority. Anyone who has ever attended a church service and heard what the pastor said would have already violated that rule. The Reformers said that nothing could be accepted as Biblical if it contradicted Scripture.

Does worshiping the Holy Spirit do that? No. The Holy Spirit is shown to be God and it is proper to worship God. That would not even be saying the Bible does not say that. Look at it this way.

We are to worship God.
The Holy Spirit is a person of the Trinity with the full nature of God.
Therefore, it’s okay to worship the Holy Spirit.

Pye goes on to say that anyone then who believes in the Trinity is doing something unbiblical because we are never explicitly told to worship the Holy Spirit. Again, this is not a big problem. It is also a false understanding to say that any Christian says the Bible is the sole authority. Even from the beginning of the church, some were given to be teachers.

The next chapter is on narrative formation, but I find this one still extremely weak and wish Pye would have interacted with more real scholarship.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Paul Behaving Badly

What do I think of Randy Richards’s and Brandon O’Brien’s book published by IVP? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Paul can be a very polarizing figure today. Some Christians have the idea that Jesus is really awesome (And they’re right), but we don’t know about that Paul guy. He wasn’t even one of the original twelve. He didn’t meet Jesus in person. Why should we listen to him? Some skeptics will claim that it was Paul who really invented Christianity and took the good message of Jesus and turned Him into a deity and lost sight of His message.

For those of us who do like Paul, we do have to admit there can be difficulties. As the authors ask “Was Paul a jerk?” Sometimes, it looks like he was. They bring this up in a number of areas. First, the general question of if he was a jerk. Then they ask if he was a killjoy, a racist, a supporter of slavery, a chauvinist, a homophobe, a hypocrite, and finally a twister of Scripture.

Each chapter starts with the charges against Paul and they do bring forward an excellent case. You can look at the claims and if you are not familiar with the debates it is easy to ask “How is Paul going to get out of this one?” The authors also grant that Paul is not one behaving according to 21st century Western standards, but he was still just as much behaving badly to his own culture as he was just as radical to them. Paul is kind of in an in-between spot sometimes. Many times he’ll push the envelope further and leave it to us to keep pushing it. The question is are we going to do that.

Many of these questions need to be addressed for the sake of many people you will encounter who raise these objections. (Why didn’t Paul just demand the immediate release of slaves?) I enjoyed particularly the chapter on Paul being a killjoy. O’Brien gives his story in this one on how anything wasn’t to be done because we are to abstain from the appearance of evil so let’s make sure we all go see only G-rated movies and are teetotallers. (While I personally abstain from alcoholic beverages, I don’t condemn those who drink and control their alcohol.)

Some insights I thought were interesting and added perspective. Why did Paul seem to take contradictory stances on meat offered to idols? Why did he have Timothy circumcised when Timothy was from the area of Galatia and Paul had made it clear that if you let yourself be circumcised, then you are denying the Gospel. (If you want the answers to those questions, you know what you need to do.)

I would have liked to have seen a little bit more on the honor and shame aspect of the culture of the time. There is some touching on this, such as talk also about the client/patron system, but a quick refresher would have been good for those who don’t know it. Of course, I definitely recommend that anyone pick up their excellent book Misreading Scripture With Western Eyes.

This book is a great blessing that we need today. Paul, like I said, is one of the most controversial figures even among Christians. To deal with his critics and to help those who would like to support him, you need to read this book.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Slavery and the Church….Again

Is the church responsible for slavery? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

So here we’ve had a terrible tragedy that has took place in Charleston and once again, supposedly racism is an epidemic sweeping the country right now. Now I’m of the opinion that no matter what you do, there will always be racism because people are sinful like that and because we view with suspicion that which is different from us. Of course, we must remember to never let a good crisis go to waste and so Huffington Post has a piece up by Carol Kuruvilla on how white Christians used the Bible and the confederate flag to oppress people. (Of course, one can be sure the implications of this are supposed to reach far past slavery and to Christians being great oppressors today.)

Of course, there’s no doubt there were too many people who used the Bible to justify slavery just like there were people who used science to justify the eugenics movement. This no more means we should discard the Bible than it does that we should discard science. It would be best to follow the adage attributed to Augustine that you never judge a philosophy by its misuse. What happened was horrid in the south no doubt, but absent from Kuruvilla’s report is any of the response to this. Sure, she says the Northern Baptists were opposed to slavery. What is not said is that most Christians around the world were already opposed to slavery. She wants to focus on one people group, though a sizable one to be sure, and say that these are the main representatives we should look at.

What made it so hard over here? Mark Noll says first off the arguments against slavery from a Biblical position depended on understanding the context of the Bible and looking deeper than many others did who just wanted what was “clear” to them. As he says in The Civil War As A Theological Crisis:

“On the other front, nuanced biblical attacks on American slavery faced rough going precisely because they were nuanced. This position could not simply be read out of any one biblical text; it could not be lifted directly from the page. Rather, it needed patient reflection on the entirety of the Scriptures; it required expert knowledge of the historical circumstances of ancient Near Eastern and Roman slave systems as well as of the actually existing conditions in the slave states; and it demanded that sophisticated interpretative practice replace a commonsensically literal approach to the sacred text. In short, this was an argument of elites requiring that the populace defer to its intellectual betters. As such, it contradicted democratic and republican intellectual instincts. In the culture of the United States, as that culture had been constructed by three generations of evangelical Bible believers, the nuanced biblical argument was doomed.”

So what made the Civil War a theological crisis? What separated us from the rest of the world? It was that we had a view about ourselves as a special people that God was guiding. It was a sort of manifest destiny. We believed in democracy greatly and so we treated the Bible the same way. The Bible should be just as clear to the man on the street and one does not need to do deep study to find out what is being said. This is still the approach of many fundamentalists today, which includes a large segment of internet atheists who read the Bible the exact same way their Christian counterparts do. They just believe exactly opposite.

It wasn’t the Bible then that was the problem so much as how we thought about ourselves. This is also prevalent in many Christian circles today where people are looking for signs for everything that they do, as if God is supposed to personally guide them. It shows up when people think the Bible was written in a style that is obviously apparent to 21st century Westerners instead of bothering to study its context. To many atheists, this can sound like an excuse. In reality, it’s simply saying to treat the Bible with the same respect you’d treat any other document from another time, culture, place, setting, and in another language.

Also noteworthy is that Kuruvilla ignores any ancient history on this. When Christianity first showed up, slavery was practically if not entirely universal in the Roman Empire. The thought of removing slavery and having a functioning empire would be like thinking we could do without something like automobiles or IPhones today. Make the suggestion and you will be met with uncomprehending stares. To us, it makes no sense because we have a moral background that has been so heavily influenced by Christianity. That was the Roman Empire. What system really brought about the end of it ultimately? I’ll give you a hint. It starts with Christ and ends with “ianity.”

The church had a history of treating slaves first with respect and then eventually setting them free. Philemon could be called the Emancipation Proclamation of the New Testament. Christians would often raise up money to buy slaves just for the purpose of setting them free. It was Bathilda, wife of Clovis II, who really brought slavery to a halt, but its death had long been started beforehand because Christians said everyone was in the image of God so no man should be the property of another man. Did it get started later? Yes. Unfortunately it did, but it was Christians again, like Wilberforce, who rose up to stop it.

Make no mistake. Many Christians have done stupid stupid things in the past. Many of them have done wicked things that we should all be ashamed of, but let’s be fair and not overlook the many good things that have been done. If all that is presented is one side of the story, then of course that one side looks compelling. Let us remember the main cause of slavery was really more of our egos about us being a special people than anything else. Of course, some people thinking they are special today is certainly not being used to oppress anyone else out there now is it?

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: The Civil War As A Theological Crisis

What do I think about Mark Noll’s book? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters. 

The Civil War was an awful time in our nation’s history. There can be much debate about what went into it and why it happened. I personally don’t think the war was about slavery at the root, but I think slavery did play a part in it. I would say it was about the decision of the states to secede the union. It did end in freedom for the slaves and the abolition of slavery, but there was more to it than that. Still, that’s just a theory and I leave it to Civil War historians to say more about that.

There can be no doubt however that slavery is a dark mark on our nation’s history as well. What is even sadder about it is that so many people were using the Bible to defend the practice. This has led many of us to forget that the Civil War was not just a crisis of politics, but in fact it was a crisis about theology, since both sides would be able to say the exact same statements about the Bible. They’d just disagree on hermeneutics.

Knowing my interest in inerrancy, it was suggested to me that I should read this book. I’m glad I did. I found in it many of the problems that are still going on today.

Here in America, we believe greatly in the individual power of each person. To some extent, this is not problematic. However, the problem is we often carry this over to every area. We say that the average man is capable of electing his leaders for government. (Note that unique aspect of us. We are a self-governing people instead of people who have a king ruling over us.) We believe in the American Dream where with hard work and ability, you can reach the goals you have. You are to have the freedom to pursue happiness.

If all of this is true, then surely we can also do what every other man should surely be able to do! We can read the Bible and interpret it correctly! This is especially so since if this is the Word of God, then it must be that information which God would want us to know and if He wants us to know it, it should be simply to understand shouldn’t it?

Now I do think the common man to an extent can understand the Bible. You can get the main message of the Bible, such as that of salvation found in Jesus Christ, out of the Bible by a casual reading. Yet you will not get the inner intricacies of the Bible without doing real deep study and it could be the “common sense” interpretation, might be what many Americans think it is, but not what it really is. 

Of course, the fact that we were materialist did not help with this. By materialist, I do not mean philosophical materialism, but rather that we had a great love for our wealth. Slavery was a great way to increase your wealth. Invest a little bit in some slaves who you don’t have to particularly treat well and have them do all the work for you. 

Still, we’re going to be sticking with the problem of Scripture. America had been largely built on the Bible and it held a high place in American society. So what happens when there is a fundamental disagreement among the common man on how it is to interpret the most important book that exists in the American culture?

And you thought your church scuffle was bad….

As Noll also says on Location 2089 of the Kindle, foreign observers could see much clearer what was going on. If the highest authority that they had was every man’s private interpretation of Scripture, then what happens when there is a clash and there is nothing beyond that to point to? Naturally, the Catholics were willing to point out there was a problem with such a view. I, as a Protestant, would point out the need for much study and reflection in reading the leading works of scholarship. Unfortunately, too often, we’ve degenerated further into a strange idea of “That’s just your interpretation!” (Postmodernism I see as the end result of this kind of thinking.)

The great danger is that so many Protestants were saying the Bible was clear on the issue. Unfortunately, that clarity existed on both sides. One side said the Bible was clearly pro-slavery. One side says the Bible was clearly anti-slavery. Once again, we have the same problem today with people going by what is “clear.” What is clear to a modern American however is not necessarily what would be clear to an ancient Jew.

Also add in the view of providence and this makes it more difficult. Every event was interpreted as a specific “sign” from God. (I always get wary when people talk about receiving what they are sure has to be signs from God. These are even more difficult to interpret and while God allows all things to happen, there is no clear indication that any one of them is a direct message from God to the people involved.) This could in fact be something that’s a precursor to another situation today in America, interpreting events in the Middle East as signs from God and seeing Scriptural fulfillment in everything that happens.

A lot of this also came from Christianity blending itself with the Enlightenment. If the power of reason by its own is so great, then surely we can understand a book like Scripture and it must be simple. After all, if God is going to speak a message, won’t He make that message simple? Note that this is an assumption that is not defended. If anything, reading the Bible should show that the message will not be simple as even Jesus says this specifically about His parables.

It’s important to point out that the side that would have often been going the most for the clear reading of the Scripture and seen as conservative, even including the SBC, would have been the side that was pro-slavery. The other side would have been the side that brought forward the textual evidence such as looking at what slavery consisted of in the OT and the NT and what was going on at the time in the world and the marked ways slavery was different in America. Why were these arguments not given the attention they deserved? On Loc. 519, Noll says

But because those arguments did not feature intuition, republican instinct, and common sense readings of individual texts, they were much less effective in a public arena that had been so strongly shaped by intuitive, republican, and commonsensical intellectual principles.

 

Today, we would be told these arguments involved rationalization or “trying to deny the clear meaning of the text” and no doubt several wicked ulterior motives would be involved. Those who were opposed were the ones doing some of the hardest research and analyzing the Scriptures piece by piece instead of going with the “simple” interpretation. (Note: This simple interpretation is also preferred by too many internet atheists today.)

In fact, notice this contrast shown in Location 612.

James M. Pendleton was a hard-nosed defender of the Bible’s inerrancy as well as of Baptist distinctives, but that cast of mind did not prevent him from mounting a strong case against slavery as practiced in Kentucky at a time when possible legislation concerning slavery was being considered by a state constitutional convention.

Note this. Pendleton is seen as a strong defender of inerrancy and the Baptist faith, and yet marked out because he opposed slavery. Now none of this is said to slam Baptists as a large number of Northern Baptists did oppose slavery. Many Baptists today from the South have acknowledged this dark mark on their past and it does no good to deny it. It must be owned up to just like Crusades that went wrong or the fact that even one death in the Inquisition was too many. (Although the number of hundreds of thousands or millions is not accurate at all)

Pendleton also dealt with what was called “the Negro problem.” This meant that even if you freed the slaves, how are you to treat the black population? Are you to view them as Christian brothers and sisters? To the shame of the North, even up there that was not done that often. It would still be difficult to accept them not just as free, but as fully human. In fact, the problem of race was one that could not be answered from within the Biblical text, like many others. (Geez. Maybe extra-Biblical resources aren’t always so bad.)

What this gets down to was that too often, an attack on slavery was seen by those with the persuasion that the text was simple and clear, that this was an attack on Scripture itself and an undermining of its authority. After all, if this is what Scripture clearly teaches, then if you are going against it and bringing in ideas outside of the text, then you are going against the text of Scripture and undermining it as the final authority.

As Noll regularly points out, this was an American problem. It wasn’t that much of a problem to those who were outside of America. In America, to go against this viewpoint would make you be seen as heterodox. In the other nations, it would not. The problem then was not the Bible, but rather how Americans viewed themselves and ultimately, that came from how they viewed God should present His message. Our individualism made it possible.

Reading this book for me was a quite eye-opening event and I made several several more highlights in my Kindle that could not be recorded. What are some lessons to get?

First, we should all seek to go beyond the common sense interpretation of Scripture. We must really wrestle with Scripture and while I am not a presuppositionalist, that does not mean I do not recognize the importance of presuppositions. The assumptions that we bring to the text can affect the way that we read the text.

Second, we must also get over ourselves majorly. All of us who want to learn the Scriptures need to realize that there is no shortcut to understanding. By all means pray before Bible study, but don’t pray expecting God to just beam the answers into your head. You’re going to have to do your part to learn the answers.

Third, be extremely careful about signs. Some signs read would have pointed to the favor of slavery. Some would have pointed to the condemnation of it. It’s very difficult to judge God by current events, especially since you don’t know which ones are specifically from Him and which ones aren’t. We tend to view ourselves as really really special and therefore, God will treat us differently.

Fourth, even opponents of Scripture need to learn to not be so simplistic. When we go by what the clear meaning is, we have to ask who that is clear to. Is what is clear to a modern Westerner the same as what is clear to an ancient Jew? The Bible was written for us, but we must not think that it was written to us. It is not all about us.

Fifth, different interpretations does not mean that one is calling Scripture or inerrancy or anything like that into question. In fact, the ones who were opposed to slavery certainly did have a high view of Scripture. The fact that they weren’t using simple arguments was often seen as if it was a point to be used against them.

Anyone interested in learning the importance of good interpretation in history and the problems with a rampant individualism need to take this book and see what it has to say.

In Christ,

Nick Peters

Debunking 9 Truly Evil Things Right-Wing Christians Do Part 3

Is the church demeaning and subjugating women? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

We have part 3 from Allie here. Tomorrow I do plan on a book review and then Thursday will be something different. For now, here’s Allie:

We are moving into a third part of the series from the article: http://www.alternet.org/belief/9-truly-evil-things-right-wing-christians-do?page=0%2C0 Our next section is: 3. Demeaning and subjugating women is evil. Like the second part of the series, this should be pretty short as well. I’ll go ahead and copy what they said first:

“When it comes to dignity and equality for women, instead of acting as moral torchbearers, Bible believers have been at the back of the pack for generations, along with conservative factions from other Abrahamic traditions ranging from Islam to Mormonism. The American Quiverfull movement, “ complementarianism,” the expulsion of Southern Baptist women who were making inroads into the clergy, the Mormon Patriarchy’s threats to excommunicate women who seek equality, the Vatican’s decision to crush nuns who thought poverty was a bigger problem than abortion . . . Need I say more?”

First of all, one of the sources they used (for the explusion of Southern Baptist women) was an Atheist website. If you are going to to complain about something about a religion or a politician or anything for that matter, don’t use a source that agrees with you, use the source that it actually comes from! If you’re going to complain about the Southern Baptists, use a source directly coming from the Southern Baptists. If you’re going to complain about Islam, use a source that directly comes from Muslims. If you’re going to complain about the Bible, use the Bible as a source. This irritates me to no end. But, I will let this slide because I will assume this person doesn’t properly know how to do their research. Of course, if you’re defending a position, it’s fine. For an example, in the first part when the author of the article was accusing the Bible to support child sacrifices, I used the Bible itself as a source to show that it in fact did not support child sacrifices. This is fine, but it’s also good when defending your case to use sources that support your case that may not believe the same things you do. For an example, if you are arguing whether or not Jesus actually existed, there are many people who aren’t Christians who believe Jesus did in fact exist. They may not believe he was a holy deity, but they believe he was in fact a man who was a good teacher who was crucified and did actually exist. Anyway, let’s move on from there.
So the first thing they bring up is the term “Quiverfull.” I’m pretty young and honestly not too bright, so I was like, “What in the world is Quiverfull?” Luckily, they were kind enough to provide a link to it! Basically, they don’t believe in any kind of artificial insemination, birth control, etc. Everything is natural and they have as many babies as God gives them. Their view is basically, “As arrows in the hand of the mighty man, so are the children of ones youth, happy is the man who hath his quiver full of them.”(Psalm 127:4) I guess that’s where you get the term “Quiverfull.” So, here’s my question to the author and to you, why does it matter? If they don’t want to use birth control, what difference does it make to you? If they want to have a lot of kids, what difference does that make to you? People who are for same-sex marriage say, “Why do you not want people to get married to the same gender? It’s not going to bother you!” That discussion is for another time, but I bring that up because you say something like that won’t affect us. Well, a family who chooses to not use birth control and do everything naturally and have however many kids God gives them won’t affect you either! As long as they can provide for the children and are not foolish to take on more than they should. But even then, God will help even the most foolish of people and he won’t abandon his children.
The next point they bring up is “Complementarians.” Basically, the belief that men play a more dominent role in the church than women. I know for some women this could be a little bit of a touchy subject, and I understand why too. It used to bother me how so many men were in ministry and it seemed like few women were in ministry; and if women were in ministry, it seemed like they were only in ministry because their husbands were in ministry. Even when I would read my Bible, it would upset me sometimes that it was always men preaching. All the famous prophets – men. The apostles – men. There were a few famous women in the Bible, but they weren’t famous like the men except for maybe Jesus’ mother, Mary. Most women in the Bible to me seemed more like they were in the background, and in my life I always felt like I was in the background. As someone with high anxiety problems, I didn’t mind being in the background, but at the same time, I wanted to do more than just be in the background: I wanted to make a difference in people’s lives! I wanted to show people the love and mercy Christ has for everyone, as he has shown me! So I really do understand where women come from when they want to make a difference in people’s lives for God’s kingdom. Men and women’s roles are different. But women can be involved in ministry. Like a couple, a man and a woman have to work together. The man is head of the family, but at the same time, they both submit to each other. I think in a way it’s the same way in a church. A man is the head of the church, but men aren’t the only ones in ministry, they need women to help in ministry too! They help each other out! Women can be in charge of children’s ministry for example! God gave us women a more nurturing spirit than men tend to have, and children really need that! Women’s ministry! It’d be pretty awkward for a man to lead a women’s ministry. I can just imagine my husband (we both have Asperger’s Syndrome) who’s a minister, if he had to lead a women’s ministry. All the drama us women have to face daily, men cannot handle that kind of drama! I’m sorry but men are not going to understand your periods or your menopause! He just knows that time of the month you get really cranky and he knows he’s going to be in the tenth circle of hell for a few days. Only another woman is going to understand the drama other women face. There are so many other ministries women can do: music ministry, missionary work, counceling, and so much more! You can’t just have one pastor do all the work! You need a team! Who’s going to help with the children? Who’s going to help with the youth? Who’s going to help with the music? Who’s going to help with getting the church setup? Who’s going to help with organizing the funds? Who’s going to organize the events? So much more goes into a church that one person can’t do all the work!
The author brings up the excommunication of women wanting to join the all-male priesthood of the LDS temple. As sad as it is for them to be excommunicated, the temple is still an all-male priesthood. I don’t agree with the LDS church, but if they don’t believe women should be priests for moral reasons, why should they be forced to allow women to be priests? As an Atheist (author of the article I’m responding to), how does this affect you? Isn’t it your personal mission to bring others to Atheism? To bring people to what you believe is “Reason?”
The last thing the author brings up for this part is how the Vatican is “destroying” nuns who are saying the issue of poverty is more important than other issues such as homosexuality and abortion. These are all important issues for sure. Abortion is a type of child sacrificing. Homosexuality is a type of sexual sin. We (The Church) are also commanded to take care of the poor! But we have dropped the ball and instead the government is taking over that job and I’ve gotta tell you, they do a really bad job at it. You know why they do a really bad job at it? Because it’s originally supposed to be our job! We are not perfect. I’ll be the first to admit I’m not perfect! Name any commandment in the Bible and I’ve broken it more than a million times! The Apostle Paul calls himself the “worst of sinners” and I completely relate to him with that; I often call myself the same thing! But, poverty is not the most important issue either. It’s very important, but it’s not the most important issue. Homosexuality is not the most important issue. It’s very important, but it’s not the most important issue. I’ll even go as far as to say abortion is not the most important issue. It’s very important, but not the most important issue. We get so passionate about all these political issues going on around us, even I get really passionate about some of them. But they are not the most important. They are important, but not the most important. Here’s the most important issue, are you ready? Jesus Christ is Lord and there are people who either don’t know this or refuse it. There are people who are alone and suffering in the world who think nobody cares about them and are literally killing themselves because they have no hope. People are screaming out for help and us Christians are sitting on our butts in front of the computer or the tv all day complaining about Obama or complaining if our favorite tv stars get kicked off a show. People are going to the pits of Hell because we’re sitting here waiting for Jesus to come back! Get off your butts and go out there and do something! Bring people to the truth! Set people free with the truth of Christ’s freedom and redemption! If people reject you, remember they rejected Christ first and dust the dirt off your feet and go somewhere else where they will listen to you! We are dropping the ball! Get up and do something! Turn the tv off, get off the computer or smart phone! Change a person’s life by allowing Christ to use you!
The next part will be: 4. Obstructing humanity’s transition to more thoughtful, intentional childbearing is evil.

Deeper Waters Podcast 7/19/2014: Is God A Moral Monster?

What’s coming up on this Saturday’s episode of the Deeper Waters Podcast? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

One of the most common charges today leveled against Christianity is the God of the Old Testament. One of the most memorable lines against Him comes from Richard Dawkins in “The God Delusion.”

“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”

Is this really the case?

In order to investigate this question, I’ve decided to invite on the show a Biblical scholar who has written a response directly to such a claim and shown how the battles in the OT do not show that God is in fact a moral monster. He should know since he wrote the book “Is God A Moral Monster?” I of course mean none other than Dr. Paul Copan.

PaulCopan

According to his bio:

“Paul Copan (Ph.D. Philosophy, Marquette University) is Professor and Pledger Family Chair of Philosophy and Ethics at Palm Beach Atlantic University, and he has served as president of the Evangelical Philosophical Society. He is author and editor of thirty books including The Rationality of Theism, The Routledge Companion to Philosophy of Religion, Philosophy of Religion: Classic and Contemporary Issues, The Gospel in the Marketplace of Ideas, An Introduction to Biblical Ethics, Is God a Moral Monster? and “True for You, But Not for Me.” He has contributed essays to over thirty books, both scholarly and popular. Paul and his wife, Jacqueline, have six children, and they reside in West Palm Beach, Florida. His website is www.paulcopan.com.”

Paul Copan has been writing several excellent books aimed at a general audience to deal with popular objections, a much-needed niche if there ever was one. This started largely with his book “True For You But Not For Me” and has progressed all the way to his book “When God Goes To Starbucks.” I have never been disappointed by a Copan book and “Is God A Moral Monster?” is no exception.

So we’ll be spending our time talking about the charges that God does in fact inflict genocide in the Old Testament as well as getting into other issues that seem to paint the God of the Old Testament in a highly negative light. We could also be discussing the critiques that Thom Stark has brought towards Copan based on the book and see what he thinks about them.

Also, this will include a lesson on how we are to read the Old Testament. Is it really a straight forward narrative every time or does it use terminology that would have been recognizable to an ancient reader but is not so recognizable to us today?

And of course, is it really justified for God to take life in this way? Surely there could have been something else to be done besides using the Israelites as a force of war. Right?

I really look forward to having Dr. Copan come on to discuss this important topic and I hope you’ll be listening. Remember, we’ll have the link up on ITunes as soon as possible for you.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Slavery and Marriage?

What do slavery and marriage have in common? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

I know some of you think you already see the connection. You might even be thinking “There’s a difference between the two of them?”

No. That’s not what I’m getting at.

I have been looking at the Old Testament Law lately and seeing how it relates to us today. Does it stand for all time, or are there things in there that are actually less than perfect? The answer to the question is the latter. The law is good, but it was not meant to be something for all time. Keep in mind in Galatians 3 that the Law was meant to be a guide to us until the time of the fulfillment of the law, Jesus Christ, came.

Something we often see in the Bible in the Old Testament is polygamy. By the time we get to the NT, we don’t see this as much. Jesus affirms in the gospels that marriage is one man and woman. Polygamy was a differentiation from the ideal but it still had the foundation that Jesus affirmed of one man and one woman. Interestingly, Jesus starts off with asking the Pharisees what Moses said. Moses was of course the authority.

Jesus instead points them back to the higher authority of God who created marriage as one man and one woman. How did he override Moses? He stated that Moses granted a concession. He said that the hearts of people were hardened and so Moses granted the people that they would be able to divorce. Quite likely this was done to avoid an abuse to the system of marriage. There is a case where a law can tolerate a lesser evil in order to avoid a greater evil.

For instance, we do not prosecute people for adultery even though by and large, we consider it to be wrong. Why? Because we don’t want to spend every effort micromanaging everyone’s marriage. We do have a place for freedom to allow people to do evil so that there can be even more freedom to do good. Our laws should often seek to have the bare minimum for a functioning society to do good and to have laws that encourage goodness. We do have penalties for if a marriage is made void because we want to encourage marriage. The law is meant to make a statement about actions and encourage good behavior.

In other words, God took a system that was less than ideal and said “For the time being, I am going to work with this system and use it for good until we reach the point where it is not needed.” The goal would be to change the hearts of the people through the Law over time so that they would not want to divorce or to practice polygamy. It would seem there was some success with polygamy at least as there is not much mention of it after the exile when the Law started to be taken seriously.

What does that have to do with slavery?

Because slavery in the OT also showed less than the perfect will of God.

Now let’s be clear, we are not talking about slavery like it was in the Civil War time. The slavery done then was not a system set in place to exploit the poor. In fact, it was set in place so the poor could have a job. Keep in mind that there weren’t supermarkets and gas stations and Wal-Marts you could go and apply at. You did have to work for someone else and usually in a home setting.

This was also an age where a lot of people might not have their own home. Today, it seems natural, but homes cost money and time and resources, and not everyone has those. When you get a home, how will you put food on the table, or even get a table for that matter? How will you provide clothes for the family? One way to deal with this is to live with someone else and to the work for them. They provide room and board for you and your family and you work for them.

There were numerous problems with this system as it could easily lead to exploitation, but it was a way the world had to work in the infancy of humanity. The large market of jobs was not available in a society not as developed. The more economies were built by people, the more they had job opportunities. In our society, we can find that hard to think of with so many businesses that can offer places to work. We need to look outside of our own system and see the biblical system and how it was.

We can realize the law was good for the time, but it was not perfect, and we should not treat it as the way a perfect society was to be for all time. We have the fullness in Christ now. Some might be tempted to think things will be easier, but let’s remember when Jesus commented on the moral aspects of the Law, he always went even stronger than the Law did. Fortunately, he enables us to do that which we would not be able to do on our own as well.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Exodus 21:2-11

Why this slavery stuff in the Bible? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

I developed the idea last night that so many skeptics raise up points about the Law in the OT so why not just go straight through the Torah and look at the laws that we do not understand and explain them on a point by point basis? That does not mean that we will not have diversions from time to time based on current events and such, but hopefully this will be the kind of thing that can set some matters to rest.

The text I will be looking at is Exodus 21: 2-11.

“2 “If you buy a Hebrew servant, he is to serve you for six years. But in the seventh year, he shall go free, without paying anything. 3 If he comes alone, he is to go free alone; but if he has a wife when he comes, she is to go with him. 4 If his master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the woman and her children shall belong to her master, and only the man shall go free.

5 “But if the servant declares, ‘I love my master and my wife and children and do not want to go free,’ 6 then his master must take him before the judges. He shall take him to the door or the doorpost and pierce his ear with an awl. Then he will be his servant for life.

7 “If a man sells his daughter as a servant, she is not to go free as male servants do. 8 If she does not please the master who has selected her for himself, he must let her be redeemed. He has no right to sell her to foreigners, because he has broken faith with her. 9 If he selects her for his son, he must grant her the rights of a daughter. 10 If he marries another woman, he must not deprive the first one of her food, clothing and marital rights. 11 If he does not provide her with these three things, she is to go free, without any payment of money.”

To begin with, slavery is not to be confused with slavery in the Civil War. In that time period, a people was exploited and taken advantage of based on their race and it was done at their expense. In the ancient world, slavery was still a necessity. You did not have a Wal-Mart around the corner that everyone could go and work at and get jobs. Out wandering in the wilderness, the Israelites had to work for someone and like today, if you have a job, it is because of a richer person. (The exception being rich people who run the companies themselves)

So what we have going on is Joe Israelite. He is poor and needs some money. What does he do? He goes and offers himself on a contractual basis to one of his fellow Hebrews to be provided for. The statement is that if the Hebrew will provide room and board for him, then he will be sure to work in exchange. What if this man is married? Then when he comes, his wife is to be provided. The wife doesn’t even have to work.

What if the master gives a wife? The master is doing that for the benefit that can come from the wife true, but also it would be a way of creating an alliance between the two families. When the two families joined together, it created a system to ensure the survival of the family unit. The only way that can happen is if the two are connected for life and if the man wishes to leave, that will break the connection resulting in the woman not being able to be provided for in the future.

Hence, if the man wants to ensure the welfare of his wife, he needs to stay with the master. Besides, the wife belonged to the master prior to the servant and that has not changed. The master would lose out if that happened and that would mean his own future family would be in danger. In the ancient world, you didn’t give something for nothing. There was always some sort of exchange going on.

Of course, a man could become a servant for life. If that was the case, then they had a ritual to bring that about. Now someone could ask “Yeah. But what kind of treatment would he get?” We will deal with that later in the text.

Now what about the last part of selling a daughter as a servant. Why would a guy do this? Because he doesn’t have the means to provide for her and wants to make sure that there will be a family that will. This was looking out for the family unit. Tying together two families would ensure the survival of both families. Notice some aspects about what would happen when the exchange took place.

To begin with, the master was expected to honor his covenant. He was not to treat her like an object but rather as a person. He is the one who has broken faith. Note that. The woman does not break faith. The man is to be held responsible for breaking his covenant with a woman. If he gives her to the son, he must treat her as if she is a daughter that is born to her. If he marries another woman, he is not to neglect her. The law at this point is entirely looking out for the woman, which is exactly the opposite of what we’re always told about this sexist society. The man will have an easier time taking care of himself than the woman would.

Now to be sure, this is not ideal for us, but that is fine. The goal was not to create the ideal society at that moment. The purpose was to begin the creation of a really good society. That was an incremental process that would happen step by step.

Hopefully this has shed light on the passage and further passages will explain the Jewish system even more.

In Christ,
Nick Peters