KIA at the ironically named The Recovering Know It All has a series of posts purporting to show that the God of the Bible is “The God of Slavery”.
ends his first post with an incomplete observation and a presumptuous question.
Question for the crowd:
So if we all know that Slavery of ANY type is inherently Evil… Why doesn’t the God of the Bible know?
So we all know that slavery is evil? How did we reach that conclusion? I suppose thinks it is obvious. He forgets that our ancestors thought slavery was obviously okay. Of course, none of them wanted to be slaves, but slaves usually don’t get a choice in such matters.
Throughout human history until very recent times men have own and approved of the ownership of slaves. In this country we fought a bitterly contested civil war over slavery. Why? Because while some men had learned to detest slavery, others still did not see (or would not admit) anything wrong with it.
How did we finally begin to learn to see slavery as evil? We received divine revelations from God through the prophets, the Bible, and Jesus, but we learned the lesson slowly. The teaching actually started with the Old Testament.
Leviticus 19:17-18 New King James Version (NKJV)
17 ‘You shall not hate your brother in your heart. You shall surely rebuke your neighbor, and not bear sin because of him. 18 You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.
The Old Testament did not directly teach the Hebrews that slavery was evil, but it did teach them to love each other. Consider. These Hebrews were the children of a people who knew the evils of slavery. Still, they could not grasp the fact that slavery was evil. They just understood they did not want to be slaves. Moreover, in ancient times the only way some could survive was as slaves. Not everyone had both the survival skills and the wisdom to make it on their own (Compare slavery with our welfare state.). So God taught the Hebrews they should love their slaves too.
Is the God of the Old Testament different from the God of the New Testament? No. When Jesus came the first time, He did not throw out the Old Testament. Consider.
Matthew 5:17-20 New King James Version (NKJV)
Christ Fulfills the Law
17 “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. 18 For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. 19 Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.
What did Jesus mean when he said our righteousness must exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees? Observe that that passage sits within The Sermon On The Mount. Here Jesus made it clear that it was not enough just attempt to obey Mosaic Code (We would not succeed anyway.). We must strive to obey the spirit of the Law. Consider this passage, for example.
Matthew 5:43-48 New King James Version (NKJV)
Love Your Enemies
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? 48 Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.
From Jesus we understand the same God inspired both the Old and the New Testaments. What is new is Jesus showed us just how much God loves us. Jesus died crucified for our sins.
How can we put this matter in its proper perspective? The standard secularized public school curriculum will not much help. So I suggest some independent reading. For example, WHO IS THIS MAN? by JOHN ORTBERG — PART 7 is the last segment of my review of Ortberg’s book (contains links to all the posts in the series). What Ortberg explains — what all of us need to understand — is how radically Jesus changed our attitudes TOWARDS EACH OTHER! Here is an excerpt from WHO IS THIS MAN? by JOHN ORTBERG — PART 1.
We live in a nation — in a Christian culture — that believes that we were all made in the image of God. There was a time men did not believe any such thing. Some men, like the emperor or the king, claimed kinship with the gods, but rest of men? No. Some men were thus thought literally better than other men.
Until 2,000 years ago, when Jesus taught about the virtue of humility, the elites did not bridle their pride. In fact, except for those unfortunates at the bottom of the pecking order, most men thought it appropriate to “peck” upon those lower than themselves in the pecking order. Their justification was simple enough.
The king was divine, or semi-divine. The king was understood to be made in the image of the god who created him. Only the king was made in the image of god. This was the dividing line between the king and the rest of the human race. Peasants and slave were not made in the image of god; they were created by inferior gods. (from Chapter 2, page 25 of Who Is This Man?)
Jesus taught differently. He said there is only one God, and He made all of us in His image. Jesus destroyed any justification for a pecking order. In Jesus Christ we are all God’s children.
Therefore, when those like tell us that the God of the Bible is “The God of Slavery”, we need to remind them God said we are all made in His image, that He calls us all His children. We also need to remind them that the same Christians who believe that God’s Word includes both the Old and the New Testaments were first people to denounce and put an end to slavery, and they did so in Jesus’ name. You don’t have to be a Christian to believe that. It is in our history books.
William Wilberforce is justly famous because perhaps no one other than Jesus had more to do with helping people see slavery as a detestable evil. Here are some of his words.
God Almighty has set before me two great objects: the suppression of the slave trade and the reformation of manners…
- C. MacFarlane & T. Thomson. (1792), The comprehensive history of England, from the earliest period to the suppression of the Sepoy revolt, page 752.
Let us not despair; it is a blessed cause, and success, ere long, will crown our exertions. Already we have gained one victory; we have obtained, for these poor creatures, the recognition of their human nature, which, for a while was most shamefully denied. This is the first fruits of our efforts; let us persevere and our triumph will be complete. Never, never will we desist till we have wiped away this scandal from the Christian name, released ourselves from the load of guilt, under which we at present labour, and extinguished every trace of this bloody traffic, of which our posterity, looking back to the history of these enlightened times, will scarce believe that it has been suffered to exist so long a disgrace and dishonour to this country.
- Speech before the House of Commons (18 April 1791).
Wilberforce fought to end slavery because he believed the God of the Bible had called upon him to do so.
If God approved of slavery, why the 7th year rule of releasing slaves? Just wondering…
Now Pastor Randy, you truly ought to be ashamed of yourself. You know that sort of observation could only come from reading the Bible selectively.
Thanks for your comment.
Great post and fascinating discussion. Here are my two cents:
We live in a fallen world where people do not treat one another as God commanded, loving one another and submitting to one another. In his epistles, Paul wrote to slaves and to masters, describing the way they should treat one another. If all masters had followed those guidelines, slaves would not have been abused and slavery would still exist in the world. In the American South, when slavery was ended by the thirteenth amendment to the Constitution, former slaves often lived on the same land as tenant farmers, subject to the same landowners. They were under contract, and the landowners no longer felt obligated to provide food, clothing, shelter, or medical care to the former slaves and their families. While some people worked to try to lift the African Americans out of their plight, others continued to abuse them under a different name.
Dr. John Nordling wrote a commentary on the book of Philemon that consists of more than three hundred pages–quite a lot to say about a book of twenty-five verses. Anyone who wants to understand slavery in the context of the New Testament should consult his book. He says more about slavery in the Roman Empire and in the early Christian Church than anyone else I’ve encountered. J.
Thanks for a great comment.
Nordling’s book sounds quite interesting.
Since he approached the subject similarly, you may find scatterwisdom’s comment (=> https://citizentom.com/2017/04/01/is-it-the-god-of-slavery-or-man-who-enslaves/#comment-73185) interesting.
After the American Civil War, the freed blacks suffered horribly. Slavery was not kind institution, but just as owners take care of their valuable livestock even the most heartless masters feel some compulsion care for their slaves.
Freed blacks suddenly found themselves in battle weary, impoverished land, and they were still at the bottom of the pecking order, and many whites were determined to keep them there (= https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Codes_(United_States)).
The newly freed people had little practical experience managing their own affairs, and the people in charge had little regard for them. So they had to scramble.
Here is a book review that suggests the problems (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2160484/The-end-slavery-led-hunger-death-millions-black-Americans-Extraordinary-claims-new-book.html). What is curious is that I found it the British news media.
How bad was it for the blacks after the Civil War? I don’t think we really know. Blacks had relatively little organizational capacity. So only some educated individuals could record what they found out. Perpetrators wanted to hide their crimes, and the abolitionists desperately wanted to believe the cost had been worth it.
In hindsight, I suppose the cost was worth it, but we definitely need to memorialize the sacrifices of those who paid the price.