An Open Response to Some Atheist Friends Regarding Slavery & Biblical Ethics (pt. 1)

[First off, this is a long one, and only part 1 of 6, so beware before you start reading.]

On Facebook, there appeared a status by an old atheist friend of mine from undergrad named Larry (supported by another friend Christopher). Here was the thesis of the post:

Regarding moral relativism the christians are hypocritical. They say they believe in a moral objectivity given by god…but how is it then, that they believed slavery was a product of the old days, as it was applicable to the time it was practiced (and sanctioned by the bible) but now condemn it? The bible, last I checked did not change. I think this is a PRIMARY example of moral relativism exhibited by the church and christians. So how can they sit here and tell us that a proof for god is moral objectivity?

In other words, how could the ethics of Christians change over time if the book they supposedly base their ethics upon has not changed? Either the God that inspired the Bible was completely incompetent in his revelation or there was no God revealing anything at all. The note caused a discussion that resulted in almost 90 comments, and I quickly realized that if I were going to respond, it would need to be in a more lengthy manner than a Facebook comment (which is not the most helpful of mediums of debate). So here it is. I’d like to respond to the ideas that came out in the discussions. I want to disagree with them on the basis of five ideas:

  • The Philosophy & Theology of Ethics
  • The Nature & Progression of Revelation
  • The Inadequacy & Elitism of Modernism
  • The Story & Beauty of Redemption
  • The Necessity & Irony of the Entire Discussion

The above sections will follow in the days to come. Today, I just wanted to explore the most basic question of this entire discussion: What does the Bible say about slavery in the first place? I just want to make sure we’re all on the same page before addressing underlying assumptions. Usually, the first place Christians go to in this debate is trying to place slavery in the historical context of its time. They point out that Old Testament slavery was more like indentured servanthood and New Testament Roman slavery was more like employee/employer relationships. Though there is much truth to this idea, it has its inadequacies. Slavery in the OT was still a punishment to the peoples the Israelites conquered, so it wasn’t supposed to be “desirable”; and 1st century Rome was still subject to semi-regular slave revolts, so it doesn’t seem like Roman slaves were enjoying their “employment.” In fact, the most famous of these revolts, the one led by Spartacus which led to an entire Servile War between slaves and the Roman army, was only about 100 years before Jesus started preaching and Paul started writing.

But, as I actually looked into it, I found something surprising — the Bible isn’t nearly as in “favor” of slavery as I my atheist friends seemed to make it sound in the first place. Not only does the Bible not talk much about it, but when it does, a very different picture is painted than the one my friends painted. Drawing mainly on my own reading and David Clowney’s excellent essay The Use of the Bible in Ethics, I found the following information (quotes are Clowney’s):

In the Old Testament

  • In the Pentateuch, Jews were forbidden to hold for life fellow Jews as slaves, though foreign ones were allowed (Exodus 21:2-11). But the interesting thing with these foreign slaves is that to the best of my knowledge, this was a case by case thing. Some people conquered by the Israelites were allowed to be taken as slaves, some were supposed to be killed, and some were allowed to have the women of that culture become the Israelite’s wives. And what seems to have determined which culture received which response when conquered? It looks like it was however the conquered culture would have treated their conquered peoples. Would they have raped, tortured and killed everyone? Then it seems that God would have his people kill them all. Would they have just killed all of the Israelites but not raped them? Some of the women, then, would be taken as full members of the community of God’s people. Would they just kill all the men? Then the Israelites would take them as slaves. It seems that God would have his people do whatever would be more humane than what that culture would have done.
  • Does this seem rough? Yes, but if we look at the covenant God made with Abraham in Genesis 15, we see something very interesting. God pretty much says, “I’m going to give you all this land that other people are already living on. In fact, I’m going to give you the ability to conquer all of those people that are already living in the land.” The next logical question is When?. God says, “they [Abraham’s descendants] shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete” (v. 16).  God just said he would delay delivering the promise to His people because the Amorites, who already lived there, weren’t wicked enough to warrant destroying. In this we see that God was purposeful and intentional in who was conquered and became slaves. He made sure these people were wicked enough that no one living at the time could look at Israel and say that they were acting unjustly or completely out of line.
  • Indentured servanthood was permitted but ended every 49 years at the festival called Jubilee (Lev. 25:39-55). “The exception to these instructions proves the rule, since it involves a deliberate choice by the slave and still does not affect his descendants.” The slave, at Jubilee, could choose to be freed or stay, and (unique to the ancient Israelites), slavery was an individual, not family affair. So if you were the child of a slave, you were not automatically a slave.
  • The Jews expected Messiah to usher in the fulfillment of this “Jubilee”, and the New Testament clearly represent Jesus as the fulfillment of the liberation foreshadowed in the festival. There was something about these festivals that was meant to foreshadow of a time to come. God was hinting at an ideal he preferred and was slowly weaving into their culture, so that at the proper time, Messiah could usher in a time entirely incompatible with slavery.

In the New Testament

  • In Revelation 18, the writer is sees a vision of the possessions of the wicked city of Babylon (probably in reference to Rome) marched in front of him as a sign of all that was wrong with the city, and in this list of those things he mentions, it concludes with “…fine flour, wheat, cattle, and sheep, horses and chariots, and slaves, that is, human souls!” (vv.10-13). Clearly not an endorsement. Ancient lists often ended with the most important of items in the inventory. So in a list of negative things, the worst would have been listed last. Clearly, not only because of placement in the list but also the added commentary (“that is, humans souls!”), this slavery was seen as the most egregious of wrongs that the evil city (Rome) had committed.
  • Whenever the apostle Paul mentions slavery — whenever he talks about the relationship between slave and master — he never uses the classic “creation-order” appeal he uses to justify nearly every other institution and relationship he “supports” or thinks has a place in the Kingdom of God. He uses this “order/place in creation” argument to give added weight to his commands concerning Jews/Gentiles, Employees/Employers, Parents/Children, Wives/Husbands, Church Leadership/Congregations, and others. He does not do this with slavery. He does not see slavery as a “natural” institution that is eternal (unlike Aristotle in Politics). This shows that biblically it is seen as transient and fading, unlike all the other relationships he uses this creational appeal with.
  • In 1 Cor. 7:21-33 Paul encourages slaves to seek their freedom from slavery whenever they possibly can, because “he who was called in the Lord [converted] as slave is a freedmen in the Lord. Likewise he who was free when he was called is a slave of Christ [spiritually]. You were bought with a price; do not become the slaves of men.” He says that living as a freedmen is most in line with Christian living and should be sought after. Surely this exhortation is not only for slaves to hear but the slave-holders who would have surely been in Corinth at the time hearing these same words and perhaps feeling the conviction of these words upon their own consciences.
  • “[T]he exhortations to slaves to obey their masters are phrased as obligations to render service to the Lord and are justified by references to the way Christ suffered on our behalf” — a suffering and death, I might add, that is clearly portrayed as unjust, wicked, and evil. It is in these terms that slaves remaining slaves is talked about.
  • In the entire New Testament there is only one believer in Christ that is described as technically still having ownership of a slave. No disciple, no apostle, no initial convert, no church member is described as such. We only have one man, Philemon, whose one slave ran away a couple of years ago (it seems he was the only one and it was about this long according to Paul’s letter). Paul meets the slave and feels the legal responsibility to send him back to the man that still technically has a claim on him, but beforehand he sends a letter pleading with him to receive this slave back as a freedman and not keep him as a slave. He obviously does not think slavery is the way of life most in line with the Gospel. He says that he is not commanding the man to release the slave because “I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own accord.” Paul’s primary desire, it seems, is that the slave’s emancipation would be because of a heart changed by Christ, and not because of compulsion, legal or otherwise.
  • In one of Paul’s lists of the actions of “lawless”, “disobedient”, and “ungodly” sinners he writes “Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, 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” (1 Timothy 1:8-11). He directly says that holding slaves is “contrary to sound doctrine” and is not “in accordance with the gospel.”

But –

what do we do with the potentially confusing, and seemingly contradictory statements that seem to be okay with slavery? Though I don’t believe that regulation, allowance, or lack of political action is equal to “endorsement”, nevertheless, that is not a point being granted by these atheists. Therefore, there is the presence of statements that seem to at best not try to end slavery and at worst actually think it’s okay. Once again, I don’t think this is problem. I don’t think that regulating something or not trying to start a revolt over it is tantamount to outright approval, apathy, or even ambivalence. But, for one reason or another, the atheists aren’t on board with that idea so I can’t just say that I think that and leave it there. I need to ground it in something, and the future posts will do this more fully.  But for now, I will conclude with Clowney’s conclusion:

For a modern person there are certainly puzzles here. But…the Gospel works gradually, like leaven. It appears that the apostles were interested in the transformation of life within the existing social structures by the love and power of Christ rather than in focusing on the structural social changes which the application of Christian principle would eventually bring. In fact, the principles which the apostles laid down for life in the the church are fundamentally incompatible with a system of slavery. Sociologically, it would not work for one’s slave to be one’s church elder; yet by the distribution of Christ’s gifts, a slave might have this calling. This incompatibility is…evident in the case of Onesimus [Philemon’s slave]. Not only does Paul refrain from sending him back to Philemon until Onesimus is ready to go, but he pleads with Philemon to recognize the way in which the old wineskins of the slaveholding economy will not hold the new wine of the demands of Kingdom service… It is not a far-fetched rationalization, then, to say that the leaven of freedom was set to work in the New testament by the apostles and that that full expression of it, when the dough had risen, was the abolition of slavery. Abolition was a consistent outworking of New Testament principles in a society in which the gospel had been at work. It was right to expect nineteenth-century slaveholders to keep in step with this movement of the Spirit and not rationalize attempts to preserve slavery by appeal to what was acceptable in the first century.

I hope that was helpful to someone out there. In the next post (which will be far shorter, I promise), I’ll unpack the flaws in the naive and mechanical sense of ethics that my atheist friends either actually believe or just think that the Bible should espouse if it were the real Word of God.


20 thoughts on “An Open Response to Some Atheist Friends Regarding Slavery & Biblical Ethics (pt. 1)

  1. This is weak dude. You’re trying to make the bible look not so bad, I get it, but it’s just pointless. There is far too much evil in that poor excuse for literature. The point you’re making is that non theists may have exaggerated or misrepresented bible verses in order to make the bible look like pro slavery text. This is a non issue because the super duper bible beating christians of the confederate south used the same text as pro slavery reference. And whether or not the bible actually endorses slavery or not, there is far too much ammo in there with fathers giving their virgin daughters “to be known” by strange men, and fathers sacrificing sons. Don’t try to make that waste of trees look like something of moral value, it’s just plain embarrassing to watch. The bible is ritualistically cherry picked to death by whomever is trying to draw some sort of moral value from it. The truth is, it was a book written by way too many authors, and filled with all of THEIR opinions.

    “And that servant, which knew his lord’s will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes.” Luke 12:47 – (Jesus speaking)


  2. Remember, this is the first of several posts. I make no pretense that any of this solves the issue outright. If I did think that, then (a) your critiques here would be absolutely right, (b) I wouldn’t be writing the other posts, and (c) I would be wrong and just as naively looking at the situation as I believe the atheists out there are looking at it – just from the other side of the spectrum.

    I hope that I’m able to articulate myself in the other posts in a complete enough way that for the first time in my life I’m able to find an atheist that holds truth above dogma and rhetoric and may actually admit that they were looking at the situation incorrectly. We’ll see.


  3. Here’s the bottom line: it does not matter what the rest of your argument is. If the Bible is just an old book that tells what a bunch of ignorant people thought about what was right, then the Bible is just a book. And if that is the case it does not matter what it says, whether it is that slavery is tolerable, it is demanded, or that Jesus had any relation to God at all.

    If the Bible is a log of God’s actions through history, it makes God look anything but omnipotent, omniscient, etc. That is, if your argument will have any meaning in showing that the Bible does not support slavery, it has to be done by showing that it is not a book about a hypothetical God or its actions and teachings in history. If your argument works, Christianity fails.

    To save the Bible by showing how it is not to be taken literally (and thus not subject to contradiction), then you have no justification for accepting the supernatural claims while showing the ancient ideas to be working toward something. If you don’t accept it all, then you have no reason to accept any of it without independent evidence.

    If God was all powerful, he would have just done it right from the beginning. Instead, he twiddles his thumbs and watches us enslave people and says to himself that he’ll get to that later. That’s a disgusting God and you are better than that, so how could it be perfect?

    And if you want to blame the Fall…well that was God’s fault too.


  4. It’s good to see some fellow infidels standing up for truth which requires one to stand strongly against the Bible.

    Don’t worry, the rebuttals that are coming will be more than sufficient for the purpose of systematically & methodically destroying any attempt of a Christian apologetic.

    Our hope is that Paul Burkhart is honest with himself & a man of moral fortitude willing to forsake a diabolical deceiver of humanity named Jesus Christ. Christian apologetics does not hold up against the Infidel onslaught raging against it which inevitably questions the integrity of the Scriptures & Christianity itself.

    The early Christian apologist, Tertullian, described the battle between Christianity & the Bible with skeptics as a battle between Athens & Jerusalem.

    Athens was the city of paganism, skepticism, worldly/greek philosophy & all that is repugnant to Christianity.

    Jerusalem was the city of Jehovah & his supposed revelation to humanity. The two cities symbolize two opposing worldviews struggling for supremacy over the other.

    For many centuries, the city of Jerusalem had the false appearance of defeating Athens. Fortunately, we live in a post-Enlightenment time where the soldiers of Athens can launch an assault against Jerusalem that will devastate their apologetic defenses without needing to worry about an inquisition.

    Larry & I, are hoping you enjoy the rebuttals coming from devastatingly credible sources to the Christian faith.

    Of course, they will be conveniently written off by the faithful because it will embarrass modern believers.

    These sources will be damaging to Christianity & the cause of believers when the sources we quote to support our understanding of Biblical teaching are the very same sources sitting in the libraries of their seminaries, Bible colleges, pastors & theologians.



  5. (Disclaimer: I don’t usually proofread what I type, I type fast, and sometimes my fingers move faster than my mind. So please disregard any misspelling, bad grammar or otherwise poor use of the english language on my part. Oh and I do not always capitalize the word god or christian or christianity.)

    First of all, thank you for responding to my status update on Facebook. I find it flattering that my 3 or 4 run on sentences spawned (or are going to spawn) a 6 blog response from you. I do find it comforting that you actually do think of me as a friend, no matter how different our ideas about life are, the sentiments are reciprocal and I hope this friendship continues in the future. 🙂

    I want to clear up one thing though before I comment on the points on this blog. My original point was relating to the Moral Law argument that Geisler/Turek and William Lane Craig give in their debates and books. I had just finished reading “I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist” and I found it interesting but not surprising that Geisler and Turek did not mention slavery ONCE in their defense of the Moral Law argument for the existence of god. This led me to believe that there is a fundamental problem with this objective Moral Law argument. They spent time discussing murder, rape and the holocaust, but never once did slavery jump in the picture as being immoral. I think it was purposefully omitted due to the difficulty of defending an objective moral law in light of slavery. This, in sorts, is Euthryphro’s Dilemma applied to real life biblical morality.

    Let me expand on this for a minute. The Moral Law argument states that we know morality was instilled in our hearts from god. We know this, according to the argument, based on the fact that you and I both know murder is not moral, we both know that stealing is not moral, and cheating on your neighbor’s wife/husband is not moral. This sense of morality, according to the Moral Law argument, is objective and placed in our soul by the moral giver, god. Apologists are trying to defeat the idea of moral relativism/subjectivism, which is espoused by most atheists, although not all. The problem then is; how does this play out when it comes to slavery?

    Well, my view is that this puts them in a pickle when it comes to the slavery issue, because we can all agree that slavery is immoral (because we tend to be in agreement, according to the moral law argument, that slavery would seemingly be an immoral act set in our moral compass by god) yet it is sanctioned by god in the old testament and neglected and even condoned in the new testament (although I know Paul is trying to refute this claim, more on this in a bit). The only way to reconcile this, I think, is to condone the idea that slavery is moral, or at least neutral and not immoral. Following; if god is the moral law giver of this objective morality, and god decides that slavery is moral or at least not immoral or sinful; the theist has a problem, IF the theist feels that slavery is indeed immoral, in his heart and soul. If the theist feels that slavery is moral, or not immoral, we still have a problem because I (meaning ME) do see slavery as being immoral in my heart and “soul”. So the idea of moral objectivity is put into question based on the fact that WE have moral differences.

    Most christians will try to wiggle out of this by redefining slavery as indentured servitude or some other definition of what slavery was in ancient Israel, but as Paul pointed out in his blog, this presents some big problems. My main problem with this claim is that you fall within the realm of relativism, but even if you don’t, would you want to be a “slave, bondsman, indentured servant” as defined by your interpretation of this biblical standard? Would you be OK with serving someone for a minimum of 6 years?

    So, this is either moral relativism, and by definition if moral relativism is true, then there is no moral objectivisim and the Moral Law argument is now flawed and therefore that proof for god’s existence as presented by Turek/Geisler and Craig is debunked. Or you have no moral qualms with the type of slavery in the OT and stick to the idea of moral objectivism with the notion that slavery is OK. In which case, this argument raises some serious problems on it’s own.

    Additionally, the theist is presented with Euthypro’s Dillema. Is it good because God claims it or does God claim it good because it IS good? God in the covenant with Abraham, as Paul pointed out, did not have any problems with slavery, as a matter of fact, god not only allows it but gives instructions on how to sell slaves, when they can be set free, how to beat them, how to treat gentile slaves verses hebrew slaves, etc… I don’t think I need to start posting OT passages here. So Euthyphro’s dillema seems solved through scripture: “It is good because God says so.” But this goes in direct contradiction to the Moral Law argument and modern apologetics.

    “In Christian theology, the Moral Law is God’s very nature. In other words, morality is not arbitrary–it’s not “Do this and don’t do that because I’m God and I said so.” No, God doesn’t make rules up on a whim. The standard of rightness IS the very nature of God himself–infinite justice and infinite love.” Geisler/Turek

    Now let me expand on this in response to Paul’s blog. If we are to follow the Moral Law argument, then it would behoove us to KNOW what is morally wrong AND good regarding all matters. I know murder is bad, I know helping out people in need is good. So why are we having a discussion that leads some apologists to avoid the subject all together, and others like Paul to have to write a 6 series blog on the subject to try to defend the idea of slavery in the bible? I will try to answer this at the end of my post here.

    I will draw my argument from theologian Robert Dabney and will quote him liberally here in this post.
    OLD TESTAMENT: According to the first point here, it would seem that god doesn’t seem to have a problem with neither killing, raping or enslaving gentiles. This comes across as odd, based on the above quote: “In Christian theology, the Moral Law is God’s very nature. In other words, morality is not arbitrary–it’s not “Do this and don’t do that because I’m God and I said so.” No, God doesn’t make rules up on a whim. The standard of rightness IS the very nature of God himself–infinite justice and infinite love.” Geisler/Turek

    This presents a problem from the beginning. Now… this is perhaps an interpretation of a certain theology that Paul may or may not adhere to, however, if morality IS the very nature of god, then all of a sudden we have a situation here where killing, raping, and even enslaving is ok, not necessarily good but not necessarily BAD either. This goes even beyond the moral boundaries (good or bad) of slavery.

    According to Professor and Theologian Robert Dabney in his book “A defence of Virginia: and through her, of the South, in recent and pending contests against the sectional party,” he points out the following:

    “It would be impiety to represent God as capable of commanding what is wrong; and to enjoin sin in order to make people holy, would be a folly and a contradiction. God’s revealed will, so far as it is revealed for a rule of life, either permanent or temporary, can contain nothing but what is right, and pure, and just. If it had been a positive moral duty to eat pork, this holy God would never have made the prohibition to eat it a part even of the temporary, ceremonial-laws of his servants. Had it been morally wrong to kill, roast, and eat a lamb, God would never have enjoined on them the institution of the Passover. These conclusions are as plain as the alphabet.”

    He goes on to say:

    “Now then, if we find any particular thing either sanctioned or enjoined, in the peculiar ceremonial or civil institutions of Moses, it does not prove that thing to be morally binding on us, in this century, or necessarily political and proper for us; but it does prove it to be, in its essential moral character, innocent. That thing cannot be sin in itself.”

    Although I obviously don’t necessarily agree with Dabney in regards to his theology (I’m an atheist), he makes a great point here. If god proclaims it, it cannot be sin or immoral in any case. This presents a problem for theists in more than just the slavery issue, but rape and murder as well, as I had mentioned but as Dabney himself, excludes in his writings. As Paul pointed out, god seemed to have taken issue on this with ancient Israel on a case by case basis. Sometimes you can rape the women of your captors, sometimes you can kill them, sometimes you can enslave them. All sanctioned, and given the stamp of approval by the LORD. Interesting.

    Dabney goes to conclude:

    “This is the important and just distinction. The fact that animal sacrifices were required in the ceremonial laws of Moses, does not prove that it is our duty, under the Christian dispensation, to offer sacrifices, or that it is appropriate for us to do so; but it does prove that the act would be in itself innocent (though useless) for us, and for every one, if it had not been forbidden in subsequent revelation. Otherwise, a holy God would never have enjoined or sanctioned it at all. Therefore, the fact that God expressly authorized domestic slavery, among the peculiar and temporary civil laws of the Jews, while it does not prove that it is our positive duty to hold slaves, does prove that it is innocent to hold them, unless it has been subsequently forbidden by God. Therefore, the fact that God expressly authorized domestic slavery, among the peculiar and temporary civil laws of the Jews, while it does not prove that it is our positive duty to hold slaves, does prove that it is innocent to hold them, unless it has been subsequently forbidden by God.”

    In other words, there is absolutely no moral obligation given by the lord, through his OBJECTIVE and RIGHTEOUS justice, why we should NOT hold slaves. There is no reason to believe that slavery is in fact IMMORAL or a SIN seeing as SIN/IMMORALITY goes against the very essence of god.

    Now, in regards to Exodus 21:2-6, you mentioned in your blog, Paul, that “Jews were forbidden to hold for life fellow Jews as slaves, though foreign ones were allowed.” I’m not sure how you derived this idea because according to Exodus 21: 2 “If thou buy an Hebrew servant, six years he shall serve: and in the seventh he shall go out free for nothing.” This clearly states that you are allowed to own Hebrew servants. So I’m not sure I follow here. I’m not even going to get into the moral problems regarding Exodus 21: 2-6 that if a hebrew servant is married by virtue of his master, then the wife and kids born of that marriage are NOT to be free after six years, but shall remain slaves and that if he refuses to stay… something about judges and an awl in the ear and he shall serve forever until the Jubilee…etc..etc… I don’t need to get into the specifics, you can look it up.

    However, in light of this, we get to Leviticus 25:44 -46: Both thy bondmen and thy bondmaids which thou shalt have, shall be of the heathen that are round about you; of them shall ye buy bondmen and bondmaids. Moreover, of the children of the strangers that do sojourn among you, of them shall ye buy and of their families that are with you, which they begat in your land; and they shall be your possession, (your property.) And ye shall take them as an inheritance for your children after you, to inherit them for a possession; they shall be your bondmen forever; but over your brethren, the children of Israel, ye shall not rule over one another with rigour.

    Once again, I’ll let a theologian give his views: according to Dabney:

    “The antithesis in the position of the two laws shows that these heathen slaves were not to go free at the year of Jubilee, like Hebrew slaves. They are to be bondmen forever. They and their children, slaves by birth, are to descend from father to son, as heritable property. There was to be “no seventh year freedom here; thee is no Jubilee liberation.” So says the learned divine, Moses Stuart, of Andover, himself an anti-slavery man. And so say all respectable Hebrew antiquaries. Indeed it would be hard to construct language defining more strongly and fully all those features of domestic slavery most contradictory to the theory of Abolitionists. They were to be bought and sold. They were heritable property: (Mr. Sumner would prove hence, “mere chattels.”) Here is involuntary slavery for life, expressly authorized to God’s own peculiar and holy people, in the strongest and most careful terms. The relation, then, must be innocent in itself. With what show of candour can men say, in the face of a sanction so full, so emphatic, so hearty, that Moses, finding the hoary institution of domestic slavery so deeply rooted that it would be impossible then to abolish it, tolerated it, and limited it by all the restrictions which he could apply, calculated to cut off its worst horrors? We ask, was Moses the author of these laws, or God? Does the Almighty, the Unchangeable, the Holy, connive at moral abuses, like a puny human magistrate, and content himself, where he dare not denounce a sin, with pruning its growth a little? We ask again: Is this gloss borne out by the facts? Was Moses, in fact, timid in assailing old and deeply-rooted vices, and in demanding that they-should be eradicated wholly? Let his uncompromising legislation against Idolatry and Adultery answer. The truth is, such writers as use the above language know nothing about the true nature of domestic slavery, and draw their inferences only from their prejudices. God and Moses knew it well. They knew that it was an institution which, when not abused, was suitable to the character of the depraved persons for whom it was designed, and wholesome and benign. Hence, they prohibit all inhuman abuses of it; and then they do not tolerate it merely as an unavoidable wrong; but they expressly legalize it, as right. An honest mind can make nothing less of their words.”

    So it would seem here that 1. the jubilee theory that slaves are set free only goes so far as hebrew slaves and not gentile slaves or “heathens” (much like myself, I would’ve been screwed), but also that this idea of slavery is indeed the very essence of god’s law.

    Now of course in every christian apologetic argument, every old testament story, somehow foreshadows the coming of Jesus (of course the jews strongly disagree with this, but this is a debate I will leave for the christians and the jews to sort out).

    According to Paul: “The Jews expected the Messiah to usher in the fulfillment of this “Jubilee”, and the New Testament clearly represent Jesus as the fulfillment of the liberation foreshadowed in the festival.” Even Dabney, a good christian, recognizes the fact that things change when Jesus comes on the scene, without even getting into that argument altogether, I will for the sake of this argument concede this hypothesis. Jesus does come on the scene and reveals to us new laws, new revelation.

    I take this to mean that when Jesus comes on the scene, slavery will be ABOLISHED ONCE AND FOR ALL and the moral nature of slavery will change with cultural changes (assuming god changes his mind and is a relativist)..and jesus will deem slavery invalid and he will preach against it and we will know for sure that the redeemer will redeem……

    Or does he?

    Let’s take a look at the NEW TESTAMENT.

    Several times the apostles give formal enumerations of the prevalent sins of their times; as in Romans I 29, 31; Galatians 5:19- 21; Matthew 15:19; Colossians 3:8 and 9; 2 Timothy 3:2-4. Not once is slavery condemned.

    Dabney says:

    “The congregations to which Christ and his apostles preached, were composed of masters and their slaves. The slavery of that day, as defined by the Roman civil law, was harsh and oppressive, treating the slave as a legal nonentity, without property, rights, or legal remedy; without marriage, subject, even as to his life, to the caprice of his master, and in every respect a human beast of burden. Again: to this institution Christ and his apostles make many allusions, for illustration of other subjects; and upon the institution itself they often speak didactically. Yet, while often condemning the abuses and oppressions incident to it, they never condemn the relation.”

    In other words, Jesus was WITNESS to slavery and never ABOLISHED it or preached against it. This is in contradiction to OT prophecy, where “The Jews expected the Messiah to usher in the fulfillment of this “Jubilee”, and the New Testament clearly represent Jesus as the fulfillment of the liberation foreshadowed in the festival.”

    Also, remember what Dabney said in regards to Mosaic Laws

    “while it does not prove that it is our positive duty to hold slaves, does prove that it is innocent to hold them, unless it has been subsequently forbidden by God.”

    God, has never spoken on the matter since not even through Jesus, as we see in the new testament.

    I want to draw your attention now to Matthew 8:5-13 and Luke 7:1-10. Jesus not only is heals the centurion’s servant, but is “amazed” at the faith of the servant. “When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.” 10Then the men who had been sent returned to the house and found the servant well.” It is also interesting to note that this was a gentile’s slave.

    This would have been a perfect time for Jesus to CONDEMN slavery as supposedly prophecized by in the OT according to Paul (the author of this blog, not the apostle). But he does not, but instead PRAISES servitude and uses this as a LESSON to the crowd that was following him.

    Now, Paul (the blogger) wrote that Paul (the apostle) mentions “enslavers” as being “lawless.” Well I can concede to Paul’s position on this specific verse, however, in light of the rest of this evidence this to me seems trivial. After all…who is more of an authority of the word of god, Jesus himself or Paul?

    Next: I want to take issue with the fact that Paul (the blogger) says the following:

    “In the entire New Testament there is only one believer in Christ that is described as technically still having ownership of a slave. No disciple, no apostle, no initial convert, no church member is described as such.”

    Dabney once again sheds light on this issue:

    Acts 10. 5-17, we learn that the pious Cornelius had at least two household servants. There is no hint of his liberating them; but-the Apostle Peter tells his brethren, Acts xi. 15-17, that he was obliged to admit him by baptism to the church, by the act of God himself. Says he: “Forasmuch then as God gave them the like gift as he did unto us,” (power of miracles,) “who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, what was I, that I could withstand God?” So he baptized him and his servants together.

    Once again, god chooses not only to NOT abolish slavery but to allow slavery in the church.

    In addition, again from Dabney:

    “Another fact equally decisive is, that the apostles frequently enjoin on masters and slaves their relative duties, just as they do upon husbands and wives, parents and children. And these duties they enforce, both on master and servant, by Christian motives. Pursuing the same method as under the last head, we will first establish the fact, and then indicate the use to be made of it. In Ephesians 6:5-9, having addressed the other classes, the Apostle Paul says: “Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart as unto Christ; not with eye-service, as men-pleasers; but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart; with good-will doing service as to the Lord and not unto men; knowing that whatsoever good thing any man doeth, the same shall he receive of the Lord, whether he be bond or free. And ye masters, do the same things unto them, forbearing threatening: knowing that your Master also is in heaven; neither is there respect of persons with him.”

    Dabney continues to make a case:

    “In Colos. 3: 22 to 4:1, inclusive, almost the same precepts occur in the same words, with small exceptions, and standing in the same connexion with recognized relations. Let the reader compare for himself. In 1 Tim. 4:1, 2, we read: “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.” So, in the Epistle to Titus, having directed him how to instruct sundry other classes in their relative duties, he says, ch.2:9-12: “Exhort servants to be obedient unto their own masters, and to please them well in all things: not answering again; not purloining, but showing all good fidelity; that they may adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things. For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared unto all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously and godly in this present world,” etc. So, the Apostle Peter, 1 Ep. 2:18, 19: “Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward., For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience towards God endure grief, suffering wrongfully.”

    Now if this wasn’t enough, there is one more passage in the NT,

    “It is that which commands the exclusion of Abolitionist teachers from church communion, 1 Tim. 6:3-5. St. Paul had just enjoined on this young minister the giving of proper moral instruction to servants. The pulpit was to teach them the duty of subordination to masters, as to rightful authority; and if those masters were also Christians, then the obligation was only the stronger. See v. 1, 2. The apostle then proceeds, v. 3, “If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness,” (the opposite teaching of abolitionism contradicts Christ’s own word,) “he is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings, perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself.” The more carefully these words of the Holy Ghost are considered, the more exceedingly remarkable will they appear. Doubtless, every reader of previous ages has felt a slight trace of wonder, that the apostle should have left on record a rebuke of such particularity, sternness, and emphasis, when there appeared nothing in the opinions or abuses of the Christian world, of sufficient importance quite to justify it.”

    In conclusion to my disagreement/rebuttal to Paul (the blogger), we see, not only Jesus (who is more of an authority over Paul) disregard and even praise slavery, we see plenty in the NT where slavery is recognized, condoned, and appreciated, even by Paul (the apostle). I think attempts to get away from this notion are mere futile apologetic attempts. Regarding the Moral Law Argument for the existence of god, we now have plenty to realize that this is a flawed idea of what morality represents. Of course, relatively speaking when the bible was written, slavery was deemed acceptable. This is why it was incorporated in the bible, there was no problem at the time. The authors thought nothing of it. Of course, times change and morals evolve, like everything else. The way apologists deal with this is issue is to ignore the bible, and try to find ways to get away from it, like using terms such as “The Nature and Progression of Revelation.”

    To me this is another way of saying, god could not foresee the future so has to keep Revealing himself to us in terms of our culture. It’s as if god is submitting to the will and progression and evolution of the human experience. In addition this is a problem with 2000 years of christianity and what they have believed. Is it only now, that we have reached a level of moral superiority? Have 2000 years of christianity been wrong until now? I mean… The Christian church became the biggest slave owner in the Roman Empire. Popes kept slaves until the eighteenth century. Ignatius of Antioch (c. 107-117) refused the request of Christian slaves to have their freedom purchased out of the common fund. Augustine (c. 354-430) taught that slavery was God’s will and that Christianity did not make slaves free but made good slaves out of bad ones. (The City of God 19.5)

    I think Paul has some issues to deal with in regards to scripture and 2000 years of christian history. We cannot simply move away from the bible, if the bible is the inerrant word of god. Of course, this presents ethical problems, regarding slavery, but also, as mentioned much earlier in the post, regarding rape and also murder. It seems that the bible should not be trusted to guide our moral values and as such, god’s morality.

    Going back to the question I had posted earlier in the post: why are we discussing slavery? Why does Paul need to write a 6 blog series in response to this? and why do most apologists avoid this topic altogether when discussing the Moral Law Argument for the existence of god? The answer is simple: they there is a fundamental and logical problem with morality as it is written in scripture and dictated to us by this benevolent being we call god. The only way to get out of this fact is to either ignore it, or try to weasle out of the bible somehow as Paul, will be doing in the rest of his posts under the guise of “”The Nature and Progression of Revelation.”

    One last thing: “Properly read, the Bible is the most potent force for atheism ever conceived.” — Isaac Asimov

    See you on the next blog.



  6. Pingback: “The Beauty of Theology (an Advent Call)” « the long way home

  7. Though I did not specifically mention the Moral Law argument, I’ve discussed this issue at length on my blog:

    If you will permit me to ignore the specifics of slavery in the Bible for a moment, I’d rather focus on the problems inherent in an innate and absolute moral compass in humans. To begin with, we should note that humans understand why an act is moral or immoral. This is a crucial observation. We see that morality hinges on value judgments — fairness, justice, leniency, benevolence, etc. It is good to kill this man because he killed twenty innocent children. It is bad to kill that man because he is an innocent, and has five children to support.

    This causes a dilemma for God. Did God instill us with a sense of what we could logically understand anyway? This seems absurd. But then why can we reason out morality without God’s help? Make no mistake — morality can be reasoned. We all do it everyday. When we are faced with a moral dilemma that is new to us, we think about the meaning of our options, and perform cost-benefit analyses based on what we believe to be the overall good. The action that seems *logically* to be the best action is the one we take. (And “good” isn’t just magic. It’s also logical. We understand why things are good.)

    If, as the Moral Law hypothesis (sic!) suggests, morality is something that is instilled in humans from without, then we should expect to run into problems anytime we encounter a choice not addressed by a strict set of do’s and don’ts. We should not be able to *reason* that a thing is immoral. It should just be a gut feeling that we cannot escape.

    Of course, this is not the case. Genuinely moral people make exceptions to their own rules. They judge each action based on its own unique situation, and the measure by which good critical thinkers evaluate these decisions is LOGIC.

    Logic is not a tool designed for evaluating morality. It is the description of how humans move mentally through related bits of data to reach conclusions. It’s literally a codification of how thought works. (It’s also a description of the way other animals think, too, but humans have the unique ability to think about the way we think. But that’s another topic…)

    So again… a dilemma for God. Is the “Moral Law” logic? If so, then why are we giving God all this credit? Logic is derived deductively. That is, it must be true. God is completely and utterly unnecessary for the derivation of logic. (Occam, anyone?)

    But, if the Moral Law is *NOT* logic, then what is it, and why is it that logic seems to explain the whole thing without the need for God?

    If we go very much farther down this road, we’ll arrive at deism, and that won’t be very much fun for the Christians, will it…


  8. hambydammit –
    thanks for the comment. firstly, i am a theistic evolutionist, so i’m totally down with the idea of an evolved sense of morality.

    secondly, i am not writing these posts to defend the Moral Law argument for God. I’m not big on the “proofs” for God. Conversion, in my opinion, is fundamentally a spiritual event, not an intellectual one, so i think many apologists are misguided in making the mind the primary entryway into the soul. it’s one of them, to be sure, but by no means the only.

    lastly, the moral law argument is not that atheists can’t be moral without God or even that moral decision can’t be logically deduced. (at least in my articulation) it is that atheists can’t account for why they want to use their logic for morality in the first place. sure, you can use your logic to be moral, but why on earth would there be something in you that tends toward a sense of “morality” at all? isn’t morality actually a hindrance to bringing about your progeny?

    Dawkins even sees this and says that he doesn’t want a world run by Darwinistic a worldview; that we’ve evolved to the point where we should work against our evolutionary tendencies, though he never seems to give an account for why he wants to do that, just that that’s his opinion.

    but either way, I could think of some okay responses to that issue, but not that would necessarily remove God from the equation, so the burden is still on the atheist to come up with some explanation for why they should use their faculties for moral ends; and then explain why that particular explanation is more reasonable without God undergirding it all, than with Him doing so.



  9. Pingback: The Bible, Slavery, & Atheism: Part 1b « the long way home

  10. Paul, if I may. I don’t think the burden of proof rests on atheists with anything regarding why we should use our faculties for moral ends. The reason why, is simple: it is the theists making claims of an “objective moral entity” given by a moral law/sense/fill in the word here giver. You claim it is your god, the muslims claim it is their god, the crazy people may claim it is a fairy, and so on and so forth. Simply put, it is the theist that has to prove that god is a reasonable source or at least one who is undergirding it all.

    On that note, however, there have been many naturalistic hypotheses that show how and why we use our faculties for moral ends without god in the picture. Of course, not everyone is “moral” so we step into the problem of evil but this can be explained by subjectivism as well as natural causes.


  11. Paul said:

    “Dawkins even sees this and says that he doesn’t want a world run by Darwinistic a worldview; that we’ve evolved to the point where we should work against our evolutionary tendencies, though he never seems to give an account for why he wants to do that, just that that’s his opinion.”

    And what, exactly, is the account for why a Christian would want to? Especially when the examples given in the book that spawns Christianity indicates genocide, rape, murder, and slavery?

    It seems that people like you take the same motivation to act good and attribute it to a God that, by all accounts is not worthy of that attribution. How do you bring together that feeling to want to do good with what is in the Bible? Because you associate the emotions with the book? But why? More importantly, how? I can’t see where one can be compelled to act moral when their spiritual life is derived from the Bible.

    Your reasons are the same as mine, only I don’t pretend that it is a some specific deity from a sometimes good but often disgusting book.


  12. Pingback: A Theology of Ethics, Truth, & Contemporary Applications | Reform & Revive

  13. Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now. Keep it up!
    And according to this article, I tottaly agree with your opinion, but only this time! 🙂


  14. Just came across this post via a google search. Excellent work my brother!! I agree 100% and was strenghthen by many of your main points. Will take some time to read the whole series now!! Thanks.


  15. Pingback: My Ex-Girlfriend, the Blog: a story of relationship, loss, & finding again | the long way home

  16. Pingback: Debates with Atheists (And Good News for Them) | the long way home

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