Slavery & The Bible (Part 4) Slavery Ain’t Always Slavery: The New Testament & Roman Slavery

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Read Part 1: Slavery & the Bible (Part 1) Cherry Picking, Worldview & Consistency

Read Part 2: Slavery & the Bible (Part 2) Not All Types of Slavery are Equal

Read Part 3: Slavery & the Bible (Part 3) American Slavery & Bearing God’s Image

INTRO

So far in this series we’ve addressed 1 criticism of 3 often-voiced criticisms concerning Christianity and slavery: Criticism #1 – In the United States’ past, Christian slave-owners used the Bible to justify slavery. And we’ve found that both American slavery and racism are unbiblical. In fact, they’re anti-biblical.

In this article, we’ll start addressing criticism #2:

In the New Testament, Jesus and his Apostles never condemned slavery. In fact, the Apostles even told slaves to be obedient.

(In future articles, we’ll address criticism #3: In the Old Testament, God actually endorses slavery.)

Thus, in this article (and a few that follow), we’ll address: What the New Testament says about Roman slavery.

 

THE QUICK ANSWER

1 – Paul, an apostle of Jesus, clearly condemns as sinners “enslavers” by including them in a long list of other sinners (1 Timothy 1:10). The original Greek word used here means those who take someone captive in order to sell him into slavery. Thus, Christians are forbidden from human trafficking.

2 – The Apostle Paul tells slaves if they have an opportunity to gain their freedom to take it (1 Corinthians 7:21), and he says to not sell yourself into slavery (1 Corinthians 7:23), which was a normal practice in ancient Rome for the impoverished or those in debt.

3 – Masters are told to treat their slaves/bondservants justly and fairly, knowing they will answer to God: “Masters, treat your bondservants justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven.” (Colossians 4:1)

4 – Not only that, but slaves and masters are put on equal ground: “…[masters,] stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their [the slaves’] Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him.” (Ephesians 6:9)

5 – Christian slaves and Christian masters are “brothers” (1 Timothy 6:2). Furthermore, Colossians 3:11 reads: “Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.” (Also see similar statements in Galatians 3:28 & 1 Corinthians 12:13.)

Seems pretty straight-forward but what about quotes from the New Testament, such as:

slaverymeme3NT

 

Our “Quick Answer” above may addresses many of our concerns about the New Testament and slavery (the Old Testament will be addressed in the next part of this series), but what are we to make of New Testament quotes like this? And why don’t we ever read Jesus or his apostles simply saying, “Hey, slave-owners, set your slaves free!”

To answer that, we’ll have to get into a longer answer, one which we’ll spend this article and the next few articles exploring…

 

“SLAVERY” AIN’T ALWAYS SLAVERY

slaverymemeNT2

Pop Quiz: What’s wrong with this picture?

Now, if you’ve been reading this series and paying attention, you should notice an immediate problem with the above billboard.

The picture on the billboard portrays an image depicting race-based American slavery. But the Bible quote, which is from the New Testament, would be addressing not American slavery, but Roman slavery, which was a type of slavery long extinct by the time the Americas were “discovered” by Europeans. In a pervious article, we discussed the important differences between American slavery, Roman slavery, and Israelite slavery.

So, that’s the first point I want you to keep in mind as we look at these New Testament verses addressing slavery: Roman slavery is not American slavery.

As we looked at in our last article, racism and American slavery have no grounding in the Bible; in fact, they are anti-biblical.

(Also, let me point out that the atheists who made the above billboard have to work on their knowledge of history for another reason: the New Testament was not written in the Bronze Age. The Bronze Age was long over for about a thousand years before the New Testament was written.)

(Also, let me ask: Where do atheists find any grounding for morality and human value to condemn slavery? They have none. Read more here.)

I’m not going to restate everything written in past articles (Perhaps take a moment and read more here), but to sum up: In ancient Rome, there was a wide spectrum of types of master/servant relationships that fell under the word often translated “slavery.” So when we modern people see the word translated “slave” or “slavery” in our English Bibles, it may mean something that doesn’t align with what’s in our heads at all.

“Slavery” in ancient Rome often means what we’d call indentured servanthood, or it may mean something closer to how a soldier in the modern military gives over a certain amount of years from his life to service for his country, or it could even mean something close to an apprenticeship.

Yes, in the ancient Roman Empire there was certainly what I’d call slavery-proper – meaning the slavery modern Americans think of when we hear the word “slavery” – literal ownership of another human being as property (though Roman slavery was not race-based). And this type of Roman slavery was just as repulsive and evil in God’s eyes as American slavery.

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My point here is, there’s no reason to assume whenever you see the word “slavery” in the New Testament it means slavery as modern Americans define it because Roman “slavery,” the type of slavery/servanthood the writers of the New Testament lived among, was extremely different and diverse.

THE DIFFICULTY OF TRANSLATING “DOULOS

You can see this concept of diverse Roman “slavery” in the different English Bible translations we have available to us today. As I stated in an earlier article, the ancient Koine Greek word doulos that is often translated “slave” from the original New Testament manuscripts into English can also be translate “servant.” If the translators had simply chosen to use “servant” instead of “slave,” much of the hubbub about these passages may not exist.

Interestingly, I was watching an interview with Dr. Wayne Grudem, probably best known for his highly used Systematic Theology, who was also one of the scholars that worked on the ESV translation of the Bible, and when asked what was the hardest part of the translation process, he replied that it was translating the word doulos.

Translating can be challenging because there is not always an exactly matching word from one language to the next. And since the modern American concept of slavery is much different than Roman doulos, an interpretative decision had to be made. Translating doulos as “slave” would have been too harsh, but translating it “servant” was not entirely accurate either. Grudem pushed for translating it “bondservant,” which he believed represented doulos more accurately (and I agree). (Watch the interview with Dr. Grudem here. The section about translating doulos starts at 9:10 minutes. Also, there is a short video filmed by the BBC actually showing the translators of the ESV discussing/debating this exact challenge. Click here.)

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THE PROBLEM VERSES

There are 6 “problem” passages throughout the New Testament that address slavery in some way (1 Cor. 7:21, Eph. 6:5-8, Col. 3:22-25, 1 Tim. 6:1-2, Titus 2:9-10, and 1 Peter 2:18-25). Of these 6 passages, many English translations do translate all of them with the words “slave(s)” or “slavery.”

But I looked at 6 different translations, some of the most popular and reliable translations (ESV, NASB, KJV, RSV, NIV, NLT), and of those 6, only 2 translated every instance as “slave(s)” or “slavery” – the NIV and NLT, which are the two less literal translations out of the six.

The RSV translated every instance as “slave(s)” or “slavery” except for one passage (1 Peter 2:18-25), which was translated “servants.”

The King James (KJV) translated all of the instances as “servant(s).”

The NASB translated 4 of 6 instances as “slave(s),” one instance as “servant,” and one as “bondslaves.”

The ESV translates all of them as “bondservant(s),” except for one translated simply “servants.”

In the world of Bible translations, there are two kinds of translations. There are word-for-word translations, which try to match the original words as exactly as possible to, say, English words. Then there are idea-by-idea translations, which are more concerned with communicating the ideas the authors are trying to get across than the exact wording.

For example, if we were translating the opposite way (from modern English to ancient Greek) and we wanted to translate “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth,” we could translate that word-for-word, but an ancient Greek-speaker is going to be confused by this odd American folk-saying. So, instead, we may translate the idea; perhaps we translate it to this instead: Be grateful for gifts you receive and accept them without question. Obviously, an idea-by-idea translation requires a lot more interpretation on the part of the translators. (To learn more, read the GFTM article: Has the Bible Been Lost in the Translation? How Do We Know the Words in Our Bibles Today are the Original Words?)

Now, notice below, the ESV, NASB, KJV, and RSV, which are all considered solid literal, word-for-word translations differ and don’t always favor the translation “slave(s)” or “slavery,” recognizing the nuances of the original Greek. These are the most faithful translations to the original Greek, yet they differ.

My point is not that these are bad translations (because they’re not), but there’s no reason to assume the worst when you see “slave” if you understand the range and nuance of the original Greek word and the difficultly of translating to English such a word.

ESV NASB KJV RSV NLT NIV
1 Cor 7:21 Bondservant Slave Servant Slave Slave Slave
Eph 6:5-8 Bondservants Slaves Servants Slaves Slaves Slaves
Col 3:22-25 Bondservants Slaves Servants Slaves Slaves Slaves
1 Tim. 6:1-2 Bondservants Slaves Servants Slavery Slaves Slavery
Titus 2:9-10 Bondservants Bondslaves Servants Slaves Slaves Slaves
1 Peter 2:18-25 Servants Servants Servants Servants Slaves Slaves

Does this mean the translators had no idea what they were doing? No, it simply means the original Greek word has a range of meaning, which no one English word can communicate, and the context of the passages didn’t allow the translators to make a decisive decision on how it should be translated into English.

But, as I pointed out in an earlier article, many of these translations have footnotes at the bottom of the page explaining that “slave” can also be interpreted at “servant” or even a section in the preface of the Bible explaining that the word doulos covers a range of types of servanthood. In the preface to my ESV translation, a paragraph taking up about 1/3 of the page explains much of what I’ve explained in this article about doulos and Roman slavery/servanthood/bondservanthood.

So, maybe when Paul wrote in Colossians 3:22,

“Bondservants [slaves, servants, doulos], obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord,”

he meant the indentured servanthood type of “slavery.” Or maybe he was referring to a situation where the “slave” actually chose to stay in his master’s household as a servant even after earning his release, which was not uncommon in ancient Rome. It’s quite likely Paul was simply saying: You’re in a contractual obligation, so honor it by listening to your boss and doing a good job because you’re representing the Lord.

All that being said, let’s assume the worse: Let’s assume Paul and the other writers of the New Testament are addressing true slave masters and true slaves. Next, we’ll be looking more closely at these “problem verses.”

Read Part 1: Slavery & the Bible (Part 1) Cherry Picking, Worldview & Consistency

Read Part 2: Slavery & the Bible (Part 2) Not All Types of Slavery are Equal

Read Part 3: Slavery & the Bible (Part 3) American Slavery & Bearing God’s Image

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Indiana Jones, the Lost Ark & the Temple of Blog (Part 6) Skeptics, Legalists & the Superstitious

In Raiders of the Lost Ark, we find three types of people: Skeptics, Legalists, and the Superstitious. In this final article in our Indiana Jones, the Lost Ark & the Temple of Blog series, we’ll look at all three.

 

Indiana Jones, the Lost Ark & the Temple of Blog: 

Read Part 1: What’s a Covenant?

Read Part 2: What’s the Ark Anyway?

Read Part 3: What’s All This Old Testament Stuff About?

Read Part 4: The Ark in Action!

Read Part 5: Where Did the Ark Go?

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SKEPTICS, LEGALISTS, & THE SUPERSTITIOUS

Hitler had bad theology. So does Indiana Jones’ arch-nemesis and fellow archeologist Belloq.

Indiana Jones, our hero, has no theology.

And Indy’s friends, Marcus Brody and Sallah have weak theology.

Thus, in Raiders of the Lost Ark, we find three types of people: legalists, skeptics and the superstitious. Thus, in this final article in our Indiana Jones, the Lost Ark & the Temple of Blog series, we’ll be looking at all three.

As you may recall, in the Raiders movie, Hitler wants to find the lost Ark because he believes it will make the Nazis unstoppable. Marcus Brody, Indy’s colleague, explains, “The army that carries the Ark before it is invincible.” Thus, the U.S. army enlists Indiana Jones’ expertise to find the lost Ark before the Nazis (which, in my opinion, is the greatest action plots ever conceived).

Now, Raiders of the Lost Ark isn’t a religious movie; it’s one of the best action/adventure movies ever made, which happens to be driven by a search for a religious artifact. But unlike a work like The Maltese Falcon (another classic), where the much-pursued object is inconsequential and merely a plot device to cause conflict, the unique characteristics of the Ark of the Covenant itself gives Raiders of the Lost Ark an extra element of depth, suspense, and intrigue (and danger!).

 

THE SUPERSTITIOUS

In this day and age, Indy’s friends Marcus Brody and Sallah, both intelligent men, would be viewed by most as superstitious. Both men have enough knowledge about the Ark to be wary of it (and for good reason). Even with Brody’s Bible knowledge, he’s perfectly willing to admit he doesn’t understand it.

Both men at different times warn Indy about messing with the Ark. Sallah, in Cairo, warns Indy that the Ark is “something men were not meant to disturb.” Brody warns Indy of not taking his search for the Ark lightly because “No one knows its secrets.” Indy accuses him of talking “superstitious hocus pocus.”

Despite Brody’s Bible-knowledge, he also says, “The Bible speaks of the Ark leveling mountains and laying waste to entire regions,” which isn’t in the Bible at all. We’ll blame this on the writers of Raiders and not Brody.

Anyway, both men know enough to fear the Ark, perhaps being familiar with some of the biblical accounts of the horrors – such as sudden deaths and outbreaks of tumors – surrounding the Ark that we discussed in a previous article of this GFTM series.

Indy_belloq_ark

THE LEGALISTS

Now, Hitler and Belloq, our two villains (though Hitler doesn’t appear in the movie, he’s the main source of the conflict), believe by simply possessing the Ark they’ll be able to use its power. And even Brody believes, “The army that carries the Ark before it is invincible.”

This is simply bad theology.

But where Brody knows enough to be wary of the Ark, Hitler and Belloq, blinded by their own greed, are straight up legalists. They mistakenly think the power of the Ark is in the Ark itself. Simply possessing the Ark, they believe, will put the power of the Ark at their disposal. As we saw in a previous article, this is not how it works.

Legalists believe if you do X, Y, and Z, you will earn your way into heaven or whatever else might be your spiritual goal. This is the way of religion in general, but this is a serious misunderstanding of biblical Christianity. Salvation comes through faith alone in Christ alone (Ephesians 2:3-9; Romans 11:6). Christ did all the work on the cross; we neither earn nor deserve salvation. But Christ already earned it for us; all we can do is humbly accept his free gift (Romans 5:15-16). No other faith teaches this. All other religions (and corruptions of biblical Christianity) teach that salvation is earned through your deeds, whether they’re rituals or being a “good person.” So, you don’t really put your faith in God, but in yourself or some ritual (or even some object). This is legalism.

So, Hitler and Belloq overlook the source of the Ark’s power (which is God) and put their faith in the Ark itself, an object – which is idolatry, something strictly forbidden to Jews and Christians by the God of the Bible.

And as we saw earlier in the adventures and misadventures of the Ark in the Bible, we can’t force God into a box (or ark)! We can’t expect God to conform himself to our expectations of him, because he’s so much more than we can imagine. Just like Brody and Sallah rightfully fear the Ark, those who truly understand God (as much as humanly possible, anyway), should have a healthy fear of him as well.

Did Hitler really think that the God of the Bible, the God that is so holy that to be in his presence would mean certain death for all of us sinners, who became a man and died for the sins of the world, and who commanded us to love our enemies, care for the oppressed, and overcome evil with good, would share his power with him to conquer the world? Did Hitler really think the God of the Jews would give him his power to help him exterminate the Jews? Come on, Hitler, use some common sense!

At the end of Raiders, we see Belloq, ever the legalist, cloth himself in the dress of the Israelite high priest according to Old Testament law (Exodus 39) and recite a prayer in Hebrew before opening the Ark. Again, did he really think God would bless his evil intentions simply because he did this? Did he really believe dressing in certain clothes and uttering some empty words would give him control over God’s power? No wonder God literally blew him to pieces.

Indy_faceworried

THE SKEPTIC

Finally, we have the skeptic, Indiana Jones himself, who concludes an explanation about Moses and the 10 Commandments with a dismissive “if you believe in that sort of thing,” and he describes a yellow light shooting from the Ark in a drawing flippantly as “the power of God or something.”

Later, we see his skepticism of the supernatural more clearly in his conversation with Brody at his home. Brody warns Indy about the mystery of the Ark, pointing out that the Ark is unlike anything Indy has ever searched for before. Indy laughs, “I don’t believe in magic, a lot of superstitious hocus pocus. I’m going after a find of incredible historical significance — you’re talking about the boogie man.” Taking out his revolver, Indy concludes, “Besides, you know what a cautious fellow I am.”

A revolver ain’t gonna help against the wrath of God. I’m pretty sure Major Toht and Colonel Dietrich were skeptics too, until God melted their Nazi faces off.

Indy_facemeltindy_facemelt!!!!!!!!!

 

DON’T LOOK, MARION! FACE-TO-FACE WITH GOD’S WRATH

Skeptic or not, by the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indy wasn’t taking the Ark lightly anymore. Coming face-to-face with God’s wrath will do that. (And if it didn’t happen after Raiders, you’d think after Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade Indiana would’ve accepted Christ as his Lord and Savior!)

Likewise, Belloq learns that legalism doesn’t work either – as we see at the end of Raiders when Belloq opens the Ark.

If you read the story of Samson carefully in Judges 13-16, you’ll find that it’s not his long hair that gives him his supernatural strength, but God. His hair is merely a symbol. The saddest thing is Samson was so caught up in his own sin that “he did not know that the Lord [and, thus, his strength] had left him” (Judges 16:20).

Likewise, the Ark was a symbol of the source of the power, not the source of the power itself. The omnipresent, all-knowing God didn’t need the Ark to hear his people; it was a symbol of entering into God’s presence, a tool for teaching Israel about spiritual realities. Nor did the omnipotent, all-powerful God need the Israelites to take the Ark with them to bless them in battle. The Ark was there for Israel’s benefit, not God’s. And the source of the power of the Ark isn’t some mechanical, impersonal force, but the self-existent, personal Creator of all things.

After Belloq opens the Ark, the strangeness begins, and Indy finally catches on. Perhaps his friends’ warnings from earlier in the film finally sank in. Or maybe he remembers some of those Bible passages about the Ark we looked at in this series. Indy, then, becomes the one giving the warnings: “Marion, don’t look at it. Shut your eyes, Marion. Don’t look at it no matter what happens!”

Why? Perhaps he knew they were witnessing forbidden things. Perhaps he thought witnessing the wrath of God would be too horrifying to handle. Maybe he remembered God saying to Moses, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live” (Exodus 33:20). Or perhaps he remembered Isaiah seeing the vision of the Lord, and being faced with God’s perfect holiness, Isaiah lamenting,

“Woe is me, for I am ruined!

Because I am a man of unclean lips,

And I live among a people of unclean lips;

For my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.” (Isaiah 6:5)

Whatever the reason, Indiana knew enough to look away. Belloq tried to be his own high priest and all he found was death.

But in Christ we have a high priest who frees us of our sins so we can approach God without fear:

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:15-16)

Indiana_DontLookMarion

Read Part 1: What’s a Covenant?

Read Part 2: What’s the Ark Anyway?

Read Part 3: What’s All This Old Testament Stuff About?

Read Part 4: The Ark in Action!

Read Part 5: Where Did the Ark Go?

New from GFTM Blog: Available in paperback for $9.00 (or less) and Kindle version for $3.50 (or less) on Amazon. Or learn more here.

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Slavery & the Bible (Part 2) Not All Types of Slavery are Equal

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When it comes to slavery and Christianity, three major criticisms are often brought up:

  1. In the United States’ past, Christian slave-owners used the Bible to justify slavery.
  2. In the New Testament, Jesus and his Apostles never condemned slavery. In fact, they even told slaves to be obedient.
  3. In the Old Testament, God actually endorses slavery.

This breakdown into three major criticisms is helpful, because we actually are talking about three distinct types of slavery in three distinct eras of human history. In other words, recognizing that “slavery” is not identical in these three eras is important.

So, let’s start with the most recent and work back in time:

American_baby

American Slavery

Many know the deplorable history of this stain on the United States, a country built upon the self-evident truth that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Slavery is the sad, sad irony of the Land of the Free. American slavery was a system based on the forceful kidnapping and enslavement of African people. It was race-based, where an entire race was demeaned to subhuman status to justify their treatment as literal objects of property.

American slaves had no rights as human beings and were at the sole mercy of their owners, no different than had they been pigs or cattle. Therefore, they could be worked ruthlessly, often within striking distance of a whip. Few slaves could read or write or were allowed any sort of an education. Families could be ripped apart as parents and children where bought and sold at the whim of their masters. Slave masters also were free to starve, beat, and even rape their slaves without facing any legal consequences. Further, these slaves had no hope of freedom.

It’s a dark stain on the history of the United States indeed, one that still haunts us to this day.

Roman

Roman Slavery (New Testament Era)

The slavery we find in the New Testament is specifically the slavery of the ancient Roman Empire, which is different from both American slavery and the slavery we find in the Old Testament, yet it shares some similarities with both.

Almost everything said about American slavery above can be said about Roman slavery, except Roman slavery was not race-based. Race was not a factor; one could become a slave by being born into it, by committing a grievous crime, by going into debt, by being a prisoner of war, by being sold by his or her parents, and even by voluntarily selling oneself into slavery. But Roman slavery was also a much more diverse, complicated social and economic system than American slavery.

To put it simply, Roman slavery included a wide, wide spectrum of types of servanthood within that system. So, many slaves were treated similar to American slaves, but many were also treated quite well and benefited from the arrangement. Many slaves actually chose to be slaves; some actually preferred to be slaves due to their low economic status and the benefits of being a “slave” under an affluent person. Slavery guaranteed a roof and food in an unstable world. Many Roman slaves were highly educated, even highly successful and wealthy. Like American slaves, Roman slaves were at the mercy of their masters and were property, but unlike American slaves, Roman slaves had many of the same opportunities given to free men, and it was likely they could even become free themselves.

Often modern people look at the word “slave” in the Bible and immediately connect that word with American slavery, but it’s a mistake to assume all “slavery” during the Roman Empire is the same as American slavery. Often it was much more similar to what we would call indentured servanthood, where one would be under contract to another person for a limited time until they fulfilled their contract or bought their own freedom.

Please don’t misunderstand me; much of the slavery of Rome was just as dehumanizing as what happened in American’s past. Gladiators were slaves, forced to battle, even die, for entertainment (though even gladiators could be wealthy celebrities as slaves). Some slaves were kept strictly for sex. Some slaves, usually criminals, were essentially issued death sentences to work in the darkness of underground mines until their lungs gave out. Runaway slaves were branded on their foreheads. If a slave master were murdered, all of his slaves would also be killed. This was a way of quelling thoughts of rebellion, as a huge part of Rome’s population were slaves. There is a record of one incident where 400 slaves were killed because their master had been murdered though there was no evidence the slaves had anything to do with it.

But there was also the indentured servant or contracted worker side of the Roman “slavery” spectrum, where many slaves/servants benefited under the care of someone better off economically than they were, and where they even had an opportunity to make an independent living, or where they may even choose to stay as a part of their master’s household once they earned their freedom. This sort of contract “slavery” could even be compared to an apprenticeship or the sort of service contract one makes when he joins the modern military. The Greek word often translated “Slave” in the New Testament can also be simply translated “servant,” and most modern Bibles will state this in the footnotes.

The important thing to remember concerning Roman Slavery is that it was deeply ingrained in the culture and economy, and there was a wide spectrum of variety within that slavery/servant system.

Egypt

Israelite Slavery (Old Testament Era)

In the Old Testament era, the cultures surrounding Israel had slavery, and the Israelites themselves were slaves in Egypt for 400 years before being freed. The type of slavery that surrounded Israel was the type most of us think about when we hear “slavery.” Like American slavery, the slavery of much of the ancient Near Middle East was harsh and dehumanizing. But not so with Israelite “slavery.”

Later in this series, we’ll be specifically looking at Israelite “slavery” in the Old Testament, because it – unlike American and Roman slavery – is part of God’s Word. In a way, those hostile to Christianity are right: God does endorse this type of “slavery” (and this type only). But the slavery of ancient Israel is nothing like American slavery, nor other Near Middle East slavery. It’s a truly unique biblical, Israelite “slavery.” Just like the ancient Greek word, the Hebrew word often translated “slave” can also be translated “servant,” and most modern Bibles tell you this in the footnotes.

As I said, we’ll explore this idea much more in depth in later articles, but for now know that Israelite slavery is more comparable to indentured servanthood or working under contract than slavery proper. So, where we find Roman slavery is a spectrum that goes from American-type slavery (minus the racism) to indentured servanthood and contract workers, Israelite “slavery” is simply a type of indentured servanthood or contract work.

In later articles, you’ll see just how radically different biblical, Old Testament “slavery” is from American slavery and the slavery of the nations surrounding Israel. (If you’d like a preview, I addressed some of this already in Part One of this series)

 

In this series, we’ll be addressing the 3 criticisms concerning Christianity and slavery:

  1. In the United States’ past, Christian slave-owners used the Bible to justify slavery.
  2. In the New Testament, Jesus and his Apostles never condemned slavery. In fact, they even told slaves to be obedient.
  3. In the Old Testament, God actually endorses slavery.

Thus, we will be exploring:

  1. What the Bible says about American slavery.
  2. What the New Testament says about Roman slavery.
  3. What the Old Testament says about Israelite slavery.

As I said above, the Greek and Hebrew words used in the Bible that are often translated “slave” can also be translated “servant.” This shows the wide range of meaning those words can have. Perhaps if the translators of the Bible simply used “servant” instead of “slave,” Christians would have to address this issue much less!

NEXT: The Bible VS. Race-Based American Slavery
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Slavery & the Bible (Part 1) Cherry Picking, Worldview & Consistency

As a follower of Christ, I believe the God of the Bible is loving and just, so it deeply troubles me when my faith is associated with something as evil as slavery in memes on social media like this:

slaverymeme1

Or like this:

slaverymemeMOM

Interestingly, I once saw one on Facebook like this:

slaverymemeExodus

I say “interestingly” because the meme quotes Exodus 21:20-21, but ignores other passages surrounding it, such as:

Exodus 21:12: “Whoever strikes a man so that he dies shall be put to death.”

Exodus 21:16: “Whoever steals a man and sells him, and anyone found in possession of him, shall be put to death.”

Exodus 21:26-27: “When a man strikes the eye of his slave, male or female, and destroys it, he shall let the slave go free because of his eye. If he knocks out the tooth of his slave, male or female, he shall let the slave go free because of his tooth.”

We also find memes like this quoting the New Testament:

slaverymeme3NT

But we never see memes for, say, 1 Timothy 1:10, which includes “enslavers” (ESV) in a list of “the ungodly and sinners” and “the unholy and profane.” The original Greek word used here in 1 Timothy, sometimes translated “kidnappers” (NASB) or “slave traders” (NIV/NLT), specifically means a person who captures someone in order to sell him into slavery.

So, is the Bible anti-slavery or pro-slavery? Why do those hostile to Christianity and Judaism cherry-pick certain verses and ignore others? Isn’t this exactly what they accuse Christians of doing in memes like this…

slavery_homo

 So, what we have here is an issue of consistency.

Christians can accuse hostile skeptics of cherry-picking certain verses and ignoring others.

And skeptics can accuse Christians of doing the same thing.

And both would be right.

CHERRY-PICKIN’

So, we can recognize that those hostile towards biblical faith cherry-pick verses, but let’s keep with that honesty and admit many Christians do the same thing. They remember the parts they like from the Bible and ignore other parts.

The reason Christians do this could be for any number of reasons. For instance, they may ignore verses condemning certain sins like, say, greed or slander because they’re still allowing those sins to rule their lives. Or, let’s be honest, many Christians simply don’t know what to make of certain troubling verses. Many Christians don’t have a good enough understanding of history or biblical theology to understand them. But they trust God and love Jesus, so they continue on.

But we also have to admit, skeptics often do have a just reason for calling Christians inconsistent. But the more important issue is: Are these Christians inconsistent because of a lack of knowledge or because the Bible itself is inconsistent?

 

WRESTLING WITH THE BIBLE

I’m not saying all of these Christians should be ashamed for having holes in their knowledge. And I’m not saying they’re even willfully ignorant (though some are). But I will say that if you believe the Bible is the Word of God, you should do all you can to understand it, which means wrestling with troubling passages.

Studying the Bible is a life-long endeavor, so everyone is going to have holes in their knowledge; there’s no shame in that. But blatantly ignoring troubling passages is a mistake for a number of reason. For one, it gives ammunition to hostile skeptics and may prevent people from hearing the gospel.

Yes, what is said in those memes above should certainly be troubling to Christians who take the Bible seriously. And, yes, there are passages in the Bible that at first appear alarming. But we also have to understand we’re reading them thousands of years after they were written with a modern mindset and little (if any) understanding of the ancient culture where these writings are coming from. But, I believe, with enough study, one comes to understand those troubling passages in the historical and biblical context, and they’re found not to be so alarming.

 

THE REAL ISSUE

So, the issue comes down to this:

Both Christians and skeptics are liable to be inconsistent. But is the Bible consistent?

Both Christians and skeptics, to remain consistent must not isolate verses out of context. But… is the Bible consistent?

Both Christians and skeptics, to remain consistent must look at the Bible as a whole. But, again… is the Bible consistent?

So, the debate isn’t whether Christians and skeptics can be inconsistent (because we know they can) but the big question is — you guessed it:

Is the Bible consistent?

If we work to understand the Bible as a whole, which means not looking at only isolated verses, will we find that the Bible contradicts itself?

That is the big question, and the only question that matters.

I believe the Bible is the Word of God, so I believe that when correctly understood, the Bible is consistent. This means it’ll take a lot of time and study; it means we must understand the verses in the context of history, the culture, and even the languages they were written in; it means we’ll have to wrestle with verses that at first are troubling and even appear inconsistent with other parts of the Bible.

But, as I said, when correctly understood, I believe the Bible is consistent.

This series will explored the subject of slavery and show how God’s view of slavery has not changed throughout history. In the first book of the Bible, we’re told man and women, regardless of religion, race, or economic class, have inherent worth as image-bearers of God. Thus, God and his Scripture has always been anti-slavery.

WORLDVIEW

Like many controversial issues, especially concerning religion and God, how someone would answer that question of whether the Bible is consistent comes down to worldview.

Worldview is simply “a set of beliefs about the most important issues in life” (Ronald Nash) and “the thought system we develop for explaining the world around us and our experiences in it” (Tim Warner).

All worldviews consist of assumptions (presuppositions) – which may be truth, false, or partially true – that we hold (consciously or subconsciously, consistently or inconsistently) about “the basic make-up of our world” (James Sire).

In other words, worldview is your basic philosophy about life, which both influences — and is influenced by — how you answer certain significant questions, such as:

Where did we come from?

Where are we going?

What is the primary problem with the world?

How do we solve it?

So, for instance, to someone with a naturalistic, atheistic worldview, of course the Bible is not the Word of God; therefore, the Bible can be inconsistent. In fact, they expect it to be. The Bible was written over a period of about 2,000 years by multiple authors; how, they say, could it possibly be consistent? Thus, they feel no need to understand it consistently.

On the other hand, Christians do believe in a supernatural Creator and that the Bible is the Word of this Creator, so they believe the Bible is consistent. Yes, the Bible was written by multiple authors over 2,000 years, yet Christians find it to be remarkably consistent because these men were guided by the Holy Spirit. If someone thinks about how much culture changes in just 100 years, the consistency of the Bible is incredible! Thus, when Christians encounter difficult verses that may seem to contradict clear teachings elsewhere in the Bible, they work for a deeper understanding of those passages. This usually means a lot of hours of study and a lot of wrestling with God’s Word.

As I said above, person’s worldview effects how he or she approaches the Bible.

(Side note: Another question to ask concerning worldview is does a person’s worldview even give them any grounds for making claims against slavery — or about human rights in general — or any moral claims at all?)

(Another side note: One way Christians are often accused of being inconsistent is how Christians follow some of the Old Testament law and not all of it. This is because Jesus Christ’s death on the cross fulfilled — and thus, freed Christians from — the Old Testament religious law. Christians are no longer bound by ancient Israel’s civic law either, but are still bound to it’s moral law. God’s moral law, since it’s based in God’s unchanging nature, doesn’t change. I address this in an earlier 2-part GFTM series here:

AN ILLUSTRATION: EXODUS 21:20-21

To illustrate how worldview effects understanding, a typical exchange may go something like this. (This will also give you, the reader, a preview of some things we’ll be discussing in future articles about slavery and the Bible.)

Let’s look at that meme again we looked at earlier in this article:

slaverymemeExodus

Skeptic: The Bible condones slavery. Exodus 21:20-21 says, “If a man strikes his male or female slave with a rod and he dies at his hand, he shall be punished. If, however, he survives a day or two, no vengeance shall be taken; for he is his property.”

Christian: There are certainly some parts of those verses that are troubling, but let me point out that before 21:20-21, we see 21:12, which says, “Whoever strikes a man so that he dies shall be put to death.” So, we see in the passage you quoted that slaves in Israel were equal to everyone else in that if someone killed a slave, even the slave’s own “master,” that person would be put to death.

Skeptic: Still, Exodus 21:20-21 says it’s OK to beat slaves.

Christian: Does it? Just afterwards in Exodus 21:26 we find, “When a man strikes the eye of his slave, male or female, and destroys it, he shall let the slave go free because of his eye. If he knocks out the tooth of his slave, male or female, he shall let the slave go free because of his tooth.” It appears to me the Old Testament is protecting slaves from abuse, not promoting it.

Skeptic: But Exodus 21:20-21 says the master is allowed to beat his slaves.

Christian: Where does it say he is allowed to beat him? Exodus 21:20-21 is an example of case law, meaning it’s addressing a specific situation. Case laws always start with “If…” or “When…” It’s not saying to do this; it’s saying “if this happens, then do this…” “When [or “If”] a man strikes his slave, male or female, with a rod…” Also, notice there’s equality among the sexes here too. In ancient Israel, it was eye for an eye, a life for a life. If a person attacks a slave – male or female – and kills him or her, the attacker forfeits his life. If the slave suffers excessive injury, 21:26 tells us the slave — man or woman — gets his freedom.

Keep in mind, eye for an eye wasn’t always carried out literally. But appropriate, equal restitutions were to be made — no more, no less. So, for example, right in Exodus 21:18-19 we see a law similar to the slave passage you quoted, and we’re told if two men get into a fight and one is injured and “does not die but takes to his bed, then if the man rises again… he who struck him shall be clear; only he shall pay for the loss of his time…” So, if the injured man doesn’t die, the death sentence isn’t a consideration, but the other man is still expected to make restitutions and pay for the injured man’s loss of time and work and money. Notice it doesn’t say the injured man gets to beat the other guy silly so he loses out on work. Eye for an eye isn’t always practiced literally, but means an equal restitution or punishment for the crime. These were violent times; eye for an eye was actually quelling the violence. It was actually putting a fair limit on how much someone could get “pay back.”

So, we see this same idea in the passage you quoted, Exodus 21:20-21. If the slave is injured, but not killed, the attacker is not put to death, but the slave may be given his freedom. If the slave stays, the master has punished himself in that his slave was unable to perform his normal duties for him, losing the master his own means of making money.

Skeptic: You’re just putting a positive spin on it. It stills says the slave is his property. This is no better than the slavery we fought against in the Civil War.

Christian: I’d like to know the nuances of the original Hebrew word that’s translated “property.” The ESV, which is a solid translation, translates it “money.” And the NASB, another solid translation, has a footnote stating that the word could be translated “money.” This supports what I said before about if the master injuries his own slave and the slave can’t work, it’s a punishment to himself because it will cost him money by having a worker out of commission.

It’s important for you to understand that “slavery” in ancient Israel was more like indentured servanthood. The footnote at the bottom of my ESV Bible even tells us the word translated as “slave” covers a range of social and economic roles. Exodus 21:2 tells us after seven years, slaves are set free. That doesn’t sound like the type of slavery you’re talking about – like the type of slavery we saw in America’s past. Plus, Exodus 21:16 says, “Whoever steals a man and sells him, and anyone found in possession of him, shall be put to death.” This is clearly not the same “slavery” as the evil slavery we had in early America.

Skeptic: The Bible is just a bunch of random stuff written by men. It contradicts itself.

Christian: You think it would be inconsistent even within the very same book of the Bible? Even within a few lines of each other? Everything we just talked about is in Exodus 21. You really think the Israelites were so dumb that they didn’t realize their own laws were inconsistent?

Skeptic: I’m only telling you what I see with my own eyes.

Christian: And I’m telling you there’s to be a better explanation, which some study, thought, and research reveals.

———–

Notice how the differing worldviews and assumptions (presuppositions) effect their approach and understanding of the Bible: The skeptic assumes the worst about the Bible and interprets the tension between the verses on slavery as inconstancy within the Bible. The Christian assumes the best and works to understand the various verses as a whole, assuming the Bible, as the Word of God, is consistent.

All that being said, this series is specifically for Christians — Christians who trust God, recognize that they’re saved by grace through Jesus Christ, but they find parts of the Bible troubling, and because they love God’s Word, they want to better understand it.

Skeptics are, of course, welcome to read this series as well, and I hope they will. But, if I were challenged by a skeptic on what the Bible says about slavery, I’d likely handle it much different than how I would address a Christian about it. I wouldn’t go into the biblical data with them without first challenging their own worldview. In other words, to make a moral stance against slavery, one first has to have a basis for morality and human rights — a basis I don’t believe most skeptics have, especially naturalists, materialists, and atheists. To address this, I steer you towards this earlier GFTM article: Morally Schizophrenic: Moral Outrage in a Land With No Moral Compass.

NEXT: Israelite Slavery Vs. Roman Slavery Vs. American Slavery: Not all types of slavery are equal.

Other related GFTM articles:

Making Sense of Old Testament Laws (Part 1 of 2) Are OT laws arbitrary, offensive & silly?

Making Sense of Old Testament Laws (Part 2 of 2) Why do Christians follow some OT laws & not others?

Check out the new GFTM book on Amazon

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Indiana Jones, the Lost Ark & the Temple of Blog (Part 5) Where Did the Ark Go?

So, we’ve learned a lot about the Ark, but now the big question on all our minds: Where is it?

Indiana Jones, the Lost Ark & the Temple of Blog: 

Read Part 1: What’s a Covenant?

Read Part 2: What’s the Ark Anyway?

Read Part 3: What’s All This Old Testament Stuff About?

Read Part 4: The Ark in Action!

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SO, WHERE DID THE ARK GO?

In the last article, we learned about how King David had some major issues moving the Ark to Jerusalem. Later, when King Solomon built the first Temple in Jerusalem, he had the Ark moved into the Most Holy Place – without incident, we should note! (See 1 Kings 8:1-6; 2 Chronicles 5:2-9.)

Solomon’s Temple was built around 968 BC. It was destroyed in 586 BC when Babylon conquered Israel and destroyed Jerusalem and took the Israelites into captivity for one of the darkest times in ancient Israelite history, known as the Babylonian Exile. This lasted from 586-538 BC, ending when the Persian king Cyrus conquered Babylon and allowed the Israelites to return to their homeland. Under the leadership of Zerubbabel, the second Temple in Jerusalem was built, completed about 516 BC.

Curiously, there’s no mention of the Ark in the Temple during this time. Mention of the Ark is most notably missing in Chapter 3 of Ezra, which is specifically about the building of the second Temple.

We even find this record of a scroll recording the decree of Cyrus in Ezra 6, but still no mention of the Ark:

In the first year of Cyrus the king, Cyrus the king issued a decree: Concerning the house [Temple] of God at Jerusalem, let the house be rebuilt, the place where sacrifices were offered, and let its foundations be retained. Its height shall be sixty cubits and its breadth sixty cubits, with three layers of great stones and one layer of timber. Let the cost be paid from the royal treasury. And also let the gold and silver vessels of the house of God, which Nebuchadnezzar took out of the temple that is in Jerusalem and brought to Babylon, be restored and brought back to the temple that is in Jerusalem, each to its place. You shall put them in the house of God. (Ezra 6:3-5)

Notice Cyrus orders the treasures stolen from the first Temple by Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar to be returned to Israel to be put in the new Temple, but still no specific mention of the Ark here or anywhere else.

The last mention of the Ark’s physical existence in the Bible is during the reign of King Josiah, an upright, godly king of Israel, unlike the kings before and after him. Because Israel had wandered far from the ways of God, Josiah instituted major reforms by restoring the Temple, the Passover, and doing away with idols and other pagan practices. While doing so, Josiah said, “Put the holy ark in the house that Solomon the son of David, king of Israel, built” (2 Chronicles 35:3). This took place during Josiah’s rule somewhere between 640-609 BC, 20-50 years before the Babylonian Exile.

Josiah had ordered pagan idols to be removed from the Temple and the Ark returned to it. Had Israel fallen so deeply into idolatry that they had actually removed the Ark from the Most Holy Place and replaced it with pagan idols? Or had loyal Israelites, disgusted by the blaspheming of their Lord’s Temple, removed the Ark?

Interestingly, in 2 Chronicles 35:3, Josiah says to the Levites when telling them to place the Ark back into the Temple, “it will be a burden on your shoulders no longer” (NASB). This certainly sounds like those loyal to God had been moving the Ark, perhaps by their own choice due to the idolatry desecrating God’s Temple or by forced expulsion from the Temple by the wicked kings before Josiah, like Manasseh.

Ark_tired

As I said, this took place about 20-50 years before the Babylonian Exile. After the exile, we see nothing more of the Ark.

God had allowed this exile to happen to Israel. Israel hadn’t kept their part of the covenant agreement; they had promised to be God’s representative people on the earth, but they had forgotten God and had turned to pagan gods. Thus, God took his blessings and protection from them.

As God removed his blessing and presence from Israel, the Ark lost its significance, and as the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and God’s Temple, it’s quite possible they destroyed the Ark or carried it off as a spoil of war, perhaps stripping the gold from it and destroying the rest.

Or perhaps the Ark was placed in the new Temple after the Exile, and it simply isn’t mentioned in Ezra’s account. But arguments from silence rarely make good cases; it’s odd that such a prominent part of the Temple (and Israel’s history) should be ignored in the biblical record. Plus, we find no mention of the Ark after – ever.

Or had the Ark not even been in Jerusalem at the time of the Babylonian attack?

 

ACCORDING TO INDY

In Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indy explains to the U.S. Army agents that one possible fate of the lost Ark was that the Egyptian Pharaoh Shishak took it when he invaded Jerusalem in about 980 BC. He then took the Ark to the ancient city of Tanis and placed it into a chamber called The Well of Souls. A year later, Tanis was “consumed” by a year-long sandstorm and disappeared. As Indy’s colleague Marcus Brody says, Tanis and all traces of the Ark were “wiped clean by the wrath of God.” Since, Indiana finds the Well of Souls with the Ark in it, it seems to be the explanation the movie sticks with.

Tanis is, in fact, an ancient Egyptian city, and Shishak (Shoshenq I, Sheshonk I, Sheshonq I – pick your favorite spelling) is a historical pharaoh. In 1 Kings 14 and 2 Chronicles 12, we’re told during the reign of rotten King Rehoboam (930-913 BC), the son of Solomon, Pharaoh Shishak invaded Jerusalem and “took away the treasures of the house of the Lord and the treasures of the king’s house. He took away everything. He also took away the shields of gold that Solomon had made” (2 Chronicles 12:9).

The movie has the date of this invasion a bit off, but the important thing to note is that this took place long before the rule of King Josiah – about 300 years before! As we saw above, the Ark was still in the possession of the Israelites at the time of King Josiah’s reign. Therefore, though Shishak “took away the treasures of the house of the Lord… He took away everything,” what constitutes “treasures” and “everything” must not have included the Ark (unless somehow the Ark was returned) because we have evidence of the Ark still being around at the time of Josiah.

Other than there being a historical Tanis, a historical Shishak, and a historical invasion and looting of Jerusalem by Shishak, the rest of Indy’s theory of the lost Ark is pure fiction — which unfortunately means no Well of Souls, no sandstorm, no map room, and no Staff of Ra either. Bummer.

Indiana_Staff_of_Ra

OUTSIDE THE BIBLE

Of course, outside the Bible there are rumors and legends about the fate of the Ark, and I’m sure the popularity of the Indiana Jones movies have inspired many new searches and theories.

Second Maccabees, an ancient text that is not considered Scripture by both Jews and Protestant Christians but is found in the Catholic Apocrypha, says that before the Babylonian invasion, the prophet Jeremiah hid the Ark in a cave on Mount Nebo, the mountain God had Moses climb to see the Promised Land.

Another theory is that the Ark was hidden under the Temple before the Babylonian invasion. Of course, the Temple Mount in Jerusalem is now the location of the sacred Islamic site the Dome of the Rock. Good luck getting permission to dig under there (Apparently, there’s a “partly natural, partly man-made cave located inside the Foundation Stone under the Dome of the Rock” called the Well of Souls! Did the writers of Raiders of the Lost Ark know this? Did they get the name and/or idea for the movie’s “Well of Souls” from this or is this just a coincidence?)

The Bible Archaeology, Search & Exploration (BASE) Institute points out that though 2 Chronicles 35:3 is the last mention of the Ark in the Old Testament, Isaiah 37:14-16 is the last time we know for certain the Ark was actually in the Temple. When Hezekiah goes into the Temple to pray, he says, “O Lord of hosts, God of Israel, enthroned above the cherubim, you are the God, you alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth.” This reference to the cherubim is likely a reference to the two winged cherubim on the covering of the Ark, the Mercy Seat. In other words, even though King Josiah requested that the Levites bring the Ark back to the Temple later in history, we don’t know for sure if the Ark ever got there. After all, sadly, good King Josiah was killed in battle, and the kings after him were evil, so who knows if the Ark ever made it back into the Temple as King Josiah wished (or, if it did, if it stayed there).

The BASE Institute believes the Ark was moved before Josiah’s rule during the reign of Israel’s evil King Manasseh (687-642 BC) to Elephantine Island in Egypt by a colony of loyal Israelites. They claim to have found archeological evidence of a duplicate Temple there.

The BASE Institute also visited a place called St. Mary’s of Zion church in Axum, Ethiopia where they met the current “Guardian of the Ark of the Covenant.” Apparently, this man is part of a long line of specially trained keepers of the Ark. (Sort of sounds like the Grail Knight, who guarded the Holy Grail in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.) Unfortunately (Conveniently-?), only the guardian is allowed to lay eyes on the Ark. A 105-year-old priest, who claimed to have seen it after one of the guardians died, described the object similar to the description in the Bible. The BASE Institute concludes St. Mary’s of Zion in Ethiopia “is the resting place either of an incredible replica of the biblical Ark of the Covenant, or, of the actual Ark of the Covenant itself,” though they didn’t see the Ark themselves.

Indiana_Chamber

 

ONE LAST BIBLICAL MENTION

There is one last mention of the Ark in the Bible, at the very end of the Bible in the very last book, the Book of Revelation. In this section, we see heaven’s temple opened to John in a vision, and “the ark of his covenant was seen within [God’s] temple” (11:19). The Book of Revelation is notoriously difficult to understand; it’s a highly symbolic book, and often it’s difficult to know what’s symbol and what’s to be understood literally. But the ESV Study Bible explains that this shows John being allowed to see deeper into God’s truth “to receive visions that expose the deepest perspectives on the church’s spiritual conflict.”

Does this mean the Ark is literally in heaven? Remember, Hebrews 8:5 tells us the earthly Temple was “a copy and shadow of the heavenly things.” But does that mean there’s a literal temple in heaven or that the Temple that existed in Jerusalem is a symbolic, physical representation of spiritual realities? I believe most theologians would lean towards the second.

Whether we understand this vision to be literal or symbolic, going closer to God in the earthly Temple would mean entering the innermost part of the Temple, the Most Holy Place, where the Ark of the Covenant once resided as the meeting place between God and man. Thus, this would be an appropriate symbol in the Book of Revelation of God allowing John access to deeper spiritual truths.

I do not believe the answer to “Where is the Ark?” is that it’s in heaven because of this verse in Revelation (as I saw one person suggest online). Here, I understand the image of the Ark as a symbol of spiritual truths. Nevertheless, an actual physical Ark did once exist; so, what happened to it?

As the religious law and ritual of the Old Testament has been fulfilled by Jesus’ death on the cross and God allowed the utter destruction of his Temple again (this time by the Romans) in 70 AD, the Ark is no longer needed because it has lost its significance. Followers of Christ don’t need priests, the Temple, nor the Ark to communicate with their heavenly Father. Because of this, I lean towards thinking the Ark has been destroyed and forever removed from history. But others believe the Ark is in hiding — laying in wait, if you will — only to be revealed again at the victorious return of Christ to reclaim his creation.

NEXT: (The final article of the series) Skeptics, legalists, and the superstitious come face-to-face with God’s wrath… DON’T LOOK MARION!!

Read Part 1: What’s a Covenant?

Read Part 2: What’s the Ark Anyway?

Read Part 3: What’s All This Old Testament Stuff About?

Read Part 4: The Ark in Action!

New from GFTM Blog: Available in paperback for $9.00 (or less) and Kindle version for $3.50 (or less) on Amazon. Or learn more here.

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Morally Schizophrenic: Moral Outrage in a Land With No Moral Compass

**Can you be good without God? Are morals objective truths or personal opinions? Are skeptics morally schizophrenic?**

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Can you do good without God? Certainly. Can you define good without God? No.

Let me explain…

I’ve written about what is often called the moral argument before on GFTM blog (see here, here, and here), but it’s such an important argument that arises so often I decided it would benefit us to look at it one more time. (Note: I’d usually break a long post like this into several posts, but I think it’s best to keep the whole argument together in one place.)

Basically, it goes like this: a skeptic (atheist, agnostic, relativist, post-modernist, naturalist, etc.) criticizes Christianity for something, which – more likely than not – is a moral claim. For example:

  • The God of the Bible is cruel and violent.
  • Christians are intolerant.
  • Believing in a Creator God stifles science and human flourishing.
  • The apostle Paul was sexist and homophobic.
  • Christianity makes people closed-minded.
  • Christianity led to witch hunts and burnings.
  • Believing Christianity is the only true religion is arrogant.

The list can go on (I’m sure you thought of a few yourself), but what I want you to see is this: all of these are moral statements of one form or another. The one making the statement is making a moral claim, which means proclaiming something to be morally “good” or “bad.”

Some of the statements above may not seem like moral statements,  but often the one saying it is implying one. For example, at its core “Believing in a Creator God stifles science and human flourishing” is saying, “Human flourishing and the study of science are morally good, so Christianity is morally bad.” Likewise, the statement “Christianity led to witch hunts and burnings” may be a statement of fact, but again, often someone is also implying that witch hunts and burnings are bad.

At the base of these statement, there are questions that must be addressed: Why are witch hunts and burnings morally bad? Why is human flourishing morally good? The answers to these questions may seem so obvious we take them for granted, but are they really self-evident truths?

Even these following statements about moral statements are making moral claims:

  • No one has the right to make absolute, objective moral claims.
  • You don’t have the right to morally judge anyone.

Those who say such things are actually making moral claims!

And they’re also making self-refuting statements.

And that’s the point: When people make moral claims, and yet their worldview doesn’t provide any foundation for their moral claims, they have defeated themselves. Thus, often they become morally schizophrenic.

 

BY WHAT STANDARD?

Pick any of the moral criticisms from the above list (or elsewhere). For example, perhaps someone accuses the Bible of promoting slavery. Now, I don’t believe this is true (and I will address this in a future GFTM series), but I can respond in two ways:

(1) I could walk through the Bible with him or her and give the historical and theological information needed for understanding the difficult passages of the Bible that deal with slavery.

(2) I could ask a single question: “By what standard?”

In other words: “You’re making a moral claim that slavery is wrong. According to what standard are you saying that? Before we even discuss the Bible, explain to me, according to your understanding of the world (your worldview), why slavery is wrong?”

Good_without_God1

Yes, but the question is: Why?

GOOD WITHOUT GOD?

Now, the question of why slavery is wrong seems so basic to us today that it seems like a silly question. But think about it: Can you explain why slavery is wrong? Or are your moral stances simply something you assume? Again, to be clear, we all know slavery is wrong, but why? Follow your train of thought – follow the path of your logic backwards – to the foundation of your beliefs. What is your moral stance standing upon?

To better understand this, ask yourself:

  • What do I believe about humankind?
  • Where did we come from?
  • Are we going anywhere?
  • What makes our purpose important beyond personal preference? (In other words, what makes our purpose real?)

Now, can you explain why slavery is wrong?

Is it wrong because owning a person is wrong? Well, why is that wrong? Do humans have inherent rights? Do you hold “that all men are created equal… with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”? Do you believe this simply because our forefathers believed this or for another reason? Do you believe it because you were taught this in school, on TV, or by your peers? Is this really “self-evident” to your worldview? Where do “rights” even come from?

I’ve heard this slogan many times from skeptics: Good without God. In other words, one does not need to believe in God to be morally good. I agree 100%.

But the question is NOT whether skeptics CAN do good. They certainly can (by social standards anyway)! The question is WHY do they do good – and how do they even know what good is? What compels a skeptic to do good?

So, here it is:

  • If there is no God, there is no objective morality. (By “objective” I mean a standard of morality that exists outside of yourself.)
  • If there is no objective morality, all moral claims are only personal preferences and opinions.
  • If all moral claims are only personal preferences and opinions of an individual, then all moral claims can be dismissed by other individuals on the grounds that this is only their opinion.

Only a source that exists outside ourselves can account for a universal, objective moral code. (In fact, only an intelligent, immaterial source can account for an immaterial moral code.) And without an objective moral law, all moral claims can be responded to as follows: So? Why should I care?

If morality is strictly personal preferences and opinions, then why does anyone else have to care about the moral claims you make? If there is no God, all moral claims we make are smoke in the breeze. With no absolute foundation, they float away into nothingness. In fact, they are nothingness. And, then, morals are free to change like fads. What is immoral one day (like eating a baby for fun) can become morally fashionable the next. Without God, a moral claim is a nonsensical statement. Without an unchanging standard outside ourselves, your moral claims have no roots.

Before we continue, let me be clear about what I am NOT saying. In fact, every time I explain this, someone misunderstands me or jumps to a hasty conclusion without hearing me out (or maybe I’m just really bad at explaining it) and accuses me of saying that skeptics have no morals. So, let me say this in all caps. In fact, I’ll even underline it and put it in bold so it doesn’t get overlooked:

I AM CONFIRMING, WITHOUT A DOUBT, THAT SKEPTICS HAVE MORALS! BUT WHAT I AM SAYING IS THAT THEY DO NOT HAVE A FOUNDATION FOR MORALS. THUS, THEY CANNOT MAKE ANY MORAL CLAIM… (WITH ANY CONVICTION ANYWAY).

You might not like what I said above, but I hope at least you understand me accurately.

Atheist-Monument

K. Chesterton wrote, “[T]he new rebel is a skeptic, and will not entirely trust anything. … And the fact that he doubts everything really gets in his way when he wants to denounce anything. For all denunciation implies a moral doctrine of some kind; and the modern revolutionist doubts not only the institution he denounces, but the doctrine by which he denounces it . . . The man of this school goes first to a political meeting, where he complains that savages are treated as if they were beasts; then he takes his hat and umbrella and goes on to a scientific meeting, where he proves that they practically are beasts. In short, [the skeptic] is always engaged in undermining his own mines. In his book on politics he attacks men for trampling on morality; in his book on ethics he attacks morality for trampling on men. Therefore the modern man in revolt has become practically useless for all purposes of revolt. By rebelling against everything he has lost his right to rebel against anything.”

Skeptics have to borrow their morals from doctrines and dogmas based on human rights which are in turn contingent upon human value. The skeptic does this without reason. He prefers to think of himself and certain other persons as valuable, but human beings have no intrinsic moral worth if the skeptics’ worldview is taken to its logical end. Therefore, the claims of the rapist are equal to the claims of the judge and the claims of the nicest atheist are equal to the claims of the most tyrannical dictator.

 

IMAGE-BEARERS

Morality is found in the eternal, unchanging nature of God. We don’t deem something “good” simply because God said so, nor because the Bible says so. In other words, adultery can’t be bad one day and good the next because God changes his mind. Goodness is grounded in God’s unchanging nature; goodness is defined by God’s very character. Good is not good because God says it is so (though he does); good is good because God is good. God is the eternal, unchanging standard of good.

Everyone, including hardcore skeptics, have morals because they have an innate sense of morality, and everyone, including hardcore atheists, have an innate sense of morality because they’re made in the image of God (Gen. 1:27). A mindless, directionless force cannot give us the innate sense of morality we all have.

Romans 2:14–15 tells us,

“For when Gentiles [nonbelievers] who do not have the Law [of God] do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them.”

Yet, though we’re made in God’s image, we suppress his innate moral law because we love our sin.

Romans 1:20-25 tells us,

“For his [God’s] invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and … they exchanged the truth about God for a lie…”

As Tolstoy said, “If God does not exist, everything is permitted.”

 

MORALLY SCHIZOPHRENIC

The skeptic cannot stay consistent with his moral claims, because he’s morally schizophrenic. He’s made in the image of God and has God’s moral law inside him, but he also loves his sin and wants to be his own god, so he also attempts to suppress God’s moral law. On one hand, he says morals are personal opinions, but on the other hand he declares vehemently his moral outrage and he wants us all to listen and agree. On one hand, he overlooks the murder of human life in the womb, but then expresses outrage at the murder of an infant. He declares mutual consent is the only sexual moral rule, yet he’s disgusted by incest by consenting adults. He believes we’re only biological machines evolved to pass on our genes, yet he is morally appalled by rape.

Sometimes skeptics accuse Christians of only being “good” because they fear God’s wrath. First, those who understand the gospel of Jesus Christ know we’re saved not by our own actions, but by the work of Christ. Thus, we don’t fear eternal condemnation, and we don’t (and can’t) earn salvation. Since we are saved by faith in Christ and God’s grace alone, there’s nothing more we can earn with our “good” actions (Ephesians 2:3-9; Romans 6:23, 11:6). Since our salvation is not based on our own works, but the work of Christ, we are secure in our salvation.

Secondly, those who understand the God of the Bible have a proper fear of him, but this isn’t the primary reason we obey his moral law. We obey God because he loved us when we were in rebellion against him and dead in our sins. God became a man and was tortured and killed to free us from sin so we can spend eternity with him. Love of Christ compels a Christian much, much more than fear. “We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19)

If there is a God, there are universal, objective morals. If not, all morals are subjective – based on personal feelings, tastes, or opinions. There is no such thing as how things “ought” to be. Without God, it just is what it is.

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EVOLVING MORALS

If naturalistic, materialistic, atheistic evolution is all there is then we have to face this fact: A mindless, directionless force does not and cannot create meaning or morals, nor can it explain our innate sense of morality.

If naturalistic, materialistic, atheistic evolution is all there is, there is no larger meaning than survival. If atheistic evolution is all there is, eat, drink, and be merry because this is as good as it gets. If atheistic evolution is all there is, then life is directionless, random, and pointless. If atheistic evolution is all there is, then – at best – life’s goal is to pass on our genes. And why should we even care about passing on our genes? We’re only here a short time – maybe about 90 years if we’re lucky. What’s it matter if my genes live on after me or not?

In other words, when you give your spouse a Valentine’s Day card, be sure to explain that you only care for him or her because you need him or her to pass on your genes, and the “love” you feel is just an illusion of the chemicals firing off in your brain (and loins). When you tuck in your kids at night, tell them something similar.

An atheistic evolutionist can make all the moral claims he wants, but when you get down to it all he’s giving are the personal preferences that are programmed into the meat computer we call his brain.

“Sexism is wrong,” he shouts.

Who cares. We’re random, happy accidents with only 90 years to live. I got better things to worry about.

“Since we’re here for only a short time, we should allow everyone to make the most of it.”

Why? I’m only looking out for one person: me.

“That guy is a scumbag. He has four kids to different women, and he doesn’t pay any child support.”

Good for him. He’s passing on his genes and enjoying life. That guy has it figured out.

 

FINDING MEANING IN MEANINGLESSNESS

In the past, when I’ve pointed this out to skeptics, I’ve had a few say something like, “I make my own meaning.” But this itself is a meaningless statement. How can you make meaning in a world devoid of meaning? A person’s self-made meaning only extends as far as that person’s self-delusion; don’t expect anyone else to buy into your personal “meaning.” (And if life really is meaningless, then the only way to be happy is to ignore the truth. So is truth the enemy of happiness?)

Everyone’s favorite atheist, Richard Dawkins has said, “There is something infantile in the presumption that somebody else has a responsibility to give your life meaning and point… The truly adult view, by contrast, is that our life is as meaningful, as full and as wonderful as we choose to make it.”

But that same man also wrote, “The universe we observe has … no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference … DNA neither knows nor cares. DNA just is. And we dance to its music.”

Mr. Dawkins, sir, you speak so beautifully you can lull a water buffalo to sleep, but you’re a moral schizophrenic. You worldview cannot stand.

Dawkins-Richard

Or, take a moment to watch this 2-minute “Big Think” Youtube video by atheist physicist and cosmologist Lawrence Krauss where he says human life is “more insignificant than we can possibly imagine,” “an accident in a remote corner of the universe,” and he even reminds us of the imminent death of all life in the universe. But then he goes on to explain how this makes humans “more precious” and we should find meaning in life, including in art and music. To be honest, I laughed aloud when I first watched this video.

With Krauss’s atheistic worldview, he can fairly say: Life is meaningless, so enjoy the time you have. No problem there; no inconsistency. But he can’t say: Life is meaningless, so live meaningfully. Do you see the schizophrenia? (Plus, he’s confusing pleasure with meaning. Something can be pleasurable and completely meaningless.)

Krauss — a naturalistic atheist who publicly mocks belief in God — even goes on to use the term “spiritually uplifting”! The image-of-God that is intrinsic in Krauss’s very identity cannot be suppressed. We are designed for worship — and if not God, we’ll worship something else. We see Krauss’s schizophrenic worldview in full-on parade in this 2-minute video.

No meaning = No human value = No morals.

No human value = No meaning = No morals.

No morals = No meaning = No human value.

 

NICE STORY, BRO

Skeptics have attempted to explain morals in a number of naturalistic ways without an absolute, immaterial, unchanging Law-giver. But without an objective moral code with a foundation in unchanging truth, all moral claims crumble under personal preference.

Social Construct – Morals are defined by society.

So, when Nazi Germany proclaimed that it was good to kill Jews, was this morally good because “society” decided this? If the South had won the American Civil War, would slavery be morally good? Was Martin Luther King Jr. immoral for standing up against a racist society? In fact, who decides what part of society defines morals? Does might make right? Does majority rule? Has the majority ever been morally wrong? (Yes!)

Ultimately, saying morals are a social construct still confirms the view that morals are subjective. And if morals are subjective, why do we have to follow them? Peer pressure?

Human Flourishing – Morals Promote Human Advancement

I’ve heard skeptics respond that doing something immoral like, say, eating a baby would doom the human race. But Jonathan Swift’s infamous (satirical) essay A Modest Proposal lays out a compelling argument about how eating babies would actually benefit society. So, who should I believe? Further, if I eat just one baby and no more, will it doom the human race? Absolutely not. Would it be morally wrong still?

Aristotle argued that it was the slave’s nature to be a slave, and thus, it was to the benefit of both society and the slave for the slave to remain a slave. And in ancient Rome, the poor often benefited greatly by selling themselves into slavery. Does this then mean owning a person like property can be morally good?

Also, notice the underlining assumption of this view: human flourishing is good. Why is human flourishing the ultimate good? If we’re just meat machines here by happy accident, what’s it matter if we flourish or not? (But more about that below.)

Good Feelings – Being good is a reward within itself; it makes me feel good.

What if raping others makes someone feel good? Does that make rape for that person morally good? I’m pretty sure most serial killers found pleasure in their work. In other words, what if being “bad” makes me feel “good.” What if what makes someone feel good is stomping on another’s face when she’s grinning after doing something “good”? And again, who defines what is “good”?

Beware of any action justified solely on subjective, personal feelings. And while we’re being morally subjective, let me just ask, Who cares how you feel?

Doing good makes you feel good because you were created in the image of God to honor him.

Evolution – Morals have evolved to help the human species survive.

First, nice story. I’d like to see that proven. Secondly, evolution is based on survival of the fittest. It has no room for niceness. Are you telling me evolution suddenly became a peace-loving hippy?

Christians aren’t going to argue against the idea that working together is better, but without the unchanging moral law of God – again – why should I care? I’m only on this planet for a short time; if ruining other’s lives makes mine better, I’m going to do it. Who can tell me I’m wrong?

You may say some behavior is “best” for everyone – “best” for human flourishing. But how can you be sure? As stated above, Jonathan Swift made a compelling argument on how eating babies, something universally seen as reprehensible, could actually help society. And again, who cares? Who says human flourishing is the ultimate moral good? What if I prefer self-flourishing? Or what if I’m a radical environmentalist and I believe the health of the planet is the greatest good, so humans need to “flourish” less? Or what if passing on my genes most effectively is by destroying a rival society? Survival of the fittest, baby

Philosopher William Lane Craig concludes in his book On Guard, “…if our moral beliefs have been shaped by evolution, then we can’t have any confidence in them because evolution aims, not at truth, but at survival. Our moral beliefs will be selected for their survival value, not for their truth.”

For the Kids – I’m morally good to make the world a better place for my children.

Now, maybe this can make some sense to an atheistic evolutionist because in that worldview passing on your genes may be the only “meaningful” thing someone can do, and making the world a “better” (“better” = “safer”) place will increase the chances of those kids surviving to pass on your genes. But, once again, who cares? If morals are subjective, I can choose not to care for my offspring, and who is anyone to judge me? Making the world a better place is a lot of work and so is raising kids. What if I think it’ll be much easier to pass on my genes if I just impregnate as many women as possible? That seems like a good way to live for many men. Are they wrong? Not according to all worldviews.

 

STABBING BABIES

I once had a hostile skeptic come after me on Twitter. His moral outrage at Christianity was clear, but when I asked him to explain upon what standard he was basing these moral claims, he huffed and hollered but never gave me an answer.

We continued for a while, and for every moral condemnation he made against Christianity, I again asked him why I should listen to anything he had to say if he couldn’t even tell me how he judges anything morally. At closest to explaining, he said it was “complicated.” So, I said I would make it easy for him: “Tell me why it’s wrong to stab a baby.” Yes, this was a bit harsh, but he wasn’t pulling any punches with me either. Again, he hooted and hollered, but he never answered my question despite my persistence.

And that’s the problem. Skeptics can shout all they want about injustice or human rights or bigotry, but they’re not standing on anything. They’re floating up in the air, their legs flailing around, toes pointed, trying to find some ground to stand on, but they have nothing.

Occasionally, you hear of a person who claims to have been a Christian who “lost their faith” because of the evil in the world. Ironically, one of the surest signs that there is a God is the universal outrage we see at evil. If there’s no God, there’s no evil. If there’s no God, it just is what it is.

(Thanks to Jordan Karausky for his feedback, insight, and additions to this article.)

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Related GFTM articles on the moral argument:

Random, Meaningless Morals

Atheists have Morals! (And So Do the Rest of Us)

The Walking Dead & God’s Innate Moral Law