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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The Trinity Mashup & the Schizophrenic God! “Mother God,” “Christ” Ahnsahnghong, & World Mission Society Church of God – The One True Church or Cult?

**Is “Christ” Ahnsahnghong the Trinitarian God? Does the WMSCOG have a correct understanding of the Trinity?  Do they promote a schizophrenic God?  Where does “Mother God” fit in?**

Schizophrenia1

(God From the Machine has published a book titled Searching the Bible for Mother God: Examining the Teachings of the World Mission Society Church of God, available in paperback and Kindle on Amazon.  Click here to learn more.)

This article continues to look at the World Mission Society Church of God (also simply called the Church of God), but commonly called by those not in the church “the Mother God Cult.”  The Church of God believes the Bible teaches about God the Mother, who is currently alive on earth in South Korea, and the church’s founder, Ahnsahnghong, is God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

Last article, I gave an overview of their history and beliefs, and I used the Bible to analyze their belief in Ahnsahnghong as the Second Coming of Christ.  (Read that article, titled “World Mission Society Church of God, Mother God & Christ Ahnsahnghong – The One True Church or Cult?” here.)

Also, I do not intend to debate here if the World Mission Society Church of God is a “cult” or not, and I prefer my readers to decide.  (Please feel free to comment, discuss, & debate below!)  Earlier articles I wrote will hopefully be helpful:

Finally, before we begin, let me be clear: I’ve exposed myself to no negative writings, videos, or websites concerning the World Mission Society Church of God at the time of the writing of this article.  I’m responding strictly to their beliefs as explained on their website.  Further, since they use the Bible extensively to attempt to legitimatize their beliefs, I’ll use the Bible to respond to them.

This article will be looking at their beliefs about the Trinity and their founder, Ahnsahnghong, as God in three forms.  Before we look at the Church of God’s teachings, let’s look at the  traditional Christian understanding of the Trinity…

ahnsahnghong

Ahnsahnghong – Is this man Father, Son & Holy Spirit?

A BIBLICAL UNDERSTANDING OF THE TRINITY

Traditional Christianity believes in the Trinity: one God, three persons – God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. This belief is unique to Christianity, and it’s certainly a difficult doctrine to wrap our finite heads around, and, thus, it’s a favorite target of those critical of Christianity (often accusing Christians of polytheism), but it’s biblical. In order to understand it correctly, we need to understand that the three persons are distinct persons, yet of the same nature.

I find thinking about it like a 1st Century Jew helps. Jews in Jesus’ day, unlike the pagan Romans, understood that there was only one God, and everything else is not God. Thus, when Jesus says he’s the Son of God, the Jews don’t understand it as a Roman and think, “Ok, this guy thinks he’s part God,” they understand it correctly as Jesus saying, “I am God.” That’s why they accuse him of blasphemy, a crime worthy of death. Something can’t be part God. Something is either fully God or fully something else.

The Trinitarian nature of God has several implications. In Total Truth, Nancy Pearcey writes of one of them:

“The human race was created in the image of God, who is three Persons so intimately related as to constitute one Godhead… both oneness and threeness are equally real, equally ultimate, equally basic and integral to God’s nature…

“The balance of unity and diversity in the Trinity gives a model for human social life, because it implies that both individuality and relationship exist within the Godhead itself. God is being-in-communion. Humans are made in the image of a God who is a tri-unity—whose very nature consists in reciprocal love and communication among the Persons of the Trinity… the Trinity implies the dignity and uniqueness of individual persons. Over against radical individualism, the Trinity implies that relationships are not created by sheer choice but are built into the very essence of human nature. We are not atomistic individuals but are created for relationships.”

To understand the Trinity, it’s best to state the doctrine in three sentences: (1) God is three persons – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. (2) Each person is fully God. (3) There is only one God. Denying or changing any of these three statements wouldn’t accurately illustrate the Christian belief (as supported by the Bible) of the Trinity. All three statements must be accepted as truth for correct understanding of the Trinity. Moreover, I’ve found trying to explain the Trinity in any other manner tends to lead to misrepresentations of the Trinity and basically (to use an out-of-fashion word) heresy. Likewise, any analogy to explain the Trinity often proves misleading or inaccurate.

(Recommended reading: The Forgotten Trinity by James White or see Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology.)

Though no diagram or analogy can properly illustrate the Trinity, this may be helpful.

Though no diagram or analogy can properly illustrate the Trinity, this may be helpful.

 

AN OLD HERESY

Now, let’s look at how the World Mission Society Church of God/Church of God (“COG” from here on out) explains the Trinity on their own website:

“The concept of “Trinity” means that God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are not different entities, but are one God. The Trinity—God the Father [Jehovah], God the Son [Jesus], and God the Holy Spirit [Ahnsahnghong]—are one…

“To better understand the Trinity, let’s first consider the transformation of water. Water is a liquid, but when its temperature falls below 0° C, the water will turn into ice, a solid. When the water is boiled, it turns into vapor, a gas. Water, ice, and vapor have different names and different forms, but their substance is the same: H2O.

“It is similar to when an actor in a monodrama plays three different characters—a father, a son, and a grandson—all having different voices. Although there are three different voices and three different roles, there is only one actor.

What the COG states here and elsewhere on their website teaches that Ahnsahnghong is God appearing throughout history in three different forms. (See an overview of their core beliefs here.)  What the COG is teaching is an old heresy called Modalism.

The website carm.org summarizes Modalism succinctly:

“Modalism is probably the most common theological error concerning the nature of God. It is a denial of the Trinity. Modalism states that God is a single person who, throughout biblical history, has revealed Himself in three modes or forms. Thus, God is a single person who first manifested himself in the mode of the Father in Old Testament times. At the incarnation, the mode was the Son; and after Jesus’ ascension, the mode is the Holy Spirit. These modes are consecutive and never simultaneous. In other words, this view states that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit never all exist at the same time–only one after another. Modalism denies the distinctiveness of the three persons in the Trinity even though it retains the divinity of Christ.”

So, according to the COG, Ahnsahnghong is God the Father (Jehovah), God the Son (Jesus), and God the Holy Spirit (Ahnsahnghong). All of these titles belong to him, and throughout the website he’s called “Christ Ahnsahnghong” and even “God Ahnsahnghong.”

From the COG website:

“God’s name was “Jehovah” when He played the role of the Father, and it was “Jesus” when He worked as the Son. Then, how should we call upon God when He is working as the Holy Spirit? The name of the Holy Spirit is Ahnsahnghong.”

It appears the COG believes the Bible is the Word of God since it uses the Bible extensively to justify their beliefs in “Christ” Ahnsahnghong and “Mother God.” But adopting a Modalist view that the Trinity is the same divine person appearing in 3 different forms at 3 different times, as the COG does, becomes a huge problem if we accept the Bible as the inerrant Word of God. Why? Quite frankly, it makes God look schizophrenic.

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THE SCHIZOPHRENIC GOD

Schizophrenia literally means “split mind.”  If Ahnsahnghong is both God the Father and God the Son/Jesus at different times, then who is Jesus praying to in the Garden of Gethsemane:

Abba! Father! All things are possible for You; remove this cup from Me; yet not what I will, but what You will”? (Mark 14:36)

In the Garden of Gethsemane, if Ahnsahnghong is Jesus/The Son, how is he praying to The Father? According to the COG’s own theology, when Ahnsahnghong is The Son, then he’s no longer The Father. The Father and The Son did not exist at the same time. When Ahnsahnghong was Jesus 2,000 years ago, he was no longer in the form of God the Father, so who is Jesus praying to throughout the Gospels?

Take, for example, Jesus’ prayer in John 17:

“Jesus spoke these things; and lifting up His eyes to heaven, He said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son, that the Son may glorify You, even as You gave Him authority over all flesh, that to all whom You have given Him, He may give eternal life…

“I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me…

“O righteous Father, although the world has not known You, yet I have known You; and these have known that You sent Me; and I have made Your name known to them…”

So, who is Ahnsahnghong talking to? Himself? Let’s do an experiment: Let’s replace all of the references to God the Son/Jesus, God the Father, and all pronouns for both of them and see how that works out…

“Ahnsahnghong spoke these things; and lifting up His eyes to heaven, He said, “Ahnsahnghong, the hour has come; glorify Ahnsahnghong, that Ahnsahnghong may glorify Ahnsahnghong, even as Ahnsahnghong gave Ahnsahnghong authority over all flesh, that to all whom Ahnsahnghong have given Ahnsahnghong, Ahnsahnghong may give eternal life…

“I, Ahnsahnghong, do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Ahnsahnghong through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Ahnsahnghong, are in Ahnsahnghong, and Ahnsahnghong in Ahnsahnghong that they also may be in Us (Ahnsahnghong and Ahnsahnghong), so that the world may believe that Ahnsahnghong sent Ahnsahnghong

“O righteous Ahnsahnghong, although the world has not known Ahnsahnghong, yet Ahnsahnghong has known Ahnsahnghong; and these have known that Ahnsahnghong sent Ahnsahnghong; and Ahnsahnghong has made Ahnsahnghong’s name known to them…”

See what I mean by schizophrenic?

Finally, what does the COG make of Matthew 3:16-17, Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist?

“After being baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and lighting on Him, and behold, a voice out of the heavens said, ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.’”

Here, we clearly see the complete Trinity all acting at the same moment in time: Jesus (God the Son) is being baptized. God the Holy Spirit descends to him. And God the Father speaks from heaven.

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CONCLUSION

If the COG’s explanation of the Trinity (the Modalist view) is correct, then the COG has to give up on the Bible as the inerrant Word of God or accept a schizophrenic view of God.

The Church of God clearly gets it wrong when it comes to the Trinity and all things concerning Ahnsahnghong as divine.

Finally, if God had a plan, according to the COG, to divide history into 3 eras and to appear as a different form of a savior in each era, where does Mother God fit into this picture?  I’d be interested in learning when the COG began teaching that belief in Mother God was needed for salvation.  Was this a “Plan B” to preserve their church after Ahnsahnghong, Christ’s supposed Second Coming, died?  This is all speculation on my part, but I’m interested in learning when the teachings of “Mother God” emerged in the COG, since nothing is even said about her in their history as presented on their website.

Please understand that my effort to expose and discredit the World Mission Society Church of God is not out of malice, spite, or because I have nothing else better to do. I am concerned for those led astray by Ahnsahnghong and “Mother God.” The good news is Jesus Christ, the true Savior, gives new starts and new lives. No one is beyond Jesus Christ’s salvation, even sinners like you and me, who are made in God’s image and have eternal worth to him.

NEXT: Mother God – a closer look.

**God From the Machine has published a book for evangelizing, educating, and refuting the World Mission Society Church of God titled Searching the Bible for Mother God: Examining the Teachings of the World Mission Society Church of God, available in paperback and Kindle on Amazon.  Click here to learn more.

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