Sunday, 8 September 2013

Slavery in the bible.

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The other night, Kevin Rudd (Our Prime Minister), a professing Christian, openly mocked God's word and held it up to be ridiculed on Q and A (See video here). In particular the words I'm referencing are these:
Pastor Matt Prater: "I just believe in what the Bible says and I'm just curious for you, Kevin, if you call yourself a Christian, why don't you believe the words of Jesus in the Bible?" 
Mr Rudd responded: "Well, mate, if I was going to have that view, the Bible also says that slavery is a natural condition...Because St Paul said in the New Testament, 'slaves be obedient to your masters'. And, therefore, we should have all fought for the Confederacy in the US war. I mean, for goodness sake, the human condition and social conditions change."
The thing is, he was wrong - he did not even explain God's word accurately. So I figured I'd explain why he was wrong - why slavery is never condoned in the bible, and why it isn't a "natural condition".

Is slavery a natural condition?

I assume that by saying that slavery is a natural condition, Mr Rudd means that it has always existed, or it comes naturally to us. In Genesis 1-2 God created the world, and there was no slavery - Adam and Eve were equals. Therefore it is not a natural condition.

Our attraction to slavery is a result of what happened after creation. In Genesis 3 Adam and Eve sinned, and since then e
very human being has been sinful. As a result we are proud, we are selfish and we like being served. Slavery, an institution that has grown from those three things, is a result of sin. We are naturally sinful and that means we "naturally" tend toward lording it over others. But the bible never justifies that and it never gives an excuse for sin.

What about Paul's command?

Paul tells slaves to be obedient to their masters. In fact, he commands all of us to submit to those who are in authority over us (Romans 13). God does not direct his people to overthrow their governments and to change society through violence or revolution. Instead he calls us to submit to those in authority out of our love for him, and by doing so we will be able to honour him.

The same applies for the institution of slavery. God does not abolish slavery or condemn it directly in the bible, instead he calls slaves to submit to their masters. But he does more then that - in the verses after the one Mr Rudd mentions Paul writes:
"And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favouritism with him." (Ephesians 6:9)
 If I'm right then within Greco-roman culture slaves were the property of their masters. Their owners could do anything to them and not face any consequences. Yet God, through Paul, commands masters to treat their slaves well. I don't think we appreciate how against the culture this would have been. (Maybe it could be paralleled to us being told to let the boat people in and treat them fairly?). Yet God does command his people to treat their slaves with respect and dignity.

God does not condemn the institution of slavery in the bible, but he does direct his people to use it differently then their culture did.

Other references to Slavery in the bible.
There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28)
Within God's kingdom we (Christians) are all equal. There is neither slave nor free - we are all slaves of God, willingly giving our lives to him, and we are all adopted as his children. We are equal in God's sight. Though not an explicit condemnation of the institution of slavery, this verse most certainly sets the standard for how we should view all people, regardless of their occupation. (Philemon 1:14-16 is relevant to this point too)
Were you a slave when you were called? Don’t let it trouble you—although if you can gain your freedom, do so. For he who was a slave when he was called by the Lord is the Lord’s freedman; similarly, he who was a free man when he was called is Christ’s slave. (1 Corinthians 7:21-22)
Paul here urges slaves to gain their freedom if that is possible. Again, setting the standard - slavery, though not condemned in the bible is an institution that one should seek to be out of.

Nevertheless God does make certain commands in Leviticus and other OT books about slavery. In all honesty I don't know how to explain these passages, but they include Exodus 21:20-21, Leviticus 25:44-46 and Deuteronomy 20:10-11. Sandy Grant points out that in the Old Testament Moses permits divorce, but that does not mean that God endorses it - Jesus explains this in Matthew 19:8 - He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so." God allows his people to get divorced, even though he does not approve of it. It seems to me that slavery would fit in the same box - it is not specifically sinful in and of itself, but it is so easily twisted and used for cruelty.

Aside from this, slavery is quite a big theme within the bible. In Romans 6 Paul links slavery to our situation - we are slaves of sin, unable to save ourselves, yet in Jesus we are freed to serve him and to be willing slaves of God, the best master of all.

I hope I've at least provided some food for thought. I didn't really do heaps of research into the topic, because I'm extremely busy with school, and I may return to it when I get more time.

God Bless,

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