Saturday, May 05, 2007

10 Questions That Every Intelligent Christian Must Answer, Question 5, Part I: Why is God such a huge proponent of slavery in the Bible?

From the transcript:
Look up these Bible verses:

- Exodus 21:20-21 – God says that it is OK to own slaves, and it is also OK to beat them.

I'm breaking this question into two posts because the use of this Scripture particularly disturbed me.

Let's read the passage:
When a man strikes his slave, male or female, with a rod and the slave dies under his hand, he shall be avenged. But if the slave survives a day or two, he is not to be avenged, for the slave is his money.

Looks pretty bad, right? It is OK to beat your own slave?

Let's look at the commandment immediately preceding this section:
When men quarrel and one strikes the other with a stone or with his fist and the man does not die but takes to his bed, then if the man rises again and walks outdoors with his staff, he who struck him shall be clear; only he shall pay for the loss of his time, and shall have him thoroughly healed.

Ok, so if someone kills their own slave and kills them, they will be punished. Not any differently than if you killed a freeman, since there is nothing in the passage which says there is different criteria for punishment. I'm no Ancient Near East expert, but I would suspect punishment for killing a slave wasn't a common practice. To me, this commandment is evidence that the Bible isn't the product of human imagination.

But does the first passage I quoted really say it is alright to beat your slave? Let's look at the two passages in parallel.

In Exodus 21:18-19, the passage tells us that if you injure someone you need to pay them for their lost wages. We can see from the juxtaposition of the two commandments that Exodus 21:20-21 is telling us that an owner doesn't have to pay lost wages because he owns the slave. He would have to pay himself! He has already caused his own economic loss.

So now the command in Exodus 21:20 is even more striking. Exodus 21:18-19 says nothing about avenging the death or manslaughter of a man, but those cases are handled elsewhere in Scripture.

God is underscoring equal protection under the law for slaves. Their lives must be avenged.

And given the juxtaposition between the two commands, it is wrong to injure a freeman who loses his wages. The flow shows that is wrong to hurt your own slave. Otherwise, why explicitly mention that you don't need to reimburse lost wages since you are the person who owns the slave? The commandment presupposes it is wrong to hurt slaves.

As you can see from this post, when skeptics throw individual Bible verses isolated from the rest of Scripture (and especially when they are isolated from surrounding context), don't panic.


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