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

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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

Series Intro:

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.

Intro

In the last article, we discussed the differences between American slavery, Roman slavery, and Israelite slavery (Click here to read). In this article we’re specifically be looking at American slavery.

Racism and dehumanization, as well as forced kidnapping and enslavement, characterized American slavery. We’ll look at why someone cannot follow the Bible as the Word of God and practice or support such things like the owning of another human being because of race (or any other reason).

Though many American slave-owners did try to justify slavery with Bible verses from both the Old and New Testament, we’ll see not only why slavery isn’t a biblical concept, but it’s actually anti-biblical. We’ll look closely at the verses the slave-masters use to justify slavery when we specifically address slavery in both the Old and New Testaments. But, for now, this article will give the general biblical principles that make Christianity a faith opposed to slavery.

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Is the Bible “pro-slavery”? Not if you actually read it.

“Christian” vs. Christian

Yes, in history slave-owners who called themselves Christians, have used the Bible to promote their racist views and justify the ownership and brutality of other human beings. No big surprise. People have tried to twist God’s Word for their own agenda since the beginning of Christ’s church. We see this in the actually letters by and to the first Christians, preserved in the New Testament itself – the Apostles correcting, rebuking, and warning against those who pervert God’s ways to justify their own sinful ways. In a world in rebellion against God, of course many will try to use God’s authority to establish their own selfish authority.

It doesn’t take a genius to look at Jesus Christ, the God who became a man and died as a sacrifice for the sins of all the world without distinction – including slaves and Africans – the God-man who said to love your neighbor as yourself (Lev. 19:18; Mark 12:31), to love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (Matt. 5:44), and to even do good for those who hate you (Luke 6:27) and see that a person who partakes in the cruel practice of slavery is not following Christ at all.

We’re all influenced by our culture, whether we like to admit it or not, so maybe some slave-owners were ignorant – perhaps willingly or not – that they weren’t living God’s commands. In that case, they should’ve been called out as hypocrites. Fellow Christians should’ve called them to repentance and to make reparations for their sins. On the other hand, calling yourself a Christian and quoting the Bible doesn’t make you a follower of Christ any more than calling yourself an elf and reciting the Lord of the Rings makes you Legolas.

The only possibility of a slave-owner and an abolitionist ever both being considered non-hypocritical Christians were if the Bible itself were inconsistent on the topic of slavery, where both slave-owners and abolitionists could pick-and-choose what Bible verses they wanted to follow and still claim to be following God’s Word. Many people who don’t believe the Bible is God’s Word see this as the case. I do believe the Bible is God’s Word, so I do believe it’s consistent on slavery and in all ways, and as we look at some of the “problem passages” later in this GFTM series, you’ll see why. (I discussed the issue of consistency already, so read more here.)

Talking History: Fair & Balanced

Those screaming loudest that Christianity promoted slavery have a selective memory of history. One doesn’t have to look hard to find Christians deeply involved in abolition, human rights, and civil rights movements.

William Wilberforce (1759-1833), a devout Christian and member of England’s House of Commons, fought for about 20 years in Parliament to end England’s participation in slavery. Only days before he died in 1833, Parliament passed the Abolition Act, freeing 700,000 slaves in the West Indies. By 1840, slavery was completely abolished throughout all of the British Empire, thanks much to Wilberforce’s efforts.[1] Thus, Christians were the first group in history to start an anti-slavery movement.[2]

In the United States, Quakers, followed by evangelicals, were the first to openly oppose slavery.[3] American Elijah Lovejoy, who used his printing office for speaking out against slavery, was a Presbyterian clergyman. Pro-slavery radicals killed him in 1837. [4] Harriet Beecher Stowe, who wrote the influential book Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852), was a strong Christian, whose father and brothers, all Christians, contributed to the fight against slavery. [5] Uncle Tom’s Cabin is credited with spreading the anti-slavery message, which led to the Civil War. America’s first formal proclamation against slavery was by a Christian, a Mennonite, named Franz Daniel Pastorius in 1688.[6]

Before anyone makes the counterargument that everyone back then belonged to a church and considered themselves “Christian” in one way or another so Christianity may have had nothing to do with their anti-slavery stance, let me point out that the above people clearly connected their faith to their opposition of slavery. Furthermore, that counterargument can work in favor of my position: If everyone back then was “Christian” in one way or another, Christianity probably had nothing to do with people’s pro-slavery stance also.

As far as civil rights are concerned, many secularists tend to ignore that Martin Luther King Jr. was a pastor, and his speeches and writings are loaded with biblical allusions and principles, and both black and white Christians marched with him.

We could go on, but I think you get the idea. Yes, there were people who held positions of prominence in churches who were pro-slavery, but in the mid-1830s two-thirds of church clergy were abolitionists. [7] Which group was following the Word of God? Just as it’s important to make the distinction today, we must look back and make a distinction between “cultural Christians” and those who are truly following Christ.

That being said, let’s move on the some specific Bible verses to give us a good starting point for a biblical understanding of slavery.

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Enslaving Clearly Forbidden

In the New Testament, 1 Timothy 1:10 includes “enslavers” (ESV) – “kidnappers” (NASB); “slave traders” (NIV/NLT) – in a list of “the ungodly and sinners” and “the unholy and profane.” The original Greek word used here specifically means a person who captures someone in order to sell him into slavery.

Also, in the Old Testament, we find the following verses:

If a man is found stealing one of his brothers of the people of Israel, and if he treats him as a slave or sells him, then that thief shall die. So you shall purge the evil from your midst. Deuteronomy 24:7

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

Seems pretty clear, doesn’t it? To put it plainly, “While both Testaments assume the practice of slavery, both repudiate kidnapping and dealing in slaves.” [8]

 

Made in God’s Image

All slavery dehumanizes human beings. With this, American slavery was race-based. In other words, it was racist. Slavery and racism don’t belong in a world ruled by Christ quite simply because all people – men and women – are made in God’s image. In the creation story of Genesis, humankind is the pinnacle of God’s good creation, and all people are descended from this same pair.

So God created man in his own image,
    in the image of God he created him;
    male and female he created them. Genesis 1:27

This easy-to-understand doctrine of the Christian faith has profound implications on how we view and treat others. I wrote before on the biblical case for human value, where I pointed out that the command not to murder is directly related to the idea of all people being made in the image of God (Gen. 9:6). Not only that, but because we’re all made in God’s image, we’re not even to speak harshly about others (James 3:8-10; Matt. 5:21-26). Clearly, if this is the case, slavery is forbidden for the Christian. (Click here to read “Judge Not? A Biblical Case for Human Worth.”)

Theologian John Jefferson Davis points out, “God’s creation is immense, but man, as the crown of creation, has a dignity and grandeur that surpasses that of the cosmos.” [9] This idea of humankind being God’s representative image on God’s earthly temple conveys the “sacredness of human life. This image makes human life unrepeatable and worthy of reverence. All people – regardless of race, sex, class, age, standing, health, appearance, or other distinctions – deserve respect and dignified treatment as the crown of creation. Even people with limited mental capabilities and various other physical handicaps are made in God’s image and there possess immeasurable worth.” [10]

 

Christianity is a Faith for All People

A long time ago, the only true God chose a pagan named Abraham and told him that through him “all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3). Did you get that? All the families of the earth.

Many generations later, that blessing came in the form of Jesus, the God-man, who died for the sins of the world and rose again:

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” (John 3:16-18)

Notice, Jesus Christ died for the whole world, and his salvation is available to anyone who believes.

After Jesus’ resurrection, he commands his disciples to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20).

The original Greek word in Matthew 28:19 translated “nations” doesn’t mean a “nation” as in one marked by borders and ruled by a certain government, but a people group that share a certain identity or culture. Basically, Jesus is telling them to spread his teachings to all people, without distinction or discrimination – to every tribe, to every tongue.

Though God created the people of Israel from Abraham to be his representative people on earth, as we see from God’s words to Abraham above, God plan has always been to bring the whole world – all people – to him. This theme is seen throughout the Old Testament. For example,

 

“And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord,
    to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord,
    and to be his servants,
everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it,
    and holds fast my covenant—
 these I will bring to my holy mountain,
    and make them joyful in my house of prayer;
their burnt offerings and their sacrifices
    will be accepted on my altar;
for my house shall be called a house of prayer
    for all peoples.”
 The Lord God,
    who gathers the outcasts of Israel, declares,
“I will gather yet others to him
    besides those already gathered.” Isaiah 56:6-8

“And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh… And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Joel 2:28-32

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A Promise Fulfilled

This future promise was fulfilled, is being fulfilled, and will be fulfilled with the coming of Christ, the establishment of his church, and a the future 2nd Coming of Christ and, with him, the New Heavens and New Earth.

In about 111 AD, Pliny, a pagan Roman senator, wrote to a superior about interrogating people who belonged to this strange new cult called Christians. He reported he tortured “two slave-women, whom they called deaconesses.” This clearly shows that slaves (and women) held important positions early in the church.

But we don’t have to go outside the Bible to see that Christianity valued all people from the beginning of Christ’s church as image-bearer of God:

Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. Colossians 3:9-14

For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many. 1 Corinthians 12:12-14

for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. Galatians 3:26-29

It’s plain to see that American slavery is not in line with God’s kingdom. But what about the verses from the Bible the slave owners quoted to justify slavery?

Next, we’ll look specifically at the “problem verses” about slavery in the New Testament.

NEXT: Roman Slavery & the New Testament

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

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WORKS CITED:

[1] Samples, Richard Kenneth. 7 Truths That Changed the World. (Baker Books, 2012). Kindle Edition. Loc 5903.

[2] D’Souza, Dinesh. What’s So Great About Christianity. (Tyndale House, 2007) P.73.

[3] D’Souza P.74

[4] Samples, Loc 5940.

[5] Samples, Loc 5947.

[6] Samples, Loc 6073.

[7] Samples, Loc 5935.

[8] Reaoch, Benjamin. Women, Slaves, and the Gender Debate. P & R Publishing, 2012. Kindle Edition. Loc 869

[9] Samples, Loc 3248.

[10] Samples, Loc 3248.

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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.

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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.

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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)

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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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