Ashton Kutcher & Why Sex is Not Morally Neutral

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Recently, celebrity Ashton Kutcher appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to speak about child sex trafficking. First, among all the political and social nonsense spewing from every direction these days, it’s good to see someone putting his fame and wealth towards something worth fighting for. Give it a watch/listen; it’s worth the time, though not something easy to listen to due to the subject matter.

As I listened to Mr. Kutcher, I couldn’t help having a thought I’ve had before: Despite what popular culture tells us, sex is not morally neutral.

GROUNDING YOUR MORALITY

Before we talk about sex, let’s talk about morality in general.

As a Christian, I find myself often addressing two claims of secular people:

(1) Morality is relative.

(2) People can be moral without God.

It is often not hard to refute #1, as all I have to do is bring up something like child sex slavery and people will agree that such a thing is objectively immoral – meaning that the wrongness of this is not a matter of opinion; child sex slavery is always morally wrong. Thus, morality is not relative, but objective.

I have no idea if Mr. Kutcher ever considered himself a moral relativist, but judging from his emotional statement about the things he has witnessed since becoming involved in the fight against human sex trafficking, I’m sure he believes there is objective good and objective evil in this world.

As far as #2 (People can be moral without God), I don’t have to refute it. I totally agree that people can be moral without believing in God. But they cannot justify their morals. In other words, morality is objective, but what can explain objective morality? Where does it come from? Yes, everyone has morals, but according to their view of the world, can they justify having those morals?

So, an atheist may say, “Child sex trafficking is wrong,” and I say, “I agree, but why is it wrong? According to what?” “According to human decency,” he says. “By what standard do you judge human decency?” I ask. “Everyone has the right to live his own life.” “And where did you get that idea? If we’re here, according to your view of the world, just by random chance; if we’re just a happy accident of a purposeless universe and there’s really no difference between us and star dust or star fish, where on earth do you get this idea of human rights?”

Often the response is some sort of pragmatism: it’s moral because it works. So, the atheist may say something like, “Whatever leads to the maximum amount of human happiness and flourishing is what’s morally good.”

But without an objective moral standard of good, this fails for two big reasons:

(1) Why do you assume human happiness and flourishing is the greatest moral good? That, within itself, is a moral claim. Why isn’t the flourishing of mosquitoes or oak trees the greatest moral good?

(2) If usefulness is all that defines morality, then what if something like, say, child sex slavery leads to the most people being happy and flourishing? Does that mean it’s morally good?  In fact, I’m sure there’s been plenty of cultures where common slavery was absolutely great for the majority of the people in the culture. Does that mean slavery was morally good?

Without an objective standard, it’s all just personal preference and opinion.

The immaterial, timeless God of the Bible is the objective standard of good, and the only explanation for the immaterial, timeless moral law. Yes, we often suppress the moral consciousness God put in us, his image-bearers, because we want to be independent of our Creator, but once one has abandoned God, they have abandoned any grounds to make any moral claims.

It’s interesting: in order for a moral claim not to be simply a personal preference, everyone – whether Christian or not – has to appeal to a greater authority outside themselves. Kutcher, appearing before the U.S. senate, appealed to the Declaration of Independence when he speaks of the right of all people to pursue happiness. Yet, the Declaration of Independence appeals to an authority higher than itself: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, 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.”

(I’ve written about this moral argument before. Read more here.)

SO WHAT’S THIS HAVE TO DO WITH SEX?

The sexual revolution started about 50 years ago with my parents’ generation in the 1960’s, and sex has been progressively losing value in American culture ever since. Even in the 20-odd years since I’ve been in high school, attitudes about the value and importance of sex have continued to plummet. Millennials are 48% more likely to have sex before a first date than any other generation before them. To many millennials, a date is considered more intimate than sex. People often write off the Christian view of sex as old-fashioned and outdated, but once on that slippery slope, things move quickly.

When we step back and look, even Americans who claim morals are relative believe that certain things, like racism and slavery, are objectively wrong. But sex, they say, is surely subjective. No one has any grounds for making any sort of moral judgment on anyone else’s sexual practices or preferences. I do my thing; you do yours. It’s not much different than liking different ice cream flavors or styles of music. It’s just taste and preference. Sex is a morally neutral act.

But like other claims of moral relativism, this view can’t stand either. I’ll give you four reasons: rape, sexual abuse of children, sexual harassment, and sex trafficking.

What’s worse?

Someone getting attacked and beaten OR someone getting attacked and raped?

A child being abused OR a child being abused sexually?

Someone harassing you OR someone sexually harassing you?

Being sold as a slave OR being sold as a sex slave?

I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that all violent crimes are universally seen as more horrendous when some sort of sexual violation is involved. If a woman is attacked while jogging in a park and beaten so severely that she is put into the hospital, people will gasp and people will be angry. If a woman is attacked while jogging in a park and raped and beaten so severely that she’s put in the hospital, people are enraged and they’re also calling for the castration of the attacker. If sex is a meaningless act, then rape is no different than being attacked and beaten; the addition of sex into the situation should not matter. But people are rightfully enraged by any act of rape because sex is not meaningless.

Even hardened criminals know this. I’ve heard from a number of sources that people in prison for sexually abusing children are considered the worst of the worst. Even among the most violent criminals in prison, child molesters are seen as deplorable and are the targets of violence from other inmates.

As Mr. Kutcher spoke to the senate, he spoke of a girl being “sold into sex.” Again, if sex were a morally neutral act, why emphasize the sex aspect of the crime? Why not just say, she was sold into slavery?

My point? Even those who criticize Christians for taking moral stances on sex (and related issues) know that sex is not a morally neutral, meaningless act.

The hardest part to hear of Mr. Kutcher’s talk was about a video of an extremely young child being sold for sex in Cambodia to an American tourist. Mr. Kutcher spoke of the girl being so conditioned that she thought she was “engaging in play.” I pause to use such a horrifying evil to make a point, but if morality is relative, as well as if sex is morally neutral, then what is there to condemn here? Can we honestly say our revulsion and disgust is simply personal preference? If sex is a morally meaningless act, and the girl does not even seem aware of what she’s doing, do we have any grounds to say this is wrong? Yet we know this is evil.

In fact, even the common refrain that all sex is morally neutral – or even morally good – as long as it is consensual fails here. If this exploited girl thinks of what she is doing as play, is it not consensual? Someone may counter, “Sex must be consensual between adults.” But within a worldview with no grounding for morality and where sex is morally neutral, why include this arbitrary stipulation that sex is only for adults with other adults? If sex is a meaningless act, what’s the harm of sex between an adult and child? In fact,pedophilia has been brought to its logical conclusion due to sexual relatively and some have started arguing that it’s just another morally neutral sexual orientation. (Don’t believe me?  See: HereHereHere)

Where the biblical view of sex is often mocked, it’s clear sex is not a morally neutral act.

And just as we need the God of the Bible to make any moral claim, the same God created sex and defines the moral perimeter surrounding sex. Scripture tells us sex is intimate, valuable, and powerful. If fact, it’s so powerful, homicide detectives say there are three main motivations for murder: power, money, and sex. Therefore, God gave clear guidelines concerning sex to protect intimacy, to protect its value, and, yes, to protect us.

When I taught high school in a “rough” area of New Jersey, I once had a student in in-school suspension who had a reputation of being “sexually liberated.” She was the type that was always talking loudly and never listening. Another student had purposely pushed her buttons to get her ranting, and she was going on and on about how what she does with her body is her business and why should God care who she “loves.”

The bell was about to ring, so I had to move on to my next class, but in the final second I had in the classroom – when she finally took a breath – I said, “I can tell you this, if more people listened to God about sex, there would be a lot less problems in the world.” And the craziest thing happened: the girl was quiet. She had nothing to say.

You don’t have to explain to a kid from the inner city what problems uninhibited sex causes.

 

 

 

Quick Responses to Bad Memes #2 (Ricky Gervais Version)

Welcome to “Quick Responses to Bad Memes #2” i.e. “the Ricky Gervais Version” i.e. “the meme + video version” i.e. “Don’t get your theology from a comedian #2.”

If you see this meme…

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Reply with this meme…

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In early February, Some people got excited that Ricky Gervais (atheist) and Stephen Colbert (Roman Catholic) had a short (very short) debate about the existence of God on Stephen’s show (Watch the clip here).

In my opinion, even a short debate on primetime TV about God is a good thing. But neither man really said much, and based on how atheists are sharing the clip (and applauding Gervais in the video), they seem to think Gervais won the “debate.” Though what Gervais said certainly sounded clever, he really didn’t say anything at all.

Feel free to use the following memes in reply to the primetime “debate”…

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Sincerely, God From the Machine

Quick Responses to Bad Memes #1 – Click Here.

The “Telephone Game” Myth: Has the New Testament Been Changed Over Time?

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*** If you prefer, there is a short version of this article on my church’s website here.***

It seems everyone has an opinion about Jesus. Some say he was a wise, moral man; some say he was a myth; some say he was God in the flesh.

But first, how do we even know about Jesus? This seems like a pretty basic question, but before we can answer who Jesus ain’t, we need to understand how we know about him in the first place.

We learn about specific people in the past by documentation, by records that bear witness to that person’s life, and sometimes other archaeological evidence. Obviously, the farther back in history we go, the more difficult it is to prove the existence of a particular person, even someone as famous and powerful as a king or emperor, let alone a poor rabbi from the backwaters of the Roman empire.

So, why is it so hard to conclusively prove the existence of a person from ancient times, even someone as famous and influential as Alexander the Great or Caesar Augustus? First, empirical science is little help; even if we had the assumed body of the ancient person, it’s not like there’s a DNA database we can reference.

Further, there are two types of science: empirical and forensic. Empirical science is used to study present, repeatable events. These events can be replicated in studies and witnessed through our senses. Empirical science doesn’t help us with historical events because those events cannot be repeated. For instance, we can’t use empirical science to prove the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. On the other hand, forensic science is used to study past, unrepeatable events. With forensic science, one must look at evidence and use logic to draw conclusions. Forensic science is used in archaeology, criminal investigations, cryptology (the study of codes), and even SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence).

In proving the existence of a historical figure, it all comes down to documentation – historical records. Alexander the Great and Caesar Augustus lived before the invention of the printing press and the modern information age. Ancient manuscripts were written on papyrus, made from plant reeds, which lasted only about 10 years before falling apart. Later, ancient manuscripts were written on parchment or vellum, both made from animal skins, which could last much longer than papyrus but were still fragile.

Additionally, a shortage of ancient manuscripts can be partially blamed on the many conflicts and wars of ancient times. Fire was a common weapon for ancient armies. For example, the ancient library of Alexandria, Egypt was renowned for its collection of manuscripts but much of the library was destroyed during several conflicts. Because of the lack of modern means of copying and saving information, sadly, many ancient manuscripts have been lost to us forever.

When we turn to the New Testament, the ancient records about Jesus, we find the individual “books” that compose the New Testament have survived remarkably well compared to other ancient manuscripts.

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THE SOURCES

To start, let’s compare the sources for our information about Jesus to sources for two other famous ancient people: Alexander the Great and Caesar Augustus. Interestingly, no one raises questions about whether Alexander the Great or Caesar Augustus existed like they do about Jesus, but, as we’ll see, the sources for our information about Jesus compare extremely well against the sources for these two other famous men from ancient times.

Furthermore, Alexander the Great and Caesar Augustus were rulers and conquerors of great empires — the most powerful, famous men of their time period — the exact type of persons ancient historians wrote about. The fact that we know anything today about a rabbi from Nazareth is incredible.

ALEXANDER THE GREAT

We have two sources for our information about Alexander the Great. Both of these sources were written about 400 years after Alexander the Great lived.

CAESAR AUGUSTUS

We have five sources that give us the information we know about Caesar Augustus. One is a funeral writing, written at his death. One was written 50-100 years after his death. The last three were written 100-200 years after his death.

JESUS OF NAZARETH

For Jesus, we have four sources — the four Gospels found in the New Testament, each individually investigated, each containing both complementary and unique information. The four Gospels were written 25-60 years after Jesus’ crucifixion, which means within the lifetime of those who knew Jesus and witnessed his ministry. (Jesus was crucified in about 30-33 AD, and all of the Gospels were written before 100 AD.) Two of the Gospels – Matthew and John – were written by two of Jesus’ actual original twelve disciples, where the other two – Mark and Luke – were written by disciples of Jesus’ original apostles, Paul and Peter. This means the four sources we have for knowing about Jesus’ life come from eyewitnesses.

Further, we also have Paul’s letters, which are collected in the New Testament, which attest to Jesus’ ministry, crucifixion, resurrection, and deity. The majority of Paul’s letters, historians agree, were written before the four Gospels.

EARLY CREEDS

Historians also agree that Paul recorded several creeds of the early church that existed before he wrote them down in his letters. The earliest is found in 1 Corinthians 15:3-7:

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas [Peter], then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.

This creed is widely accepted by scholars as being dated – at most! – two to five years after Jesus’ crucifixion. Even atheist New Testament scholar Gerd Ludemann believes the creed was created before the appearance of the resurrected Jesus to Paul. Further, some scholars believe the creed appeared within months of Jesus’ crucifixion.

Another early creed appears in Paul’s letter to the Philippians:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5-11)

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THE MANUSCRIPTS

But what about actual physical manuscripts – I mean, manuscripts we can actually hold in our hands and read with our own eyes today. Since we already covered how perishable these ancient manuscripts were, how many have survived until this day?

First, because of the fragileness of ancient manuscripts, as far as we know, no original ancient manuscripts have survived to this day. Meaning, we don’t have the actual first manuscripts written in the hands of the New Testament authors – or any other originals from any other ancient writers for that matter. These ancient writings have survived through the tedious work of scribes, who copied them by hand to preserve these important works for future generations. We do have actual ancient manuscripts that have survived until today, but just not the originals.

So, how does the New Testament compare to other ancient manuscripts?

For Aristotle, we have 49 ancient manuscripts.

For Sophocles, we have 193 ancient manuscripts.

For Plato’s tetralogies, we have 7 ancient manuscripts.

For Homer’s The Iliad, we have 643 ancient manuscripts.

For the New Testament, we have about 5,686 ancient manuscripts in the original Greek, either in part or in whole. Plus, there are about 9,000 other ancient manuscripts of the New Testament books in other languages.

The earliest ancient manuscript piece of the New Testament we have today is a fragment from the Gospel of John (18:31-33, 37-38). This fragment was found in Egypt and has been dated about 125-130 AD, but could be as early as 90 AD. The dating puts it within 40 years of the original writing of the Gospel of John, and the fragment shows that the Gospel had spread as far as Egypt in that short period!

New Testament scholar F.F. Bruce wrote, “There is better evidence for the New Testament than any other ancient book.”

TEXTUAL CRITICISM

Because of this wealth of manuscripts, scholars can easily compare the ancient New Testament manuscripts through a process called textual criticism and easily identify errors and variants made by the scribes. Expectantly, the scribes, who copied texts by hand, were not perfect, but most mistakes are nothing to be concerned about. The vast majority are spelling mistakes or other simple copying mistakes (like omitting or adding small words or reversing the order of words), which have no effect on how the New Testament is understood.

Often skeptics try to portray the passing on of the New Testament over time like the Telephone Game that you may have played in school as a child. In the Telephone Game, someone whispers a sentence into someone’s ear, and then the second person whispers the sentence into another person’s ear, and so on down the line. When the last person receives the sentence, he says it out loud for all to hear. In the vast majority of cases, the sentence is severely corrupted and changed by the time it reaches the end of the line. But this analogy is downright inaccurate. Anyone who claims this is how the New Testament was passed on to us today is basing that belief on assumption and not research, and they’re illustrating their ignorance of textual criticism.

Instead of thinking of the passing on of the New Testament as a straight telephone line, think of it as a family tree with many branches giving birth to many more branches. A family tree spreads in many directions as it multiplies; it doesn’t move in a straight line. Thus, if one branch becomes corrupted, the many other branches will not be corrupted in the same way.

Further, the Telephone Game analogy utterly fails because the message is only whispered and it cannot be repeated. The New Testament, on the other hand, is a written document; it can be reread and rechecked.

To sum up, the Telephone Game has only one line of transmission; the message is only whispered; and repeating is not allowed. On the other hand, the New Testament was passed on through many lines of transmission; it was written; and, therefore, it can be reread, examined, and compared.

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From the Gospel of John (18:31-33, 37-38) – Dated 90AD-130AD

Hey, Here’s a Helpful Illustration

Imagine we had five ancient manuscripts and we notice variations among all five of them in the same sentence. This sounds like a big problem, but see if you can pick which line is the original:

  1. Christ Jesus is the Savior of the world.
  2. Jesus Christ is the Savior of the word.
  3. Jesus is the Savior of the word.
  4. Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world.
  5. Jesus Christ is Savior of the world.

Highlighting and underlining the differences between each sentence will help us narrow the choices down:

  1. Christ Jesus is the Savior of the world.
  2. Jesus Christ is the Savior of the word.
  3. Jesus [Missing: Christ] is the Savior of the word.
  4. Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world.
  5. Jesus Christ is [Missing: the] Savior of the world.

First, we can conclude that the original sentence started with “Jesus Christ,” since only Sentence #1 starts with “Christ Jesus.” Likewise, we can easily conclude Sentence #3 should include the word “Christ” and Sentence #5 should include the word “the” since all the others do.

Notice none of these variations so far affect the meaning of the sentence. Though we don’t show this in this illustration, let me point out again, the vast majority of mistakes in the manuscripts by the scribes are simple spelling and grammar mistakes in the original language of the New Testament, ancient Koine (“common”) Greek, which make no difference when the Greek is translated into English or any other language.

Finally, we have the variation of “world” versus “word.” This is a tougher challenge to solve because this variation does affect the sentences’ meanings and three of the sentences read “world” and two read “word.” If it were the case that some of the manuscripts contained a nonsense word instead, like “Savior of the worl,” the correct choice would be easy. In this case, I think most would agree “world” makes more sense than “word,” and since more manuscripts have “world” than “word,” it’s the safer bet. But how can we be certain?

This is why we’re fortunate to have many, many, many other manuscripts to compare than just these five! Specifically, we can look at those that were written before these manuscripts. The variation or mistake shouldn’t have appeared yet in many of the earlier copies. In textual criticism, the rule of thumb is generally the older the manuscript, the better. In our illustration, it’s likely the vast majority of the manuscripts will read “world.” Thus, we can be confident that the original, correct sentence is Sentence #4: Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world.

This is how textual criticism works. Of course, this is simplified for the sake of illustration, but, as you can see, it’s not all that hard spotting the original wording by comparing the manuscripts.

There was no central power controlling the copying of the New Testament. Churches were simply sharing the writings with other churches, and they would copy them and pass them on and on and on. One church may have the Gospel of Mark, and another church may have three of Paul’s letters, so they would share and copy and pass on. Archeological evidence proves the New Testament spread rapidly across the ancient world. Thus, in ancient terms, this means the New Testament went viral! And because of this, we have a wealth of ancient manuscripts that can be compared to and contrasted against each other.

Textual criticism has found only 1% of the variants have any effect on the meaning of the text, and none of these come close to affecting any Christian beliefs. Textual critics are positive the New Testament we read today is 99% accurate to the originals.

Further, the early church fathers, who lived between 90-160 AD shortly after the events recorded in the New Testament, quoted the New Testament so extensively that the majority of the New Testament can be reconstructed from their sermons and writings alone. So, even if we had no ancient manuscripts of the New Testament, we’d still have much of it preserved in the writings of the early church fathers. Obviously, these early church fathers were quoting from manuscripts written earlier than their own writings.

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SO, WHAT DOES THIS TELL US?

First, our current New Testament is faithful to the originals. Despite a lot of assumptions about the Bible being corrupted over time, the evidence says otherwise.

Secondly, even secular historians consider the New Testament an excellent historical source, but the supernatural events the New Testament reports make them skeptical of its historical accuracy. Because of this, many non-Christian historians gladly use it to learn of Jesus and the time period but ignore the supernatural aspects of it. You see, their view of the New Testament has nothing to do with the evidence itself, but with their way of understanding the world, their worldview. If someone’s worldview is that God doesn’t exist, then of course he’s not going to believe in the supernatural parts of the Bible. But if someone does believe in God, then believing in the miracles of the Bible isn’t difficult at all.

Interestingly, scholars say that the time between the events of Jesus’ life and the writing of the New Testament is much too short to allow legends and myths to develop, especially considering that people who witnessed Jesus were still living at the time of the writing of the New Testament. The writers present the New Testament as a historical record and provide names and other information so their contemporaries could investigate and confirm their claims about Jesus.

Where one can argue that this alone doesn’t prove the truth of the New Testament, it must be recognized that the New Testament doesn’t have the unspecific, “other-world-ness” of mythology; it is grounded in a historic time and place.

Lastly, no evidence of an early record of a strictly “human-only” Jesus or any other alternative view of Jesus exists. I’ve often heard skeptics say they don’t believe in God because of a lack of evidence. Yet, when it comes to Jesus, many people (even some professing Christians) ignore the best evidence and base their ideas about who Jesus is on creations of their own mind.

There is also mention of Jesus outside of the Bible in ancient writings by non-Christians, but these were all written later than the New Testament. Even if someone doesn’t believe in God or that Jesus is the Son of God or that the New Testament is the inspired Word of God, he or she – after evaluating the evidence – should still recognize that the New Testament is our best, most reliable source for learning about Jesus.

How do we know about Jesus?

We know about Jesus from the reliable, well-preserved record of the New Testament.

This is an excerpt from Who Jesus Ain’t by Steve DiSebastian:

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Is the Bible Any More Accurate than Other Religious Texts?

Has the Bible Been Lost in the Translation? How Do We Know the Words in Our Bibles Today are the Original Words?

How Do We Differentiate Between What is Scripture & Other Ancient, Religious Writings?

Who Jesus Ain’t: Jesus Ain’t a Hippy, Your Homeboy or a Wimp

Slavery & the Bible (Part 8) Why Didn’t Jesus Free the Slaves?

Read Part 1: Cherry Picking, Worldview & Consistency

Read Part 2: Not All Types of Slavery are Equal

Read Part 3: American Slavery & Bearing God’s Image

Read Part 4: Slavery Ain’t Always Slavery: The New Testament & Roman Slavery

Read Part 5: Roman Slavery & the Lack of Christian Revolt

Read Part 6: The New Testament Response & Problem Verses

Read Part 7: Another Type of Slavery & Freedom in the New Testament

TWO LAST BIG QUESTIONS

So, we’ve spent the last few articles exploring the New Testament response to slavery. Before we move on to the Old Testament, there are two last, big closing questions we need to answer:

#1 – Why didn’t Jesus or the writers of the New Testament simply tell Christian slave-owners to free their slaves?

#2 – Did it work? — Meaning, did the New Testament response to slavery effectively fight against slavery?

 

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RESPONSE TO BIG CLOSING QUESTION #1

Why didn’t Jesus or the writers of the New Testament tell Christian slave-owners to free their slaves?

Slavery was so prominent in the Roman Empire we can be fairly certain that many of the first people to become Christians were slave-owners. So, why didn’t Jesus ever say or his first followers ever write in the New Testament something like, “Hey, if you’re a slave-owner who is now following Christ, free your slaves”?

First Timothy 6:1-2 reads, “Let all who are under a yoke as bondservants [slaves, servants, “doulos”] regard their own masters as worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and the teaching may not be reviled. Those who have believing masters must not be disrespectful on the ground that they are brothers; rather they must serve all the better since those who benefit by their good service are believers and beloved.

We’ve already discussed 1 Timothy 6:1-2 and also how doulos has a wide range of meanings, so we can’t be certain Paul is addressing true slavery here and not something like a worker under contract or an indentured servant. But, for the sake of this exercise, let’s assume doulos means slave here — as in true owning-another-person-as-property slavery. If this is the case, then here in 1 Timothy 6, Paul confirms that there were Christian slave-owners.

So, why didn’t Jesus or the Apostles who wrote the New Testament simply tell Christian slave-owners to free their slaves?

The short answer: They didn’t have to.

Think of it this way: In Ephesians 5:28-29, Paul clearly tells Christian husbands to love their wives. In fact, he says they should love their wives like Christ loves the church. Don’t forget, Christ died to create his church. Now, if Paul says this, does he also have to say, “Oh yeah, don’t beat your wives either”? In the same way, the Bible tells us we’re all made in God’s image and we have inherent eternal worth to God. In fact, God became a man and then died for us all – man, woman, Jew, gentile, slave, freeman – so we could spend eternity with him. Considering this, do the Bible’s writers really have to specifically tell us, “Oh yeah, don’t own someone else like a piece of property”?

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The longer Answer:

Both the New and Old Testaments are saturated with teachings that run counter to the mindset that would condone slavery (as we saw in earlier articles). If one is truly following Christ, they will reach the logical conclusion that the literal ownership of another image-bearer of God is against God’s design.

To hammer this home, there is actually one more section of the New Testament we haven’t looked at yet that has something else to teach us about slavery. It’s another letter by Paul, which we call the Book of Philemon.

Philemon is actually a very short letter written by the Apostle Paul to a Christian named Philemon. Based on the context of the letter, it appears that the letter was delivered from Paul to Philemon by Philemon’s runaway slave, Onesimus. After running away, Onesimus had become a Christian, and one way or another, ended up meeting Paul. As we discussed before, the life of a runaway slave was bleak; the Roman Empire stretched far and wide, and runaway slaves were dealt with harshly.

Instead of telling Onesimus to continue to run, Paul sends him back to Philemon. Interestingly, in his letter, Paul points out that he’s one of Jesus’ apostles so he could easily use his place of authority to command Philemon, a Christian, to “do what is required” – to do the right thing – but he goes on to say “for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you” to welcome back Onesimus not as a fugitive runaway slave and “no longer as a bondservant but more than a bondservant, as a beloved brother.” Paul is saying: I’m not going to force you to do what is right because I know you’ll freely do the right thing, which is to treat Onesimus as your brother.

Now, someone may still gripe and say, Paul still didn’t tell him to free Onesimus! But let me ask the obvious question: If Paul tells Philemon to love Onesimus like a brother, does he really have to say that he should free him? I don’t think so.

Why didn’t the writers of the New Testament explicitly tell Christian slave-owners to free their slaves?

They didn’t have to.

Benjamin Reaoch writes in Women, Slaves, and the Gender Debate, “[Paul] does not attack the institution of slavery. But something even deeper and more radical is happening here. In Christ, slaves and masters become brothers.”

NEXTThe Christian Response to Slavery: Did it Work? What history tells us.

Read Part 1: Cherry Picking, Worldview & Consistency

Read Part 2: Not All Types of Slavery are Equal

Read Part 3: American Slavery & Bearing God’s Image

Read Part 4: Slavery Ain’t Always Slavery: The New Testament & Roman Slavery

Read Part 5: Roman Slavery & the Lack of Christian Revolt

Read Part 6: The New Testament Response & Problem Verses

Read Part 7: Another Type of Slavery & Freedom in the New Testament

Check out Who Jesus Ain’t and other books by GFTM here.

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