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

NT_manuscript1

*** 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.

Alexander-the-Great

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)

Augustus_statue

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.

NT_JohnR_frag

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.

cross-silhouette1

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:

IMG_0742

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

Advertisements

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?

 

Roman_collared_slaves_-_Ashmolean_Museum

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”?

PHILEMON.1

 

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.

IMG_0742

Slavery & the Bible (Part 7) Another Type of Slavery & Freedom in the New Testament

Slavery & the Bible GFTM series…

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

4 T

ANOTHER TYPE OF SLAVERY & FREEDOM IN THE NEW TESTAMENT

So, to quickly review our last two articles: Why didn’t the New Testament writers tell Christian slaves to revolt? Because rebellion against the Roman Empire meant one likely outcome: death. So, what could Christian slaves do? Well, they could conduct themselves as Christians, even when slaves, by living out these biblical principles:

  • The Christian Work Ethic: Honor Christ in All You Do
  • Be a Light to the World… Glorify God… Humble Your Enemies
  • Love Your Enemies
  • Personal Sacrifice for the Good of Others

Benjamin Reaoch in his book Women, Slaves, and the Gender Debate points out, “The mere fact that slaves are addressed directly [in the New Testament] is significant. In this way Paul and Peter implicitly recognize the personhood of slaves and grant them the dignity of moral responsibility… The instructions to these individuals would have challenged the cultural norms of the day, and if heeded, would radically transform the master-slave relationship… we find that slavery is an assumed reality, and one that is being transformed by the power of the gospel.”

Or think of it this way: Christian slaves were already saved from eternal separation from God; they would spend eternity with Christ. Their non-Christian slave-masters could not say the same thing. Thus, in the New Testament worldview, that means the Christian slave is free and the non-Christian slave-owner is enslaved. In the light of the revelation of Jesus Christ, their statuses are inverted and there is a clear dichotomy: You’re either a slave to sin or freed by Christ.

So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32)

“Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. (John 8:34-36)

Only in Jesus Christ — the Son — is true freedom found.

But we also find the slave-to-sin vs. free-through-Christ dichotomy put another way in the New Testament: slave-to-sin vs. slave-to-Christ. No one can have two masters (Matt. 6:24); everyone worships something, and you’re either ruled by sin or ruled by Christ. It’s either one or the other. Paul even calls himself a slave (“doulos“/servant/bondservant) of Christ (Rom. 1:1), and he writes elsewhere:

For he who was called in the Lord as a bondservant [“doulos”/slave] is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a bondservant [“doulos”/slave] of Christ. (1 Corinthians 7:22)

So, in Christ, the believing slave is made free (from the condemnation of sin) and the believing freeman is made a “slave” (through willing obedience to Christ). Here we see a deep truth in paradox: Christians are ruled by Christ as their master, but in doing so they experience true freedom. Everyone is ruled by something, and to be ruled by anything else other than our Creator leads to destruction. You can be a slave to a cruel master (sin) or you can humble yourself before a kind master (Christ), who rules with love and mercy. But, have no doubt about it, you will be ruled by something. Christians obey our master not because of fear of hell, as many who don’t understand true biblical Christianity accuse Christians of from time to time, but because we love God because he first loved us (1 John 4:19).

So, the literal Christian slaves of the Roman Empire were already free in the most important way possible: They were free to live in the reality of God’s eternal kingdom. And once a slave is free in this way, he’s free to willingly put himself second, to love his enemies, and to witness to the truth and freedom of Christ to those around him — even to his human slave-master.

After all, Christians’ ultimate example to follow is their Lord and Savior, the second person of the Trinitarian Godhead, who made himself a slave to all for the sake of all the world:

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 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 [“doulos,” slave], 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. (Philippians 2:3-8)

Now, what is more likely to lead the unbelieving slave-masters to salvation — Christian slaves following the Christian principles listed above or Christian slaves openly hating their masters? Christ wins people to him by changing their hearts. Christianity isn’t an outside to inside movement, but an inside to outside movement. Christ didn’t conquer with a sword, but by humbling himself by dying for the world. In the eyes of the Roman world, the slave should be pitied, but to the Christian slave, it’s the unsaved slave-owner that should be pitied — even loved — praying that these sinful people will find God’s mercy and enter into Christ’s eternal kingdom.

Once again, Paul lays out the comparison for us:

“… you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification. 

For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:16-23)

When Jesus chose a metaphor to describe the spreading of his kingdom, he didn’t use the metaphor of a conquering army, but of a mustard seed:

“The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches”(Matthew 13:31-32).

Jesus conquers with love and changes society not by the swiftness of the sword, which is always short-lived, but by changing hearts, the only sure way to change something as deeply ingrained and evil in a culture as slavery was in Rome.

NEXT: The two BIG questions: Why didn’t Jesus tell Christian slave-owners to free their slaves?  and The Christian Response to Slavery: Did it Work?

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

Available in paperback for $9.00 (or less) and Kindle version for $3.50 (or less) on Amazon. Or learn more here.

IMG_0734

 

Slavery & The Bible (Part 5) Roman Slavery & the Lack of Christian Revolt

 

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

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

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

rome-slavauction

INTRO

In this series, as we moved from American slavery to Roman slavery, we saw that the word often translated “slavery” in the New Testament from the ancient Greek word (doulos) actually covers a wide range of types of servanthood. Thus, every time doulos is used in the New Testament, we can’t be 100% certain it’s speaking of true slavery.

But for the sake of argument, let’s assume the worst: that all the times doulos is used in the New Testament, Paul and the other writers of the New Testament are addressing true slavery, true slave masters, and true slaves.

So, why didn’t the Apostles start a revolt — whether through armed revolution or civil disobedience? And why didn’t they tell Christian slave-owners to free their slaves? We’ll be exploring these questions next in this series, and we’ll also look at the New Testament’s slavery “problem verses.”

Why No Christian Revolt?

So, why didn’t the Apostles tell Christian slaves to revolt?

The Quick Answer:

The quick answer is best addressed with another question: Where would rebellion get Roman slaves?

The answer: Dead.

The Long Answer:

Slavery was all-pervasive throughout the Roman Empire and the ancient world. An estimated 85-90% of the inhabitants of Rome and the Italian peninsula were slaves or of slave origin in the 1st and 2nd centuries AD[1]. By the time of Christ, slaves made up well over half of the Roman population.[2] The economy, culture, and the very structure of Roman society were built upon it.

Ancient Rome isn’t 21st Century America with a rich tradition of free speech and human rights (and, yes, I’m going to say it: thanks to the Christian worldview). Captured runaway Roman slaves would have a much harsher, miserable life than the one they lived prior to running away because they would now be criminals as well as slaves. Those sentenced to slavery due to crimes often did the worst sort of labor. Often the very nature of their forced labor was a death sentence, such as working in the gloom of dangerous, lung-destroying mines. Also, it was common for runaway slaves to have the first three letters of the Latin word for “fugitive” branded into their foreheads.

Furthermore, one way Romans prevented slaves from getting ideas about any sort of violent rebellion was simply this: If the slave master ended up murdered, all of his slaves would follow him to the grave. Yes, you read that right: if one person is murdered and that person was a slave-owner, all of his slaves would be put to death. There is historical evidence of one such case of 400 slaves being executed because their master had been murdered even though there was absolutely no evidence that the 400 slaves had anything to do with his death.

Roman_Sword

With such a large population as slaves, the Roman elite needed fear and brutality to keep the idea of rebellion far from their minds. As any Christian knows, those seen as a threat to Roman power – such as insurgents and those claiming to be rival kings (such as a Jewish messiah) – were crucified – a slow, torturous death on full display for all to see, just in case anyone had any of their own ideas about challenging Roman authority.

One of the best-known slave uprisings in ancient Rome lasted 3 years from 73-71 BC, the one partly led by Spartacus, a Thracian gladiator-slave. Spartacus with about 70 other slaves escaped from a gladiator training school and raised an army as large as 120,000 slaves at the rebellion’s pinnacle. The slave armies were able to give the Roman armies a run for their money for a short time before being defeated in 71 BC. Spartacus likely died in the battle, but the 6,000 captured slaves who survived didn’t live much longer after that as they were all crucified. Yes, the Roman legions crucified them – all 6,000 of them – lining the Appian Way from Rome to Capua.

If the Apostles Paul or Peter would’ve written that slaves should rebel (in a self-condemning letter in their own hand as irrefutable evidence, no less) both men would’ve been executed on a Roman cross like their Lord and Savior (before they actually were executed for being Christians, anyhow, as they were).

Perhaps some people mistakenly think of the power of the medieval European church and mistakenly project this image of influence back on Jesus’ original disciples. Let’s be clear, the Apostles had no political power or influence. They were a small, strange group of Jews, who – all with the exception of one – met grisly early deaths for proclaiming belief in a God-man who died on a Roman cross and rose from the dead.

Telling Christian slaves to rebel, I’m afraid, wouldn’t have done much good for anyone.

4 T

What About Non-violent Protest & Civil Disobedience?

Certainly, non-violent protest and civil disobedience is a much more Christian way of fighting slavery than violent rebellion. But, again, we’re discussing the ancient Roman Empire, not the modern United States of the 2,000s or even the British Empire in the 1800s and early 1900s.

The reason the movements led by brave men like Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi were successful is because they were doing non-violent protests and civil disobedience against a ruling class which, as unjust as they seem to us today, still had a morality that valued human life (and, yes, I’ll say it again: thanks to the influence of Christianity). The reason the movements of MLK and Gandhi (both inspired by Jesus, mind you) worked is because they actually used the sense of morality of their oppressors against them. Through non-violent resistance, they put the society’s hypocrisy on full display for the world to see, and, more importantly, for the society itself to see – as if holding up a mirror so the society could see itself as it truly was for the first time.

mahatma-gandhi

But here’s the thing about non-violent protest/civil disobedience: it doesn’t work against Hitler or Stalin or Pol Pot or Darth Vader or Saddam Hussein or Kim Jong Un or ISIS. All it would produce against such leaders would be certain death (and likely not a quick or pretty one).

I’m not saying ancient Rome was the exact equivalent of these evil reigns of power, but it wasn’t the modern United States either – by far. Protests by slaves would still be seen as a threat to the rule of the Roman Empire, and if punishment were not death, the punishment would be swift and brutal, especially for a slave. Roman society had a strict social hierarchy, and those with power were fervent in keeping everyone in their place.

MLK

Once again, we’re not talking about a country with a long tradition of free speech. This is the Roman Empire. The significance of civil disobedience – like, say, a work slow-down – would be lost on the Romans and would likely end up with at least a severe flogging.

All we have to do is look at the two earliest known records by Romans about Christians to see this. The earliest was written in about 111 AD by Pliny, a Roman senator:

 

“I have asked them if they are Christians, and if they admit it, I repeat the question a second and third time, with a warning of the punishment awaiting them. If they persist, I order them to be led away for execution; for, whatever the nature of their admission, I am convinced that their stubbornness and unshakable obstinacy ought not go unpunished… They also declared that the sum total of their guilt or error amounted to no more than this: they had met regularly before dawn on a fixed day to chant verses alternately amongst themselves in honor of Christ as if to a god, and also to bind themselves by oath, not for any criminal purpose, but to abstain from theft, robbery, and adultery… This made me decide it was all the more necessary to extract the truth by torture from two slave-women, whom they called deaconesses. I found nothing but a degenerate sort of cult carried to extravagant lengths.”

 

Notice, Pliny plainly states that the “guilt or error” of these Christians was not criminal, yet he still matter-of-factly states that they were tortured and led off to execution. (Also notice the early Christian church allowed women slaves to hold positions of prominence!) Human rights is not a Roman or pagan value. It’s a Christian value – all people, men and women, are made in God’s image (Genesis 1:27).

The second earliest known record written by a Roman about Christians is by Cornelius Tacitus, a Roman proconsul and historian, written in 115 AD:

 

“Therefore, to stop the rumor [that the burning of Rome in 64 AD had taken place by his order], Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus [Christ], from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their center and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty: then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city as of hatred against mankind. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired.”

 

If you were a Roman Christian or Roman slave (or both) would you feel up for some civil disobedience after hearing of this? Probably not.

Non-violent protest and civil disobedience are great options for modern Americans because the United States is built upon principles that give citizens those options. Free speech is a part of the very DNA of the United States. Human life is valued. During the Roman Empire, free speech was the privilege of few, and even if your actions were non-violent, it didn’t mean violence wouldn’t be used against you – especially if you were a slave.

So, we’re back to where we started: What would rebellion – whether violent or otherwise – get Christian slaves? Nowhere good.

So, what could they do? What other options did they have?

NEXT: The New Testament Approach to Slavery & the “Problem Verses”

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

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

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

CHECK OUT OUR NEW BOOK HERE

Cover

Works Cited

[1] Women, Slaves, and the Gender Debate by Benjamin Reaoch.

[2] Seven Truths That Changed the World by Kenneth Richard Samples.

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?

Indy_snake

 

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.

Indy_belloq_ark

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.

Indy_faceworried

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)

Indiana_DontLookMarion

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.

IMG_0742

 

Slavery & the Bible (Part 2) Not All Types of Slavery are Equal

LA5561-001

 

When it comes to slavery and Christianity, three major criticisms are often brought up:

  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.

This breakdown into three major criticisms is helpful, because we actually are talking about three distinct types of slavery in three distinct eras of human history. In other words, recognizing that “slavery” is not identical in these three eras is important.

So, let’s start with the most recent and work back in time:

American_baby

American Slavery

Many know the deplorable history of this stain on the United States, a country built upon the self-evident truth 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.” Slavery is the sad, sad irony of the Land of the Free. American slavery was a system based on the forceful kidnapping and enslavement of African people. It was race-based, where an entire race was demeaned to subhuman status to justify their treatment as literal objects of property.

American slaves had no rights as human beings and were at the sole mercy of their owners, no different than had they been pigs or cattle. Therefore, they could be worked ruthlessly, often within striking distance of a whip. Few slaves could read or write or were allowed any sort of an education. Families could be ripped apart as parents and children where bought and sold at the whim of their masters. Slave masters also were free to starve, beat, and even rape their slaves without facing any legal consequences. Further, these slaves had no hope of freedom.

It’s a dark stain on the history of the United States indeed, one that still haunts us to this day.

Roman

Roman Slavery (New Testament Era)

The slavery we find in the New Testament is specifically the slavery of the ancient Roman Empire, which is different from both American slavery and the slavery we find in the Old Testament, yet it shares some similarities with both.

Almost everything said about American slavery above can be said about Roman slavery, except Roman slavery was not race-based. Race was not a factor; one could become a slave by being born into it, by committing a grievous crime, by going into debt, by being a prisoner of war, by being sold by his or her parents, and even by voluntarily selling oneself into slavery. But Roman slavery was also a much more diverse, complicated social and economic system than American slavery.

To put it simply, Roman slavery included a wide, wide spectrum of types of servanthood within that system. So, many slaves were treated similar to American slaves, but many were also treated quite well and benefited from the arrangement. Many slaves actually chose to be slaves; some actually preferred to be slaves due to their low economic status and the benefits of being a “slave” under an affluent person. Slavery guaranteed a roof and food in an unstable world. Many Roman slaves were highly educated, even highly successful and wealthy. Like American slaves, Roman slaves were at the mercy of their masters and were property, but unlike American slaves, Roman slaves had many of the same opportunities given to free men, and it was likely they could even become free themselves.

Often modern people look at the word “slave” in the Bible and immediately connect that word with American slavery, but it’s a mistake to assume all “slavery” during the Roman Empire is the same as American slavery. Often it was much more similar to what we would call indentured servanthood, where one would be under contract to another person for a limited time until they fulfilled their contract or bought their own freedom.

Please don’t misunderstand me; much of the slavery of Rome was just as dehumanizing as what happened in American’s past. Gladiators were slaves, forced to battle, even die, for entertainment (though even gladiators could be wealthy celebrities as slaves). Some slaves were kept strictly for sex. Some slaves, usually criminals, were essentially issued death sentences to work in the darkness of underground mines until their lungs gave out. Runaway slaves were branded on their foreheads. If a slave master were murdered, all of his slaves would also be killed. This was a way of quelling thoughts of rebellion, as a huge part of Rome’s population were slaves. There is a record of one incident where 400 slaves were killed because their master had been murdered though there was no evidence the slaves had anything to do with it.

But there was also the indentured servant or contracted worker side of the Roman “slavery” spectrum, where many slaves/servants benefited under the care of someone better off economically than they were, and where they even had an opportunity to make an independent living, or where they may even choose to stay as a part of their master’s household once they earned their freedom. This sort of contract “slavery” could even be compared to an apprenticeship or the sort of service contract one makes when he joins the modern military. The Greek word often translated “Slave” in the New Testament can also be simply translated “servant,” and most modern Bibles will state this in the footnotes.

The important thing to remember concerning Roman Slavery is that it was deeply ingrained in the culture and economy, and there was a wide spectrum of variety within that slavery/servant system.

Egypt

Israelite Slavery (Old Testament Era)

In the Old Testament era, the cultures surrounding Israel had slavery, and the Israelites themselves were slaves in Egypt for 400 years before being freed. The type of slavery that surrounded Israel was the type most of us think about when we hear “slavery.” Like American slavery, the slavery of much of the ancient Near Middle East was harsh and dehumanizing. But not so with Israelite “slavery.”

Later in this series, we’ll be specifically looking at Israelite “slavery” in the Old Testament, because it – unlike American and Roman slavery – is part of God’s Word. In a way, those hostile to Christianity are right: God does endorse this type of “slavery” (and this type only). But the slavery of ancient Israel is nothing like American slavery, nor other Near Middle East slavery. It’s a truly unique biblical, Israelite “slavery.” Just like the ancient Greek word, the Hebrew word often translated “slave” can also be translated “servant,” and most modern Bibles tell you this in the footnotes.

As I said, we’ll explore this idea much more in depth in later articles, but for now know that Israelite slavery is more comparable to indentured servanthood or working under contract than slavery proper. So, where we find Roman slavery is a spectrum that goes from American-type slavery (minus the racism) to indentured servanthood and contract workers, Israelite “slavery” is simply a type of indentured servanthood or contract work.

In later articles, you’ll see just how radically different biblical, Old Testament “slavery” is from American slavery and the slavery of the nations surrounding Israel. (If you’d like a preview, I addressed some of this already in Part One of this series)

 

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.

As I said above, the Greek and Hebrew words used in the Bible that are often translated “slave” can also be translated “servant.” This shows the wide range of meaning those words can have. Perhaps if the translators of the Bible simply used “servant” instead of “slave,” Christians would have to address this issue much less!

NEXT: The Bible VS. Race-Based American Slavery
IMG_0734