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Wednesday, September 07, 2011

More on Biblical Slavery

The term has been used at various times for a wide range of institutions, including plantation slavery, forced labor, the drudgery of factories and sweatshops, child labor, semivoluntary prostitution, bride-price marriage, child adoption for payment, and paid-for surrogate motherhood. - Encyclopedia of Cultural Anthropology (4 vols), David Levinson and Melvin Ember (eds), HenryHolt:1996, 4:1190f.
It is important to note, as I have multiple times, that biblical slavery is not the same thing as modern slavery. Consider this. Modern slavery has basically been 1) involuntary 2) for the economic advantage of the elite, 3) typically included mistreatment, 4) where slaves lived separately from their owners, 5) were considered property (and could be disposed of as with any property), 6) could not own property, and 7) were slaves forever.

Old Testament slavery was different. It was 1) normally voluntary 2) for the purpose of solving a debt problem 3) with strict rules against mistreatment. Typically, 4) slaves lived in the homes of their masters, 5) were not property, 6) could own property and, in fact were given property when released, and 7) were only in the position temporarily. Old Testament slavery wasn't very much at all like the modern version.

Further, to suggest that God approved of slavery would be as wrong as saying that God approved of divorce. God's preference was no slavery at all. His original plan for marriage was no divorce. His original plan for His people was no poor (Deut 15:4-5). So He orders His people to give freely to those in need (Deut 15:7-8). He provided for a cancellation of debts (Deut 15:1, 9). He commanded farmers to leave food in the field for those in need (Exo 23:10). He ordered that money be lent without interest (Lev 25:35ff). If we were faithful to our marriage vows, there would be no divorce, and if Israel had followed the commands of God, there would be no poor among them. Since they wouldn't, God made provision to protect people in trouble.

There were two other types of slaves in the Bible. One is outlined in Deut 20, and it appears that it never actually happened. The text explains how to treat slaves from nations conquered outside of the Promised Land. Israel was never authorized to conquer people outside of Canaan. (Why do I say it is outside of Canaan? Read Deut 20:15-18.) Therefore, the type explained in Deut 20 didn't actually exist. The other type was the foreign slave. Hebrew slaves were bountifully protected. Foreign slaves were purchased and apparently owned (Lev 25:46). Foreign slaves were exempt from Jewish dietary laws (Deut 14:21), the 7-year debt cancellation plan (Deut 15:1-3), and no-interest loans (Deut 23:20). Female foreign slaves were to be elevated to wife status with special protection (Deut 21:10-14).

On the matter of captured females, I think it is important to point out that this particular passage has been sorely abused. It is not about "going to war to steal women". That would be a gross mischaracterization. The passage is about being at war and finding a woman in that situation. Not the same thing. Look, here's how it would work. The men of Israel go to war. They kill the men they are fighting with. Soldier A (whoever that might be) notices a virgin daughter of such a slain man and falls in love with her. He has two options. 1) Leave her to die or, perhaps, be cared for by the survivors, or 2) marry her. There was no command to carry off sex slaves nor any provision for such a conquest. Those who would argue for such a reading of the text can only do so from the viewpoint of Titus 1:15 -- a defiled mind.

The accusation is made by skeptics and so-called Christians alike that God commanded Israel to attack their enemies to steal their virgin women and force them into sexual slavery. I could mince words and call it a misunderstanding or an exaggeration, but it is nothing less than a lie. The Jewish perspective never allowed for it. The biblical accounts never allowed for it. The practice of slavery at the time didn't allow for it. The standard Mosaic Law didn't allow for it. Don't buy into such a lie. It can have only two possible outcomes. Either God is a monster for ordaining such practices or the Bible is not a reliable source as it is written, or both. Neither option is acceptable to a genuine Christian.


Craig said...


Somewhat off topic, but have you read Erasing Hell by Francis Chan?

He does an excellent job of dealing with both hell and with these types of passages that get the left so worked up.

I'd suggest you check it out.

Stan said...

I've seen the book but haven't read it. I know he wrote it largely in response to the Rob Bell travesty. I'll have to look into it.

Craig said...

I posted some quotes at my blog. While it was inspired by Bell, I like the fact that he intends it to be a resource that is not just a direct response to Bell but a broader one.

Marshal Art said...

More egregious is the use of these types of passages to justify dismissing other passages as well as not requiring a literal understanding. "Are we to take them literally? Then, what about this passage?" And on it goes until one can't help but agree with the underlying position of the person making the claim.

I don't know anyone like that, but I hear it happens in the blogosphere. :)

Glenn E. Chatfield said...

Thanks for another good coverage of a disputed subject!