Posts Tagged ‘Bible’

Slavery in the Bible

May 13, 2011

Those who reject Christianity have been quick to argue that the Bible is not a good guide to morality because it condones slavery. The more I think about this issue, the more I have to agree with them.  This question matters because Christians argue that God, as described in the Bible, is the only real foundation for morality.  So what kind of morality do we get from the God of the Bible?

Consider Exodus 21:20-21 (ESV):

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

This clearly condones brutality to slaves. Maybe it wasn’t as bad as in the American South, but it seems to me that it wasn’t far behind — and since when do we judge a supposed guide for morality against one of the worst counter-examples in history? Christian apologists sometimes argue that this passage needs to be understood in the context of the Ancient Near East, or that God’s way of dealing with sin was to let man continue in it. But this portrays God as a moral compromiser, and part of the core message of Christianity is that God is absolutely not a moral compromiser.

Christians often say that passages like this need to be considered in context. But this passage is actually *more* absurd when taken in context. I know that many, probably most, of my readers know about the biblical account of Israel’s history. So just think for a moment about the pivotal event in this history, and see if you can guess why it would be a problem, in light of this event, to condone slavery.

See what I’m getting at?

OK, I’ll spell it out. The Israelites had just come out of brutal, oppressive slavery in Egypt; you can read it for yourself in the first several chapters of Exodus. All these people were encamped around Mount Sinai, ready for their lives to take a dramatic turn for the better, so no one could argue that God didn’t want to shake things up for the slaves in this society, since these people *were* slaves not long ago. In fact, one would expect God to say something like, “I just brought you out of slavery in Egypt. You remember all too well what it was like to be a slave. You shall not do to others what you would not have them do to you. Therefore, you shall not have slaves.” Incidentally, why isn’t the golden rule in the ten commandments?

(Note: I’m not saying that the biblical account of Israel’s history is true; I’m simply using it to show that the Bible is grossly inconsistent with itself.)

Keep in mind that I’m not judging God, because I don’t currently know of any evidence to suppose that God exists. Rather, I’m judging the claims that people made about God, and rejecting these claims as absurd. Christians do this with the claims of other religions; I know of no good reason to regard Christianity as any more likely to be true. Christianity may be more appealing in some regards, but that doesn’t make it any more likely to be true.

To my Christian readers, am I missing something here?