Slavery and Inerrancy

In a recent discussion regarding the evangelical doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture, an argument was raised which was supposed to be a slam dunk case against the doctrine. The doctrine basically states that the Biblical text is free from error. Some inerrantists have argued that this position is true of the original documents (which we don’t have) and others have stated that the inerrancy is in regards to every thing the Bible purports to speak on—be it science, history, geography; whatever. Now barring all the possible charges that might come up (the discussion can be found here and ranges some five hundred responses) I just wanted to deal with this one bit that came up.

The proposition was this: The Bible speaks about slaves (and slavery in general) as a proper economic model. In no place does the Bible condemn the practice of slavery. Today, we know better: slavery is wrong. If inerrancy was true we would look to slavery as a viable economic model today (much like people did a century and a half ago). Therefore, inerrancy is false.

Firstly, it is possible that Slavery is a viable economic model that can be used across any sociocultural era. There’s a reason why slavery was the backbone of economy for years before the industrial era and then some. Even today, at some level, the cheaper the labor the better the economic ramifications. I don’t say this justifying slavery, but I think a case can be made that it is a viable economic model and if so then the conclusion is false.

Secondly, I don’t think the Bible ever endorses slavery as a proper economic model or as a way of life. The Bible argues for the fact of all humans bearing the image of God, the necessity of showing love and care to one’s neighbors, the value of all human life (even those of a slave), and the fact that all people (whether slave or free) could be incorporated into the cultic community and declared Royal Priests is pretty telling regarding the view of humans. Indeed, in later generations, we hear things in the New Testament where certain slave-owners are called to treat their slaves as brothers and Paul admonishing the believers at Corinth that if they were born a slave to do so properly but if the chance comes to become free; rather do that. Subsequently he tells them not to seek to be slaves. If anything then the Biblical account regulates a practice within a cultural sphere(s) with the hopes of breaking out of the cycle at the Eschaton.

Thirdly, I can’t say that today we know better than to have slaves. If anything, we’ve figured out an economic model where we can absolve responsibility if the corporate person employs tactics that might as well be slavery. That might be too strong a case and maybe indentured servant would be more accurate, but if that is the case  we’d be operating with a form of slavery that was closer to that of the ancient near east (and foreign from the American slave trade).

Fourthly, the connection between inerrancy (what the text says is true) and slavery (people can be treated as property) doesn’t justify the employ of the practice. It may be true that they did those things and it may be truth that with slavery, God would want them treated properly; but it no way means that now we must implement slavery. I might know that the F Train arrives at 71st Street continental but that doesn’t mean I have to take the F Train to get to Manhattan; I can take the A, the E, the N, the R and so forth.

[Update while musing: Fifthly; it’s possible that this falls under the category of Hardness of Heart which Christ attributes to the accommodation of divorce. Christ said that in the beginning there was no divorce, but because of the callousness of people Moses made allowance. This speaks toward accommodation, of course, but I don’t know how that would deny inerrancy. ]

I may have missed some other options of why I think the reasoning is false; heck, there may even be a way to set up the statement so that it’s not fallacious and actually speaks against inerrancy. I’ll have to look at it some more to decide  though.

I have several verses that look at this topic that I wanted to save to the end for later reference: Gen 9:6; Gen 17;  Exodus 20, 21, Exo 25; Lev 22, Lev 25; Numbers 31; Jer 34; Rom 1-5; 1 Cor 7; Col 3; 1 Tim 6; Philemon; James 3;

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28 thoughts on “Slavery and Inerrancy

I think you might have missed one important point (or at least not brought it out as prominently as I’d like). Inerrancy is a thesis about what the Bible does say, not about what it doesn’t say. It says that everything the Bible says is true. It doesn’t claim exhaustive truth or even truth about every important moral truth. (It doesn’t condemn sex with small children either, but surely every biblical author would have found such a notion horrific.)

So pointing out that it doesn’t condemn a particular thing doesn’t amount to finding something it says that’s false. The argument confuses omissions with falsehoods, and inerrancy doesn’t claim that there are no omissions. There are plenty of omissions, from things as irrelevant as whether the number of stars is odd or even to whether it’s morally wrong to drop a nuclear bomb on a populated city just to end a war more quickly and prevent non-civilian deaths.

Couple of things to bear in mind as you think this through. It is commonplace to assert that ANE slavery was somehow benign when compared with European slavery. This isn’t the case, Rey; and I’m a little aggravated that the very explicit details of the passages I’ve listed are simply ignored. Why? Out of respect?

If ‘indentured servitude’ allows for the selling of children, the perpetual bequeathing of human beings; God explicitly labeling human beings as chattel, and the corporal punishment of a slave short of death, then scripture only condones ‘indentured servitude.’

But if identifying and treating people as perpetual chattel- to the point of involuntary captivity, beatings and the tearing apart of families goes beyond indentured servitude, then scripture condones more than indentured servitude.

There can be no question that scripture condones… whatever you wish to call the practice. Contrary to the remark about omission, this is not a matter of silence. Of course it can be treated as such, if you refuse to acknowledge the passages in question. Putting your fingers in your ears isn’t your way, though.

Slavery’s divine origin is mentioned; it is explicitly and positively regulated by God. (He could have said ‘Don’t’ own people or beat the ones you do own’- like he forbad the really important things, like don’t eat shrimp or don’t have sex during menstruation.- but he didn’t.) He didn’t remain silent either. He said sell them; beat them; but only within this boundary.

Far from finding God simply tolerating slavery among his people, we discover him demanding his own tithe of slaves. God protected the rights of the slaveholder, viewed slavery as sufficient to admit someone into his covenant ( if he was the property of one of God’s people), etc, etc. What else could God have done to raise his involvement to the point of condoning?

You said ‘The Bible argues for the fact that all humans bearing the image of God, the necessity of showing love and care to one’s neighbors…’ This is the heart of the matter.

What do you really take as your standard for what it means to treat other human beings as image bearers of God. What does it mean to show love and care for ones neighbors? Is the standard the explicit testimony of scripture? If so, then loving my neighbor means that I can consider them to be property for my own exploitation, I can beat them short of death; I can sell their children; I can hold them against their will, and can leave them and their offspring as a perpetual inheritance to my children. Why can I do this? Because God’s perfect and holy law says that this could be done, and as you pointed out, God’s law requires that I recognize the imago dei in all people and love my neighbor as myself. It seems clear that perpetual involuntary servitude falls well within the requirements of the golden rule. Do you really believe that?

Obviously, you don’t. You offer the requirement of love as evidence that … I’m really confused here… that all those Old testament passages don’t’ exist?

“Now these are the rules that you shall set before them.2 When you buy a Hebrew slave, he shall serve six years, and in the seventh he shall go out free, for nothing. 3 If he comes in single, he shall go out single; if he comes in married, then his wife shall go out with him. 4 If his master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall be her master’s, and he shall go out alone. … When a man strikes his slave, male or female, with a rod and the slave dies under his hand, he shall be avenged. 21 But if the slave survives a day or two, he is not to be avenged, for the slave is his money. Please deal with this (and other) explicit directions of God.

Anyway, by the end of the paragraph you seem to move beyond that standard. You wish to pass into the New Testament, but scripture never quite gets to ‘stop beating them, and set them and their families free.” It doesn’t, does it? More silence? Hardly. Duties explicitly given. Masters (within the Roman slavery system!!) eligible for church office. One thing we never read that God demands of them.

The New Testament does seem to be taking us further along the road that finally arrives at the place where you and I actually stand.. 1500-1600 years!! later it finally dawns on someone what might really make God happy. The trajectory of scripture takes us far beyond the text of scripture, and when we arrive we find the perfect law to be less than perfect.

I’m in complete agreement about the trajectory. We’re in perfect agreement about the New Testament references; and no one has argued for the necessity of reintroducing slavery. All of this is beside the point I was trying to make in the thread. I was befuddled by your glossing over how short the whole thing comes to what (I hope) you really believe.

In other words, I suspect you find the actual directives of God’s holy law to be at fault on some level. We can’t take them at their word. We spring way beyond where they actually leave us. ‘Here’, is not ‘there.’ ‘Here’ is a good ‘tear a screaming child away from the arms of a sobbing and beaten mother’ from ‘There.’

Certainly this is accommodation, but as the theologian you cited in the thread understood, accommodation means that adherence to an accommodated truth, involves one in a misunderstanding, a fault, a compromised and erroneous conception.

God’s law is perfect. Scripture says so. It falls way short. Christ says so. The people, who lived with the Torah, alone, might be excused for thinking that God’s law revealed God’s heart, because it said it did. They lived before the ‘later generations’ that your post mentions. Would they have been right? If they were confused, where would they have gotten the idea?

(originally <a href=””posted here but I, Rey, brought it over for posterity)

I thought of making a point by point refutation but, brother, I don’t think I can. Not because I’m not capable (or being sneaky) but because I think your points here don’t really address my refutation of the proposition but rather reinforce the proposition and allowing my refutation to stand. Maybe I didn’t get your proposition right but, if anything, this comment seems to say that not only did I get it right but I might be able to get a second post out of it. Heh heh.

Just some clarifying notes, though:

1) Methodologically I have a long listing of passages that were behind my thinking in the bottom of the post. The list is not exhaustive. I didn’t cite them throughout because that makes tedious reading. Ignoring passages is a bit much, no?

2) In my point regarding love, I didn’t have to support it with that being the actual case but rather addressing a false dilemma by citing another (extremely likely) case. It may be false (though even Leviticus’ Love Your Neighbor still applies here) but even so it refutes the charge of either/or.

3) In the bit regarding not dealing with your passage; I didn’t think an exegetical examination of the two verses is the answer to a logical proposition. It needed to be examined in light of what inerrancy purports regarding the whole and how the proposition deals with that.

4) My post never said ANE Slavery was benign; it did say it was different. ANE slavery was, as I said in the post, as an economic model different from European slavery.

5) As to Jeremy’s point, I think he was pretty explicit regarding not accommodation but rather the breadth of what’s covered. Inerrantists say this all the time. This is all extremely different from what you’re saying in your forth paragraph.

(I originally also posted this in theologica but wanted it here for posterity)

I don’t really have time to comment on this, because I’ve got a huge amount of grading still to do by tomorrow, but I can’t resist saying something.

Question for Phil: Was Jesus being logically incoherent when he claimed that God had merely tolerated divorce while opposing it morally and regulating the practice to protect women? I don’t think so. Rey suggested something similar might be going on with slavery. Only if that is logically coherent (and it’s not) does inerrancy require that God endorses slavery, because regulating a practice simply does not amount to endorsing it.

ANE slavery is stronger than European indentured servitude, but Israelite slavery (when it comes to other Israelites, anyway) is much closer to indentured servitude than ANE slavery in general is. It’s certainly a very different model from the European slavery of Africans, just as it’s a different model of slavery from medieval European feudalism, just as it’s a different model of slavery from modern Western employment. All are varieties of slavery. But they are all very different.

There’s a reason why the Bible doesn’t outright condemn slavery, and it’s because it’s the word of God, and the word of God doesn’t say false things. Slavery isn’t in principle wrong. The Bible in fact says the opposite. It says slavery to a master who loves you and cares for you, who is much wiser than you, is actually the best thing for you. The Israelites replaced their slavery to Pharaoh with their slavery to God. The word usually translated as “worship” in the setting up of the covenant is the same word for slavery, and several passages in Exodus make this parallel explicit, but the translations disguise it out of some notion that slavery is intrinsically wrong.

Aspects of slavery can be wrong, and worse forms of slavery have worse aspects of those. Whether it’s wrong in a particular case depends on how strongly those features are present, the motivations of the master, the social context, and a number of other features. Slavery as a temporary method of recovering from bankruptcy, with careful regulations about the rights of slaves (not given in most ANE cultures but clearly specified in the Torah) is actually a mercy. In certain cultural contexts, being spared from death in war to serve a master who is commanded to treat you well is also a mercy, provided the command is carried out.

So even if God did endorse the kinds of slavery allowed to the Israelites (rather than Rey’s suggestion, which may well be the right way to look at it), it doesn’t follow that God is endorsing an immoral view. One can easily argue that the socio-economic system and the available punitive options in the wilderness wanderings (and in the later revisions in Deutrronomy when they arrived in the land) left slavery as the best of a number of non-ideal and unfortunate options.

The Exodus 21 passage seems straightforward to me. It regulates what happens when Hebrews are bought as slaves (whether it’s condoned or not is not said). One issue is when the master beats the slave in a way that the slave eventually dies. Discipline is obviously important, especially with someone who is probably not very motivated to work (the usual means of Hebrew slavery was in being too indebted to pay them off, so there would be a need for discipline with many slaves). Some would obviously take that too far. If, in the moment of anger, the master beats the slave so hard that the slave dies, that doesn’t count as the Torah category of murder in the first degree, because it’s not premeditated but a crime of passion, so it wouldn’t get the death penalty from stoning by the people. But it’s worse than regular manslaughter, since it’s not accidental. So the regulation finds a middle ground. The person gets to be avenged, meaning either that God would deal with the person (which is clearly a penalty elsewhere in the Torah) or more likely that a kinsman-redeemer from the slave’s family would get to hunt him down if he didn’t make it to a city of refuge. Commentators are actually unsure what’s going on here, so it’s best not to stake much of an argument on the passage anyway since it’s unclear what’s even being said. But I’m assuming Phil’s worry is that the punishment is less if the beating was much less severe and it took two whole days for the slave to die, a case where it’s even less the typical murder case and more of a case for arguing that the beating couldn’t have been so serious that the master would have known it would kill the slave. So there is a punishment for the master, but the slave’s death is that punishment. The master is already losing the slave. For this lesser offense, a lesser punishment is given, and without a prison system or someone to pay compensation (the slave may not even have a family), this is what we’re left with. But one thing is clear to me. Phil seems to be claiming that this passage says it’s morally ok to beat a slave so badly that they die, as long as they don’t die within two days. It explicitly says that’s not ok. You don’t punish someone for something that’s morally ok. There is indeed a punishment. It’s just not one initiated by the legal system of the Torah. It’s one initiated by the master who did the beating. If the point is to draw the conclusion that beating as long as it doesn’t lead to death is ok, that doesn’t follow either. The passage is silent about that case. It deals with a case of killing that’s sufficiently more complex than the cases that precede it in Exodus 20-21 to warrant some guidance how to handle the in-between cases. This is one such case, and judges in the gate-courtroom would have to extrapolate from other Torah principles how to modify it in other cases. They’d use principles from laws about harming someone if the slave got injured (e.g. if they lost a tooth or eye, the slave would be set free). But those aren’t the cases addressed here. That doesn’t mean the text endorses such things as being morally ok. That’s an extremely strange conclusion to draw. By that logic, the Bible approves of sex with children, since it never condemns it but does talk about sex with lots of other forbidden parties and could have included that. Examples abound of what it could have included, as John says about what he could have included in his gospel.

Now here’s a list of several claims that I’m 100% sure are simply false:

1. God explicitly label[s] human beings as chattel
2. scripture condones beatings and the tearing apart of families
3. Slavery’s divine origin is mentioned
4. He said sell them; beat them

I should also note that, by Phil’s reasoning, every action that is specifically condemned in the Torah is condoned by it, because God says “when you do X” and then offers a penalty. Since God assumes they will do it, he must be condoning it. That is indeed the logic we’re working with here. Sometimes there’s less of a punishment or no punishment for the background conditions where God is regulating a more specific punishment, but that doesn’t any more constitute endorsement of the practice than God’s setting up the kingship under Saul contradicts the claim by Samuel that it was a bad idea to have a king or any more than setting up the tabernacle and temple contradicts Jesus’ statement that God isn’t located on a holy mountain and ideally isn’t worshiped just in one place or that having animal sacrifices contradicts Hebrews’ claim that goats and sheep don’t really atone for sin.

And what about the heart?

God’s way is transformation from within that is expressed outwardly. That’s why those who have been born again are absolutely free, because the transformation within will experess itself in the outward confromity with the nature and character of Christ.

Therefore, the greatest commandment, which is found in one of the bloodiest books int he Old Testament (I would warrant, THE bloodiest book), Leviticus, supercedes every other command, and the ancient Hebrews knew it.

I aver that those who truly did have circumcised hearts, who loved God with every fiber of their being, found the laws concerning slavery — and everything else — the minimum of goodness. As is true today, was surely true then: those who had circumcised hearts were a remnant.

And I am just so curious why all the men are up in arms about slaves being considered chattel when women and children of every race and economic strata were considered chattel until a mere 75 years ago or less? And to this day, most women and children on this planet are “owned” by someone? Did you know that in this country children born out of wedlock did not have the same legal rights as other people until the mid ’70s?

The movement in scripture towards a more “circumcised heart” attitude towards all variety of people, and, by the way, the planet itself, is easily traced. This in no way undermines the inerrancy of God’s word, but rather points to the “living, breathing” aspect of His voice within scripture.

God works with people. He is both just and merciful. He, unlike so many other gods (intellectualism being one) actually loves us. Hallelujah, brothers

(copied over from Theologica comments)

One of the things I find interesting about the laws most people see as “wrong” is that they were the first human rights laws, yet this is the fault that is found with them; they don’t go as far as we in our enlightenment believe they should. As a group they are almost all laws of the “hard heart”, Almost every one of these laws has to do with exploitation of a weaker group. And every one of them curtail it without ever actually saying the given is acceptable. They only ever assume that people will do this regardless and rather than allowing one to do whatever he wished with the vulnerable in society, they restrict him by assigning rights to the weaker. People that in other cultures had none whatever. Foreigners had no rights. Women had no rights. Slaves, orphans, widows? No rights.

Of course from a modernist perspective, it’s easy to look down one’s nose at them and disregard how the hard heart laws were acts of grace, both for the members of society doing such things and for the ones who were potentially exploited. In fact these laws I think highlighted just how wicked some things really were, in that they were also common (ritual prostitution for example) but were not made allowance for under any circumstance, while other things were only restricted rather than expressly forbidden. It also highlights how wicked we are, for we can not obey the law even after it was softened with such allowances. Anyway, in the hard heart laws drawn with the parallel absolute nots, we see what God said he was-a God of justice and mercy.

(copied over from Theologica comments)

Phil –

What do you think about the idea of God’s revelation being progressive as given in Scripture, and therefore, God was patient with His royal priesthood in allowing slavery into the Law that would be given to His people by which they were to live and model their lives after? But, as we move into the NT, we start to get the idea of all being equally created in God’s image and especially equal in Christ for those who are believers, though we still don’t have a directive against slavery.

Jeremy, I’m confused by your analysis, but I appreciate the interaction (though I’m not sure its interaction, exactly). I suspect that the fact that modern commentators can’t figure out what is going on in this passage, is demonstrative of the tension they feel between their gospel instincts and the actual passage itself. The passage is clear. The relevant cultural contexts are clear. What’s not clear is….

Anyway, I think you are saying a master is punished for accidentally beating his slave to death by the economic loss of that slave. The thing that occurs to me is that your ‘punishment’ is dependent on the commodification of the person. It is this commodification that protects the slave from abuse.

In a way reminiscent of God’s punishment for a rapist- I doubt whether the slave’s children or the raped woman would have felt the punishment quite fit the crime. Accidentally kill a slave and you won’t be able to exploit him anymore. That will learn him! You see what I mean.

Regarding chattel slavery- Scripture here refers to the person as ‘money.’ As I understand it, your argument above depends upon this being the case.

Regarding the breaking up of families and beatings: God explicitly allows for and regulates the beating of individuals who are being held against their will. He draws a line and its not at ‘Don’t do it!’

God explicitly allows (when he could have forbidden it) for families to be broken up in the passage I’ve already provided. Ex 21:3 If he comes in single, he shall go out single; if he comes in married, then his wife shall go out with him. 4 If his master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall be her master’s, and he shall go out alone. As with all of these claims, there are other passages. This is in reference to a Hebrew slave!

Limiting the discussion to Hebrew slaves, doesn’t make the endorsed practices for non-Hebrew slaves go away. Lev 25:44-46, for example:

‘44 As for your male and female slaves whom you may have: you may buy male and female slaves from among the nations that are around you. 45 You may also buy from among the strangers who sojourn with you and their clans that are with you, who have been born in your land, and they may be your property. 46 You may bequeath them to your sons after you to inherit as a possession forever. You may make slaves of them, but over your brothers the people of Israel you shall not rule, one over another ruthlessly.’

You can’t do x to Hebrews because that would be ruthless, but if they’re not Hebrew….

Char, I meant to be clear in the thread that initiated this blog post that God meets us where we are and takes us closer to where he wants us to be. I’m not interested in judging the generation that received these regulations. God’s laws are gracious. Given the context into which they arrive (however they arrived), God’s laws are true. I’ve not looked down my nose at God’s law; I’ve questioned whether Rey truly believes it enumerates clearly God’s will for his people because it says it does… while Christ says it doesn’t always.

Let me try a different approach, Rey. Many (lets say in the Reformed Tradition) look for a monolithic and biblically ubiquitous ethical code that one can find within whatever passage one wishes to dip into. Right is right, wrong is wrong. God is a righteous God. God is a truthful God. Therefore, there is nothing ethical to be found within Genesis, that can’t also be found within Leviticus, that can’t also be found identically in the Psalms or the letters of St. Paul. Right and wrong don’t change. God hasn’t directed us to do what is contrary to his will- he’s certainly not done so and then called it goodness, holiness, and justice.

A quick perusal of the Westminster Standards treatment of the Ten Commandments will show what I mean.

But this isn’t what we find. We find explicit direction given by our Holy God, which changes according to the hardness, primitiveness and ignorance of the people to whom he has graciously committed himself.

Those standing apart from the time of the legislation can see the graciousness of God’s direction, but they also can see the compromise of the clear ethical direction, too- whereas those to whom the legislation was delivered could not… or presumably God would have taken them farther than he did.

Christ mentioned divorce. My mind immediately went to slavery in the same way.

God’s law- as explicit and enumerated an account of ‘righteousness’ as you will find anywhere in Jewish/Christian revelation- is both a true revelation of God and it is often misleading when simply taken at its word and not critiqued for accommodation (as Christ did). It isn’t God’s final revelation. In it we see God sloshing knee deep in the filth of a bent and corrupt culture… all to bring that culture to a different place.

Christ spoke of a moral directive from God that fell short of truly revealing what God desired and was like, and it is this law that (again) is explicitly said to be true, holy, good, spiritual, ect…

I’m puzzled that the tension isn’t evident. To the question of “How should we live in order to please God?” Josiah and the Psalmists would point to the law, but….

I wish to affirm both that the law is grace and truth (given the limitations made necessary by the sinfulness and ignorance of the people to whom it came), but also that it was faulty and often misleading in its demands (if we forget its accommodation to the sinfulness and ignorance of the people to whom it came.) More than that, I’ve claimed that everyone understands this and critiques one passage with another.

I don’t want to get into a discussion about distinctions between ethical and doctrinal truth. I doubt there is much of one, really. What very obviously (to me, anyways) is done in regards to the cardinal business of how we treat others (the summation of the law and prophets,) cannot be excluded from what we find in the same texts being done with lesser matters of fact.

If God decides to hitch his wagon to that particular pre-modern nomadic pagan to such a degree that he will involve himself in that pagan’s sin broken, abusive and exploitive culture, then why do we think he insisted on going outside of the pagan’s inherited narratives and cosmological understanding- the only world the pagan actually knew?

It seems to me that accommodation is necessary because of the sinfulness and ignorance of the people to whom God is actually communicating. Accommodation means compromise and falling short of what is there to be understood. Like I said, Grudem understands this. I suspect you do to, or you wouldn’t have quoted him.

I’ve said Grudem is wrong in saying that this means God lies. I don’t believe scripture lies. I believe scripture stumbles along because of our limitations.

I guess I’m suggesting an argument from the greater to the lesser. If God allowed perpetual involuntary servitude to go on within his people because this is where he found them and their finitude could allow only so much stretch before they snapped (when in reality he desired that chattel slavery cease) and called the accommodated revelation good, holy and just, is it easier or harder to believe that he took up the traditions and stories of the nomadic people whom he chose to dwell among, and spun gold out of straw?

More than this, it seems likely to me that the popular legal understanding of sin as definite line over which one mustn’t cross without incurring God’s eternal wrath, is wrongheaded. This isn’t a statement about the ugliness or cruelty of sin. It’s just a remark about the reality of God getting his own hands dirty for our sake and our being accepted and pleasing, though way short of what God has in store for us.

I also think the same is true regarding ‘truth.’ We don’t have to understand things as God understands them in order to please him. All of our understanding is flawed and erroneous on some level. All of it. Human knowledge (ethical or otherwise) by finite necessity is errant, somewhere. So if we can say, ‘I see’; then there’s something for God to clear up later. God seems okay with these ‘errors’ or he wouldn’t have created to begin with. Sinful knowledge only adds more shortcomings; I’m asking why people are surprised that the legendary narratives of scripture’s ancient nomads bring a few limitations of their own, too.

This is all regarding presuppositions- what we rule that is God unable to do, beforehand. When we actually examine what he did, you’d think someone with a ANE cosmology actually wrote Genesis.

Joanne, I disagree strongly about the inward/outward transformation thing. But that’s another subject.

I agree about women, and it’s a relevant point. Even the redemption motif in scripture is based upon the fact that women were only valued through the men in their life. This was so true that a woman without a husband or son had fallen through the safety net of the society. The solution involved marriage to the next brother! Women were property, and the patriarch held their life in his hands, literally. God’s law reflected all of this. A woman’s oath could be canceled by the men in her life; she was simply given; and her sexual purity was the economic property of her father, etc, etc

This is the same sort of issue in regards to God’s revelation, and much more contemporary than the slavery debate. In regards to slaves, we all now know that God’s word said X, but we’re glad we’ve moved beyond that.

In regards to women, we’re still arguing.

(copied over from Theologica)

Phil –

But this isn’t what we find. We find explicit direction given by our Holy God, which changes according to the hardness, primitiveness and ignorance of the people to whom he has graciously committed himself.

So, and sorry to be repetitive, do you think a lot of this could be understood with the idea of God’s progressive revelation in Scripture? God saved the Hebrew people out of a pagan Egyptian culture and gave them the Law. The Law was good and a half-step up from pagan Egypt and ANE cultures, but it definitely wasn’t the full step up to the new covenant and the full realisation of God’s heart for humanity, though even walking out the new covenant truth has taken on different shapes over 2000 years.

What are your thoughts here?

Yes, that’s what I believe God has done. This tells me something about what God must be like (and its different than what I’ve been led to believe) He doens’t stand aloof from our condition- to disgusted to touch us in our loathsomeness or too square toed to babble to us in our ignorance. He’s not above meeting us where we are., but isn’t that the gospel?

It also tells me something about the record of this interaction. When his muddied hand grabs my lapel and begins to drag me out of the bog, I’d do well to appreciate the fact that he’s in there beside me (Glory to you, Lord Christ!), but not confuse the mud on his hand as an indication that I’m really okay where I am.

Phil –

Even most inerrantists hold to progressive revelation. And I think most would say that inerrancy gives room for the progressive nature of revelation found in Scripture. But it’s probably that the inerrancy view doesn’t do well in articulating this ‘room to breathe’. Such statements about Scripture that ‘every single word is God’s inerrant and perfect word’ can be somewhat confusing, for we know that we are not called to walk out every single word, or I think we all agree on that. The progressive nature of Scripture helps us know this. I’m not necessarily opposed to such statements about God’s Word being inerrant, but I think we need to do better at authentically clarifying what we mean, i.e. OT slavery passages are not to be obeyed today. And we don’t have to be afraid that this will somehow offend God or make the Scripture look less perfect and God-breathed.

I love His Word, we just have to be real about the intricacies of how this all plays out.

I believe the whole inerrant thing is loaded with baggage and very unhelpful. In the end, we all allow one passage to critique another. We all feel the need to explain Ex 21.

Its not the progression that seems important to me; its the accommodation and resulting mixture of grace and misunderstanding that is contained within the one text/revelation/interaction.

To often claims of inerrancy result in the mud on God’s rescuing hand being ignored (slaves were really just employees) or (worse) glorified.

I’m really fuzzy headed right now from some awful viral thing but I wanted to get this down so I can think about it some more later.

With a middle knowledge view of God’s foreknowledge, one can allow for compatibalism or a more libertarian view of free will. For God to get across the perfect message of what He expected with His suffering servant, the way this One would act, and how this servant’s will was swallowed up in the will of the One who sent Him while still being totally free—God would have to create a world where that sort of thing would be possible.

To make it a fulfillment of Scripture, God would also (similarly) have to have a world where the authors of Scripture would be exposed, and sometimes even within, this sort of system. Yet, there’s no possible world where a free human being after the Fall would do anything right with slavery. So God, in this view, might have to establish a world where Slavery is not only a possible option but an extremely likely one. He gets to speak into this culture but not to later absolve all that previous stuff but to point to the Suffering Servant who goes through all this willingly. After the cross the theme gets picked up again with Paul claiming for himself such dire titles as doulous of Christ. In this way, not only does slavery become previously necessary to address things God wanted addressed, it also establishes the inerrancy of the text by claiming that the commandments were true and pointed to the ultimate truth of Christ (and later how people are to act in Christ).

Like I said, my brain is really fuzzy right now; I don’t think the fever is helping things. I might have to address this later or at least research it out.

The “slam dunk case” against inerrancy is Romans 3:11 “there is none that seeketh after God” versus Acts 17:26-27 “And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth,…That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us:”

Paul can’t even agree with himself whether God created man specifically so they could seek Him, or whether man is unable to seek God.

Again, there is Psalm 141:4 “Incline not my heart to any evil thing” which implies a belief and a fear on the part of the Psalmist that God inclines people’s hearts to evil (a fear which many inerrantists turn into a dogma) “to practice wicked works with men that work iniquity” versus James 1:13 “Let no one say when he is tempted, I am tempted by God; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He tempt anyone.”

Again, there is Titus 1:2 “In hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began;” versus Ezekiel 14:9 “And if the prophet be deceived when he hath spoken a thing, I the LORD have deceived that prophet,”

Again, Genesis 11:9 “Therefore its name is called Babel, because there the LORD confused the language of all the earth;” versus 1st Corinthians 14:33 “For God is not the author of confusion,”

There are many more examples, but the only ones I care about are those that make God opposite morally from each other. You can thank the Calvinists for forcing me to the conclusion that the Bible in not inerrant, because it is their constant drum beat that God is the author of evil and that they can prove it by Scripture that has finally forced me to realize that there are contradictions (doctrinal ones of the highest importance) in Scripture.

Another example is Romans 9:21 “Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?” where Paul is clearly implying an arbitrary Predestination where God just randomly decides who goes to heaven and who goes to hell with no input from the person, not even any foreseen works. However, in 2nd Timothy Paul argues that the person has a choice in the matter, in 2nd Timothy 2:20-21 “But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honour, and some to dishonour. If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the master’s use, and prepared unto every good work.”

What is even more telling, however, is Jeremiah’s treatment of the Potter metaphor which clearly based what type of pot the clay becomes on the clay’s choice:

(Jeremiah 18:1-12) “The word which came to Jeremiah from the LORD, saying, {2} Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will cause thee to hear my words. {3} Then I went down to the potter’s house, and, behold, he wrought a work on the wheels. {4} And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter: so he made it again another vessel, as seemed good to the potter to make it. {5} Then the word of the LORD came to me, saying, {6} O house of Israel, cannot I do with you as this potter? saith the LORD. Behold, as the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are ye in mine hand, O house of Israel. {7} At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, and to pull down, and to destroy it; {8} If that nation, against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them. {9} And at what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it; {10} If it do evil in my sight, that it obey not my voice, then I will repent of the good, wherewith I said I would benefit them. {11} Now therefore go to, speak to the men of Judah, and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, saying, Thus saith the LORD; Behold, I frame evil against you, and devise a device against you: return ye now every one from his evil way, and make your ways and your doings good. {12} And they said, There is no hope: but we will walk after our own devices, and we will every one do the imagination of his evil heart.”

Notice how this is totally contrary to the arbitrary predestination argued by Paul in Romans 9, and how Jeremiah’s answer to Paul’s rhetorical question in Romans 9:21 “Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?” is clearly different from what Paul expects. Paul expects an “absolutely: the Potter can do whatever the h e double hockey sticks he wants with the clay” but Jeremiah says “the Potter can only deal with the clay harshly if it turns to evil and beneficently if it turns to good.”

These contradictions cannot be overcome. Sophists will try, but there are just simply huge and sweeping philosophic differences between the Biblical writers on the nature of God. I reject all passages that make God out to be evil or to control men’s wills, arbitrarily predestine and accept only those that glorify God as good, as giving man free-will and as saving whoever will respond positively to him. Paul himself suggests this methodology in 2nd Tim 3:16.

There, Paul says “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable” (not inerrant, but profitable) “for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:” but all these things are toward the end goal, “THAT the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.”

Whatever Scripture does the opposite of furnishing a man to good works (e.g. predestination, God controlling the will) is WRONG. The rest is profitable. Indeed, the only profit to be derived from these WRONG scriptures is their refutation by other Scripture.

I personally don’t think any of those passages are as contradictory as you seem to take them but I may come off as a sophist (heh heh) if I try to explain why. The fact is that if the passages can be explained in a non-contradictory manner then it establishes that Inerrancy is possible. For example, I can say that I went to a Mall yesterday and I can also say that I went shopping yesterday and can even say that I went to Maryland; neither of the statements are contradictory, per se. It’s still not contradictory if I add that I didn’t go to The Mall. There would have to be some sort of explanation why these things are all different. This is intensified when we have an Authorial gap (Luke versus Paul), temporal gap (The Biblical Authors vs. Ourselves), canonical gap (old testament vs. new), philosophical gap (hard determinism vs. libertarian free will), and of course theological gaps.

I agree that Calvinism sometimes pushes things (as does any theological school: I think we can blame ourselves for that one) but I don’t think that should force us to abandon a whole slew of proper doctrine. Maybe there is an understanding of Romans 9 that makes philosophical sense with Free Will (I think there is, and it’s in light of reading Romans 9 with Romans 10 and 11) and similarly makes more sense with the Jeremiah passage.

I touch on the Potter’s Clay bit here, here and here. William Lane Craig also deals with a Free Will Defense that is compatible with God’s sovereignty, which I think is quite enjoyable, though I still have to read the works of Molina before I decide anything on it.

My fellow Rey, I certainly agree that you can say that you went to several different places yesterday. After all, I did too. Yet, you cannot say that you both are and are not the author of your comment anymore than God can be both the author of confusion and not the author of confusion or both the author of sin and not the author of sin, or that God made men able to seek him (Paul of Acts) and yet at the same time no man can seek him (Paul of Romans). You can try all you want to harmonize the ginormous philosophic differences between David and the Paul of the primary epistles on the one side and James and the Paul of Acts and the Pastorals on the other side. I never said you shouldn’t try. But as for me, I have come to terms with reality. If you come up with anything convincing, I certainly want to hear it (or read it), but (no personal offense intended) I will not be holding my breathe.

I don’t think you really want to hear it rey. After all, I still haven’t “come to terms with reality” heh.

I’ll address your confusion bit but I think I’ll stop here since I don’t think you’ll bend on this:

I tell my children “If I have to sit you guys down in the corner you’ll ruin my day. Please stop.” and then, when they keep going “Go ahead, I’m begging you. I want this, oh man am I gonna’ love this. Make my day.”

It would be wrong to think that I am contradicting myself and that I really either (A) get my day made by having my kids get in trouble or (B) get my day ruined by punishing my kids.

There’s something contextually (situationally) going on here that informs what I’m saying.

How can you use a passage that speaks of judgment (in confusion) as contradictory to a passage of non-judgment but operational confusion as one and the same resulting in a contradiction? There’s some false premises that’s leading to that conclusion: one of which is that a judgment implies normal operation.

On the free will question, it’s important to keep in mind that compatibilists (including most Calvinists, certainly those faithful to Calvin’s own thinking) do NOT deny human freedom. They just claim a compatibilist view of what freedom is. So on a compatibilist reading, God’s sovereignty and human responsibility are not in conflict. So if the Bible says in one place something that implies divine sovereignty, and it says in another place something that implies human freedom, the Calvinist should have no problem with this. It’s only if you’re going to be very uncharitable to Calvinism and to the Bible that you would rule out the possibility that such statements couldn’t fit together and both come from the same view.

“How can you use a passage that speaks of judgment (in confusion) as contradictory to a passage of non-judgment but operational confusion as one and the same resulting in a contradiction?”

1 Corinthians 14:32-33 “And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.”

I think you fail to grasp what Paul is arguing here. He is arguing that the prophets must be able to control themselves and not speak out of turn and argue, because God is not the author of confusion. God would never cause the prophets to argue in the church, in other words. But by your analysis, God might do so as punishment. Perhaps if the church made God mad, he’d send all sorts of confusion upon them, not only making the prophets speak out of turn, but perhaps making them lunge on the audience!

You can only rescue Genesis 11:9 at the expense of 1 Corinthians 14:32-33. The comfort of the notion that God is not the author of confusion completely evaporates if you add “but he can be the author of confusion when he’s mad.”

Besides, giant building projects that have nebulous or unrealistic purposes tend to fall apart and the workers tend to move away to find something else to do, and languages tend to change regionally and over time. Doesn’t a natural explanation for the end of the tower of Babel project and the confusion of the languages make more sense? After all, languages STILL diverse from the origin regionally over time. It’s not as bad today or as quick as back then, thanks to the printing press, radio, TV, mp3 players and so on, but languages do still change. Seems to me that the tower of Babel story is an embellishment from the time where everything undesirable had to be thought of as the wrath of God, a time that for many people seems to continue to this very day. “I stubbed my toe. Must be the wrath of God.” is no more logical than “I stubbed my toe. Its all Bush’s fault.”

Rey (that sounds so existential coming from myself), I find it an odd basis to argue for a woodenly literal understanding of words to establish a contradiction but then a mythological understanding of events to establish that the words don’t exist.

If you want a contradiction Proverbs 26:4 followed immediately by Proverbs 26:5….

But you probably should just stick to arguing from the myth angle.

I never argued that the words don’t exist. I showed that there is a contradiction because both sets of words DO exist. Then I gave my judgment as to which of the two statements was wrong, for in a contradiction one must be wrong. The “mythological understanding of events” was to show what was a less mythological view and what would present a view of the event that would not contradict “God is not the author of confusion.” God confusing the languages at Babel, by the way, seems much more “mythological” to most people than my explanation, which makes our choice or words very odd.

As for Proverbs 26, advise like this is not meant as factual statements, and therefore there can be no contradiction.

Of course the Proverbs 26 statements are meant as factual statements. It says what will happen if you do such things. That’s stated as fact.

The way to resolve the apparent contradiction is to recognize that these approaches are appropriate in different contexts, which is the same way to resolve the apparent contradiction between a response by God that could be represented as making him the author of confusion and a response by God that could be represented as God not being the author of confusion.

While I have not yet read the entire blog, but because what I have read talks about american slavery, I have this to say. Slavery in biblical times was not exclusive of white people. moreover if anyone reads the bible correctly, they will find that God used Moses to liberate the israelites from bondage in Egypt because it was not what he wanted for them. it is called common sense realism. additionally, Galatians 3:28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Much of the legislation in the Bible about slavery is about making it less oppressive, and might could be given a pass of “that’s the way things were back then” by someone disposes to giving it a pass (an inerrantist, for example). However, there is one statement made by Paul that I cannot accept even from an uninspired man as having any decency about it. Namely, in 1st Timothy 6 “And they that have believing masters, let them not despise them, because they are brethren;” In other words, Paul (who thinks he is God himself sometimes it seems) says that Christians cannot look down on another Christian for holding slaves. Pardon me, Paul (if that is your real name) but I disagree. I say Christians and everyone else has a duty to look down on anyone who holds slaves…and particularly someone who claims to follow Jesus and holds slaves. Someone who claims superiority over others, that he’s more spiritual than the heathen…if he holds slaves, why should he not be despised? And why should not the very slave himself despise his so-called “master” for continuing to hold him down in slavery after his conversion to Christianity? This is a strange thing in particular because the Torah required Jews to release fellow Hebrews from slavery after 7 years, but Paul apparently believes Christians can hold other Christians as slaves indefinitely!!!! I guess this is what Paul means by “ye are not under the Torah but grace”–no wonder he wanted to abolish the Torah–he wanted to keep his fellowman as a slave for longer than 7 years.

“This is a strange thing in particular because the Torah required Jews to release fellow Hebrews from slavery after 7 years, but Paul apparently believes Christians can hold other Christians as slaves indefinitely!!!!”

This by the way, resulted in an incentive for conversion to Judaism in the middle ages. If you were a slave, you wanted to be a slave to Jews, so you could convert and go free in 7 years. As a slave of a Christian, you were doomed for the rest of your life. This is why eventually, the political powers of the middle ages made it illegal for Jews to hold slaves: they couldn’t let the Jews show how heathen the Christians truly were in their treatment of slaves by allowing the Jews to have slaves and let them go after 7 years. No, the nice Christian princes wanted to follow Paul’s rules, and if they allowed the Jews to compete in this arena, they’d end up being forced to follow the Torah’s rules. So they banned the Jews from owning slaves, which, quite frankly, turned out to be good for the Jews.

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