Bible Misconceptions: Diminishing the Work of Messiah- Part 2
A friend of mine named Robert and I recently got together for lunch. Robert had passed along a link to a CNN.com article entitled “Bible has some shocking ‘family values'” and wanted some help answering the claims that were made in it. He wanted to provide a good, solid, Biblical response to his brother-in-law who had sent it to him. This is the second part of our discussion which began in an earlier article.
Scripture promotes slavery?
We went back to the article…
According to biblical law, a father could sell his daughter as a slave, and the last of the Ten Commandments lists as off-limits a neighbor’s possessions — his house, wife, slaves, and livestock. But the majority of modern Jews and Christians no longer accept the biblical view of women as men’s property and hence subordinate to them, as they have also abandoned the biblical practice of polygamy.
“This one’s tough because he’s right,” Robert said. “If we have abandoned a few of G-d’s standards from the Bible because we live in a different culture then what’s to keep us from abandoning more of them… or all of them? In his letter to Titus, Paul tells people who are slaves to remain as slaves and be subject to their masters in everything. How can I respond to my brother-in-law about this?”
“It’s not as tough as you would think,” I replied. “First off, in most places where the Bible mentions slavery it is not describing the types of horrid conditions that most Americans think about that occurred in the 1800’s. If I were to have sold myself in Bible times as an indentured servant/slave then my master would be responsible for feeding, clothing, and sheltering me. If I were destitute and had no food or shelter then servitude would be an improvement to my situation, right? There is also a fixed period of time for my servitude and if I earn enough from my service then I could actually shorten that period. There were also stiff penalties for a master mistreating his slaves so Biblical slavery was a much better situation than what we normally think of as slavery.
“Biblical slavery was not too much different from getting a car loan today. I agree to work and earn enough money to pay back the amount I borrowed from the bank. The primary differences are that the bank doesn’t have to feed, clothe, or shelter me nor are they responsible for employing me to enable me to pay back the loan.
I grinned. “Okay… I’m exaggerating a lot there but you get my point.”
“Secondly, the Bible never actually commands people to be involved in slavery. It doesn’t tell the father that he has to sell his daughter as a slave. The Bible simply sees this situation and says ‘look, if a family is so poor that a father feels he has to put his daughter in a situation where she would be fed, clothed, and sheltered then there are certain protections that must be in place to safeguard the girl. It’s not as if people were having babies and selling them on the slave market as their family business. This horrible situation was much like what happens today when parents are unable to care adequately for their child and they put her up for adoption.
“Rather than promoting slavery, the commandments are a reflection of G-d’s mercy and grace towards humanity in the midst of terrible circumstances. The laws and the cultural standards of America prohibit slavery so the commandments given in Scripture simply don’t need to be brought to bear on our lives. If everybody stopped driving and started walking then the laws that govern the operations of motor vehicles simply wouldn’t be relevant to us. The law doesn’t require you to drive a car, right?”
Robert shook his head. “I think I see your point but how can we still uphold the prohibition against homosexuality when we don’t maintain the Biblical laws regarding slavery? Doesn’t abandoning one mean that we have to abandon the other?”
“Let me put it this way,” I said. “I have a rule in my house for visiting children that says ‘do not go into the study.’ The room is not child safe and has some very breakable things in it so children are not allowed. I also have a rule that says ‘if you come in my house you should take off your shoes.’ There is a difference between the way these rules are structured.
“One rule says do not do ‘x’. Period.
“The other rule says if you ‘a’ then you must also do ‘b’ as well.
“The commandment against homosexuality is the first type of rule. The commandment regarding slavery is the second kind of rule. Since we don’t do ‘a’ then ‘b’ is not required but that doesn’t change the prohibition against ‘x’. Does that make sense?”
This time Robert nodded his head. “I get it. The rules for slavery only apply when slavery exists. If we aren’t involved in slavery then the rules for it do not apply.”
“You’ve got it”, I said with a smile. “Here is the biggest issue I have with all of this. If anyone says the commandments in the Bible are simply the common moral standards during Bible times and they are not G-d’s standards then they diminish Messiah and His work.
Diminishing the Messiah and His work
“If I were to take a Bible and literally cut out the passages that are ‘just commonly held standards’ (as the CNN article claims) then I would be physically diminishing the contents of that Bible, right?”
“In a similar way the author of that article diminishes the Word of G-d by saying, ‘these aren’t really G-d’s standards’. If he diminishes the Word of G-d (that same Word that became flesh and dwelled among us as John chapter 1 tells us) then he is also diminishing Messiah. Such thinking also diminishes the work of Messiah.
“If these are not G-d’s standards by which He will judge all humanity then humanity hasn’t sinned and doesn’t need a redeemer: we don’t need the Messiah. Even if somebody says only some of them are G-d’s standards and not all of them then Messiah’s work is diminished. I don’t believe that Messiah came and died for us because of a few trivial sins. Paul actually says that G-d’s commandments were given so that sin would become utterly sinful. This magnifies the work of Messiah rather than diminishing it.
“Let me give you an example. If I pay your debt by buying your lunch then I have blessed you in some small measure. If I pay off your car loan, however, then the measure of what I have done is far greater and if I pay off your mortgage then it is greater still.”
Robert grinned and I said with a laugh, “Don’t get any ideas, buddy. You’re still buying lunch.”
“Speaking of lunch,” Robert said as the waiter arrived at our table. “Here’s one last quote I wanted to mention from the CNN article.
… it is time to recognize that the values of the biblical writers are no longer necessarily our own.
I shook my head sadly. “It appears that many people in the world are taking that position more and more often but I know those who believe in G-d and cling to Him will choose the values and the standards that He has expressed in His Word.”
Robert said, “Amen! Let’s give thanks and eat. Father in heaven, we thank You for Your Word and the truths it contains and for Your Son, the Messiah who has redeemed us…”