In this week’s look at the funny, the scary and just plain weird passages in humanity’s holy text, is a look at the Bible’s views on the institution of slavery. This week, we look at not just one, but three passage from the New Testament:
Ephesians 6:5, New International Version:
5 Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ.
1 Timothy 6:1-2, New International Version:
1 All who are under the yoke of slavery should consider their masters worthy of full respect, so that God’s name and our teaching may not be slandered. 2 Those who have believing masters should not show them disrespect just because they are fellow believers. Instead, they should serve them even better because their masters are dear to them as fellow believers and are devoted to the welfare[a] of their slaves.
Luke 12:47-48, New International Version:
47 “The servant who knows the master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what the master wants will be beaten with many blows. 48 But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.
It’s not an unusual thing for atheists and skeptics who point out many of the truly horrific stories, arguments and prescriptions in the Bible to have a Christian move the goalposts on them.
“Oh, that’s the just the Old Testament! That doesn’t count anymore!”
These are from the New Testament. The last one is even from the Gospel of Luke. It’s clear that the moral system of the Christian Bible has no problem whatsoever with the institution of slavery. In fact, it seems to expect that even a Christian can and will own another human being as a piece of property, have them work without pay, and even beat them when they disobey an order.
None of this is treated with the least amount of opposition or apprehension. By the standards of the Bible, the abolitionists of the 19th Century were wrong and slaveholders of the old South were in the right.
If I were ever to build an argument against the “Biblical foundation of our morality,” this would be on of my central pillars. Clearly most Christians don’t own slaves in the 21st Century and would be morally opposed to human beings being used as unpaid farm equipment. Why does the Bible get it wrong when so many Christians get it right?
Because the Religious Right has it backwards. People don’t use the Bible to make decisions about secular moral questions, they use an evolving secular morality to make decisions about which parts of the Bible they’ll simply ignore.
If you have a passage of holy scripture that you find funny, scary or just plain weird, send it our way. Whether it’s from the Bible, the Qur’an, the Bhagavad Gita, the Book of Mormon, or even Dianetics, click on the big, red, shiny button at the top of the page and we may even read it on the show!