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"...if anyone makes the assistance of grace depend on the humility or obedience of man and does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, he contradicts the Apostle who says, "What have you that you did not receive?" (1 Cor. 4:7), and, "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10). (Council of Orange: Canon 6)

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  • « State of the Nation - Why are the Churches losing their young people? | Main | Christianity - a Cleverly Devised Myth? by Dr. James White »

    Questions on Slavery, Incest, Polygamy & Genocide in the OT

    Question:

    Hi John, Are there any good books/articles online that you'd recommend to read on the following topics:

    Slavery, Incest, Polygamy...

    To handle questions about slavery in the Bible and slave owners being permitted to beat their slaves and retain ownership of the wife and children of a male slave that is freed at a certain point ; questions about incest (Abraham and his half sister, etc); polygamy (God telling David that He gave him his wives); God commanding the children of Israel to put to death those who stray from Judaism; women being forced to marry a man who raped them; the Israelites being commanded to wipe out entire communities, including women and children (some would say that the Jews were responsible for multiple holocausts); etc., etc. Looking forward to hearing from you.

    ------------------------------------------------

    Response:

    Thanks for your questions. They are important and ones many postmoderns like to ask these days.

    Regarding slavery, Exodus 21:16 says

    "He who kidnaps a man, whether he sells him or he is found in his possession, shall surely be put to death."

    Deuteronomy 24:7 likewise says,

    "If a man is caught kidnapping any of his countrymen of the sons of Israel, and he deals with him violently or sells him, then that thief shall die; so you shall purge the evil from among you."

    In other words, slavery was not the same thing as the kind we saw in 19th century America where people went to Africa, kidnapped people and brought them home to sell them to the highest bidder. Such would be a capital crime in the OT, according to these passages. Instead, persons who were slaves were either paying off a debt, or persons who attacked Israel and captured in battle. Someone may have some problems with this but it is not the type of slavery we usually think of today. The ‘slavery’ mentioned in the Old Testament was really indentured servant hood and was a very different kind of institution than the New World slavery that developed in modern times. For example, Exodus 21:27 says that if you knock a slave’s tooth out, the slave has to go free. That doesn’t sound like the same institution you are thinking of, does it? Slavery in the Greco-Roman world was harsher than the indentured servant hood of Israel, but it was almost never for life (average 10-15 years in length) and slaves were paid and lived about the same as other working people. So be careful when you equate the African slave trade to the forms of slavery and servant hood you hear about in the Bible. We still have slavery today and it takes place in the prisons. People pay a debt they owe society there.

    Also it is good to remember that the Israelites themselves were slaves of the Egyptians for 400 years and God delivered them, bringing judgment on all of Egypt for this oppression. God hates it, and so God delivering His people from the bonds of slavery is one of the key themes of Scripture, and the Exodus points us to Christ who sets us free from bondage.

    Next lets take the next criticism of the idea of stoning someone to death for a transgression of the law. To be frank, God;s standard actually not changed in the New Testament. If you recall, Jesus Christ bore the full wrath of God on the cross. God ordained that Jesus be brutally murdered in our place. He lived the life we should have lived (sinlessly, law-keeping) and died the death we justly deserved. We all, just like the Israelites of the OT, justly deserve to die and, the fact we do not, is purely God's mercy in Christ. He took the punishment - so while we deserve to be stoned to death for worshiping a false god, instead, He took that very punishment on himself for this sin, for we have worshiped false gods. So God's character is no different in the two Testaments. The only difference is that revelation has been progressively unfolding in an organic fashion, and we now relate to the law in a new way through a perfect mediator, the person and work of Jesus Christ. Remember we all die which is the punishment God prescribed for humanity after the fall.

    Also, regarding polygamy, you may want to differentiate between what someone does and what God's law is. God nowhere gives us a law saying that polygamy is His will. But we do find some persons, even some godly, who engage in this practice. David was said to be a man after God's own heart (1 Sam. 13:14; Acts 13:22), but he did a variety of things that were not according to God's heart, i.e. he murdered Uriah the Hittite after committing adultery with his wife Bathsheba (2 Sam. 11:27).

    That he practiced polygamy does not make it God's perfect will. Jesus points out that from the beginning (Genesis) that one man and one woman would become one flesh and so adultery was always wrong (Matthew 19:1-9). Therefore even the OT itself does not hold up polygamy as the ideal. While polygamy may have been permitted in their weakness, but Genesis reveals this was not the ideal toward which the people were to set their faces toward. The ideal was the model of creation: one man and one woman in a monogamous relationship.

    After explaining the above I believe it is very important to point something out out to our postmodern skeptical friends. Most of them think it is a given that Slavery IS bad. Torture IS wrong. Racism IS repugnant. Christians know this to be true because God reveals this to us, but you should see such a question as an opportunity to ask skeptics some questions about their own presuppositions.

    Ask them how they know this to be true and they may say something like "there are no absolutes. My view of values is that they emerge from lessons widely drawn from human experience and around which consensus has emerged. Human rights as a language and as a normative construct came out of the horror of WWII. Such ideas emerge through consensus-building and eventually take on axiomatic existence for most people."

    Tim Keller gave a great answer to this once. He said,

    "First, you seem to be saying that slavery wasn’t wrong until there was a consensus that it was wrong. Or that torture wasn’t wrong until we came to a consensus that it was wrong. Do you really want to say that--that slavery and torture wasn’t wrong in 1750, because then the consensus was that both were OK? If you fall back on saying that slavery was wrong in 1750 even though most people didn’t feel that way—then you do believe in absolutes, I think."

    Second, what if you saw the consensus about slavery and torture eroding? What if you saw that half the world was moving toward a new consensus that slavery and torture were OK in many circumstances? (There are a surprising number of people who do think torture is OK if it might stop a nuclear attack, etc. It could easily happen.) On what basis, then, could you argue that the emerging new consensus is wrong, since, in your view, something is only wrong if there is a consensus that it is wrong? It seems that the only way you could say “reverse the new consensus” would be if you grant that torture is wrong even if the consensus changes.

    Third, this is an elitist argument, because the fact is that there are plenty of cultures and places in the world that don’t agree with your ‘consensus.’ You are saying, then, that the part of the world that believes in human rights is the enlightened, correct part. When you say these beliefs take on axiomatic existence for ‘most people’ you mean ‘most people I know, the ones who are thinking properly.’

    Fourth, if you don’t believe in absolutes, you can only offer at best a pragmatic argument against these evils. If you were living in 1750 and you came to believe slavery was wrong when few others did, you could not argue from consensus. You would have to argue that slavery is impractical for us, that it makes for a society in which we are all unhappy. You could only appeal to people’s self-interest. Only if you agree that there are moral absolutes could you say that “Slavery is wrong regardless of whether you feel it benefits you and society or not. It is simply wrong to treat people that way. Period.”


    As per your question on women being raped and "forced" to marry, as I understand it, at that time, the issue was not so much forcing a woman marry a man who had raped her. Believe it or not, in those conditions, this may have benefitted the woman in question. Consider that women were completely dependent upon their husbands for financial, material support, and probably no one would want to marry a woman who had been raped. Therefore, legally enforcing the law that the rapist must marry and provide for the woman whom he raped was actually a way of making sure that her physical needs would be met. So as strange as it may seem as looked at through the lens of our modern mentality, the law was there to actually to protect such woman, not force them to do something they did not want to do. Otherwise, quite probably she would have lived as an outcast, with no way to survive with little or no assistance from others. When considering these things it is always good to remember the specific historical context - before rushing to judgment.

    I know I have not fully answered all of your questions but hopefully it is a good start in pointing you in the right direction. I recommend Tim Keller's Reason for God which is really very good on these type of questions. You may wish to see some of his lectures on YouTube to the campuses of Google, Stanford and Berkeley. These are also good.

    Hope this helps
    John
    Monergism.com

    Posted by John on September 29, 2009 11:44 AM

    Comments

    Can you comment more on incest marriage? Did Cain or Abel marry with their sisters?

    Hun,
    It is not known whether Abel lived long enough to get married.

    Cain would have married a sister or other relative.

    This was not problematic for, at least, two reasons:

    1) Not a genetic problem as their DNA was so close to pristine.

    2) Not a moral problem since the law against marriage to close relative was not yet given (and apparently, not given until such time as it did become a genetic problem).

    aDios,
    Mariano

    John,
    I am afraid that in responding to the question about a woman being forced to marry a rapist you may have failed to read the text and checked the original language.

    I laid it out nice and neat in a parsed essay:
    http://atheismisdead.blogspot.com/2009/04/atheism-bible-rape-and-evilbiblecom.html

    I will succinctly note that Deuteronomy 22 envisages various scenarios:

    v. 22 - adulterers, both consenting, were to be put to death (here; an already married woman).

    v. 23-24 - adulterers, both consenting, were to be put to death (here; a betrothed woman who is, for all intents and purposes, considered a “wife”). That she did not cry out means that she did not protest. No, not that she did not protest being raped; she did not protest having relations and thus, she consented.

    v. 25-27 - an actual rapist is to be put to death. This is an actual rape; he is put to death, she is not guilty of anything.

    v. 28-29 - fornication, the woman in not betrothed, she chooses to engage in fornication, they are found out and a shotgun wedding ensues. He has to pay the dowry.

    For v. 28-29 the qualifying terms are “taphas”: catching, handling, taking hold, grasping, etc. and “shakab”: laying down.

    For v. 25-27 the term is “chazaq”: strength, forced, etc.

    You did a good job questioning the premise of the questions in general but not in this case.

    Keep up the good work and the God work,
    aDios,
    Mariano

    I still do not believe you answered the questions. You noted people were captured from war as slaves, therefore, these were not the indenture servants you spoke of. The quote you quoted forbids only the selling of slaves (along with the keyword "countrymen"), NOT the purchase.

    If polygamy was not favorable in God's eyes why does he allow it? Homosexuality is not in God's favor and he strikes it down. How is it permissible to for God to allow something that is not pleasing to him to persist?

    In addition, Abraham married his half-sister and God never frowned on it. Rather, it was common for people back then to commit incest. Yet, the Bible never strikes it.

    Since, slavery is permitted for captured foreigners, and polygamy and incest was not outlawed... it leaves room for questions.

    Pardon me... in clarifying the slavery comment... i see that it says to sell of possess..." However, in the same chapter it says... "And if a man sell his daughter to be a maidservant, she shall not go out as the menservants do."

    That is slavery as well, especially if it is against the daughter's will.

    Louis

    You asked, "How is it permissible to for God to allow something that is not pleasing to him to persist?"

    He does this every day with each one of us. We are all not pleasing to Him. We have all broken His commands. You, me and everyone. As a result, we all justly deserve death for our rebellion against Him. Where does your comment about homosexuality come from. Homosexuality is no worse than the sins I have committed. No one is singling out that sin as standing out above others. None of us are righteous, NO not one. Breaking the first commandment is also deserving of death. It seems you are focusing in on a particular sin and do not understand that all sin is worthy of death and none of us are innocent.

    God lets humanity continue because he is merciful in Christ and gives us time to repent and believe the gospel. Because he took on Himself in Christ the punishment (death) that we justly deserve. If he wiped us all out today He would be right in doing so, but instead He offers pardon in advance of his judgment in Christ. Amazing!!!!

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