Support the Podcast

Want to support the podcast? You can do so here:

Follow me on

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Is Pelagianism the Gospel?

In their latest episode entitled “rd116 The Outsider Test for Faith” the hosts of the Reasonable Doubts have a section in which they briefly discuss Christianity and the film industry, specifically in relation to the Christian targeted marketing for films such as Man of Steel and Les Misérables. While this section is somewhat of an aside to the overall episode and, or so I suppose, not well thought out and on the fly, the hosts make several comments that reveal a fundamental misunderstanding of the Christian religion. It is precisely because these comments are off the cuff that they reflect the most candid and genuine beliefs about Christianity that the hosts maintain. Therefore these comments are the clearest expression of the kind of Christianity that the hosts think that they are engaging with. However, are they accurate?
What we will see is that the hosts commit the same kind of strawman fallacy that many skeptics perpetrate. Well to be more charitable, it is not exactly a strawman generally. They are engaging with a position that many “Christians” hold to. While this article is not meant to parse what Christianity is or is not or what makes someone a Christian or not, anyone familiar with the history of Christian theology will know that the heresy known as Pelagianism[1] has been condemned at more church counsels that even the most severe Christological heresies. The problem is that the Christian church, at least in the West, has failed to continue to make that distinction, and Pelagianism or Semi-Pelagianism (at least in praxis) has come to be synonymous Christianity – at least in many Western “evangelical” circles. For those interested in exploring the difference between the heresy of Pelagianism and Historic/Orthodox[2] Christianity I could not recommend a book more highly than Michael Horton’s tour de force Christless Christianity.[3][4] Horton not only explores the divergent theology between the two, but also goes into countless examples in which Pelagianism is hiding in plain sight in a massive amount of American churches and that because it is often the religion of choice for highly publicized and culturally noticeable ones (such as that of Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyer, and many others) it has not only seeped into many churches influenced by them but also into the public perception and understanding of what Christianity is. It is my opinion that the overwhelming majority of those polled who say that they believe in God are actually practicing either a form of Pelagianism or else its kissing cousin known as Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.[5] Again, while this article is not going to be able to explore the ramifications of this on the state of the western church (am I saying most people who say that they are Christians aren’t? or what does this do for religious epistemology if people can believe that they are Christians but are practicing a fundamentally different religion? Etc.), I do need to preface this article by stating that this kind of “Christianity” is a fundamentally different religion than that of Historic/Orthodox Christianity and its fundamental principle of the gospel of grace.
Therefore this article is not meant to take the tone of irritation or rebuke for this flawed understanding. After all, if millions of Pelagians think that they are practicing Christianity, why should we expect Christianity’s critics to make the distinction for us. Rather this article is meant rather to engage with the concept of Christianity held by the hosts of Reasonable Doubt and expressed in their comments and to show that while it is not a strawman for what commonly passes for Christianity, it is actually not a valid critique of Historic/Orthodox Christianity. I will begin by transcribing the comments from the hosts and then give my responses to those comments. Here is the dialogue that follows in their discussion about Hollywood films that had expressly Christian targeted marketing programs (such as Man of Steel, Blindside and Les Misérables):

Justin: It’s strange to me that they would do it for Les Miserables because the quote/unquote villain of Les Mis is a guy who is like the sense of absolute justice, that recognizes…
Dave: Absolutely yes, he’s an authoritarian figure.
Justin: right, he recognizes that this kind of retributivism is absurd.
Dave: And kills himself.
Justin: Which is not at all what we would see as God right.
Dave: Right.

I want to begin by first clearing up a simple historical fact. Victor Hugo wrote Les Misérables specifically on the themes of Christian grace and redemption even though we can see the early stages of his anti-clericalism that he would later fully embrace.[6] While Hugo became anti-clerical in his later years and stood on the fringes of Roman Catholicism, that does not mean that he was not expressly religious, and indeed Christian, in his writings, especially in his earlier works. It should not be a surprise us then that the film Les Misérables, based on a specifically Christian inspired novel, should then marketed to Christians any more than it should surprise us that The Chronicles of Narnia (written by world famous Christian scholar C.S. Lewis) which were explicit allegories for many Christian themes was later marketed to Christians when it was made into a feature film. We will discuss these themes in a moment as it pertains to the problem of Orthodoxy and Pelagianism but for now we just must remember that it is marketed to Christians because it was an intentionally Christian themed book.
Now the next problem is that the reason Joe thinks that it is so strange to market the movie to Christian is because the villain[7] of the book/film is the one who stands for absolute justice and finds retributivism “absurd” is more like the Christian and yet he is the villain. These comments as posed in the episode were vague enough to not know exactly what Justin actually meant and so I reached out to him to make sure I was properly representing him. Since the comments were somewhat off the cuff and therefore not fully thought out, I thought it only fair to give him a chance to elaborate on his comments since I wanted to make sure that I was evaluating his position properly. He explained that he meant the following:

This is an example of something I said that wasn't clearly thought out. I think what I was wanting to say was that the villain in the story recognizes that this form of absolute retributivism is dehumanizing and so, as you know, he ends his own life. This is seen as one of the central thrusts of the story I would argue. But I would also argue that Christian theology is much more inline with [Javert] before he comes to this understanding… I was attempting to say that it seems strange that this movie might be marketed towards Christians who believe in a god who I would argue is worse than the villain. Generally, Christians believe God is Just but also merciful. He is merciful in that he is willing to forgive as long as his subjects fulfill certain contingencies. (Belief, relationship, good works) whereas Javert forgives without demanding any contingencies. I was just arguing for what I saw to be a disconnect with the often perceived Christian message in the show.
Mainly because he forgives unconditionally rather than expecting something before he forgives.

Therefore his position is that it is bizarre to market it to Christians because it is the villain Javert who is the one concerned with ultimate justice, and is (as Dave points out) is the authoritarian figure, whereas that should be the attributes of a “Christian” hero rather than the villain. Yet, as I have stated above, if this is what Justin believes the “Christian message” is, then he has fundamentally misunderstood what the Christian message is and is actually rejecting Pelagianism.
There is a fundamental distinction in Christian theology known as the Law/Gospel distinction. The law is standards by which we ought to live and this can refer to either the specifically Mosaic Law found in the Old Testament, or it can refer to the general law (something like the moral law) which Paul refers to in Romans 1, that all humanity has suppressed in unrighteousness. The Christian message is not, “you must be a good person to be saved.” It is not “God only loves the good among you” and it is not “God helps those who help themselves.” It is not even “be holy and righteous and pure and God will reward you.” The Gospel, which is the Christian message, is not an imperative, it is an indicative. It is not the answer to the question, “what would Jesus do?” It is the answer to the question, “what has Jesus done?” The Christian message is not about being good, acting moral, being more righteous than others, or forcing others to be righteous like you are. In fact that is precisely the legalism and the hypocrisy of the Priests, the Pharisees and the Scribes that Jesus presented his harshest condemnations for, and of the Judaizers that Paul flat out called “another gospel.”[8]
The ironic thing about Justin’s comment is that in Les Misérables neither Javert nor Jean Valjean are the Christ figure. The Christ figure is actually a minor character near the beginning of the story. It is the Bishop of D—that is the redeemer. When Jean Valjean escapes jumps bail he finds his way to the home of the Bishop of D—and upon realizing that he will always be seen as a criminal, even though he paid his time for merely stealing bread so his family could eat, he hardens himself and steals the silver from the Bishop of D—‘s home (in some versions he actually attacks the Bishop in the process) and steals away in the night. The next morning when he is caught he tries to tell the constables who catch him that the silver was a gift from the Bishop. They obviously do not believe him and bring him back to the Bishop. At this point the Bishop confirms Valjean’s story and even offers to give him the candlesticks that he had “forgotten” in his haste. Valjean is stunned by the grace of the Bishop and even more stunned when he Bishop tells him, “Do not forget, never forget, that you have promised to use this money in becoming an honest man.”…  Jean Valjean, my brother, you no longer belong to evil, but to good. It is your soul that I buy from you; I withdraw it from black thoughts and the spirit of perdition, and I give it to God.
It is at this point that Valjean is “redeemed”. His crimes are wiped clean and he is forgiven. Even though he sinned against the Bishop, the Bishop condescends to give him free grace – grace that Valjean neither expected nor deserved. It is straight from Romans 5:6-8: For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
The problem is that in the story Valjean still must live in the world where he is hunted by the law – represented by Javert. In essence the story is not a story about justification. It is not a story about how one is saved in God’s economy. It is a story of sanctification – it is about how one lives in light of their redemption in a fallen world, with their own sin nature, and the conflicts that can arise even from doing right and acting ethically.
So why the confusion for Justin over the Christian message and Javert? To be honest I do not blame him. The legalism of Javert is the predominate religion in the United States. Pelagianism has, in my opinion and in the opinion of many others, has come to replace Christianity in the West. The problem is not with Justin, the problem is with those who have been swayed by the lure of Pelagianism and call it Christianity. What they, and Justin, do not realize is that Javert did not commit suicide because retributivism is “absurd”. For Javert, the problem was with himself. He realized that he represented an absolute and totalitarian legalism that would never allow retributivism to flourish – and he wanted it to. It was representative of the fact that for free grace and redemption to proceed and boom, legalism must die, that rigid, authoritarian legalism needs to disappear or else it will always sap the power from the beauty of redeeming grace. Javert did not commit suicide because he thought, as Justin says, “absolute retributivism is dehumanizing” it is because he finally came to realize how beautiful it is and wanted to see it set free to spread.
And yet this is why the alternative gospel of the American church, even when concealed with a big white smile and a nice suit will always keep people in bondage. It is about having the right kind or right amount of faith – if your prayers didn’t get answered it is because you did it wrong. If you aren’t becoming healthy and wealthy it is because you need to improve yourself. It is all law. It is not the Christian message of total inability to redeem oneself and relying on the free grace offered to us in Jesus – that while we were still sinners, still rebels, still deniers, Christ redeemed it. It is not because of who we are or what we have done. The Christian message is not that “[God] is merciful in that he is willing to forgive as long as his subjects fulfill certain contingencies” but rather that because God has forgiven we freely choose to act in accordance with his will and seek his good pleasure.
Justin, and many skeptics cannot be blamed for making such a fundamental error in their understanding of the Christian message. It is the “Christianity” that is all around it. Unfortunately it is not the Christianity of the Bible, the early church or the Reformers. It is not the message of Christianity. It is not the Gospel.

For more on this I recommend:
1.      “Christless Christianity: Getting in Christ’s Way” by Michael Horton, Modern Reformation May/June 2007 Vol. 16 No. 3 Page number(s): 10-16, found at:
2.      “The Pelagian Captivity of the Church” by R.C. Sproul, Modern Reformation, Vol 10, Number 3 (May/June 2001), pp. 22-29. Found at
3.      “Augustine and the Pelagian Controversy” by B.B. Warfield, found at:
4.      “Pelagian Origins” by Ligon Duncan, found at:
5.      “Pelagianism” by R. Scott Clark, found at:
6.      “Pelagianism: The Religion of Natural Man” by Michael Horton, found at:
7.      “The History of Heresy: Five Errors that Refuse to Die” by Phil Johnson, found at:
8.      “The Pelagian Controversy – A Historical Essay” by Phillip Schaff, Bibliotheca Sacra and The Theological Review, Number XVIII (May 1848), found at:

1.      Michael Horton – Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church
2.      J. Gresham Machen – Christianity and Liberalism
3.      Stephen J. Nichols – Jesus: Made in America
4.      Christian Smith – Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers

1.      The Law and the Christian Faith
a.       Presented by Reformed Theological Seminary
b.      Lecturer – Variety
2.      Introduction to Pastoral and Theological Studies
a.       Presented by Reformed Theological Seminary
b.      Lecturer - Derek Thomas
3.      The White Horse Inn

Full text of the Council of Orange (one of the most concise and thorough rejections of Pelagianism from any Council):

The Canons of the Council of Orange 529 AD

CANON 1. If anyone denies that it is the whole man, that is, both body and soul, that was "changed for the worse" through the offense of Adam's sin, but believes that the freedom of the soul remains unimpaired and that only the body is subject to corruption, he is deceived by the error of Pelagius and contradicts the scripture which says, "The soul that sins shall die" (Ezek. 18:20); and, "Do you not know that if you yield yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are the slaves of the one whom you obey?" (Rom. 6:16); and, "For whatever overcomes a man, to that he is enslaved" (2 Pet. 2:19).
CANON 2. If anyone asserts that Adam's sin affected him alone and not his descendants also, or at least if he declares that it is only the death of the body which is the punishment for sin, and not also that sin, which is the death of the soul, passed through one man to the whole human race, he does injustice to God and contradicts the Apostle, who says, "Therefore as sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned" (Rom. 5:12).
CANON 3. If anyone says that the grace of God can be conferred as a result of human prayer, but that it is not grace itself which makes us pray to God, he contradicts the prophet Isaiah, or the Apostle who says the same thing, "I have been found by those who did not seek me; I have shown myself to those who did not ask for me" (Rom 10:20, quoting Isa. 65:1).
CANON 4. If anyone maintains that God awaits our will to be cleansed from sin, but does not confess that even our will to be cleansed comes to us through the infusion and working of the Holy Spirit, he resists the Holy Spirit himself who says through Solomon, "The will is prepared by the Lord" (Prov. 8:35, LXX), and the salutary word of the Apostle, "For God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure" (Phil. 2:13).
CANON 5. If anyone says that not only the increase of faith but also its beginning and the very desire for faith, by which we believe in Him who justifies the ungodly and comes to the regeneration of holy baptism -- if anyone says that this belongs to us by nature and not by a gift of grace, that is, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit amending our will and turning it from unbelief to faith and from godlessness to godliness, it is proof that he is opposed to the teaching of the Apostles, for blessed Paul says, "And I am sure that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ" (Phil. 1:6). And again, "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God" (Eph. 2:8). For those who state that the faith by which we believe in God is natural make all who are separated from the Church of Christ by definition in some measure believers.
CANON 6. If anyone says that God has mercy upon us when, apart from his grace, we believe, will, desire, strive, labor, pray, watch, study, seek, ask, or knock, but does not confess that it is by the infusion and inspiration of the Holy Spirit within us that we have the faith, the will, or the strength to do all these things as we ought; or 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).
CANON 7. If anyone affirms that we can form any right opinion or make any right choice which relates to the salvation of eternal life, as is expedient for us, or that we can be saved, that is, assent to the preaching of the gospel through our natural powers without the illumination and inspiration of the Holy Spirit, who makes all men gladly assent to and believe in the truth, he is led astray by a heretical spirit, and does not understand the voice of God who says in the Gospel, "For apart from me you can do nothing" (John 15:5), and the word of the Apostle, "Not that we are competent of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our competence is from God" (2 Cor. 3:5).
CANON 8. If anyone maintains that some are able to come to the grace of baptism by mercy but others through free will, which has manifestly been corrupted in all those who have been born after the transgression of the first man, it is proof that he has no place in the true faith. For he denies that the free will of all men has been weakened through the sin of the first man, or at least holds that it has been affected in such a way that they have still the ability to seek the mystery of eternal salvation by themselves without the revelation of God. The Lord himself shows how contradictory this is by declaring that no one is able to come to him "unless the Father who sent me draws him" (John 6:44), as he also says to Peter, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven" (Matt. 16:17), and as the Apostle says, "No one can say 'Jesus is Lord' except by the Holy Spirit" (1 Cor. 12:3).
CANON 9. Concerning the succor of God. It is a mark of divine favor when we are of a right purpose and keep our feet from hypocrisy and unrighteousness; for as often as we do good, God is at work in us and with us, in order that we may do so.
CANON 10. Concerning the succor of God. The succor of God is to be ever sought by the regenerate and converted also, so that they may be able to come to a successful end or persevere in good works.
CANON 11. Concerning the duty to pray. None would make any true prayer to the Lord had he not received from him the object of his prayer, as it is written, "Of thy own have we given thee" (1 Chron. 29:14).
CANON 12. Of what sort we are whom God loves. God loves us for what we shall be by his gift, and not by our own deserving.
CANON 13. Concerning the restoration of free will. The freedom of will that was destroyed in the first man can be restored only by the grace of baptism, for what is lost can be returned only by the one who was able to give it. Hence the Truth itself declares: "So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed" (John 8:36).
CANON 14. No mean wretch is freed from his sorrowful state, however great it may be, save the one who is anticipated by the mercy of God, as the Psalmist says, "Let thy compassion come speedily to meet us" (Ps. 79:8), and again, "My God in his steadfast love will meet me" (Ps. 59:10).
CANON 15. Adam was changed, but for the worse, through his own iniquity from what God made him. Through the grace of God the believer is changed, but for the better, from what his iniquity has done for him. The one, therefore, was the change brought about by the first sinner; the other, according to the Psalmist, is the change of the right hand of the Most High (Ps. 77:10).
CANON 16. No man shall be honored by his seeming attainment, as though it were not a gift, or suppose that he has received it because a missive from without stated it in writing or in speech. For the Apostle speaks thus, "For if justification were through the law, then Christ died to no purpose" (Gal. 2:21); and "When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men" (Eph. 4:8, quoting Ps. 68:18). It is from this source that any man has what he does; but whoever denies that he has it from this source either does not truly have it, or else "even what he has will be taken away" (Matt. 25:29).
CANON 17. Concerning Christian courage. The courage of the Gentiles is produced by simple greed, but the courage of Christians by the love of God which "has been poured into our hearts" not by freedom of will from our own side but "through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us" (Rom. 5:5).
CANON 18. That grace is not preceded by merit. Recompense is due to good works if they are performed; but grace, to which we have no claim, precedes them, to enable them to be done.
CANON 19. That a man can be saved only when God shows mercy. Human nature, even though it remained in that sound state in which it was created, could be no means save itself, without the assistance of the Creator; hence since man cannot safe- guard his salvation without the grace of God, which is a gift, how will he be able to restore what he has lost without the grace of God?
CANON 20. That a man can do no good without God. God does much that is good in a man that the man does not do; but a man does nothing good for which God is not responsible, so as to let him do it.
CANON 21. Concerning nature and grace. As the Apostle most truly says to those who would be justified by the law and have fallen from grace, "If justification were through the law, then Christ died to no purpose" (Gal. 2:21), so it is most truly declared to those who imagine that grace, which faith in Christ advocates and lays hold of, is nature: "If justification were through nature, then Christ died to no purpose." Now there was indeed the law, but it did not justify, and there was indeed nature, but it did not justify. Not in vain did Christ therefore die, so that the law might be fulfilled by him who said, "I have come not to abolish them, but to fulfil them" (Matt. 5:17), and that the nature which had been destroyed by Adam might be restored by him who said that he had come "to seek and to save the lost" (Luke 19:10).
CANON 22. Concerning those things that belong to man. No man has anything of his own but untruth and sin. But if a man has any truth or righteousness, it from that fountain for which we must thirst in this desert, so that we may be refreshed from it as by drops of water and not faint on the way.
CANON 23. Concerning the will of God and of man. Men do their own will and not the will of God when they do what displeases him; but when they follow their own will and comply with the will of God, however willingly they do so, yet it is his will by which what they will is both prepared and instructed.
CANON 24. Concerning the branches of the vine. The branches on the vine do not give life to the vine, but receive life from it; thus the vine is related to its branches in such a way that it supplies them with what they need to live, and does not take this from them. Thus it is to the advantage of the disciples, not Christ, both to have Christ abiding in them and to abide in Christ. For if the vine is cut down another can shoot up from the live root; but one who is cut off from the vine cannot live without the root (John 15:5ff).
CANON 25. Concerning the love with which we love God. It is wholly a gift of God to love God. He who loves, even though he is not loved, allowed himself to be loved. We are loved, even when we displease him, so that we might have means to please him. For the Spirit, whom we love with the Father and the Son, has poured into our hearts the love of the Father and the Son (Rom. 5:5).
CONCLUSION. And thus according to the passages of holy scripture quoted above or the interpretations of the ancient Fathers we must, under the blessing of God, preach and believe as follows. The sin of the first man has so impaired and weakened free will that no one thereafter can either love God as he ought or believe in God or do good for God's sake, unless the grace of divine mercy has preceded him. We therefore believe that the glorious faith which was given to Abel the righteous, and Noah, and Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and to all the saints of old, and which the Apostle Paul commends in extolling them (Heb. 11), was not given through natural goodness as it was before to Adam, but was bestowed by the grace of God. And we know and also believe that even after the coming of our Lord this grace is not to be found in the free will of all who desire to be baptized, but is bestowed by the kindness of Christ, as has already been frequently stated and as the Apostle Paul declares, "For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake" (Phil. 1:29). And again, "He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ" (Phil. 1:6). And again, "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and it is not your own doing, it is the gift of God" (Eph. 2:8). And as the Apostle says of himself, "I have obtained mercy to be faithful" (1 Cor. 7:25, cf. 1 Tim. 1:13). He did not say, "because I was faithful," but "to be faithful." And again, "What have you that you did not receive?" (1 Cor. 4:7). And again, "Every good endowment and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights" (Jas. 1:17). And again, "No one can receive anything except what is given him from heaven" (John 3:27). There are innumerable passages of holy scripture which can be quoted to prove the case for grace, but they have been omitted for the sake of brevity, because further examples will not really be of use where few are deemed sufficient.
According to the catholic faith we also believe that after grace has been received through baptism, all baptized persons have the ability and responsibility, if they desire to labor faithfully, to perform with the aid and cooperation of Christ what is of essential importance in regard to the salvation of their soul. We not only do not believe that any are foreordained to evil by the power of God, but even state with utter abhorrence that if there are those who want to believe so evil a thing, they are anathema. We also believe and confess to our benefit that in every good work it is not we who take the initiative and are then assisted through the mercy of God, but God himself first inspires in us both faith in him and love for him without any previous good works of our own that deserve reward, so that we may both faithfully seek the sacrament of baptism, and after baptism be able by his help to do what is pleasing to him. We must therefore most evidently believe that the praiseworthy faith of the thief whom the Lord called to his home in paradise, and of Cornelius the centurion, to whom the angel of the Lord was sent, and of Zacchaeus, who was worthy to receive the Lord himself, was not a natural endowment but a gift of God's kindness.

[1] I readily admit that a major problem of this article will be the lack of time and space given to actually developing what Pelagianism is. I will have a list of excellent books on the topic at the bottom however to supplement this article.
[2] This is in the broad theological sense of “orthodox” and not in the technical ecclesiological sense to refer to Eastern or other brands of capital “O” Orthodox traditions.
[3] There is also an excellent podcast episode of The White Horse Inn that deals directly with Les Misérables which you can find at:
[4] Even though it interacts with Christian Liberalism more so than Pelagianism, I think J. Gresham Machen’s Christianity and Liberalism would also be extremely beneficial to read on this point since Pelagianism and Christian Liberalism are so closely related.
[5] For more on this concept I recommend Soul Searching by Notre Damn sociologist Christian Smith.
[6] Ironically the Bishop of D- who redeems Jean Valjean is arguably the most noble character in the entire book despite Hugo’s later anti-clericalism.
[7] I do not think it is accurate to call Javert the “villain” so much as the antagonist since one would be wrong in assuming that Javert was an evil man. Due to the fact that this is the term that Justin chose to use, I will continue that in the text of the article but wanted to note that not all antagonists are, properly speaking, villains.
[8] Galatians 1:6-9 says, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.” The entire epistle is about the Judaizers and the legalism of their “gospel” and so this is surely the “different gospel” he is referring to in the preface to the letter.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

“Slavery” In the Bible – Part 2: Casuistic Laws in the Old Testament

Part 1 -

“Slavery” In the Bible – Part 2: Casuistic Laws in the Old Testament

            In our last segment we explored the cultural background of slavery in the ANE, specifically the social and cultural milieu in ancient Israel. We explored the fact that the concept of “slavery” in the Old Testament is colored by our own history of Antebellum or New World Slavery during the African slave trade and that when we come up against passages dealing with slavery in ancient Israel what we are actually dealing with is much more like indentured servitude or debt servitude of the early colonists. We will now move from the general cultural background and textual themes into specific passages in the Old Testament dealing with the casuistic (case based jurisprudence) laws in the Mosaic law dealing specifically with the issues of servitude in Old Testament.
            I would like to again remind my readers that I am not arguing here for anything like the inerrancy or inspiration of the Bible, or even that it is wholly accurate in all of its historical assertions. I will not be arguing that the law proves the existence of an ultra-loving or omnibenevolent being known as Yahweh or God. I will simply be arguing that we must read the law as law rather than as a sporadic or unconnected series of sayings. What this means is that in the same way that the US legal system has laws that add depth, scope, application, etc. to other laws, we cannot read these laws as free floating or in isolation from other laws. As we will see there are possible readings of a law where the application itself would violate another law, thus ruling it out as a viable reading of the original law. We will see concrete examples of this as we move along but I want to state this upfront because I think that a lot of the most hostile “interpretations” of the law put out by skeptics (such as those at make this very mistake by casting the law in the worst possible light, ignoring that if an ancient Israelite held that very of one specific law, they would be in violation of a dozen others.
            With that important caveat out of the way, let us look at the relevant passages dealing with servanthood in the Old Testament. We should also point out at this time that a persistent theme in the Pentateuch (the first 5 books of the law) and specifically in the legal codes, is that God had redeemed Israel from Slavery in Egypt. This is stated at least 14 times and often the injunctions to treat slaves with equity is supported by the refrain, “Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you” or “Remember that you were slaves in Egypt. That is why I command you to do this” or some other such permutation on the theme. The concept is clear that God desired Israel to remember how they suffered as slaves in Egypt (who did practice something very much like the African slave trade that was heavily racial and could be very violent because slaves had no rights whatsoever – though there are notable examples such as Joseph who was technically a slave but was second in power and wealth to only Pharaoh himself) and to not treat any servant in their land with the same brutal oppression. We will see this in more detail in the verses to come. What follows is a list of all of the casuistic laws regarding slavery in the Mosaic Law (and a couple of non-legal passages that shed light on the lawyer’s perspective on the laws) with a series of comments regarding each. This will be much more list and response rather than developed essay.

1.      43 The Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “This is the ordinance of the Passover: no foreigner is to eat of it; 44 but every man’s slave purchased with money, after you have circumcised him, then he may eat of it. 45 A sojourner or a hired servant shall not eat of it. Exodus 12:43-45[1].
a.       I have included this one here simply to point out that before even the law was given, there was already a concept among the proto-Israelites that a slave was considered a part of the family unit. Once committed to the Israelite community (via circumcision) they received the ultimate sign of community – redemption by God. They were part of the redeemed people. They were not considered as chattel. They experienced and shared in the same blessing that was the resounding theme that would come to define the Israelites for millennia to come – that God saved them out of bondage in Israel and entered into a covenant with them. While this verse does raise other issues outside of the scope of this series (why circumcision? Why would God even judge Egypt in the first place? Etc.), the impact of this verse on the subject at hand is telling.

2.      “If you buy a Hebrew slave, he shall serve for six years; but on the seventh he shall go out as a free man without payment. If he comes alone, he shall go out alone; if he is the husband of a wife, then his wife shall go out with him. If his master gives him a wife, and she bears him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall belong to her master, and he shall go out alone. But if the slave plainly says, ‘I love my master, my wife and my children; I will not go out as a free man,’ then his master shall bring him to God, then he shall bring him to the door or the doorpost. And his master shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall serve him permanently. Exodus 21:2-6
a.       There are apparently several problems with this passage. First it seems that it treats women as second class to the men. It seems to state that male servants may go free, but female servants cannot. Second is that it seems criminal to separate a family simply because they were married after both entering service to the owner. Let us look at these in order.
b.      First, is the law misogynistic? This is simply a problem of failing to understand the kind of laws present in the Mosaic legal system. As we have stated these are casuistic laws, that is, case laws. They are a kind of “for example”. The law is not misogynistic simply because it refers to a male slave – it is simply giving a case in point for the treatment of a servant married while in service to their owner. Many scholars have pointed this fact out and have stated that this is due more to the male dominated ANE culture. This is the ancient equivalent of the American Declaration of Independence where it states that “All men are created equal.” While some argued that it meant men qua men, most have read that as simply the non-gender neutral language that referred to all humanity. So we have the same thing happening here in v2-6. This could easily refer to a female slave who is married to a male during her time of servanthood.
c.       Second, does this verse demand that Israelites break of families simply because they “own” one of the partners? Not at all. Something interesting in this verse is that it uses a term that we are familiar with but was somewhat unusual at this point in the Bible. It says that “If you buy a Hebrew slave…” While we have come accustomed to calling ancient Jews “Hebrews” this was not common nomenclature during this point in Israelite history. During this time a “Hebrew” was actually a much broader term than “Israelite” or “Jew”. It meant basically an unaffiliated Semite. To the author, this person would be considered as a foreigner and non-citizen. This sheds some light on the passage. So what we have here is a law requiring that an owner must set free even his foreign servant during the year of Sabbath (this will be important when we look at other passages) but also requiring that if he took a wife during his tenure as a servant, he is not allowed to take his wife or child with him at that time.

There are actually several layers to this law that I think are what lead to the conclusion. Firstly, if the Hebrew comes married already there is no problem. As soon as his time is served, they all leave together. Yet if the owner “gives him a wife” then several situations could be happening. The owner could have arranged him to marry another Hebrew servant. This would mean that when the male servant finished his time of service, if his wife had not completed her service, he could not simply up and take his wife because she was still indebted to the owner. There is no reason however why he could not continue to serve or work as a hired hand until his wife completed her service and then, if they so chose, they could go on their way.

The second layer of this is if the owner arranged for the servant a Jewish wife. In this case the laws regarding marrying outside of the Jewish community would come into effect – that is, they ought not do it. At this point in history the Jews were not supposed to intermarry with their pagan neighbors. What is often over looked at this point by skeptics is that in the verse the servant who loved his master and his wife had the option to become a permanent Jew. He would take an external sign that he was committing himself to the service of the owner and would be free to become ceremonially Jewish through the rite of circumcision. We often overlook that in cases where a Jewish man only had daughters, the inheritance would go to the daughters and then to their sons. If an owner married off his daughters to a foreigner and had no sons to receive the inheritance, then his land would, if the foreign husband remained a foreigner, would no longer be an inheritance to him, his clan, or his tribe, or to Israel – the land that God had given to them as a perpetual inheritance to the Jewish people. He would not only be giving up land to foreigners, he would be depriving his entire family and future lineage of the land that was theirs by divine decree. This was even the point in the year of Jubilee. Every 49th year a reset button would be hit and all the land would be returned to the clan that owned yet. Yet if the land had been given to a foreigner, that foreigner would be under no obligation to return the land – why would they? So this law actually has very little to do with the permanent possession of a foreign slave (and as we saw there are numerous scenarios where this law actually has nothing to do with perpetual servanthood) but is actually a law intent to protect the inheritance of generations to come from basically what amounts to bad business management.

This is still a far cry from New World Slavery. In New World Slavery an African slave would never be permitted to leave after 6 years debt free and definitely would never ever be permitted to marry a white woman and then having the opportunity to become part of the family with full inheritance rights. In this case we have a foreign servant being granted freedom after 6 years, and possibly being permitted to become not only a Jew, but also marry into a family and have the right of full inheritance.

3.      “If a man sells his daughter as a female slave, she is not to go free as the male slaves do. If she is displeasing in the eyes of her master who designated her for himself, then he shall let her be redeemed. He does not have authority to sell her to a foreign people because of his unfairness to her. If he designates her for his son, he shall deal with her according to the custom of daughters. 10 If he takes to himself another woman, he may not reduce her food, her clothing, or her conjugal rights. 11 If he will not do these three things for her, then she shall go out for nothing, without payment of money. Exodus 21:7-11
a.       Many critics will cast this passage as if it is referring to some kind of sex trafficking, where a man can treat his daughter as a sex object for profit. Nothing could be further from the truth. In sex slavery, the woman is forced to subjugated to rape in underground slave trades, abused by multiple men, have zero rights, and usually is murdered after he usefulness is done. Something that is somewhat of a barrier to us is that we live in a 21st century romance culture – marriages to us are primarily about love, romance and happiness. For better or for worse, this is simply not the cultural milieu of the overwhelming majority of cultures throughout history. While husbands and wives would often come to have quite tender and loving relationships over time, marriage was a means of supporting and protecting one’s family, inheritance, and longevity. While we my bristle at the thought of arranged marriages here in the west, this is simply not a problem for a large portion of people who will read this text.
b.      Secondly what we see in the passage is actually a strong protection of the daughters in these arranged marriages. While the term “slave” here is used, I am not convinced that this is actually referring to servanthood as we have discussed it above. While it is possible that a father might arrange a marriage without a dowry in order to expunge a debt it is also possible that this merely refers to any arranged marriage. This is buffeted considering that wives often expressed themselves as “servants” to their husbands. This was not because of some ownership or lack of legal rights but because they simply did a lot of work around the land – cooking, cleaning, entertaining, etc. The role of a woman was simply drastically different in many ways than it is today. Again, this can raise a whole host of other questions, but for the purpose of this article, the woman, by simply becoming a wife, could easily be called a servant in such a context. This view is also supported by the statement at the beginning, “she is not to go free as the male slaves do.” While critics may try to read this as saying that a female slave has less rights than male slaves, we will see that the passage clearly has marital status in mind and thus this stipulation is here to stop a simply “get out of jail” free card. The man could not simply use her for 6 years and then give her up in shame to go back home (no longer a virgin) and have a much harder time to be married a second time.

What is interesting about this passage however is the rights that are given to the wife – who we will now see is clearly considered a wife. Firstly if the owner is displeased with her, he must allow her to be redeemed by her family. He cannot treat her as property and resell or retrade her to someone else. She is not his property. He must allow her to return to the family. Secondly, if she is given so that the owner can marry her to his son, she must be given all the rights of a full daughter. Thirdly, if the husband decides to take another spouse (this raises a lot of other questions that are beyond the scope of this series) then he cannot treat her as less than a full spouse – he cannot decrease her food, or clothing or “conjugal rights”. Here “conjugal rights” (וְעֹנָתָהּ) a term found only here in the Old Testament, does not necessarily have the sexual overtones that we have for it now when we think of prison visits. While this is certainly included as part of her right as a wife is the ability to bear sons that will insure that her lineage has their rightful inheritance, but also includes all of her rights as a wife in the daily operations and decisions in the home.[2]

It is here that we see that if at any time the husband fails to grant any of these rights to his wife, she must be permitted to go free without any cost to her or to her family. While this law does seem “foreign” to us, that is because it is! Thus while we may struggle to understand arranged marriages in the ancient world, to say that this verse permits sex slavery fails on nearly all levels and shows that the critic has simply failed to do their homework.

4.      “If a man strikes his male or female slave with a rod and he dies at his hand, he shall be punished. 21 If, however, he survives a day or two, no vengeance shall be taken; for he is his property. Exodus 21:20-21
a.       Many critics will assert that this verse permits the brutal beating slaves, that the master can beat their slaves to within an inch of their life but so long as the slave does not die, no harm no foul. There are so many problems with this reading that it is hard to know where to begin. First of all, by simply reading further into the passage we find this in Exodus 21:26-27: 26 “If a man strikes the eye of his male or female slave, and destroys it, he shall let him go free on account of his eye. 27 And if he knocks out a tooth of his male or female slave, he shall let him go free on account of his tooth.” What v20-21 tell us is that if an owner beats a slave to death, the family of the deceased has the right, by law, to seek the capital execution per the law protecting all human life in Israel. This law actually grants rights to the servant! It does not eliminate them as the skeptic would assert. Unlike all other ANE slave codes in which slaves were property and an owner could kill at their discretion, this was not the case in Israel. The servant had an inherent right to life (as we saw in Job the last article, due to the servant also being made in the image of God and thus having the same human worth before God) that not even their master had the right to violate. Yet the verse also protect the master from unnecessary blood feuds. If the servant did not die, then his family could not seek capital punishment. Yet that is not the end of the story.

When we read on to v26-27 we see that if a master is violent to a servant then the servant is set free. The servant has the same right to “eye for an eye” as any free citizen. So if we combine the two laws we see that a master who beats a servant but does not kill him may not be subject to capital punishment, but he is subject to other social and financial repercussions. Sam Harris shows that he totally misses the point, as usual, when he writes, “The only real restraint God counsels on the subject of slavery is that we not beat our slaves so severely that we injure their eyes or their teeth (Exodus 21).”[3] As we have seen, and will see further, there are all kinds of legal protections for servants, but in this case the passage clearly states that a servant has the same rights to physical protection as any other free citizen.

In addition to this, some scholars (such as the ANE Hittologist scholar from the University of Chicago Harry Hoffner) argue that the correct rendering of the passage is not “for he is his property” but rather that “for [it] is his property” and refers to the fee that is prescribed in Exodus 21:18-19 (the section dealing with the penalties for accidental killings) which states, “18 “If men have a quarrel and one strikes the other with a stone or with his fist, and he does not die but remains in bed, 19 if he gets up and walks around outside on his staff, then he who struck him shall go unpunished; he shall only pay for his loss of time, and shall take care of him until he is completely healed.” In this case the master is not only required to set the servant free, but also to pay for any care needed until the servant is able to go on their way and any wages due to him for his loss of time working. So not only would the owner lose the debt that the servant owed to him, he would also be forced to pay for the care of the injured servant and any wages that the servant would have received if he had been working. It turns out that injuring a servant could be extremely costly to the owner.

Any who reads the law so narrowly as to think that the law of an eye for an eye only applies to eyes and teeth and not to bones, and bruises, and fingers and toes, etc (the principle being that one may not harm another physically or otherwise without just reprisal – though the reprisal cannot exceed the crime) has simply not learned how to read. In the light of this, the principle is that if an owner harms a servant (damages and eye, looses a tooth, breaks a bone, etc.) then they are required by law to let the servant go immediately and erase any debt that the servant might still owe to the master. For the skeptic to read this verse as if it is granting permission to the owner to beat their servants up to the point of death is so absurd as to be almost bizarre. It is simply a case of cherry picking where the read the verse to the exclusion of all its surrounding contexts and other relevant laws.

5.      If an ox gores a man or a woman to death, the ox shall surely be stoned and its flesh shall not be eaten; but the owner of the ox shall go unpunished. 29 If, however, an ox was previously in the habit of goring and its owner has been warned, yet he does not confine it and it kills a man or a woman, the ox shall be stoned and its owner also shall be put to death. 30 If a ransom is demanded of him, then he shall give for the redemption of his life whatever is demanded of him. 31 Whether it gores a son or a daughter, it shall be done to him according to the same rule. 32 If the ox gores a male or female slave, the owner shall give his or her master thirty shekels of silver, and the ox shall be stoned.” Exodus 21:28-32
a.       No skeptic really ever cites this verse because it fundamentally undermines their argument. In this passage we see several cases:
b.      First, an ox gores a person to death and the ox is stoned. The owner is unpunished in anyway. (notice not even any fiscal punishment)
c.       Second, an ox with a history of goring, gores a person the ox is stone and the owner is put to death. (This is because he is complicit in the murder because he has failed to stone the ox the first time it gored someone or even to confine it so that it cannot do it again – that is, he is morally culpable for the subsequent deaths due to his negligence.) Yet, if the grieved family simply demands some kind of ransom (a price to pay in place of his life) then he must pay what they demand.
d.      Third, if the ox gores someone’s servant, then the owner has no option but to pay the ransom demanded by the law – 30 shekels. Notice that the punishment for the owner of the ox is steeper if the ox gores a servant! If the ox gores a citizen, and does not have a history of it, then the owner is not required to pay any fine. Yet if the ox gores a servant, and does not have a history of it, then the owner is required to pay the ransom price. In this case the law gives more protection to the servants.

6.      10 ‘No layman, however, is to eat the holy gift; a sojourner with the priest or a hired man shall not eat of the holy gift. 11 But if a priest buys a slave as his property with his money, that one may eat of it, and those who are born in his house may eat of his food. Leviticus 22:11
a.       This again is another verse that no skeptic really seems to ever bring up. The reason is that it is another verse that seems to give special privilege to slaves. In this case if a Levite has a servant, that servant is permitted to eat of the offerings giving to support the Levites whereas not even hired men could eat of it. In fact when we read on in the passage, we see that if his daughter has married a non-Levite then neither she nor her husband’s family could eat from the offering. So these offerings could only be consumed by the Levites and their servants. This was indeed a special privilege and hardly an oppressive view of servants

7.      “39 ‘If a countryman of yours becomes so poor with regard to you that he sells himself to you, you shall not subject him to a slave’s service. 40 He shall be with you as a hired man, as if he were a sojourner; he shall serve with you until the year of jubilee. 41 He shall then go out from you, he and his sons with him, and shall go back to his family, that he may return to the property of his forefathers. 42 For they are My servants whom I brought out from the land of Egypt; they are not to be sold in a slave sale. 43 You shall not rule over him with severity, but are to revere your God. 44 As for your male and female slaves whom you may have—you may acquire male and female slaves from the pagan nations that are around you. 45 Then, too, it is out of the sons of the sojourners who live as aliens among you that you may gain acquisition, and out of their families who are with you, whom they will have produced in your land; they also may become your possession. 46 You may even bequeath them to your sons after you, to receive as a possession; you can use them as permanent slaves. But in respect to your countrymen, the sons of Israel, you shall not rule with severity over one another. 47 ‘Now if the means of a stranger or of a sojourner with you becomes sufficient, and a countryman of yours becomes so poor with regard to him as to sell himself to a stranger who is sojourning with you, or to the descendants of a stranger’s family, 48 then he shall have redemption right after he has been sold. One of his brothers may redeem him, 49 or his uncle, or his uncle’s son, may redeem him, or one of his blood relatives from his family may redeem him; or if he prospers, he may redeem himself. 50 He then with his purchaser shall calculate from the year when he sold himself to him up to the year of jubilee; and the price of his sale shall correspond to the number of years. It is like the days of a hired man that he shall be with him. 51 If there are still many years, he shall refund part of his purchase price in proportion to them for his own redemption; 52 and if few years remain until the year of jubilee, he shall so calculate with him. In proportion to his years he is to refund the amount for his redemption. 53 Like a man hired year by year he shall be with him; he shall not rule over him with severity in your sight. 54 Even if he is not redeemed by these means, he shall still go out in the year of jubilee, he and his sons with him. 55 For the sons of Israel are My servants; they are My servants whom I brought out from the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God. Leviticus 25:39-55
a.       Does this passage teach that foreign slaves could be bought and sold like livestock and kept into perpetuity? This is a rather long passage and I will attempt to be as brief as possible however this is one of the more complex passages that we will come across because in addition to this set of casuistic laws, we must also examine several other passages that deal with foreigners and sojourners in Israel in general.
b.      We see that, contrary to Dawkins and others who cast the Old Testament as being fiercely ethnocentric and xenophobic, there are numerous laws and precepts in the Old Testament regarding the treatment of foreigners and sojourners and all of them state that Israelites are to be kind, hospitable, and compassionate to outsiders. While outsiders could not own land in Israel (again due to the nature of the land belong to God and being distributed to the tribes such that even one Tribe could not own land that belongs to another tribe for longer than 49 years, and must release it back during the year of Jubilee), there were many statutes that state that Israelites were to love “strangers” as themselves such as Leviticus 19:33-3 and Deuteronomy 10:19. There were gleaning laws put in place that allowed for the provision of foreigners (such as Deuteronomy 14:21) and other laws that were put in place to keep foreigners from becoming poor and thus subject to servitude in Israel in the first place (such as Deuteronomy 24:21-22). If a foreigner wanted to own land and become an Israelite that could undergo certain rights of citizenship themselves and marry into a family. The principle of not marrying outsiders was not the kind of racism that is still prevalent in some parts of the US today where in principle whites are not permitted to marry outside their race. In Israel it was entirely cultural – they could not marry out of Israel but they could marry outsiders that were willing to come into Israel. A man could wed his daughter to a Canaanite if that Canaanite was willing to become an Israelite. It had nothing to do with race. But that is somewhat of an aside. The point is that at that point the foreigner had come under the protection of the laws of Israel.

This is also not to mention that a foreign servant always had the option of becoming a Israelite which would then in turn end their status as a foreign servant thereby effectively ending their perpetual status. In addition to this we have no reason to think that a foreign servant would not be granted the same legal rights of servanthood as any servant in Israel. There is nothing that states that if a foreign servant is beaten that the owner would not be required to pay for their care, forgive their debt and let them free. There is nothing that states that a foreign slave could not be redeemed by another Israelite or their own family. The only thing that this passage shows is that a foreign servant does not get freed at the end of six years like a Jewish servant would. There is also nothing in this passage that states that a foreign slave cannot be freed after he has worked off his debt. In fact, we can look at a passage like Deuteronomy 24:17-18 which states, “17 “You shall not pervert the justice due an alien or an orphan, nor take a widow’s garment in pledge. 18 But you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt, and that the Lord your God redeemed you from there; therefore I am commanding you to do this thing.” In this case it seems obvious that a foreign servant was granted the same protection by the law as a Jewish servant. This verse in Deuteronomy indicates the exact opposite. Just because someone was an alien (lit. “foreigner”) the Israelites were not permitted to pervert or withhold justice from them.

8.      10 “When you go out to battle against your enemies, and the Lord your God delivers them into your hands and you take them away captive, 11 and see among the captives a beautiful woman, and have a desire for her and would take her as a wife for yourself, 12 then you shall bring her home to your house, and she shall shave her head and trim her nails. 13 She shall also remove the clothes of her captivity and shall remain in your house, and mourn her father and mother a full month; and after that you may go in to her and be her husband and she shall be your wife. 14 It shall be, if you are not pleased with her, then you shall let her go wherever she wishes; but you shall certainly not sell her for money, you shall not mistreat her, because you have humbled her. Deuteronomy 21:14
a.       This passage is often cited by critics as an example of another admonition of sex slavery. It is supposed by these critics that the verse permits for conquering Israel armies to simply rape and pillage their way through villages and do with women as they please. This again shows a total lack of reading comprehension on the part of the critic. This passage explicitly states that the women left after a campaign could not be considered as sex objects. This passage states that in order for an Israelite to take a woman from a campaign, he must take her as a wife, and in doing so is not permitted to have any sexual relations with her, at the soonest, for over a month. This is absolutely not permission for them to rape on sight any woman that they want while out to war and is in fact directly contrary to that. Notice that the passage states that if a man sees a beautiful woman and has a desire for her, he must take her as a wife. While the realities of the ancient world were brutal, this law actually serves to protect foreign women. If a city was conquered there was no WIC, there was no welfare, there were no shelters. The women were left destitute, homeless, penniless, with no means for survival or inheritance. This law allows for women to not become sex slaves or rape victims, but to become Israelite wives with the full rights thereof. It also protects her from disgrace if the man later changes his mind. He cannot take her and then say that she was just a servant or whatever and trade her or sell her or even “mistreat” her. He must let her go on her way free and clear – to return to family or wherever she chooses. This again is far from legal permission to rape and pillage.

9.      15 “You shall not hand over to his master a slave who has escaped from his master to you. 16 He shall live with you in your midst, in the place which he shall choose in one of your towns where it pleases him; you shall not mistreat him. Deuteronomy 23:15
a.       Like many other passages above, this one is hardly ever adduced on behalf of the skeptic. This law is clearly put in place on behalf of the servant and states that if one finds a runaway servant, that person is under no obligation to return him to their owner and in fact the law says explicitly that they are not to hand them over. This law is likely in place to protect slaves who are being abused by their owners until the city elders can rule on the issue. Basically this law is the logistics of how previous laws are enforced. If an owner treats a servant harshly then that servant can flee and be given safe refuge, a place to live, food to eat and he is free to choose where to live from then on. The person who finds this servant is not only enjoined to not return the slave but also to care and provide for them. This is not only radically different from all other ANE slave codes but also antithetical to Antebellum runaway slave laws in the West that not only demanded the return of the slave but harsh punishments for those who did not.
b.      In fact this verse is found in the section on Deuteronomy dealing with the 8th commandment to not steal. What makes this so interesting is that in all ANE cultures besides Israel to abet a runaway slave was considered theft of property and was heavily punished. In the Code of Hammurabi the punishment is death. It is interesting that here in Deuteronomy when the author is expounding on theft, he begins the entire section, before moving into laws on theft, stating that abeting a runaway slave is not only not theft, but is required by the law for the protection of the runaway. While some scholars have suggested that this would only apply to Jewish servants, the vast majority of scholars believe that this would apply to any and all runaway slaves, either Jewish servants or foreign ones and who ran away from Israelite masters or foreign ones and have escaped to within Israel’s borders.[4]

As we have seen from the survey of the passages above, the Mosaic Law does not permit some kind of violent, hostile or oppressive form of slavery as the critics would like to portray that it does. The laws are universally improvements upon other ANE slave codes and give undeniable rights to life free of abuse or molestation, protects women from destitution and allows for numerous ways for a servant, foreign or otherwise, to gain their freedom. In several cases we even saw, somewhat surprisingly, that the rights and privileges of a servant exceeded that of a regular citizen.

In the next section we will move into the New Testament and look at what it has to say about slavery. We will also look at the role of Christianity in Antebellum New World Slavery in the west and ask whether or not their actions were analogous or antithetical with the Biblical teaching on servanthood.

To continue to part 3 on Slavery in the New Testament:

[1] Unless otherwise noted, I will be using the NASB for the Biblical passages.
[2] Anyone who thinks that a woman’s role in the home was something like “barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen” simply needs to read Proverbs 31:10-31 which tells of the activities of an excellent wife. After reading it one might very well ask, “what did the men actually do?!”
[3] Sam Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation, p.16
[4] Kine, Treaty of the Great King. p.113