Guest Post by Tim Gallant
Non-Christians (and increasingly, those who self-identify as “Christians”) frequently dismiss biblical ethical norms with a quick “Oh, but the Bible condones slavery and polygamy!”
With, of course, the obvious implication that the Bible’s morals are awfully unreliable. Because it “condoned” things that we find offensive, and that even Christians seem embarrassed about. (We Christians, after all, seem agreed by now that both polygamy and slavery are bad.)
And then, having cast aside the Bible as a reliable guide, we enlightened moderns can take on that role of deciding for ourselves what is right and wrong.
Now, there are several answers to that line of argument, one of which is that the Bible does not simply condone either slavery or polygamy; it regulates them, which is not the same thing.
Moreover, the slavery the Bible countenanced was never based on kidnapping, an offense which in fact carried with the death penalty under the Mosaic law (Exodus 21:16). “Slavery” among fellow Israelites was a form of indentured servitude, and “perpetual slavery” was only countenanced in connection with prisoners of war. Even in their case, the Mosaic law did regulate things to avoid their mistreatment. If a slave ran away, other Israelites were forbidden from assisting in his return (Deuteronomy 23:15); and if a slave’s master seriously harmed him, the slave was automatically authorized to go free (Exodus 21:26). Even a slave wife (concubine) was to be granted freedom if her husband ever diminished her marital rights (Exodus 21:10-11).
But there is much more involved in understanding the Bible’s position regarding both slavery and polygamy than scouring the Mosaic law and ensuring a balanced and proper interpretation of these situations through its case laws—as important an exercise as that indeed is. Read more…