Posts I Consider to be the Most Important, Social Justice, Uncategorized

Here’s What Jesus Says About Welcoming Refugees

syrian-refugees-opener-615

(This article originally appeared at OnFaith here.)

At last count, 31 governors have issued statements that they will not allow Syrian refugees to settle in their states. Nevermind that governors probably do not have the power to enforce state borders, their statements have come under fire from many, including evangelicals who usually support conservative political leaders.

Why?

Because this latest example of xenophobia conflicts with the details of Jesus’ life a little too closely.

Turning away refugee families right before we put up Christmas decorations is too ironic.
First, Jesus and his parents were Middle Eastern refugees. The nativity scene, after all, is about a Middle Eastern family looking for a place to stay. Matthew tells us that after Jesus’ birth, Mary and Joseph fled with the baby to Egypt. Turning away refugee families right before we put up Christmas decorations is too ironic even for those who often miss the irony of their political views and professed faith.

Second, Jesus gives an ominous description of the Last Judgment in Matthew 25 that directly speaks to the issue of welcoming the foreigner. In Matthew 25:40, Jesus declares, “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”

Conversely, “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

While one could argue over the definition of “brothers and sisters,” Jesus is known for universalizing the love of neighbor. It is perhaps one of Jesus’ unique contributions to moral teaching in human history. In his depiction of the Last Judgment, Jesus is the King, and He clearly states that how we treat who He calls “the least of these brothers and sisters of mine” is how we treat Him.

Who are “the least of these?”

Jesus says that those who reject “the least of these” will face eternal punishment.
In verse 28, we learn that one category of “the least of these” is the “stranger.” How does Jesus define “stranger?” Matthew was originally written in Greek, and the Greek word that we translate as stranger is xenos. Xenos can be translated into English as “foreigner, immigrant, or stranger.”

In other words, when we don’t welcome the foreigner, Jesus takes it personally.

Let us acknowledge that even though it’s an unpopular thought in twenty-first-century America, Jesus says that those who reject “the least of these” will face eternal punishment. Needless to say, that statement should give pause to all of those who claim to follow Jesus Christ, yet quickly reject the stranger.

We are wise, of course, to ask questions about public safety and the possibility of terrorists embedding themselves within refugee groups. I understand the apprehension that some feel who are sincerely concerned about the safety of U.S. citizens, and I do not dismiss their concerns as trivial. There is another view, however, for us to consider.

Turning away families in their time of need could prove to be a powerful recruiting tool for ISIS.
In addition to Jesus’ warning about the afterlife, conceivably there are earthly consequences to not welcoming the stranger. Perhaps not welcoming refugees would create more terrorists who would seek to harm the United States. Turning away families in their time of need could prove to be a powerful recruiting tool for ISIS. If a mother and father seeking a safe land for their children are denied hospitality, they will not feel goodwill towards the country that rejected them. Furthermore, if their children were to die because of hardship, why would be surprised if grieving parents were to act in revenge?

Finally, one could easily make an argument that rejecting the refugees allows the terrorists to win. Their most powerful weapon is, well, terror. If we fear an attack so intensely that we are willing to deny hospitality to refugee children, who could argue that the terrorists haven’t won? Not only have they taken human lives, they will have succeeded in taking away our humanity.

Many Christians, including conservative evangelicals, realize that Jesus speaks clearly on this matter. No matter how many governors claim there is no room in the inn, the teaching of Jesus is simply too relevant to the current situation for Christians to ignore.

(This article originally appeared at OnFaith here.)

Standard
My Sermons, Posts I Consider to be the Most Important, Sermons and Sermon Series Ideas, Uncategorized

What Does Jesus Say About Same Sex Marriage?

Jesus does not mention homosexuality or same sex marriage in the Gospels.

Some Christians believe that Jesus did, however, when the Pharisees asked him his stance on divorce (divorce, mind you, not same sex marriage). They believe this for two reasons:

  1. Because Matthew 19v9 contains the word porneia, and
  2. Jesus appeals to Genesis 1v27 and 2v24, which acknowledge the obvious fact that human beings are both male and female.

Matthew vs Mark and Luke

Matthew 19v1-12 is very similar to Mark 10v1-12. The majority of Bible scholars believe that Mark was written first (it’s called Markan Priority). For example, 95% of Mark appears in Matthew.

Mark and Matthew are different regarding Jesus’ teaching on divorce. The original Greek of Matthew 19v1-12 includes the word porneia, often translated “sexual immorality,” as grounds for divorce. Mark 10v1-12, the parallel of Matthew 19v1-12, does not include the word porneia. In fact, in Mark 10 and Luke 16v18, Jesus gives no exception to his prohibition of divorce. Matthew adds the porneia clause, which most or all English translations understand to mean adultery, having sex with someone other than the spouse. Matthew also adds a clause to the end of the question that does not appear in Mark, “for any and every reason.”

In addition, Mark, writing primarily to a Greco-Roman audience, indicates that a woman could divorce her husband. Matthew does not include any mention of a woman divorcing her husband. Matthew wrote primarily to Jewish Christians, and in Jewish courts, a woman was not permitted to initiate a divorce. It appears that either Matthew or Mark and Luke contextualized Jesus’ teaching on divorce to their audiences.

These differences, alone, between Mark 10, Luke 16 and Matthew 19 cause problems for proponents of biblical inerrancy, especially those who believe that God is the source of every single word in the Bible. Either Mark and Luke contain an incomplete quote from Jesus, or Matthew adds the adultery clause and omits the clause about a woman initiating a divorce in Mark. Both raise questions that must be considered.

Porneia

In addition, some Christians believe that because the definition of porneia may include same sex acts, and Matthew has Jesus using the word porneia, it follows that Jesus speaks against same sex acts. If it is true that Jesus has same sex acts in mind by the use of porneia (remember, porneia is not included in Mark or Luke as ground for divorce), then Matthew 19 would mean that Jesus permits a man to divorce his wife if she engages in lesbian acts. I suppose this would be the case! However, to fit the context of the passage, the word porneia in Matthew 19 is usually translated into English as adultery or unfaithfulness.

Context

These passages have been used to clobber those who are divorced. This is unfortunate because the context of the passages is different from the context of our 21st century Developed World.

In Mark 10 and Matthew 19, the religious experts ask Jesus a specific question, hotly debated in their time. King Herod Antipas, the local client king of the Roman Empire, had recently divorced his wife so that he could marry his half-brother’s ex wife (!). Famously, John the Baptist criticized Herod’s behavior, and Herod had John executed. Divorce was a hot topic in Jesus’ culture partly because of the selfish, individualistic behavior of royal families.

Here are the actual questions the Pharisees ask Jesus (notice that Matthew adds an additional clause at the end):

  • Mark 10v2, “Some Pharisees came and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”
  • Matthew 19v3, “Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?’”

Notice all of the specific scenarios we connect with marriage and divorce that are not listed in this question:

  • Domestic violence
  • Neglect
  • Emotional abuse
  • Same-sex relationships
  • And, of course, in Matthew there is no mention of a woman divorcing her husband!

In his answer, Jesus does not address any of the above questions that 21st century Americans might have about marriage and divorce.

Rabbis

Polygamy appears in the Old Testament, but monogamy had become the cultural norm for marriage by the time of Jesus. The famous rabbis Hillel and Shammai, contemporaries of Jesus, debated the grounds for divorce that could be used by Jewish men. Hillel gave the more permissive interpretation that a man could divorce his wife for trivial reasons. Shammai gave the interpretation that a man could only divorce his wife because of adultery. A woman was not permitted to divorce her husband in Jewish law, although Roman law did permit a woman to divorce her husband (Mark 10v12).

In Mark 10 and Luke 16, Jesus’ answer is even stricter than that of Shammai. In Matthew 19, His answer is in agreement with Shammai.

Genesis

Some Christians believe that because Jesus quotes Genesis 1v27 and 2v24, stating that God made humans male and female, people who are gay cannot be married. Simply put, pointing out that human beings are both male and female does not prohibit people who are gay from being married.

Reading a statement about same sex marriage into Genesis 1 and 2 is an example of an informal logical fallacy called hasty generalization.

An example of hasty generalization would be: A person visits a farmer’s market and sees that the stand operated by a particular farm is selling only red apples. The person might jump to the hasty generalization that the farm only grows red apples. It may very well be that the farm grows various kinds of apples, but the farmer already sold all of the green ones that day.

Assuming that God condemns same sex relationships because Genesis states that God created males and females is a hasty generalization. Same sex relationships are simply not mentioned in Genesis 1 and 2, nor in Mark 10, Matthew 19 or Luke 16.

By appealing to Genesis 1, Jesus’ answer to the Pharisees is in favor of a committed, monogamous relationship versus a man divorcing his wife for a trivial reason. Neither the question nor the answer addresses homosexuality or same sex marriage.

Again, Jesus’ answer does not address domestic violence, neglect, or even the right of a woman to divorce her husband. These passages cannot even be used to write divorce laws in the U.S., let alone laws regarding same sex marriage.

Marriage is Between…

In current American politics, Genesis 1v27 and 2v24 is used as the biblical support for the slogan “Marriage is between one man and one woman.” I hesitate to say that marriage in biblical cultures was seen as between one man and one woman, because the bride was most likely a teenage girl.

In cultures of both the Old and New Testament, most marriage was an arranged between a 25-30 year old man and a girl who would now be a freshman in high school. The typical monogamous marriage in biblical cultures was between a man and a teenage girl (this probably true of Mary and Joseph, as well).

To be precise, current politicians who want to use the Bible in its cultural context to speak about same sex marriage could say, “Marriage is arranged by the parents and is between one man and one teenage girl.” That doesn’t make for a very good political slogan… and it would require a very large bumper sticker.

Polygamy was common in the cultures that produced the Old Testament. Abraham enters into a polygamous marriage with his slave(!), Hagar. He then divorces her and leaves her to die with their child. Paul commends Abraham’s faith, in Romans 4v3. Solomon famously had 700 wives and 300 concubines. His polygamy is not criticized in 1 Kings 11v2,9-11, but his idolatry is. Polygamy was quite common and uncriticized in the cultures in which the Old Testament was written. Genesis 1 was not used to criticize Abraham or Solomon.

Of course, Genesis 1 is true, that God created human beings as male and female. It’s also true that a small percentage of human beings are born intersex, literally both male and female. That alone creates a question for thoughtful, compassionate people.

Of course, male and female marriage and complementary genitalia makes male-female marriage the statistical norm for the human race. At the same time, we know that there is a percentage of people who do not naturally fit into this mold and are attracted to the same sex. What do we do with those persons whom God has also created?

So far, the standard Evangelical answer to persons who are gay has been, “Either marry someone you’re not attracted to, or live the rest of your life alone, without romantic companionship. If you choose companionship with someone you’re attracted to, then you’re an abomination, a reprobate, and you’re bound for hell… but… God loves you!” For obvious reasons, this does not communicate the love of Jesus to people who are gay.

So What Does Jesus Think Are Grounds for Divorce?

According to Matthew, Jesus says adultery (porneia) is grounds or divorce, but Mark and Luke do not include that clause. If Christians wanted to make a divorce law based on Jesus’ teaching, we would not know which verses should form the basis of the law. Three Gospel passages say two different things about the grounds for divorce.

Regardless, Jesus is not interested in making laws. The Pharisees are the ones interested in debating laws. They wanted to discuss legalistic rules regarding divorce, while Jesus pointed them to the ideal, the bigger story of what God intends for marriage.

Their question to Jesus, (poorly paraphrased) is, “Jesus, what is the minimum reason I can give to trade in my wife for a younger model?”

Jesus’ answer and appeal to Genesis 1v27 and 2v24 is in support of committed monogamy. Jesus answers (poorly paraphrased) “You’re looking for a legal loophole that permits you to commit adultery, but God intends for marriage to mean more than that.”

This is great advice for any marriage.

Standard
Leadership, Posts I Consider to be the Most Important, Preaching, Uncategorized

When Pastors Fall

A friend informed me that another pastor in our area was forced to resign after the church discovered that he was engaging in extramarital affairs. That is the second lead pastor within driving distance of One Church to be caught in affairs in the past two years. We should pray for them, their families and congregations.

As a pastor, I feel the weight of knowing that some people expect me to represent Jesus Christ (a horrifying and impossible task). Of course, any socially well adjusted pastor knows that he or she does not deserve to be placed on a pedestal, but congregations tend to do it anyway. Even worse, some pastors enjoy it.

If you have been disappointed by a spiritual leader:

1. Remember that Jesus is the Leader of the Church (Matthew 16v18).

Don’t “Drink the Kool-Aid” for any pastor. Jesus has earned your trust more than any pastor ever could. You can allow a pastor to lead and teach you, but keep Jesus the main thing.

2. Resist the temptation to become cynical.

Some pastors will betray your trust. Most won’t.

3. Forgive as you have been forgiven.

We have all been disappointed, and unfortunately, we have all disappointed others. It helps to know that forgiveness does not equal trust. Forgiveness can take place in an instant, but rebuilding trust takes time.

Whenever someone disappoints us, we can remember how it feels and choose to not cause that same disappointment in others.

A Sobering Warning

Adultery is a sin to which any person is susceptible, and none of us should assume that we are immune. As the well-known Proverb warns:

“18 Pride goes before destruction,
a haughty spirit before a fall.
19 Better to be lowly in spirit along with the oppressed
than to share plunder with the proud.” [Proverbs 16v18-19]

We also need to know that adultery causes more damage in the form of broken homes, disappointed friends and scarred children than anyone could calculate.

I am aware that people who have already had an affair will read this post, and my intention is not to add further pain to their lives. Anyone considering an affair, however, needs to know that cheating on your spouse will hurt your children deeply and for a long time.

Preventing An Affair

Prevention is option number one. At One Church, one of our values is, “No perfect people allowed.” What we mean by that is that we do not expect our congregation to be super Christians and pretend to have no problems.

Churches who pressure people to pretend are hypocrisy factories. While the Religious Right seems to be focused on preventing same sex marriages, hidden adultery continues to threaten all marriages. For example, I know more than one family in which a spouse acknowledged that he or she was gay after years feeling of pressured to hide it.

We are all dealing with brokenness, so there is no sense in pretending. It is surprisingly freeing to call each others’ bluffs and just admit it.

You have stuff to deal with, and so do I.

Once we admit the obvious, then we can confront our needs, anxiety and addictions. Counseling is readily available. If we don’t face them, they won’t magically go away. We will find ourselves habitually engaging in behaviors that temporarily relieve anxiety but are incredibly destructive to those we love. It’s cliche but true that “If you don’t deal with your baggage, it will deal with you.”

After the Fact

If you have engaged in an extramarital affair, there is good news and bad news.

First the bad news:

Asking God for forgiveness does not remove the pain and consequences for you or your family and friends. God specializes in creating order out of chaos, good from pain, but it will be a far longer and more painful ordering process than you imagined.

Refuse to play the victim game when the process of re-earning their trust takes far longer than you thought.

Now for the good news:

“6 Seek the Lord while he may be found;
call on him while he is near.
7 Let the wicked forsake their ways
and the unrighteous their thoughts.
Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them,
and to our God, for he will freely pardon.” [Isaiah 55v6-7]

God offers mercy and forgiveness to the truly repentant, and He can grow you into the type of person who deals with your baggage and chooses to be faithful. There is always hope.

We pray that, in time, your family and friends will be able to forgive you and heal. They need to, but that is in God’s hands, and you cannot speed up that process.

Your continued faithfulness over the long haul will rebuild their trust.

Standard
Leadership, My Sermons, One Church, Pastors, Posts I Consider to be the Most Important, Preaching, Sermon Illustrations

Why I Welcome People Who Are Gay (Part 4)

World_homosexuality_laws

There are many passages in the Old Testament and several passages in the New Testament that very few Christians in the United States or in the larger Developed World interpret as binding for all time.

Here are only a few examples of social customs found in the Bible:

  • God commands Late Bronze Age Israelite soliders to commit genocide (Deuteronomy 7v1-2, Joshua 10v40, Joshua 11v18-20).
  • Paul instructs women/wives to wear veils in worship services as a sign of male authority or “headship” over them (1 Corinthians 11v-16).
  • Paul instructs slaves to obey their slave masters or remain content in their slavery (1 Corinthians 7v21-24, Ephesians 6v5,)
  • Both the Old Testament and New Testament state that those who are gay deserve death (Leviticus 20v13 , Romans 1v18-32)

If I showed you a map of the world (like the map above) and asked you to point to a country you associate with the social customs I listed, you would point to a country like Saudi Arabia, Iran or a similar nation.

The above social customs are still at home in some parts of the Middle East and Africa today. This should come as no surprise, as the above social customs were informed by Ancient Middle Eastern and Greco-Roman cultures in which the biblical books were written.

The map of the world at the top of this post shows the current status of gay rights on earth. The countries shaded in brown and red either execute those who are gay or impose sentences of life in prison for being gay! The nations in light blue, blue or dark blue (The U.S., U.K., Australia, Germany, France, Brazil and many others) grant basic human rights to those who are gay.

The above social customs are certainly not at home in the 21st century United States of America or in the Developed World. This fact should cause thoughtful Christians to seriously consider how we interpret the Bible and what passages we interpret as binding for all time.

Standard
Leadership, One Church, Pastors, Posts I Consider to be the Most Important, Preaching, Sermon Illustrations

Why I Welcome People Who Are Gay (Part 3)

Confirmation Bias is the tendency to consume only information that confirms what we already believe.

After 20 years of experience in pastoral ministry, I’ve lost count of the conversations I have had with people who held very strong emotional convictions but were not able to articulate logical reasons why.

In addition to confirmation bias, unfortunately, many of us hold opinions based on emotional reasons and social conditioning:

  • Perhaps family and friends have influenced our conviction, and we know that if we were to change our minds, our relationship with them might be strained. What do your family and friends believe about the issue, and how might that influence you?
  • Perhaps we consume media that only conforms what we already believe. How does what you watch on TV, listen to on the radio or read online influence your beliefs?

If we “feel” strongly about an issue but cannot explain why using rational statements that stand up to questioning, this should cause us to consider that we may be wrong on the issue and honestly examine why we believe what we believe.

Read the entire article about Confirmation Bias here- http://youarenotsosmart.com/2010/06/23/confirmation-bias/

(Go to “Why I Welcome Those Who Are Gay- Part 4”)

Standard
Leadership, One Church, Posts I Consider to be the Most Important, Preaching, Sermon Illustrations, Sermons and Sermon Series Ideas

Why I Welcome People Who Are Gay (Part 2)

Here is a simplified list I use to describe how Christians must thoughtfully wrestle with passages in the Bible that raise questions in 21st century developed world.

Some examples of these passages would be:

  • Slavery- Ephesians 6v5, 1 Corinthians 7v21-24
  • Women’s Rights- 1 Corinthians 11v-16, Ephesians 5v22-24
  • Science- Genesis 1-11
  • People who are gay- Leviticus 20v13 , Romans 1v18-32, 1 Corinthians 6v9

A Simplified Guide for Interpreting Difficult Passages

1. God inspired human authors to author the biblical books (this does not imply dictation).

2. Because human authors are involved in the authorship of scripture, all scripture is culturally conditioned.

3. The culture of the 21st century developed world differs in many ways from the cultures in which the biblical books were written.

4. When we interpret the Bible we must determine what is God’s eternal instruction and what is culture bound.

5. When the view of the 21st century developed world differs from a biblical teaching, we should thoughtfully and seriously consider whether or not we should interpret the passages as eternally binding.

 

(Go to “Why I Welcome Those Who Are Gay- Part 3”)

Standard
My Sermons, One Church, Pastors, Posts I Consider to be the Most Important, Preaching, Sermons and Sermon Series Ideas

The Bible and Slavery

The following is from my sermon, “What Does the Bible Teach about Slavery and Sexuality?” (October 20, 2013). All Scripture quotes are from the NIV.

In the early 1860s, slavery divided our nation to the extent that 600,000 to 750,000 Americans killed each other during the Civil War.

Historian Mark Noll authored The Civil War as a Theological Crisis. His theme is that the Civil War was a crisis of biblical interpretation. Because the Bible is ambiguous on the topic of slavery, American Christians were not sure which way to interpret it. He suggests that the Bible’s ambiguity on slavery may have been the most important reason that America experienced the Civil War.

It may be shocking to some to learn that the Bible does not call slavery a sin.

Here is a very brief overview of the Bible on slavery:

The Bible mentions slavery 200 times and “servant” hundreds more. Not once does the Bible call slavery a sin or say that slavery should be made illegal. 1 Timothy 1v10 does condemn slave traders, but out of hundreds of mentions, the Bible does not once call slavery a sin or state that slavery should be abolished.

If a professor asked you to write a paper on slavery, and you mentioned the word “slavery” 200 times in your paper, could we expect that you would call slavery a moral wrong and suggest that slavery should be illegal at least once?

If you were to write in your paper that slavery should be illegal, you would not have gotten that idea from the Bible. You would have gotten that idea from 21st century American culture. American culture, not the Bible, tells you that slavery should be illegal.

Examples of Bible Verses on Slavery

We love egalitarian verses like Galatians 3v28:

“There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”

But then we read verses about slavery that do not communicate a message of which Christians can be proud. For example, Paul exhorts the Christians living in the city of Corinth that they should be content in life in whatever circumstances they find themselves. He then writes:

“21 Were you a slave when called? Do not be concerned about it. Even if you can gain your freedom, make use of your present condition now more than ever. 22 For whoever was called in the Lord as a slave is a freed person belonging to the Lord, just as whoever was free when called is a slave of Christ. 23 You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of human masters. 24 In whatever condition you were called, brothers and sisters, there remain with God.”

Then, Ephesians 6v5-9 reads:

“5 Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart, as you obey Christ; 6 not only while being watched, and in order to please them, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. 7 Render service with enthusiasm, as to the Lord and not to men and women, 8 knowing that whatever good we do, we will receive the same again from the Lord, whether we are slaves or free.

9 And, masters, do the same to them. Stop threatening them, for you know that both of you have the same Master in heaven, and with him there is no partiality.”

21st century Americans would not tell a slave to be content in his or her enslavement. In the same way, we like the end of Ephesians 5v9, the “no partiality” part. It’s just that even that statement is within the context of telling slaves to obey their masters as though their masters are Jesus.

Last year, I asked a guy what he thought Ephesians 6v5 meant. He said, “I should do a good job for my boss at work.” Unfortunately, that verse is not about his job, for which he receives a paycheck and that he can quit at any time. It’s about slavery.

What’s worse is that slavery is not just a relic of the past. We still have slavery in America. Human smuggling and sex trafficking take place on a daily basis. Just this past week, a world slavery study was released finding that slavery is alive and well all over the planet.

Imagine, that you are refilling your car at a gas station in Chandler, and a man runs up to you, out of breath. In broken English, he tells you that he just escaped from someone who has been holding him as a slave. The person smuggled him across the border and promised him his freedom, but now he’s been held as a slave for the past year on this man’s farm. Would you quote Ephesians 6:5 to him, and say “Well, the Word of God says, “‘Slaves obey your masters?'”

You wouldn’t quote Ephesians 6v5 to him, would you? You would call the police. Why? The Bible says slaves should obey their masters. You would call the cops because you’re a 21st century American, and 21st century American culture tells you that slavery is immoral and has been made illegal.

For those who have this view of the Bible that it was dropped out of heaven and has no need of being interpreted, this verse says that practice is not a very good idea, doesn’t it?

The Bible Used to Defend Slavery

This verse and others like it were quoted in many sermons in the Southern United States in the 1800’s to defend the practice of slavery.

A pastor named Richard Furman wrote a letter to the governor of South Carolina in 1838 using the Bible to defend slavery:

“In things purely spiritual, they (masters and slaves) appear to have enjoyed equal privileges; but their relationship, as masters and slaves, was not dissolved. Their respective duties are strictly enjoined. The masters are not required to emancipate their slaves; but to give them the things that are just and equal, forbearing threatening; and to remember, they also have a master in Heaven….”

“Had the holding of slaves been a moral evil, it cannot be supposed, that the inspired Apostles, who
feared not the faces of men, and were ready to lay down their lives in the cause of their God, would have tolerated it, for a moment, in the Christian Church… But, instead of this, they let the relationship remain untouched, as being lawful and right, and insist on the relative duties.”

The consensus of the Bible on slavery is that slaves should obey their masters, masters should treat their slaves with respect, as equals in God’s eyes. The Bible does not say that slavery is wrong and should be made illegal.

Reverend Henry Van Dyke in 1860, “The tree of Abolition is evil… (it) is nourished by an utter rejection of the Scriptures.”

The Teaching of Jesus

Mark Noll suggests that legal slavery was not abolished in the U.S. by following Bible verses specifically about slavery. He suggests that legal slavery truly ended in America when Christians in the North realized that the African American slave was their neighbor. Then, the overarching teaching of Jesus activated, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” This is when Christians realized that it should not be legal to enslave their neighbors.

These verses that address slavery in the Old and New Testaments are out of step with 21st century American culture. No Bible-believing Christian would quote these verses to a slave. In fact, in some states, if you were to quote Ephesians 6v5 to a slave, you could be prosecuted as an accomplice to hostage taking.

In fairness to Paul, Paul never dreamed of a country where slavery would be illegal. He was speaking out of his own cultural knowledge of slavery.

The Bible and 21st Century U.S. Values

There is an enormous cultural gap between 21st century North America and Paul’s experience of the Roman Empire. It took 1,700 years after Paul’s life for nations to begin making slavery illegal. The Bible knows nothing of abolition.

Are the Bible’s statements on slavery at home in 21st century America? Of course not.

If Paul were writing his letters today in the Southeast Valley of Phoenix, do you think he would make statements about slavery that are different than those we have in the New Testament? We certainly hope so.

Just as American Christians changed their interpretation of the Bible on religious violence, science and women’s rights over time, American Christians interpreted the Bible’s statements on slavery differently over time, as cultural shifts took place.

Standard