The 16th century intellectual and spiritual leader that kickstarted the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther, had a very negative, anti-Semitic side to his personality. It impacted numerous major social and political actions over the next four hundred years.
Luther wrote astoundingly hateful things about the Jews. Through his power of ecclesiastical authority, despicable behaviors and vengeful ideas were boldly promoted against God’s original “chosen people” who were distinctly outside of Christian community. Many strands in the mainstream of Christian theology have long asserted that followers of Christ are the new chosen people, thus filling the position instead of the Jews. Within the long tradition of heartily confident “messengers of God” and since he was undergirded by many easily appropriated biblical mandates that God delivered in the Old Testament, Luther was able to convince generations of Germans (up through at least the mid-20th century) that the Jews, as an entire race and without individual exception, deserved to be regularly humiliated, robbed of their money and property, removed from the country, and even killed.
(See quotes from and links to Luther’s writings on the Jews at the bottom of this article.)
Luther’s violent intolerance of non-believers was guided and fueled by many passages from the Holy Scriptures like this one:
When you march up to attack a city, make its people an offer of peace. If they accept and open their gates, all the people in it shall be subject to forced labor and shall work for you. If they refuse to make peace and they engage you in battle, lay siege to that city. When the Lord your God delivers it into your hand, put to the sword all the men in it. As for the women, the children, the livestock and everything else in the city, you may take these as plunder for yourselves. And you may use the plunder the Lord your God gives you from your enemies. This is how you are to treat all the cities that are at a distance from you and do not belong to the nations nearby. However, in the cities of the nations the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes. Completely destroy them—the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites—as the Lord your God has commanded you. Otherwise, they will teach you to follow all the detestable things they do in worshiping their gods, and you will sin against the Lord your God. (Deuteronomy 20:10-18 NIV)
In deep contrast to the idea of loving other people groups as themselves, the biblical God commanded the Israelites to commit genocide upon their polytheistic, “heathen” neighbors. This laid a foundation that would ethically allow disciples of Jesus around the world to look at non-believers with severe disregard and dehumanizing attitudes. It would enable believers to kill other Christian groups because only one of them could be correctly interpreting the Scriptures. It would give them moral strength to stand on God’s side against the demonic powers of non-biblical society. They could invade the Middle East to conquer Jerusalem during the Crusades and justify annihilating an enormous number of “infidels”, a term long used by Christians to describe Muslims. Followers of Christ were able to feel morally justified while abusing, enslaving, or exterminating millions of Native Americans and Africans, people groups that practiced animistic, polytheistic, or Muslim forms of religion. Straightforward examples of deeply inhumane teachings from the Scriptures like Deuteronomy 20:10-18 were used to motivate the Spanish Inquisition to imprison, torture or execute any suspected doubters, heretics or apostates. In Matthew 18:21-35, Jesus speaks as if the institution of slavery is normal and acceptable, even saying that God and human masters are justified in torturing disobedient slaves. The historical record shows many more horrific results that came from imitations of various biblical teachings. This was overt bigotry and cruelness in the extreme, specifically presented and framed in the holy texts as being divinely commanded or authorized. God said. Thus saith the Lord.
Consider the precedent established by passages like this one in which God directs the Jews to murder people that worship other gods, either as individuals or entire cities:
If your very own brother, or your son or daughter, or the wife you love, or your closest friend secretly entices you, saying, “Let us go and worship other gods” (gods that neither you nor your ancestors have known, gods of the peoples around you, whether near or far, from one end of the land to the other), do not yield to them or listen to them. Show them no pity. Do not spare them or shield them. You must certainly put them to death. Your hand must be the first in putting them to death, and then the hands of all the people. Stone them to death, because they tried to turn you away from the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. Then all Israel will hear and be afraid, and no one among you will do such an evil thing again. If you hear it said about one of the towns the Lord your God is giving you to live in that troublemakers have arisen among you and have led the people of their town astray, saying, “Let us go and worship other gods” (gods you have not known), then you must inquire, probe and investigate it thoroughly. And if it is true and it has been proved that this detestable thing has been done among you, you must certainly put to the sword all who live in that town. You must destroy it completely, both its people and its livestock. (Deuteronomy 13:6-15)
An article in The Guardian sketches out how the command of God in the Old Testament to murder the entire Amalekite people group, including all children and livestock in 1 Samuel 15:3, affected the beliefs and actions of many Christians thousands of years later:
The story of the Amalekites has been used to justify genocide throughout the ages. According to Pennsylvania State University Professor Philip Jenkins, a contributing editor for the American Conservative, the Puritans used this passage when they wanted to get rid of the Native American tribes. Catholics used it against Protestants, Protestants against Catholics. “In Rwanda in 1994, Hutu preachers invoked King Saul’s memory to justify the total slaughter of their Tutsi neighbors,” writes Jenkins in his 2011 book, Laying Down the Sword: Why We Can’t Ignore the Bible’s Violent Verses (HarperCollins).
On the Jews and Their Lies, written by Luther in 1543, is the most anti-Semitic writing by a famous leader that I have ever heard about, comparable or even worse than Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf. After reading it, I am not surprised that many historians credit Luther as one of the forefathers of modern anti-Semitism. Hatred and bitterness toward the Jews certainly existed in Germany and elsewhere long before Luther wrote this, but he is considered by numerous scholars to be a very influential force within Protestant European history toward developing these excessively malevolent and dehumanizing views of the Jewish people.
As the Evangelical Church in Germany said in 2016:
In the lead-up to the Reformation anniversary [the year 2017] we cannot bypass this history of guilt. The fact that Luther’s anti-Judaic recommendations in later life were a source for Nazi anti-Semitism is a further burden weighing on the Protestant churches in Germany.
It is very sad and yet strange that the kinds of abuses the Jews experienced throughout Western history by believers in the Judeo-Christian God were much the same as the types that Jews (because of commands from this God) used against the multiple nations they stole land from and mass murdered in the Jewish Bible (Christian Old Testament). The first genocides against and conquests over the Jews’ neighbors were justified, according to God, due to the grand wickedness of these people groups. Later, when particular Christian leaders, such as Luther, appealed to the Bible to support actions that appear quite evil to most Western people now, they needed merely turn to one of many passages in their Bible to reference the blueprint for that order of deed in that sort of situation.
The obvious correlation between multiple atrocities committed in the name of the biblical God throughout world history after Christ’s earthly life and what numerous readings in the Scriptures actually teach is denied by many contemporary orthodox Christians who say that individuals, whether revered and experienced Christian disciples or not, have the choice to carry out horrendous injustice or to trust in God and demonstrate loving action to other people. The logical difficulty with this assertion is that history provides countless examples of people who followed gruesome, often arbitrary, biblical commands with precise religious adherence and therefore embraced the habits of deep cruelty, indifference and severe destruction of human life (and sometimes non-human aspects of nature as well). As I explained in another post, although many positive results in the progress of human culture have occurred through Christianity’s influence, the despicable aspects of this belief system and religion are just as strong. To its monumental shame, the Bible directly or indirectly endorses or reinforces inhumane conventions such as misogyny, seasonal and colonial warfare, genocide and slavery.
One possible reason as to why traditional Christian leaders today, as official representatives standing by “God’s one holy book”, do not take considerable responsibility for the toxic effects of these portions of the Bible is that they are viewing it from within the unique position of a modern, democratic, post-Enlightenment and individualistic society that expects each person to critically examine how to apply instructions from religion, philosophy and spirituality in appropriately different ways for each circumstance. However, because separation of church and state is a fairly recent concept historically, whenever Christians of past eras came into political, economic or military power, they often chose the apparently best model to follow in governance: the Old Testament patterns of theocratic authoritarianism and violent defense of national religious purity. Unfortunately, the Bible didn’t provide clear enough tools with which to sort out the morally antiquated or irrelevant teachings within itself when Christians encountered complex problems and didn’t have the “voice of God” present to tell them exactly how to proceed (assuming that God, if directly engaged in conversation, would have objected to these forms of political power in post-biblical times). Many Christian scholars of the past who are recognized by traditional believers to have had brilliant intelligence and mostly saintly character (especially in regard to the spiritual and theological quality of their writings), used the Bible to advocate or justify abhorrent conduct: Tertullian (misogyny), John Chrysostom (misogyny), Augustine (misogyny), Thomas Aquinas (misogyny), Martin Luther (murder of non-believers), John Knox (misogyny), Ulrich Zwingli (murder of non-believers), John Calvin (murder of non-believers), Jonathan Edwards (slavery), George Whitefield (slavery) and numerous others. Were they ill-informed? Were they radically immature in their spirituality? It seems quite far-fetched to think these men were incapable of figuring out in their hearts or minds the very basic ethical components of “loving one’s neighbor”. Instead, the evidence reveals substantial (but not total) culpability first with the Scriptures themselves because of the virulent content found in many of its texts.
After reading the excerpt below from the Wikipedia page for On the Jews and Their Lies, it should not be difficult to see how the Nazis found common ground with and even much guidance from Luther’s plan to brutally remove the Jews from Germany or eliminate them altogether. A search through the text on Google Books shows that the Wikipedia entry is accurate.
In the treatise, Luther writes that the Jews are a “base, whoring people, that is, no people of God, and their boast of lineage, circumcision, and law must be accounted as filth.” [They are] an “incorrigible whore and an evil slut.” He argues that their synagogues and schools be set on fire, their prayer books destroyed, rabbis forbidden to preach, homes razed, and property and money confiscated. They should be shown no mercy or kindness, afforded no legal protection, and…should be drafted into forced labor or expelled for all time. He also seems to advocate their murder, writing “we are at fault in not slaying them.”
Here is Wikipedia’s full description of it.
These are some highlights and excerpts.
This is the full text.
Because of the facts illustrated above, I believe it’s very important for Christians and non-Christians to be aware of many reasons why critics question the morality of the ideas and practices from church history’s greatest theologians, along with the Scriptures that influenced them. The Bible is said by many conservatives and traditionalists to be completely trustworthy and virtuous in what it teaches. Yet, great errors and barbarisms have spread numerous times because Christians rigorously applied certain themes, precepts or sections from it. This occurred because particular elements of the texts set a very destructive model or example to follow. These were not the “love your neighbor as yourself” type of messages and they were not ambiguous in their brutality or the righteous fervor that justified it.
The Bible didn’t inspire the Crusades, American slavery, or anti-Semitism. People’s inaccurate view of the Bible pulled from its historical context became the scapegoat for the real catalyst of the horrific events in history – namely pride and depravity. Any reading of the Bible in its context will lead the reader to liberation, equality, and hope. Compare slavery in the Law of Moses to slavery in America and the results will be two completely different kind of institutions. On the one hand, slaves were contracted debtors witch civil rights who payed off their debt; on the other hand, slaves were property who had no right of petition and no contract.
Thank you for that response, Jonathan.
A few points:
1. Do you think there is no connection between God’s extreme pressure on Jews to avoid the moral and spiritual “toxicity” from their pagan neighbors to the occasional point of directed extermination and the behavior of many premodern and early modern Christian leaders and lay people who said clearly that they viewed the unbelievers in a very similar way so that if these heathens were not converted the wickedness inside them would spread and so they must eliminated? If so, why? (I would like more detail than just saying people are fallen, selfish, etc.)
2. How do you explain this part of what I wrote in the post above?:
“Many Christian scholars of the past who are recognized by traditional believers to have had brilliant intelligence and mostly saintly character (especially in regard to the spiritual and theological quality of their writings), used the Bible to advocate and/or justify abhorrent conduct: Thomas Aquinas (misogyny), Martin Luther (murder of non-believers), John Calvin (murder of non-believers), Jonathan Edwards (slavery), George Whitefield (slavery) and numerous others. Were they ill-informed? Were they radically immature in their spirituality? It seems quite far-fetched to think these men were incapable of figuring out in their hearts or minds the very basic ethical components of ‘loving one’s neighbor’. Instead, the evidence reveals substantial (but not total) culpability first with the Scriptures themselves because of the virulent content found in many of its texts.”
3. I think that Christianity has likely done more to improve the world than any other religion. But, I think the bad in this faith outweighs the good. It would be better to replace it (by persuasion, not force or intimidation) with more humanistic spiritual or communal practices or just secularism in general. Modern humanism has a far better track record of utilizing available ideas, whether from religion, philosophy or science, in the areas of advancing human rights and quality of life. A significant portion of this is based on the positive aspects from Christianity and ancient Greece and Rome. Modern humanism has adapted a wide range of such methods and concepts and helped to put the world in a greatly enhanced condition compared to any previous time in history. It’s surely imperfect, but still much superior in performance to the alternatives.
In support of that claim, here are some summarizing quotes from elsewhere on this blog:
“The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined by Steven Pinker (This remarkable book shows that, contrary to traditional Christian forecasts of inevitably high rates of violence in our “monstrously corrupt and sinful world”, the planet has become far more peaceful than in any other time in history. The Bible’s apocalyptic imagery doesn’t seem as probable nowadays since things like warfare, rape, murder, legal and illegal slavery, bullying, lynchings, racism, sexism and animal abuse are all in radical decline. This process started when societies began to organize away from hunter-gatherer communities between 7,000-10,000 years ago into structured civilizations, but shifted to an accelerated level of reform during the 18th century’s Age of Enlightenment. Though many modern Christian writers have argued that the reduction in violence has its roots in biblical values, the historical changes didn’t occur during previous 1400 years of Judeo-Christian dominance over much of the world. Even today among Western nations and individual states within the U.S., those which are the most conservative and religious are the most violent and plagued with far greater social problems in categories like overall crime, infant mortality, environmental abuse, teen pregnancy, incarceration, life expectancy, poor educational systems, murder, healthcare efficiency, average worker to CEO pay ratio, paid maternity leave, obesity, income inequality and minimal worker’s benefits. For example, on the Quality of Life Index for 2010, the United States – the most religious and conservative country in the developed world – ranked 33rd overall, 39th in health, 24th in education, 17th in wealth, 15th in democracy, 77th in peace, 38th in environment.)
The links above at “book” and “today” are to articles on Persuade Me Politics, my blog on politics where I’ve collected and analyzed a lot of related data.
1. The difference between the Bible and the Quran can be used to explain this. The Quran requires action here and now, and the Imams have coded their own teachings that require jihad. The Bible does not require government action or a kingdom here and now. The kingdom of the God of the Bible cannot be established by men but only at the time of God’s revelation in the end through His chosen Messiah figure. So there is no pressure from the Bible to enact the Law of Moses at this time, and even in the past, the Law of Moses was enforced only within the borders of ancient Israel. This the biggest difference, the primary reason any true reading of the Bible will not result in violence, but a true reading of the Quran and the teachings of the Imams will result in violence.
2. Since the height of the nation of Israel under David or perhaps the righteous rule of Josiah, there hasn’t been a nation that has implemented the teachings of the Bible in a just way. Every one of the people mentioned have ignored fundamental portions of the Bible in order to extract from context certain verses to use as mantras and political ideologies. Martin Luther, for example, mis-appropriated Paul’s teaching that whoever rejects Jesus Christ is anti-Christ. While Paul referred to the agnostics of his time, Martin Luther applied this to the Jews, ignoring Paul’s other words in his letter to the Romans, where Paul said the Jews kept the charge of preserving the very words of God. Martin Luther proceeded to advocate that which was against the commandments of God and even the teaching of Paul, that is, making a distinction between Jew and non-Jew, i.e. being racist. You have Martin Luther the racist and Martin Luter King Jr. the anti-racist both “believing” the same book. But King applied the principles holistically, while Luther chose what he wanted to believe from the Bible. Yet, as Yehovah himself stated: “Do not add…. and do not take away…. from what I have commanded…” (Deut 4 and 12).
3. You can’t look at the US now in order to see the validity of Biblical ethics, because the US has very few today. You have to look at William Bradford and the Plymouth Plantation. Compare the Puritan lifestyle at Plymouth with the agnostic lifestyle of those in Jamestown. Plymouth operated under a Biblical principles, individual responsibility, and individual charity. Jamestown was more socialist.
4. On a somewhat side note, when you mention “pride and depravity” I assume that you would connect this originally with rebellion against God by the first humans. I have asked a lot of apologists and never got a solid answer to these related questions: Is there any historical, psychological or scientific evidence of a fall of humankind? How do we know that people didn’t arrive or evolve on the planet as innately prideful and depraved?
Though many American and British Christians in the 1700s-1800s were involved in the abolition movement, they were massively outnumbered by Christian pastors and lay people who supported slavery from a Old and New Testament position. William Wilberforce worked for over 40 years in England against the Christian majority for the freedom of the slaves. In America, pro-slavery sentiment went virtually unchallenged until around the time of the Revolutionary War (which correlates with a flourishing of Enlightenment ideas and humanistic versions of deism and theism in America). Northern pastors wrote as much if not more than their Southern equivalents in the way of pamphlets refuting abolition from a biblical standpoint. In the mid-1700s, George Whitefield, a famous and influential cleric, advocated for the reinstitution of slavery in Georgia, as it had been the only penal colony in the British Empire to have banished the practice. Renowned pastor and theologian Jonathan Edwards, owned slaves. Both were major figures in the First Great Awakening (1730s-1740s). Given the inevitable ethical darkness that follows a society that endorses and depends on the ownership of other persons, consider this description of that historical event that laid the foundation for modern American Christianity:
“The Great Awakening was an evangelical and revitalization movement that swept Protestant Europe and British America, and especially the American colonies in the 1730s and 1740s, leaving a permanent impact on American Protestantism. It resulted from powerful preaching that gave listeners a sense of deep personal revelation of their need of salvation by Jesus Christ. Pulling away from ritual, ceremony, sacramentalism and hierarchy, the Great Awakening made Christianity intensely personal to the average person by fostering a deep sense of spiritual conviction and redemption, and by encouraging introspection and a commitment to a new standard of personal morality.”
That last sentence is startling, as it mentions conviction, redemption, introspection, commitment and a new standard of morality from within a thoroughly evangelical and biblical framework. Whitefield and Edwards, two key leaders of this revered movement were very educated, “spiritual” and dedicated to following Christ. Yet, just like the bulk of the millions of American Christians in their era, slavery was not a problem worth serious (or even significant) wrestling over.
Of course, the majority Northern attitude among Christians began to gradually change toward pro-abolition as the decades passed.
(I’ll be glad to provide academic references for all claims made above, if requested, but they’re easy for anyone to fact check.)
I’m aware that indentured servitude was a common practice in the ancient world and that it wasn’t the same thing as slavery then or the chattel slavery of early American history.
I recognize that forms of slavery from various eras and cultures have different qualities and components. What they generally have in common is the ownership of another human being, which is unethical.
God could’ve offered another option. In the Torah, he gave the Jews scroll upon scroll of new, virtually impossible laws to live up to, so giving them a tough anti-slavery policy in exchange for a new counter-cultural alternative to slavery is not unthinkable. Given the terrible injustices and dehumanization inherent in any kind of servant or slave system, why wouldn’t an all-wise God give them a political/economic system as far advanced and humane as possible? Virtually every country in the world today, even the most backward, uneducated and disorganized, have abolished slavery and indentured servitude and found ways to function without it. It’s inexcusable for God to have not done far more to prevent the inevitable evil that would come from the jumbled bunch of mixed messages in Scripture, that of fear based savagery and theocracy, much of it leaning toward the outright inhumane in the case of slavery.
“He who kidnaps a man, whether he sells him or he is found in his possession, shall surely be put to death.” (Exodus 21:16)
***Based on other verses and general themes in Scripture that overtly support having slaves from indentured servitude, military conquest or standard human trafficking, should I infer that it’s biblically acceptable to purchase and sell people as slaves as long as the slaves that one’s selling are not ones that they stole? This verse is saying that it wasn’t moral to steal people to sell as slaves, even though all slaves other than indentured servants would have been stolen at some point in the past or either their ancestors were taken against their wills. Further, from several online scholarly commentaries that I looked over, it seems that Exodus 21 is focused on the topic of Hebrew slaves, not slaves from other races.***
“However, you may purchase male or female slaves from among the foreigners who live among you. You may also purchase the children of such resident foreigners, including those who have been born in your land. You may treat them as your property, passing them on to your children as a permanent inheritance. You may treat your slaves like this, but the people of Israel, your relatives, must never be treated this way.” (Leviticus 25:44-46 NLT)
***These slaves can be purchased and later given to one’s children as a permanent inheritance. And Israelites were to be treated better than foreigners. As biblical scholar Thom Stark has written, “all sorts of special exemptions were given to Israelites that didn’t apply to foreigners. Israelites were to be given no-interest loans, but foreigners were to be charged interest. Israelites were to have their debts forgiven on jubilee (once every 50 years), but the debts of foreigners were not to be forgiven.”***
“When a man strikes his male or female slave with a rod so hard that the slave dies under his hand, he shall be punished. If, however, the slave survives for a day or two, he is not to be punished, since the slave is his own property.” (Exodus 21:20-21 NAB)
***Slaves were not treated as full human beings. Beatings were okay, as long as the slave didn’t die. Why this leniency? The verse explains it’s because the slave is the property of the offender.***
“They fought against Midian, as the Lord commanded Moses, and killed every man. Among their victims were Evi, Rekem, Zur, Hur and Reba—the five kings of Midian. They also killed Balaam son of Beor with the sword. The Israelites captured the Midianite women and children and took all the Midianite herds, flocks and goods as plunder. They burned all the towns where the Midianites had settled, as well as all their camps. They took all the plunder and spoils, including the people and animals, and brought the captives, spoils and plunder to Moses and Eleazar the priest and the Israelite assembly at their camp on the plains of Moab, by the Jordan across from Jericho. Moses, Eleazar the priest and all the leaders of the community went to meet them outside the camp. Moses was angry with the officers of the army—the commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds—who returned from the battle. ‘Have you allowed all the women to live?’ he asked them. ‘They were the ones who followed Balaam’s advice and enticed the Israelites to be unfaithful to the Lord in the Peor incident, so that a plague struck the Lord’s people. Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man.'” (Numbers 31:7-18 NIV)
***Plunder, enslavement and conquest followed by further mass murder of boys and women except not of virgin women that are given to the male Jews.***
“The Lord will have compassion on Jacob; once again he will choose Israel and will settle them in their own land. Foreigners will join them and unite with the descendants of Jacob. Nations will take them and bring them to their own place. And Israel will take possession of the nations and make them male and female servants in the Lord’s land. They will make captives of their captors and rule over their oppressors.” (Isaiah 14:1-2 NIV)
***This is a future event told by one of God’s prophets. He explains a future blessing on God’s people, which includes stealing of human beings (entire nations) to be slaves.***
***Those many New Testament verses that teach submission of slaves to masters fall within this brutal context of captured/conquered slaves, indentured servants, stolen slaves, etc.***
Comparing slavery in the Bible to American slavery is a great study. For instance, if a slave ran away in ancient Israel, it was forbidden to return the slave to the master. In the New Testament, Paul encouraged the runaway slave to return to his master because they were both Christians and were supposed to demonstrate brotherly love more than if they were not Christians. But returning a slave was strictly forbidden.
And regarding the American Christians and slavery, well, they were pretty ignorant about what Biblical slavery was. Reading about slavery in Israel and thinking of Uncle Tom’s Cabin is called the fallacy of anachronism.
Jonathan, I look forward to hearing more of your thoughts on what I’ve said above and below when you have time. I included a lot of details there that you haven’t addressed yet.
You said, “The Bible does not require government action or a kingdom here and now. The kingdom of the God of the Bible cannot be established by men but only at the time of God’s revelation in the end through His chosen Messiah figure. So there is no pressure from the Bible to enact the Law of Moses at this time, and even in the past, the Law of Moses was enforced only within the borders of ancient Israel.”
This might be a good and fair interpretation of biblical theology, but as I mentioned, many sincere and educated theologians and other Christian leaders throughout Church history have come to starkly different conclusions. Any honest person can admit that much of the Bible is difficult to interpret. The messages are often not clear. Why didn’t God communicate in a universal way that people of different ages and times could understand? Why didn’t God simply explain to the Israelites through Moses that genocide was wrong, women were to be treated as equals, they weren’t allowed to buy foreign slaves and couldn’t forcefully take over people’s land? Why didn’t God help the biblical message get to the human race on a wide scale until about 200 years ago? Why did God wait between 100,000-300,000 years to reveal anything about herself or himself other than vague “truths” of nature – which 99% of the human race sincerely understood as representing animism, pantheism, panentheism, polytheism or atheism? Out of the thousands of mythologies and religions worldwide, only Zoroastrianism and the Abrahamic faiths advocated for monotheism (and quite a large portion of the Jewish community practiced types of polytheism on a regular basis throughout the Old Testament – you can say this was simply rebellion, but it’s much more than that since this bent toward non-monotheism was so overwhelmingly dominant historically). It’s absurd to expect people to “read” the mind-boggling, heart-wrenching and often confusing hodgepodge of brutality, order, destruction, predation, beauty, waste, divine silence, callousness and inhumane “morality” of nature along with an innately hazy spiritual sense and then conclude that monotheism is surely true and well-rounded humane ethics are essential and self-evident. As I commented above:
“One possible reason as to why traditional Christian leaders today, as official representatives standing by ‘God’s one holy book’, do not take considerable responsibility for the toxic effects of these portions of the Bible is that they are viewing it from within the unique position of a modern, democratic, post-Enlightenment and individualistic society that expects each person to critically examine how to apply instructions from religion, philosophy and spirituality in appropriately different ways for each circumstance. However, because separation of church and state is a fairly recent concept historically, whenever Christians of past eras came into political, economic or military power, they often chose the apparently best model to follow in governance: the Old Testament patterns of theocratic authoritarianism and violent defense of national religious purity. Unfortunately, the Bible didn’t provide clear enough tools with which to sort out the morally antiquated or irrelevant teachings within itself when Christians encountered complex problems and didn’t have the ‘voice of God’ present to tell them exactly how to proceed (assuming that God, if directly engaged in conversation, would have objected to these forms of political power in post-biblical times).”
Even if the apparently barbaric practices instructed by God in the Torah and elsewhere in the Old Testament are not to be repeated, what do the original instructions say about the character of God potentially being at least partly cruel or evil?
To me, the fact of more than 300 million years of animal suffering built in the cosmos eliminates any foundation of full goodness in God. To argue that the nearly countless instances of pain, misery, fear, depression, starvation, being eaten alive, etc., for trillions of animals living during this time is somehow worth it, one must first establish how the designs for the Garden of Eden and New Heavens and Earth avoid severe pain and death while still offering the ability for flourishing of the creation. If a person can do that, then they have more reasonable footing from which to explain why this so-called “intermediate” era (after the alleged “fall of humankind”) that we’re living in is necessary. Adding to this are the Old Testament God’s radically disproportionate punishments and violations of human dignity. I explain this elsewhere on another post called, “Christ’s Numerous Moral Failings”:
“God in Jesus Christ (“on his own” during his human incarnation, at least apparently, or by means of his interdependent harmony with the Father and Holy Spirit), throughout the Old and New Testaments to varying degrees, commanded or supported these terrible things directly or indirectly (mostly directly): eternal hell based on a short earthly life, genocide, misogyny, slavery, polygamy, seasonal and colonial warfare, theocracy, capital punishments for moderate sins (such as a female lying about her virginity — which modern science has shown to be impossible to prove medically, or cursing one’s parents, or working on the Sabbath, or not keeping a known dangerous bull locked up if the bull later kills a person — but if a slave is killed the owner only has to pay a fine, or being the victim of rape if one is an engaged woman and the rape occurs in a city), animal sacrifice, excessive judgment on the vast majority of humans who did not have biblical revelation until the last few hundred years, and many other things….These are things that Jesus never challenged because, as the New Testament and history of orthodox theology repeatedly states, he was the God of the Old Testament. Even if a believer takes a more liberal viewpoint and downplays or denies the divinity of Jesus, the same basic argument remains in tact. This teacher from ancient Galilee supports in full the God and writings of the Old Testament. He innovates on the earlier scriptures, but doesn’t contradict them. In fact, he says that he has come to fulfill the law, not abolish it.”
Regarding slavery, I would like for you to respond to what I wrote specifically, the commentary and the verses. The answer you gave was general and didn’t address my statements. Thanks.
Wikipedia summarizes it clearly:
“The Bible contains several references to slavery, which was a common practice in antiquity. The Bible stipulates the treatment of slaves, especially in the Old Testament. There are also references to slavery in the New Testament. Male Israelite slaves were to be offered release after six to seven years of service, with some conditions. Foreign slaves and their posterity became the perpetual property of the owner’s family, except in the case of certain injuries.”
“In the Ancient Near East, captives obtained through warfare were often compelled to become slaves, and this was seen by the law code of Deuteronomy as a legitimate form of enslavement, as long as Israelites were not among the victims; the Deuteronomic Code institutes the death penalty for the crime of kidnapping Israelites to enslave them….The Israelites did not generally get involved in distant or large scale wars, and apparently capture was not a significant source of slaves. The Holiness code of Leviticus explicitly allows participation in the slave trade, with non-Israelite residents who had been sold into slavery being regarded as a type of property that could be inherited. Foreign residents were included in this permission, and were allowed to own Israelite slaves….It was also possible to be born into slavery. If a male Israelite slave had been given a wife by his owner, then the wife and any children which had resulted from the union would remain the property of his former owner, according to the Covenant Code. Although no nationality is specified, 18th century theologians John Gill (1697–1771) and Adam Clarke suggested this referred only to Canaanite concubines.”
Do you dispute the overview just quoted? It seems that you do and this should place you on the defensive since a straight-forward reading of the cultural context and biblical passages agrees with what I copied there. Nearly all people trying to justify the apparent barbarity of things like this in the Bible are believers who already think the Judeo-Christian God and instructions from Scripture are wholly good, regardless of how these issues might appear from a typical human perspective.
The more “humane” forms of servanthood that you’re referring to in the Old Testament didn’t apply to gentile slaves. Beyond this, the New Testament endorsed the types of slavery in place at the time, partly by telling slaves to obey their masters through reverence for Christ (essentially to love God while staying in your place). Aside from the Hebrew slaves, the thousands of people owned as property throughout the world (often in very inhumane conditions) were not encouraged to flee their positions and their masters were affirmed as functioning in a legitimate role by both testaments. Aside from the the glaringly negative aspects of slavery in Jewish communities following the Torah, that you keep apparently avoiding (non-Hebrew slaves were treated much worse and were often acquired as direct purchases or spoils of war/conquest), consider what slavery was like in their neighboring societies and ultimately ones very far away that would be reached later with Judeo-Christian missionaries and the colonialism of their native countries. Those hearers of the biblical message, ancient and modern, would know from God that buying slaves was moral and normative. Since God instructs the Jews on how to buy non-Hebrew slaves and take them as leftovers from battles of otherwise extermination, why wouldn’t a world already used to the institution of slavery be more than ready to continue the tradition with official divine sanction?
Here is a description of slavery in the Roman Empire from one of my university textbooks,”The Ancient World: A Social and Cultural History” (Seventh Edition) by historian D. Brendan Nagle, on page 229:
“The Roman family often included not just parents and their unmarried children but also their slaves, their freedmen, and the offspring of both. The Romans were liberal in their manumission policies, so in many households slaves had a good chance of winning their freedom (or at times of purchasing it) and becoming Roman citizens. However, even after manumission, family ties persisted. In the eyes of the law, a slave had no father, and on manumission the freedman took the name of the former owner….Slave marriages existed but were not recognized as legal…Slaves could purchase other slaves. When a male slave purchased a female slave as a wife, she actually had the status of being a personal slave to her husband, thought strictly speaking she belonged to his master because everything a slave owned belonged to the slave’s owner [including any children from the slave marriage]….Roman families that possessed slaves – a fairly large segment of the population because not only the rich but even the middle classes owned slaves. Also, to balance this fairly benign picture it should be added that slavery in rural areas, especially on large estates or in the mines, could take a much harsher form. In the countryside, where slaves worked in chain gangs, manumission was quite unlikely. Their slaves were exploited to the maximum and were often treat with great cruelty, from which there was no escape except flight, death or, very rarely, revolt.”
Both forms of slavery in that quote were supported by both testaments of the Bible. The Jewish and Christian directive upon slaves and masters to do their duty in their respective places was not altered to rein in abuses of the surrounding cultures’ institutions of slavery. The brutality that biblical faith perpetuated is shocking. You say that the Bible doesn’t teach this. Make your case then. I provided verses above and have given a lot of explanation.
Interestingly, the New Testament epistles that included instructions about slavery were largely written to Gentiles who obviously didn’t have the Jewish system in place.
You said, “You can’t look at the US now in order to see the validity of Biblical ethics, because the US has very few today. You have to look at William Bradford and the Plymouth Plantation. Compare the Puritan lifestyle at Plymouth with the agnostic lifestyle of those in Jamestown. Plymouth operated under a Biblical principles, individual responsibility, and individual charity. Jamestown was more socialist.”
Debating the quality of life in early America is worthwhile, but it will always be many times less precise than a modern analysis, given all of the interdisciplinary tools available in modern studies. Having an example of ideal biblical ethics is not necessary to prove the point that I’m making based on several years of research. The fact is that the more religious and conservative a Western nation and U.S. state is, the worse are the social ills. If the sociological patterns or “principles” operating today are related to universal truths, then pure biblical ethics, such as possibly found in the Plymouth Plantation, would entail a level of religiosity and conservatism far beyond anything in America today, which would make the social ills radically worse – according to thoroughly repeated examples in the regions I mentioned. To assert that following an ultra-conservative and ultra-religious model for society would make things much better for overall quality of life is not reasonable based on the historical, sociological, psychological, economic and anthropological data and analysis available in our time.
[…] and 21st centuries. For example, one can find justifications for slavery in Augustine and Aquinas, anti-Semitism in Luther, and religious intolerance in Calvin. The distinct transformations of Western culture […]