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COLUMN: Does the Bible promote injustice?

OPINION: Lita Cosner addresses concerns and objections concerning the slavery and the morality of the Bible. 

The following article is an opinion piece and reflects the views of only the author and not those of AllOnGeorgia. It has been provided as part of a partnership with AllOnGeorgia and Creation Ministries International

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In this feedback article, CMI’s Lita Cosner addresses concerns and objections concerning the slavery and the morality of the Bible.

Hello!

A friend of mine asked a question concerning Exodus 21, where it states that if a man beats his slave and the slave dies then the master is not held responsible. But if the slave dies then he is. This is quite hard to explain, after reading your take on slavery in the Bible. I have already explained to my friend that slavery in the Hebrew sense was actually servitude, but how do I explain this passage? It seems self defeatist almost. Why would a man be allowed to beat another man even though the man was his slave? Harming anyone physically is wrong, but in same cases such as self defense is it “understandable”.

I would really like some insight on this …

Thank you,

J.P.

Dear J.,

Thanks for writing in. I assume there was a typo in your email, and you meant “if the slave doesn’t die then the master is not held responsible.”

It’s important to note that corporal punishment by beating was allowed as a punishment in multiple spheres of life. Parents were expected to beat their children to ensure behavior, to the extent that the Jews could say a parent who didn’t beat his children hated them (Proverbs 13:24). Adult Jews could be beaten by the city elders or synagogue officials for various offenses.

In this particular case, the slave is probably an indentured servant serving for a particular period of time, for example, to pay off a debt or theft. It is not inconceivable that in these circumstances, someone would sell, say, seven years of their labor, but then slack off until their time was up. It would be just like if someone working on a salary was slacking off at work, just because he gets paid the same whether he works or not. So the law allows the owner a way to make sure he gets his ‘money’s worth’ by permitting an incentive to work.

In this case, I think bad translation is partly to blame for some of the misunderstanding. I think the best translation of the passage is this: “When a man strikes his slave, male or female, and the slave dies as a direct result, he shall be avenged. But if the slave gets up after a day or two, he is not to be avenged, since the slave is his property.”

If two free men were fighting and one of them is injured for a few days and is unable to work, the verses directly before this command that the person who injured him pays him for his time. In the case of a slave, the master has already paid for his time, so no further payment is required. But if the slave dies as a direct result of the beating, the master is punished for murder.

I hope these thoughts are helpful.

Sincerely,

Lita Cosner

 

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Avatar

    Nathan Zamprogno

    August 31, 2020 at 2:10 am

    I had to do a double take when I read this.

    I mean, when one of the thorny and potentially embarrassing moral issues that makes the Old Testament seem distant and reprehensible to people today comes up, the honest approach here would have been to say “Well, let’s start by saying slavery is wrong, period. People aren’t property, and reserving a right to beat them because they are owned is objectively wrong.”

    Nope. Not in this article. Not even close.

    To understand why, you need to understand that representatives from “Creation Ministries International”, as extreme fundamentalists, are biblical literalists.
    To these people if, as the Bible says, that bats are birds, then they are birds (Leviticus 11:13-19).
    If the Bible says that you can’t see the face of God and live (John 1:18), and yet can (Genesis 32:30), then both must be true.
    If the Bible says that “The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father…” (Ezekiel 18:20), and yet that “I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation…” (Exodus 20:5), then yet again, both are true at the same time.
    And if the science proves beyond a shadow of a doubt, independently from a score of different disciplines, that the Cosmos is billions of years old, showing us light from galaxies billions of light years away, and that the Earth is itself 4 billion years old, but that your incorrect interpretation of the Bible insists the Earth is only 6000 years old (younger than many records from other civilisations — how embarassing!), then this too must be the case, because the Bible is the only source of Truth!

    Perhaps the only thing worse than trying to penetrate this fog of cognitive dissonance is realising that Young Earth Creationists of this type reserve unto themselves the right to be the only proper and correct *interpreters* of the Scriptures, and that if you disagree with them, even in a spirit of Christian collegiality, you are likely to be maligned as “compromised”, and “apostate” and “not a proper Christian”.

    It beggars belief that a Christian, seeking to bring modern understanding to an ancient text which condones slavery, doesn’t spend a word to remind us that slavery is wrong, but does choose to remind us that the slave-owner “the master has already paid for his time.”

    How incredibly tin-eared. And offensive. And… dare I say it, a very poor witness of the message of Jesus.

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