Is the Bible out of date?
In the September election campaign, a pastor asked Kevin Rudd how he could support ‘gay’ marriage and call himself a Christian: “I just believe in what the Bible says and I’m curious for you, Kevin, if you call yourself a Christian, why don’t you believe the words of Jesus in the Bible?”
Mr Rudd replied, “Well, mate, if I was going to have that view, the Bible also says that slavery is a natural condition – because St Paul said in the New Testament, ‘slaves, be obedient to your masters’. And, therefore, we should have all fought for the Confederacy in the US war. I mean, for goodness’ sake, the human condition and social conditions change.”
Mr Rudd’s argument is that at least two parts of the Bible – teaching on homosexuality and slavery – no longer apply because human society has moved on, and most of us no longer recognise Biblical authority in these sections. This means that the Bible as a whole can only be accepted, section by section, according to modern social standards.
The Presbyterian Church’s Westminster Confession of Faith declares: “The authority of the Holy Scriptures . . . dependeth not upon the testimony of any man, or Church, but wholly upon God (who is truth itself) the author thereof.” So what does the Bible say about slavery? Why should slaves obey their masters?
Paul says, “Were you called while a slave? Do not be concerned about it; but if you can be made free, rather use it.” [1st Corinthians 7:21]. That is, don’t fret if you are a slave – you are the Lord’s freedman, eternally free in Christ [verse 22]. But if you get an opportunity to be free, take it.
The Bible recognises that wicked human nature causes all kinds of injustices in this life, which Christians have to put up with: for example, many Christians today have to live under oppressive rulers and religious majorities.
Most slavery in the Roman era was due to wars which ordinary people had no power to stop. God has allowed wars and rumours of war since Cain and Abel; yet the Bible condemns aggressive acts such as enslaving captive populations [Amos 1:9-10]. Aggressive invaders are under God’s sovereign hand and serve His hidden purposes to bring people to repentance, but the invaders themselves are reserved for God’s punishment [Isaiah 10:12-15].
Christians living in the time of the apostles were authorised by the Lord to make the gospel known, not to lead a revolution as Spartacus did in 70 BC. By graciously serving their master without resentment they were witnesses that all men should be brothers: the Law of love for one’s neighbour declares the wrongness of slavery.
In the American Civil War, there were sadly Christians on both sides of the question of slavery, which simply shows that money and human influence can corrupt us. Slavery in nineteenth century America was indefensible, being based on the blatant sale of African captives who were kidnapped. The Bible condemns all kidnappers (men-stealers), including them with “murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers” as the vilest of men [1st Timothy 1:9-10].
So the view that the Bible approves slavery, and as such is no longer authoritative, is untrue. As the Apostle Paul said in the above passage, such a view is “contrary to sound doctrine, according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God which was committed to my trust.”
With love in Christ,
Ken Martin, Minister