Presentation on theme: "Sadly, (Biblical) Israel did not manage to free itself from the practice which, with certain conditions and exceptions, is upheld in many biblical texts."— Presentation transcript:
Sadly, (Biblical) Israel did not manage to free itself from the practice which, with certain conditions and exceptions, is upheld in many biblical texts. In the Hebrew Old Testament, the word for slave is ʿebed, derived from the word for ‘work’. “The practice of slavery in the Ancient Near East is well attested from about the 3 rd millennium BC until the 19 th Century AD in the United Kingdom” Interestingly, Deuteronomy sets this legislation within the framework of the neediness of a poor brother who may need to sell himself into slavery as a bondsman, and who must be released from that bond on the commencement of the seventh year. Leviticus 25:39-40 allowed Israelites to own foreigners as slaves (The Sumerian word for slave was derived from the word for ‘foreigner’), but they were not permitted to make slaves of their own people. Israelites in debt were however allowed to sell themselves into slavery to pay off their debts, although the period of slavery was not to extend to a seventh year (Deuteronomy 15:11-17). Interestingly, Deuteronomy sets this legislation within the framework of the neediness of a poor brother who may need to sell himself into slavery as a bondsman, and who must be released from that bond on the commencement of the seventh year.
SLAVERY IN THE O.T. Moses reminded the people of their former status as slaves in Egypt: “You shall remember that you were a servant [better: ‘slave’]in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out thence with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day” (Deut 5:15). It appears that Deuteronomy sees a link between non-stop labour and exploitation: ‘It is possible to suggest that an unrestrained commitment to productivity has its counterpart in unrestrained violence and exploitation in which there is no fabric of respect or restraint’. It is not known how well or otherwise slaves were treated in Israel. There is almost no mention of slavery outside of the law codes of the Bible, which may suggest that its incidence was not great, but it is impossible to avoid the conclusion that the concept of slavery is contrary to the very basis of the covenant.
Surprisingly New Testament writings give extremely mixed messages on slavery. On the one hand, Jesus and Paul appear to take the existence of slavery as a given, and neither are recorded as condemning the practice outright! Jesus told several parables which makes use of the relationship between slave and master, e.g. Matthew 18:23-35, a parable about limitless forgiveness where the characters are a king, who cancels a slave’s huge debt, and a second slave in debt to the first for a much smaller sum, but who receives no mercy whatever. The parable illustrates that God’s releasing of his children from the debt of sin is always present, but that those seeking God’s mercy must also extend the principle to others. Interesting too is the detail that the first slave’s family are sold into bondage until he is able to pay the (impossibly) high debt! SLAVERY IN THE N.T.
Surprisingly New Testament writings give extremely mixed messages on slavery. On the one hand, Jesus and Paul appear to take the existence of slavery as a given, and neither are recorded as condemning the practice outright! In Luke 17:7-10, Jesus uses the example of slaves to make the point that disciples should not complain about what they are asked to do: ‘when you have done all that is commanded you, say, `We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty (v. 10)’. The point is that no disciple can ever claim that he/she has done enough to earn God’s grace. This appears to be directed more to the concept of an allegiance in service to only one master, God, which must be worked out in action as well as in words, as in Luke 6:46, ‘Why do you call me `Lord, Lord,' and not do what I tell you?’ SLAVERY IN THE N.T.
Biblical (including early Christian) texts show a surprising level of tolerance toward the institution and practice of slavery, but it is also true that “early Christian ideology undermined the institution of slavery, declaring an equality of all people in Christ”. Paul’s asserts in Galatians 3:28 that in Christ, there is no distinction between slave or free. It took a long time for the consequences of Paul’s assertion to be acted out in the lives of Christians, but there is still much truth in the assertion that ‘historically, Christianity has been the only effective destroyer of slavery’.
7 Reflective reading of Biblical texts must draw our attention to Jesus’ insistence that the Son of Man ‘came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many’ (Mark 10:45); that, ‘if any one would be first, he [or she] must be last of all and servant of all’ (Mark 9:35), and more pointedly, that if anyone ‘would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me’ (Mark 8:34). These quotations clearly stand in opposition to that concept of slavery in the opening quotation: ‘Slavery is the institution whereby one person can hold ownership rights over another’. Many other suitable texts could be cited in a similar way. Two Biblical themes in particular will be examined now to offer a biblical foundation for reflection on and opposition to slavery as it is found in today’s world.
There are 5 sayings in the Sermon on the Mount usually known as ‘the antitheses’ (Matthew 5:21-48), so-called because they each begin with a phrase like “You have heard how it was said…but I say to you…” The first antithesis illustrates the point. Jesus begins ‘You have heard that it was said to the men of old, `You shall not kill; and whoever kills shall be liable to judgment' (Matthew 5:21). He counters this with, ‘But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment’ (v. 22). This is followed by stern warnings to those who would insult a brother or sister, or call a brother/sister ‘fool’. In a wonderful display of exaggeration, Jesus claims that the last in this list will be liable to hell-fire! Jesus may well have been joking when he threatened hell fire for an insult, but his point is certainly serious. A commandment not to kill is much more powerful when in it expressed in terms of an instruction to respect and defend the value and the sanctity of human life, which can be diminished in ways which do not involve physical taking of life: insults, lack of respect for another, ridicule – and in the context of this discussion, anything that enslaves another human being.
THE DECALOGUE AS A BASIC CHARTER FOR HUMAN RIGHTS 10 Commandments (Ex 20:1-17, Deut 5:6-21) 1. I am the LORD…do not have gods before me; 2. Do not take the LORD God’s name in vain; 3. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy; 4. Honour your father and your mother; 5. Do not kill; 6. Do not commit adultery; 7. Do not steal; 8. Do not bear false witness; 9. Do not covet your neighbour’s wife; 10. Do not covet your neighbour's goods; Everyone has the right 1. to offer homage to the one Absolute God; 2. to respect for their God; 3. to worship of God and have rest; 4. to respect for family: parents & children due respect; 5. to life; to respect for their human dignity; 6. to the protection of their relationships; 7. Respect for what is theirs; 8. to be told the truth; 9. to respect as an individual person/not treated as object; 10. to ownership of and respect for their property/goods.
REPENT = Change…but WHAT? …and FROM what TO what? metanoia metanoia Repentance (metanoia;) usually understood as ‘change of heart’. But metanoia and related words literally mean ‘change of mind’ i.e. change of (way of) thinking. nā ḥam šwb Hebrew words translated as repent are nā ḥam and šwb. But they are not interchangeable. šwbepistrephō šwb = ‘turn’; i.e. ‘turn back to God’; Greek = epistrephō. nā ḥam nā ḥam = ‘change thinking’; i.e. metanoia in Greek. nā ḥam nā ḥam is used in Exodus 31:14; 2 Kings 13:2; Job 6:29; Psalm 80:14; Jeremiah 26:3; Joel, 2:13-14; Amos 2:6; Jonah 3:9, when God relents, or ‘changes his mind’. 10
REPENT = CHANGE…BUT WHAT? [O.D.R.] What Hebrew attributes to the heart (lebab), Greek attributes to the intellect, the mind, I.e. the centre of the person. Therefore the Hebrew change of heart = Greek change of mind. The Gospels transmit Hebrew (Aramaic) concepts in Greek words: we need to re-express them. Change of heart (mind) = the move from: ORIENTATION ORIENTATION: the recognised order of things, to DISORIENTATION DISORIENTATION: disengagement, and on to REORIENTATION REORIENTATION: acceptance of a whole new order. (Walter Brueggemann uses this terminology with respect to the Exile, and the change of thinking undergone by Israel as a result). 11