The Bible and Slavery

Jim Hamilton addressed the issue of the Bible and Slavery a few weeks ago. I don’t really feel he adequately handles the topic, at least based on my reading. Here are a couple of thoughts:

1) I like the redemptive history angle he applies, where he looks to the eschaton for resolution or insight. That is a helpful focus, sometimes missed or underdeveloped on both sides of the argument. Having said that, a similar argument might be used not only against abuse of women, but even of subordination of women. Or does Hamilton want to argue for eternal functional subordination of women – it seems he does (he’s not entirely clear on the differentiation, if any, between sexism and subordination)? If this is not correct, some of his parallels weaken substantially.

2) The actual biblical text, that being said, does seem awfully tolerant of slavery in the here and now – before the eschaton. That point seems to be a bit unclear as developed by Hamilton. Certainly one would be hard-pressed to condemn slavery simply on the biblical texts read on their face value. And living and teaching in a predominantly African-American context, those concerns are frequently raised by those whose history is more closely connected to those interpretations.

3) Historically, Christians did not read the texts as Hamilton does for most of our history (see Mark Noll, The Civil War as Theological Crisis or other similar works for more on this). I suppose we could argue that the church read the Bible incorrectly for 1800 years or so, but I am a bit reticent to go that route because of possible implications of that kind of reasoning for other issues. This makes me wonder if Hamilton’s emphasis (the Bible does not condone slavery) is more a 21st century slant than a proper reading.

In any event, an ongoing topic of interest.


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