20 When a slaveowner strikes a male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies immediately, the owner shall be punished. 21 But if the slave survives a day or two, there is no punishment; for the slave is the owner’s property. [Ex 21:20-21, NRSV]
Needless to say, reading this and being told to take the bible literally, with every word the inerrant word of God, I was surprised. Surely God does not want any of God’s people enslaved let alone, beaten by a slave-owner. I cannot help but think, this must be written for a people in a very different time than this and with a completely different set of values than we hold today. Right? So I did a little research. The bible has 326 references for slavery and all but 2 affirm slavery. Oh my gosh. This cannot be. How can this be the literal word of God; something to be taken as instruction….Needless to say, I was confused and dismayed. So I thought, I would ask my Christian friends.
I asked them to explain to me how this can be written this way for us today, without there being some error. I mean, if God really wrote this, causing the pens to move in the hands of God’s authors, then surely there needs some explanation beyond what I readily see.
Asking for their explanation I reminded them they instructed me to read scripture as it is, “read the bible for what it says, not for what it does not say,” was the motto… In asking them then, I wanted to fully understand what to do with this and what to do with my findings.
It is probably no surprise to any reading this, those Christian friends I asked spoke differently than expected. Their whole literal, instruction perspective changed to include the time frame this was written, the people writing it and the place they found themselves in. I was surprised. Could they be meaning that this was only literally written for then, not for today?
On one hand I was enthralled by their wisdom of details not stated in the scripture but being used to interpret what was written. I was also surprised to hear them talk like this given that it flew in the face of their ‘literal’ and ‘inerrant’ word of God claim.
Further, and in some ways most interesting is the two of them together. could not agree which issue, which certain reality the author was likely facing that caused this to be written at all or the way it was written.
If we think about this though, this is not that surprising after all, is it? Everyone knows you get two people together and they will have different opinions about how this or that affected a situation or what details matter and which ones do not. For instance, if we both stood in front of a window, looking out across a field and were then asked to describe in detail the things we both noticed, our stories would differ. Looking at the same situation we both would have our own perspectives. We would individually decide what is important. So it is not at all surprising, to me at least, they would differ on what details were important about the people long ago.
And that is just what happened here. Two of my friends steeped in all this bible stuff held different scholarly opinions about why this was in the bible at all. It seemed these two were quick to seek remedy, they were quick to add things – detail nuggets about the culture the author was likely facing and why this was written this way.When I asked them if this is something I should then follow, as instruction, they both in an odd sort of humor quipped …Oh no, not that. That would be wrong.