Homosexuality: A Look at Slavery

Often when Christians are discussing a sensitive Scriptural topic, which has become a national or even global issue, we must work our way through arguments made from popular opinion and not real critical thought. The David and Jonathan argument was this type of discussion and there are a few more general assumptions that I wish to consider in this article.

In this article, we will look at the argument that if the Bible is wrong about one thing it can be wrong about homosexuality.

The argument states that the Bible supports slavery and the people of God practiced slavery. Today society as a whole has rejected the practice of slavery. The result is that since the Bible was wrong on slavery, it could also be wrong about homosexuality. This argument seems to be fairly straightforward but it is based on a lack of understanding.

A proper understanding of Biblical slavery will clarify this issue. First of all, the Bible never specifically condones slavery. Second, the slavery practiced in the Bible was not race-based. Finally, biblical slavery is not the same as the slavery practiced in the early part of American History. Mr. Yuan goes on to state that the biblical model of slavery was an ancient form of welfare. Those who became slaves were given much freedom and were even able to buy their freedom. It was not a life without hope a future.

People will point to Scriptures that speak of slaves and servants but the context of that servitude is far different from America’s national shame. Exodus 21:16 says, “Whoever steals a man and sells him, and anyone found in possession of him shall be put to death.” The Scriptures do condemn the slave trade as it was practiced the Americas. The Apostle Paul in 1 Timothy repeats this statement,

“Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers (there is a note in the ESV making it clear that this word involves those who take a man captive to sell him into slavery)…” 1 Timothy 1:8-10

The Exodus and Timothy passages clearly identify the 18-19th century slave trade as sinful and something for which Christians should repent. Those who owned slaves and claimed Christ were certainly living in open and defiant sin, although it went unrealized for a time. Identifying sin and seeking to eradicate it from the Christian life is the doctrine of Sanctification. Whether this sanctification occurs within a single lifetime or whether it occurs over several generations, God’s grace allows sin to be recognized, forgiven, and moved past. This was the practice in our early American history and this practice has been rightfully deemed sinful. However, in the bible slavery as a whole is not condemned (nor condoned). When that slavery takes away the freedom of men and leaves them broken and without hope, this is clearly sin.

Several times as I wrote this first point, I had to remind myself why I was writing about slavery in an article addressing homosexuality. The point is that some people will use slavery as a point where the Bible was wrong. However, as we have seen the Bible does not support race-based, ownership of people, enforced by beatings and breaking of the will. In Biblical times when a nation was defeated in war, its people’s lives were spared through the practice of slavery. They were given a home and a job and were given some freedom to live their life. While this practice was certainly not an ideal situation, it cannot be equated with the forced enslavement and sale of Africans.

This sinfully heinous and improper treatment of a fellow man is condemned in Scripture, but the Biblical practice of giving grace to a people defeated in war is not. It is difficult to grasp these differences and neither practice seems quite free enough to us as Americans, but there is a great difference between the two practices.

The argument that the Bible was wrong about slavery and is therefore wrong about homosexuality becomes far more difficult when we realize the Bible’s actual message concerning slavery. The definition of the word slavery has taken on a drastically different definition in today’s world and we should seek to understand the Bible with a consideration of the cultural differences between the Old Testament and today. The Lord has been at work refining His people and allowing us to see our sin more clearly. Praise God for the work he has been doing through the ages!

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