What do you think is wrong with the following argument?
- Bible translations talk of “slaves.”
- In the OT no objection is made to having slaves.
- In the NT Christians are not commanded to free their slaves but are told to submit.
- Therefore, biblical texts approve of slavery.
- We know that slavery is wrong.
- Therefore, biblical texts approve of something that is wrong.
Remember that when evaluating an argument
- terms are either clear or unclear
- propositions are either true or false,
- arguments are either valid or invalid.
So if you disagree with argument above, you’d have to show that there is
- an ambiguous term,
- a false premise, or
- a logical fallacy (the conclusion does not follow from the premises).
In the lecture below, delivered on October 30, 2015, at Lanier Theological Library, Peter Williams gave a fascinating lecture responding to this argument. Dr. Williams (PhD, University of Cambridge) presides over Tyndale House in Cambridge (one of the finest theological libraries in the world for biblical scholarship) and is an affiliated lecturer at Cambridge University.
His thesis is that using the most common definition of slavery, the Bible does not support slavery.
To make his argument, he examines the key Old Testament and New Testament texts said to support slavery. Along the way, he looks at the biblical words commonly associated with slavery and how their translation has changed over time. He also looks at the logic of the Old Testament world and the way ancient societies were structured quite differently from ours.
The lecture below is under an hour, and then he takes Q&A for around 20 minutes:
For reading on this subject, you could start with the following by philosopher Paul Copan:
- Does the Old Testament Endorse Slavery? An Overview
- Does the Old Testament Endorse Slavery? Examining Difficult Texts
- Why Is the New Testament Silent on Slavery—Or Is It?