One prominent American opponent of slavery was named Theodore Weld. He argued against American slavery from the Ten Commandments. He said, essentially, that when the Bible says, “Thou shalt not steal,” it prohibits taking even one penny from another human being against his will. But slavery robs another man of his entire life! He used other arguments like this to find his opposition to slavery from the Bible itself.
I think the ESV rightly translates 1 Timothy 1:10, which lists “enslavers” among evildoers, because the word there (Greek andrapodistes) means people who capture people or sell them into slavery.
Another point to remember is that the word “slave” is probably not the best translation of the Greek word doulos. The ESV has a footnote at this verse when it occurs in the New Testament, and the footnote says, “Greek bondservant.” That shows that it was an institution far different from the horrible abuses of slavery in the 18th and 19th century in North America, in the Caribbean, and in Latin America. A “bondservant” in the first century could normally earn his freedom by age 30, was protected by an extensive set of Roman laws, and owned private property. These “bondservants” often had significant responsibility as teachers, lawyers, physicians, managers, shopkeepers, and so forth. In the parable of the talents that Jesus tells, the master entrusts one “bondservant” with one talent, another with two, and another with five, which in modern equivalent terms would be equal to $400,000, $800,000, and $2,000,000 in U.S. currency today (or £210,000, £420,000, and £1,050,000). Then the master went away for a long time and these “bondservants” were left with the responsibility to manage the resources well. Such “bondservants” were in a much better situation than the day laborers who had to go into the market square and look for work each day (see Matthew 20:1-7).
However, bondservants could not quit their jobs and go to work for someone else until the period of the bondservice was up, or until they bought their freedom. I think the closest modern parallel (at least in the United States) would be military service, in which, once you get in, you can’t get out for a certain number of years, and there is a separate set of laws to which you are subject.
Now today, what worries me about these “trajectory hermeneutic” advocates is that they seem unaware of this entire history of biblical arguments against slavery, and they wrongly assume that the Bible actually supports slavery of the kind seen in the horrible abuses in America in the 18th and 19th centuries. This is preposterous. To say that the Bible supports such evils would be to say that the Bible, at the time of the New Testament, supported things that were morally evil, and I am simply not willing to do that.
Then these “trajectory hermeneutic” advocates say that we have to go beyond the moral teachings of the New Testament to find an “ultimate ethic” that is superior to that found in the words of New Testament. This is the position of William Webb, for example, at Heritage Theological Seminary, and it is also the position of R. T. France in the United Kingdom. These scholars look for our ethical standards at some point of development after the New Testament was written. And, of course, that is so highly subjective. People can imagine all sorts of developments that might have come “after” the New Testament, and it means that our authority is no longer the words of Scripture but some scholar’s imagination about where Scripture might have lead if the authors had been allowed to ponder a bit longer. This is directly undermining the authority of Scripture and it leads directly to liberalism.
You also take up this idea of a trajectory further and claim that evangelical liberalism sets us on a journey that will end in three more consecutive steps:
How do moderate evangelical feminists who claim to believe in the inerrancy of the Bible respond when you describe that evolution to them?
Well, many of them are already advocating the first of those two points! I document this extensively in my book. The website of Christians for Biblical Equality, and their current executive director, Mimi Hadad, are already advocating the view that we should call God our Mother in heaven. And I show in my book how a number of evangelical authors or groups are now edging toward a gradual approval of homosexuality. This includes Jack and Judith Balswick at Fuller Seminary in their book, Authentic Human Sexuality, and it also includes some of the developments at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, the college of the Christian Reformed Church. I believe we will see other examples of this trend as well.
One recent tragic example that I mention in the book is that of Roy Clements, who was pastor of Eden Baptist Church in Cambridge when we were there on sabbatical for one year. A few years ago Roy tragically left his wife for a homosexual relationship with another man. He now has a website in which he defends his actions using arguments from the Bible. I think it’s significant that he says that the very same arguments that are used to support evangelical feminism work just as well to support his view that committed homosexual relationships are acceptable for Christians. I document extensively in my book that this is not a danger which “might” happen sometime in the future. It is something that is happening right now, before our very eyes. The arguments of evangelical feminism are leading people to deny the authority of Scripture and to move to theological liberalism, including the approval of homosexuality.