On Wednesday of this week I was in Houston, Texas, to debate James White [a prominent Evangelical apologist] on the topic of “What Is Biblical Marriage?” [which you can watch in its entirety HERE].
During that debate I pointed out that the question of whether or not something is “Biblical” is the wrong question, because so many things that are “Biblical” – like slavery, genocide, patriarchy, etc. – are not “Christlike.”
In response to my questions regarding whether or not Mr. White could make a strong defense that slavery was wrong using only the Bible he not only failed to attempt such a thing, but instead took the opportunity to explain how slavery was “God’s mercy” and that when God commanded the Israelites to slaughter entire families but save the young virgins for themselves [as sexual slaves], it was to protect those girls and provide for them a loving home. [I’m not making this up].
So, while defending child sexual rape and sex slavery is clearly an insane response to my question, I wanted to take a step back and explain why apologists like Mr. White have such a hard time arguing that slavery was – and is – wrong: because the Bible doesn’t do that.
See, for Mr. White, the Bible is a Christian’s ultimate source of authority – even though, according to the Bible, a Christian’s ultimate authority is Christ [see Matt. 28:18]. So, if that Bible doesn’t condemn slavery – even child sexual slavery – Mr. White has no choice but to find some way to affirm that practice because – as far as he’s concerned – “God said so.”
This is exactly why I began to argue in my opening statement that taking a “Biblical” approach is dangerous and foolish. Because it leads us to defend behaviors that are horrendous, inhumane and – dare I say it – evil.
For Mr. White, and other Biblically-minded apologists, the Bible forces them to look for ways to defend things like genocide, marital rape, child sexual slavery, owning women as property, and many other barbaric practices simply because they are in the Bible and therefore “God ordained.”
For example, take a look at this short clip where John MacArthur argues that slavery wasn’t so bad, and in fact, almost comes out and suggests that it was so wonderful we might even reconsider practicing it again some day.
Yeah. He said that. What’s worse, he actually believes the words that are coming out of his mouth.
Why? Because the Bible never condemns the practice. In the Bible God commands slavery and allows for it and makes provisions for it.
So, if you’re going to take the Biblical approach, you have no choice but to talk the way Mr. White and Mr. MacArthur do when it comes to these subjects.
What’s the alternative?
Well, as I suggested during the debate, there’s a much better way to approach the Scriptures: The Jesus-Centric approach.
Want to know what’s so wild about this Jesus-Centric Approach? It’s actually the most “Biblical” approach.
I’ve written about this several times here on this blog, and in several of my books, but the short version is this:
We have three main places in the New Testament where this “Jesus-Centric” approach is made clear.
First, in the Gospel of John Chapter 1 we read this:
“No one has ever seen God at any time…except for the Son who came to reveal the Father to us [make Him known]…”
Two major things to note here:
First, John says that the prophets who wrote the Old Covenant scriptures did not ever see God.
Second, he says that Jesus came to make the Father known to us.
Why would we need anyone to reveal the Father to us if we already had a clear picture from the Old Testament scriptures?
Because we did NOT have a clear picture of who God was or what God was like.
So, that’s a big part of what Jesus was sent to correct.
By the way, Jesus himself affirms this in Matthew 11:27: “No one knows the Father except for the Son and the one to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him”
Next, the Jesus-Centric approach is spelled out in the Apostle Paul’s statement that “to this day the veil remains whenever Moses is read…because only in Christ is the veil removed!” [2 Cor. 3:14-16]
This means that if anyone attempts to understand who God is and what God is like by reading the Old Covenant Scriptures apart from first knowing Christ, they are guaranteed to see it wrong.
Why? Because only in Christ is the veil removed.
Finally, at The Mount of Transfiguration in Matthew 17:5, we have an object lesson on this exact subject.
Jesus is transfigured along with Moses [who stands for The Law] and Elijah [who stands for The Prophets]. The Law and the Prophets are personified along with Jesus, and Peter makes the “Flat Bible” mistake of wanting to build 3 tabernacles side-by-side to honor all 3 of them equally.
How does God respond to this? God removes both Moses [the Law] and Elijah [the Prophets] and says, “This is my son, LISTEN TO HIM!”
End of lesson.
All of this is the reason why Paul can say that “Christ is the end of the Law” [Romans 10:4] and why the author of Hebrews can say that “the Old Covenant is obsolete.” [Hebrews 8:13]
So, before you go and twist yourself into a theological pretzel like Mr. White did on Wednesday evening, or the way John MacArthur does in the video above, it’s worth considering the possibility that the way you approach the Bible as a flat document where everything in it is literally “God’s Word” needs to be reconsidered in favor of a Christ-Centric approach
Or, just go ahead and keep trying to find new ways to make slavery acceptable and child rape “merciful” while the rest of the world continues to dismiss you and your God as the most backwards and cruel monster ever conceived.
The rest of us aren’t buying it.
NOTE: I need to make sure to emphasize that, while Biblical Apologists like White and MacArthur seem rigidly bound to a literal interpretation of the Hebrew Scriptures, there are many actual Jewish Rabbis and religious leaders who do not read their own Scriptures this way.
In fact, today many Hebrew scholars recognize that the Torah and the rest of what we call the “Old Testament” scriptures are not univocal and they have come to reject the practice of slavery as an evil that should never be accepted today.
For example, in 1963, during the historic March on Washington, Joachim Prinz, the president of the American Jewish Congress, stood at the Lincoln Memorial and strongly emphasized how Jews identify deeply with African American disenfranchisement. An empathy “born of our own painful historic experience,” including slavery and ghettoization during World War 2.
Today, according to the Jewish Orthodox Union, The Forward, and the Jewish Quarterly, slavery (as defined as the total subjugation of one human being over another) is absolutely unacceptable in Judaism.
Keith Giles is the best-selling author of the Jesus Un series. He has appeared on CNN, USA Today, BuzzFeed, and John Fugelsang’s “Tell Me Everything.” His latest book, SOLA MYSTERIUM: Celebrating the Beautiful Uncertainty of Everything is available now on Amazon in paperback and on Kindle.