People use different words to describe it like inerrant and infallible. The problem is that if the Bible is infallible and inerrant, then it creates some problems for us. I know that we have to take into account context, figures of speech and normal rules of interpretation. But, some passages are very easy to understand, and we can’t just ignore what they say if we are going to assert that it is the Word of God.
“Anyone who beats their male or female slave with a rod must be punished if the slave dies as a direct result, 21 but they are not to be punished if the slave recovers after a day or two, since the slave is their property.” (Exodus 21:20-21)
As I mentioned before, this passage is pretty easy to interpret. It states a few things at least. First of all it asserts that it is acceptable to have a slave that is like property (or like money) to a slave owner. In the previous chapter, right before the 10 Commandments, the writer uses the same root word when they talks about the Israelites being in slavery. This passage is apparently a continuation of the law God handed down to Moses.
Most people I know today would say that slavery is wrong, so this creates a problem for all of us. Either God is in favor of slavery or can’t stop it or Moses simply got it wrong. I would lean towards the latter. Just like it’s not okay to kill people, is not okay to own people. They are not like money, they are human beings. This passage of Scripture is asserting the opposite. The writer casually says “their slave” like it’s a normal thing and perfectly acceptable to do, just don’t kill them!
The passage also asserts that it’s okay to beat the slaves as long as they do not die. Even though this is talking about a stronger beating, most societies in the world have outlawed simple assault. It is generally not accepted that it’s okay to assault another human being. We know this is talking about a more severe type of beating, because it mentions that the slave might die. That’s a pretty serious beating! And apparently, God only gets concerned if it becomes a murder.
The reason it gives is that the slave is “their property.”
Not to be redundant, but human beings are not supposed to be property. So either God believes in something that most every human being finds deplorable or once again, Moses got it wrong.
I listened to a YouTube video today where two people were debating this passage. The one who was standing up for this passage being literal, jumped through an inordinate amount of hoops trying to justify its validity. Even if it was common in that day to own a slave, it still doesn’t mean that it was right. People in the United States believed that slavery was right just a little over 100 years ago. Even if it was more like an employee, I think we would all agree it’s not right to beat your employees near death or to consider them as property.
As I look back at the testimony of the Bible, I see a group of writers who are trying to understand God. They obviously made some revelations that were true, but they also got some things wrong. Jesus highlighted some of these things that were wrong, And other things, like this passage, we can easily see as inconsistent.
If we take the Bible too literally, then we have to admit that we are better than the Bible. How can we be committed to a God that believes in things like slavery, genocide, misogyny, and eternal conscious torment?
Either the writers got some things wrong or we are better than God and the Bible. I know that this is uncomfortable to think about, but we can’t have it both ways. The Bible cannot be the word of God and be inconsistent with what God is supposed to be like.
Be where you are, be who you are,
Karl Forehand is a former pastor, podcaster, and award-winning author. His books include Apparent Faith: What Fatherhood Taught Me About the Father’s Heart and The Tea Shop. He is the creator of The Desert Sanctuary podcast. He is married to his wife Laura of 32 years and has one dog named Winston. His three children are grown and are beginning to multiply!