Category Archives: Christianity

Does the Bible tolerate slavery?

The slavery tolerated by the Scriptures must be understood in its historical context and should not be equated with type of slavery seen in the pre-Civil War American south or in the sex-trade slavery all across the world. Old Testament laws regulating slavery are troublesome by modern standards, but in their historical context they provided a degree of social recognition and legal protection to slaves that was advanced for its time.[1]

In ancient times, slavery existed in every part of the world. Slaves had no legal status or rights, and they were treated as the property of their owners. Even Plato and Aristotle looked upon slaves as inferior beings. As inhumane as such slavery was, we must keep in mind that on occasion it was an alternative to the massacre of enemy populations in wartime and the starvation of the poor during famine. It was to the people of this harsh age that the Bible was first written.

In New Testament times, slave labor was foundational to the economy of the Roman Empire. About a third of the population was comprised of slaves. If the writers of the New Testament had attacked the institution of slavery directly, the gospel would have been identified with a radical political cause at a time when the abolition of slavery was unthinkable. To directly appeal for the freeing of slaves would have been inflammatory and a direct threat to the social order. Consequently, the New Testament acknowledged slavery’s existence, instructing both Christian masters and slaves in the way they should behave.[2] At the same time, it openly declared the spiritual equality of all people.[3]

The gospel first had the practical effect of doing away with slavery within the community of the early church. It also carried within it the seeds of the eventual complete abolition of slavery in the Western world.

The fact that the Bible never expressly condemned the institution of slavery has been wrongfully used as a rationale for its continuance. In the American South prior to the Civil War, many nominal Christians wrongly interpreted the Bible’s approach to slavery and used their misunderstanding to justify economic interests. The terrible use of African slave labor continued in spite of those who argued from the Scriptures for the spiritual equality of all ethnicities. Today the Christian message of the spiritual equality of all people under God has spread throughout the world, and it is rapidly becoming the standard by which the human values of all nations are measured.

[1]. Exodus 21:20-27 ; Leviticus 25:44-46

[2]. Ephesians 6:5-9 ; Colossians 3:2 ; Colossians 4:1 ; 1 Timothy 6:2 ; Philemon 1:10-21

[3]. Galatians 3:281 Corinthians 7:20-24 ; Colossians 3:11

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Was Jesus’ body buried?

In recent years, a few New Testament scholars[1] have suggested that after Jesus was crucified his body may not have been buried as described in the Gospels. They conjecture that his body was likely buried in an unmarked grave or simply thrown on the ground to be devoured by scavengers. While it is true that the bodies of some crucified people were thrown into mass graves, the evidence surrounding Jesus’ death does not support the speculation that his body would have been discarded in this manner. Along with the testimony of first-hand witnesses preserved in the Gospel accounts, there are many other significant reasons to assume Jesus’ body would have been buried.

After Jesus was crucified, Jewish leaders were bound by their own customs and religious law to provide a proper burial for him. Regardless of their personal hostility towards Jesus, they couldn’t ignore issues of ritual purity without damaging their own credibility and authority as guardians and defenders of Jewish tradition. Josephus, the most important Jewish historian of the period, wrote: “The Jews are so careful about funeral rites that even malefactors (criminals) who have been sentenced to crucifixion are taken down and buried before sunset.”[2] The Temple Scroll from that time period discovered at Qumran[3] specifically calls for the burial of crucified Jews.

John 19:31-34 confirms these ritual purity concerns by noting that the Jews asked the Romans to facilitate the deaths of the crucified so that they wouldn’t be hanging on the cross on the Sabbath.[4]All four Gospels confirm that Joseph of Arimathea took custody of Jesus’ body and provided an honorable burial.[5]

Pilate had already experienced sufficient conflict with the Jews and would have been hesitant to unnecessarily offend them. The heightened nationalism and explosive political climate of early first century Palestine would have made it extremely unlikely that any Roman governor would violate Jewish sensitivities by leaving the body of a crucified Jew on a cross on the eve of the Passover. The same concern with Jewish opinion that made Pilate willing to execute Jesus in spite of personal reservations,[6] would have made him unlikely to leave Jesus’ body on the cross on a holy day at the symbolic center of Jewish society.

[1] Two well-known scholars are Jesus Seminar member and former Catholic priest John Dominic Crossan and University of North Carolina professor and author Dr. Bart Ehrman.

[2] Also see Against Apion 2.211

[3] The region in southern Israel where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found.

[4] Archaeological evidence confirms the precedent of crucified Jews receiving proper burial: “We actually possess archaeological evidence from the time of Jesus that confirms the claims we find in Phil, Josephus, the New Testament, and early rabbinic literature, to the effect that executed persons, including victims of crucifixion, were probably buried.

“The discovery in 1968 of an ossuary (ossuary no. 4 in Tomb1, at Giv’at ha-mMivtar) of a Jewish man named Yehohanan, who had obviously been crucified, provides archeological evidence and insight into how Jesus himself may have been crucified. The ossuary and its contents date to the late 20s CE, that is during the administration of Pilate, the very Roman governor who condemned Jesus to the cross. The remains of an iron spike (11.5 cm in length) are plainly seen still encrusted in the right heel bone. Those who took down the body of Yehohanan apparently were unable to remove the spike, with the result that a piece of wood (from an oak tree) remained affixed to the spike. Later, the skeletal remains of the body—spike, fragment of wood, and all—were placed in the ossuary.” (p. 54, How God Became Jesus)

[5] Matthew 27:57; Mark 15:43; Luke 23:51; John 19:38

[6] Matthew 27:11-26

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Church bores me. Why should I go?

Friend, you are not the only one who feels bored at church. One Sunday, a young guy named Eutychus gathered with other Jesus-followers in a home, which was their custom at the time. Paul was there that day to teach. He was smart, but not a great speaker,[1] and he talked … and talked … and talked until midnight. Eutychus listened while sitting on the windowsill of a third-story room. At one point he couldn’t keep his eyes open. He fell asleep and fell out the window. He died when he hit the ground.

Before you draw assumptions, the moral of this story isn’t “pay attention in church or else!” The story isn’t over.

Everyone rushed downstairs. Paul took the young man’s dead body into his arms and said, “Don’t worry, he’s alive!” And Eutychus was fine. Someone took him home to rest; everyone else went back upstairs and listened to Paul teach until dawn.

Let’s review: Paul preached a really long time, Eutychus fell asleep and tumbled from a third-story window and died, and Eutychus was miraculously raised from the dead.

So why go to church even though it can be boring at times? In church, we get to see people come alive again. We get to see a man, deadened by addiction, reborn. We get to see a woman’s life-taking emotional wounds heal into scars. We get to see relationships and people come alive in the power of Jesus.

Church is a community of the resurrected. Paul said, “You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins. He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross.”[2]

It’s okay to be bored in church sometimes. God won’t strike you with a lightning bolt or throw you out a window. At times you’ll be tired or will find the sermon uninteresting. In those moments, remind yourself why you’re there. Church isn’t an event — it’s a group of people who reveal where God is bringing life to the world and how we can be part of it.

Now, you might be thinking, “I don’t see signs of life at my church. I don’t feel resurrected. The church people I know act like zombies.” Well, even zombies are the reanimated dead, right? Some people still have a long way to go to become more like Jesus — we all do. Show some grace. Help people along. Be the person that you needed during your spiritually dark times. Realize that you’re in church not just for yourself, but for others. As Anne Lamott says, you attend church to take in new life and offer it to others.

[1] 2 Corinthians 11:6

[2] Colossians 2:13-14

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Why do some church people seem so “phony?”

One answer is fear. Every church is comprised of ordinary human beings, but we often refuse to acknowledge our similarities to each other. We feel as though we ought to rise above our problems—especially temptations.

Yet so often we don’t. And so we regularly fake it for fear of what people will think. We fear that others might pull away from us if they knew the worst about us. This, of course, leads to hypocrisy.

While Jesus hates hypocrisy, he loves us. And so he told us: “Don’t be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly … where everyone can see them. I tell you the truth, that is all the reward they will ever get.”[1] He also said, “When you fast, don’t make it obvious, as the hypocrites do.”[2] Jesus was warning us about religious people who valued how they looked more than they valued their relationship to God and to each other.

Can we get past the fear that isolates us and turns us into hypocrites? Yes, but it starts with dangerous honesty.

One of the remarkable things about the Bible is its honesty about its “heroes.” Noah got so drunk he passed out. Abraham was willing to let another man take his wife (twice!) until God intervened. Moses’ anger turned into murder. David had an affair with a married woman and then orchestrated her husband’s death in battle. Yet Hebrews 11 points to these individuals as heroes of the faith. They were ordinary people with big flaws and genuine faith.

The apostle Paul wrote openly about his struggles. “‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners,’” he wrote, “and I am the worst of them all.”[3] In another letter he admitted, “I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate.”[4] This caused him to exclaim, “Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord.”[5]

Our faith should be public, but it shouldn’t look “religious.” We are called to be followers of Jesus, even though we won’t follow Him perfectly. And church, of all places, should be a safe environment where we can admit our imperfections, our struggles, our addictions, and our tendency to fail. In other words, it’s a place where we hypocrites can be honest—even about our hypocrisy.

This question Why do church people seem so fake? is rooted in a stereotype. Surely many church attenders are fake. But most of us realize we are on a spiritual journey that started when we turned to Jesus in faith. Our part is to admit our own hypocrisy, ask God to change us, and let our own example of honesty become part of the solution, not a perpetuation of the problem.

[1] Matthew 6:5

[2] Matthew 6:16

[3] 1 Timothy 1:15

[4] Romans 7:15

[5] Romans 7:24–25

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Should I Believe in the Doctrine of Eternal Security?

Many Bible passages emphasize the reality of our security as believers in Jesus Christ: John 10:27-30; 13:1; Romans 8:29-39; Ephesians 1:13; 4:30; Jude 1:24.

But even genuine believers can backslide and lose the joy of their salvation. The New Testament gives many examples of believers who drew back from their fellowship with Jesus Christ: the disciples (Matthew 26:56); Peter (26:69-75); the Christians in Corinth (2 Corinthians 12:20-21); and the Asian churches (Revelation 2:4,14-15,20).

There is a stark difference between backsliding and apostasy—a permanent departure from the faith. A true Christian can backslide, be chastened, and then repent and return (Hebrews 12:6; Revelation 2:5). A person who has merely professed faith without a genuine encounter with Christ may depart, prosper outwardly, and never return. The apostle John said that some who had left the fellowship of believers and were now teaching false doctrine showed by their actions that they never really belonged (1 John 2:19).

The doctrine of eternal security is taught in Scripture, but it is intended to comfort true Christians who are earnestly concerned with living faithfully for Jesus Christ. People who once professed faith and are now living sinfully without remorse should not be comforted by assurances that their profession of faith guarantees their salvation. We gain nothing by examining the nature of the “decision” they made. We need to point out to them that their present lifestyle is out of keeping with their profession by showing them Scriptures such as 1 John 3:4-9. They must be led to self-examination. If they are genuinely saved, God will chasten them (Hebrews 12:6). They will repent and return.

It may be impossible for us to make a judgment as to whether a person is a backsliding Christian or an impostor. Sometimes only time will tell.

 

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