The Wal-Mart Bible Letter (Part Three)

Written by Drew on September 7th, 2006

Sexual Discrimination
The “Wal-Mart Bible Letter” continues its accusations against the Bible with the following.

The Holy Bible demands that readers discriminate against women. This type of sexual discrimination directly affects female employees working for Wal-Mart.

1 Timothy 2:11-12, 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and Numbers 31:14-18 are cited in support of the charge. The allegation is that these passages apply to work environments around the world.

As in the case of the last charge, this one has been made by taking verses of the Bible out of context. There is absolutely nothing in them that implies that women have to play a submissive role in a working environment like Wal-Mart’s. The Bible does not discourage women from being successful at their careers. In fact, it casts several working women in a positive light, not the least of which are the Virtuous Woman in Proverbs 31 and Lydia in Acts 16.

The biblical principle of male spiritual leadership applies in only two areas: the church and the family. Wives are encouraged to submit to their husbands in the home, as they would to the Lord (Eph. 5:23-25; 1 Pet. 3:1-2). Likewise, women are to keep silent in the churches in the interest of having men in the leadership positions during worship (1 Cor. 14:34-35; 1 Tim. 2:11-12). This is God’s plan. It is really quite surprising that the authors who penned the Wal-Mart letter found these verses. They are largely ignored in most liberal denominations.

The authority/submission principle in the Bible says nothing about the worth or value of women. It does not make them inferior to men. In other places the Bible firmly plants men and women on equal ground (Gal. 3:28; 1 Pet. 3:7).

A third charge levied against the Bible in the Wal-Mart letter says,

The Holy Bible fully endorses slavery, which is today strictly illegal in the United States. The Bible also endorses such egregious behaviors as the beating of slaves.

Leviticus 25:44-45 is quoted, which, admittedly, sounds disturbing to a person living in the 21st century. Here the Israelites are told they may buy slaves from the nations surrounding them, and that they may buy foreign persons who are living among them, making them their “property.”

The nation of Israel was born into a world where slavery was the accepted norm. The practice, which violates the principle that man was made in God’s image (Gen. 1:26-27), was certainly nowhere near the ideal for mankind presented by the gospel. Still, it was allowed during the “times of ignorance” that shrouded the Old Testament era (cf. Acts 17:30).

During that time, however, God regulated the practice, keeping it from resulting in the kind of abuse that was common in the ancient world. Wayne Jackson notes,

But Hebrew law was far superior to the codes of the pagan nations with reference to slaves. For example, there are some glaring contrasts between the law of Moses, and the code of Hammurabi (a Babylonian ruler), with reference to slaves. Under the Babylonian regime, harboring a runaway slave incurred the death penalty. Under the Hebrew system, a runaway slave seeking refuge could not be returned to his master (Dt. 23:15). A Hebrew-owned slave could bind himself to his master for life, the agreement being ratified by the piercing of his ear (Ex. 21:6; Dt. 15:17). In Babylon, a slave who said to his master, “You don’t own me!” could have his ear cut off! Under the Mosaic system, robbery required restitution – either in actual payment or service (Ex. 22:3). Babylonian law made robbery a capital offence.

The Roman writer Pliny tells of a case where a slave accidentally dropped and broke a crystal goblet. His owner immediately threw him into a courtyard fishpond where he was torn apart by savage lampreys. Under the law of Moses, to kill a slave was a crime that carried punishment (Ex. 21:20). While the law allowed the physical punishment of one’s slave, the Jew was not permitted to kill his servant. This protection was unprecedented in the ancient world. One scholar has noted that the Jews’ treatment of Gentile slaves was “a great deal more humane than elsewhere in the ancient world” (Joachim Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus, London: SCM Press, 1969, p.348).

Additional regulations unique to the Law of Moses included:

  • Slaves could not be obtained by kidnapping (Ex. 21:16).
  • Anyone who killed a slave was under a penalty (Ex. 21:20).
  • They were to be freed if beaten (Ex. 21:26-27).
  • No Hebrew was ever to be made a permanent slave. He could serve six years and then be freed (Ex. 21:2).
  • If a person desired to remain a slave, he could do so by having his ear pierced (Ex. 21:5-6).
  • All Hebrew slaves were released in the Year of Jubilee, regardless of how long they had served (Lev. 25:37-43).
  • Slaves were able to purchase their freedom (Lev. 25:47-49).

These laws were ahead of the times and served to soften the hearts of men and prepare them for the gospel, which would eventually lead to the abolishment of slavery.

The Wal-Mart letter claims that statements in Colossians 3:22 and Titus 2:9 “fully endorse” slavery. Nothing could be further from the truth. In truth the New Testament makes a number of clear arguments against slavery.

No man can keep the Golden Rule while owning slaves: “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets” (Mt. 7:12).

Additionally, Jesus named the second greatest commandment as, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” (Mk. 12:31). Owning someone as if he were a piece of property cannot be harmonized with this commandment, in an age where “neighbor” is given a universal meaning (cf. Lk. 10:25-37).

Even when Paul commanded slaves to be obedient to their masters, he told them that in doing so they were “doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men” (Eph. 6:7). Masters were warned to “forbear threatening,” knowing they had a “Master in heaven,” with whom there is no “respect of persons” (Eph. 6:9).

As in the case of men and women, there is no difference between the slave and his master in God’s eyes: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Gal. 3:28-29; cf. Col. 3:11).

The greatest statement related to God’s disapproval of slavery is found in the book of Philemon, a letter written to a slave owner concerning a runaway named Onesimus. Paul instructs Philemon to receive Onesimus “not now as a servant, but above a servant, a brother beloved, specially to me, but how much more unto thee, both in the flesh, and in the Lord?” (v. 16).

No, the gospel did not end slavery overnight. That would have been impossible. Instead, it ended the abhorrent practice in the most effective way–by changing the hearts of men!


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