Wednesday, September 24, 2014


20 “When a man strikes his slave, male or female, with a rod and the slave dies under his hand, he shall be avenged. 21 But if the slave survives a day or two, he is not to be avenged, for the slave is his money…26 “When a man strikes the eye of his slave, male or female, and destroys it, he shall let the slave go free because of his eye. 27 If he knocks out the tooth of his slave, male or female, he shall let the slave go free because of his tooth (Exod 21:20-21,26-27). 
I'm going to discuss a controversial OT law (esp. v20). 
i) Whenever we respond to unbelievers who attack OT ethics, we must constantly remind them that atheism has no basis for human rights. Atheism can't ground objective morality. Moreover, given their reductionistic view of human beings, there's no reason to think humans are the kind of entities entitled to special treatment.
Although it's tedious and repetitive to replay the same broken record, it's necessary so long as unbelievers evade the implications of their own position.
ii) OT laws don't necessarily endorse what they regulate. This is true of law generally. Laws of morality presuppose the existence of evil. Laws can't eradicate evil. At most, they improve the situation. Mitigate evil. The fact that OT law regulates slavery doesn't ipso facto mean it condones slavery. Not every evil can be forbidden. Some well-meaning laws are unenforceable. The best thing some laws can aim for is to limit damage. Make the status quo less harmful. 
iii) Critics needs to be clear on what they find objectionable in this law. Do they find slavery objectionable or corporal punishment? If their primary objection is to slavery, then they'd object to any OT law regulating slavery. They don't object to slavery because it may involve corporal punishment. So their offense at this particular passage is disingenuous.   
iv) "Slavery" is an umbrella term. There were different kinds of "slaves." There were indentured servants. There were war captives. Without repeating what I've said elsewhere, I don't think there's anything intrinsically wrong with indentured service or enslaving enemy combatants. You have to consider the practical alternative in that (or some analogous) situation. 
v) Assuming this verse alludes to corporal punishment, adult corporal punishment is hardly unique to this particular law. It's no as if flogging was reserved for slaves. Adult corporal punishment was a general punishment for various crimes:
“If there is a dispute between men and they come into court and the judges decide between them, acquitting the innocent and condemning the guilty, then if the guilty man deserves to be beaten, the judge shall cause him to lie down and be beaten in his presence with a number of stripes in proportion to his offense. Forty stripes may be given him, but not more, lest, if one should go on to beat him with more stripes than these, your brother be degraded in your sight (Deut 25:1-3).
In principle, a slave master could also be punished by flogging if he committed a crime where that was the usual punishment. Both masters and slaved could be subject to flogging. Masters were not exempt. 
vi) Although commentators tend to assume 21:20 refers to discipline, that's not entirely clear. It occurs in the context of other passages dealing with assault and battery. So it may not refer to corporal punishment at all. 
vii) This statute is actually concerned with protecting slaves from physical abuse. According to scholars, this is unique among ANE law codes. It's not about the rights of the master, but the rights of the slave. It limits the prerogatives of the master. Indeed, an abusive master is subject to legal jeopardy (perhaps the death penalty). So that's a significant deterrent.

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