Shellfish, women’s rights, and slavery. What do these three thing have in common?
Well I recently had a discussion with an old friend from highschool who has gained a sudden interest towards spiritual living and towards “god”. Though not a Christian we had an interesting discussion about which way to approach God (Hinduism, Christianity, none of the above etc.) and he listed quickly 3 big problem he has with Biblical Christianity. They were shellfish (or dietary laws), the value of women, and the acceptance of slavery. I did not want to get in to a huge debate or waste his time if he was busy so I let them slide. But the more I got to thinking about it these three issues often come up with people who do not see Christianity as a wholesome or true way to God. And I wanted to cast some light on these little problems that are blown out of proportion and misunderstood.
The Bible Says I Can’t Eat Shellfish.
Where does this idea come from? The Jewish Law of the Old Testament.
“But all in the seas or in the rivers that do not have fins and scales, all that move in the water or any living thing which is in the water, they are an abomination to you.” (Leviticus 11:10)
“They (shellfish) shall be an abomination to you; you shall not eat their flesh, but you shall regard their carcasses as an abomination.” (Leviticus 11:11)
In Leviticus the dietary laws are given for the Jewish people to obey as a form of worship to the Lord. There are a lot of things God forbade them from eating and doing. I believe God had in mind the safety of his people from things they could not cope with – diseases and other health concerns are easier to avoid if you just avoid their hosts all together. God also intended the Law to be a form of relationship to be obeyed and ultimately to show Israel that they could not save themselves.
So why don’t Bible believers today still obey this biblical law? Isn’t that hypocrisy, sin, or selective beliefs?
When Jesus came, He finished the requirements of the Law so that we don’t rely on rules to relate to God as Israel did but we rely on grace. If you want to be theologically technical – He did not push the delete button on the Old Testament Law, but by the time He finished His earthly life on the cross the Law found it’s long awaited completion in Jesus the Lamb of God, the perfect sacrifice given for all of man kind. As Jesus explains in Matthew 15:11-20, eating ceremonially unclean (unkosher) food is not what makes you sinful or unfit in God’s eyes, the sin that already resides in you is what makes you unfit and unholy. The origin of our sin comes from the inside of us not from what we do on the outside (like eating shellfish). Thus God had to intervene and give salvation as a gift, because it could never be attained by obeying rules.
Because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.
(Romans 3:20 NASB)
“Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. (Matthew 5:17 NASB)
The Bible says women aren’t equal to men.
Where does this idea come from? Mostly from misunderstandings concerning the scriptures on marriage and from attributing mans evils to God’s doing. Scriptures often mentioned are:
Gen 2:18 NKJV – And the LORD God said, “[It is] not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.”
Eph 5:22 NKJV – Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.
Eph 5:23 NKJV – For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body.
Many women may read these and say – Why do I have to just submit to him? What about me? And why is the husband the head? I don’t want to be ruled over like some slave or animal.
Christianity as a whole definitely does have a bad reputation for how women have been treated and classified, there is no getting around it, but does that reflect the true beliefs of Christianity? This question is often never asked. When you look at the scriptures concerning women’s identity, purpose, and how God sees them (which is most important) you find only positive things. Woman is not inferior, or more imperfect, or less loved by God than man but she is different from man. And thank God! Because us men need a lot of help. Women were made as a counterpart, the other half, thus the helper. Equal but different.
Here are some fundamental truths we find from the scriptures:
- Eve was made for the completion of Adam, he could not do life alone. (Gen 2:18 & 20)
- Both man and woman are made in God’s image. (Gen 1:27)
- God gave prophecies to and promises with women, not just men. (Gen 17:15-16, Gen 25:23, Jdg 4:4&14, Luk 1:28-35, Luk 1:41-55)
- Jesus treated women as equal, in contrast to surrounding cultures (religious and pagan). (Mat 15:28, Luk 8:48, Jhn 4:9, Luk 7:39-50, Jhn 8:3-10)
- God used a woman to birth the Messiah. (Luk 1:28-35)
- Jesus healed many women and included them in his parables and theology. (Mat 15:28, Luk8:48, Mat 26:13)
- In God’s grace and salvation gender is irrelevant. (Gal 3:28-29)
- In the early church women were given roles of authority and spiritual gifts. (Luk 2:36, Exo 15:20, Jdg 4:4, Rom 16:1-2, Rom 6:3, Luk 1:41-55)
- Marriage is not man ruling over woman, but both cooperatively working together fulfilling different roles for the greater whole. (Eph 5:28-29, Col 3:18-19, 1Pet 3:7)
Though God created male and female with different roles in the family system, they have always been equal in God’s eyes. The roles of male and female also contain deep spiritual truths that reveal our relationship with Christ and the church. Still others will mention the scriptures where Paul advice’s that woman should not pastor over men, does this mean women are less than man? No. Does this mean that God sees women as a lower class or species? No. It simply means that this is what Paul guided Timothy to do with his church in Ephesus.
It’s common that Christianity receives the most heat on this subject but what is often ignored are the sexist views held by other religions and cultures that existed long before Christ, at the time of Christ, and even up till today. Yet Christianity, when practiced correctly, was one movement that challenged the status quo of chauvinism.
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise.
(Galatians 3:28, 29 NASB)
The Bible Says Slavery Is Ok.
Where does this idea come from? Jesus never condemned slavery so he must be ok with it, also scriptures encourage slaves to serve their masters, never condemning the practice.
Bondservants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh, not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but in sincerity of heart, fearing God. (Colossians 3:22)
The first thing to be cleared in this objection to Jesus/the Bible/Christianity is what was the slavery that existed in the times of the New Testament like? Was it like the slavery of America? Driven by racism, demoting a populace to sub-human thus justifying their abuse, mistreatment, and enslavement? No. It was something completely different.
The greek word that is commonly translated as slave, servant, and bondservant is doulos defined as follows:
1) a slave, bondman, man of servile condition
a) a slave
b) metaph., one who gives himself up to another’s will those whose service is used by Christ in extending and advancing his cause among men
c) devoted to another to the disregard of one’s own interests
2) a servant, attendant
So understanding that the system of “slavery” (more accurately called “servanthood”) is an economical situation and not one of racism or imprisonment reveals that it was not that bad of a deal in some cases. For example if one could not pay their debts they could give themselves up to whoever they are indebted to as a servant to work off the amount due. It would provide housing and protection for the person that’s hit the end of their rope and it would provide the “master” with someone to help. People did this willingly in some cases. Many people in our culture are not to far from this model – they are in debt, so they work in order to pay it off. Are they working for themselves? No. Many are working for the bank or for their car, or for their college payments. The borrower is enslaved to the lender. Employees must be on time to work, obey the rules of the work place, answer to authorities, and in exchange for their time they receive something back. This both describes the state of biblical servanthood as well as modern employment. Remember people’s homes in biblical times were not just where people ate and slept, it was often the home of their business or farm. Servants would help with these things and over time pay off their debt. The Jewish law also says that if one buys a servant, they must be released on the 7th year of their stay.
Now, im sure there was plenty of abuse in this slavery system, but do these bad cases mean that the Bible promotes abuse or mistreatment in slavery? Quite the opposite. The Bible actually gives guidelines on how to treat and not treat servants. The great thing about the Christian worldview is that there is value and sacredness in the life of all people, not just one sex, not just one class, not just in some circumstances but in all circumstances all people are equally loved. So this equality and value goes across the board and applies the same to the richest to the poorest, from the youngest to the oldest. This is something not found in many cultures of Jesus’ day, religions, or other worldviews.
Eph 6:8 NKJV – knowing that whatever good anyone does, he will receive the same from the Lord, whether [he is] a slave or free.
Eph 6:9 NKJV – And you, masters, do the same things to them, giving up threatening, knowing that your own Master also is in heaven, and there is no partiality with Him.
Col 4:1 NKJV – Masters, give your bondservants what is just and fair, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven.
Deu 15:12 NKJV – “If your brother, a Hebrew man, or a Hebrew woman, is sold to you and serves you six years, then in the seventh year you shall let him go free from you.
Deu 15:13 NKJV – “And when you send him away free from you, you shall not let him go away empty-handed;
Deu 15:14 NKJV – “you shall supply him liberally from your flock, from your threshing floor, and from your winepress. [From what] the LORD your God has blessed you with, you shall give to him.
Deu 15:15 NKJV – “You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God redeemed you; therefore I command you this thing today.