What Happens When Atheists Don’t Care About Hermeneutics?

By Eric Chabot

Who says atheists are not evangelistic? This billboard from a recent evangelistic effort by atheists attempts to show why no rational person could possibly believe the Bible is an authoritative guide to living for today.

The problem with this is that the sign shows what is lacking in the complaints by village atheists. First, there is something we call Biblical hermeneutics which is the art and science of biblical interpretation. Do atheists really want to take the time to understand and learn about how to interpret the Bible? Probably not. What are the consequences when atheists don’t take the time to learn some of the basics of hermeneutics?

Sadly, this makes atheists look superficial and nothing more than a reactionary movement with little substance. But why use the word “superficial?” Because the sign quotes a verse totally out of context and then proceeds to have a picture of a slave. Then they accuse Christians of adhering to Bronze Age Myths. What else could be more superficial? Furthermore, signs like the one above make them look like they just want to present a distortion of the Christian faith which is not backed up by proper research. Now like I said, if they don’t care, then so be it. But they will continually embarrass themselves by doing this. And to say they are the champions of reason without truly investigating this issue is rather pathetic. Don’t get me wrong. I have friends who are atheists. I do care deeply about them. So for those that are interested in doing some proper research on the topic of slavery and the Bible see Does The Old Testament Endorse Slavery? here and Why Is the New Testament Silent on Slavery — or Is It? here and Glen Miller’s article called Does the Bible Condone Slavery? here. To see an overview of some of the basics of hermeneutics, see this article by New Testament scholar Craig Keener.

Also, I wonder if any atheists know that it was Christians who historians credit with being the primary force behind ending international slave trade. Two-thirds of the members of the American abolition society in 1835 were Christian ministers. Wilberforce, Charles Finney, William Lloyd Garrison, Edward Beecher, and Theodore Dwight Weld all battled to abolish slavery. John Gregg Fee, the evangelical founder of Berea College in Kentucky called out to God in prayer on his knees and said “Lord, if needs be, make me an Abolitionist” (Gary Haugen, Good News About Injustice, pg 62-63). See more here:

This billboard issue also reminds me of these comments made by Alister McGrath in his book Why God Won’t Go Away: Is The New Atheism Running On Empty? He says:

“I’d just finished giving a lecture in London in early 2010. A young man came up afterward and asked me to sign a copy of my textbook Christian Theology: An Introduction. I asked him what had led him to study theology. He told me that he’d read Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion a year or so earlier and it seemed so unfair and one-sided that he felt he needed to hear the other side. So he started going to church. After a while, he found he could not sustain his faith in the parody when confronted with the real thing. He converted to Christianity – joyfully and decisively. “Without Dawkins,” he told me, “I would never have given God a second thought.”

I hope and pray we see more people like this young man in the future.

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21 thoughts on “What Happens When Atheists Don’t Care About Hermeneutics?

  1. Austin G. March 7, 2012 / 3:07 pm

    Excellent post Eric. It’s ironic that a group of people who claim to represent reason and intellectualism cannot grasp the idea that a methodology exists on how to interpret the Bible.

  2. Tony Lloyd March 9, 2012 / 5:06 pm

    I think you would have a point if the pro-slavery interpretation of the Bible was a clear mis-reading invented by the atheists.

    However, this is not the case. The billboard is a direct quotation, not distorted by removal of context. You imply that it does not condone slavery, but do not say why the “real” meaning of the words is so different to the plain reading.

    Why not? What’s the “in a nutshell” explanation of why the thesis that the Bible condones slavery is not even arguable? If the atheists error is that egregious then there must be an obvious error they’ve made, surely? An error a little clearer than “not having studied some esoteric discipline in depth”.

    (I have perused the links you gave. The first bangs on about “Hebrew debt-servanthood”, but the injunction in the quote was not addressed to Hebrew debt servants. It was addressed to Collossians, people a little way both chronologically and geographically from Old Testament Isreal. The Collossians lived in a Roman World were slavery was slavery, where jubilees did not happen, where the “remarkable provisions” of Isreal’s law code held no weight. In short, the argument in the link is utterly irrelevant.)

  3. chab123 March 9, 2012 / 6:30 pm

    Tony,

    Your comments really prove my points in this post. First, to say hermeneutics is some “esoteric discipline” just supports what I said about the unwillingness to critically engage the issue. Btw, I am sure you know that ‘semantics’ is an esoteric discipline.There are no sound bite answers when it comes to issues like this. Second, I went back and left the titles for each link for both on the Old Testament and The New Testament so there is no confusion. Given there is always a relationship between both Testaments, I just wanted them to have the option to look at the issues in the Old Testament. I encourage you to go back and read the one on the New Testament. If Colossians really endorsed slavery, how would that view lead people like Wilberforce and other abolitionists who were Christians (as I pointed out in the post) in the eventual eradication of slavery in Europe and other parts of the world? So my advice is to read the link on the NT again.

    The kind of hermeneutics being employed here in this billboard about the Colossians passage is equivalent to having a billboard that says “ Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. “ –Ephesians 5: 22. Just like the Colossians quote, it is out of context. And if people don’t employ proper hermeneutical skills, you could just say, “See how backwards Christianity is, it is oppressive towards women.” Anyone with a little training on biblical interpretation will just dismiss it. If you read through the entire chapter and see how it fits in with the rest of the book and the entire Bible, it can be a rewarding experience. But like I said, perhaps atheists really don’t care.

    I am not sure whether you are trying to equate slavery in New Testament times (or OT times) to slavery in America . The links discuss that issue as well. If you want to see how the word “doulos “ is used in the Bible-see here: http://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionaries/bakers-evangelical-dictionary/slave-slavery.html

    So my post is not irrelevant at all. Take care.

  4. apologianick March 9, 2012 / 7:02 pm

    I hope my Mrs. gets to talk to Tony. She really loves animals and I think she’d want to set someone straight who clearly abuses animals for fun. I find it quite angering myself.

  5. Tony Lloyd March 10, 2012 / 12:04 pm

    “There are no sound bite answers when it comes to issues like this”

    If it’s a simple and obvious misinterpretation a simple and obvious explanation can be given.

    If it’s a complex matter that requires study then the atheists are quite entitled to run off to experts, say St. Thomas Aquinas, and get his opinion; rather than studying it themselves.

    You want it both ways. It’s obvious that (say) Aquinas is wrong, but a really complex issue explaining why he’s wrong.

    But it isn’t complex. The complexity is just thrown in to avoid the issue, it’s the courtier’s reply (http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Courtier's_Reply).

    You say that it is quoted “out of context”, but do not give the “correct” interpretation. Because you do not want to put it into context, you want to stop people raising this difficult issue. If it’s out of context then it’s a simple matter to say what the misinterpretation is and to correct that misinterpretation. Take that old favourite:

    “To suppose that the eye, with all its inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration, could have been formed by natural selection seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest possible degree.”

    Any misinterpretation of that sentence is corrected by the very next sentence. In fact any anti-evolution meaning one might read into the quotation is pretty well dispelled by the very next word: “yet”. If the next word in letter, after “Slaves, obey your masters” were “yet” or “but” or “although”; or if the surrounding words qualified the injunction then the quotation would be misleading. But the next word is not “but”, nor do the surrounding words in any way qualify the injunction on a slave to obey his master. “Out of context” fails, so:

    “read through the entire chapter”

    The whole chapter is pretty clear, Paul and Timothy want to separate the spiritual from the world and leave the world well alone: they’re not bothered about reforming the world. That fails, so:

    “see how it fits in with the rest of the book”.

    Of course that just makes things worse. Reading the chapter on its own might lead one to the opinion that that advice could be rephrased “yes, it sucks being a slave, but that’s not the most important thing”. Here, though, are Paul and Timothy writing to Christian slave owners (1:1), (4:1) about the behaviour they must follow (1:27) and there is no injunction on them to stop owning slaves (4:1 again)!

    So now read “the entire Bible”.

    Read this article.

    Read that article.

    Study hermeneutics.

    You are not recommending these to enlighten your opponents; you could have done that by explaining things yourself. You are recommending these to shut people up.

    • apologianick March 10, 2012 / 4:25 pm

      Tony: If it’s a simple and obvious misinterpretation a simple and obvious explanation can be given.

      Reply: Not always. Understanding the Bible means studying the language, the culture, the time, the history, the social rules, etc. The Bible is not a simple book and this kind of approach by new atheists takes it to be, as if the Bible was a 21st century document written to Americans.

      Tony: If it’s a complex matter that requires study then the atheists are quite entitled to run off to experts, say St. Thomas Aquinas, and get his opinion; rather than studying it themselves.
      You want it both ways. It’s obvious that (say) Aquinas is wrong, but a really complex issue explaining why he’s wrong.

      Reply: It’s obvious he was wrong? I’m a Thomist. I am a Protestant one however and so I don’t think he was right on everything, but if you want to discuss something like say “The five ways”, I’d like to know how he was wrong.

      Tony: But it isn’t complex. The complexity is just thrown in to avoid the issue, it’s the courtier’s reply (http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Courtier's_Reply).

      Reply: The Courtier’s reply is a cop-out for laziness. Sorry to have to tear away atheists from their favorite TV show to actually study what they criticize, but if I get the Courtier’s reply I get told a lot about my opponent.

      Tony: You say that it is quoted “out of context”, but do not give the “correct” interpretation.

      Reply: Maybe he should chew your food for you also.

      Tony: Because you do not want to put it into context, you want to stop people raising this difficult issue.

      Reply: Oh please. I love it when atheists raise this kind of issue. I quite enjoy ignorance being put on display.

      Tony: If it’s out of context then it’s a simple matter to say what the misinterpretation is and to correct that misinterpretation. Take that old favourite:
      “To suppose that the eye, with all its inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration, could have been formed by natural selection seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest possible degree.”
      Any misinterpretation of that sentence is corrected by the very next sentence. In fact any anti-evolution meaning one might read into the quotation is pretty well dispelled by the very next word: “yet”.

      Reply: Not an expert on Darwin, so I can’t reply here.

      Tony: If the next word in letter, after “Slaves, obey your masters” were “yet” or “but” or “although”; or if the surrounding words qualified the injunction then the quotation would be misleading. But the next word is not “but”, nor do the surrounding words in any way qualify the injunction on a slave to obey his master. “Out of context” fails, so:
      “read through the entire chapter”
      The whole chapter is pretty clear, Paul and Timothy want to separate the spiritual from the world and leave the world well alone: they’re not bothered about reforming the world.

      Reply: Oh please. This is the same Paul who said he was eager to remember the poor in Galatians 2, the same one who talked much about giving to the needy in 2 Cor. 8-9, the one who encouraged slaves to obtain their freedom if possible in 1 Cor. 7, the same Paul who said there is no slave or free, male or female, Jew or Gentile, in Galatians 3, the same Paul who included slave traders amongst the wicked people in 1 Tim. 1.

      The reality is Paul was doing exactly what Jesus did. Jesus did not go out and teach political reform. Neither did Paul. Both of them taught the spread of the message that the kingdom of God has come and Jesus saw Himself as the King. Paul proclaimed him that way when he would say “Jesus is Lord” because implicit in that is “Caesar is not.”

      When the Lordship of Christ would spread, then that society would be changed politically as well. This is exactly what happened. It was Bathilda, wife of Clovis II who was highly instrumental as a result of her Christian teaching for setting slaves free.

      Tony: That fails, so:
      “see how it fits in with the rest of the book”.
      Of course that just makes things worse. Reading the chapter on its own might lead one to the opinion that that advice could be rephrased “yes, it sucks being a slave, but that’s not the most important thing”. Here, though, are Paul and Timothy writing to Christian slave owners (1:1), (4:1) about the behaviour they must follow (1:27) and there is no injunction on them to stop owning slaves (4:1 again)!

      Reply: This would be like writing to a government and telling them to immediately change all economic laws. To begin with, slavery in the ancient system was not what it was in the Civil War. It was more of an employee/employer relationship. Many slaves were treated well and could earn their freedom. Had Paul told them to stop owning slaves, he would have been seen as starting a political movement instead of spreading the gospel. Paul instead worked on the people to change their hearts before changing their actions.

      Tony: So now read “the entire Bible”.
      Read this article.
      Read that article.
      Study hermeneutics.

      Reply: Strange thing isn’t it. Eric wants people to be well-informed.

      Tony: You are not recommending these to enlighten your opponents; you could have done that by explaining things yourself. You are recommending these to shut people up.

      Reply: I’ll remember this next time I’m told to just read Wikipedia by an atheist instead of being given an argument.

      You should really come to TheologyWeb.com and visit my Deeper Waters section. I’d really enjoy this discussion there.

  6. Tony Lloyd March 10, 2012 / 6:30 pm

    “I’ll remember this next time I’m told to just read Wikipedia by an atheist instead of being given an argument. ”

    Do so.

    It really is appalling behaviour, by atheist or theist, to treat ignorance as culpable. Someone who does know should explain to someone who does not know.

    Worse is carrying on as if someone is ignorant merely because you disagree with them.

    Still worse is misrepresenting your own case. (The Galations 3 reference is plainly dishonest.)

    It does take in-depth study and many, many, varied skills to have a complete understanding of the Bible. It does not take in-depth study and many, many, varied skills to correctly interpret parts of the Bible. If one of those, rather clear areas serves as a falsification of Christianity, or part of a falsification of Christianity then, well, Christianity is (partly) falsified.

    Your actions are very similar to those “New Age” or “Post Modernist” type who, faced with clear evidence that their pet nonsense is nonsense start banging on about how I “don’t understand” or I’m “stuck in a rationalist paradigm that won’t let you see how it’s right”. If only I read X, or (more usually) buy course Y then I’ll see etc. etc. etc. You can never get them to say what is actually wrong with your point, just attack your right to say it.

    There are sound-bites, one of which is:

    1. Slavery is wrong
    2. The Bible accepts Christians owning slaves
    3. End

    “But you haven’t understood”, “other bits of the Bible say you shouldn’t be a slave trader”, “they’ve had a good excuse”, “some Christians tried to abolish slavery”, “if you deliberately misinterpret this bit then it looks like somewhere else in the Bible says you shouldn’t have slaves”, “I can pretend that slavery was all cuddly and nice back then by incorrectly assuming that you don’t know about slavery back then and by, deliberately, conflating Hebrew debt servitude with other forms of slavery”

    1. Slavery is wrong
    2. The Bible accepts Christians owning slaves
    3. End

    “But you haven’t read X, Y and Z”, “you can’t translate Greek”, “you haven’t studied in a seminary”

    Don’t need to:

    1. Slavery is wrong
    2. The Bible accepts Christians owning slaves
    3. End

    • apologianick March 10, 2012 / 9:04 pm

      Tony:It really is appalling behaviour, by atheist or theist, to treat ignorance as culpable. Someone who does know should explain to someone who does not know.

      Reply: having said that, my main problem is not reference to another source so much as to just Wiki, a quick, easy, and useless source. If an atheist refers to a book, or something by a certified scholar, that is much more likely to get my attention.

      Tony: Worse is carrying on as if someone is ignorant merely because you disagree with them.

      Reply: Yeah. Let me know when I do that merely because someone disagrees with me.

      Tony: Still worse is misrepresenting your own case. (The Galations 3 reference is plainly dishonest.)

      Reply: It’s plainly dishonest. No mention of why. It just is. Never mind this was one of the many passages that influenced Bathilda and Clovis II to end slavery. Never mind that Paul is writing there about how one can tell who is in the family of Abraham and thus part of God’s family and has a statement tearing apart the Jew’s morning prayer of thanks that he was not a slave, a gentile, or a woman. Never mind that this is the kind of statement that led to the breakdown of the social divide that would allow for slavery.

      Tony: It does take in-depth study and many, many, varied skills to have a complete understanding of the Bible. It does not take in-depth study and many, many, varied skills to correctly interpret parts of the Bible.

      Reply: Yes it does. One can get a superficial basic understanding but not a substantial understanding. If one is sure of their position, they won’t mind further research.

      Tony: If one of those, rather clear areas serves as a falsification of Christianity, or part of a falsification of Christianity then, well, Christianity is (partly) falsified.

      Reply: Let me know when you present one. Christianity doesn’t rest on what happened to slaves but if there’s historical evidence that Jesus rose from the dead.

      Tony: Your actions are very similar to those “New Age” or “Post Modernist” type who, faced with clear evidence that their pet nonsense is nonsense start banging on about how I “don’t understand” or I’m “stuck in a rationalist paradigm that won’t let you see how it’s right”. If only I read X, or (more usually) buy course Y then I’ll see etc. etc. etc. You can never get them to say what is actually wrong with your point, just attack your right to say it.

      Reply: You have all right to say it. In fact, I want you to say it. I want you to complain as much as possible about slavery in the Bible so that we can really go into the particulars about it. Why would I want to silence someone who’s so well demonstrating the mindset that leads to the sign?

      Tony: There are sound-bites, one of which is:
      1. Slavery is wrong
      2. The Bible accepts Christians owning slaves
      3. End

      Reply: End being what? All this would prove is that the Bible is in error on something at worse. So what? That would not demonstrate that Jesus did not rise from the dead or God does not exist.

      Tony: “But you haven’t understood”, “other bits of the Bible say you shouldn’t be a slave trader”,

      Reply: Correct.

      Tony: “they’ve had a good excuse”

      Reply: It’s not an excuse. That’s a false characterization. It’s realizing that the gospel was not meant to be a social and political movement. It was meant to rather change individuals instead of taking on government officials as a whole. That would lead to change overall, and it did.

      Tony: “some Christians tried to abolish slavery”,

      Reply: Correct.

      Tony: “if you deliberately misinterpret this bit then it looks like somewhere else in the Bible says you shouldn’t have slaves”,

      Reply: No deliberate misrepresenting. Paul saw slavery as less than ideal as is shown in the case of Philemon.

      Tony: “I can pretend that slavery was all cuddly and nice back then by incorrectly assuming that you don’t know about slavery back then and by, deliberately, conflating Hebrew debt servitude with other forms of slavery”

      Reply: No. Not saying it was cuddly and nice. It was a system badly in need of reform, and that started with Israelite Law that was revolutionary for its time. You could not remove the system entirely without drastically affecting the social order for the worse.

      Tony: 1. Slavery is wrong
      2. The Bible accepts Christians owning slaves
      3. End
      “But you haven’t read X, Y and Z”, “you can’t translate Greek”, “you haven’t studied in a seminary”
      Don’t need to:
      1. Slavery is wrong
      2. The Bible accepts Christians owning slaves
      3. End

      Reply: And we’re never told what that slavery was, what the basis for it was, how it affected the social order, nor are we told what the “end” was? It’s simple argument from outrage.

  7. chab123 March 10, 2012 / 9:33 pm

    Tony, you say, “You say that it is quoted “out of context”, but do not give the “correct” interpretation.” I am still wondering if you bothered to read the article on the New Testament. I did provide an article that gives some context to the passage. So I gave people the option to read a somewhat detailed essay on the slavery issue. You still have given no response to this issue of historians crediting Christians with being the primary force behind ending international slave trade. So where did Wilberforce, Charles Finney, William Lloyd Garrison, Edward Beecher, and Theodore Dwight Weld and a host of others that all battled to abolish slavery get their motives from? The Bible? You are punting to alot of red herrings. What does Aquinas have to do with this?

  8. Tony Lloyd March 10, 2012 / 10:57 pm

    Hi Chab123

    Yes, I did read the article on the New Testament. The article just reinforces my own interpretation: that the Bible is more concerned with the spiritual equality then telling Christians to stop being slave owners. Indeed the article argues that Paul was right to avoid what would have been a contentious social issue and concentrate on the spiritual.

    I mentioned Aquinas because Aquinas argued that servitude was part of the natural order. This is what I take, without the benefit of Greek or a course in hermeneutics (but with a lot more knowledge on the subject than you seem to give me credit for), to be broadly the line Paul is taking: slavery is here, it’s a fact, deal with it and look to the more important stuff.

    I consider that vile and the athiest society to have been right to draw peoples attention to it.

    “You still have given no response to this issue of historians crediting Christians with being the primary force behind ending international slave trade.”

    A few things here. You still haven’t explained what the horrendous and obvious mis-representation of the Bible the atheist billboard makes.

    Secondly, if you have a population that varies in opinion and activity then you are likely to be able to pick examples of a variety of opinions and activities from them. Most of the United States and Europe was Christian at the time of the abolition of the the international slave trade. That being the case most of any opinion were likely to be Christian. There were Christians opposed to drink, and monks who brewed beer (they still do, it’s very good stuff!) There were Christian communists and socialists, Christian feudalists and Christian believers in capitalism. There were Christian absolutists who believed in the divine right of kings, at the same time there were Christians like Penn who caused a scandal by not taking his hat off in front of the King and calling him “thee”! If its reasonable to credit Christianity with the abolition of slavery because there were Christians who sought to abolish the slave trade then it is reasonable to blame Christianity for the slave trade because there were Christians who supported it. Where did Thornton Stringfellow get his Biblical defence of slavery from, if not the Bible?

    Thirdly, if the interpretation of Paul is dependent on the actions of those almost two thousand years after him then I have a bone to pick with him about all the kiddie-raping he said was ok.

    Finally, I just have to have a tiny poke at American arrogance. The 1835 abolition society and the abolition of the international slave trade are different things. England abolished the slave trade well before 1835. The 1835 abolition society was only needed because you Americans were slow on the uptake.

    • apologianick March 10, 2012 / 11:46 pm

      Eric. When Christians do good, even though slavery had been a part of society long before Christians showed up on the scene and no one sought its end, it doesn’t really matter. It only counts when a secular society does it, even though they have to borrow the Christian ethic. Also the only message Paul needed to write to everyone was “Go set all the slaves free!” Sure. This would have caused an internal war between Christians and society and got the Christian message lost in politics, but oh well. God became incarnate for the sole purpose of resolving social issues. Furthermore, keep in mind the Bible was quoted to defend slavery. It doesn’t matter that those defenses were all horrid relying on the mark of Cain and the curse of Noah on his descendants, etc. and there were Christians going against this the whole time. That doesn’t matter.

      There’s no need to study slavery in the ANE or how it fit into society as a whole or how Israel’s usage of it set the seeds for its destruction. All that matters is it causes outrage and if it causes outrage, well that’s enough.

  9. chab123 March 12, 2012 / 2:36 am

    Tony,

    First of all, I would probably gather that Aquinas was familiar with NT texts that talks about slavery. And he probably knew that to be a doulos (a slave, a servant) to God and fellow man was a sign of commitment and an abandonment of autonomy. I attempt to be a “doulous” to God and others around me on a regular basis. Of course, I struggle with being a consistent servant, but that is another topic. But Aquinas also argued that slavery was a sin (as in the way you are presenting it) and opposed to natural justice-see Jonathan Hill’s What Has Christianity Ever Done For Us?, pgs 176-77.

    Also to build on what apologianick has pointed out:

    Are we to say unless Paul speaks directly to the abolition of slavery, we now say the Bible explicitly endorses slavery as seen later seen in the South? Of course we know that had Paul done that this would have created a massive social upheaval because it would of left a large amount of people unemployed in the Roman Empire. N.T. Wright once said that we might as well protest against the mortgage system in the West-see his commentary on Colossians and Philemon, pgs, 150, 169. If you want a very, very, thorough treatment of slavery in that time period, see Glen Miller’s work from The Christian Thinktank here: http://christianthinktank.com/qnoslavent.html

    As Miller notes:

    Paul explicitly denounces slave-trading, which would have restricted the supply of slaves to Christian households [1 Tim 1.9-10]

    Paul tells free people to NOT become slaves [1 Cor 7.23]

    Paul tells slaves to become free, if they can [1 Cor 7.21]

    Paul encourages Philemon to ‘free’ Onesimus in that epistle [verse 21]

    Notice the very last paragraph- a summary of a very long study:

    “Now, what emerges from this rather detailed study, is that most of the passages in the NT relating to slavery were not even speaking about what we could consider ‘slavery’ today (i.e., New World slavery). Given what ‘slavery’ was like in Paul’s day, we should not be morally ‘surprised’ at the absence of a blanket manumission statement by him, or at the absence of a major Empire-wide anti-slavery campaign on the part of the emerging church. The data that we DO have in the NT lays clear groundwork for refuting New World Slavery (almost all of which was based on slave-trading and piracy–explicitly condemned by Paul and fought by the early church). By the time slavery loses its ethically ambiguous character as an institution (i.e., in the slave trade of the New World period), it cannot legitimately ‘use Paul’ to defend itself, for it had mutated into something quite unlike either Hebrew “slavery” in the OT, or “household slavery” in the NT.”

    So if the NT relating to slavery were not even speaking about what we could consider ‘slavery’ today (i.e., New World slavery), it is still historically possible for someone to be a professing Christian to own a slave in the South? I would say yes. While I think that is tragic and I would question them where in the world they got that idea from, I would not automatically that they got this idea from the Bible. So is this the deal?

    1.If Christians owned slaves in the South, then the Bible is false
    2.Christians owned slaves in the South
    3.Therefore, the Bible is false

    As Miller just said, the Bible does not condone slavery as we saw later in the New World. So we know historically, the abolitionist movement was motivated by Christianity- see the article The Abolitionists, here: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ch/1992/issue33/3321.html. Also, there have been many Christians in Church history that opposed slavery long before the Southern slavery issue: (Polycarp and Ignatius, 1st, 2nd, 3rd , 4th, 5th, centuries, and onward).

    So are we to now say:

    1.If Christians help abolish slavery, then the Bible is true
    2.Christians helped abolish slavery
    3.Therefore, the Bible is true

    The point is that billboards like the one above are a gross oversimplification.

  10. Tony Lloyd March 12, 2012 / 1:11 pm

    There’s a lot here, much of which I (and, I assume, the American Atheists) disagree with. The content of the disagreement is not, though, as interesting as the subject of the disagreement. What we disagree about is economics, social history, ethics, causality and philosophical methodology.

    You, however, represent hermeneutics as the main issue, and, in doing so, call American Atheists “village atheists”, “rather pathetic” and say they appear “superficial and nothing more than a reactionary movement with little substance”.

    That might be acceptable were the American Atheists to weigh in on a complex matter of hermeneutics on which they knew they had no expertise. Is it reasonable where you have no special expertise and the American Atheists have no special ignorance? Of course it isn’t. It’s a tactic designed to shut down debate.

    American Atheists: “We think that the fact that the Bible enjoins slaves to obey their masters is a reason to doubt the authority of the Bible as a guide for living today”

    Ratio-Christi: “You don’t even know what that bit of the Bible means. Idiots. Before advancing an opinion please run off and learn hermeneutics.

    Me: “Eh? I don’t think they’ve misunderstood that bit of the Bible. If they have gone wrong, tell me where”

    Ratio-Christi: “Oh, it’s far too complicated to explain. Leave it to the experts. Have you even done the homework we assigned? Here have some more homework”

    We can discuss economics, social history, ethics, causality and philosophical methodology. We can’t discuss it if your reaction to disagreement in one field is to find an unrelated field that your opponent may not have full expertise on so that you can accuse him of ignorance. There’s no productive discussion if you produce a load of supporting arguments only tangentially related to your opponents point (because you haven’t bothered to clarify your opponents point). There’s no productive discussion if you do not explain what your opponents have got wrong and just insult them.

  11. chab123 March 12, 2012 / 1:49 pm

    Tony,

    I never said I am opposed to rational discussion nor am I trying to shut down any rational inquiry. Nor did I say that in the post. And I never said Amercian atheists are stupid.

    2. My point is that the sign quotes a verse out of context. It has a picture of an African American which shows they try to equate slavery in the time period of Colossians with slavery in the South which betrays an understanding of slavery in that context.

    3. The sign is not really an appeal to rational thought and inquiry. It is an APPEAL TO EMOTION. If anything, this sign is an insult to Christians (and it is meant to be that way), and does not promote any rational disucssion.

    4. If you want Amercian Atheists to be the soundboard for reason, they should have the following on the sign under the Bible quote.

    Suggestions to all those who are interested:

    1. Study the context of this passage which includes the historical setting in which it was written.

    2. How does the passage fit in the rest of the chapter and the entire book of Colossians and with the rest of the Bible. What does the Bible say about slavery as a whole?

    3. Is this passage leading us to only make bare assertions that it led to slavery in the South/The New World?

    • apologianick March 12, 2012 / 3:11 pm

      Tony: There’s a lot here, much of which I (and, I assume, the American Atheists) disagree with. The content of the disagreement is not, though, as interesting as the subject of the disagreement. What we disagree about is economics, social history, ethics, causality and philosophical methodology.

      Reply: That’s fine. I disagree with all of those as well.

      Tony: You, however, represent hermeneutics as the main issue, and, in doing so, call American Atheists “village atheists”, “rather pathetic” and say they appear “superficial and nothing more than a reactionary movement with little substance”.

      Reply: No he doesn’t. He’s talking about one incident and you’re making that the whole basis. Eric has a lot more he can criticize AA about. However, I agree with his conclusions. AA has no substance to it.

      Tony: That might be acceptable were the American Atheists to weigh in on a complex matter of hermeneutics on which they knew they had no expertise.

      Reply: Like in this case.

      Tony: Is it reasonable where you have no special expertise and the American Atheists have no special ignorance? Of course it isn’t. It’s a tactic designed to shut down debate.

      Reply: Except there is special expertise. Why not go and do the study Eric suggested? So one side doesn’t have to do any work and just shut down the other side. If your side was correct, you’d think you’d welcome further research. Last I heard you were complaining about ignorance. You complain about ignorance but don’t seem to want to do any background study.

      Tony: American Atheists: “We think that the fact that the Bible enjoins slaves to obey their masters is a reason to doubt the authority of the Bible as a guide for living today”
      Ratio-Christi: “You don’t even know what that bit of the Bible means. Idiots. Before advancing an opinion please run off and learn hermeneutics.
      Me: “Eh? I don’t think they’ve misunderstood that bit of the Bible. If they have gone wrong, tell me where”
      Ratio-Christi: “Oh, it’s far too complicated to explain. Leave it to the experts. Have you even done the homework we assigned? Here have some more homework”

      Reply: Never does seem to occur that it is far more difficult to explain. That’s can’t be it! It’s obviously a dodge! No. The reality is that it is difficult. For instance, in the New World, slavery was a system of exploiting. In the ANE, slavery was a necessity and was a system designed for the benefit of the poor. Compared to other law codes of the time, Israel granted much more benefits. For instance, if a slave ran away, he was to be kept safe.

      Tony: We can discuss economics, social history, ethics, causality and philosophical methodology. We can’t discuss it if your reaction to disagreement in one field is to find an unrelated field that your opponent may not have full expertise on so that you can accuse him of ignorance.

      Reply: Well why not see if that happens?

      Tony: There’s no productive discussion if you produce a load of supporting arguments only tangentially related to your opponents point (because you haven’t bothered to clarify your opponents point). There’s no productive discussion if you do not explain what your opponents have got wrong and just insult them.

      Reply: There’s no productive discussion if one side says “I’m right! I don’t need to do any further study! I won’t bother looking up your resources!”

  12. Tony Lloyd March 12, 2012 / 3:42 pm

    I agree that you did not say you were opposed to rational discussion. And what of it? Your actions speak where you do not. I have encountered your unpleasant tactics too many times on too many subjects (Christianity, Islam, homeopathy, various “New Age” rubbish) to believe that this is anything other than how I have characterised it.

    You did not use the word “stupid”, nor did you use the word “idiots” that I used in my precis. You did call them “village atheists”, “rather pathetic” and say they appear “superficial and nothing more than a reactionary movement with little substance”. As I was presenting a characterisation I, naturally, needed to encapsulate the attitude in a concise way and, so, chose “idiots”. I could have used “fools”, “buffoons”, “know nothings” or any number of other terms.

    Whether or not slavery in the South was so radically different from slavery in the Roman World as to make it inappropriate to equate the two is a historical, not a hermeneutical issue. I might grant you special expertise in the use of the word “doulos”. I see no reason to suppose that you have special knowledge of both ancient and recent slavery; nor that I do not posses enough to, reasonably, disagree with you on this point. Disagreement with you on this does not indicate a distortion of the Bible, neither does challenging you to say what that distortion is “really prove (the) points in this post”.

    I think you have hit on the point d’appui with your talk of an appeal to emotion (or, even, an “APPEAL TO EMOTION”). I suspect it hurts that Paul had different priorities to us moderns. I suspect that this has hurt in the past. I suspect that people have developed a whole heap of rationalisations to cope with it. I suspect that when someone ignores those rationalisations it hurts even more. I suspect that the EMOTION causes an “attack”.

    I am not, particularly, interested in American Atheists being the “soundboard for reason”. I am sick to the back-teeth of those who do not engage in any discussion but pontificate, belittle those who disagree, set hurdles for those who want to disagree and deal in irrelevancies. If you want rational enquiry then, when asked for clarification give it do not come back with “(y)our comments really prove my points in this post.”!

  13. Tony Lloyd March 12, 2012 / 4:26 pm

    @ apologianick:

    Tony: You, however, represent hermeneutics as the main issue, and, in doing so, call American Atheists “village atheists”, “rather pathetic” and say they appear “superficial and nothing more than a reactionary movement with little substance”.

    Reply: No he doesn’t. He’s talking about one incident and you’re making that the whole basis. Eric has a lot more he can criticize AA about. However, I agree with his conclusions. AA has no substance to it.

    Tony’s reply: My objection is to this one incident (“incident” being “the post”)

    Tony: That might be acceptable were the American Atheists to weigh in on a complex matter of hermeneutics on which they knew they had no expertise.

    Reply: Like in this case.

    Tony’s reply: I disagree that they have a hermeneutical dispute with Eric. As above the dispute is on economics, social history, ethics, causality and philosophical methodology.

    Tony: Is it reasonable where you have no special expertise and the American Atheists have no special ignorance? Of course it isn’t. It’s a tactic designed to shut down debate.

    Reply: Except there is special expertise. Why not go and do the study Eric suggested? So one side doesn’t have to do any work and just shut down the other side. If your side was correct, you’d think you’d welcome further research. Last I heard you were complaining about ignorance. You complain about ignorance but don’t seem to want to do any background study.

    Tony’s reply: As above the relevant expertise is in economics, social history, ethics, causality and philosophical methodology.

    Tony:
    American Atheists: “We think that the fact that the Bible enjoins slaves to obey their masters is a reason to doubt the authority of the Bible as a guide for living today”
    Ratio-Christi: “You don’t even know what that bit of the Bible means. Idiots. Before advancing an opinion please run off and learn hermeneutics.
    Me: “Eh? I don’t think they’ve misunderstood that bit of the Bible. If they have gone wrong, tell me where”
    Ratio-Christi: “Oh, it’s far too complicated to explain. Leave it to the experts. Have you even done the homework we assigned? Here have some more homework”

    Reply: Never does seem to occur that it is far more difficult to explain. That’s can’t be it! It’s obviously a dodge! No. The reality is that it is difficult. For instance, in the New World, slavery was a system of exploiting. In the ANE, slavery was a necessity and was a system designed for the benefit of the poor. Compared to other law codes of the time, Israel granted much more benefits. For instance, if a slave ran away, he was to be kept safe.

    Tony’s reply: Again, this is a historical point not a textual point. You are arguing why it might be ok to condone ANE slavery but not New World slavery not whether the text condones ANE slavery. To remove doubt I completely disagree with your characterisation of first century slavery in Colossae.

    Tony: We can discuss economics, social history, ethics, causality and philosophical methodology. We can’t discuss it if your reaction to disagreement in one field is to find an unrelated field that your opponent may not have full expertise on so that you can accuse him of ignorance.

    Reply: Well why not see if that happens?

    Tony’s reply: I’ve seen enough already.

    Tony: There’s no productive discussion if you produce a load of supporting arguments only tangentially related to your opponents point (because you haven’t bothered to clarify your opponents point). There’s no productive discussion if you do not explain what your opponents have got wrong and just insult them.

    Reply: There’s no productive discussion if one side says “I’m right! I don’t need to do any further study! I won’t bother looking up your resources!”

    Tony’s reply: I didn’t say “I’m right”. I disputed that AA had misrepresented the Bible on this point. The “resources” given did not contradict the straightforward reading of the verse and backed up the straightforward reading of the verse (to explain why Paul did not seek to abolish slavery the NT article, naturally, has to assume that he didn’t seek to abolish slavery). So I did look up the resources. At that point I realise that the resources are useless in establishing the alleged misrepresentation of the Bible by AA. So what am I to make of more resources. What am I to make of “read through the entire chapter and see how it fits in with the rest of the book and the entire Bible”? Am I to think that maybe the two resources I looked up didn’t answer my questions but the next will? Or the one after that? Or the one after that? Or are these things thrown by someone who doesn’t have an answer (partly because he couldn’t be bothered to clarify the question), if the first doesn’t work he’ll throw out another, and another, and another.

    I’m happy to look up resources (I did), though I’d prefer it if they’d just answer the question. I’m not going to continue looking up resource after resource to research someone’s answer for him!

    Oh, and what on earth am I to make of:
    “I hope my Mrs. gets to talk to Tony. She really loves animals and I think she’d want to set someone straight who clearly abuses animals for fun. I find it quite angering myself.”?

    • apologianick March 13, 2012 / 3:02 pm

      Tony’s reply: My objection is to this one incident (“incident” being “the post”)

      Reply: One incident does not allow a pushing forward to all circumstances.

      Tony: That might be acceptable were the American Atheists to weigh in on a complex matter of hermeneutics on which they knew they had no expertise. Reply: Like in this case. Tony’s reply: I disagree that they have a hermeneutical dispute with Eric. As above the dispute is on economics, social history, ethics, causality and philosophical methodology.

      Reply: Then let’s start with the ANE. What do you know about slavery in the ANE?

      Tony: Is it reasonable where you have no special expertise and the American Atheists have no special ignorance? Of course it isn’t. It’s a tactic designed to shut down debate. Reply: Except there is special expertise. Why not go and do the study Eric suggested? So one side doesn’t have to do any work and just shut down the other side. If your side was correct, you’d think you’d welcome further research. Last I heard you were complaining about ignorance. You complain about ignorance but don’t seem to want to do any background study. Tony’s reply: As above the relevant expertise is in economics, social history, ethics, causality and philosophical methodology.

      Reply: And the specialty we have is not only those areas, but also the ANE and biblical literature. Are you a specialist on the ANE and biblical literature?

      Tony: American Atheists: “We think that the fact that the Bible enjoins slaves to obey their masters is a reason to doubt the authority of the Bible as a guide for living today” Ratio-Christi: “You don’t even know what that bit of the Bible means. Idiots. Before advancing an opinion please run off and learn hermeneutics. Me: “Eh? I don’t think they’ve misunderstood that bit of the Bible. If they have gone wrong, tell me where” Ratio-Christi: “Oh, it’s far too complicated to explain. Leave it to the experts. Have you even done the homework we assigned? Here have some more homework” Reply: Never does seem to occur that it is far more difficult to explain. That’s can’t be it! It’s obviously a dodge! No. The reality is that it is difficult. For instance, in the New World, slavery was a system of exploiting. In the ANE, slavery was a necessity and was a system designed for the benefit of the poor. Compared to other law codes of the time, Israel granted much more benefits. For instance, if a slave ran away, he was to be kept safe. Tony’s reply: Again, this is a historical point not a textual point. You are arguing why it might be ok to condone ANE slavery but not New World slavery not whether the text condones ANE slavery. To remove doubt I completely disagree with your characterisation of first century slavery in Colossae.

      Reply: That would have been interesting had I said anything about it there. However, this is a historical point. The Bible is a high-context document that assumes you are familiar with the historical and social context. If you are not, you will not understand it. What do you know of slavery in the ANE?

      Tony: We can discuss economics, social history, ethics, causality and philosophical methodology. We can’t discuss it if your reaction to disagreement in one field is to find an unrelated field that your opponent may not have full expertise on so that you can accuse him of ignorance. Reply: Well why not see if that happens? Tony’s reply: I’ve seen enough already. Tony: There’s no productive discussion if you produce a load of supporting arguments only tangentially related to your opponents point (because you haven’t bothered to clarify your opponents point). There’s no productive discussion if you do not explain what your opponents have got wrong and just insult them. Reply: There’s no productive discussion if one side says “I’m right! I don’t need to do any further study! I won’t bother looking up your resources!” Tony’s reply: I didn’t say “I’m right”. I disputed that AA had misrepresented the Bible on this point.

      Reply: Which means you think you are right in your position on what AA said. Amazing how this is missed. Apparently, the historical context is just a tangential point.

      Tony: The “resources” given did not contradict the straightforward reading of the verse and backed up the straightforward reading of the verse (to explain why Paul did not seek to abolish slavery the NT article, naturally, has to assume that he didn’t seek to abolish slavery). So I did look up the resources. At that point I realise that the resources are useless in establishing the alleged misrepresentation of the Bible by AA. So what am I to make of more resources.

      Reply: No reason given why they’re useless. They just are.

      Tony: What am I to make of “read through the entire chapter and see how it fits in with the rest of the book and the entire Bible”? Am I to think that maybe the two resources I looked up didn’t answer my questions but the next will? Or the one after that? Or the one after that?

      Reply:: Two sources. Woo hoo! Hard research there!

      Tony: Or are these things thrown by someone who doesn’t have an answer (partly because he couldn’t be bothered to clarify the question), if the first doesn’t work he’ll throw out another, and another, and another. I’m happy to look up resources (I did), though I’d prefer it if they’d just answer the question.

      Reply: They do if you actually read them instead of just putting them under your pillow at night.

      Tony: I’m not going to continue looking up resource after resource to research someone’s answer for him!

      Reply: The answer has been given. If you don’t like it, that’s your problem.

      Tony: Oh, and what on earth am I to make of: “I hope my Mrs. gets to talk to Tony. She really loves animals and I think she’d want to set someone straight who clearly abuses animals for fun. I find it quite angering myself.”?

      Reply: When someone posts something complaining about slavery in the Bible, I interpret that to mean that they are animal abusers. Of course, you could tell me I’m wrong, but that would rely on an esoteric doctrine. We wouldn’t want that.

      So please stop drowning puppies for fun.

  14. chab123 March 12, 2012 / 5:19 pm

    Tony,

    Your original comment was a dodge on the issue of hermeneutics. You labeled it as some sort of “esoteric discipline.” So now you have back peddled a bit and tried to engage that discipline a tiny bit. So my original comment was justified in what I said about my comments only proving my points.

    Tony, look at the sign again! Just read it carefully. I have already pointed out the problems with it. I have not tried to rationalize anything. And btw, there is a direct relationship between hermeneutics and history. One aspect of hermeneutics is to engage and understand the historical setting of the event. This sign is an appeal to emotion. Nothing more, nothing less.

    I think I am justified in saying the sign is superficial. Anyone should be able to see that. Think about it: Make a sign with a Bible verse out of context. Put a picture of an African American slave on it and then say we appeal to Bronze Age Myths. It is does not get more superficial than that.

    Are we really setting hurdles for those who disagree? What is a hurdle? Making someone critically engage the subject? Do some hard study? Disagreeing with the other side? I am all for Free Speech. Make as many signs and you want and put them everywhere. Let atheists write books like The God Delusion. I don’t care. But we will always offer a critical response. Sorry Tony, but get used to it. Notice I lead a ministry at OSU and deal with atheists all the time. Some of them are friends of mine. We have done panels, debates, discussions, etc. Nobody has ever said I am creating a hurdle. Most atheists I meet accuse theists of being people of simple faith and not having answers to tough questions. So now when they find that we are able to engage us on some of these issues, they are pleasantly surprised. This a Christian apologetics blog. We defend the Christian worldview in the marketplace of ideas. So if you are not happy with posts here because they don’t agree with your views, that is the way it goes. You have the right to not read them and move on. I wish you the best.

  15. Tony Lloyd March 15, 2012 / 2:39 pm

    Eric,

    There is no “dodge” in my initial comment. You seem to dislike the word “esoteric”, is “unlikely to appeal to those who do not share a particular outlook and, therefore, apparently obscure to those outside the group” better? If not shorter. The point I was trying to make, which we probably both agree on, is that AA is unlikely to have many members with the motivation to research and understand hermeneutics. Perhaps “appears esoteric to members of AA” is best?

    Now, if there were a dispute over what the text says then it may be that a lack of hermeneutical expertise led AA to utterly mis-represent the text. In that case there would be an issue with AA’s lack of hermeneutical interest. The mis-representation would have been one of the “consequences when atheists don’t take the time to learn some of the basics of hermeneutics”. Or, as I put it:
    “I think you would have a point if the pro-slavery interpretation of the Bible was a clear mis-reading invented by the atheists.”
    There is, though, no dispute over what the text says.

    Neither AA, Paul Copan, Glen Miller, nor I disagree about what the text says. The disagreement is over whether what it says is good or bad. I presume that you do not disagree about what the text says: you haven’t given a re-interpretation of it. The point of the billboard, and the dispute about it, does not rest on hermeneutics.

    In that situation you are not correct to criticise AA’s alleged lack of hermeneutical expertise. Neither, when this is challenged, are you entitled to take it as proof of your point. To do either is demanding a level of expertise that is simply not necessary. That it is also a level of expertise that you are confident the AA do not have it raises the suspicion that this is deliberate.

    Linking to lengthy, sometimes irrelevant, articles rather than summarising the points that support an argument can be used to stifle discussion. Instead of explaining why p the debate-avoider can buy time by throwing a few hours reading at the person who disagrees. Of course, by no means all links to more detailed works, even without summaries, are intended to stifle discussion. Neither is a link to something that proves to be irrelevant (e.g the OT piece) always put there as a hurdle.

    The lack of summary and the irrelevant piece and the extension of the reading requirements to the entire Bible and the hermeneutics demand, though, removes most of the doubt. I stick by my characterisation of your argument above (including the word “idiots”):

    American Atheists: “We think that the fact that the Bible enjoins slaves to obey their masters is a reason to doubt the authority of the Bible as a guide for living today.
    Ratio-Christi: “You don’t even know what that bit of the Bible means. Idiots. Before advancing an opinion please run off and learn hermeneutics.
    Me: “Eh? I don’t think they’ve misunderstood that bit of the Bible. If they have gone wrong, tell me where”
    Ratio-Christi: “Oh, it’s far too complicated to explain. Leave it to the experts. Have you even done the homework we assigned? Here have some more homework”
    I really disliked The God Delusion when I read it, I thought it was terrible. Since then, though, I’ve read rebuttals and tried to engage in discussion with theists of all stripes. I have to say, it’s been a frustrating experience. It’s just like discussing conspiracy theories, astrology or homeopathy with their proponents.

    I think I’ll give up.

    Bye.

  16. chab123 March 15, 2012 / 2:47 pm

    Tony, you say:

    ” The point of the billboard, and the dispute about it, does not rest on hermeneutics.”

    Okay, Tony. That sounds good. I wish you well.

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