Sunday, November 20, 2011

Response to Greg Koukl's, Ancient Words, Ever True - Part 1

Greg Koukl founded, and is the current leader of, Stand To Reason.  He teaches those he considers Christians how to reason in their faith.  The Bible states that a Christian is to give answer to that which they believe at a moment's notice.  Greg's ministry is to equip them with good reason and logic to do just that.


Greg published the article Ancient Words, Ever True, which asserts that the Bible is supernaturally written.  He sees it a road map for life today and hits on six points to build up his premise. 


I will be responding to Greg's article in a series of 6 - 7 posts.  This post will address his introduction to the topic while subsequent posts will address each one of his five individual points, with a wrapping up of my conclusions on his article, Greg's outlook on life, and how his relates to mine.


You can find the full article here.


*****


Greg immediately jumps into the topic by quoting a passage from a very famous book - Mere Christianity by the renowned C. S. Lewis.  I respect Lewis as a writer and more importantly, as a thinker.  While we differ in some of our final conclusions, the fact that he asked questions and wrote about them, as well as lived a life that was much different from what would be considered, in many circles, a "godly" life, causes me to feel a sort of warm kinsmanship with the fellow.


The quote:


"Being aware of God while gazing on the ocean is all well and good,  but if you want to go anywhere on that sparkling sea, you must have a map".


There are a few problems with this quote that are not apparent if you just read Koukl's material.  First of all, the quote is not found in Lewis' writings at all.  It is merely a paraphrase.  One of my readers may ask, "Why even mention this issue then, if it is indeed, just a paraphrase?  If Koukl proves his point with a correct paraphrase, then its fair game, right?"


You would be correct.  Except for the fact that Koukl is squeezing the exact opposite intent of Chapter 23 in Mere Christianity that Lewis was putting forth.  Koukl says that the words of the Bible are the map and uses Lewis' quote as an apt pointer to that end.  C.S. Lewis, was rather speaking of the importance of experience in life and theology.


He tells a story of a man who experienced God in a desert and later found theology to be dry and meaningless.  He agreed with this man and then surmised that theology was a collection of the experiences of hundreds, even thousands of men and women and thus, the collection of experiences could potentially make theology palatable to this desert character.  Koukl, on the other hand, asserts that the paraphrased quote is proof from a great writer that experience was worthless and should be discounted. 


To start out on this footing is a poor foreshadowing of what to expect in this article.


Koukl moves on to explain why experience cannot be trusted.  He sources experiences from three religions he considers to be in error - Mormonism, Jehovah's Witnesses, and the "fun to beat on" New Agers.  What Koukl doesn't do is to cite people he may consider to be real Christians.  He never cites stalwarts like George Meuller, Elizabeth Elliot, or even Amy Carmichael - who wrote many books about pain and suffering experiences that taught her about who God was, to her.  This is a classic way to use facts to skew your argument toward your agenda.  Perfectly legitimate experiences by real human beings that give them an extrabiblical sense of who God is - for THEM!


Koukl goes further by stating that if the three hatchet religions have different experiences, then they all can't be right.  This is a fair point, until you realize that Koukl is asserting that only HIS idea of who Jesus Christ is is the correct one.  Koukl does not allow for the possibility of his religion being incorrect, nor does he allow for the unexplainable possibility that maybe, just maybe, religion is decidedly personal, and God reveals himself to mankind, individually, with different manifestations, fitting perfectly into that person's life.


Greg attempts to answer those questions I just posed by making a simple point.  "Classically, Christians have turned to details recorded in Scripture as authoritative, objective grounds for truth. God has spoken in the ancient words of the Bible."


What Greg doesn't say is that the Bible was not what the early Christian church used as their authoritative text.  They had God experiences, Jesus’ words as reported to them through a game of telephone, as well as the original Jewish texts.  They had experiences like the tongues of fire at Pentecost, as well as angels opening prison doors in answer to their prayers.

In fact, the Bible, as we know it today, was not completely put together until 1546, 1563, and 1672.  These were just over-arching councils and meetings of men (no women involved, of course).  Other editions of the Bible were put out as history marched forward.  Many translations have come about and not one person agrees completely with another on all of the verses in any text.  Hardly a map set in stone to reveal the TRUE idea of who God is or what he wants for our lives.

Koukl then adds to his premise that the Bible is a road map of life by saying that, after all, God said "Thus saith the Lord..." hundreds of times.  This is obviously problematic because that road map would not work for us today.  As human beings, we have progressed well beyond the understanding of primitive cultures (not that we always act on our enlightened understanding).

Let me illustrate my point by paraphrasing some "Thus saith the Lord..." quotes from the Bible:
1 Chronicles 21 – God gives David three choices because of his sin and ends up killing 70,000 men.  Why?  Because David counted his armies.

Deuteronomy 3 – God orders the destruction of many cities, including the murder of all men, women, and children.  The Israelites get to keep the plunder.

 Joshua 6 – God orders the full destruction of Jericho including all men, women, children, and livestock.  After the totality of destruction and murder, Joshua curses the city saying that any man who rebuilt it would have his firstborn die.

Exodus 21 – Slavery is mandated.

Exodus 21 – If the master provides a wife to the slave, when he is allowed to go free, the wife and kids are the masters.  If the guy does not want to be freed, the master mutilates his face and owns the slave forever.

Exodus 21 – Hitting a father or a mother means death.

Exodus 21 – Cursing your father or mother means death.

Exodus 21 – Beating a slave is perfectly fine, as long as they end up recovering in a day or two.

Exodus 21 – If the owner of livestock has been warned that he has a dangerous animal and that animal causes another person harm or death, the owner should be killed.

Exodus 21 – If this same livestock causes harm to or kills a slave, the owner needs to just pay a fine.

Exodus 22 – Raping a virgin makes her your wife by default.

Exodus 22 – Witches must die.

Exodus  22 – Worship of any other god means death.



Some of those, you may agree with.  But, put them all together and then try and make a case that we should follow all of them as a road map of life.  I don't think anyone would succeed in doing that.


Then, Koukl moves on to prophecies where the New Testament writers affirmed things prophesied or written in the Old Testament.  This is also problematic.  Many prophecies quoted in the New Testament simply do not exist in the Old, are misquoted, do not say what the New Testament writer says they say, or are elsewhere in the text and not where the writer stated they were.


For instance, when Jesus stated that it was written he would rise on the third day, as Paul stated was also written, it just wasn’t true.  It isn’t found in the Old Testament, anywhere.  And, worse yet, extrapolating that prophecy from Jonah in the belly of the whale is just too convenient and doesn’t make any sense.



Also, Matthew says that Jeremiah predicted the thirty pieces of silver fiasco in the Passion Narratives.  But, Jeremiah never said anything of the sort.  Some have said that Matthew actually meant the words of Zechariah applied here.  But wait, the road map?  Can there be a mistake and it still be a perfect road map?  Worse yet, the Zechariah piece is a specific story about something that happened at the time of Zechariah.  Pretending it is a prophecy does not make it a prophecy.

Matthew also stated that Jesus was prophesied to be a Nazarene (from Nazareth).  But, not only has the town of Nazareth never been found, the words and this prophecy also do not exist.  How can a perfect life road map be missing a key ingredient of prophecy that it states it actually DOES include?



There are more, but I digress.

Then, Koukl states the well known verse where Paul says that all scripture is given by inspiration.  But Paul was not and could not have been speaking of his very words he was speaking at that moment.  In fact, several times, Paul says, “God doesn’t say this…I do!”  Did Paul really think he was speaking or writing God’s words?  By his own confession, he did not. My best guess is that, in this letter, Paul was merely speaking of the Jewish scriptures as they knew them (which is decidedly NOT the same as the Old Testament as we know it today).

Koukl: "Of course, just claiming it’s so doesn’t make it so. How do we know? Do we have any evidence God has spoken in the Bible? The challenge can be reduced to a simple question: What kind of book is the Bible? I submit there are only two plausible answers.
The Bible is merely a book by man about God, or it is a book given by God through man, to man."


I disagree with there only being two possibilities.  Isn’t it plausible that SOME of the Bible was given to man through God and the rest is poppycock?  Or, maybe some of it was written by man and little bits of God’s wisdom was injected into it.  Or, it may be plausible that all of the Bible is the writer’s best idea of who God is with their own spiritual experiences that validate those assertions.  That makes it true for that individual, but it doesn’t necessarily make it true for all of mankind.

Koukl then answers his own questions by stating that, if the Bible was human, it had human limitations to it, but if it was supernaturally written by God, "then God is the ultimate author and His
word is the last word."


Really Greg Koukl? So, slavery is ok?  Women are to be subordinate to men?  Homosexuality is wrong?  Casting the evil eye at your parents is grounds for being stoned?  If we don’t believe in God, we must be put to death?  Hellfire is reserved for those who do not believe in God or who reject him, including those who never had a chance because they weren’t privy to this perfect road map?

Koukl finally sums up his introduction by stating that he sees six evidences of the Bible being supernatural.  I will address his first point in Part 2.

I realize this is a bit technical, but bear with me.  I think it is an important discussion to have.  Is the Bible inerrant?  Infallible?  What does it mean for mankind if it is not?  And, if it is not, is it probable that Christianity is simply another religion, dreamed up by ancient peoples when they didn't have explanations for all of life's unanswered questions?






20 comments:

  1. Testing (the last times I tried posting to your site, it did not work. I just want to see if it is worth it to try and type up a response.) delete this if you want.

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  2. IC, you speak of the possibility that the Bible could be "the writer’s best idea of who God is with their own spiritual experiences that validate those assertions. That makes it true for that individual, but it doesn’t necessarily make it true for all of mankind."
    Are you considering your own words here also as your best idea of God considering your experiences? Or are you regarding what you say as "true for all"?
    There are places I find your views objectively right, most notably Koukl's false dichotomy of "The Bible is merely a book by man about God, or it is a book given by God through man, to man," and your statement that the early Christians did not use the Scriptures known today.
    But I'd say Koukl is using Lewis right. You provide the link to Koukl, and here is the link to the material he paraphrases: http://ldolphin.org/CSLtrinity.html
    Your readers can compare for themselves: Do "Being aware of God while gazing on the ocean is
    all well and good, C.S. Lewis noted,1 but if you want to go anywhere on that sparkling sea, you must have a map. Going somewhere with God is no different. In His case, though, the map is not made of symbols, but of words—ancient words". - Greg Koukl
    compare well to "Now, Theology is like the map. Merely learning and thinking about the Christian doctrines, if you stop there, is less real and less exciting than the sort of thing my friend got in the desert. Doctrines are not God: they are only a kind of map. But that map is based on the experience of hundreds of people who really were in touch with God-experiences compared with which any thrills or pious feelings you and I are likely to get on our own are very elementary and very confused. And secondly, if you want to get any further, you must use the map. You see, what happened to that man in the desert may have been real, and was certainly exciting, but nothing comes of it. It leads nowhere. - Lewis"

    Likewise, your tirades against the Bible - you have the right to make them, but remember they are not all objective facts. For example, you say slavery is mandated in Exodus 21, while allowing and regulating something is not commanding it. You think the Exodus 22 law count for raped girls, but in all 3 rape stories in the Old Testament, rape leads to killing of the rapists (in one case to a war) by the people of the rape victim, and nowhere do the rape victim's family use anything like Exodus 22 as their guide for how to think about rape. And many Christians do not think the Bible suggest at all women are to be subordinate, the verses understood that way by some mean something different (Long, different topic).
    I won't try to tell you what to believe, but be aware that your beliefs are in many cases your own understanding.

    Retha (Your comments insists on publishing not my name, but my blog's above my post)

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  3. Good start to the discussion! Good interaction with the text. However, I do think you got the C.S. Lewis idea wrong as well. He equates experience with standing on the shore. Perhaps that's the real ocean, but if you ever want to move beyond the shoreline and know the ocean better you have to look at the map, which is not the "real thing" but is vital if you want to know the real thing better. He then attributes knowing God to the "ocean" (the real thing), and he attributes "Christian creeds," "theology," and "doctrines" to the map.

    Now, the map is based on the experience of many, but to Lewis the map is a collection of creeds, doctrines, and theology. Not applied to individuals alone but universal principles applied to all.

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  4. Retha, I think you have to log in to blogger and then you can post with ease. I know. It isn't a very smart way to do things. But, that's what I get for not designing my own website. One day...one day.

    And, you aren't the only one with this problem. My own wife wasn't able to comment for months until she discovered the login procedure.

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  5. Retha,

    "Are you considering your own words here also as your best idea of God considering your experiences? Or are you regarding what you say as "true for all"?"

    Yes. Sometimes I may slip up, but I want to portray that I accept those that have different views on God than I do. But, in accepting those, I must war against the views that do not stand up to reason, scrutiny, or logic, whether the logic be simple or complex.

    I'm going to disagree with you (and Benjamin) about C.S. Lewis' words. My whole point was that Koukl discounted experience as foundational to the Christian faith. He gives small creedence to Paul, speaking of his encounter with Christ on the raod to Damascus. He seems to be saying that, while experience is good, it cannot take the place of doctrine or theology.

    C.S. Lewis actually turned that idea on its head by defining theology and doctrine as being BUILT on the foundation of experience. He warned, indirectly, the desert character not to discount doctrine or theology based on his own single-sighted experience. Why? Because theology has been built on the experiences of hundreds, even thousands of others. Lewis holds up experience as an elementary necessity for theology to be worthwhile. Without it, the map is just a map.

    I might add that I disagree with Lewis here. I am convinced that one man alone can turn theology on its head, proving those hundreds and thousands of those who came before, incorrect. People can get things wrong and those errors stick and continue on until the world is sailed and discovered to be round.

    ..continued...

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  6. ..continued...

    "...you say slavery is mandated in Exodus 21, while allowing and regulating something is not commanding it."

    But this is the law of God, given to the Israelites. Why would God add slavery to his law and yet only allow it to happen? If slavery is wrong, why didn't God command it to be ended? Also, your statement doesn't address the fact that slaves were less than persons in God's eyes. If an animal owner's livestock gored a slave to death, the owner paid a fine, while a non-slave dying meant the owner had to be stoned to death.

    "You think the Exodus 22 law count for raped girls, but in all 3 rape stories in the Old Testament, rape leads to killing of the rapists (in one case to a war) by the people of the rape victim, and nowhere do the rape victim's family use anything like Exodus 22 as their guide for how to think about rape. "

    Several things here. Since when di the Israelites follow the law of God to the letter? When they didn't, they ended up getting punished for it. But that isn't really a fair point and I admit it mostly. Anyway, the fact that the three rape cases in the Bible were treated as they were does not remove the fact that the law of God to the Israelites was stated as such.

    Are you saying that the law, stated in plain English, er...Hebrew, should be ignored because humans know better how to treat rape cases? I would agree with that premise in the light of Exodus 21.

    But, specifically, the story of Dinah isn't exactly a good candidate for your point. She was raped and what happened? Her family decided that the town would become kinsman, had them circumcised, then murdered them in their beds. That's worse!

    "And many Christians do not think the Bible suggest at all women are to be subordinate, the verses understood that way by some mean something different (Long, different topic). "

    I know. Different topic. I used to think that way but I can't get over the blatant, obvious commands and writings in the Bible that consistently put women in their place. Do I disagree with it? Heck yeah!!!!

    "I won't try to tell you what to believe, but be aware that your beliefs are in many cases your own understanding."

    I agree, and I understand, in my writing, that others have the ability and the right to disagree with me. I put forth my views (as does Greg Koukl) and thus open myself up for scrutiny, flaying, and review.

    As always, I welcome your comments.

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  7. By the way, as a piece of literature, I have nothing against the Bible. What I DO have an issue with is Greg Koukl's assertion that the Bible, as God's inspired and inerrant word, is the last word on all of life.

    Among other things, the life issues I wrote about in this post (slavery, disobedience, hitting parents, being obnoxious against parents) and what God's last word has to say about them, causes me to see that approach to the Bible as quite dangerous.

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  8. FYI, hasn't anyone noticed that (in reality) Exodus 22:16 actually isn't about rape at all. Int the two translations that I checked, (NIV and NKJV) it clearly says 'seduce' and 'entice'. Both of those terms clearly indicate consent. To assume it was non-consensual is really stretching things unless you have some an intimate knowledge of ancient Hebrew language that trumps the dudes who did both those translations.
    So the whole point of that law is a guy shouldn't be having sex with a girl unless he has every intention of marrying her. And this law makes sure that he follows through on that 'intention.' It's not a secret that the general attitude from the bible is that premarital sex is a bad idea. If you want to argue that premarital sex is a good thing, then that is a whole different topic that has little to do with whether the Bible has 'wrong' stuff in it.
    Personally, I do think just 'trying out' sex with a random series of boy-friends and girl-friends (or strangers) very much lowers sex between people to something less than what many animals do. If we are to believe that Humans are indeed something MORE than mere animals, and we have a soul, and that sex has something to do with our soul, then it is reasonable to thing that Sex is best when reserved only for a marriage bed. Just a crazy thought in an atheist* nation. But hey, I'm just a rebel like that... ;-)
    *80% of American men, [in a poll that they published last month,] profess to having no spiritual belief whatsoever. (except Football...) But that poll could have been of only Men's Health Magazine readers for all I know....

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  9. Masterful,

    "FYI, hasn't anyone noticed that (in reality) Exodus 22:16 actually isn't about rape at all. Int the two translations that I checked, (NIV and NKJV) it clearly says 'seduce' and 'entice'. Both of those terms clearly indicate consent. To assume it was non-consensual is really stretching things unless you have some an intimate knowledge of ancient Hebrew language that trumps the dudes who did both those translations."

    So, are you saying that God had no laws against rape? That he considered all sex against a virgin consensual? Why no mention of rape? In my opinion, this chapter clearly shows the underclassmanship of two groups - women and slaves.

    Regardless, you can't argue away one thing and not swallow the worth of slaves according to God. Or the fact that a woman had no choice in the manner of her marriage after a rape (or consensual sex, as you argue). After all, it was all up to her dad anyway. Yes, women were second class citizens, right up there with slaves.

    Also, it must be known that I have no problem with sex outside of marriage. None. So, we don't need to worry about that subject here, except maybe at a later date where I broach it on practical grounds.

    "Personally, I do think just 'trying out' sex with a random series of boy-friends and girl-friends (or strangers) very much lowers sex between people to something less than what many animals do."

    Rather than using the words "trying out sex" here, try injecting "new foods", "friendships", "houses", "pets". Whatever suits your fancy. Human beings do a lot of "trying out" in life and none of them put us in a lower animalian status. Only sex. I must disagree. I don't hold sex to the worshipful status you do.

    "If we are to believe that Humans are indeed something MORE than mere animals, and we have a soul, and that sex has something to do with our soul, then it is reasonable to thing that Sex is best when reserved only for a marriage bed."

    Um. Sex has nothing to do with our soul, if we even have a soul at all. That's just...ick...ewww. Reminds me of a book titled "Holy Sex". Yuck!

    And, you even throw another subject here, as well. Marriage bed. What is marriage bed? I won't discuss that here. Maybe at a later date.

    "Just a crazy thought in an atheist* nation."

    Last I checked, atheists aren't treated very well in this nation.

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  10. Why do you have a problem with Greg Koukl?

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  11. I don't. I never met the guy. A good friend sent me this article to offer the "other side" of my beliefs. So, I took it upon myself to do a critique.

    I've seen him in a few videos and I find him an earnest gentleman. He is convincing in his arguments but many times seems to run off on an emotional rabbit trail. I know because I do too.

    I have the luxury of looking at this work in a vacuum while he has no such luxury after it is in print.

    Again, I don't have a problem with him. If it appears that I do, I will temper my words a bit more.

    I won't be so kind to other unreasonable individuals like Bill Gothard, Doug Philips, Pat Robertson, and my neighbor's german shepherd.

    Reasonable answer? or do I have more explaining to do?

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  12. Sorry, I didn't mean to leave off for so long.

    The only "problem" you have with him is his beliefs concerning the Bible. Correct?

    He thinks you need a map to cross the Atlantic. The nations of the continents known, today, as North and South America would be significantly different, if that were true.

    You observe that the Bible and all religious writings are the products of people who have come that way, before. In similitude of a "map" of the origin of the cosmos and mankind's place and function in it. [That is my definition of religion: Beliefs concering the origin of the cosmos and mankind's place and function in it.] What they have observed, have experienced, or were told concerning religion.

    The first instance of needing a map to traverse the ocean, or a religious account to function in the cosmos, is absurd. However the rejection of familiarizing one's self of an available map of where one wishes to travel, or familiarizing one's self with the religious accounts of others, seems essentially as absurd.

    Rejecting the accounts of others who have "been there" either in the form of a map or a religious record would probably be "rash." However, if upon observation of a particular place or event one sees it from a new or different perspective, it may appear as a "new" place or event.

    Now, what you have addressed concerning slavery is fascinating, to me. What do you suppose Exodus 21.16 is dealing with? Could it possibly be slavery? Is it possible that Exodus records a god that condemns involuntary slavery? But this god makes an exception for voluntary slavery?

    It would explain why a Hebrew [which is the people religious record of Exodus is addressing] slave is not to be kept as a slave for more than seven years. Slavery is then condemned, absolutely; but the god of Exodus does not forbid or prevent a man choosing slavery over freedom. It would be consistant why this god--of Exodus, who is all powerful--allows his people to choose slavery of sin, which he hates, over freedom by obedience to his law.

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  13. Excellent analysis. You will see, fleshed out in more detail, what I disagree with Koukl about in future posts on this topic.

    The problem I have with your explanation of what God REALLY means about slavery, seems to be faulty. If slavery was wrong, yet he would allow it, why did a slave's death by goring only cost a farmer a fine, whereas a non-slave death by goring cost the farmer his life.

    If God didn't like slavery, then why didn't he give the same punishment for the death of either slave or free.

    But slavery is a minor issue to how God treats life in the Bible. It isn't good. If he wants something and people are in the way, he has no discretion for innocent life. Many times, all men, women and children were killed. At other times, female virgins were the only ones saved and pregnant women were ordered to have their bellies ripped open and raped.

    I am not interested in that God. And telling me (I'm not saying you are) that man deserves that sort of justice (again, for doing absolutely nothing but being born in the wrong place) won't get a person far with me.

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  14. My take on most of the Old Testament's collection of writings is this:

    Men were nomadic warriors and were always looking for land to conquer and squat on for a while. They fought battles and then made up victory stories that included their gods. The Israelites were no different - it's just that many people buy into their god because it became the most popular, historically.

    I may be wrong - maybe an historian can attest to this - but, speaking to various historians, the Jewish people were pretty much a blip on the radar in the course of human history. They weren't exactly the focal point of life as most Christian's view it.

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  15. I may not be interested in what a man that is not interested in justice has to say.

    What would be justice for a person who burns a child to death for his or her own gratification?

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  16. I would slow burn him naked on a very slow spit. But, of course, we're not speaking of what I would do, now are we speaking about that scenario either.

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  17. No. All I want to do is establish that it is possible that the punishment was fitting. Not that I know that, but that the possibility exists that extreme punishments are not always extreme. If we know the activities of the one recieving punishment, the punishment may seem too lenient.

    For now, shall we examine Exodus in the context of Exodus, rather than the whole Bible?

    Exodus does not relate the events you refered to, they are in some other book. The term for those events is "harem." It is an intriguing idea that the god recorded in those books is not just the god of the Hebrews, but he is the god of all people. In his time, he brings justice to all people. But the Hebrews are not privy to what their god has done to communicate his will with those people. It is not "their story."

    Now back to the idea of slavery as established in Exodus: [I will cite passages to ease not only your finding the passage, but my own return to a passage, if necessary. I don't see any point in quoting them, so I will leave it up to you to read them.]

    Exodus 21.16 establishes that forcing slavery is an offence worthy of death.

    Exodus 21.2 establishes that a person can sell himself into slavery. But only for six years.

    Exodus 21.21 establishes that selling one's self into slavery is taking the master's money in exchange for servitude. Essentially, the slave is money in the hand of his master.

    One who sells himself into slavery exchanges a certain portion of his personhood for money. And that is taken into account.

    Exodus 21.26-27 establishes that while a portion of personhood was exchanged for money, injury to a person will be exchanged for return of full personhood. It is actually the master's appendage's sake that is at stake, the master pays ransom with total forgiveness of whatever money he exchanged for his servant or maid for the harm caused.

    Exodus 22.14-15 establishes that a man, though he has sold himself into slavery, has never left his body. The slavery is a form of hiring one's body to another person.

    That is why in the case of the goring of a servant/slave is a uniform restitution, and not a ransom, paid to the master.

    At least, that is my understanding.

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  18. Professor X, can you re-post your comment without the links? Thank you.

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  19. I will. Keep pinging me. Life has taken a severe turn to the busy right now.

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