May 21, 2009


Once again I'd like to report on some continuing discussion over on the House of Bishops / Deputies list. My correspondent surmised that the burden of proof on the "presenting issue" lies with folks like me, who are seeking a change. I think there's a certain reality to that, but while I agree that those like me who argue for change have a task to accomplish, I see my primary role as offering a defense, and that the real burden of proof is on the prosecution: to prove that condemnation is warranted. We further went back and forth a bit on the issue of seeing things through other people's eyes, or at least with the other person's worldview. While I'm not sure that is ever completely possible (as we may be seeing with what we wrongly assume to be the other person's lenses) I think it is incumbent upon us all to try as best we can to remove our spectacles, even if we cannot exactly wear each other's, as we look at the scripture and tradition with reasonable minds. It struck me yesterday that the scripture is to some extent like an old piece of furniture that has received many coats of finish over the years, and we tend to see it primarily in the light of the most recent coating. There are, however, those telltale dings and scratches that reveal there is more to it than first appears, and in some cases even reveal the original wood underneath it all. The case in point took form in a question about whether I could affirm the language of the Preface to the marriage liturgy, that marriage was "established by God in creation." When talking about the creation account in Genesis 2, we of course tend to hear it as being about marriage, in part due to Jesus bringing it up in the context of the challenge concerning divorce, and for being reminded of this whenever we officiate at a wedding. But "marriage" in the days in which Genesis was composed was not the same as marriage even by the time of Jesus (due in large part to the introduction of Greek and Roman concepts and civil regulations), nor are the norms of marriage from Genesis or the first century the same as those by which marriage came to be defined in the patristic, medieval and reformation church(es). To take two details from those later traditions: the scholastics taught that the sacrament of marriage could only take place between baptized persons, and that it was consummated through sexual intercourse. Looking back to Genesis in this light, this would mean that Adam and Eve were not "married" under the first rubric, nor under the second until after the Fall. Perhaps more strikingly, moving to the time of Jesus, it means that Mary and Joseph weren't married under either! This just goes to show how difficult it can be simply to say that the bond and covenant of marriage was "established by God in creation." Almost every word requires some bending to fit: what do you mean by "marriage" - "established" - and for that matter, "creation"? As a matter of fact, I am more comfortable with the older language which said that marriage was "instituted of God in the time of man's innocency." (Generic "man" of course!) But even this phrase is not entirely well-set, nor at all constant, in our tradition. Cranmer creates his rite somewhat in the face of the Lutheran view (of marriage as "a matter of the town hall") in reworking material from German and Sarum texts. But the declaration as it stands in the preface is at odds with the language of the Articles, which defines marriage as "an estate allowed" rather than "instituted" or "established." (Cranmer's dilemma was that he wanted marriage to be "holy" but not a sacrament, except as "so called.") From an American perspective, it is important to note that Cranmer's language about the "institution" of marriage was itself entirely absent from the American BCP until it crept back in in 1892 -- so it is not a constant element of our own Prayer Book tradition, though it appears in the present prayerbook in what I regard as a less probable form. (I mean, is marriage a "creature" or something human creatures do? I can certainly see sex as intimately connected with creation, but marriage, as an institution, surely must have arisen at some point when human beings became capable of making such commitments, no?) In any case, to determine what this somewhat lofty phrase means (or what I take it to mean, which may not be what others take it to mean), I would tend to back up a bit and say that I can affirm that Genesis 2 appears to be — not a literal history, which I think few would accept it as, and I doubt the author(s) intended it to be — but a tale of beginnings, explaining why things are the way they are. Why is it than men leave their parents and are joined to their wives? This is, after all, the "moral" that appears explicitly at the end of the chapter. And as we proceed into chapter 3, we find answers to similar questions: Why does childbirth hurt? Why do people do bad things? Why do we die? Why don't snakes have legs? So I would cast my answer to the question of whether I can affirm the phrase in the preface to the marriage liturgy as, "Yes, with certain understandings of what is being said." The question we all face today — a question for which the author of Genesis 2-3 provides no answer, and to whom it might likely never have occurred — is, Why is it that some men and some women leave their parents' home not to join with one of the other sex, but rather to cleave to one of the same sex? Aristophanes, living in a Greek culture in which at least one form of homosexuality was approved, and others common if not approved, provided a jocular explanation in his creation story at the drinking party Plato recorded. But within the Jewish tradition, which took little note of homosexuality (and tended to deny it existed within its own confines) and an early church that saw homosexuality primarily in terms of pederasty, our inherited tradition tended to come up with other answers both literal and figurative: it is plain perversity (they know what is right but deliberately choose to act otherwise) or it is a malady or an illness. Paul appears to have thought it was a delirium induced by idolatry. The Alexandrians (Jewish and Christian) appear to have linked it with the use of cosmetics and the absurdity of grown men shaving their faces. However, in more recent times, people have been bold to offer yet other explanations, and to take some comfort in the larger lessons of love and self-giving apparent in the teaching of Jesus (and Paul in alternative moments); and also to witness to the lives of people who do not appear to be perverse, disordered, ill, idolatrous, or overly given to cosmetics. I think further that it fair to say that on this topic there is a range of response in the churches: from condemnation, through dissuasion, toleration, affirmation and celebration. I think The Episcopal Church for the most part is balanced now somewhere between toleration and affirmation. My hope is that the work I have done, both in writing and engaging with those with whom I disagree but whom I respect and share a commitment to the Gospel, may help us through the tensions of the coming days, perhaps to emerge in a better place. Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG


Fr Craig said...

T - thank you for laboring so well in this thankless vineyard. I agree completely. The battle against selective literalism in defense of personal prejudice will likely never end... God bless your patience.

IT said...

As i face the looming Prop8 decision and find myself in tears yet again from the stress, I admit I find no justification at all but miserable hatred and bigotry for anyone who claims the name "Christian" to cause such pain.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks Fr C., and I.T. I will not give up the struggle, nor surrender either my life and love or my faith to the bigots. My prayers and hopes are with you in California. Please remember us here in NY -- especially the Bronx, where the leading Latino state senator feels free to broadcast his bigotry on the grounds that it is "religious." Those who cloak bigotry in the language of faith are guilty of nothing short of blasphemy. It is only my trust in the unending forgiveness of a loving God that I do not despair for them -- but Oh, how I long for their conversion...

Anonymous said...


I'm a little unclear how in one breath you can say:

"My hope is that the work I have done, both in writing and engaging with those with whom I disagree but whom I respect and share a commitment to the Gospel, may help us through the tensions of the coming days, perhaps to emerge in a better place."

And in the next breath intone:

"I will not give up the struggle, nor surrender either my life and love or my faith to the bigots."

It's not something I'm wedded to, but I more or less agree with Prop8. Does that make me a bigot in your book? How exactly does that terminology jibe with "respect"?

In the fight against AIDS, in the fight against discrimination in employment or housing, in the fight against hate crimes...I would proudly stand shoulder to shoulder with you and face the common enemy.

I stand opposed to any rejection of homosexuality that is justified by cultural predispositions. I agree that much of the conservative church's stance against it is so motivated.

But that is NOT my stance. I simply believe that true love for gays includes personal fidelity to Scripture. If their actions are indeed sinful--if they are in the final analysis harmful in their consequences--then I show no compassion by giving in to current (and I believe passing) trends.

I believe that 500 years from now we will still be fighting this fight. I do not believe it is in any way analogous to slavery.

I, too, with all the passion I can muster...long for your conversion!

May the Savior conform us to his redemptive nature and open our eyes to what that truly is.


Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...


As I do not know who you are, and only have your comments to go on, I cannot say if you are a bigot or not. I'm using the definition, "one who holds obstinately to a negative or intolerant opinion in spite of evidence to the contrary." Even had I more evidence about you, I would likely refrain from making such a judgment, as you do appear willing to engage in reasonable discussion.

However, you also in the same breath (well, two breaths, as the comments were at two posts) say,

"I simply believe that true love for gays includes personal fidelity to Scripture...."


"I would probably oppose the normalization of homosexual activity even if there were no biblical mention of it in either testament... because Scripture uniformly opposes sexual immorality ...and homosexuality was uniformly opposed from the Tannaim on down to Maimonides (and through to the present day in Orthodox Jewish circles) as sexually immoral."

I leave it to you to untangle the logical circles in that last statement. In any case, you appear to indicate that your ultimate judgment might not rest on Scripture after all, but on some other authority. In this, it appears to me that you have a fixed idea of what is moral in mind, and are seeking authorities to bolster it.

There is little use in laying out in miniature here a case I have made at much greater length and in far greater detail elsewhere. Suffice it to say, that nothing you have said in these comments is new to me, and I have responded to it all in my book.

You appear to be reluctant to acknowledge, in reference to culture, that Scripture itself, and the later interpreters who passed it along, may not have had their own cultural predispositions. And yet you readily cast off items as matters of "ritual purity" while giving pride of place to "cultural norms" on the basis that they may not [yet] have been perceived by the church as cultural artifacts rather than divine ordinances.

The problem is that you seem to have no standard by which you make these distinctions (at least you haven't unfolded it here. You talk about "the whole of Scripture" but then blithely (e.g.) acknowledge the cultural (or cultic) adiaphora of [parts of] the Apostolic Council.)

I, on the other hand, have laid out (in the book) a detailed argument with objective criteria for determining precisely what you think is important: the eternally true divine message as opposed to the changeable human or cultural aspect. You introduce "norms" that aren't even in Scripture (where are the lesbians in Leviticus, for instance? And why aren't they there? Could it be some cultural norm about the nature of sex as a predominantly male activity? I think so...)

I will close with a response to your offhand comment on slavery, as it is more relevant than you think, not only to the issue of biblical morality, but more importantly to your own situation. You say that you are really hoping for the conversion of gays and lesbians to your notion of sexual propriety, and I accept that you mean well in this. But you should also be aware that those who defended slavery did so on the basis of their reading of Scripture and of natural law, and thought they were doing God's will. They believed that slavery was divinely mandated, and that it was God's way of bringing civilization and salvation to Africans -- that slavery was actually good for them, and fitted to them; and as long as masters were kind and loving, there was no fault to be had with this orderly and godly system of social concord.

And they were wrong. "Believe you may be mistaken" is a phrase I try always to keep before my eyes. I commend it to you as well. I know that if I am wrong, God will forgive me -- as I know he will you too.

I commend you for your willingness to reach out, and would welcome it even more if you would take the time to engage with what I've already written at length, and offer a better-informed critique that actually addresses the evidence I have brought forth.

The peace of Christ be with you.

Anonymous said...


I always and ever believe that I may be mistaken. Without such a belief, dialog degenerates into competition. I'm not looking to emerge the victor here. I want to know what I can learn from you.

I had no intention of appealing to any other authority than Scripture. Second-Temple 1st-Century cultural norms would be relevant in knowing how to interpret the general N.T. prohibition of "porneia." Narrowly, though it originally referred to prostitution, it came to have a much broader definition incorporating most of what pre-70 CE Judaism would have seen as extra-marital and unnatural sexual acts, including homosexuality. So, homosexuality would not need to be directly addressed.

I do not know that the Apostolic Council taboos are adiaphora...I just know they appear to conflict with Pauline abrogations of kashrut, making it difficult to know exactly what to do with them.

I acknowledge that biblical writers may indeed have had cultural baggage, but attempts to weed it out are fraught with difficulty. I tend to take it as part of the revelation. Cultural symbol and ritual is not in itself insignificant. It can carry within it some of those eternal truths we are parsing from Scripture. That is why I said that in the case of head coverings the use of a dynamic equivalent may be in order. In cases where our culture has completely lost such a symbolic carrier, one may actually need to be re-introduced.

In other words, "the eternally true divine message" may not be opposed to the "changeable human or cultural aspect" within Special Revelation. In fact, it may require it. And as such, the cultural elements may not be all that changeable.

I try not to let current cultural or religious shibboleths direct my interpretation of Scripture. It could well be that lesbianism is less of an affront to God than male homosexuality. And it could well be that slavery is not absolutely negated for some reason. (African-Americans are demonstrably better off than their counterparts who never left the African continent: of course, that has everything to do with later emancipation and suffrage and integration and access to "due process" and very little to do with a most painful history as chattel.) It is more than possible, certainly, to show that Scripture is of one mind on condemning race-based and chattel slavery. Slave-trading is condemned, as are harsh treatment and insensitivity...and as I have mentioned before--ethnocentrism.

Even were the Golden Rule scrupulously carried out by a slave owner, modern minds would utterly rule out the practice on the basis of an unbiblical notion of the primacy of individual liberty. Of course, we're fairly hypocritical about this: those under severe poverty, those in the military, and those in medical internships often have their personal freedoms significantly curtailed, at least temporarily. (In some forms of ancient slavery, entrance was voluntary and eventual manumission eminently possible.)

"And they were wrong...."

So you say, but how do we know? Just because modern culture proclaims it from the rooftops? As a practical matter, emancipation following the Civil War was often cruel. The promised "forty acres and a mule" never showed up. The Southern economy was in shambles...and who do you suppose was on the bottom? Robert E. Lee may well have been correct to suggest that a slow, transitional process of manumission would have been far more compassionate. IMPOSING equality on people not yet ready for it may assuage our sensitive "consciences" without being godly in the least. Current-day Russia is finding they are not quite able to cope with too-quick freedoms. Universal individual equality and liberty may be where we need to head without being where we need to be.

I'll try to interact with some of your published material soon.

Take care,


Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Peshat, one of the reasons this conversation is difficult for me is the way in which you make confident assertions about things that I know you to be mistaken about. I don't know the extent of your studies, or your looking into these matters, but suspect you have been reading authors and simply adopting their assertions without checking their evidence.

I have followed the course of going to original source documents, and examining them in detail. Sad to say, I find many scholars have over the years misrepresented or distorted the record to fit their own particular point-of-view.

I don't have the time or energy to address all you say here -- as, again, I deal with almost all of this in the book in great detail -- and with citations from the primary documents instead of mere assertions.

However, I want to clear up at least one issue -- the imputation of any "sexual immorality" one wishes to include under the category of "porneia." I know that's what some of the lexicons say -- but they are mistaken, as you will find if you go to the original sources. Porneia actually has some very narrow significance in Second Temple Judaisms -- and you can find that by referencing the Qumran and Pseudepigraphal material, as I have. To the point here, "porneia" (z'nut) does not include homosexuality. In fact, the rabbis later explicitly exclude lesbianism from this category, and would not include male homosexuality as "porneia" because for them it primarily refers to "sex between a man and a woman where there is no intent to marry." (As well, of course, with the very common figurative use in relation to idolatry.)

It is the weeding out of the cultural baggage that is important -- and yes it is fraught with difficulty. But a careful approach -- rather than what seems to me to be your rather unsystematic one (at least I can'[t tell from reading what you've written thus far what your system is) -- would thus be in order; since we do in fact ignore many biblical laws we should have some rational and consistent means to do so. Perhaps if you laid out what your system is I would better understand how you arrive at the conclusions you do.

Finally, I have to disagree with your assertions that chattel slavery (or slave-trading) is condemned in Scripture (I think you may be referring to "andrapodistais" re the latter -- a modern and broad understanding, hardly applicable to all slave-traders!) and the assertion that it can be practiced in keeping with the Golden Rule. You are simply mistaken on the former (can you provide citations to demonstrate this condemnation of chattel slavery?) and on the latter I think you miss a crucial factor in the Golden Rule, which is reciprocity. Unless a slave owner is willing to take his slave's place, he can hardly be giving more than lipservice to the love of neighbor.

So what I would ask of you is both a laying out of your basic assumptions in biblical interpretation and authority, followed by close and careful analysis of the evidence. This is what I've done in my published work. I don't expect you to do the same in blog comments, of course, But it would help if you could give at least an outline of the principles you invoke in order to distinguish the wheat from the chaff when it comes to Scripture -- as you clearly do!

MarkBrunson said...

It is irrational and inhumane to apply an understanding of human sexuality and psychology based on a reading of texts compiled in a time when we have absolutely no reason to believe those compiling had an evolved knowledge of such ideas.

To look at reality as it stands, compare it to a text which is inherently flawed in its own internal contradictions, proven mistranslations and filtered through a myriad of personal and cultural viewpoints and try to claim the supremacy of that text is a sort of festishism.

And, of course, if you are to be truly faithful to Scripture, you must put to death all those who engage in homosexual behavior.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thank you Mark, for cutting to the chase. It has always struck me as so very odd that rational people who are quite willing to accept the figurative nature of Genesis 1-3 when applied to the origins of the world, will still attempt to apply those accounts to the issue of sexuality as if they were literal and restrictive both in intent and effect.

The same goes for the Law -- most modern people are content to dismiss as irrelevant many aspects of the Levitical and Deuteronomic Codes, with little more justification than the very kind of humanistic arguments they reject when others attempt to apply those same arguments to the sexuality controversy. At that point they suddenly turn into strict constructionists.

This is one reason, in my own thinking on the subject, that I avoid the ad hoc approach and attempt to work through an overarching hermeneutic that actually meets the evidence -- all of it, scriptural, traditional, and reasonable -- and so comes to an appropriate conclusion that I feel bound to accept. Others, of course, may not be persuaded by this approach, of course, but I cannot speak for their consciences.

Anonymous said...


I wouldn't say this conversation is particularly difficult for me. It is frustrating, but not in a bad way. It is simply a real conversation. In a real conversation, rough edges necessarily clash.

A couple of things: if you sincerely hold to the motto--"believe that you may be mistaken"--then how can you be so confident that I am the one who is mistaken. Don't impose humility on others if you're not willing to impose it on yourself. Just because I write confidently doesn't mean I am not open to correction. I actually believe I might be mistaken. In fact, it happens much more frequently then I would like to admit. It doesn't, however, bother me in the least. I'm one of those rare individuals--or at least I'd like to be--who actually prefers the truth to any deeply held but erroneous conviction I might need to discard.

The normalization of same-sex relationships is a conviction that you hold deeply. No amount of waterproofing will keep your analysis from getting "wet" with some amount of the same misrepresentation and distortion you decry in others. No matter how much "overarching" scientific objectivity you employ, it's your own framework you're setting up and your own conviction-driven interpretation skills you're relying upon.

You actually seem too bent on system--too left-brained--in your hermeneutic. I'm sure that reflects your personality, and I don't in any way begrudge you that. Just be aware of it.

Truth may indeed be on your side, but quit acting like the "hermeneutics of suspicion" is just something you like to talk about. I'll try to do the same.



Anonymous said...


A couple of more things:

On what authority do you set aside the judgments of the B-A-G-D or TDNT or Liddell and Scott? Porneia does indeed seem to have been generalized to fornication and unchastity (of all types). There's very little direct connection with homosexuality, but as you well know, there was very little report of homosexuality amongst the Jews at that point in time (they would have made Ahmadinejad proud). I'm not necessarily impressed that you have "read" the primary sources unless you possess the requisite expertise to overthrow the judgment of recognized experts. You have, what--an M.Div? (I have a graduate degree in Hebrew Bible and have taught the language on the undergrad level, but I'm a long ways from being an expert!)

Besides, texts from the Qumranic sect--whoever we find out they were--may not be particularly applicable here. Likewise, with pseudepigrapha...depending on to which you are referring.

Andrapodistes does indeed refer to slave trading...probably most specifically the "dirty work" of procuring slaves. But slave trading nonetheless.

So where do you feel chattel slavery was upheld in Scripture? Which of the following is to be read in a positive light?

Joseph being sold into slavery?

The Israelites in bondage in Egypt?

Both of these--especially the latter--are clearly chattel slavery. (Israel is forever being reminded to treat slaves and sojourners well because they were once in that position.)

Paul requests the manumission of Onesimus. Slaves are advised to take their freedom if it is granted to them. I cannot recall a single verse in all of Scripture extolling the virtues of slavery. Even what we would call indentured servitude was not looked on with anything more than tolerance...with definite dates set for emancipation. You know doggone well that the race-based totalitarian system of the American South can't hold up to biblical scrutiny.

And I didn't overlook reciprocity in my evaluation of the Golden Rule. Quite clearly, there is no such factor. We are instructed to treat others as we would wish to be treated...if we were they. (In other words, we don't hand them a double-dip cone of butter-brickle ice cream just because that's our favorite flavor. We give them the mint-choc-chip they actually desire. Also, we employ godly wisdom in doing so. We don't hand a diabetic any flavor of ice cream whatsoever...unless, of course, it's sweetened with Splenda.) But there simply IS NO NOTION of reciprocity.

In fact, it should be seen as rather one-sided. In other words, no expectations, no quid pro quo. If they should want to become us, it's a no go. Obama doesn't have to shed his office to practice the Golden Rule. There is no reciprocity in parent-child, teacher-student, or employer-employee relationships. (There is in marriage, but that's a whole 'nother ballgame!)

And if you simply must hang onto the notion of reciprocity, then I will expect you to hand over direct control of your blog to me for the next two weeks as a test case....

I leave you with a quote from elsewhere on your blog where you showed softer edges:

"I think, if nothing else, we are seeing that the practice of hermeneutics is more difficult than Cranmer’s hopeful, but to some extent wishful, trust that all could be made clear by sifting the texts faithfully. I do not at all mean to disparage Cranmer’s hope and earnest desire — it is, after all, what we all crave in the end: some clarified vision of God’s will for us. But in the meantime, we are left looking through a glass darkly on much of this, and must trust to God for continued grace to discern God’s will."

Sifting through biblical texts faithfully is difficult business. I know you know that. I know that, too.

I have your book on order....

Have a great day,


MarkBrunson said...

To me, this is very simple, not even requiring to look outside the Scriptures:

We are assured of the coming of the Spirit, to reveal God and God's Will to us. Biblical literalism and adherence despite all rationality is an implicit denial of the existence, or at least the function, of the Holy Spirit. The Scriptures record this, and record the early action of that movement of the Spirit - but only in that specific instance.

In this respect we may treat Scripture; we give it respect, the first source which we investigate, but must balance it against rationality and ongoing revelation.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Dear Peshat,

Thanks for the additional comments.

When it comes to the issue of mistake, I admit I may be mistaken -- but that doesn't stop me from pointing to mistakes in others. In the present instance I know you are mistaken on the issue of chattel slavery. More below.

In the meantime, when it comes to hermeneutics, I attempt to follow the one you have adopted as your anonymous title. (Peshat = a basic and literal interpretation.) Unless you mean it as tongue in cheek; for you appear to me to go well "beyond what is written" into the realms of sometimes broad midrash or summary, and to "excuse" what the text says when it doesn't fit your preconceptions. For instance, I think you do that with the Jeremiah passage, which clearly portrays God as a middle-easter "Lord" = (Ba'al) with two wives. (God, as the Lord of all nations, is conceivable in just these terms.) I raised this not to excuse polygamy, but to offset your assertion concerning the "monogamous" imagery used of Christ and the Church. The fact remains that the text also portrays God as a husband so charitable that he is willing to contravene the law in taking back a divorcee. Again, this doesn't sanction divorce! But it does show a God who is not to be limited, even by his own former pronouncements.

To get to the specifics of the second post. This is unfolded in the book in great detail. I think the lexicons are wrong because I've checked their citations, which when they offer offer them to support the concept that porneia includes homosexuality don't pan out. I won't say more here as a section of the book is devoted to this.

I admit, by the way, to not being an expert in Hebrew. (I studied it for two years at seminary.) But I refuse to engage in dueling degrees -- the primary skill I learned in grade school (I had wonderful teachers) was to go to primary sources and always to be aware of the biases of secondary sources, and to challenge their assertions.

If you are ready to dismiss Qumran and the OT Pseudepigrapha, where in the canonical scripture do you find "porneia" attached to homosexuality?

And I disagree with your position that andrapodistais means "slave trading" tout court -- but must refer to the abduction of free persons into slavery -- not the same thing.

As to the support for chattel slavery, take a look at Lev 25:44ff. This is not about the temporary slavery available to Israelites, but the provision (which can be read as a mandate, given the language) for chattel enslavement -- with the prohibition of manumission (the rabbis understanding l'olam to forbid it -- bGittin 38b).

As to Joseph or Israel in Egypt, these are important as they show the role of slavery in salvation history... but that gets us away from pshat into drash, no? Not that I'm unwilling to go there.

So, I have to be objective here and say that you did fail to recall the biblical provision for chattel slavery (nation- if not race-based, as heritable property, and without the provision for emancipation).

As to reciprocity, I'm afraid I misled you as to my intended meaning. I agree it is about a hypothetical -- but it must be a real hypothetical, and the test of that is to say, "would you like to be treated in the way you are treating others" -- that is, would you be willing to be the recipient of reciprocal treatment -- not necessarily an actual "tit for tat" -- but willingness to receive what one gives. So, for instance, you are perfectly free to start your own blog, and allow me to comment there.

And that's about it for this comment. Please understand, first of all, that I welcome your critique, but I think you betray your attitude somewhat in your comment about MDiv's and advanced degrees, which does not strike me as an example of humility. I may not always be right, and I welcome correction. I hope you do as well. The search for truth necessitates dialogue, and humility, under which all of us labor. "We all make many mistakes..."

Anonymous said...


My "title" has little real significance. I picked it on a the top of my head. In general, I like to go with what the words themselves purport to say, but I have no agenda to stick with p'shat.

I cannot see in what way you actually disagreed with me on the Jeremiah passage. Ditto on andrapodistes...I said it referred to the physical procurement of slaves. Isn't that a part of the slave trade?

You are correct that Lev. 25 allows for chattel slavery, but it never clearly endorses it and certainly never mandates it. (In Exodus and Deuteronomy, Hebrew slaves have the option of "signing up for life" by having an awl driven through their ear lobe.)

As for hypothetical reciprocity: sure, that's fine, but then we cannot preclude a slave owner and his slave being within just such a "reciprocal" relationship!

I am indeed sorry about the "dueling degrees." Frankly, I was not feeling particularly well and was just in a bad mood. I thought we were both getting a smidgeon condescending, and I prefer collegiality (as I'm sure you do). Please, accept my apologies. (In no way do I feel degrees tell the whole tale when it comes to expertise.)

Have a great weekend,


Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thank you, P., for a more measured response. It appears we have reached some things we may have to disagree upon, and I leave it to others to see who is making the better case.

Again, as you have the book on order, you will see my full analysis of the role of slavery in this conversation. In the previous comments I was responding to your challenge to show where "chattel slavery was upheld in Scripture." You may not read the passage in Leviticus as an "endorsement" far less a mandate -- I think on the contrary to be honest to the text requires the former and suggests the latter. The problem is that most moderns want to read this text through the very humanistic lenses you accuse me of using. Read it in the Hebrew (or the KJV) and you will see that the endorsement (and possibly mandate) is much clearer than in more modern translations that seek -- in my opinion -- to make the Scripture more "humane" than it actually is. Even the truly more humanistic Isaiah sees slavery as intrinsic to the eventual justification of Israel, when their mandate to enslave those who had enslaved them is a sign of God's grace.

But as I say, that's all in the book.

What's not is reference to andrapodistais -- which again older translations do not link with slave-trading but with kidnapping. (The Pehshitta has "l'gnvi bni" -- stealers of free men ("sons"). The older English versions follow that course, while more recent ones choose "slave traders". But I cannot in conscience read this as a wholesale condemnation of all slave trading -- much as I might like to think that "Paul" was so enlightened -- but rather a reference to kidnapping or press-ganging of free people, or perhaps stealing other people's slaves and selling them. There is room to disagree on the range of meaning of this word; it's just that given the ubiquity of slavery in the ancient Mediterranean world, it is hard to imagine "Paul" using it in the broader sense. In any case, the 19th century slaveholders didn't read it in that light, and hence continued to hold slaves with a good conscience -- which is really my point in all this: that people often bend the Scripture to their economic advantage.

Finally, I find your argument about reciprocity unconvincing. While I suppose it might be possible to find such a slave-owner, willing himself to be treated as a slave, it seems very unlikely to me. Even Jesus presents the unlikelihood of a slave owner coming home and saying to his slaves, "Sit down while I serve you..."

To me, the Golden Rule without true willingness to reciprocity (again, not necessarily acted upon) seems to be more of that vaguely humanistic well-wishing benevolence that is more often patronizing than helpful to others. (I've written at length on the Golden Rule at another post, which you may find interesting as it takes us far from the current controversies.)

Have a good weekend yourself. Peace and joy.

Anonymous said...


Briefly, the Hebrew verb tiqnu is in the imperfect tense, often modal rather than simple future (and almost certainly in this context), so we have "you may buy." Sounds like tolerance to me, but it may stretch beyond that to a modicum of endorsement: "go ahead and buy."

Involved in Isaiah 14 is a matter of divine judgment: those who have enslaved will be enslaved. Sounds rather anti-slavery to me. (Some still feel the state should kill those who have themselves committed murder. Again, I don't believe this is mandated by the N.T. though it is in the Old. It may be sentiment on my part, but I like to think Christ's blood sacrifice covers blood guiltiness. Plus, I feel far more comfortable with God meting out ultimate punishments. Besides, as a practical matter, many capital offenses were regularly commuted by ancient Jewish jurisprudence, and those guilty of manslaughter were given Cities of Refuge toward which to flee.)

At any rate, God forbade that his own chosen people should be enslaved. In the New Testament, the nations when united to Christ become his people. So at the very least, slavery should be unknown amongst Christians (though that makes it hard to explain Ephesians 6:9. Perhaps this was a temporary exemption since--as I have said before--too-soon manumission might result only in hardship. And Paul actively campaigns for Onesimus where privation is not in view.)

Some 19th-Century slave owners were in other ways fine and noble men. I don't think the problem was exclusively economic advantage. I admit I am bewildered by Luther's anti-Semitism or Gandhi's misogyny or Lincoln's abhorrence of the social equality of the races. Clarity of sight in one area doesn't always preclude huge blind spots in others.

I have some comments on your take on the Golden Rule, but I'll save those for another day.


Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Dear Peshat,

The Hebrew imperfect is indeed capable of a range of interpretation. But in the context of commandments (as in most of the Ten Commandments) it is usually understood with an imperative mood, rather than a permissive one. So while it may be read as "you may buy" in this case, it is also possible to read it as "you shall buy." As with much or the legal code in Leviticus, the text appears to be framed as "topic: action." So a fair translatino of the verse in question would be:

"Your male slaves and your female slaves which become yours: from the nations which surround you, from them shall you buy male slaves and female slaves."

(Note as well that the formula of ownership or "having", y'hiv-lak is not unlike the negative commandment against other gods (Exo 20:3) in form -- lo yihyeh-lka -- the latter also simply the imperfect, yet clearly reflecting a commandment.)

So, in short, I do not find that this is rightly read as mere toleration, and certainly passes beyond it to endorsement, and may rise as high as mandate.

It still seems to me that you are to some extent engaging in an effort to protect Scripture from itself -- making it seem more advanced (culturally) than the evidence of the
text itself supports.

And yes, God forbids his own people being enslaved by others because they are his. As I said, the image is of a middle-eastern Lord or King upon whose property others are trespassing. And yes, Ephesians figures in this as well. (Again, much more on all of this in the book.)

In short, the explicit biblical record seems to treat slavery as morally neutral: neither good nor bad in itself, but only to be reckoned bad when it involves harsh treatment, or false assertion of ownership.

But it seems to me we have wandered very far from the topic of this post, which was the question of whether God "instituted" marriage or not. Given that, and the apparent fact we are unlikely to agree on the particular matter of slavery in the OT and NT, perhaps it would be best to let this rest for the time being. I would suggest, after you've looked at the relevant material in my book, that you comment on this at the Reasonable and Holy blog, under the appropriate chapter, and we can perhaps continue the discussion there.

Peace to you and a blessed weekend.

Anonymous said...


A negated imperfect does indeed have imperative force, but there are independent imperative forms for commands worded positively.

I don't have major problems with your translation, but the emphasis in the context here is that the exclusion of Jews from slavery is being mandated: "If you buy slaves, they must be from the peoples who live around you." There is no implication that somehow one must buy slaves whether one wants to or not, whether one needs to or not.

I agree that the biblical record taken as a whole is more or less neutral on the morality of slavery. But the seeds are sewn within the text for us to see clearly the eventual possibility of rising above it. Abolition of chattel slavery is in no way "de novo" but naturally develops from the light of Scripture itself.

You take more of a purely academic tack when interpreting the Bible. I also do that when writing / researching with academic purposes in mind.

But devotionally--when looking at the Bible as the Word of God written--I view it as of one piece and allow Scripture to interpret Scripture. Of course, this is a matter of faith. But how does it matter that it was written over a period of from 500 to 2000 years by many people in several cultures if it is--in whatever manner--held together by the Holy Spirit?

I'll be more than glad to continue this on the "Reasonable and Holy" blog.



Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...


Thanks. I certainly have no problem with the devotional aspect of Scripture. I've been reading the Scriptures in this way for about forty years now, as part of the discipline of the Daily Office, quite apart from any academic studies, or the discipline of reading the entire text of new translations as they are published. (I must admit to lagging on the latter as more new versions appear!)

My concern is the fluidity of your position: you accused me of eisegesis upstream (perhaps on the other post) but in one sense that appears to me to be exactly what you do when you appeal to a "pervasive" anti-slavery notion (for example) without being able to point to any particular text. This strikes me as a kind of scriptural dualism -- the idea that some noble purpose is embodied in scripture, without being able to point to the limbs or organs of that body.

Even within this dialogue you will I hope recognize that you have shifted from your initial position that "Scripture is of one mind on condemning race-based and chattel slavery" to a recognition that while you believe there to be a Scriptural basis for opposing slavery, you also now acknowledge that "taken as a whole [the biblical record] is more or less neutral on the morality of slavery."

This is why I asked earlier what your hermeneutic is -- as, if you can make such a shift (upon a closer examination of the evidence), I hope you will understand my appeal for some kind of accountability, in response to your (IMO) over-broad assumptions about my own hermeneutical and exegetical work.

And, of course, ultimately my concern is devotional and ecclesiastical: for I believe the Scripture has a role in the Church, a vitally important role that cannot be fulfilled by any other means, in pointing us to salvation in Christ -- but if I am to honor Scripture properly, I must begin with what it actually says, rather than imposing my own preconceptions upon it. This is the effort in which I have been engaged for the last twenty years or so, and I would simply ask that before you issue snap judgments (on the basis that you don't like my conclusions) that you do me the courtesy of working through the evidence upon which I base them.

All blessings for the weekend... and beyond.

Anonymous said...


Though I surely want you to believe me capable of a certain amount of flexibility. I do not think I have "shifted" on anything here.

When I say that Scripture is more or less neutral on the morality of slavery, I mean that it nowhere either sanctions or prohibits the general practice of slavery.

But slavery has taken many forms in its history. In Hebrew ('ebed), Greek (doulos), and in Latin (servus) the term for slave is the same term used for other types of servant. Most if not all of the biblical forms are not analogous to New World totalitarian slavery. Chattel slavery to me has always had the connotation of this total control over every aspect of a slave's life. The concepts of 'permanence' and 'property' certainly come into play, but I would add the notions of 'impersonalization' and 'commoditization.' When I used the word "chattel," this is what I meant.

S. Scott Bartchy (in his article on NT slavery in the ABD) distinguishes 1st Century slavery from New World practices in the following manner:

"[R]acial factors played no role; education was greatly encouraged (some slaves were better educated than their owners) and enhanced a slave's value; many slaves carried out sensitive and highly responsible social functions; slaves could own property (including other slaves!); their religious and cultural traditions were the same as those of the freeborn; no laws prohibited public assembly of slaves; and (perhaps above all) the majority of urban and domestic slaves could legitimately anticipate being emancipated by age 30."

Slaves were not at the bottom of the socio-economic heap: poor, freeborn day laborers were (and they often self-sold themselves into slavery as a step up). Some slaves actually had high social status and a few even held political office.

18th and 19th Century attempts at biblical justification for a race-based and degrading form of slavery of its own design are spurious at best. I don't need to tell you that. In fact, that's part of your thesis: Christians have made mistakes justifying racism and chattel slavery; perhaps they have made similar mistakes justifying their homophobia. I assume you agree with me that the Bible as a whole does not condone any harsh form of servitude.

The other part of your thesis, however, is where we will continue to disagree: that some of the actual teachings of Scripture have become irrelevant as mankind has become more enlightened. You feel the right (if not outright duty) to disregard these teachings. Lambeth 1888 not only described the Scriptures as "containing all things necessary to salvation," but as "being the rule and ultimate standard of faith."

To be fair, you purport to find biblical reasons for jettisoning these teachings. I will, therefore, give you the benefit of the doubt. Forgive me if I tend to prejudge your arguments as eisegetical. I simply do not see how you can reasonably proceed through sound exegesis to your stated conclusions. Nevertheless, I will give your rationale as fair a hearing as I am able.



Anonymous said...


Let me just add that I can give "arms and legs" to my claims of a pervasive anti-slavery notion in Scripture if you'd like. I'd rather not go to the trouble because, quite frankly, it seems to me to be--as my 9th-grade Geometry teacher used to put it--"intuitively obvious to the most casual observer."

It was also obvious to the very early church:

Polycarp manumitted his slaves in deference to Christian equality. Constantine gave authority to bishops to emancipate slaves and gave Roman citizenship to many thus freed.

Gregory of Nyssa said:

"As for the person who appropriates to himself ... what belongs to God and attributes to himself power over the human race as if he were its lord, what other arrogant statement transgressing human nature makes this person regard himself as different from those over whom he rules?

"'I obtained servants and maidens.' What are you saying? You condemn man who is free and autonomous to servitude, and you contradict God by perverting the natural law. Man, who was created as lord over the earth, you have put under the yoke of servitude as a transgressor and rebel against the divine precept. You have forgotten the limit of your authority which consists in jurisdiction over brutish animals."
He goes on to say:

"Since we are made according to God's likeness and are appointed to rule over the entire earth, tell me, who is the person who sells and buys? Only God can do this; however, it does not pertain to him at all 'for the gifts of God are irrevocable' [Romans 11.29]. Because God called human nature to freedom which had become addicted to sin, he would not subject it to servitude again.

"If God did not subject freedom to slavery, who can deny his lordship? How does the ruler of the entire earth obtain dominion ... since every possession requires payment? How can we properly estimate the earth in its entirety as well as its contents? If these things are inestimable, tell me, how much greater is man's value who is over them?

"If you mention the entire world you discover nothing equivalent to man's honor. He who knows human nature says that the world is not an adequate exchange for man's soul."
In a similar vein, St. Augustine spoke of the granting of freedom to slaves as a great religious virtue, and declared the Christian law as being against treating God's rational creation as property. (He did say that he considered the very institution of slavery as being a consequence of Adam's fall into sin. But that would only seem to advance my thesis of slavery as a tolerated but negative thing.)

For freedom Christ has set us free. Scripture teaches us not to be enslaved to anything (save Christ himself). How can you sincerely believe that the core teaching of Scripture could include the enslavement of others?
(How many times have you read it cover to cover? A good number from what you say.)

Maybe I do seem too "fluid" to you. You appear too rigid to me. Hermeneutics deals with principle, not mechanistic precision. It is in some ways more of an art than a science. Surely you must realize that reconciling text, tradition, and reason, all under the aegis of the Holy Spirit himself cannot quite be a laboratory experiment.

I give you leave to prove your reasonableness to me. I ask that you grant me the same fashion of respect. I think you will find me sufficiently reasonable in the final analysis (even if we don't necessarily agree).


Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Peshat, thanks for the additional comments. Much of what you say here is covered in my book, or summarized in the earlier article on slavery that was part of Let the Reader Understand (which you can look at through the link in my sidebar.)

I am well aware of Gregory of Nyssa on the subject -- though he is rather unusual in his views. I'm also familiar with Augustine, and Aquinas, on the subject. Suffice it to say that a prevailing anti-slavery theology did not really make much impact in the church until the 19th century -- the few exceptional anti-slavery voices of earlier periods (e.g., Bartolome de las Casas) not being heeded.

But, as I say, this isn't really about "slavery" but about how we address the Scriptures. You accused me of eisegesis when I think I am applying a very similar technique to your own -- that is, finding the sweeping and underlying truth that may in fact go against certain explicit portions of the text. The "core teaching" sometimes contradicts its branches. I merely point out that it sometimes takes a "mechanistic precision" to be willing to admit what to me seems "intuitively obvious to the casual observer." (Indeed, the insistence some hold for notions of inerrancy or perfect inward consistency of Scripture, are part of what holds the church up to either ridicule or accusations of hypocrisy.)

So I think you are in fact demonstrating an approach not very unlike my own, in noting that there is some pervasive or implicit trend towards liberation (against slavery) which has to be set side by side with the explicit provision for slavery in the Law.

My challenge is to affirm that I think the same approach can be applied to loving, mutual, life-long same-sex relationships -- that the explicit text of Scripture only necessarily negatively addresses same-sexual situations involving rape, idolatry, prostitution, etc. That one must consider the various cultures and their attitudes to sexuality, in which the Jewish and Christian traditions were born and developed, and the cultures of those traditions themselves. Further, that it isn't "heterosexuality" that is blessed when one looks at the sweep of Scripture, but rather the moral virtues of love, fidelity, permanence, etc. And that these virtues can be found in same-sex relationships. This is the case I lay out in the book. Again, you may not agree with it -- but I think it is eminently reasonable, at least as reasonable as your own argument here.

Have a good week.

Anonymous said...


I do not get the impression that Gregory of Nyssa was at all unusual in his views. Scads of early Christendom's adherents came from slave backgrounds. Two of the early popes did. At least early on, there was no difference in participation either in the sacraments or otherwise.

The fact that popes and theologians and doctors of the church and kings and politicians and social activists of various Christian persuasions went unheeded is not a proper indictment against the church. Current papal pronouncements against contraception and abortion and capital punishment go unheeded but are still the official teaching of the Catholic Church.

I'm no apologist for Rome, but your reading of the history of slavery seems to leave their viewpoint out.

In its own take on the interplay between nascent Christianity and slavery, the Catholic Encyclopedia states:

" say that the Fathers of the Church did not feel "the horror of slavery", is to display either strange ignorance or singular unfairness."

Read the whole article.

And while you're at it, read this one.

I fully realize that each historian has his or her own slant. Point me in the direction of contrasting information, and I will be glad to consider it with all due seriousness.


Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...


I'm really not sure what to say at this point. I read the article in the old Catholic Encyclopedia, and it appears to reinforce my view: that the early church, with few exceptions (i.e., Gregory of Nyssa) did not oppose the institution of slavery, but rather sought to ameliorate the situations of individual slaves. A quote: "Primitive Christianity did not attack slavery directly; but it acted as though slavery did not exist."

The article also cites las Casas, to whom I referred, as a rare voice against the institution of slavery at the time of the discoveries in the new world.

So I don't see what point it is you are seeking to make.

I've not had the opportunity to look at the second link you provided, but will do so later.

Anonymous said...


When you say the primitive church did not oppose the institution of slavery, what are you trying to say? That they did not do so through force of arms? Before the Edict of Milan in 313 CE, they had no political--and certainly no military--power to speak of.

The Catholic Encyclopedia said:

"Primitive Christianity did not attack slavery directly; but it acted as though slavery did not exist."In other words, within the church, equality reigned. It was as if there were no such thing as slavery (i.e., DID NOT EXIST). It did not attack it directly in society because it could not.

The Encyclopedia goes on to say:

"By inspiring the best of its children with this heroic charity, examples of which have been given above, it remotely prepared the way for the abolition of slavery. To reproach the Church of the first ages with not having condemned slavery in principle, and with having tolerated it in fact, is to blame it for not having let loose a frightful revolution, in which, perhaps, all civilization would have perished with Roman society."So I repeat, it could not fight the institution directly. Ameliorating the plight of individual slaves (and acting as if one's inherited status--freeborn or slave--didn't matter) was really all it could do. There are no patriarchal apologies for the continuance of slavery that I am aware of. Augustine and a couple of others blamed its existence on the fall (or on the sin of Noah's son Ham/Canaan). But they do not directly sanction the institution.

Perhaps they tolerate it as an instrument of justice in a way we would not, but that is all. (At times in its history, slavery has served as a substitute for imprisonment...and a case could be made that modern methods of incarceration are fairly analogous to chattel slavery.)

As for Las Casas, the writer says that he has seriously truncated his presentation of New World criticism. But he also mentions the following popes as rebuking New World slavery:

Pius II, Paul III, Urban VIII, Benedict XIV, Pius VII, Gregory XVI, Pius IX, and Leo XIII.

He also speaks of the following groups as having worked against the slave trade on the continent of Africa: the Fathers of the Holy Ghost, the Oblates, the White Fathers, the Franciscans, the Jesuits, and the Priests of the Mission of Lyons.

That said, I don't think a case can be made that the church did nearly enough to combat New- World-style slavery. And often it was complicit, even owning and trading in slaves itself.

My point, however, is that in the primitive church, at least, the heart of the church stood against slavery, in obedience to the spirit of freedom and equality in Christ manifested in Scripture.

Chattel slavery mostly died out in the Middle Ages (except in the East, and that in part because of the rivalry between Orthodoxy and Islam). New World slavery was in many ways a revival of a moribund institution.

My point is that the true church has always stood against slavery even if in the minority. And as such, the Abolition Movement was not an absolutely new move of the Spirit, mysteriously absent throughout the rest of the church's history.

Peace be with you,


Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

I re-read the (old) Catholic Encyclopedia article to which you pointed, and still find it to be a rather revisionist history. For a more detailed view (though still attempting to exonerate the RCC) take a look at this.

You will notice that most of the papal condemnation is directed not against slavery as an institution, but against the enslavement of people free until then, and the slave trade. The citations are partial, and interpreted broadly, as you will see; but it seems clear that the Roman Church was in a difficult position on slavery per se as the theologians (with very few exceptions) had all along held that slavery in itself was not a moral fault, and even that it was part of the natural law. I offer a citation on the latter in my article to which I pointed earlier. Taking slaves in a just war, for example, was freely allowed.

I did take a look at the second article to which you pointed, and it is, I think, similarly revisionist, and in error concerning Aquinas. At least, it doesn't capture the nuance of his thinking. As customary in his day, he saw slavery as distasteful, but not necessarily as sinful unless it was a form of theft -- an illegitimate deprivation of freedom. He saw slavery as a result of the fall, but not sinful in itself under the kinds of conditions by which people came into possession of slaves by other means than abduction. The holding of such slaves was not in itself immoral.

Again, as I said earlier, the question of slavery is really not my major concern. But nothing you have produced (with most of which I was already familiar) gives me reason to revise my earlier statements concerning the history of slavery. My point remains: that opposition to slavery was not common in the early church, and opposition to it (when it arose) was not based primarily on the legal texts of Scripture, but on such principles as the Golden Rule. (This is, in fact, what the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church says.)

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Peshat, I was composing the earlier note as you were writing the one just before it.

What I meant is that the apostolic church, and most of the early Fathers, did not condemn slavery as such -- as long as slaves were well treated, there is scant suggestion that slavery itself is morally wrong.

Frankly, I'm not sure why you are spending so much time in defense of a thesis that "in the primitive church, at least, the heart of the church stood against slavery..." Even this goes too far. It would be more accurate to say that the primitive church treated slavery as a matter of indifference, not morally wrong in and of itself, with, as I say, a very few exceptions.

Moreover, in holding to those exceptions, you appear to fall into the "no true Scotsman" fallacy, as in your closing statement: "the true church has always stood against slavery even if in the minority."

This is, in case you haven't noticed, a restatement of my thesis, that opposition to slavery as an institution was a minority movement in the church until the 19th century. I do not disagree, by the way, that the minority was right, and more true to the ideals of Christ than many of their fellow-Christians.

But that was my larger point in all of this: that the church "matured" on this subject and came to a better mind only after many centuries of internal disagreement. This is the context of my larger studies, and I think this continues to bear out my thesis -- that there is a development in moral teaching in the church.

Christopher said...

History cannot be disappeared by "the Church has always taught" or pointing to a few shining exemplars who stood contrary of the age (and to Church teaching of the time). Indeed, to ignore the failings of the Church, our errors, is to ignore precisely how it is that God brings us to better understanding--through life, politics, debate, conversation, i.e., History. To deny the poor moments of our history is to give up something of the Incarnation.

Anonymous said...


When you say "a development of moral teaching," I hear "development of doctrine" even though at times you appear to repudiate the concept as usually formulated.

Any development of doctrine that is not a clarification, drawing the eyes of the faithful back to the truths of Scripture, will inevitably undermine the authority of the Word of God written.

Because of the presence of the Word of God incarnate in the NT, there resides bona fide development of doctrine within its pages. We are led into the fullness of the truth: We are not only to love the Lord our God with all our mind and strength and our neighbors as ourselves...we are to love our enemies, we are to include them in our definition of the word "neighbor." This little change when added to the rest of Scripture eventually brought about the end of slavery.

Modern calls for the development of doctrine have so often been a subjective punt to the experience of the believer.

This did indeed happen within the Abolition Movement. Very often they were emotionally moved by the utter degradation and cruel inhumanity of chattel slavery which they viewed in horror with their own eyes.

But go back to a few sermons from that era and you will see a very biblical basis to their efforts.

Yes, F.L. Cross does say:

"There is "no explicit teaching on the subject [of slavery] in the Gospels, but the spiritual equality of men as children of the same Father, together with the Golden Rule and the Lord's affection for the poor and oppressed, provided the principles which were slowly to penetrate the nascent Christian society."

But who does he say formulated those principles? The Apostle Paul. He adds that the institution of slavery itself was eventually abolished directly as a result of the Pauline message.

Plus, he states that an attitude in line with Paul's [inherently anti-slavery] teaching was PREVALENT in the early church until the third century: masters and slaves being drawn together by shared sacrament and suffering.

THAT has been my point: there was no slow progression or maturity. At times there was faithfulness and at times there was faithlessness. We shouldn't participate in "chronological snobbery," seeing the church fathers as immature compared to the highly-educated paragons of virtue we have become. It could well be that thrown back into the circumstances of the distant past, we would quickly revert to the practice of non-chattel slavery. It may well have been the most gracious system available. It was used as a welfare program, a penal system, an apprenticeship service, and an appropriate means of temporary employment. Quite possibly slavery should still be viewed as "neutral in and of itself."

There is, I would believe, an honest progression that is made over time with the cumulative experience of the church in interaction with the Spirit and the Word. But it is a fine tuning of clarity rather than a change in substance. It MUST remain that way lest we submit ourselves to the spirit of the age in which we find ourselves. We cannot afford to divorce ourselves from the clear consensus of the whole sweep of tradition...for any new revelation (even if vaguely circumscribed by the Golden Rule).

We must remain tethered to the the Word written (in its entirety), to tradition (of the faithful across all eras), and to Reason (within the bounds of godly wisdom).


Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks, Christopher.

Peshat, I think we have reached the end of the usefulness of this discussion. While I think in substance we are saying similar things (that is, the core truth of God's will is expressed in Scripture and in the life of the church, even though the individual leaders and members of the church may get it wrong from time to time) I think you have a somewhat overly optimistic assessment of the ability of the Truth eventually to triumph over those very limited (both creaturely and corporately in culture) human capacities to judge aright.

Thus, from a forensic perspective, I cannot accept your reading of history or tradition to lead to a "consensus of the whole sweep of tradition" on the matter of slavery or (more importantly in this case) sexuality. I think this to be tendentious and revisionist. It is precisely giving in to the "spirit of the age" to try to read one's culture's current beliefs into the history: yes, one can cherry pick or create a florilegium to support such notions -- but it is equally possible to create a similar catena of citations to prove the opposite. The issue still becomes, in the present day, Which is truer to Christ? That, to me, is the only question. In the case of slavery, I think it is correct to say that the thread of voices opposing it were truer to the Spirit of Christ than were the countervaling voices. But that is our judgment -- as it must be in cases such as this where Jesus did not offer any explicit teaching. (The argument from the "destabilization of society" -- referred to in Cross and in the CathEncyc article you cited, is hardly persuasive, as Jesus offered a number of revolutionary teachings, and the apostolic church was charged with "turning the whole world upside down.")

I do not think it is "chronological snobbery" to say that it wouldn't occur to the apostolic church to condemn slavery outright, and that this condemnation emerges over time, as culture changes. Every culture has its preconceptions and errors -- the first century no less than the twenty-first. It is not that we are better educated than our forebears, but that we see things differently than they did. (For one thing, we can see them, but not they us. Hindsight does bring its own opportunities.) Every age has its spirit, and the spirit of the first century is no closer to God, and God's Spirit, than our own -- nor any less.

Finally, I still find your arguments to be troublesome when you seem to be unwilling to condemn slavery itself, and find excuses for it as morally neutral. This was the view of the apostolic church, and this is a very pragmatic approach -- seeing slavery when practiced without cruelty as "the most gracious system available" and perhaps "neutral in and of itself."

I, on the contrary, see the ownership of one person by another as intrinsically disrespectful of human dignity, and contrary to the Golden Rule.

So, I think the matter must rest here. I am not sure, at the end, that we disagree all that much -- where we do disagree is, I think, in our approach. I am trying to be forensic, with a focus on the precise details of the history and the doctrine, and I see you as being more idealistic. What you see as "fine tuning" I see as a radical departure, as radical as the difference between having and not having slaves.

So as I say, I think we have reached an end. I hope you understand better what I am saying, even if you do not agree. That too may have more to do with our different methods of approach.

All blessings, in Christ.

Anonymous said...


Just a comment and I'll move on.

As a good Calvinist, I object to your overly broad use of the "No True Scotsman" fallacy. In Anthony Flew's formulation, it is only correctly employed to rebuke chauvinistic thinking that redefines terms in an ad hoc fashion in the middle of an argument. (I'm sure you're aware of the "No True Scotsman Fallacy" fallacy...and of the joke that there is no true example of the NTS fallacy.)

In our conversation, we can define the church within the bounds of its official teaching (or perhaps in the direction of Luther's notion of an "invisible" church of the elect), but we cannot speak of every individual butt that has ever warmed a pew.

And why, pray tell, did you mention the NTS fallacy...and then claim that my mistake was a "restatement" of your central thesis? I must admit I got a kick out of that!


I have always felt disrespected to be left clean out of an ongoing conversation, so let me turn your way briefly.

I assure you that I am in no way trying to sweep the multitudinous (and multifarious!) sins of the church "under the rug."

But Tobias is trying to argue that the official teaching of the church should be changed because the best and the brightest and the noblest of our leaders down through the ages of the church have erred. Even the truest of true Christians--the Sir Galahads amongst us--have been led astray.

Only in these last days, with our superior knowledge and moral vision are we finally able to see what has been true all along: homosexuals deserve to be treated according to the Golden Rule not only in terms of civil rights, but in full participation of ecclesiastical blessings. It is not enough to love them and defend them--we must endorse what has heretofore been thought of as their failings. We must turn around and call a sin "not a sin" (as we have with divorce).

You think I am trying to cover up the sins of the church. I think he is. (And in terms of slavery, I think he is trying to bring to nothing the "few shining exemplars"...which in some eras have been far more than few!)

I wish you both a wonderful day....


Anonymous said...


Undoubtedly we are talking past on another and have much in common, but we are reaching different conclusions for a particular set of reasons.

The particular set you have fastened upon I find un-Christlike. The particular set I have fastened upon you find "troublesome" and "tendentious."

One of us is right, and one of us is wrong...or perhaps we both are. I will pray for you. Please pray for me.

Within the love of Christ, I am your own me.


Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Peshat, I am not a Calvinist, nor do I think it is wrong to say that the church consists of all whose butts have ever warmed a pew (assuming those butts to have been baptized.) So here at last we do see a very different approach to the nature of the church. And I would say yours is exactly that form of the No True Scotsman Fallacy in ecclesiology: "no true Christian" would ever do such and such. Of course, that appears to be your definition of the church. (More on this in a moment.) I mentioned this fallacy because I saw you using it in your statement that seemed to separate the Church from the "true" Church. You have confirmed this point of view in this present comment. Where I agree with you concerns the extent to which the Church grasps the truth -- clearly where we disagree is on the constitution of that Church, a disagreement about which I was unaware until you acknowledged a Calvinist way of looking at things.

As I alluded to above, we didn't define our terms to start with, so my accusation of the NTS fallacy is off -- the definition of Church that I use is the body of the baptized as reflected in the Catechism, and you clearly mean something quite different -- a subset of the baptized. So this isn't actually a fallacy for you -- though it is a foreign doctrine for me.

For I would never say Augustine or Aquinas weren't part of the church (the true church) because they failed to condemn slavery as a sin in and of itself, and even defended it in some circumstances. Nor would I say that of the Presiding Bishop, John Henry Hopkins, who while he admitted his distaste for it, wrote so ardently in its defense at the time of the Civil War. I think they were wrong, but they were Christians, members of the Body of Christ. For all their wisdom, they erred; even some of the best of them.

As, indeed, may you or I. But as to moral vision, I do think that we have the capacity for a greater moral vision than many of our forebears, if only because we have the hindsight to witness their failings. Our own will best be subject to review in coming ages, though it is good to have the humility at present to admit we may be mistaken.

Have a good day, and week...

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Dear Peshat,
Our notes are crossing and so appear out of chronology.

Yes, it is now clearer to me that we come to this (and other) issues with a very different set of preconceptions and hermeneutics. I do commend my book to you, as a large part of it is about the various hermeneutics that can be applied, and I actually endeavor to apply a Christ-like one. I think you have prejudged my conclusions without having read the argument, and are prepared to dismiss the argument because it leads to conclusions you find unacceptable. You appear to me to take an approach that is broad and overarching, while I, on the other hand, have attempted to remain close to the evidence, and examine it in great detail. You described this upstream as an academic vs. a devotional approach, and I accept that as a legitimate description to a certain extent. My challenge is that when a close academic examination challenges a long-held devotional conclusion, it may be time to reexamine it, rather than resist where the wisdom God gives us might lead.

As to you being a slave -- I would say rather, we are all fellow-servants of the One God, Incarnate in Christ, continuing to inspire the church and lead us into Truth.

Blessings and prayer for you ascend and descend, In God's Name.

Anonymous said...


I would be remiss if I did not offer to you a major "thank you" for engaging thus with me. Discussing disagreements is often a frustrating task with few tangible rewards.

I also want to apologize if I have been insensitive. I did not realize till I got the book and read the dedication that this is much more than an intellectual debate for you.

The topic is not nearly so visceral for me, but let me add a caveat. Don't think that I or any other on the so-called "traditional" side of this matter has nothing to lose. I do not have my mind made up, but the sun would just about have to rise in the north to gain my attention. For us to change our minds would involve renunciation, which--as Emily Dickinson has reminded us--is a "piercing virtue." A choosing against oneself, oneself to justify.

You have been nothing but a gentleman to me. For this I thank you. I have the book. If I have more to say, I'll say it on "Reasonable and Holy."

(I should perhaps say that I am merely Calvin-ish, for I do not entirely agree with either Calvin or the various Calvinisms. I do, nonetheless, have my troubles with Article XXVII's nod in the direction of baptismal regeneration.)

God bless you!


Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thank you, too, Peshat, for your willing engagement. This is, certainly, much more than an intellectual exercise for me.

From your side, I understand how hard it is to change. I was once (by habit) a strong opponent, for instance, of the ordination of women. I was led to a change of mind through a very careful examination of the texts and traditions, under the light of reason and, I hope, the presence of the Spirit. I recall one Episcopal Bishop (now retired, but who I saw a few weeks back when I delivered a speech in his diocese) who had been opposed to the ordination of women, but came to a different mind: "It's hard to admit that something I was taught all my life was wrong."

It is hard -- it is, as the teacher in Israel discovered, like being reborn, or born from above. It does involve renunciation -- and repentance, in the old sense of the word, a turning around -- not simply feeling sorry! It is a conversio morum and a rededication of the self to God. It was hard for Paul on that Damascus Road -- but he was in the end better for it. It was hard for Augustine, and for Luther... and for me.

May we all be turned from our erring paths, onto the one Way, toward the one Truth, into the one Life!

Peace be yours,

Christopher said...

I cannot add anything to this that Fr Haller hasn't said better. We're operating out of very different ecclesiologies, and thus, christologies. The sociality of Christ into whom we are brought into by Holy Baptism means precisely that all baptized butts in the pews as well as all baptized gone before are the Church. I reject, as with Maurice, visible and invisible distinctions about who and who is not the true Church. And within that even the best of us err. Not on everything. No on the Center, we are in good company with the Gracious Doctor or Angelic Doctor--or my preference of late, the Seraphic Doctor. But on generation, for example, they were incorrect. That inaccuracy leads to inaccuracies in other parts of anthropology, and in turn, what might constitute faithful responses to God--i.e., moral theology/ethics. Just so, the Angelic Doctor, with Aristotle, taught slavery natural and women deformed men. We cannot ignore these, nor the practical and real effects they have had on bodies, that is, persons down through the ages. And hence, in good Anglican humility, we teach that the Church errs, and yet, our faith is not in us, but in Him whose faith for us saves.