Hey all at EFC! I was wondering how I would respond to a claim that Jesus lied in John 7:1-10. This doesn’t affect my faith whatsoever but I would like to know how I would handle this question.   Also does Leviticus 25:44 necessarily teach that you can buy slaves as long as they aren’t Israelites? One more question; does Leviticus 25:46 teach that you can enslave non Israelites for life or is there another meaning to this?


Your first question is an interesting one.  Jesus did not lie in this case, but I can see why someone might say that he lied.  What he was saying, in context, is that he was not going to go there as a public figure.  He went there in private, purposefully staying out of the public eye.  Later on, he definitely “went” to Jerusalem, when he arrived on “Palm Sunday.” Essentially, what he said in John 7 is that he would not do anything like what he did in John 12:12. If you look at what his family was asking him in John 7, it was, essentially, were you going to go up there to proclaim who you are?  Jesus said no, he was not.  I suppose one could say that he dissembled (ie. purposefully withheld facts) if one wanted to, but he did not lie.

What the Old Testament says to Jewish people is of interest for sure to us as Christians, but Jesus fulfilled the OT law in his ministry (Matthew 5:17), and we, as Christians, are not bound by the things of the Law of Moses (Colossians 2:13-17, Galatians 3:24-25 and many other passages in Galatians).  So, the relevant practical thing to ask with regard to slavery is what does the New Testament say about it.

The somewhat shocking thing, from the modern point of view, is that God does not absolutely outlaw slavery for Christians in the New Testament.  In Ephesians 6:5-9, Paul gives instructions to slave owners on how to treat them, but he does not command to free them.  In Philemon, he directly asks his friend Philemon to free Onesimus.  Christian scholars debate why the New Testament does not contain a direct command for all believers to free their slaves, given the obvious fact that God would not support the idea of slavery!  The most common view is that in Rome, where more than one third of all people were slaves, to command the outright freeing of all slaves would have caused such an overturning of the society that God was willing to accommodate it under the circumstances.  If slaves treated their masters and masters treated their slaves as advised in Ephesians 6:5-9, then the institution would not be even remotely like the horrifying situation in the US in our embarrassing past.  Let me add that in my opinion, anyone reading the Bible would agree that God would never support slavery.  It is like polygamy, which God appears to accommodate in some cultures. All believers will agree that God, if we asked his “opinion” would say that he hates the very idea of slavery (and polygamy and divorce), yet he accommodates in the New Testament, as he even accommodated divorce for Jews in the Old Testament, like Jesus said, because of the hardness of their hearts.

So my answer is that Leviticus 25:44-46 is written for a different people in a very different world.  No Christian would support slavery and no Christian in our modern world would own a slave.  That is all we need to know about this issue, at least as a practical matter.  However, we can look at the extreme limitations God put on slavery in the Old Testament, including the command to treat them with respect, that children were automatically freed, that slaves were all freed in the Jubilee year and so forth and we can see that everything God did about slavery for the Jews, short of outright banning it, was to reduce its cruelty and injustice.

John Oakes

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