Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Helping Atheists Understand the Bible: Luke 12:47-48

Luke 12:47-48: Was Jesus in Favor of Slavery?

  If you ever engaged an atheist in an argument, you might have experienced this: In the middle of an intelligent conversation, all of the sudden, they will make a claim about the bible, religion or Jesus that make you stop and say  "What????". This was the case a couple of weeks ago as I was debating  a fellow on Twitter and he presented me with this "gem".

Imagine my surprise when I read this statement. Advocate? Jesus? Slaves? BEATINGS?? How did I missed this part of the gospels??? Of course I had stop our discussion and ask for a source, which in fact I was given.

Luke 12:47-48

47 And that slave who knew his master’s will and did not get ready or act in accord with his will, will receive many lashes, 48 but the one who did not know it, and committed deeds worthy of a flogging, will receive but few. From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more.
 Ok, so, I will admit that this passage, if taken in complete isolation, and one has no idea of who the speaker is, to whom is he speaking, and when and where these words were spoken, one could end up with all sorts of erroneous interpretations. Especially if one is trying to find fault in Jesus teachings.  Atheists do this all the time, they use isolated passages from scripture to make all sorts of outrageous claims, unaware that, when it comes to quoting the bible:  "A text, without context, is just a pretext" for their own prejudices.

I wish twitter would have given me the opportunity to address this passage, but at 140 characters, you have to keep your focus in one topic. However, I made a mental note to address it later. So the next time I'm confronted with it, I just provide a the link to this article and move on. So here it is:

Luke 12:47-48: Was Jesus in Favor of Slavery?

To understand this passage  correctly one needs to be aware of two things:
  1. The way Jesus taught.
  2. The kind of audience he taught.
Jesus spoke to a 1st century, middle eastern audience, composed mostly of peasants and fishermen. Because of this, Jesus had to present his teachings in a very simple way.  Parables are ideal for this, since this form of exposition is short and to the point. In his parables, Jesus used real life events, objects and people, so that  his audience could understand and relate to what he was trying to teach.

The parables of Jesus present and explain important and difficult moral and theological truths. He used vineyards, farmers, fields, figs, tax collectors, Samaritans and even the social constructs of his time, such as the masters-slave  relationship. In the Luke passage I was given, this is what Jesus is doing, he is using the relationship between a master and a slave, the way masters treated their slaves to make a theological point.

One would have to make a gigantic mental leap to assert, like my interlocutor did, that since Jesus used these things as examples, this is an indication that he approved of them. If this were the case them one would have to assert other things about Jesus, such as that he also approved stealing because he said:

Mathew 12:29

Or how can one enter into the house of the strong man, and spoil his goods, except he first bind the strong man? and then he will spoil his house.

Or that he approved of the rich more than the poor because he said:

Mathew 25: 28-29

Take ye away therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him that hath the ten talents. For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not, even that which he hath shall be taken away.

But why stop with Jesus, if we were to interpret every parable in this way, one would have to assert that Frederik Nietzsche believed in God since he wrote in his famous parable/book "THUS SPAKE ZARATHUSTRA:A BOOK FOR ALL AND NONE" the following:
 "Bless me, then, thou tranquil eye, that canst behold even the greatest happiness without envy"


"Now I love God"

I hope you see my point. One can not take isolated passages from Jesus parables or any other author and use them to assert something about the character or belief of its creator. Parables are stories created for the benefit of the listening audience and not a reflection of what the author approved or disapproved. Doing this completely  misses the point the author is trying to make.

My recommendation to my atheist friends? Learn to interpret parables before using any of its parts in you arguments.

I hope this helps.

"Viva Cristo Rey!!"