This is a bit of a follow up to my article regarding the abolition of slavery and “a better ethic than the Bible” earlier this week. A lot of the argument concerning the redemptive-movement-hermeneutic boils down to two questions which Michael Bird helpfully crystalised in a twitter discussion.
- Is it better for something to be stated explicitly?
- Does Scripture state that particular thing explicitly?
Now, these are good questions but there is a potential pitfall with them. You see, even in contemporary conversation, I frequently see/here people claiming that such and such a person doesn’t think/believe/say something that the other person (in my humble opinion) very clearly does think/believe/say. The problem is that they haven’t used the exact form of words that we want them to.
Now, that risk multiplies up when we go to a book written in a different culture, using a variety of genres and where it’s intended purpose isn’t to give us a list of neat answers to questions that we are asking today, in the exact form that we choose or need to answer them today.
Does Scripture explicitly say “stop selling slaves and set free the ones you have?” No it doesn’t. It definitely doesn’t tell governments to enact legislation to abolish slavery but Scripture addresses God’s people not secular governments. Yet if as you’ve read the story you’ve already discovered that God’s people are not to keep their “brothers” in perpetual servitude. If you realise that the call to make disciples means that everyone out there is a potential brother, then if Scripture foes on to tell masters to respond reciprocally to slaves, treating them exactly the same way, if it tells a slave owner to welcome his slave back as a brother and if it introduces the concept of pay and reward, then that’s taking us, slowly perhaps but surely and explicitly to a conclusion. That conclusion is that we cannot justify keeping slaves. That’s the conclusion that the abolitionists came to.
So, my argument is that what we are dealing with is not an ethic that is better than the Bible but an application of Scripture that is better than other applications. It’s like with the Doctrine of the Trinity. Our modern minds may struggle to find an explicit declaration of the doctrine in Scripture but do we have a better doctrine than Scripture? No we don’t and I would gently suggest that those who formulated the doctrine didn’t think they had. Rather, the Doctrine enables us to systematise, analyse and summarise what is already present in the text.
This is important because we might then talk about reaching our doctrine and ethic through Scripture. If by that, we mean that we have to do the hard work of hermeneutics, exegesis and application to reach sound application then I agree. However, what this shouldn’t mean is that we need additional revelation outside of Scripture to formulate our doctrine and our ethic.
6 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God[b] may be complete, equipped for every good work.2 Timothy 3:16-17