“Whoever steals a man and sells him, and anyone found in possession of him, shall be put to death” (Exod 21.16; ESV).1
This law is against kidnapping and it prohibits chattel slavery. The law states that the penalty for such activity is death. “Shall be…” is the equivalent of “certainly.” That is to say, “That person, who is found guilty of such activity, certainly will be put to death. Those who commit such acts deserve to die. Furthermore, God commands that when an individual is found guilty, when the punishment is to be carried out:
“Your eye shall not pity. It shall be life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot” (Deut 19.21).
Meaning that the justice being served out in such situations is warranted and equitable to the offense that has been committed. The purpose was to purge the evil from society and to drive fear into the hearts of the people so that they did not commit such abominable acts (cf. Deut 24.7). Think for a moment how upholding God’s holy standard in society would affect society as a whole.
Rather than a Civil War, which our nation suffered under for treating a certain sector of society as less than human (i.e., animal property), where tens of thousands died, some, members of the same household, an application of God’s statutes in the civil sector of our society would have prevented it. The simple truth remains as a historical reality, where the Christian worldview (a.k.a., the biblical worldview) persists, slavery and other such undesirable practices dissipate. One such example is seen in the life of William Wilberforce (1759-1833, A. D.), a Christian parliamentarian in England whose life’s goal was to eradicate the slave-trade and the practice of holding slaves as property on the shores of his cherished country. He succeeded at the end of his life, after a long, well-fought battle.
It was Wilberforce’s convictions that stemmed from his religious zeal for the God of Scripture revealed in Jesus Christ and made evident by the Holy Spirit’s Word-driven promptings that moved England to a slave free state. The reason our nation suffered a Civil War was not only tied to chattel slavery, but an abuse of power being practiced by those serving in the offices of civil government. Rather than recognizing their duty as God’s ministers for good (Rom 13.4), they pursued the desires of their own heart.
Why? Why is this the case? Because at base all men are sinners, preferring the standard of their own subjective word over and above the revealed Word of God. But, why was it that some who professed to bear the mantle of Christ argued against freeing men and women and children from chattel style servitude? Because, they refused to use the Word of God, in particular His laws concerning chattel slavery, as a corrective lens over and above their perverted view of reality.
This attitude prevails today. People prefer their own law, their own traditions, their own understanding of the world around them rather than God’s own. People prefer a secular form of governance, rather than a divinely inspired one. I can understand this from someone who denies the God of Scripture, but not those who profess the name of Christ.
Lord and Savior (Deliverer)…
Christians profess that Jesus the Christ is Lord and Savior, but what is supposed to be understood by this profession of faith? Well, I’ll tell you what its supposed to mean. It means that Jesus is our King, our Deliverer. He is the established head over all things, having preeminence over all things, because all things were made through (and for) Him. Therefore, all things are commanded to serve Him.
James R. White sums up very nicely the reality of Jesus Christ and His gospel in a statement he made during a public speaking event. I do not have the direct quote in front of me, so I will paraphrase: “I’m tired of people presenting Jesus as a weak beggar, for He is a mighty Lord. And, the gospel is not an invitation, it is a command.”
This reality is demonstrated in the words of Christ’s Great Commission. Before His ascension to His heavenly throne at the right hand (the hand of power/authority) of His Father, Jesus declares a word to His disciples:
“All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth” (Matt 28.18; NASB).
This statement does not mean that before that day Jesus had no kingly authority. He has had that type of authority before the beginning (cf. John 1.1-3; 8.58; 17.5). What then is meant? That, now as the God-Man (fully divine, fully human), having accomplished the work that He was sent to complete (John 19.30; Col 2.14-17), He has became the permanent mediator between God and man, being mankind’s chief representative, replacing Adam in the garden (Rom 5.12-19; 1Cor 15.45-49, 57), and thereby destroying the works of the devil (1John 3.8).2
According to Gary North, “This text [Matt 28.18-20], more than any other in the New Testament, places the nations under Jesus Christ.”3 A point similarly made by Kenneth L. Gentry in his work entitled, The Greatness of the Great Commission: “In the concluding Great Commission, Christ sovereignly declares that He had been “given’ ‘all authority,’ not only over the kingdoms Satan had authority over, but also in heaven….”4
Most notice the evangelistic side of the commission, but few seem to recognize the other elements pertinent for consideration. The role of the Christian disciple under this charge is that of representation. Not only is the proclamation of the gospel (a command to the nations) required, but after baptism (an identification with Christ Jesus as Lord and Savior) in the name of God (the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit) the disciple is to train up new converts in the observing and obeying of all that God has commanded. This last reference (Matt 28.20a) speaks of God’s Law.
A key aspect of the law of God is that it is not burdensome to the new convert, but a delight to their lives (1John 5.3). An oft repeated verse illustrates this truth:
“Take my yoke [figuratively, my law] upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke [figuratively, My law] is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt 11.29-30; ESV).
All men (people) are slaves. No, I didn’t misspeak. All men are slaves. The question isn’t whether or not we are slaves, but who are we slaves to (cf. Rom 6.16)? Jesus explains that people will be a slave of one master or Lord (see Matt 6.24 and Luke 16.13). They will, in response, hate the one and love the other, being devoted to the one whom they serve as they despise another.
To be an image bearer means that we are dependent not independent beings. God created mankind to serve Him, to live for Him, to exercise godly dominion through the reflection of His holy mind. If we are not slaves to the Lord who created all, then we will be slaves of some other lord. We will either respond to the voice of God in obedience, submitting to what He has revealed as good, or we will listen to the voice of another. The Great Commission of Christ is that He, having all authority in all creation (both the seen and unseen), sends out His representatives into the world, commanding all sinners to lay down their arms of rebellion and serve Him. Those that become new converts (i.e., disciples) are required to learn and obey all that He has commanded.
Not a N.T. thing…
Nowhere does Scripture limit this teaching to the New Testament. The overarching principle of the Creator versus the creature distinction, which is on display even in the Great Commission, is that when God speaks (or has spoken) through His inscripturated Word we are required to listen (i.e., obey). The only time a law or command can be said to be different now than in the past, is if God has dictated it to us as such. Mankind is never, not even the redeemed body of Christ, to add to or take away from what God has declared as good, righteous and holy. How can the subjective mind of man ever have a standard as clear as the objective mind of God? It is not possible.
Applicability of God’s Law Today…
Here’s the thing, the law against chattel slavery is an example of what the Lord requires His disciples to teach to the nations. This form of sin (a criminal act against a fellow image bearer of God) is worthy of death. This is true of a multitude of sinful activities, which we would define as crimes today, and even those our modern culture would not.
Here are a few examples of crimes against society as a whole that are worthy of death. Things that make modern Evangelicals pee their pants in frustration. To rape is punishable by death (Deut 22.25-27). To maliciously lie in a court of law in order to get the death penalty for one you hate is punishable by death (Deut 19.16-19). To kidnap or steal a fellow human being is punishable by death (Exod 21.16). If a person has an aggressive animal that they have not dealt with properly and it kills another, both the owner and the animal shall be put to death (Exod 21.29). To have sex with an animal is punishable by death (Lev 20.15-16). To kill a child in the womb is punishable by death (Exod 21.22-23). To kill a thief in broad daylight is punishable by death (Exod 22.3). To mistreat the widow or fatherless (i.e., the orphan) is punishable by death (Exod 22.22-24). To curse one’s parents, to strike out against them in harm is worthy of the death penalty (Lev 20.9). Treason in its various forms is punishable by death (Deut 13). Publicly blaspheming the Name (character of) God is punishable by death (Lev 24.11). To have sexual intimacy with the same sex (a man with a man, or a woman with a woman) was worthy of the death penalty (Lev 20.13; Rom 1.26-27, 32; also see Matt 19.4-5). As is adultery (Deut 22.22), and incest (Lev 18.6; 20.11-12, 14, 17), and cross-dressing (Deut 22.5; known in our day as transitioning genders).
This list is by no means exhaustive, and it does not cover a multitude of other laws that deal things touched upon in the civil sphere. For example, theft was dealt with not by the cutting off of one’s hands, or throwing them into prison, but the penalty prescribed was restitution or indentured servitude until what was stolen was paid back by the percentage determined in light of the violation that had taken place (e.g., Exod 22.1-14). It should also be noted to the reader that just because something required the death penalty, does not in fact that the death penalty would be determined. The prosecution must prove the guilt of such a person or persons, and this only in the light of two to three witnesses (i.e., lines of evidence), anything less would not suffice (see Deut 17.6; 19.15).
It is when we get to the particulars of God’s Law that begins to get people squeamish. (I was somewhat joking about modern Evangelicals peeing their pants in frustration). Jesus is identified in Scripture as King of kings and Lord of lords (1Tim 6.15; Rev 1.5; 17.14). The reference alone should settle the debate in regards to “whose law should be the standard for living?” A king exercises authority by dictating the normative practices of their citizenry. Laws are unavoidable. According to the Bible the civil magistrate is the one charged with upholding the good and punishing evil doers (cf. Rom 13.1-7). Debate swirls around what the role of civil magistrate actually entails, around what good and what evil are being spoken of. If only we would learn to read a little further, then perhaps, and I say “perhaps” because of the desire to be our own little gods, we would discern the truth as clearly as it has been dictated to us. For it is God’s law that is referenced as the normative good that the civil authorities are meant to publish and uphold (cf. Rom 13.8-10). And if it is not God’s Law, which is the Law of Christ, then whose shall it be? I think the current culture along with her leaders speaks volumes of just what type of law is being enforced upon us today.
In the United States, there was no king and so the people sought to do whatever they perceived right in their own eyes, under the guise of “We the people…” and our civil leaders were joyous at the opportunity to impose their own subjective opinions on the hearts of all…..
1All Scripture unless otherwise noted shall be of the English Standard Version (ESV). Emphasis added.
2This resurrection certified this result (i.e., judicially), although history has a part to play as things are incrementally brought under the sovereign Jesus’ feet: “Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he [Jesus the Christ] must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1Cor 15.24-26; ESV).
3Gary North, Priorities and Dominion: An Economic Commentary on Matthew (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1999), e-book, Chapter 46, “Discipling the Nations.” https://www.garynorth.com/freebooks/sidefrm2.htm.
4Kenneth L. Gentry, The Greatness of the Great Commission: The Christian Enterprise in a Fallen World (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1990), PDF e-book. When Adam sinned in the garden, he laid down his arms of warfare (contrary to Gen 2.15) and surrendered to the creature, rather than the voice of his Creator (Gen 3.17), and as a result was sold into slavery unto sin; judged ethically dead before the Lord (cf. Eph 2.1-3).