“Why is the Jewish Old Testament included in the Bible? Including nonsense about owning slaves and the like. And what’s with that mushroom tripping monk who wrote Revelations? If you are Christians, then why waste your time on anything except the gospels? The rest of the Bible is just opinions and history, written by mere mortals.” (from Donner, The Bible for Atheists #6)
Acknowledging the validity of the question and the extent of the problem.
Not just slavery here: “Owner/Master [baal] of a woman [wife]”! (Exodus 21:3) [“Husband” a recent word, meaning “householder”, originally little to do with a relationship]
Just because something is in the Bible doesn’t mean God either commanded or even sanctioned it!
“… the Lord spoke in the Word in accordance with man’s apprehension, and in accordance with the appearances of the same. The literal sense of the Word is of this nature, but still it is such as to contain within it an internal sense, in which are interior truths.” (Heavenly Secrets, 3857.4)
For example, ”In the Word anger and wrath are attributed to the Lord, but they are in man, and it is so expressed because such is the appearance to man when he is punished…” (Heaven and Hell, 545.note 1)
It’s really ancient man we are judging, rather than God. The scriptures were written in the context of the ancient world, and HAD TO take into account that world’s general acceptance of slavery, a patriarchal society, human sacrifice (see our last session):
“Rational discussion is useful only when there is a significant base of shared assumptions.” (Noam Chomsky)
“What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it?” (Luke 15:4)
It is not realistic to judge the ancient world by modern standards – nor to expect ancient scriptures to be written in our modern values (which change!). If the scriptures were written today (they would address our standards so that they would speak to us) and be looked back on by peoples 2,000 or 4,000 years into the future, the same thing would happen – how would they judge us?
God accepts the internal aspect of the act of worship (the motivation behind it) not the act itself:
“… For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, Ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you But to do justly, To love mercy, And to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:7,8)
Recognising the ancient context, the Lord seeks to uphold and affirm what was good and valuable, but lead mankind to something better. He seeks to lead us to the right action, but does so in freedom. Actually shows something of the love of God, we tend to be much harsher.
THE VALUE OF THE OLD TESTAMENT
Firstly, if you accept the Gospels, then by all means read that! But the Jewish scriptures are included in the Christian Bible because …
 They points to the life of the Lord (“Some scholars believe there are more than 300 prophecies about Jesus in the Old Testament.” [https://www.jesusfilm.org/blog-and-stories/old-testament-prophecies.html]):
“The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14).
 Christians see the fulfilment of the Old Testament Scriptures in Jesus:
“Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.” (Matthew 5:17)
40 references to “fulfilment” across the four gospels, 66 in the New Testament as a whole.
 Sets the context for the gospels. Without some basic information on Judaism, you would struggle to understand the gospels – we would be left wondering, “What are these ‘Law and Prophets’?”, for example.
 But it also reflect the life of the Lord, and speaks to our own spiritual development:
“… in the Word that which signifies the regeneration of man signifies also the glorification of the Human in the Lord, because the regeneration of man is an image of the glorification of the Lord.” (Heavenly Secrets, 10239.4; 3043.3)
WHY IS THE BOOK OF REVELATION SO STRANGE?
Written using scriptural imagery, and coded. Let’s say John were criticising the Roman empire, of which he was a prisoner: would the book have survived to be read by the churches if that were clearly stated? Many take Revelation to be prophetically criticising the Roman Catholic Church: would the book have survived to posterity if that were clearly stated?
The book of Revelation is useful because its wild imagery suggests a hidden meaning, where we tend to think of history as only history, that is, as literal fact or literal nonsense! (see Heavenly Secrets, 2310)
WHY IS THE BIBLE HOLY?
Need to understand the limits within which God works with us:
It is a law of the Divine Providence that …
- … man should act from freedom according to reason. (DP 71-99)
- … man should as from himself remove evils as sins in the external man; and thus and not otherwise can the Lord remove evils in the internal man, and then at the same time in the external. (DP 100-128)
- … man should not be compelled by external means to think and will, and thus to believe and love, the things of religion, but should persuade and at times compel himself to do so. (DP 129-153)
- … man should be led and taught by the Lord from heaven by means of the Word, and doctrine and preaching from the Word, and this to all appearance as of himself. (DP 154-174)
- … man should not perceive and feel anything of the operation of the Divine Providence, but still that he should know and acknowledge it. (DP 175-190)
The Bible is not a simple instruction manual! Action A does NOT lead consistently and inexorably to Result B. Wouldn’t life be simple if it did?! And who wouldn’t follow it if that were the case?! But then we would not be free, and we would not be making a true choice, merely following the path of least resistance.
Why is the Bible “holy”? NOT because it is historically or scientifically accurate, not because it shows us the “right way” to live, not because it’s recognised and declared to be “holy”. The scriptures are written in such a way to speak to mankind in every age. How? Not through the external acts and commands, but the internal story which is universal and applies to mankind in every age: and that is the story of our spiritual development.
FINDING MEANING IN EXODUS 21 – the “slave in me”.
“A slave of passion” – ruled, driven by your emotion. A “slave to fear” has no choice but to take the safe road. Someone who follows the rules – who obeys the truth because it is true, is still a slave. Only the person who acts out of freedom and affection (who does good because they love to do so) is truly free.
Heavenly Secrets, 8974 Hebrew slave represents, “… those who are imbued with the truth of faith but not with the complimentary goodness of life … members of the external spiritual church.”
Heavenly Secrets, 8977 “[They] … are those who learn truth not because of any delight in it, only because it is the truth that is taught by the church and is the means by which, they believe, they can be saved. This belief is what drives them to learn and you know it.”
Section 2. “… those imbued with truths to which delight has been joined are the ones who are meant here by slaves who come with a woman. Here however delight is meant, since this exists in place of good in the member of the external church. The good which such a person possesses does not spring from a spiritual origin but from a natural origin, for it savours of a delight to do the truth in life and to teach for the sake of gain or important position, consequently for a selfish reason.”
Section 3. “Good that springs from a spiritual origin however is meant in internal sense by the woman a master gives to his slave.”
You can take any principle of life: some law, or belief, or point of wisdom handed down to you, and:
- Memorise it, and it just remain a piece of knowledge.
- Apply it, obediently, because I’m told to, and I avoid punishment in doing so.
- Apply it, because I can see the benefit it has for me – I gain some recognition, or other benefit.
- Apply it, because I recognise it as an intrinsically valuable principle.
- It becomes so essentially a part of my life I cannot go against it (Augustine: “Love and do as you will”).
Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:31,32)
“No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you.” (John 15:15)