Atheist Andrew’s Misreading of Exodus 21:20-21 On Beating Slaves

A visiting atheist fanboy of Richard Dawkins named Andrew wrote:

Oh dear – have you not actually read the bible? It clearly says you can beat your slave to death as long as they take longer than three days to die.

Rather than addressing some difficult questions posed to him by Rhology, Andrew jumps immediately into a passage that is typically touted by Internet atheists who want to pretend as though they know the Bible better than most believers by virtue of their having read, say, the Skeptics Bible or visited Evil Bible. Now let’s address Andrew’s misreading of the text.

20 “When a man strikes his slave, male or female, with a rod and the slave dies under his hand, he shall be avenged. 21 But if the slave survives a day or two, he is not to be avenged, for the slave is his money.”
Ex 21:20-21 (ESV)

Concerning this passage Andrew writes, “It clearly says you can beat your slave to death.” But it does not. The text does not condone the beating of the slave at all. Rather, the text is describing what the punishment is *for* beating one’s slave to death. That is, the text actually *condemns* beating a slave to death. In the one case, the slave owner is punished by being put to death. In the other case, which is an unintentional death by beating, the slave owner is punished in terms of his own financial loss from having beaten his slave to death. The implication is that he did not intend to kill his slave, but was still wrong in beating the slave. Otherwise there would be no mention of punishment in either case. But as it is, there is a punishment in both cases here for beating a slave to death. In the first case of intentionally beating a slave to death, the slave owner is likewise to be put to death. In the second case of unintentionally beating a slave to death, the slave owner’s own foolish financial loss serves as his punishment.

Perhaps Andrew should try studying the text next time on his own (not an atheist site that references the text), or reading some commentaries, and he won’t make such silly mistakes, reading the text the exact *opposite* way from which it is to be read.


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