When the “plain meaning” of Holy Scripture is wrong…

General Convention / Religion

The Bible’s teaching, (when read for it’s plain meaning) is claimed by some people in the Anglican Communion to be the infallible source of truth. Oh yeah? Think again. This post by Don Lowery on the Bishop’s and Deputies email list this morning sent a chill up my spine. A Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, during the last days of the Civil War, presents a vigorous biblical defense of the institution of slavery. What makes this even more astonishing is that this was the Bishop of Vermont (Presiding Bishops in those days were also diocesans), who’s parishioners were dying by the thousands on the field of battle in a war to end the institution of slavery… I share the post with his permission.

Edit: I’ve added a bit more information about why this post of Don’s is so important. Please read it as well. And note too, this is about the times when the plain meaning of the Bible is wrong. There are many, many other instances where I believe the plain meaning is authoritative. Telling the difference between the two conditions is what can be so difficult


“This is not a thread into which I should weigh, but loving Church History as I do, I can’t help but note that the last defense of slavery as a Divinely sanctioned institution was written by John Henry Hopkins, who was Bishop of Vermont and Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. It is entitled:

A Scriptural, Ecclesiastical, and Historical VIEW OF SLAVERY from the Days of the Patriarch Abraham, to the Nineteenth Century. My particular copy was printed in 1864, while THE WAR was raging and Vermont men were dying to help free slaves and preserve the Union. Their Bishop was anything but supportive of the cause in which they suffered bled and died. …The Bishop wrote the following as his reason for accepting slavery as Biblical and therefore binding upon all Christians:

Here, therefore, lies the true aspect of the controversy, and it is evident that it can only by settled by the Bible. For every Christian is bound to assent to the rule of the inspired Apostle, that “sin is the transgression of the law,” namely, the law laid down in the Scriptures by the authority of God — the supreme “Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy.” From his Word there can be no appeal. No rebellion can be more atrocious in his sight as that which dares rise against his government. No blasphemy can be more unpardonable than that what which imputes sin or moral evil to the decrees of the eternal Judge, who is alone perfect in wisdom, in knowledge, and in love.

With entire correctness, therefore, your letter refers the question to the only infallible criterion — the Word of God. If it were a matter to be determined by my personal sympathies, tastes, or feelings, I would be as ready as any man to condemn the institution of slavery; for all my prejudices of education, habit and social position stand entirely opposed to it. But as a Christian, I am solemnly warned not to be “wise in my own conceit,” and not to “lean unto my own understanding.” As a Christian, I am compelled to submit my weak and erring intellect to the authority of the Almighty. For then only can I be safe in my conclusion, when I know that they are in accordance with the will of Him, before whose tribunal I must render a strict account to the last great day.
pages 6 and 7

First, then we ask what the divine Redeemer said in reference to slavery. And the answer is perfectly undeniable: He did not allude to it at all Not one word of censure upon the subject is recorded by the Evangelists who gave His life and doctrines to the world. Yet, slavery was in full existence at the time, throughout Judea; and the Roman Empire, according to the historian Gibbon, contained sixty millions of slaves on the lowest probable computation! How prosperous and united would our glorious republic be at this hour, if the eloquent and pertinacious declaimers against slavery had been willing to follow their Savior’s example! pg 12.

I could go on at length, but I think these two quote are sufficient to support the thesis that the Inspired record of Scripture, claimed as Infallible, was used by a Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church as a support for the continuance of slavery.

About the only positive thing that can be said about Bp. Hopkins’ stance is that it enabled him to give a warm welcome to Bp. Atkinson of North Carolina and Bp Lay of what was left of Arkansas when they showed up at the General Convention of 1865 held in October in Philadelphia. This in turn facilitated the reunion of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Confederate States of America with the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America, now loving referred to on this list serve as TEC.”

The Author

Episcopal bishop, dad, astronomer, erstwhile dancer...

1 Comment

  1. Alan says

    Thanks for posting that. The current PB has wandered the world, hugging dictators while proclaiming his shame to be an American because of the US “unilateral” action in Iraq. This is the same man who orchestrated and presided over a clearly “unilateral” decision at GC2003 which is now sundering the ECUSA and the Anglican Communion. When explicitly asked, he claims to see no hypocracy or contradition. Apparently, having an intellectually, ethically, and morally clueless PB has more precedent than is widely known.

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