I recently came across an egregious instance of how the Bible was misinterpreted (by the Church, ironically), resulting in very tragic consequences for millions of people.
The verses in question are
Genesis 9:25-27: And Noah said, “Cursed be Canaan! The lowest of slaves will he be to his brothers. He also said, ‘Blessed be the Lord, the God of Shem! May Canaan be the slave of Shem. May God extend the territory of Japheth; may Japeth live in the tents of Shem and may Canaan be his slave’. “
Guess what, this one of the verses that Christians (especially Protestants) used to justify slavery in America and in Europe.
Christians preachers believed and preached that Canaan had settled in Africa. The dark skin of Africans became associated with this “curse of Cannan.” Thus enslaving of Africans became morally justifiable because it was seen as God’s will.
So ‘Christian’ slave-owners would go to church on Sunday, hear the preacher preach that slavery is the ‘will of God’, placate their conscience and extract labour from their slaves in the most inhuman fashion, all the while believing that they were ‘divine instruments’ executing the will of God.
Of course, they believed that it was the will of God, because they desperately wanted to, because slavery suited them. It provided them with free labour and helped them make lots of money and live like royalty. It was a classic case of using the Bible to justify whatever suited them. Sounds familiar? We are all guilty of this from time to time.
The bible warns us about times like these. 2 Tim 4:3 – For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.
By the way, this cruelty went on for centuries. The good news is that the church also gave birth to men like William Wilberforce, who had the gumption to question such idiocy, and who worked tirelessly to eradicate it. I am sure there were many in the church who branded him a heretic for his efforts.
To me, there are two standout lessons
One, as human beings, we all have a tendency to use the bible to justify (rather than correct) our way of living. We should beware that. In fact, the more familiar one is with Bible, the better one gets at using it to make ‘spiritual sounding’ arguments in order to justify one’s behavior, even if it is plain and simple wrong.
Two, this highlights the tragic consequences of blindly and unquestioningly accepting whatever church leaders tell us, without prayerfully and carefully examining the Word of God and heeding the voice of the Holy Spirit. We could easily be led astray, all the while believing that we are in the ‘will of God’.