The English words abhor and loathe translate biblical terms that connote the image of turning away from something because of extreme dislike or intolerance. These words are used in reference to both people and God. The primary actor where such language is involved is God, who loathes things of which fallen humans tend to be tolerant.
From the divine vantage point God is nauseated by any human activity that is not in accordance with his law (Lev 26:11; Prov 11:1; Ezek 23:18). Sin and idolatry are common targets of God’s abhorrence (Deut 7:25; 12:3). His disgust with them grows to the point where he cannot bear them any longer. God warns fledgling Israel to avoid adopting the customs of the Canaanites, whom he is about to drive out because he “abhorred them” (Lev 20:23 NRSV; cf. Deut 18:9, 12). He later warns his people that if they ignore his warnings and follow the surrounding nations in their idolatry, they too will be the recipients of his disgust (Lev 26:30).
Specific practices that God finds abhorrent include eating unclean animals (Deut 14:3), sacrificing flawed animals (Deut 17:1), cross-dressing (Deut 22:5), using a prostitute’s fee as a religious offering (Deut 23:18), a husband’s resuming relations with a wife whom he has divorced (Deut 24:4), dishonesty (Deut 25:16), lying (Ps 5:6), the religious ceremonies of unrepentant people (Amos 5:21) and nationalistic pride (Amos 6:8). In the book of Revelation Christ’s spewing the lukewarm Laodiceans out his mouth is a gesture of disgust (3:16). While people apart from God often fail to perceive his judgments, redeemed humanity can learn to abhor-and thereby turn away from-those things God loathes (cf. Ps 31:6; 97:10; 119:104; Amos 5:15; Rom 12:9).
People too loathe things in the Bible. After raping his sister Tamar, Amnon abhors her (2 Sam 13:15). The sores of Job are loathsome (Job 2:7), and the suffering Job finds both food (6:7) and life (7:16; 9:21; 10:1) loathsome. His family and friends, in turn, find Job loathsome (Job 19:17, 19). People under stress loathe food (Ps 107:18). In Amos’s picture of a society that has lost its moral bearings, people actually “abhor the one who speaks the truth” (Amos 5:10), and in a similar picture Micah pictures a nation of people “who abhor justice and pervert all equity” (Mic 3:9 RSV). In contrast, Ezekiel paints pictures of penitents who loathe themselves for their evil deeds (Ezek 20:43; 36:31).
Epiphany, Stories of
One of the most common narrative patterns is the archetypal movement from ignorance to insight. The literary term for this climactic moment of insight or revelation, epiphany, was popularized by twentieth-century fiction writer James Joyce. The stories of the Bible are replete with moments of epiphany in which characters have a sudden experience of realization. While it is a rare story in which characters do not discover something significant, the term epiphany is best reserved for stories in which the whole action moves toward a climactic moment of insight into the nature of people or reality or (more often) the nature of God.
Such, for example, is the experience of Abraham and Isaac on Mt. Moriah, where suddenly (as in a dream) the two catch sight of a ram caught in a thicket (Gen 22:14), thus making good Abraham’s earlier claim that “God will provide himself the lamb for a burnt offering” (Gen 22:8 RSV) and leading Abraham to name the place “The Lord will provide” (Gen 22:15). The moment of epiphany is tragic when the deceived Isaac and then the duped Esau discover the trickery that has been visited on them by Jacob in the story of the stolen blessing (Gen 27:32-35). When Jacob receives the covenant blessing in his dream at Bethel, he awakens from sleep and says, “Surely the Lord is in this place; and I did not know it.... How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven” (Gen 28:16-17 RSV). In the same way, as Jacob wrestles with the angel of God, he gradually comes to perceive the supernatural identity of his opponent, finally concluding, “I have seen God face to face” (Gen 32:26-30). On the eve of Jacob’s escape from Laban, God appears to him in a dream and reveals that it was divine providence, not Jacob’s ridiculous attempts at animal husbandry, that produced so many striped and spotted sheep and goats (Gen 31:11-13).
The list of characters who recognize God’s presence in the midst of extraordinary experiences keeps expanding. Hagar sees God’s omniscience and calls God “a God of seeing” (Gen 16:7-14). The Egyptians are made to understand the truthfulness of God’s oracles when the tenth plague kills their first-born (Ex 12:29-36). Rahab claims that her compatriots understood God’s omnipotence when they heard of the Red Sea deliverance (Josh 2:11). Elisha’s servant is dismayed by the siege of Dothan until God opens his eyes to see that “the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha” (2 Kings 6:15-17). Divine handwriting on a wall brings Belshazzar to awareness of his own impending fall (Dan 5). As the psalmist contemplates the possibility of escaping from God’s presence, he is led to realize that God will be present even if he escapes through space (Ps 139:7-10) or into darkness (vv. 11-12).
Quest stories often move toward moments of epiphany in which the quester’s goal is realized at last. The whole book of Job, in which the protagonist is in quest for an explanation of the nature of his suffering, moves toward the climactic revelation of God’s superior knowledge and power in the voice from the whirlwind (Job 38-41). After searching for meaning and satisfaction in all the wrong places, the narrator in Ecclesiastes reaches “the end of the matter” in which “all has been heard,” and the insight is summarized in the command, “Fear God, and keep his commandments; for this is the whole duty of man” (Eccles 12:13 RSV). Elijah’s quest to bring his nation to repentance reaches a temporary climax on Mt. Carmel, where the whole nation is witness to the fact that Jehovah is the only true God (1 Kings 18). The psalmist’s quest to find a solution to his problem of envying the prosperous wicked is realized in a sudden moment of epiphany that comes to him as he worships God (Ps 73:16-17).
While most stories of epiphany center on insights that characters realize about the character or work of God, the dynamics of recognition can also occur on a more human level. Thus Joseph’s brothers experience a moment of recognition when Joseph reveals his identity to them in Egypt (Gen 45:1-15), and recognition is forced on a heretofore unsuspecting Boaz in a vivid midnight encounter with a woman (Ruth 3:8-12). An obtuse Eli is led to see how thoroughly he had misjudged the behavior of Hannah (1 Sam 1:12-17). The trickster Jacob, who had deviously exploited family members' appetites (Gen 25:29-34; 27), receives his comeuppance in similar manner when he awakes the morning after his wedding to find Leah rather than Rebekah beside him (Gen 29:25).
Characters can also come to insight about their own sinfulness; examples include Elijah on the occasion of his call to be a prophet (Is 6:5), Peter during his denial of Jesus (Mt 26:74-75; Mk 14:72; Lk 22:60-62) and Judas Iscariot when he realizes what he has done in betraying Jesus (Mt 27:3-5).
The NT is a veritable anthology of epiphany stories, as characters repeatedly reach insight into the divine identity of Jesus and the way in which he is the agent of salvation in their lives. In a sense the epiphany story is the natural medium for narrating the life of the incarnate Christ. The first characters to recognize him as the Messiah are Zechariah (Lk 1:67-80), Simeon (Lk 2:25-35) and Anna (Lk 2:36-38). At the other end of Jesus' life stands the centurion who exclaims on the death of Jesus, “Truly this was the Son of God!” (Mt 27:54 RSV; cf. Lk 23:47). Between are a host of people who recognize that Jesus is their Savior, including the Samaritan woman and her fellow townspeople (Jn 4:1-42), Peter when he is rescued from drowning (Mt 14:33), the three disciples who witness the transfiguration (Mt 17:1-13; Mk 9:2-13; Lk 9:28-36), Zacchaeus (Lk 19:1-10), the disciples who witness Jesus' first miracle (Jn 3:11), John the Baptist on the occasion of Jesus' baptism (Jn 1:29-34), the man born blind who received sight (Jn 9:35-38) and the penitent thief who requests salvation from Jesus on the cross (Mt 26:74-75; Mk 7:2; Lk 23:39-43). The miracles of Jesus are usually accompanied by the insights the onlookers achieve into the divine power of Jesus. The postresurrection appearances by Jesus to his followers are also stories of revelation and recognition.
Similar stories of recognition occur in the book of Acts as a series of people come to believe in Christ as their Savior. Such are the stories of those who are converted on Pentecost (Acts 2:37-42); the lame man who was healed (Acts 3:8-10); Simon the sorcerer (Acts 8:12-13); the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:34-38); Paul, from whose eyes scales fell off (Acts 9:1-19) and many other converts.
The purpose of the Bible is to move its readers to epiphany—insight into their own condition, into the nature of reality, and above all, into the possibility of redemption through God’s provision. Stories of epiphany enhance this general orientation of the Bible.
It is no surprise that the parable of the prodigal son (Lk 15:11-32) remains popular among people of all backgrounds. As a character the prodigal son evokes numerous images. He is viewed as the archetypal rebellious teenager, so much so that many would probably define prodigal as “wayward” instead of “wasteful.” The rebelliousness of the prodigal at the outset of the story is evocative, representing a rejection of respect for parental authority, for the domestic, for the morally correct, and an embracing of the distant, the adventurous, the indulgence of forbidden appetites, the abandonment to unrestraint, the dissolute. The prodigal’s riches-to-rags progression (see Rags to Riches) culminates in astonishing degradation, as this Jewish youth not only works among the pigs but hungers for the pods he feeds them.
Yet as powerful as the pictures of rebellion and fall are, more powerful still are the pictures of repentance and restoration. The prodigal son “comes to himself,” possibly revealing a penitent and humble heart, ready to act. But repentance involves the whole person—mind, heart and will—and it is possible that he is returning to his father with the goal of repaying his debt through work. The moving scene of his newfound resolve is eclipsed by the portrayal of his father’s extravagant love, as we see the family patriarch running to his son, refusing to hear his whole apology and restoring him to the full rights of sonship.
“The Prodigal Son” is an inadequate title for this parable. The story underlying the images above is only half the parable. Too often when we think of this parable we neglect Luke 15:25-32, the older brother’s story (see Elder Child, Elder Sibling). Given that Jesus is telling this parable in answer to objections raised by the Pharisees and scribes (Lk 15:1-2), whom the older brother no doubt represents, we should not neglect them. The unifying character here is the father, whose gracious love is extended to both his younger, unrighteous son and his older, self-righteous son.
Bibliography. K. E. Bailey, Finding the Lost: Cultural Keys to Luke 15 (St. Louis: Concordia, 1992); H. J. Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming (New York: Doubleday, 1992).
In the Bible a slave is the economic asset, legal property and complete responsibility of his or her purchaser. While the words are sometimes used interchangeably, a lower social status generally distinguishes a slave from a servant, but advancement is possible and very common. Though the slave is subject to perpetual bondage, God, who created all persons with dignity, oversees slavery in Scripture. Further, from the biblical perspective every person is subject to slavery, either to sin or to God.
An Economic Asset. Whether gained by simple purchase or by military conquest, a slave was an economic asset in ancient societies. Slaves had market value (Gen 37:28; Ex 21:32; Ezek 27:13; Acts 16:19); they could be bought and sold (Lev 25:44-45); they could be passed on as inheritance (Lev 25:46). Among the Israelites, only people from other nations were to be sold as slaves in a demeaning sense—notably the Canaanites, who were cursed as “the lowest of slaves” (Gen 9:24 NIV) and described (in the memorable phrasing of the KJV) as “hewers of wood and drawers of water” (Josh 9:18-27).
Those bought with money or born in the master’s home had special privileges (Gen 17:12, 23, 27; Ex 12:44; Lev 22:11). One thinks of Joseph, purchased by Potiphar, given much responsibility and yet called a slave by Potiphar’s wife (Gen 39:1-19). Conquered slaves performed heavy labor (1 Kings 9:21). The Israelites in Egypt were subdued for fear of their potential military might and made to perform the labor befitting such defeat (Ex 1:1-14). Solomon conscripted foreigners for his slave labor force but assigned Israelites positions on the servant level: government officials, officers, captains, soldiers and the like (1 Kings 9:21-22).
Slave purchase was common but was surveyed by the divine justice of God. Abraham (Gen 17:23), the Preacher of Ecclesiastes (Eccles 2:7) and Hosea (Hos 3:2) purchased slaves. After seeing the Israelites' misery, God himself metaphorically purchased them by defeating the Egyptians who resisted Moses (Ex 3:7; 15:16; 2 Pet 2:1).
In times of hardship Hebrew communities were threatened by the possibility of enslavement. Elijah’s prayer kept a widow’s sons from being taken as slaves to satisfy her debt (2 Kings 4). In postexilic Judah, excessive interest charges caused many families to sell themselves as debt-slaves, though they were purchased from bondage by righteous men whenever possible (Neh 5:8). Also, while just economic gain was permitted, “slave traders” are included with “liars and perjurers” in a list of things “contrary to the sound doctrine” of the early Christian church (1 Tim 1:10 NIV). God provided laws and judgment to monitor the institution of slavery. Still more dignity accrues to the status of being a slave in NT times if we consider the “household duties” passages of Ephesians 5:21-6:9 and Colossians 3:18-4:1, where the very placement of slaves in lists with other family members suggests that their status was that of members of the household.
Legal Property and Responsibility. Because slaves were valuable as an economic asset, they were counted as legal property that required care. The doulos word group from which slave is derived assumes a status of ownership, dependence and obedience under a single master.
Because kidnapping fellow Israelites as slaves threatened the Hebrew community, it was punishable by death (Deut 24:7). Though permitting some beating, the law made direct prohibitions against beating slaves to death (Ex 21:20). The Hebrews were commanded to provide asylum for mistreated slaves (Ex 21:21; Deut 23:15). Priests, as exemplary followers of the law, were to treat purchased slaves as part of their household and eat with them at table (Lev 22:11). An Egyptian slave who was abandoned by his master when he became ill contrasted pagan ways with God’s protective directions about slavery (1 Sam 30:13); in a similar manner, the NT centurion who sought Jesus for his sick servant mimicked the Hebrew ideal (Lk 7:2). Because of God’s laws, Hebrews were known among the nations as being good masters.
Women and children were especially protected. Women could not be sold to foreigners (Ex 21:8) and were privy to equal rights if adopted or given in marriage (Ex 21:9). Children of slaves belonged to the master, so if a man slave accepted a wife from his master, he would generally choose to become a servant for life (Ex 21:6). One example was Ziba, Saul’s servant, who served Saul’s sons with his entire family for life (2 Sam 9:9-10).
The slave-master relation parallels ours with God because we are called to be accountable to him (Rom 14:4; Eph 6:9; Col 4:1; 2 Tim 2:21). He also assumes responsibility for us: “As the eyes of slaves look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maid look to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the Lord our God, till he shows us his mercy” (Ps 123:2 NIV).
Subject to Perpetual Bondage. Images of bondage link the economic significance of slavery to the image of spiritual idolatry, paving the way for one of the Bible’s richest salvation pictures. We easily recall slaves who were mistreated: Joseph, the Hebrews under Egyptian and Babylonian empires, the Egyptian slave whose master leaves him, the postexilic Jews in Nehemiah 9:36. Harsh bondage of enforced subjection is often pictured as a burdensome yoke of labor (Gen 27:40; Lev 26:13; 1 Kings 12:4; Is 47:6). Yet figurative use of the image yields a more vivid picture.
Both slavery and idolatry entail bondage, that is, complete subjection to a master’s will. Egypt, “the house of bondage,” and Babylon are metonymies for idolatry and slavery, and their gods are metaphorical masters (Ex 20:2-4; Deut 5:6-8; Ps 137; Lam 1:1-2; Rev 11:8; 18:13). The important figurative jump is not from slavery to freedom, but from slavery to sin to slavery to God, darkness to light, falsehood to truth. Though the Lord’s “yoke is easy” and his “burden is light” (Mt 11:30 NIV), a yoke still exists.
The Bible assumes universal service on earth; the issue is whether one’s master is God or sin (Rom 6:15-23). Indeed, all of creation suffers in bondage to decay after the Fall (Rom 8:21). Unredeemed sinners are in bondage to sin, specifically evil powers such as elemental religious deities (Gal 4:3), gluttony (Rom 16:18) and lusts (Tit 3:3). As Peter points out: “A man is a slave to whatever has mastered him” (2 Pet 2:19 NIV; see also Jn 8:34). Judgment awaits those who falsely assume that redemption is self-mastery rather than the freedom to chose God as master (Ps 12:4).
This aspect of perpetual bondage is developed most extensively in the teachings and active examples of Jesus and of Paul. Jesus' parables affirm the slave’s subservient and obligatory allegiance to a single master as an illustration of service under God (Mt 8:9; 18:21-34; 25:14-30; Lk 17:7-10). He exemplifies voluntary slavery, humbling himself as a human being, embracing death, even symbolically by washing the apostles' feet (Jn 13:12-17; Phil 2). He teaches that true greatness in Christian service is the humble position of the godly slave, the last as first, an antithesis to the status-conscious world (Mt 20:27; Mk 10:44). His death is the redemptive payment for the deliverance of many from the slave market of sin (Mk 10:45; Rom 3:22-24). His perfect life demonstrates that freedom is not autonomous perfection but rather a chosen relationship with God that requires obedient rejection of sin’s bondage.
Paul directs the early church accordingly. Salvation is presented as a spiritual manumission involving a change of masters, expressed allegorically as freedom to be Sarah’s “children of promise” who serve Christ in the Spirit with a view to total redemption in the new creation (Gal 4:21-31; Rom 6:14; 8:18-25). “Slave of Christ” is Paul’s christological restatement of Moses' first command: one is not to have compromising relationships with any other masters (cf. Lev 25:55; Deut 6:4; Mt 6:24); accordingly, Christ’s douloi represent his cause and, in the final analysis, give account only to him.
Paul’s own testimony illustrates the choice between masters. He confesses slavery to sin because “what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do” (Rom 7:15 NIV) but chooses to be a slave to God’s law (Rom 7:25). Also, echoing Jesus' example (Mk 10:44), he calls himself a slave to all people for the sake of the gospel (1 Cor 9:19) and further makes his own body a slave “so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize” (1 Cor 9:27 NIV). His life is a threefold example of voluntary slavery.
Paul also handled an unusual difficulty in the early church. In a culture whose slave trade was a primary business, his metaphorical relation of sin to slavery had the natural effect of making believers desire social freedom. Believers also responded to his call to serve each other by volunteering to sell themselves for others' freedom. Believing in God’s providential placement of his children, Paul’s representative principle concerning slavery was to remain in the state in which one was called (1 Cor 7:17-24; cf. 1 Pet 2:18). He clearly states that the primary goal of a slave was not social freedom but rather freedom to serve the supreme Lord (Rom 14:7-8; 2 Cor 5:15).
Temporary Status. A final important aspect of slavery in the Bible is that it is only temporary. Without choice to be a bondservant, a slave is not owned for life. Advancement is also possible; indeed, slaves of God are adopted as sons by God (Jn 8:35-36; Gal 4:1-9). In the scope of eternity also, slavery is a temporary condition: “it will be the same for priest as for people, for master as for servant, for mistress as for maid, for seller as for buyer, for borrower as for lender, for debtor as for creditor” (Is 24:2). Individual responsibility before God reverberates in thirteen different predictions of judgment for all persons, “slave or free” (1 Kings 14:10; 21:21; 2 Kings 9:8; 14:26; 1 Cor 12:13; Gal 3:28; Eph 6:8; Col 3:11; Philem 15-16; Rev 6:15; 13:16; 19:18).
Bibliography. S. S. Bartchy, “Slave, Slavery,” DLNTD 1098-102; M. A. Dandamayev, “Slavery (Ancient Near East) (Old Testament),” ABD 6:58-65; M. I. Finley, Ancient Slavery and Modern Ideology (New York: Viking: 1980); K. Hopkins, Conquerors and Slaves (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1978); D. B. Martin, Slavery as Salvation (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1990).