Iain Provan encourages reading the Old Testament well – including what it says about slavery.
The question of the law in the life of the Christian is a very important one, but in many ways I think it is not quite the correct first question. The correct first question is, what is the purpose of law already in the Old Testament, and what is its relationship to the vision of the good life? I don’t believe the law is designed only to give high-order ethical principles. The law is also designed to clear up mess, to tell you what to do if things break down and so on.
And so a large part of reading the Old Testament law well is to recognise the variety of things you’re dealing with, as it were. So when it comes to the life of the Christian in the New Testament, I think the same is true. I mean, the apostles don’t ban … don’t try to overturn the slave trade and so on. They restrict themselves to telling Christians how they should treat slaves better, and so on. You could take that – and it has been taken – as a sanction of slavery. I don’t think that’s consistent with the whole story; I think we have to recognise those are temporary holding mechanisms, best case scenarios in context.
In other words, law and ethics are not the same thing.