Sign in to follow this  
Followers 0
Thom Wade

Patriotism and the Christian Faith

115 posts in this topic

Anna J wrote:

: Let's not get derailed, friends! Discussions involving Bonhoeffer and Hauerwas are great, but this isn't the place to go into immigration policy. Thanks.

Fair point. But to be honest, I don't think we even WERE discussing immigration policy; I mean, we certainly weren't getting into the politics of it. Rather, it seemed to me that we were having more of a meta-discussion of whether the Bible is useful in shaping immigration policy, which ties into similar questions regarding whether the Bible is useful in shaping financial policy, or military policy, etc. -- all of which tie into the larger question of how Christian faith can be related to participation in a secular democracy in general.

To come at this from another angle: A&F doesn't have a politics forum any more, but it does have a "Faith Matters" forum ... so a thread, like this one, on the relationship between faith and politics will inevitably get into a bit of both. But for my part, I was trying to focus on the faith angle, and specifically on the question of whether the Bible speaks with one voice or "contains multitudes", so to speak, on this subject. That, to me, seemed to be within the purview of this subforum.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

America is piety and crassness, freedom for all and unfathomable greed, the inherent dignity of each human life and total disregard for the most helpless lives. It's no wonder that the rest of the world is so exasperated with us. We are utterly clueless as a nation. We have no idea who we are, and we experience a total disconnect between reality and image, but we'll gladly sell that image to anyone who may or may not be interested.

You keep using this term "we", but you're voicing what is only a politically liberal elitist minority point of view.

I would disagree. Andy's comments sound like how almost all my extremely conservative, Republican friends and aquaintences talk about America.

Point taken. I made an unfair generalization about one political philosophy. Although, if I had to guess by "extremely conservative" you might mean libertarian? I have some libertarian friends who look down their noses on America quite frequently.

Nope...straight ahead Republican conservatives. Mind you, they tend to aim their aggression at East and West Coast liberals. I remember people I knew trying to argue that the 9/11 attacks were partially Hollywood's fault-because Hollywood exports sex and violence. (My conservative film snob friends did not fall into this because they have actually seen foreign films)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

If government is ordained by God, then paying taxes to that government is right, correct? If government is an institution ordained by God, then I can find myself owing a particular temporal loyalty to it.

It was Paul, not Jesus, who claimed that government is ordained by God. Jesus said you should pay taxes to Caesar because it was Caesar who issued the coin ... not because God ordained Caesar's government.

Paul, a Roman citizen writing to Christians in Rome, did indeed suggest in Rom. 13 that the Roman government was ordained by God to do justice ... although, as mentioned earlier, a government that consistently fails to do justice isn't holding up its end of the bargain.

So far, so good, but from here your arguments start running into trouble. You're trying to equate paying taxes to the government with putting one's neck on the line for the government. Becoming a soldier means rendering one's entire self, up to and including one's very life, to the government to use at its disposal. That is a huge stretch from Jesus' statement about taxes. The same Paul who said government was ordained by God also taught us that our bodies are the temple of God, we are bought with a price and therefore we should honor God with our bodies. I don't know what that means to you, but a Christian might reasonably and seriously conclude that while his money indeed is Caesar's and should be rendered to Caesar, his body and his self are God's and should be rendered to God. Caesar gave me the coin; God gave me my body. This belief was very common in the early church under the Roman Empire, when after all, soldiers weren't allowed to be Christians, and those who became Christians while serving, or who were appointed without anyone knowing they were Christians, faced martyrdom if they were found out (St. Sebastian, the 40 martyrs of Sevaste, etc.).

You've stated earlier that the Bible specifies that good governments are democratically elected, citing David and Saul as proof. Yet Saul (democratically elected) gets failing grades in the Bible, whereas Josiah (ascended the throne at 8 years of age after his dad was assassinated) gets a glowing report. You've said that accession by means other than election = bad government. Yet Paul wrote the Epistle to the Romans sometime between A.D. 51 and 55 — meaning that the "government ordained by God" he wrote about was that of either Claudius (put on by the Praetorian Guard after they assassinated Caligula) or Nero (nutjob who became Caesar because he was Claudius' adopted son, and proceeded to persecute the Church like nobody's business). Most scholars like the later date for Romans, meaning that Nero was probably already on the throne.

So, if the government of the friggin' Emperor Nero was "ordained by God" according to Paul, then what business do you or I have declaring ANY government illegitimate according to some "Biblical" standard? Saddam Hussein was one bad hombre, but I should think Nero still has him beat.

Edited by mrmando

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

So, if the government of the friggin' Emperor Nero was "ordained by God" according to Paul, then what business do you or I have declaring ANY government illegitimate according to some "Biblical" standard? Saddam Hussein was one bad hombre, but I should think Nero still has him beat.

This is something I find interesting about the Romans 13 verse. What is the message to a Christian living under the tyrant-because according to Romans 13 all governments are ordained by God to weild the sword-not just the ones we like or are comfortable with. The Christian living under Saddam is being told the same thing by that verse about their government as we Americans are about ours. There is no "Evil Dictator Clause" in Roman's 13.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

If government is ordained by God, then paying taxes to that government is right, correct? If government is an institution ordained by God, then I can find myself owing a particular temporal loyalty to it.

It was Paul, not Jesus, who claimed that government is ordained by God.

Whatever happened to Christ telling Pilate that "you would have no power had it not been given to you from above"? (Jn 19:11)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Whatever happened to Christ telling Pilate that "you would have no power had it not been given to you from above"? (Jn 19:11)

Fair enough, but that still doesn't mean one has the same duty to serve in combat as one has to pay taxes. And anyway, the fact remains: this is not the argument Jesus made in support of paying taxes. Dragging in an argument he made elsewhere in the Bible, at a different time in a different place to a different person on a different topic under different circumstances, recorded by a different Evangelist, is only marginally better than dragging in an argument from a different author at a different time in a different place to different people under similar-but-worse circumstances on a related-but-not-necessarily-equivalent topic. What's wrong with the argument Jesus actually gave?

Edited by mrmando

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

So, if the government of the friggin' Emperor Nero was "ordained by God" according to Paul, then what business do you or I have declaring ANY government illegitimate according to some "Biblical" standard? Saddam Hussein was one bad hombre, but I should think Nero still has him beat.

This is something I find interesting about the Romans 13 verse. What is the message to a Christian living under the tyrant-because according to Romans 13 all governments are ordained by God to weild the sword-not just the ones we like or are comfortable with. The Christian living under Saddam is being told the same thing by that verse about their government as we Americans are about ours. There is no "Evil Dictator Clause" in Roman's 13.

Well, I think the question is - is it possible for a tyrant to act as if he has power that he does not rightfully possess?

Romans 13:1-7

Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rules are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. Wherefore ye must needs to subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. For this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God's ministers, attending continually upon this very thing. Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour.

Elisha Williams, pastor of a Congregational church in Connecticut in 1744, taught on Romans 13 which he describes as "a text often wrecked and tortured by such wits as were disposed to serve the designs of arbitrary power, of erecting a civil tyranny over a free people, and as often wrested out of their hands by the force of truth."

Strong words. Williams explains how he believes this passage is misinterpreted to argue for actual submission to tyranny:

"Here then let me distinguish between two things ... between the powers which are, and the powers which are not. This is a plain and undeniable distinction; since it is well known there may be a pretended power where there is really none. Now the higher powers in the text are the powers which are. Since then it is express and certain, that the powers that be, are the powers in the text, the powers which be of GOD, the ordinance of GOD; it is only of such powers he speaks of subjection to. On the other hand - the powers that are not, are not the powers that be; and so not the powers in the text, not the powers that are of GOD, not his ordinance, and so no subjection to them required in this text ...

"A power that is no better than a pretended one, can't challenge any obedience by virtue of this text. As this text does not shew they have such a power, the pretence of obedience being due to them by this text, if they should be so vain as to fancy they have it, is a mere vanity. The truth of the case is plainly this; that this text shews obedience is due to civil rulers in those cases wherein they have power to command, and does not call for it any farther ..."

At first, I thought Williams was making a cheap point by making a difference between "the powers that be" and then powers which "are not." That sounds really tricky. Other newer translations like the NIV put things a little differently - "Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God." So is there really a difference between civil authorities that exist and civil authorities that do not exist? But then I think Williams is really asking a different question. Is it possible for someone without legal authority to pretend and act like he has power over people that he does not rightfully possess? Is it possible for a tyrant to set himself up as the civil authority just because he has the guns and the army to do it? Yes. Not only is this possible, but it has happened over and over before throughout history. So the question becomes, how do governments possess the legal authority to rule? And here we see Williams' Enlightenment/natural law education -

"For the freedom of man and liberty of acting according to his own will (without being subject to the will of another) is grounded on his having reason, which is able to instruct him in that law he is to govern himself by, and make him know how far he is left to the freedom of his own will. So that we are born free as we are born rational ... For tho' the law of nature be intelligible to all rational creatures; yet men being biased by their interest as well as ignorant for want of study of it, are not apt to allow of it as a law binding to them in the application of it to their particular cases ...

"Now to remedy these inconveniences, reason teaches men to join in society, to unite together into a commonwealth under some form or other, to make a body of laws agreeable to the law of nature, and institute one common power to see them observed. It is they who thus unite together, viz. the people, who make and alone have the right to make the laws that are to take place among them; or which comes to the same thing, appoint those who shall make them, and who shall see them executed ... Hence then the fountain and original of all civil power is from the people ... There are too too many arbitrary governments in the world, where the people don't make their own laws. These are not properly speaking governments but tyrannies; and are absolutely against the law of GOD and nature."

So, Williams is daring, in his day and age, to argue that there is a difference between a government and a tyrant. He's making a logical argument, based on natural law principles, that there is something called a civil authority that Paul is referring to in Romans 13, and that there is something called tyranny - a mere physical force that is pretending to have the power of civil authority that it does not rightfully have. Is it possible to pretend you have government authority that you don't legitimately have? Yes, it is possible.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Well, your "Biblical" argument starts looking more cogent when you appeal to extrabiblical ideas like natural law.

Can anyone take a stab at whether Paul, writing well before the Enlightenment, might have cottoned to Williams' interpretation of Rom. 13? Personally, I like what Williams says here, and I can't really make sense of Rom. 13 any other way. I'm just not sure whether it's really "what Paul meant" or not.

On another note, does anyone know what Islam says about government? What are the chances of the "Arab spring" actually flowering into real democracies? (It would be nice if it happened; sure would save our army some cash.)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Well, your "Biblical" argument starts looking more cogent when you appeal to extrabiblical ideas like natural law.

Oh, I don't know about extrabiblical. Natural law (which is another way, if you asked John Locke, of just saying God's moral law) seems to be clearly Biblical. I'm pretty sure the Apostle Paul mentions it in Romans 2:14-15 and elsewhere.

Edited by Persiflage

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Hm. The "law" in Rom. 2 is the law of Moses.

Williams:

"There are too too many arbitrary governments in the world, where the people don't make their own laws. These are not properly speaking governments but tyrannies; and are absolutely against the law of GOD and nature."

Whereas, the law of Moses is not presented in Scripture as an example of people making their own laws; rather, it is received by revelation directly from God. I happen to like the idea of people making their own laws, but calling it Biblical seems like a bit of a stretch.

So, to clarify: the idea that the basic moral precepts contained in Moses' law are "written on our hearts" — it's Biblical and I agree with it. The idea that the desire for freedom is written on our hearts — it's Biblical (see Exodus) and I agree with it. The idea that the impulse toward democracy is also written on our hearts — I agree with it but don't think it's Biblical.

(Edit) Circling back to an earlier post of yours ...

In Exodus 18:13-26 we see the form of the temporal government of Israel being created. Those captains over thousands, hundreds and tens were elected by the people. Moses chose the captains that the people chose (Deuteronomy 1:9-18).

Two versions of the same story, with different details. In Exodus, Moses himself selects the captains; there's no mention of them being chosen by their own tribes. Deuteronomy suggests that the tribes were involved in the selection process. So, which account is accurate? Who knows? Whatever the answer, it's certain that the people didn't select Moses himself -- God did!

Edited by mrmando

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Whereas, the law of Moses is not presented in Scripture as an example of people making their own laws; rather, it is received by revelation directly from God. I happen to like the idea of people making their own laws, but calling it Biblical seems like a bit of a stretch.

Right. God's moral law, or natural law, is not something we make ourselves, it's something we are given by an outside source (the Creator). When we talk about the people making their own laws politically speaking (or electing the people who make the law), that's self-government - it's our duty to make our temporal laws in society coincide with God's law.

So, to clarify: the idea that the basic moral precepts contained in Moses' law are "written on our hearts" — it's Biblical and I agree with it. The idea that the desire for freedom is written on our hearts — it's Biblical (see Exodus) and I agree with it. The idea that the impulse toward democracy is also written on our hearts — I agree with it but don't think it's Biblical.

How about instead of saying "impulse toward democracy" we just say self-government. Democracy is just one kind of self-government, and pure unadulterated democracy is not particularly a good thing. So it might be fairer to say that the moral (or natural) law being written on our hearts leads to specific logical conclusions about government. Conclusions that we are also helped to reach by how Moses was told to set up Israel's government and by what the Apostle Paul explained about the purpose and role of government.

In Exodus 18:13-26 we see the form of the temporal government of Israel being created. Those captains over thousands, hundreds and tens were elected by the people. Moses chose the captains that the people chose (Deuteronomy 1:9-18).

Two versions of the same story, with different details. In Exodus, Moses himself selects the captains; there's no mention of them being chosen by their own tribes. Deuteronomy suggests that the tribes were involved in the selection process. So, which account is accurate? Who knows? Whatever the answer, it's certain that the people didn't select Moses himself -- God did!

Well, assuming the Bible is true, both versions of the story must be true. Is it possible that Moses and the people chose these representatives of the people? Yes, it's possible - if Moses was directed to select those representatives he instructed the people to elect. As far as Moses himself is concerned, the government rule that the people of Israel didn't select for themselves was the slavery to Pharaoh that they were all born under. Every single Israelite that left Egypt under the leadership of Moses chose to do so (and yes, God did choose Moses to lead the people out of slavery). But the idea that the people ought to choose the leader that God chooses is again confirmed in Deuteronomy 17, I Samuel 9:15-17 + I Samuel 10:23-25, and I Samuel 16:1-13 + II Samuel 2:4 + II Samuel 5:1-4 - all cases of the people needing to choose God's choice.

The fact that God has proscribed a way for us to act or a path for us to choose doesn't still mean that we aren't still the ones who have to choose it. The idea that the Bible teaches natural law is not a new idea. Again, another pastor, Samuel West, taught that:

"A revelation, pretending to be from God, that contradicts any part of natural law, ought immediately to be rejected as an imposture; for the Deity cannot make a law contrary to the law of nature without acting contrary to himself, - a thing in the strictest sense impossible, for that which implies contradiction is not an object of the divine power ... The doctrine of nonresistance and unlimited passive obedience to the worst of tyrants could never have found credit among mankind had the voice of reason been hearkened to for a guide, because such a doctrine would immediately have been discerned to be contrary to natural law."

West then applies this specifically to Romans 13 -

"If magistrates are ministers of God only because the law of God and reason points out the necessity of such an institution for the good of mankind, it follows, that whenever they pursue measures directly destructive of the public good they cease being God's ministers, they forfeit their right to obedience from the subject, they become the pests of society, and the community is under the strongest obligation of duty, both to God and to its own members, to resist and oppose them, which will be so far from resisting the ordinance of God that it will be strictly obeying his commands. To suppose otherwise will imply that the Deity requires of us an obedience that is self-contradictory and absurd, and that one part of his law is directly contrary to the other ...

"A very little attention, I apprehend, will be sufficient to show that this text is so far from favoring arbitrary government, that, on the contrary, it strongly holds forth the principles of true liberty. Subjection to the higher powers is enjoined by the apostle because there is no power but of God; the powers that be are ordained of God; consequently, to resist the power is to resist the ordinance of God: and he repeatedly declares that the ruler is the minister of God. Now, before we can say whether this text makes for or against the doctrine of unlimited passive obedience, we must find out in what sense the apostle affirms that magistracy is the ordinance of God, and what he intends when he calls the ruler the minister of God."

" ... that the nature and reason of things require such an institution for the preservation and safety of mankind. Now, if this be the only sense in which the apostle affirms that magistrates are ordained of God as his ministers, resistance must be criminal only so far forth as they are the ministers of God, i.e., while they act up to the end of their institution, and ceases to be criminal when they cease being the ministers of God, i.e., when they act contrary to the general good, and seek to destroy the liberties of the people."

Of course, this is entirely contrary to guys like John MacArthur who interpret the passage exactly like you'd imagine a Tory preacher in the 1770s would. In Why Government Can't Save You, MacArthur writes -

" ... how many present-day believers would even partially approve of the Puritans’ bloody overthrow, under the leadership of Oliver Cromwell, of the English monarchy in the 1660s ... Over the past several centuries, people have mistakenly linked democracy and political freedom to Christianity. That’s why many contemporary evangelicals believe the American Revolution was completely justified, both politically and scripturally. They follow the argumentation of the Declaration of Independence, which declares that life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are divinely endowed rights. Therefore those believers say such rights are part of a Christian worldview, worth attaining and defending at all costs, including military insurrection at times. But such a position is contrary to the clear teachings and commands of Romans 13:1-7. So the United States was actually born out of a violation of New Testament principles, and any blessings that God has bestowed on America have come in spite of that disobedience by the Founding Fathers."

I'm assuming MacArthur just never bothered to read any of the sermons that were actually preached from the pulpit to the Founding Fathers, let alone George Buchanan's 1579 De Jure Regni Apud Scotos or Thomas Aquinas's Summa Theologica circa 1274.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

How about instead of saying "impulse toward democracy" we just say self-government. Democracy is just one kind of self-government, and pure unadulterated democracy is not particularly a good thing.

Right, because it's essentially mob rule. So ... you are in fact arguing for any form of government that entails people choosing their own leaders, even if it's a monarchy.

Well, assuming the Bible is true, both versions of the story must be true.

Holy cow. :blink:

OK, please reconcile the two conflicting creation narratives in Genesis, or tell me at what point in his ministry Jesus cleansed the Temple, or explain how Judas died twice in two very different ways.

...

Again, though: marvelous stuff on Rom. 13. This is precisely the way I've understood the passage for a long time. It is, however, a double-edged sword: the government established by the Founding Fathers has not always fulfilled its obligations under moral law either.

Edited by mrmando

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Are you that removed from conservative American evangelical culture that such a statement is stunning?

No. Used to be quite the champion at Biblical inerrancy and free-association prooftexting myself.

Such attempts to reconcile these difficulties in the text are furthermore not just an American evangelical thing, but reach back into earlier Christian and even early Jewish ways of reckoning with the Scripture's competing narratives. You may deem such reconciliations either naive or silly, something Christianity has been thankfully shaking off over the past few centuries, but such an approach isn't without precedent.

Not all such reconciliations are problematic. The two passages in question (Ex. 18 and Deut. 1) don't necessarily contradict at all; it's just that one includes details the other one leaves out. But the idea that both passages must be true in order for the entire Bible to be true ... well, such a statement would have to apply to all contradictions in the Bible, not just this one, and many of those contradictions can't be so easily reconciled.

Edited by mrmando

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Not all such reconciliations are problematic. The two passages in question don't necessarily contradict at all; it's just that one includes details the other one leaves out. But the idea that both passages must be true in order for the entire Bible to be true ... well, such a statement would have to apply to all contradictions in the Bible, not just this one, and many of those contradictions can't be so easily reconciled.

Actually, in one account, man is created first, then the animals... in the other the animals are created and then man. One can certainly argue that is not an important contradiction...but both cannot be true either.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Actually, in one account, man is created first, then the animals... in the other the animals are created and then man. One can certainly argue that is not an important contradiction...but both cannot be true either.

My statement referred to Deut. 1 and Ex. 18, not to Genesis. If you believe in Biblical inerrancy then no contradiction is unimportant ... especially if it occurs in the creation narrative. And yet, there it is.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Whoops...sorry...not sure how I missed that.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Not all such reconciliations are problematic. The two passages in question don't necessarily contradict at all; it's just that one includes details the other one leaves out. But the idea that both passages must be true in order for the entire Bible to be true ... well, such a statement would have to apply to all contradictions in the Bible, not just this one, and many of those contradictions can't be so easily reconciled.

Actually, in one account, man is created first, then the animals... in the other the animals are created and then man. One can certainly argue that is not an important contradiction...but both cannot be true either.

I know that this is not the central topic of this thread, but there are other ways to read the passage that resolve the apparent contradiction (perhaps Genesis 1 is a literary framework rather than a chronological recounting of events, or perhaps Genesis 2 tells of the creation of the Garden of Eden specifically while Genesis 1 is about the whole earth, etc) while remaining confident in the inerrancy of the Bible.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

So ... you are in fact arguing for any form of government that entails people choosing their own leaders, even if it's a monarchy.

Yes. Even Oliver Cromwell would have supported a specific kind of monarchy.

Well, assuming the Bible is true, both versions of the story must be true.

Holy cow.

I don't know why there's a problem with this. The Law of Non-Contradiction can be applied to the Bible. A contradiction is when one proposition or story excludes the possibility of the other. But whenever there are different versions of a story in Scripture, the fact that supplemental details in each story complement each other and give us the bigger picture is not something to worry about. There's a difference between an actual contradiction, and what appears like could be a contradiction upon a perusory reading.

OK, please reconcile the two conflicting creation narratives in Genesis,

Actually, in one account, man is created first, then the animals... in the other the animals are created and then man. One can certainly argue that is not an important contradiction...but both cannot be true either.

In context, Genesis 2 is focusing in on Man and the Garden of Eden, and is not written necessarily in specific chronological order - "on the first day" - "on the second day" like Genesis 1. The beginning of Genesis 2 is the Garden of Eden, not the planet earth. In fact, Genesis 2:19 does not actually say the time God created the animals, instead it simply says that God brought the animals He "had formed" to Adam to be named. To read this passage historically, instead of just as poetry, still does not demand that every little detail must exactly proceed the other just so. One simply needs to look at the author's intent - Genesis 1 gives an ordered account of Creation - Genesis 2 focuses in on the story of man, providing additional details to what Genesis 1:26-28 only briefly summarized.

or tell me at what point in his ministry Jesus cleansed the Temple,

Twice. Once at the beginning of His ministry in John 2:13-22 - notice the different details, quotes, etc. And once at the end of His ministry in Matthew 21:12-13; Mark 11:15-17; Luke 19:45-46. Remember, all the early events mentioned in John, chapters 1-5, (except for Christ's baptism by John the Baptist) are not mentioned in any of the other gospels. What Scriptural evidence would you use to claim that Jesus only "cleansed the Temple" once anyway. For all we know, He might have done so more than just twice. He was certainly in Jerusalem more than once, and I'd sort of expect Him to do it every single time he walked into Jerusalem.

or explain how Judas died twice in two very different ways.

Come on now, do both Matthew 27:3-8 and Acts 1:16-19 really exclude each other? The different descriptions of the same death are due to the writers (one's a Jew and a former personal friend of Judas, the other's a Greek medical doctor). It would be a different thing if Luke told us the fall was the cause of Judas' death, but he doesn't actually say that, does he? Luke's a doctor, so you would expect him to, but instead he's explaining why Judas' field got its name.

Again, though: marvelous stuff on Rom. 13. This is precisely the way I've understood the passage for a long time. It is, however, a double-edged sword: the government established by the Founding Fathers has not always fulfilled its obligations under moral law either.

You are right, it hasn't. But no government by men ever will. That's why you arrange a government structure different than pure democracy, so that you have a government of law and not of men.

What of God commanding Abraham to sacrifice his son? Of course, in ultimate terms, God proved himself consistent with his nature. But it does seem that God is not unwilling to challenge individuals by making provocative statements that may seem incongruous with what is else known about him, at least for a time (see, also, Jesus' original proclamation of "you must eat my flesh and drink my blood," a teaching after which many of his followers leave and Jesus nevertheless refuses to elaborate/correct their face value reading of his comment).

True. But instances of God telling someone to do something contrary to His revealed law is provocative precisely because whenever God does do this in Scripture, He is looking for a response. There is a difference between God provoking someone like Abraham or Peter, and God declaring his revealed moral law.

Not all such reconciliations are problematic. The two passages in question (Ex. 18 and Deut. 1) don't necessarily contradict at all; it's just that one includes details the other one leaves out. But the idea that both passages must be true in order for the entire Bible to be true ... well, such a statement would have to apply to all contradictions in the Bible, not just this one, and many of those contradictions can't be so easily reconciled.

Name one apparent contradiction that can't be reconciled and I'll personally ditch believing in Biblical Inerrancy.

you believe in Biblical inerrancy then no contradiction is unimportant ... especially if it occurs in the creation narrative.

Correct.

And yet, there it is.

By "it," I'm assuming you are referring to a light reading of Genesis 2 that demands that the author intended to mean that animals were only created after Adam?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

(perhaps Genesis 1 is a literary framework rather than a chronological recounting of events)

A passage that places so much emphasis on 1st day, 2nd day, etc., is somehow not chronological????!!!

or perhaps Genesis 2 tells of the creation of the Garden of Eden specifically while Genesis 1 is about the whole earth

The beginning of Genesis 2 is the Garden of Eden, not the planet earth.

The phrase "the earth" occurs five separate times in Gen. 2:4-6, but you both want to maintain that the chapter is not about the earth?

The chronologies are rather more tangled than has been discussed thus far.

In Gen. 1: Vegetation on day 3; stars, moon and sun on day 4; birds and fish on day 5; first animals, then humans, both male and female, on day 6.

In Gen. 2: Man, then vegetation, then animals, then woman. Possibly this all took place in one day, if "day" in 2:4 means the same thing as "day" in 2:3. But in that case, which day was it? The phrase "in the day that the LORD God made earth and heaven" (2:4) doesn't correspond to any of the days in ch. 1, since in ch. 1 earth and heaven are made before the first day. If it's the day when vegetation was created, perhaps it's day 3 ... except it would have been inconvenient for man to name the animals without any sun to give light for him to see what they looked like.

A historical-critical analysis of Gen. 1 & 2 would simply suggest that the two stories are separate but partially overlapping accounts of the same events (neither one, obviously, being an eyewitness account), collected from divergent strains of oral tradition. But an inerrantist has to maintain that both chapters are written by the same author — who apparently gives great attention to a strict, ordered chronology in ch. 1, and then goes off his meds in ch. 2, since the chapters don't have a prayer of being reconciled unless you assume that ch. 2 is completely non-linear.

In the end, inerrantists shred the text to chop suey in order to maintain their preconceptions. I'd just rather shred my preconceptions and take the text as I find it.

Name one apparent contradiction that can't be reconciled and I'll personally ditch believing in Biblical Inerrancy.

First we need to agree on what we mean by "reconciled." For instance, you try to "reconcile" one of the contradictions in Genesis by claiming that "The beginning of Genesis 2 is the Garden of Eden," when in fact the garden isn't even planted until 2:8, after the man has been created. If you are allowed to "reconcile" textual difficulties by proclaiming falsehoods about the text, then you are playing with a stacked deck and there is no way I can win.

Edited by mrmando

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Hm. We seem to have killed the thread by going off topic.

It is, however, a double-edged sword: the government established by the Founding Fathers has not always fulfilled its obligations under moral law either.

You are right, it hasn't.

Well, then, the extent to which a given government upholds moral law is the same extent to which it has the moral right to expect service from its subjects/citizens, up to and including military service.

Your disagreement with Andy, then, has nothing to do with how you interpret Rom. 13 — both of you would say that a citizen's obligation to the government is conditioned by the government's behavior with respect to moral law.

Where you disagree is on whether or not this country has an essentially good government — or, perhaps, on whether specific actions undertaken by its government are good.

Edited by mrmando

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
A historical-critical analysis of Gen. 1 & 2 would simply suggest that the two stories are separate but partially overlapping accounts of the same events (neither one, obviously, being an eyewitness account), collected from divergent strains of oral tradition. But an inerrantist has to maintain that both chapters are written by the same author — who apparently gives great attention to a strict, ordered chronology in ch. 1, and then goes off his meds in ch. 2, since the chapters don't have a prayer of being reconciled unless you assume that ch. 2 is completely non-linear.

In the end, inerrantists shred the text to chop suey in order to maintain their preconceptions. I'd just rather shred my preconceptions and take the text as I find it.

Ha – I love it. I too find it remarkable the lengths that inerrantists seem willing to go. To me, their best (worst) arguments have an air of "Alice in Wonderland" about them. To the degree that historical-critical analysis functions like a solvent to remove the dross of overworked exegesis that is wedded to inerrancy, more power to it. Christians ought to welcome historical-critical analysis for the light that it does shed on the Bible. Why should we remain in ignorance (about the Bible, and how it came to be)? Surely God does not want that for us. The tricky thing with historical-critical analysis is to know when it's done all it can reasonably do, so we can move beyond it (while not forgetting what we learn from it). Because when we overuse it, it can turn even those biblical passages that resemble hard rock candy jawbreakers into pea soup (solvents just keep dissolving, indiscriminately – it's up to us to know when to stop applying them).

I think a similar process is in play with creationists, who literally believe that the earth is about 6,000 years old. Christians ought to welcome science for the light that it does shed on nature. Why should we remain in ignorance (about nature)? Surely God does not want that for us. The tricky thing with science, once again, is to know when it's done all it can reasonably do, so we can move beyond it (while not forgetting what we learn from it).

What do I mean when I say that we should "move beyond" historical-critical analysis (and science, for that matter)? Perhaps something akin to what Hans Urs von Balthasar meant when, in his great interpretive study of Maximus the Confessor, he wrote (on pp. 308-9) about Scripture in this way (and quoted Maximus):

And just as the world hides God in a revealing way and reveals God in a hidden way, the Scripture is a disguised and confused voice like the rolling of thunder,

which says nothing clearly; it is a kind of voice of the elements. For every word of God that is written down for man is, as long as this age lasts, the precursor of another word, which uses it as an instrument to proclaim itself to the mind in an unwritten, intellectual way, and which, in the age to come, will be revealed in a more perfect form. As it is proclaimed, it bears truth within itself, but does not show it in an unveiled, naked way.

Or, again, as when Maximus wrote in his Centuries on Theology (second century, from sections 74 and 75):

It is by means of the more lofty conceptual images that the inner principle of Holy Scripture can be stripped gradually of the complex garment of words with which it is physically draped. Then to the visionary intellect – the intellect which through the total abandonment of its natural activities is able to attain a glimpse of the simplicity that in some measure discloses this principle – it reveals itself as though in the sound of a delicate breeze. ...

For an understanding of Scripture that does not go beyond the literal meaning, and a view of the world that relies exclusively on sense-perception, are indeed scales, blinding the soul's visionary faculty and preventing access to the pure Logos of truth.

"... it reveals itself as though in the sound of a delicate breeze." The greatest film directors, such as Tarkovsky and Ozu, have understood this mode of revealing very well.

But if words like these sound altogether too "mystical" to control, and the first thing that leaps to your mind is the danger of theological speculation, then perhaps nothing I might say would assuage your fears (which I acknowledge are not without basis). Still, I wonder where this spiritual timidity in so many of us Christians comes from, and if it is truly necessary. It's as though we imagine that "the way" is like a one-inch wide board fence, the top of which we must tread with the strictest possible adherence (to orthodoxy), leaving no room for deviation – the slightest of which would send us tumbling headlong into perdition. I guess that's one way to try to "control" people. In a different spiritual tradition from Christianity, Shunryu Suzuki took a wider view of the matter, and we all might learn something – and to be less controlling, spiritually – from him:

Even though you try to put people under some control, it is impossible. You cannot do it. The best way to control people is to encourage them to be mischievous. Then they will be in control in its wider sense. To give your sheep or cow a large, spacious meadow is the way to control him.

And a few centuries before Jesus of Nazareth was born, Chuang Tzu was not afraid to address his hearers this way:

I'm going to try speaking some reckless words and I want you to listen to them recklessly.

If we tried listening to the word of God a little more recklessly, perhaps we might actually come nearer to that "inner principle of Holy Scripture" which Maximus had in mind when he wrote about "the intellect which through the total abandonment of its natural activities [i.e. recklessly?] is able to attain a glimpse of the simplicity that in some measure discloses this principle."

Edited by tenpenny

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Well, the "literary framework" view has many different varieties, but some would understand the emphasis on the days as a way of evoking temple dedication ceremonies, a passage that essentially paints the poetic picture of the world as God's temple. Other close cousins, like the point of view put forward by John Walton, who keeps the idea of God speaking on days, but suggests the text isn't actually about material creation at all (he bases his argument primarily on a revised understanding of the word bara).

Are such views attractive to inerrantists, though? I suppose there may be some exceptions, but I figure most people who want to argue for inerrancy would also prefer a reading of these texts that is literal to some degree.

Let's face it, historical-critical research has generally been more interested in what the text was than what the text is.

Oh, without a doubt, historical-critical can be just as effective at tearing a text to shreds as inerrantism can. I just prefer to let the edifice of scripture be what it is, rather than try either to chisel off all its rough edges in an effort to resolve contradictions ... or to prise all of its bricks apart in order to make an educated guess at which kind of clay they were made from.

Edited by mrmando

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Well, the "literary framework" view has many different varieties, but some would understand the emphasis on the days as a way of evoking temple dedication ceremonies, a passage that essentially paints the poetic picture of the world as God's temple.

Are such views attractive to inerrantists, though? I suppose there may be some exceptions, but I figure most people who want to argue for inerrancy would also prefer a reading of these texts that is literal to some degree.

I would call myself an inerrantist -- though I'd have to unpack what that means -- and I would say the "literary framework" theory is a very attractive way of reading Genesis 1.

But an inerrantist has to maintain that both chapters are written by the same author — who apparently gives great attention to a strict, ordered chronology in ch. 1, and then goes off his meds in ch. 2, since the chapters don't have a prayer of being reconciled unless you assume that ch. 2 is completely non-linear.

This is not what I understand to be required by an inerrantist view of scripture.

Are such views attractive to inerrantists, though? I suppose there may be some exceptions, but I figure most people who want to argue for inerrancy would also prefer a reading of these texts that is literal to some degree.

In my experience, these views are relatively popular--or at least part of the open discussion, without outright dismissal--among inerrantists of a not-so-deeply fundamentalist stripe. After all, many definitions of inerrancy allow for genre to inform how we understand what the text does and doesn't suggest.

Exactly.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

This is not what I understand to be required by an inerrantist view of scripture.

So there are strains of "inerrantism" that allow for some of the assertions made by historical-critical scholars, e.g., that the shift in style, focus, and vocabulary (Elohim vs. YHWH) between Gen. 1 & Gen. 2, as well as the differing chronologies, all point to these stories being collected from two different sources?

Not my grandpa's inerrantism, but terribly interesting.

Edited by mrmando

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
So there are strains of "inerrantism" that allow for some of the assertions made by historical-critical scholars, e.g., that the shift in style, focus, and vocabulary (Elohim vs. YHWH) between Gen. 1 & Gen. 2, as well as the differing chronologies, all points to these stories being collected from two different sources?

Not only are there such "strains," this is in fact the teaching of the Catholic Church as I understand it.

In the famous formula of Pope Pius XII's key 1943 encyclical Divino Afflante Spiritu (On Promoting Biblical Studies):

For as the substantial Word of God became like to men in all things, "except sin," so the words of God, expressed in human language, are made like to human speech in every respect, except error.

At the same time, the pope also notes the extent to which the sacred meaning of the text is conditioned by the cultural, literary and other circumstances of the human writer, and the extent to which exegetes must have recourse to the methods of biblical criticism:

For what they wished to express is not to be determined by the rules of grammar and philology alone, nor solely by the context; the interpreter must, as it were, go back wholly in spirit to those remote centuries of the East and with the aid of history, archaeology, ethnology, and other sciences, accurately determine what modes of writing, so to speak, the authors of that ancient period would be likely to use, and in fact did use.

For the ancient peoples of the East, in order to express their ideas, did not always employ those forms or kinds of speech which we use today; but rather those used by the men of their times and countries. What those exactly were the commentator cannot determine as it were in advance, but only after a careful examination of the ancient literature of the East. The investigation, carried out, on this point, during the past forty or fifty years with greater care and diligence than ever before, has more clearly shown what forms of expression were used in those far off times, whether in poetic description or in the formulation of laws and rules of life or in recording the facts and events of history...

Let those who cultivate biblical studies turn their attention with all due diligence towards this point and let them neglect none of those discoveries, whether in the domain of archaeology or in ancient history or literature, which serve to make better known the mentality of the ancient writers, as well as their manner and art of reasoning, narrating and writing. In this connection Catholic laymen should consider that they will not only further profane science, but moreover will render a conspicuous service to the Christian cause if they devote themselves with all due diligence and application to the exploration and investigation of the monuments of antiquity and contribute, according to their abilities, to the solution of questions hitherto obscure.

More recently, and perhaps definitively, here's the crucial passage from Lumen Gentium, the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation of Vatican II (1965):

In composing the sacred books, God chose men and while employed by Him they made use of their powers and abilities, so that with Him acting in them and through them, they, as true authors, consigned to writing everything and only those things which He wanted.

Therefore, since everything asserted by the inspired authors or sacred writers must be held to be asserted by the Holy Spirit, it follows that the books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching solidly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings for the sake of salvation. Therefore "all Scripture is divinely inspired and has its use for teaching the truth and refuting error, for reformation of manners and discipline in right living, so that the man who belongs to God may be efficient and equipped for good work of every kind" (2 Tim. 3:16-17, Greek text).

However, since God speaks in Sacred Scripture through men in human fashion, the interpreter of Sacred Scripture, in order to see clearly what God wanted to communicate to us, should carefully investigate what meaning the sacred writers really intended, and what God wanted to manifest by means of their words.

Tons of ink have been spilled in subsequent theological inquiry regarding the meaning of the words "that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings for the sake of salvation": Is this meant descriptively or restrictively? I think this is clearly a red herring, since this whole clause is merely a conclusion drawn from the prior assertion that "everything asserted by the inspired authors or sacred writers must be held to be asserted by the Holy Spirit." This "everything" is not qualified and must be taken as applying to assertions of all kinds, not merely assertions of a special religious or soteriological character. That said, conclusions about what is or is not "asserted" by the sacred author should not be drawn in an uncritical way.

Edited by SDG

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!


Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.


Sign In Now
Sign in to follow this  
Followers 0