Your weekly dose of strong tea and strong theology, comin’ at ya!
A historical warning for conservatives: If you keep making study groups, you’ll surrender eventually.
I think this is because the very creation of a study group suggests that God has not spoken clearly on the issue in question. I’ve not yet heard of a denomination forming a study group to examine and report on whether murder is compatible with Christian discipleship. But if you have an issue on which there is a more conservative and a more liberal view, authorizing a study group implies from the start that there are (at least) two faithful and legitimate positions on the matter. And if both positions are legitimate options, what grounds do you have for restricting it to the more conservative position?
From the Jacula Prudentum of George Herbert: “Valour that parleys, is near yielding.”
When you get to the point where you’re changing the Scripture because you don’t like what it says, isn’t it time to admit you’re gunning for the Holy Spirit’s job? And, of course, that sort of thing never ends well.
What I mean is, “Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:20-21).
So when you’re the ELCA, and you decide to quote Genesis 1:31 as “God saw everything that [God] had made…” because you can’t stand the use of masculine pronouns for God, it’s probably the sign that there’s another spirit at work in your agenda–the spirit of the age.
For being so resistant to taking the Scriptures literally, the ELCA is sure willing to take the task of eisegesis literally.
Last month, Pope Francis gave a speech where he called for an end to the death penalty worldwide. It’s not my purpose here to discuss that broader issue, but just to make a small point about the biblical argument the pope used.
“The commandment ‘You shall not kill,’ has absolute value and applies to both the innocent and the guilty,” the pope said. If that’s true, it certainly is a knock-down argument in favor of abolishing the death penalty, as far as Christians are concerned.
But is it true?
The commandment is found in Exodus 20:13. Numerous bible versions give the translation the pope offered, “You shall not kill”, or similar, (RSV, ASV, DRA, KJV, CEB, BRG). However, it is much more often translated “You shall not murder”, or similar, (ESV, NIV, MEV, NET, NASB, WEB, etc). The reason why is easy to see.
When God spoke to Moses on Mt. Sinai, He didn’t just give the Ten Commandments, He said a great deal more. And in the very next chapter of Exodus, God who had said “You shall not kill” goes on to say “But if a man schemes and kills another man deliberately, take him away from my altar and put him to death” (21.14), “Anyone who attacks his father or his mother must be put to death” (21.15), “Anyone who kidnaps another and either sells him or still has him when he is caught must be put to death” (21.16), and so on.
I’m not trying to address the question of how the Mosaic law applies to modern American society any more than I’m trying to address the death penalty. What I simply wish to point out is that the command “You shall not kill” is certainly not absolute, and certainly does not apply to the guilty as well as to the innocent. God’s command spoke of murder, not of capital punishment nor of killing in war–which are both instances of killing that God commanded, at least in that particular context.
When we read the bible, we must read passages in their context. If we do not, we risk misusing the Word of God to promote our own agenda, rather than humbly aligning ourselves with what the Word of God actually says.