The Ethics of Usury

June 14, 2010

USURY

by

Professor Robert O’Driscoll
With usury has no man a good house
made of stone, no paradise on his church wall
with usury the stone cutter is kept from his stone
the weaver is kept from his loom by usura
Wool does not come into market
the peasant does not eat his own grain
the girl’s needle goes blunt in her hand
The looms are hushed one after another
ten thousand after ten thousand
Duccio was not by usura
Nor was ‘Calunnia’ painted.
Neither Ambrogio Praedis nor Angelico
had their skill by usura
Nor St. Trophime its cloisters;
Not St Hilaire its proportion.
Usury rusts the man and his chisel
It destroys the craftsman, destroying craft;
Azure is caught with cancer. Emerald comes to no Memling
Usury kills the child in the womb
And breaks short the young man’s courting
Usury brings age into youth; it lies between the bride
and the bridegroom
Usury is against Nature’s increase.
Whores for Eleusis;
Under usury no stone is cut smooth
Peasant has no gain from his sheep herd.
(Ezra Pound, from Canto LI)[1]


Introduction

Usury has been a major ethical issue throughout church history. For centuries, the church opposed the practice of charging interest of any sort on loans. During the 1300’s, the stance of the church shifted as capitalism and free trade became more prevalent. Usury, as a major ethical issue for the Reformers, was approached differently by Luther and Calvin. While there is currently widespread popular acceptance of the practice of charging reasonable interest on loans, the rise of global justice movements, such as the secular “Make Poverty History” campaign and the evangelical “Micah Challenge[2]”, have highlighted the practice of charging interest on loans to Third World countries. How should a Christian view the practice of charging interest on loans? Is there a difference between interest and usury? What ethical implications do the relative financial situations between the lender and the borrower – at either an individual or national level – have?

Scripture

The Old Testament provides several clear references to the practice of usury. All of them have a negative tone. They must be examined, also, in light of their culture of the Ancient Near East. The OT laws appear to be assumed by and affirmed in the NT.

Cultural Context

In the Ancient Near East, loans for both reasonable interest and oppressive enrichment were practiced[3]. The Old Babylonian Period Law Code – the Eshnunna Laws – set the limits on interest rates to 20% for money and 33.33% for grain in about 1700BC. Such limits were typical throughout ANE history, although actual interest rates could be lower[4]. The Hammurabi Law Code provided for the cancelling of interest payments in the case of natural disaster[5]. The Canaanite territory which Israel occupied followed these common commercial practices, although the profession of money-lender should not be equated to our modern commercial practices. Rather, it was the wealthy person who was in a position to lend money and did so in a commercial way that the Hebrew writings prohibit[6].

Rules

Three major OT texts have informed Christians’ views on usury are Ex. 22:25-27; Lev. 25:35-38; and Deut 23:19-20. “The laws which deal with interest belong to several law collections of the Pentateuch illustrating different historical, economic and social standards showing an epoch of inner and outer history of Israel.[7]

Exodus 22:24-26 appears in the Covenant Code and regulates money loans to fellow Israelites who are poor. It states that interest is not to be charged and that their cloak – that is, their shelter during the night – is not to be kept as security overnight. The Hebrew word translated “interest” is נֶ֫שֶׁךְ, literally means “bitten off[8]” and occurs in Lev 25:36; Deut 23:19; Ezek 18:8, 13, 18; Ps. 15:5 and Prov. 28:8. Some scholars have argued, based on its etymology, that נֶ֫שֶׁךְ means interest deducted (or ‘bitten off’) by the creditor in advance, however Loewenstamm convincingly argues that it simply refers to the interest on monetary loans, whereas the alternate Hebrew term, תַּרְבִּית refers to loans on victuals[9]. In the later Hebrew of Deut 23:20, נֶ֫שֶׁךְ becomes the broader term denoting interest of any kind. Each of the three major texts provides a different motivation for obedience. In Exodus 22, the motivation provided by this Rule is that their compassionate Lord hears the cry of the poor – with the implication that he will act to secure justice for them – and that the Israelites should mimic his concern.

Leviticus 25:35-38 appears in the Holiness Code and precludes the charging of interest on a money loan or selling food at a profit to fellow Israelites who are poor. This verse demonstrates the use of both words that Loewenstamm defines. It requires that interest free loans be made available to the needy[10]. The motivation provided by this Rule is a desire to keep the community together, and discourage such economic migration as might be described, for example, in the early chapters of the book of Ruth. It is grounded in God’s redemption of his people from the Egypt and his provision of Canaan for them.

Deuteronomy 23:19-20 seems to dramatically broaden the prohibition on interest to include anyone who is “your brother”, in contrast with a “foreigner”. The term “foreigner” (נָכְרִי) stands in contrast with a fellow Israelite. It originally meant “enemy” and was a term of disgrace which could also be attributed to an adulterous woman (Prov. 2:16), but this cannot be used to justify carte blanche abuses of foreigners. Leviticus 25:25-27, discussed above, compare the compassionate treatment of poor Israelites with the standard of hospitality displayed towards sojourning foreigners. The term “foreigner” is used broadly to include a foreigner dwelling in the land, such as a Canaanite, a foreigner travelling through the land engaged in commerce for profit, such as a trader, and a foreigner who may have arrived as a refugee. When engaging in mutually profitable business with a foreigner, loans for interest appear to be permissible.

Whereas Deuteronomy 23 might appear to prohibit loans for interest to any Israelite, Christensen argues that the context proves we are “mainly dealing with humanitarian issues here.[11]” The loan, in this case as with the earlier prohibitions, is charity to a brother in need. As Tigay says, “There is no evidence that there was a money market of any significance, or that solvent Israelites commonly borrowed for commercial or other purposes,[12]” although there is some evidence that not all who borrowed were destitute. For example, Deuteronomy 24:10-13 prescribes how to receive a pledged item, but it also imposes an extra condition if the neighbor is poor.

In summary, these three Rules provide a clear prohibition of loans for interest to poor fellow Israelites. This was markedly counter-cultural in light of the practices of the surrounding nations, where loans for interest were common. However, the prohibitions do not seem to speak directly to commercial trading. The socioeconomic culture in ancient Israel, primarily agriculturally based, was also significantly different from contemporary capitalist economies. Therefore, careful hermeneutical work needs to be done to apply these Rules to the present setting.

The NT text that has contributed significantly to Christian’s understanding of the issue of usury is Jesus own words in Luke 6:34-35, where he commands,

“And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ lend to ‘sinners’, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. (NIV)”

Hays argues that love is not an adequate summarizing ethical theme of the NT[13], and Horsley states that,

“The command of loving enemies remains general, abstract, and susceptible of a variety of interpretations so long as the meaning of “enemies” remains imprecise.[14]

He then goes on to argue that the “enemies” are not distant, national enemies, but fellow Jews in the rural villages who are being oppressed by wealthy landowners, and that Jesus’ command is to “take responsibility for helping each other willingly, even your enemies, in the local village community.[15]” Even though, then, Jesus’ command is not addressed to the wealthy but the poor, Horsley suggests that an appropriate application of this Rule may be made through analogy:

“The analogy to doing good, lending (without interest!), and sharing what little one has with those who have nothing in a simple agrarian community could be sought in the more sophisticated and complex social-economic response to the needy in the complicated modern international capitalist economy where the investment of one’s retirement funds or the availability of bananas and coffee for one’s breakfast have an indirect but decisive effect upon the poverty of the campesinos who picked the bananas or coffee beans.[16]

Principles

While the richest vein of Scripture teaching can be characterized as Rules, there are also many valid examples of Principles, Paradigms and Symbolic Worlds. Psalm 15:5 describes the actions of a righteous person, namely that they “lend money to the poor without interest.” Similarly, Proverbs 28:8 says that “whoever increases wealth by taking interest or profit from the poor amasses it for another, who will be kind to the poor.” Finally, Ezekiel 18 teaches that the one who sins will die, but the righteous man is the one who does not hold onto the security for the loan to a poor person, who charges no interest and makes no profit from them. In conclusion, these principles all seem to apply to the same situation described by the rules, economic dealings with the poor and desperate.

Paradigms

Three of Jesus’ parables directly illustrate the issues associated with usury. In Luke 16:1-15, the ambiguous parable of the shrewd manager, in light of impending judgment the commended character reduces the amount of debt outstanding in order to gain future favor. Luke 19:11-27[17] records the parable of the ten minas as Jesus passes from Jericho to Jerusalem. The master clearly represents God and his return is best identified with Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem[18]. The relevant point from this story is that the master expected a righteous servant would, at the very least, deposit his money with the bankers so that it could earn interest.

Luke 20:9-19 is the parable of the tenants. While it does not address the issue of usury directly, it touches upon a closely related topic of return on investment. This issue is raised later in church history, especially by Aquinas.

Symbolic Worlds

Jesus’ parable of the unmerciful servant, in Matthew 18:21-35, demonstrates the character of the Kingdom of God. The great thrust of the message of the gospel is that we had accrued a debt to God which we could never repay. God extended forgiveness to us, by grace through faith in Christ’s substitutionary atonement, which then obligates us to extend forgiveness to those who have offended us.

Community, Cross and New Creation

God’s people now form a countercultural community of discipleship. We are no longer subject to the utilitarian and pragmatic instincts motivated by self-preservation[19]. We are agents of reconciliation whose purpose is to prepare a people for God’s own eternal glory. The needs of the community overrule our personal ambitions for economic prosperity.

Following Christ’s example of faithfulness to God through his death on the cross, we find ourselves obligated to extend charity to those in need, even if it costs us financially. In light of the impending judgment, we are also to use our material wealth to secure our welcome in the new creation.

Tradition

It was the universal opinion of the Christian Church for the first fifteen hundred years that all interest exacted upon loans of money was to be looked upon as usury. It was viewed as a form of theft and dishonesty. As Philip Schaff wrote,

“Although the conditions of the mercantile community in the East and the West differed materially in some respects, the fathers of the two churches are equally explicit and systematic in their condemnation of the practice of usury.  Among those belonging to the Greek Church we find Athanasius (Expos. in Ps. xiv); Basil the Great (Hom. in Ps. xiv); Gregory of Nazianzum (Orat. xiv. in Patrem tacentem); Gregory of Nyssa (Orat. cont. Usurarios); Cyril of Jerusalem (Catech. iv. c. 37); Epiphanius (adv. Hæres. Epilog. c. 24); Chrysostom (Hom. xli. in Genes); and Theodoret (Interpr. in Ps. xiv. 5, and liv. 11).  Among those belonging to the Latin Church, Hilary of Poitiers (in Ps. xiv); Ambrose (de Tobia liber unus). Jerome (in Ezech. vi. 18); Augustine de Baptismo contr. Donatistas, iv. 19); Leo the Great (Epist. iii. 4), and Cassiodorus (in Ps. xiv. 10).[20]

Ambrose

Ambrose had a major influence over the thinking of subsequent writers. He argued that the Deuteronomy passage prohibited “exacting usury from your brother.” A brother was “your sharer in nature, co-heir in grace, every people, which first, is in the Faith, then under Roman Law.[21]” The strangers were those foes – the Canaanites, etc. – who had unjustly withheld the Promised Land from Israel and from whom usury could be exacted as a kind of reparation. This led to teaching, in Christendom, that is was prohibited for Christians to charge usury between themselves. This led to the situation, in the Middle Ages, where the Jewish communities dwelling in Europe were often the only legitimate source of loans for the Christians communities.

Medieval Theologians

Thomas Aquinas was influenced by Aristotle’s view of money as a “sterile thing,” that is, that money simply represented real items and had no ability to reproduce on its own. Basing his argument in Natural Law, he wrote, “To take usury for money lent is unjust in itself, because this is to sell what does not exist, and this evidently leads to inequality which is contrary to justice.[22]” Additionally,

“Aquinas’ innovative attack against usury lies in his argument about the consumptibiliiy of money. This thesis has three key movements: first, that money is a token of value that is intended to act as a measure of exchange to facilitate the trade of goods; second, that money is “sunk in exchange” or is consumed in the act of exchange; and third, that the use of money cannot be separated from its substance.[23]

As international trade began to grow, the pressure to generate resources to fund these developments also grew. “Popes Martin V and Calixtus III handed down qualified authorizations of redeemable real and personal rent contracts.[24]” Johann Eck, Luther’s notorious adversary, actively defended Pope Leo X’s endorsement of the five per cent triple contract.

Luther

Martin Luther was the first Reformer to write in the context of rising capitalism. His attitudes to usury were influenced by the political situation he found himself in and can be broadly identified in three periods[25]. Firstly, prior to Spring 1523 he wrote Open Letter to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation (1519) and two sermons (1519-20) which spoke out against the usurious extortions of the Roman Church. Secondly, from the summer of 1523 to the end of the Peasant Revolts in the winter of 1525, he sought to dampen the enthusiasm for reform among the masses, as often expressed by the Anabaptists and other radical preachers like Jakob Strauss. Rather than reject the literal authority of the Mosaic Laws, as the radicals did, or endorse them fully, he struggled to establish a middle-of-the-road policy. His primary focus was to reconcile the warring factions. Thirdly, after a lengthy hiatus, in 1539 he again denounced usury.

Calvin

It was left to Calvin to respond theologically to the new economic realities. His rejection of Aristotelian and patristic approaches to usury proved to be a turning point for European thought and economic life. His approach to the Mosaic Law was to limit its application to dealings with the poor. For example, while expounding the eighth commandment, “you shall not steal” with reference to Leviticus 25:35-38 and Deuteronomy 23:19-20 he wrote,

“From these passages we learn that it is not enough to refrain from taking the goods of another, unless we also constantly exercise humanity and mercy in the relief of the poor… Wherefore, that we may not defraud our neighbors, and so be accounted thieves in God’s sight, let us learn, according to our several means, to be kind to those who need our help; for liberality is a part of righteousness, so that he must be deservedly held to be unrighteous who does not relieve the necessities of his brethren when he can… We should drink waters out of our own cistern… for, after he has enjoined us each to be contented with what is our own, without seeking to enrich ourselves by the loss of others, he adds that those who have abundance do not enjoy their possessions as they ought, unless they communicate them to the poor for the relief of their poverty.[26]

Calvin maintained this approach in his exposition of Exodus 22:25, Ezekiel 8 and Psalm 15. His primary text relating to this subject, however, was De Usuris (1579), where he rejected the idea of the “sterility of money” as childish, and that the proper principle was that of mutual benefit.

“Calvin’s innovation in usury theory however is clearly visible not only in his exegesis of the key texts but also in his announcement that the rule of mutual reciprocity or benefit should be the litmus test for any ethical judgment of usury. In De Usuris, Calvin ends his discussion of the biblical evidence and the traditional arguments by stating: ‘I now conclude that one must not judge usuries according to some certain and particular pronouncement of God but only according to the rule of equity.’[27]

Since Calvin’s time, Reformed theologians have adopted his stance toward the interpretation of the OT texts. The change of attitude by the Protestant church allowed for the rapid expansion of Western economies. This influenced a change of position by the Roman Catholic Church about a century later.

“Today the whole Christian West, Protestant and Catholic alike, stake their salvation upon the truth of Calvin’s distinction!  Among Roman Catholics the new doctrine began to be defended about the beginning of the eighteenth century, the work of Scipio Maffei, Dell’ impiego dell danaro, written on the laxer side, having attracted a widespread attention.[28]

Weber

Max Webber’s famous book “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism[29]” argued that ascetic Protestantism, as exemplified by the Calvin’s theological progeny, was one of the “elective affinities” to which can be ascribed the rise of capitalism, bureaucracy and the legal-nation state. Demonstrating the dramatic change of attitude towards money, and interest, he quotes from the writings of Benjamin Franklin,

“Remember, that time is money. He that can earn ten shillings a day by his labor, and goes abroad, or sits idle, one half of that day, though he spends but sixpence during his diversion or idleness, ought not to reckon that the only expense; he has really spent, or rather thrown away, five shillings besides. Remember, that credit is money. If a man lets his money lie in my hands after it is due, he gives me the interest, or so much as I can make of it during that time. This amounts to a considerable sum where a man has good and large credit, and makes good use of it. Remember, that money is the prolific, generating nature. Money can beget money, and its offspring can beget more, and so on. Five shillings turned is six, turned again is seven and threepence, and so on, till it becomes a hundred pounds. The more there is of it, the more it produces every turning, so that the profits rise quicker and quicker. He that kills a breeding sow, destroys all her offspring to the thousandth generation. He that murders a crown, destroys all that it might have produced, even scores of pounds.[30]

Reason

Aristotle

As mentions above, the thought of Aristotle, especially in Nicomachean Ethics and The Politics proved influential on later developments. His guiding principle was “It is proportional requital that holds the state together.[31]” Money, then, is simply the medium of the exchange of products and such reciprocity requires justice in exchange. Then, currency simple represents other things, “whereas interest represents an increase in the currency itself. Hence its name[32], for each animal produces of its like, and interest is currency born of currency. And so of all types of business this is the most contrary to nature.[33]

Singer

In his famous essay “Famine, Affluence and Morality[34]” Singer argues that we have a moral obligation to intervene on behalf of those who are suffering and dying through lack of food, shelter or medical care when our intervention does not cost us anything of moral equivalence. Such intervention must include supplying the means to acquire basic necessities. Does the provision of a for-interest loan meet that moral obligation? Although Singer does not address this question explicitly, extrapolating his argument concerning the long-term effectiveness of famine relief versus population control would imply that the charging of interest on loans to people who are using the money to purchase the necessities of life – rather than investing in economically productive assets – is morally evil, and that even expecting that loan principal to be repaid in the future, rather than offering straight charity, is ethically dubious.

Friedman

Milton Friedman provides a rational defence of the modern concept of money[35]. He describes the historical approach to currency as frequently being a commodity standard, such as gold. “The fundamental defect of a commodity standard, from the point of view of a society as a whole, is that it requires the use of real resources to add to the stock of money.[36]” Such commodity standards quickly become impractical and “fiduciary money” – a contract to pay standard money – is usually introduced. This leads Friedman to reflect on the legitimacy of government regulation, and involvement, and the subsequent establishment of monetary policy. Monetary policy is where the government seeks to regulate the supply of money within the economy. In a modern capitalist economy, where the existence of physical notes and coins represents only a small fraction of the total money supply in the system, interest rates, as regulated by the central bank, become monetary policy’s primary instrument.

Samuelson

Paul Samuelson was the third person to receive the Nobel Prize for Economics and wrote a highly influential textbook, Economics.

“Economic policies or instruments for Samuelson… are to be judged simply by their contributions to the goal of increasing goods and services available for consumptive use… If John Calvin strongly disagreed, believing that people should work not for the pleasure of the consumption (which might in fact endanger their eternal souls) but primarily for the discipling of their unruly natures through the very act of labor, so much for Calvin’s belief system.[37]

Samuelson provides a secular, utilitarian argument that “charging interest performs an essential function in allocating capital efficiently in real-world economic systems, and must be incorporated into the workings of any modern economy committed to further rapid growth and development.[38]

Experience

While the perception that economic development was stifled for centuries as a result of the Roman Catholic Church’s opposition to usury, the negative effect of freely available debt within our consumerist capitalist economies has also been widely noted. Popular political campaign slogans – from national to local governments – have focused on “balancing the budget”. Personal finance advisors, such as Dave Ramsey[39], preach the evil of debt. Mostly, the arguments provided are utilitarian, rather than virtuous or from Natural Law.

Joel Kaminsky’s writes,

“A growing number of recent thinkers have begun to question the success of the modern attempt to construct an individualistic society and have started to re-appropriate older corporate ideas and called for a return to a more communitarian view of life. The focus of these critiques is the contention that the failure to produce a modern rational approach to ethical issues is a sign that the modern stress upon the individual has severe limitations. Scholars such as Alasdair MacIntyre have argued quite convincingly that this fundamental shift of focus towards the rights of the individual that occurred during the Enlightenment is the direct cause of the current crisis in moral theory. In particular, he demonstrates that the many specific terms and ideas utilized by modern philosophers to construct an individualistic moral system have been removed from the larger communal contexts within which they originally functioned. Focusing upon the notion of virtue, he notes that this term has become meaningless because it has been detached from the larger philosophic tradition that helped define it. Once this has occurred, it becomes impossible to mediate between the various competing moral claims made by different groups of people. Furthermore, the problem is exacerbated by our failure to acknowledge that these moral differences cannot be resolved within the current framework.[40]

Such a description applies to the secular, economists’ discussion about the ethical obligations for charging interest to those who are poor or desperate. Concerning the issue of Third World debt, Vikram Nehru of the World Bank writes,

“Many of the poorest countries of the world today are shackled by the debts they accumulated nearly three decades ago. The oil price shock and global slowdown in the late 1970s and early 1980s cut economic growth rates in the developing countries, many of them having borrowed heavily in expectation of a lasting commodity price boom.

Through the 1980s and early 1990s, lending continued to fund policy reforms in the hope that these countries could grow their way out of trouble. But, for a number of reasons, including policy decisions of the governments involved, the expectations of increased growth failed to materialize. By the mid-1990s, 42 nations, identified as the world’s most severely indebted low-income countries, faced a massive crisis.[41]

The experience than Nehru is describing is that lending money, at interest, to these low-income countries has not resulted in economic growth but has instead burdened them with repayments that threaten their ability to govern their people well in the present and into the future. While wealthy developed nations experience higher standards of living than at any previous point in human history, the economic systems that are generating growth in those countries are failing to do so in these impoverished ones.

Conclusion

The primary OT texts that prohibit usury refer to the practice of taking economic advantage of the poor and desperate. The whole of Scripture directs God’s people to act with compassion towards those who are in need and not to seek their own comfort at the expense of others. There are pictures of interest legitimately being earned when money is invested. The tradition, especially of Ambrose, interpreted Scripture in the context of ancient, largely agrarian, economies to ban all forms of interest being charged on loans until Calvin re-examined it in light of the new economic realities of international trade and nascent industrialization. Calvin’s approach, restrained by theological realities, was cut free with the rise of secular humanism so that leading economists such as Samuelson and Friedman cannot be constrained, even by the penetrating logic of fellow atheist Peter Singer.

The Christian response must be no more than a restrained engagement in the capitalist enterprise. The tools of capitalism, including interest-bearing loans, may be used for mutual advantage. But individuals and nations are required to sacrifice any financial benefit when assisting the poor and desperate. Therefore, charity is to be the first priority when assisting the poor. Interest-free loans may be a legitimate option. Loans at interest to people who will use the money to acquire the necessities of life are morally evil.


Bibliography

Brown, Francis, Samuel Rolles Driver and Charles Augustus Briggs. Enhanced Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon. electronic ed. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, 2000.

Buch, Joshua, “Neshekhasd Tarbit: Usury from Bible to Modern Finance.” Jewish Bible Quarterly 33 No 1 (2005) 13-22

Christensen, Duane L., Deuteronomy 21:10-34:12 WBC6b, Thomas Nelson, Nashville, TN (2001)

Friedman, Milton, Capitalism and Freedom University of Chicago Press, Chicago, Ill (1962)

Griffiths, Brian, The Creation of Wealth: A Christian’s Case for Capitalism IVP, Downers Grove, Ill (1984)

Hays, Richard B. The Moral Vision of the New Testament: Cross, Community, New Creation: A Contemporary Introduction to New Testament Ethics Harper Collins, New York, NY (1996).

Hirmer, Oswald, Marx, Money and Christ Mambo Press, Gweru, Zimbabwe (1982)

Horsely, Richard A. “Ethics and Exegesis: “Love Your Enemies” and the Doctrine of Non-Violence” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 54 No 1 (1986) 3-31

Kaminsky, Joel S. Corporate Responsibility in the Hebrew Bible Sheffield Academic Press, Sheffield, UK (1995)

Loewenstamm, Samuel E., “נֶ֫שֶׁךְ and תַּרְבִּית” JBL 88 No 1 (1969) 78-80

Maloney, Robert P., “Usury and Restrictions on Interest Taking in the Ancient Near East” CBQ 36 (1974) 1-20

Matthews, Victor Harold, Mark W. Chavalas and John H. Walton. The IVP Bible Background Commentary : Old Testament. electronic ed. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000.

Nelson, Benjamin N., The Idea of Usury The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, Ill (1969)

Nelson, Robert H., Economics as Religion: from Samuelson to Chicago and Beyond Pennsylvania State University Press, University Park, PA (2001)

Neufeld, Edward, “The Prohibitions Against Loans at Interest in Ancient Hebrew Laws” Hebrew Union College Annual, 26 1955, p 355-412

Rae, Scott B. Moral Choices: An Introduction to Ethics Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI (2009)

Stamp, Josiah, Christianity and Economics MacMillan Company, New York, NY (1938)

Tigay, Jeffrey H., Deuteronomy: The Traditional Jewish Text with the New JPS Translation. The Jewish Publication Society, Philadelphia PA (1996)

Varso, Miroslav, “Interest (Usury) and Its Variations in the Biblical Law Codices” Communio Viatorum 50 no 3 (2008), 323-338

Webber, Max. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Scribner New York, NY (1958)

Wright, NT Jesus and the Victory of God SPCK, London, UK (1996)

Wykes, Michael, “Devaluing the Scholastics: Calvin’s Ethics of Usury” CTJ 38 (2003) 27-51

Religion, Economics and Social Thought: Proceedings from an International Symposium


[1] Quoted at: http://demystification-clouseau.blogspot.com/2008/02/59-67.html Accessed 17th May 2010

[2] www.micahchallenge.org

[3] Miroslav Varso, “Interest (Usury) and Its Variations in the Biblical Law Codices” 324-5

[4] “Numerous contracts confirm that loans at interest were permitted with restrictions, throughout the ancient Near East, outside Israel. In the Old-Babylonian Period the legal maximum was 20% for money and 33%% for grain. It is clear that the temples were among the most common creditors. Some temples, at least in Babylon, took steps to help alleviate the burden that loans at interest imposed on the poor. In Assyria the normal rate of interest under the empire was 25% for money and as high as 50% for grain. During Neo-Babylonian times and later under the Persian Empire the legal rate on both silver and grain was generally 20%. In Egypt we find some indirect confirmation of Bocchoris’ law, limiting accumulation of interest. The legal maximum there under the Ptolemies was 24% a year. There are abundant examples of loans with and without interest from every period, and, needless to say, abundant examples of exorbitant interest-taking.” Robert P. Maloney, p.20

[5] IVP Bible Background Commentary, Exodus 22:25

[6] Edward Neufeld “The Prohibitions Against Loans at Interest in Ancient Hebrew Laws” 356

[7] Neufeld 357

[8] BDB p.675

[9] Samuel E. Loewenstamm “נֶ֫שֶׁךְ and תַּרְבִּית” 79

[10] Neufeld 358

[11] Duane L. Christensen, Deuteronomy 21:10-34:12, 556.

[12] Jeffrey H. Tigay, Deuteronomy: The Traditional Jewish Text with the New JPS Translation, 217.

[13] Richard Hays, The Moral Vision of the New Testament p.201-3 includes a reference to Luke 6.

[14] Richard A. Horsley, Ethics and Economics 11

[15] Horsley 23. This corresponds to the situation described in Craig Blomberg Neither Poverty nor Riches: A Biblical Theology of Possessions NSBT IVP, Downers Grove, Ill (1999) 128-133.

[16] Horsley 26

[17] C.f. Matthew 25:14-30

[18] NT Wright Jesus and the Victory of God 634

[19] Ray Anderson Minding God’s Business Wipf and Stock Publishers (2008) 34

[20] Philip Schaff “Excursus on Usury” in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Series II Vol. 14: The Seven Ecumenical Councils Hendrickson Publishers; annotated edition (1994) Accessed on 17th May 2010 from http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf214.vii.vi.xxvi.html

[21] Benjamin Nelson The Idea of Usury 4

[22] Thomas Aquinas Summa Theologica Q.78 Article 1: “Is it a sin to take usury for money lent?”

[23] Michael Wykes “Devaluing the Scholastics: Calvin’s Ethics of Usury” CTJ 38 (2003) 34

[24] Nelson 24

[25] The following information is summarized from Nelson 31-56

[26] John Calvin, Harmony of the Law, Vol 3. Lev 25:35-38, Deut 23:19-20 Accessed at: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/calcom05.ii.iv.ii.ix.html on 18th May 2010

[27] Wykes 45

[28] Philip Schaff “Excursus on Usury” in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Series II Vol. 14: The Seven Ecumenical Councils Hendrickson Publishers; annotated edition (1994) Accessed on 17th May 2010 from http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf214.vii.vi.xxvi.html

[29] Max Webber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Scribner New York, NY (1958)

[30] Webber, 48-49

[31] Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, trans. J. A. K. Thomson, rev. H. Tredenick (London: Penguin, 1976), 183 as quoted by Wykes, 29.

[32] The etymological relationship between the Greek word for law or contract nomos is related to the word for money nomisma. Wykes 30.

[33] Wykes 31.

[34] Peter Singer, “Famine, Affluence, and Morality.” Philosophy and Public Affairs, (1972) 229-243. Having covered it in class, it will only be summarized in this paper.

[35] The following information is summarized from Milton Friedman Capitalism and Freedom University of Chicago Press, Chicago Ill (1962) 37-55

[36] Friedman 40

[37] Robert H. Nelson, Economics as Religion: from Samuelson to Chicago and Beyond Pennsylvania State University Press, University Park, PA (2001), 74

[38] Robert Nelson, 73

[39] http://www.daveramsey.com/ He argues “Debt is dumb.”

[40] Joel S. Kaminsky Corporate Responsibility in the Hebrew Bible Sheffield Academic Press, Sheffield, UK (1995) 180

[41] Vikram Nehru, “THIRD-WORLD DEBT RELIEF: Indebtedness just a

symptom of poverty” Constitution 7th June 2004. http://siteresources.worldbank.org/INTDEBTDEPT/NewsAndEvents/20263626/vikram-nehru-hipc-opinion.pdf Accessed 18th May 2010

Ethics Exam – My Best Effort to Answer the Qns

May 17, 2010

Section 1

1) If reason (philosophy) is to play a role in Christian ethics, which forms of philosophical-ethical reasoning should we attend to and which should we not? Why? In light of your answer, evaluate Hays’ claim that all reason is “culturally conditioned.”

Hays acknowledges that “systematic philosophical reflection and thorough scientific investigation [are necessary in]… weighing the intelligibility of the text, its correspondence to the world perceived through other media of knowledge.[1]” Additionally, reason has assisted in understanding the historical study of the Bible. However he also states that, because reason is “always culturally influenced,” we face the (possibly irreconcilable) tension between the NT cultural logic and our own.

Such a fatalistic approach to the frustration of reason ignores the effect of sanctification on the mind (Rom. 12:1-2) which progressively reverses the effect of the fall on the mind (Rom. 1:18-31). While cognizant of the limitations imposed by our finite and fallen natures, Christians are exhorted through explicit teaching (Matt 22:37) and godly example (1 Cor. 7:25) in the Scriptures to use their minds to express their love for God. The objective of such love for God must be to determine how Christians should live so as to please him by bringing glory to him.

With this in mind, the forms of philosophical-ethical reasoning which are helpful for Christians may be assessed. Virtue or character-based forms provide a legitimate approach to discerning ethics because the NT exhorts us to cultivate specific character traits (e.g. Gal. 5:16ff) which reflect God’s character as best revealed in Christ (Phil 2:2-11). The virtuous person models Christ (Phil 3:10), and looks to the example of those who seek to model Christ (Phil 3:17).

Divine command theory can also present a legitimate, though limited, approach to ethics when we escape the Euthyphro Dilemma by recognizing that God’s commands reflect his character. God’s character determines what is good. While some seek to reduce God’s character to a single term, such as love, a more accurate assessment must take into account the many facets of God’s moral character revealed through Scripture, including his holiness as well as his love. Just as God’s love and holiness may appear contradictory until reconciled in the cross; two divine commands may appear contradictory and the ethicist must resort to other approaches to determine what is right.

Natural Law Theory depends on general revelation reflecting God’s immutable character. While accessibility is limited by our finite and fallen natures, certain ethical issues, such as diligence and laziness[2], are solvable through philosophical reflection and scientific investigation. While Christians should submit the conclusions derived from Natural Law Theory to the explicit moral teachings of Scripture, their engagement with those who do not submit to Scripture may legitimately made on the basis of the universal applicability of Natural Law to all within God’s creation.

Far less useful for Christians seeking to determine ethical behavior are Ethical Rationalism, Utilitarianism and Ethical Egoism. While Kant’s rational restatements of the Golden Rule appear to provide a helpful guideline they fail to take into account that human beings are more than just rational beings and that in specific, concrete situations abstract principles may contradict each other. The teleological approaches of utilitarianism and ethical egoism apparently place the good of the all or of the individual ahead of the good of God (i.e. pleasing and glorifying him) in direct contradiction to the expression of Scripture (Job 42:4-6; Rom 9:20-21; Phil 1:20). Similarly while the cautions of Relativists should result in humility regarding our own cultural preferences and prejudices, Christians’ confidence in the ability of a transcendent God to reveal his will precludes them from submitting to the norms of their own culture.

2) Make the best case that you can for the claim that there can be no New Testament ethic. Present and evaluate, by contrast, Hays’ attempt to locate the “moral vision of the New Testament.”

The claim that there is a New Testament ethic presupposes that there is a unified expectation for how it’s readers will live in community together and in relation to those outside of their communities. This claim fails on several counts. Firstly, it fails to take into account the diverse voices within the NT canon. These diverse voices arise from the fact that the writings within the NT canon are written by different authors and are addressed to different communities who each face their own unique challenges. While there is some overlap, it is clear that the theology of John, for example, is different than the theology that Paul expressed which is different from the theology of Matthew or Luke. Some commentators even note changes in Paul’s theology over time. These theological differences lead to different instructions on ethical issues such as divorce and remarriage and the role of women in the church. So, while it may be correct to speak about John’s or Paul’s ethics (or his early ethics and his late ethics) or Matthew’s ethics or Luke’s ethics, it is pointless to speak of a NT ethic as if it were there a unified expectation of behavior for all readers.

Secondly, to speak of a NT ethic presupposes a normative and timeless moral principle relevant to the contemporary issues faced by believers. In contrast to the writings of other world religions, however, the NT provides very few timeless principles and instead concentrates on discipling communities within their local context. In fact, texts that are often assumed to be timeless principles, such as Luke 6:27-36, with more sophisticated exegesis turn out to be heavily culturally laden, which is why certain apparently timeless principles appear to stand in contradiction to each other (such as Matt 5:31-32 and 1 Cor. 7:10-16).

As Hays argues that “more and better exegesis [cannot] bring us all the way to a solution… [Instead] critical exegesis exacerbates the hermeneutical problem rather than solving it.[3]” His creative solution is to use three “unifying images” to provide “an interpretive framework that links and illumines the individual writings.[4]” In other words, Hays’ solution is to do “more and better exegesis”!

The failure of both Hays’ argument and the argument against a NT ethic presented above is that they have removed the discussion from the context of a relationship with God. Ethics must be understood as Christian character living out a right relationship with God, each other and the world. Christian character is then a response to the immutable character of God. God’s character, which is the only objective reality, and how we are to respond to it, is mediated to us through revelation – both general and particular. While the understanding of that revelation is limited by humanity’s finite and fallen natures, the illumination of God’s Spirit allows God’s people to accurately know the God (i.e. objective reality) who exists behind his revelation, even if they cannot know him fully[5]. Therefore, the hermeneutical process is intended to refine our understanding of the single underlying reality, i.e. God, through a process that may be described as a spiral[6] or asymptote[7]. Thus, while Hays’ description of the three focal images may assist in unifying the ethical message of the NT, it falls short of the ultimate goal: knowing God himself.

3) Compare and contrast at least four of the five hermeneutical representatives covered by Hays: note their use of the quadrilateral, key focal images, and modes of appeal.

Reinhold Niebuhr was an influential Christian Realist who understood Jesus’ ideal in terms of an “individual’s attainment of complete moral perfection,[8]” which, realistically, exceeds the possibility of human fulfillment and thus inevitably becomes futile. Instead, moral perfection must be approximated through the principle of equal justice, which is achieved by using existing political systems. Therefore, his ethic is consequentialist. His strong reliance on reason[9] and experience reduced Scripture to an illustration, a symbolic world, of his key focal images of “struggle” and “balance” while tradition is represented as stagnant, dead orthodoxy.

In contrast, Karl Barth is the consummate theologian whose deep dependence on Scripture arose out of the rejection of reason, which was the main tool of Niebuhr’s liberalism. His focal image is the person of Jesus Christ who is encountered directly through the Scriptures, which provide rules and paradigms for ethical formation. His rejection of principles flows from his rejection of reason, yet his commitment to the understanding the Scripture drives him to enter the symbolic world of the text as it describes the identity and action of God. Tradition and experience are to be measured against Scripture.

As a one-time student of Barth, Yoder displays real competence in the exegetical task. However, given his governing concern with the topic of the Politics of Jesus, he focuses on Luke and functionally works with a canon within a canon. His focal image is the cross. His exegesis of Scripture mimics Barth’s and ignores rules, dismisses principles, appeals to paradigms and is constructed in the context of Scripture’s symbolic world. Tradition (like Barth) and reason (as examined through history, which is unlike Barth) are tested against Scripture. The experience of interpretation within the Spirit-led community is also significant.

Hauerwas is the fourth hermeneutical representative that Hays explores, and in some ways is the most perturbing. While having been influenced by Barth and Yoder, he seeks to match Yoder’s conclusions through a reliance on tradition rather than Scripture. The historic community of faith provides the interpretive context for exegesis and, until one conforms to the community, interpretation is impossible. Having conformed, however, the text has no transforming work left to do. His focal images are the journey and the cross. Like Barth and Yoder, Hauerwas ignores rules and principles and focuses on paradigms and symbolic worlds. Having embraced philosophical relativism, Hauerwas dismisses reason while experience serves a way of validating Scripture.

4) Review Carson’s coverage and critique of Niebuhr’s five models of Christ and culture.

D.A. Carson is a most frustrating writer when he critiques others’ work because of his cold, surgical approach[10]. This is evident in his earlier works, such as The Gagging of God and Becoming Conversant with the Emergent Church, as well as in this work. His analysis lacks empathy.

He begins with a helpful discussion of the nature of culture, pointing out that Christ is neither isolated from nor contained by culture. This leads to the conclusion that there must be some relationship between Christ and culture, and that many Christians operate with an unexamined assumption as to what that relationship should be[11]. Carson affirms Niebuhr’s intention to describe “typical Christian answers to the problem of Christ and culture and so to contribute to the mutual understanding of variant and often conflicting Christian groups[12]” as a positive exercise. However, he offers two reflections. The first is that Niebuhr’s definition of “Christ” is too broad, basically because it includes liberals[13]. The second is that Niebuhr, although a “modern”, acknowledges perspectivalism. Before describing the five models, though, Carson offers one final profound insight, “Niebuhr is not so much talking about the relationship between Christ and culture, as between two sources of authority as they compete within culture, namely Christ… and every other source of authority divested of Christ.[14]” This observation later allows Carson to rank different cultures with respect to how hostile they are to Christ, which then allows Christians to make a more nuanced response depending on their circumstances.

Christ against culture is a “fundamentalist” model that Niebuhr assigns to Tertullian, Mennonites and others. Its pessimistic view of “worldly” culture is matched by is naiveté concerning sin within the Christian community. Christ of culture is the model of inclusion and tolerance that Niebuhr assigns to Gnosticism and 19th Century optimism which fails to distinguish itself from society’s ills and abandons historic orthodoxy in the process. Christ above culture is called the “majority position” of the church historically and is expressed in three modes: synthetists (characterized by Aquinas), dualists (characterized by Augustine & Luther) and conversionists (characterized by Calvin, Wesley and Maurice). Carson’s critique of these models is insightful. Firstly, they are broad categorizations of observations of data which does not fit the final categorizations very neatly. Since few of the historical figures fit exactly into one model, Carson proposes that each legitimate model[15] is simply seeking to express the same underlying ‘rule’ in different contexts[16]. Secondly, this approach fails to reflect the non-negotiables of Biblical Theology – creation and fall, Israel and the Law, Christ and the New Covenant, a Heaven to be gained and a Hell to be feared – which should determine our response. For Carson, revelation provides normative truth to which the observations of experience must conform.

Section 2 Reflections on Presentations

5) Recall presentation assessment criterion #2 canvassing main philosophical arguments in defense of one’s views and bringing to bear which moral theories best support one’s views. Perform this task with respect to reproductive technologies and capital punishment.

In 2010 the Australian Federal government performed the symbolic act of passing legislation which prohibited capital punishment in all states and territories. The last execution in Australia occurred in 1967, and the abolition of the death penalty from the last state statute occurred in 1984[17]. The strongest philosophical forms reject capital punishment. A wrong formulation of virtue theory in this case would focus on the love and forgiveness that characterized Christ, whereas a right formulation would focus on Christ’s submission to God’s exercise of justice. This is can be summed up in the statement, “Exercising capital punishment is playing God”. Aquinas argued that using capital punishment for revenge or retribution was a violation of natural moral law, which obligates the state to protect its citizens from enemies without and within. He then went on to justify the states action, foreshadowing contemporary utilitarian arguments, by saying the good of the community outweighs the good of any one individual and that the state should execute a murder so s/he does not go free and kill others. However, the community may be better served and protected through alternative means. For example, there is no clear economic advantage when comparing the cost of the legal process for capital punishment versus life imprisonment. Capital punishment’s effectiveness as a deterrent must be compared with alternatives, such as gun control[18], and examined in light of its assumption that first degree murder is committed with a rational evaluation of the consequences. The impact on the community for procedural failures[19], such as wrongly executing innocent people and the practical issue of discrimination against minorities, must be taken into account. Finally, the effect of the community’s reputation in the world should also be taken into account[20].

Natural Law Theory provides support for allowing limited intervention in cases of infertility. “Procreation was designed to occur within the context of a stable, heterosexual, permanent monogamous marriage.[21]” Medical procedures that allow this to occur are legitimate, whereas the same technology may be used to transgress natural law. Intrauterine insemination, gamete intrafallopian transfer, intracytoplasmic sperm injection and IVF are all procedures that enable otherwise infertile couples to conceive[22]. Utilitarian arguments also provide strong support for assisting infertile couples conceive in anticipation of a community’s need for future children[23].

6) To what extent can one make the case that their view is biblically based, by appealing to the canon as a whole without proof-texting? Apply this to cases of abortion and divorce/remarriage.

Opponents of abortion find a total absence of texts directly addressing the issue. Rae’s effort to extrapolate from the rule in Ex. 20:13 “Do no murder” relies on proving that the unborn fetus is a person. This then relies on deductions from texts that use synonymous parallelism to equate the product of conception with the person at birth (Job 3:3; Jer. 1:5; Isa 49:1). The strongest case can be made from the uses of the word βρέφους in Luke 1:41, 44, which clearly describes a child in the womb, and other NT occurrences[24] which describe a baby or infant. Still such an approach is methodologically weak. On the other hand, Hays’ stronger approach dismisses rules and principles, seeking instead to draw from the symbolic world of Scripture where God is the originator of life, even life in the womb[25], and human beings are privileged to participate in God’s creative work. The normal Biblical response to pregnancy is joy. Abortion is wrong because “it presumptuously assumes authority to dispose of life that does not belong to us.[26]

Divorce and remarriage needs to be considered in the context of the Bible’s view of marriage. This provides the symbolic world within which the discussion must occur. Marriage is celebrated in the creation story as the union between a man and a woman. The OT brackets together the marriage covenant with the covenant to God. “That is why God hates divorce.[27]” The NT provides “fleeting images that represent marriage as a mirror of the relationship of God to his people.[28]” These images show that divorce is not a personal issue; it affects “the health and witness of the whole community.[29]” Marriage is part of Mark’s “vocation of discipleship”, the cost of following Jesus. And marriage is a sign of the “eschatological redemption of all things.” Therefore, when approaching the rules[30], each attributed to Jesus, which specifically address divorce and remarriage their prohibition makes sense within this symbolic world. Human fallenness will result in pastoral issues where a couple may not be able to live up to the covenant, in which case divine grace is needed, but the Scriptural emphasis insists that this should be exceptional rather than an acceptable.

7) What legitimate appeals to key traditional Christian theological claims or to experience are relevant with respect to one’s view on the topic in question? Discuss the topics of just war and homosexuality.

There is evidence within the NT that Christians served in the army[31]. There is little information about the period between the end of the NT and 200AD. However, a new consensus[32] has emerged that argues that: (1) the church orders viewed killing as the big problem for Christians in the legions, not idolatry; (2) the church orders confirm that the pre-Christendom church was divided on Christian participation in the legions; (3) the church orders provide evidence for both discontinuity and continuity on the issue across the centuries; and (4) the church orders confirm a regional variation in attitude and practice[33]. For example, the Apostolic Tradition[34] and the Canons of Hippolytus[35] presume Christians in some form of military service when they state that a Christian soldier must not be taught to kill. Tertullian wrote “Christ, in disarming Peter, unbelted every soldier” and condemned any military service. As Christianity dominated the empire, Augustine provided the necessary arguments for “just war”, mostly drawing upon earlier philosophers such as Plato and Cicero. His writings were hugely influential on church tradition, although there always seemed to be a minority view advocating pacifism.

Homosexual activity is clearly proscribed as a sin in Scripture. As Hays states, the moral teaching tradition of the Christian church has for more than nineteen hundred years declared homosexual behavior to be contrary to the will of God. Chrysostom is often cited, because of his rhetorical flourish, as an example of the early church’s attitude. Aquinas confirmed this position. Calvin wrote, concerning Romans 1, “This proves that men have not only abandoned themselves to bestial desires, but have become worse than beasts, since they have reversed the whole order of nature.”

8) To what extent and how ought Christians to engage or not engage culture and law with the Christian perspective on particular issues? Discuss the cases of euthanasia and our duty to the severely impoverished.

Carson made the point that Christians’ response to the culture and the law is determined by the attitude of the culture and the law towards their faith. In secular Western democracies, such as in the US and Australia, individual Christians and representatives from their communities are able to speak and vote on issues in a way that is informed by their faith. As such, it would be a failure of stewardship to withdraw from influencing public opinion and policy in this context.

The sorts of arguments that prove influential in the public arena are likely to be different from those within the faith community. The authority of Scripture and tradition hold little weight. Reason and experience provide more effective approaches for engagement, because they can form common ground.

Peter Singer’s argument for our moral obligation to give to the destitute is particularly compelling. His propositions are:

1)      Suffering and death from lack of food, shelter or medical care are bad;

2)      If it is in our power to prevent something bad happening, without sacrificing anything of moral importance, we ought to do it.

His conclusion is compelling: we have a moral obligation to prevent suffering and death from lack of food, shelter or medical care by giving until we reduce our standard of living to just above the poverty line. This conclusion is compelling, not just within the church where we have strong Scriptural and traditional support for such a position, but in the public sphere because it relies on commonly agreed upon propositions. Therefore, American and Australian Christians should challenge the pervasive consumerism of their Western capitalist culture and lobby governments, as their elected representatives, to act in ways that reflect their moral obligation to the destitute within their own countries and internationally.

With regard to euthanasia, although Christians ethics may be informed by Scripture and tradition, in the public sphere compelling arguments from reason and experience for our duty to protect the weak must be employed.

Section 3 New Applications to New Topics

9) Topic 1: Torture. Using the techniques and skills you have developed in this class, develop a case for what the Christian attitude towards torture of prisoners should be in extreme circumstances, for example, when a prisoner knows but will not reveal the location of a ticking nuclear bomb in a major metropolitan area.

The use of torture by the appropriate authorities is not directly addressed in the Scriptures. Each of the 25 occurrences of a word associated with torture[36] appears with a negative tone. They refer to the oppression of conquered people, the scourging of Christ and his followers, and the torment of souls after death. Still, there are no rules prohibiting torture. One interesting principle may be applied to torture: tainted goods. “Defenses of torture depend upon an apprehension that certain goods [i.e. information] can be attained by a problematic means and that whatever else we might say about a particular means being prohibited; we cannot deny the value of what its violation might secure.[37]” Still, most Christian opponents of torture draw upon the symbolic world which emphasizes the dignity of each human life[38]. The paradigms that inform Christian thinking are Jesus’ endurance of torture and the example of the “great cloud of witnesses.[39]” The question arises: could a Christian, as a representative of their faith community, practice torture? The situation would seem anomalous. And if a Christian cannot do it, how could they ask anyone else to do it? The focal image of the cross would call Christians to accept the suffering that the path of righteousness might bring. The new creation reminds Christians that there is a fate worse than death, and that final judgment rests in the hands of their eternal God.

The tradition of the church is not so clear. While early Christians were subjected to torture, during the Inquisition and the persecution of heretics, witches, etc. torture was practiced by the Roman Catholic Church and the Puritans. Origen championed non-violence. Aquinas and Calvin justified the temporal pain inflicted and preventing eternal damage.

Reason produces mixed results. Kant categorically prohibited torture in all circumstances. Utilitarian arguments advanced by Bagaric and Clarke[40] support the use of torture. Experience leads one to ask whether the information extracted through torture is reliable, and whether it can be extracted in time to prevent the threat from being realized.

Recognizing the limit of experience and reason, resulting from our human finiteness, means that while a utilitarian argument can readily weigh cost the pain being inflicted on one individual versus the loss of many lives in a major terrorist incident, it cannot weigh the effect on the nation as a whole of permitting officially sanctioned torture. In a comment on Romans 12:21, Luther pointed out that the victor is the one who transforms the other. Can an act of terrorism be used transform a nation into utilitarian torturers, or will an acceptance of the pain associated with being a peace-making nation eventually triumph and produce peace in the terrorists?

10) Topic 2: Biologically intersexed conditions. Scott Rae argues for the moral permissibility of operating on intersexed newborns. But, consider a further question: is this obligatory? What should the Christian’s attitude toward non-operative intersexuals be? Under what circumstances, if any, should we regard them as candidates for marriage?

On September 11, 2009 two Australian newspapers broke the news that world champion athlete Caster Semenya of South Africa had sexual development disorder – no ovaries, no uterus and internal testes[41]. Immediately the question was raised whether this person, who had been raised as a female from birth, should be allowed to compete as a woman.

The Bible teaches in the creation account (Gen. 1:27) that people were created male and female[42]. Throughout Scripture instructions are given to men and women, descriptions are made of men and women. There is a clear gender dichotomy. Even when Paul is seeking to be all inclusive, he does so by identifying both men and women rather than denying their essential difference (Gal 3:28). Scripture recognizes that a person’s gender and sexuality significantly influences their identity. There are no unambiguous references to intersexuals.

Modern recognition of intersex people – supported by medical and genetic research – supposedly casts doubt on the completeness of the Scripture description of gender. However, it shouldn’t. Many genetic abnormalities and physical disabilities are attributed to the effects of the Fall and this one should be no different. A person with Down’s Syndrome is not afforded any lesser status of personhood, and neither should an intersexual[43]. Given the relatively recent development of this area, tradition has little to contribute directly. Reliance must be made on reason and experience informed by the symbolic world of Scripture.

Since the early 1900’s, the usual solution to intersexuality was to surgically manipulate the gonads to conform to typical male or female forms, reducing a person’s gender to their physical shape. These surgically manipulated individuals are sterile, unable to perform sexual acts in a normal way[44]. The long-term success of such manipulations in determining a person’s gender has been brought into serious question.

The best Christian response, though, is to intervene medically where there can be some confidence of correcting ambiguity – such as with pseudo-masculine or pseudo-feminine intersex persons. These cases can be considered analogous to many other procedures used to correct birth defects. True hermaphrodites may be beyond the assistance of current medical procedures, and therefore should be supported through different means.

While the Scripture may be silent on intersexuality, sterility and infertility play major roles, especially in the Patriarchal narratives. Infertility threatens the identity and self-worth of several women – Sarah, Rachel, and Hannah. But the barren woman is still a wife. Therefore, there is no Scriptural reason for preventing sterile intersex individuals who have received medical intervention allowing them to engage in sexual activity from entering a marriage covenant.

Hays three focal images provide guidance for Christians seeking to respond to a non-operative intersexual. The community must provide support and care for each individual, especially the weak[45]. The intersexual must bear the cross of their condition, in the context of a supportive community. The new creation reminds us that there will be a day when all the confusion and ambiguity we experience in this life will be replaced with comfort and joy.


[1] Hays, 210

[2] Rae, 57

[3] Hays, 3

[4] Hays, 5

[5] “Human beings may know objective truth in the sense that they may know what actually conforms to reality, but they cannot know it objectively” D.A. Carson Christ and Culture Revisited p.101. This is a point he has made repeatedly through several of his works, including The Gagging of God and Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church.

[6] E.g. Grant R. Osborne The Hermeneutical Spiral: A Comprehensive Introduction to Biblical Interpretation IVP Downers Grove, Ill (2006)

[7] DA Carson The Gagging of God IVP Downers Grove, Ill (2002)

[8] Hays, 216

[9] Reflecting the influence of the Enlightenment on the mainline Protestant church, as described by Hays p.211.

[10] This stands in contrast, in my opinion, with the clear expression in his commentaries, such as John in the Pillar Commentary Series.

[11] For example, although I was raised in a fundamentalist church which felt overpowered by the swirling forces of secular culture, my years of experience in campus ministry in Sydney have convinced me that we must engage with culture by forming common ground. My personality type and theology of God’s sovereignty influence me to be unafraid of any challenger to the gospel, and that the gospel is capable of transforming anyone who encounters it. My default position is then best described as “Christ transforms culture.”

[12] Carson, 9

[13] Carson has elsewhere expressed sympathy for John Gresham Machen’s view (as expounded in Christianity and Liberalism) that liberalism is a denial of the gospel and hence is fundamentally not Christian in any meaningful historic sense, regardless of its popularity or influence. If he followed his usual Reformed vocabulary, Carson might substitute the “gospel” or “Scripture” in his discussion here. Obviously, though, he has contextualized his message to respond communicate to a specific audience.

[14] Carson, 12

[15] The Christ of culture model, and to a lesser extent the Christ against culture model, are both assessed as having fatal flaws that disqualify them from being legitimate responses.

[16] I have found the DiSC personality profile (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DISC_assessment) to provide a useful paradigm for considering how different Christians respond in different contexts. The horizontal axis of DiSC refers to whether the external environment is perceived as hostile or friendly, whereas the vertical axis refers to whether the individual (or group) feels more or less powerful than their environment. D (dominate) = more powerful than hostile environment; I (influence) = more powerful than friendly environment; S (support) = less powerful than friendly environment; C (control) = less powerful than hostile environment. In terms of Niebuhr’s models, “Christ against culture” describes the withdrawal of fundamentalists (into enclaves they could control) who felt overwhelmed by the invasion of liberalism – classic “C” behaviour. “Christ of Culture” describes optimists who perceived the culture to be friendly, and they led or supported its progress – classic “I” or “S” behaviour. An interesting reflection might be to consider where Hybel’s “seeker sensitive” ministry approach, or Morgentheller’s “worship evangelism” approach fit in such a scheme. Where do imprisoned house church leaders in China fit? Billy Graham’s relationship with US Presidents? What differentiates Charles Simeon and JB Lightfoot’s approach to scholarship from RA Torrey’s? NT Wright’s from DA Carson’s?

[17] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capital_punishment_in_Australia

[18] For example, the response in Australia to the Port Arthur massacre (28 April 1996) which killed 35 people and wounded 21 others was to enact stricter gun control laws – such as banning all semi-automatic weapons, self-loading and pump-action shotguns – rather than to reinstate capital punishment.

[19] Rae distinguishes between philosophical objections to capital punishment and objections based on procedural issues. However, it is more helpful to consider procedural issues through a utilitarian perspective, i.e. what impact they have on the community – its self-perception, feelings of guilt and its confidence in its government – within which they occur.

[20] According to Amnesty International, the US ranked 5th in number of executions in 2009, behind China, Iran, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia, and just ahead of Yemen and Sudan. Singapore, Taiwan, Japan and the US are the only developed countries to use capital punishment, while the EU and the Council of Europe require member states to disavow it. “Guilt by association” suggests that even if the US practices capital punishment for legitimate reasons, if it is usually used as an instrument of oppression by authoritarian states the negative impact on the reputation of the US around the world may prove costly to its community.

[21] Rae, 164

[22] Although a virtue ethicist might question how the husband’s sperm can be collected without stimulating lust in the process.

[23] Australia faces a rapidly aging population and the government is actively promoting population growth through its welfare payment called the “baby bonus” (for each new born child). Coupled with the near impossibility of local adoption, and the increasing difficulties with international adoption, government subsidies for reproductive technology provide a effective social engineering tool.

[24] Luke 2:12, 16; 18:15; Acts 7:19; 2 Tim 3:15; 1 Pet. 2:2

[25] Whether or not that life is to be considered a “person.”

[26] Hays, 450

[27] Hays, 363

[28] Hays, 363

[29] Hays, 365

[30] Mark 10:2-12; Matthew 19:3-12, 5:31-32; Luke 16:18; 1 Corinthians 7:10-16

[31] Acts 10:1-48; Phil. 1:13, 4:22

[32] David G Hunter “A Decade of Research on Early Christians and Military Service.” Religious Studies Review 18 (1994)  87-94.

[33] Kreider suggests that pacifism was more evident in the homelands, whereas militarism was more evident on the fringes of the empire.

[34] An early document compiled from sources ranging from the mid-2nd century through to the late 4th century. Alan Kreider “Military Service in the Church Orders” Journal of Religious Ethics 31 no 3 (2003) 420

[35] 3rd Century AD

[36] There are four Greek words used in the NT and three Hebrew words used in the OT associated with torture. The NT words occur 22 times, the OT words appear 3 times.

[37] Jeremy Waldron “What Can Christian Teaching Add to the Debate about Torture?” Theology Today (2006) 339

[38] “From a Christian perspective, every human life is sacred” quoted in “Tough on Torture: NAE calls on US government to renounce torture tactics” Christianity Today May 2007 16.

[39] Heb 11:35-37

[40] Seumas Miller “The Utility of Torture” Criminal Justice Ethics (2008) 104-107

[41] http://nbcsports.msnbc.com/id/32785120/ns/sports-olympic_sports/ Accessed 12th May 2010.

[42] Contra the unconvincing argument of Sally Gross in “Intersexuality and Scripture” Theology & Sexuality (1999) 70.

[43] Elsa Tamez makes a statement concerning our current culture that is worth quoting in full.

“What does it mean to reach perfection? The word itself is abrasive, perhaps because in our societies we continuously seek out perfection, but of a kind radically different from that of James and Wesley. Our contemporary value systems are backward. For people today, perfection is linked to success, competition, excelling at the expense of others. For James it is the opposite; for him it is to attend to the needy in order to be consistent with what we believe and what we read in the Bible.

Perfection in our day casts aside the poor and those society wrongly calls handicapped. Perfection means having no defects. It is false because the world of appearances rules everything. In James perfection means authenticity, sincerity, while today it is appearances that matter. The models imposed by society are individualistic, leaving no room for solidarity. The image of perfection is provided; it means to be white, male, to aspire to economic success, good education, to have no physical defects, to be successful in all our activities, and to fall under no ideological suspicion… James, and later Wesley, challenge us to seek another kind of perfection, authentic perfection.” Elsa Tamez The Scandalous Message of James (2002) 71-72.

With this in mind, it becomes obvious that medical intervention that seeks to produce “perfect” genitalia is simply affirming the world’s message that it is appearance that counts. While we should intervene, we cannot conform to such a message. The community of Christ must always accept those who are less than perfect, in whatever way that may occur.

[44] According to Alice Domurat Dreger in “’Ambiguous Sex’–or Ambivalent Medicine? Ethical Issues in the Treatment of Intersexuality” Hastings Centre Report 28 no 3 1998 the vaginas are reconstructed but are incapable of the pleasurable sensation or self-lubrication usually associated with normal sexual activity.

[45] By using the designation “weak” I am not meaning physically weaker, but perhaps one who may be more emotionally vulnerable because they are wrestling with significant issues, and perhaps have to do so without a marriage partner to support them. They could be likened to widows or orphans.

Ethics Final Exam (Qns Only – Answers Due Friday)

May 11, 2010

PR601 Christian Ethics and Modern Culture

Final Exam, Spring 2010

Instructions: Answer all ten essay questions in approximately 11 type-written 12-font double-spaced pages, with normal margins.

Section 1

1)    If reason (philosophy) is to play a role in Christian ethics, which forms of philosophical-ethical reasoning should we attend to and which should we not? Why? In light of your answer, evaluate Hays’ claim that all reason is “culturally conditioned.”

2)    Make the best case that you can for the claim that there can be no New Testament ethic. Present and evaluate, by contrast, Hays’ attempt to locate the “moral vision of the New Testament.”

3)    Compare and contrast at least four of the five hermeneutical representatives covered by Hays: note their use of the quadrilateral, key focal images, and modes of appeal.

4)    Review Carson’s coverage and critique of Niebuhr’s five models of Christ and culture.

Section 2 Reflections on Presentations

5)    Recall presentation assessment criterion #2 canvassing main philosophical arguments in defense of one’s views and bringing to bear which moral theories best support one’s views. Perform this task with respect to reproductive technologies and capital punishment (of course this means you will have to briefly present your view, as is the case for other questions in this section).

6)     Recall presentation assessment criterion #3. To what extent can one make the case that their view is biblically based, by appealing to the canon as a whole without proof-texting? Apply this to cases of abortion and divorce/remarriage.

7)    Recall presentation assessment criterion #4. What legitimate appeals to key traditional Christian theological claims or to experience are relevant with respect to one’s view on the topic in question? Discuss the topics of just war and homosexuality.

8)    Recall presentation assessment criterion #7. To what extent and how ought Christians to engage or not engage culture and law with the Christian perspective on particular issues? Discuss the cases of euthanasia and our duty to the severely impoverished.

Section 3 New Applications to New Topics

In answering the following questions, I am more interested in the approach you take and the questions you highlight as most relevant, than in the ultimate conclusion you draw (which may be minimal).

9)    Topic 1: Torture. Using the techniques and skills you have developed in this class, develop a case for what the Christian attitude towards torture of prisoners should be in extreme circumstances, for example, when a prisoner knows but will not reveal the location of a ticking nuclear bomb in a major metropolitan area.

10)           Topic 2: Biologically intersexed conditions. Scott Rae argues for the moral permissibility of operating on intersexed newborns. But, consider a further question: is this obligatory? What should the Christian’s attitude toward non-operative intersexuals be? Under what circumstances, if any, should we regard them as candidates for marriage?

Review of “Doing Business by the Good Book” by David L. Steward

February 4, 2010

Reaction to “Doing Business by the Good Book” by David L. Steward

Written by a self-made African-American entrepreneur, who obviously holds deep convictions about how his faith impacts his life in the business world, this book claims to provide “52 lessons on success straight from the Bible.” David Steward’s life is a “rags to riches” story. Born into a poor family on the wrong side of the tracks, through hard work and faith, he built a billion dollar Technology Company. The stories he relates from his own life and the history of the company demonstrate his business nous and personal integrity.

Although separated into 52 chapters, there is a lot of repetition throughout the book. The same themes are revisited over and over again. Especially prevalent are encouragements to be confident of God’s promised blessing for you personally; the importance of serving others; to recruit others based on “internals” rather than skills; and to value your (and your company’s) reputation as an ambassador for God. These themes are often considered counter-cultural in our contemporary business world although, as Steward says, “only a small percentage of business leaders were actually guilty” of self-interest and corruption during the public scandals of 2002[1]. These same themes are promoted by many other well-known writers on leadership in the business world[2].

My strongest reaction to the book was as a result of his use (or should I say abuse) of Scripture. For a book that was supposed to draw its principles from the Bible, Steward consistently tried to make Scripture allude to the wisdom he was espousing, some of which was biblical and some of which was ungodly. Clearly he is familiar with lots of Scripture, but his understanding of it is woefully inadequate for the task he undertook. I was not just uncomfortable with his use of Scripture; I was deeply offended by it.

The worst abuse of Scripture appeared in his chapter entitled “Building Long-term Relationships”[3]. He claimed that the parable of the sower “illustrates how relationships take time.” Not every relationship will yield results, says Steward, but in long-term relationships the yield is substantial and we are abundantly rewarded! Of course, this parable is actually about people’s heart response to the preaching of the kingdom. The abuse of this beautiful parable is a pet peeve of mine, but Steward takes its misinterpretation to a new level. He uses this parable to advocate the unbiblical practice of favoritism within the “old school network.” Such discrimination, based on the parent’s ability to afford elite education, is the very thing that Steward himself testifies to having overcome!

Another ridiculous abuse of Scripture occurs in the chapter entitled “Creativity and Innovation.” In describing how these two expressions complement each other, he quotes from Isa 41:6-7, where the prophet is describing the construction of an idol! Steward then says, “Here we are reminded that we must work together, praising and encouraging each other, so that the sum total of our efforts becomes greater than our individual efforts.[4]” Only if we want to be emulating those constructing idols!!!

Numerous other abuses and misuses of Scripture (almost every time the Bible is used!) could be cited. Suffice it to say, though, that this is the worst book on “biblical” principles for leadership or for doing business that I have read. I wish I could somehow recover the hours I wasted reading it. In fact, I found this book so offensive that, if I had the wherewithal, I would purchase every copy in existence and pulp it. My recommendation to David Steward would be to do that very thing in order to protect those with even less understanding of the Scriptures from being led astray by his example, and to rescue his reputation from the derision that such a publication must provoke.


[1] David L. Steward, Doing Business by the Good Book p.239-40.

[2] E.g. Robert Greenleaf Servant Leadership [2002]; Jim Collins Good to Great [2001] esp. Ch 2;

[3] See esp. p.42-3.

[4] Steward p.106

Theology of Integrity

January 29, 2010

Introduction

The core of the Jewish understanding about God is revealed in the shema: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” (Deut 6:4-5) God is revealed as a being with integrity. The response demanded of us is one of integrity. This response is not limited to our religious worship but engages our whole lives, including our vocation.

The God of Integrity

The doctrine of the Trinity affirms the oneness of God[i], while teaching that he expresses himself in three persons: the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This is evident in his work, such as the work of creation and redemption. Scripture affirms that creation was the work of the Father (Gen 1:1), and of the Son (Col 1:16), and of the Holy Spirit (Gen 1:2). In the same way, our redemption was the work of the Father (Col 1:13), and of the Son (Tit 1:4), and of the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:2).

Integrity is not just the three persons of the Godhead working in harmony; it is also God’s consistency over time and his congruence between his words and his actions. The oracle of Balaam explicitly states that, unlike humans, God cannot lie or change his mind[ii]. The writer of Hebrews affirms this by using God’s promise to Abraham as an example of the ongoing congruence of God’s words and actions[iii], the purpose of which was to exhort his readers to remain steadfast in their faith over time.

The question arises, then, whether God’s integrity is an expression of his incommunicable attributes, such as his immutability, or is it something which we can aspire to? Based on the shema, the response is that we must aspire to imitate God in this respect. Created in the image of God, we were created as whole beings. As a result of the corruption of the Fall, however, our integrity was lost. We no longer maintain congruence over time between our words and our actions. Yet integrity is an expression of holiness, and we are commanded to imitate God’s holiness in all we do[iv].

Human Struggles with Integrity

            Henry Cloud writes that integrity is “the whole thing working well, undivided, integrated, intact and uncorrupted.[v]” According to his earlier work[vi], this is the result of the successful completion of four developmental tasks: bonding, establishing boundaries, accepting good and bad, and relating to others as adults. As a result of the Fall, however, none of us have had perfect childhoods and therefore each of us have failed to complete these tasks to varying degrees and so experience a lack of integrity.

            These ideas accord with the testimony of Scripture, even in the experience of the Christian. In Romans 7, the apostle Paul describes his internal struggles between his best intentions and his inability to carry them out in his own strength. Despite the exhortation of the shema, we cannot love the Lord with our whole heart, soul and might. It is only as we walk in the power of the Holy Spirit and experience his sanctifying work that we are able to live with integrity.

The New Testament Commends Integrity for Christian Leaders

            The only New Testament reference to explicitly use the word “integrity” (ἀφθορία) is Titus 2:7-8, where Titus is instructed: “Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned.” Integrity is a quality commended to this early church leader.

“It is used with σεμνότης to describe the moral attitude of Titus, who will not let himself be led astray; it refers, then, to his conduct relative to teachers and teaching. We are not to think in terms of the impregnability against false teaching that Titus is establishing in the churches, nor in terms of doctrine safeguarded by the truth, but rather of innocence in the sense of not being, or not able to be, corrupted. In other words, what is described is the disposition of Titus.[vii]

Integrity, in this sense, then means imperviousness to external influence, the ability to withstand outside pressures to conform, and strength of character to hold fast to God’s purposes.

A contrast to this form of integrity might be made with James’ “double-minded” person[viii]. This person is like a wave, “susceptible to change and manipulation, because it has no shape of its own. It is always shifting, never solid, never sure where or what it is, without foundation… One cannot live a life of integrity and faith if one is waffling[ix]

Wisdom Literature Commends Integrity for Believers

            The wisdom literature, informed particularly by the blessings and curses of Deuteronomy 28, describes general principles for living in light of God’s covenant. Integrity (תֹּם) occurs seven times in Proverbs. It is the basis on which the Lord gives protection (2:7). The person of integrity faces the future with confidence, in contrast with the inevitable exposure of the crooked (10:9). A person of integrity finds God’s way a source of strength and protection, whereas the evil are condemned by it (10:29). The protection[x] attracted by integrity is contrasted with the assault attracted by sin (13:6). It is better to be poor with integrity than wealthy and perverse (19:1; 28:6)[xi]. Finally, the result of living with integrity is a positive family legacy (20:7)[xii]. In summary, the result of conducting ourselves with integrity is to attract God’s blessing[xiii] and protection and to leave a positive family legacy.

            This understanding is affirmed by the testimony of the psalmists. Six times[xiv] they claim a right to attract God’s blessing and protection based on how they have conducted themselves with integrity[xv]. Similarly, Eliphaz recognises that Job claims to have confidence before God because he has conducted himself with integrity (Job 4:6). It appears to be the consistent testimony of Scripture that conducting ourselves with integrity is the foundation for attracting God’s blessing and protection.

Other Biblical Examples

            When God accused Abimelech of unlawfully taking Abraham’s wife[xvi], the king’s defence was that he had conducted himself with integrity and had been a victim of Abraham’s duplicity. Similarly, when Absalom was conspiring to overthrow his father David[xvii], he deceived two hundred leaders from Jerusalem who were innocently caught up in his scheme. Finally, God promises to bless Solomon if he will conduct himself with integrity[xviii], and to enact the covenant curses if he fails to obey the Lord’s commands, that is if he pursues other gods.

Contemporary Implications

            God’s promise to Solomon provides significant instruction for contemporary Christian leaders in the marketplace. Integrity is contrasted with abandoning the Lord and serving other gods. Leaders face the common temptations offered by the gods of power, money and sex. As James warns, we cannot be swayed by these temptations. We cannot be faithful to the Lord only when the sky is blue and the breeze is gentle. We must continue to be steadfastly loyal to him when the storm hits. It is when the sponge is squeezed that what is really inside is revealed. The dark times reveal whether we truly trust him with our whole heart, soul and might, or whether we have held a small part in reserve, as a “backup”, to solve the problems ourselves, just in case God doesn’t come through for us.

            The stories of Abimelech and Absalom show us that individual actions can be undertaken with integrity, even when we have been deceived. However, the focus of the wisdom literature was that God blessed and protected a whole life characterized by integrity. A wise leader realizes that maintaining integrity over the long haul requires two things. Firstly, commitments to act in a godly way need to be worked out well in advance of the pressure situation arriving, so that we do not just react to external pressures. For example, an executive who has predetermined never to pay graft will find it significantly easier to navigate a particular situation than one who is trying to work out their position on the fly. Secondly, systems, structures or habits need to be implemented to support those decisions over time. For example, an executive might arrange with his personal assistant to never set up a meeting with a woman where they cannot be seen.

            Finally, the underlying values of the covenant relationship God established with Israel, and reaffirmed in Jesus’ teaching about the kingdom, should be reflected in our conduct today. Leaders are stewards of everything God allows them to have – wealth, influence, expertise – and they must recognize that they will one day give an account to him for their use of those things. Material prosperity, which is often the worldly reward for marketplace leadership, is not to be hoarded[xix], but is to be distributed to achieve God’s purposes for his kingdom.

Conclusion

Our triune God is one. He always works in harmony with himself and he maintains his congruence between his words and actions over time. We are exhorted to reflect his integrity in our relationship with him, with ourselves, with other believers and with the world. A life that is conducted with integrity attracts God’s blessing and protection, whereas a life of duplicity experiences his judgment. Integrity requires knowing who we are and whose we are.


[i] C. F. H. Henry. God, revelation, and authority. (1999).Originally published: Waco, Tex. : Word Books, c1976-c1983. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books. Vol. 5, page 191.

[ii] Numbers 23:19

[iii] Hebrews 6:13-18

[iv] 1 Peter 1:15

[v] Henry Cloud. Integrity (2006) Harper Collins, New York, NY. P.31

[vi] Henry Cloud. Changes that Heal (1997) Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI.

[vii] Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. 1964-c1976. Vols. 5-9 edited by Gerhard Friedrich. Vol. 10 compiled by Ronald Pitkin. (G. Kittel, G. W. Bromiley & G. Friedrich, Ed.) (electronic ed.) Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans. Vol.9 P.103.

[viii] James 1:6-8

[ix] Dan McCartney James (2009) Baker Academic, Grand Rapids, MI. P.90-92.

[x] Protection and overthrow must be understood to be the outcomes of actions God undertakes.

[xi] Craig Blomberg, quoting G.H. Whittenberg (1986:73), points out that “a majority of the ‘better than’ proverbs deal with issues of wealth and poverty and commend poverty with righteousness rather than riches with injustice.” Craig Blomberg Neither Poverty nor Riches: A Biblical Theology of Possessions. (1999) Intervarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL.

[xii] Garrett, D. A. (2001, c1993). Vol. 14: Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of songs (electronic ed.). Logos Library System; The New American Commentary. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers. P.176.

[xiii] Not necessarily material prosperity, as indicated by the “better than” proverbs.

[xiv] Psalms 7:9; 25:21; 26:1, 11; 41:12; 101:2

[xv] The seventh occurrence of the word in the psalms (78:72) describes how David conducting his leadership of Israel.

[xvi] Genesis 20:1-7

[xvii] 2 Samuel 15:11

[xviii] 1 Kings 9:3-9

[xix] Luke 12:13-21

Response to an Apologetic Interaction…

November 26, 2009

Firstly, the use of the “apologetic” follows definition #3 below…

a•pol•o•get•ic (ə-pŏl’ə-jět’ĭk) adj.

1. Offering or expressing an apology or excuse: an apologetic note; an apologetic smile.

2. Self-deprecating; humble: an apologetic manner.

3. Serving as or containing a formal justification or defense: an apologetic treatise on church doctrine.

n. A formal defense or apology.

[Middle English, formal defense, from Latin apologēticus, from Greek apologētikos, suitable for defense, from apologeisthai, to defend oneself verbally, from apologos, apology, story; see apologue.] a•pol’o•get’i•cal•ly adv.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition Copyright © 2009 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved. Cite This Source

Secondly, a brief response to some of the questions.

1. – If love is the primary goal, then isn’t it wrong to ‘hate’ evil? Shouldn’t I love good and evil equally? Can one ‘hate’ in the name of ‘love’?

According to Biblical Christianity, it makes sense to differentiate between us and God, for the basic reason that God is perfect and infinite and we are flawed and finite. In 1 John 4:8, the Apostle John teaches that “God is love”. But love requires a subject and an object or, to use other terms, love is only possible between persons in relationship. How could God love before he had created anything, when there was no created beings for him to love? Christians have usually explained this by saying that God the Father loved the Son and the Holy Spirit; the Son loved the Father and the Holy Spirit; and the Holy Spirit loved the Father and the Son. In his essence, then, the Triune God is love. In fact, I think the reason he created is because, like a husband and a wife who love each other want to bring children into the world with whom to share that love, he wanted to share his love with us. The Bible says we are created in God’s image – as persons who are designed to love. But as a result of the Fall we have become what Pascal describes as “deposed royalty” – capable of both great good and great evil. When our relationship with God is restored, by accepting the forgiveness for our wrongdoing offered through Jesus Christ, we are exhorted to live up to the great good we are capable of and renounce the evil. The Fall introduced evil into the world. Evil only brings us harm and, as any loving parent would feel with regard to their child, God feels hatred of evil that threatens or harms those he loves. I am sure you would oppose any evil that threatened Casey, just as I would anyone or anything that threatened Philip or Katrise. Because God is perfect and infinite, his judgment of what is good and evil is perfect, and his anger and hatred of evil is expressed perfectly. Because we are flawed and finite, we make mistakes in our judgment of what is evil and, sometimes, our emotions run away with us and cause us to act, speak or think inappropriately (i.e. wrongly) with regard to evil. Therefore, we need to be very cautious in both our judgments and our reactions.

2. – If killing is evil, is it always evil? Is the Christian priest who burns an ‘evil’ witch at the stake himself evil? If not, who decides when it’s OK to do ‘evil’ things, and how is it decided?

I don’t think it is always evil to “kill”. According to Romans 6:23, the “wages” or consequences of sin is death. Putting it another way, if God created us and gave us life, when we rejected him and cut ourselves off from a relationship with him, then we cut ourselves off from the source of life. We began to die. Our present experience is like flowers stuck in a vase. We look good, but we are actually decaying, heading for the compost heap. The Bible promises a day will come when God’s patience with people’s wilful rejection of him will come to an end. He will put an end to all the suffering and pain in the world caused by our sin, and recreate a new world (a new heavens and a new earth – 2 Peter 3). Some people view the prospect of God’s judgment as a negative thing… but I think they are usually those who live comfortably in our present world. Throughout history (and even in our present world) there are many who have longed for an end to their suffering – the children sold as prostitutes, the starving in the developing world, the oppressed and helpless. God’s judgment will correct all of those wrongs, and it will involve the death of the oppressors. I believe this will be a cataclysmic, history(as we know it)-ending event. So, I think that God has the ability to perfectly judge evil and to perfectly execute judgment on that evil. As I said above, although we are also exhorted to hate evil, we need to be much more cautious about our ability to do so perfectly. The New Testament does not speak much to this issue, because the people it was being written to were the oppressed and persecuted within their society. The Old Testament writings contain more instructions for those in authority on how to carry out their responsibility to promote societal good and punish breaches of God’s law. Even so, even where the death penalty is specifically mandated for certain offenses, there is also a provision of mercy by the creation of “cities of refuge” where a condemned person could flee for safety. Speaking more directly to our contemporary scene, I don’t support the death penalty, for several reasons. Firstly, and most fundamentally, I am convinced we are too flawed to be able to execute it reliably , without innocent people being killed unjustly. Secondly, I believe it has a negative overall effect on society, as life is cheapened. Thirdly, I believe it has a negative effect on those who have to personally carry out the execution. As for the case you mentioned, the situation is less straightforward than we, in our contemporary culture, might expect. The priest was not a religious professional separated from the state authorities. He was actually charged with some of their responsibilities – a person could be a priest and a magistrate all at once. So, a priest may actually be charged with carrying out a death penalty on behalf of the governing authorities. This would not be a religious duty, but a judicial responsibility, and that culture did not differentiate between the two in the way we do today. Secondly, religion and politics were not separated then as they are in the US today. A more analogous situation would be the way the Middle East thinks today – politics expresses culture and religion is an essential component of culture. Beliefs are not private, they are communal. The individual’s identity is derived from their place in society (e.g. the “shame culture” of Eastern thinking, rather than the “guilt culture” of Western thinking). Therefore, a different belief threatened the whole community and came under the sanction of the governing authorities. I’m not saying this was right or wrong, I am just saying that it was. Do I condone the actions of religious people who burned witches (or others)? By no means! For the reasons I listed above, I believe that executions by human beings is unjustifiable. It is never OK to do ‘evil’, regardless of the consequences. And God’s judgment of evil, even though it results in someone’s death, is not evil.

3. – Who defines and determines ‘evil’? If I perceive something to be ‘evil’, is my perception sufficient unto itself? Can I trust myself to recognize evil, and can I act on that recognition and snuff it out? Or should I wait to act until I get clarification and permission from a better/higher/legal authority? And if waiting enables that evil to persist and perpetrate, am I ‘evil’ because I waited?

Who defines “evil”? I think a better question is “who defines what is good?” Some philosophers have proposed the “Euthyphro Dilemma” which asks, “Is what is moral commanded by God because it is moral, or is it moral because it is commanded by God?” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Euthyphro_dilemma) The simple response to this (false) dilemma is, as stated above, that God is by nature good, and therefore what he commands of us is just an expression of his good nature. If our goal is to live in a perfect love relationship with God then we need to live in a way that pleases him, just as I, in order to live in a perfect love relationship with Liz, need to live in a way that pleases her. How do I discover what pleases Liz? Some of it might seem obvious – don’t cheat on her, talk with her about us, spend time together. But some of it is not obvious (esp. to a flawed, finite husband!) so I need her to tell me, to reveal it to me. In the same way, we know some things are wrong or “evil” because we can rationally (or instinctively) work them out. As C.S. Lewis pointed out in “Mere Christianity”, every culture around the world has a sense of right and wrong, even if they differ on exactly which actions fit within which category. There are some things which we can say are universally recognised as “evil”. But there are some things which are beyond our capacity to decide. And sometimes we fool ourselves into justifying our own bad behaviour because its short-term effects seem positive. In those cases, we need information from beyond ourselves. As a society, we like to rely on our “experts” to inform us of things we don’t have time to work out ourselves – such as the effects of smoking! But even those experts are limited and flawed. The Bible says that God reveals to us what is good and evil. He has an eternal, infinite, perfect perspective. He is motivated by love for us and speaks the truth to us. His revelation is made perfectly in the Bible. Now the Bible is not comprehensive (it doesn’t tell us how much to spend at Christmas time, for example) but it provides many guiding principles which can be extrapolated from their ancient context into contemporary settings, through the use of our God-given intelligence. To answer the second part of your question, then, you can trust yourself to discern evil as far as you can trust your ability to rationally (or intuitively) discern the situation, and as far as you understand God’s revelation. As I said above, I argue for cautious action because I am aware of my own limitations. But I am definitely going to intervene if I become aware of a case of child abuse, or if I see someone threatening someone else. But there have also been situations where I have intervened, only to learn that there was more going on than I was first aware of.

4. – Is our faith the ‘right’ faith simply because we ‘believe’ it is? If our faith disagrees with or contradicts their faith, can both be right or is one of them ‘wrong’? How does one determine which is which?

There is only one reality. The Law of Non-Contradiction (A cannot equal not-A) is fundamental to all our understandings of life and communication. Faith, or belief, is our expression of our understanding of reality. Two people may have different beliefs, but that doesn’t mean that one is right and the other is wrong. Both may be right, if their beliefs are not contradictory. Or one may be right and the other wrong. Or they might both be wrong. The question is, “to what extent do their beliefs actually correspond to the reality they purport to represent?”. As far as the major religions go, the Triune God of the Bible is totally incompatible with the unitary God of the Koran, which is totally incompatible with the Buddhist belief that there is no god, etc. All of these beliefs cannot be correct on this point. At most, one of them is going to be. We can believe something without justification, and it can be right. But it is not right because we believe it. My professor distinguishes between “knowledge” (which he defines as “justified true belief”) and “belief”. I think that is a helpful distinction. How can we justify our belief? How can we determined whether it matches reality? I think we have to use both reason and experience. Philosophy relies on proposing hypotheses and proving them using logic. That is helpful when we seek to justify our beliefs. However, I think there are also things we can prove through personal experience. But behind it all, we have to consider the source of our beliefs. That is, where do the hypotheses we test with philosophy derive from? In the diagram in my paper, I described how, in pre-modern times, humanity relied on God’s revelation and that Biblical Christianity sought to interact with that revelation rationally. I think the most important hypotheses we seek to test are derived from Biblical revelation. Now we have to realise we are not talking about “proof” in an absolute sense, but in the sense of looking for the hypothesis that best fits the evidence. That is why, although there are about 20 well-developed arguments proving the existence of God (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Existence_of_god), individually none of them does so conclusively. Cumulatively, they present a strong case. No other hypothesis addresses all of the issues presented as well as the hypothesis that the God of the Bible exists.

5. – Are the qualities and actions of ‘social justice’ universal, or are they context/culture dependent? Can our group use our faith to decide what’s socially just and correct for their group, even when/if they don’t agree? And if so, what about reciprocity and The Golden Rule? If it’s OK for us to impose our beliefs on them, shouldn’t they be able to impose their beliefs on us?

Rather than phrase this as “the qualities and action of social justice”, I think it is easier to understand if we re-phrase it as “are there moral absolutes”? Is there a universal “good”? Based on my answer to #3, you will understand that I think that there are moral absolutes, based on the goodness of God. Now, these universal principles of goodness have to be applied in specific contexts and cultures, and so they may look different in different places in different times. Just as there is no individual human being who perfectly represents God’s goodness, there is no culture that perfectly represents God’s goodness, and so every culture has to be open to being critiqued by those outside the culture who are also informed by God’s principles. For example, as individualistic Westerners we struggle to comprehend the community identity of Eastern worldviews. We champion the identity of the individual. But, in the Bible, the identity of the individual are always held in tension with the identity of the community. Many would argue that highly individualistic cultures, such as the US, have gotten out of balance in this area. There was a great article by an atheist Law professor, Arthur Allen Leff, in the Duke Law Journal in 1979 (see attached) which argues that, if there are no moral absolutes we have no right to impose our views on others. But since, as I believe, there are absolutes then we have a basis for engaging in social justice (which is simply a term for advocating for change in a society/culture on behalf of others). What is “socially just and correct for their group” is determined by God’s principles, not by our beliefs, even if our beliefs are based on God’s principles. The guiding principle must be, however, humility – a recognition of what we know and don’t know, of our own strengths and weaknesses. The classic examples of failure in this regard were the civilizing of the “savages” by the colonial powers in the late Enlightenment period. Puffed up by their own rapid advancement, the European powers sought to impose their culture and beliefs on the populations they exploited. But that wasn’t a universal approach. Some Western missionaries, notably William Carey (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Carey_(missionary)) in India, David Livingstone (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Livingstone) in Africa and Hudson Taylor (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hudson_Taylor) in China modelled humble engagement with foreign cultures for generations to follow. As I said above, we have to have a humble approach to interacting with other cultures. Every culture has the potential to challenge our own culture on some aspect of Biblical truth. Given increased globalisation and the great mingling of cultures now occurring, we have a great opportunity to re-examine ourselves to see where we might be blind to the application of God’s truth to our lives. But I also need to make clear that I don’t believe that every religion is an equally valid source of God’s revelation. As noted in response to question 4, each religious claim needs to be examined to see how well it fits with the facts we have about reality – through reason and experience. Therefore, I am not looking to interact humbly with Islam as they teach me about God/Allah. However, I am willing to interact humbly with Middle Eastern culture, as it is influenced by Islam, to learn what it teaches me about hospitality – which is also a Biblical virtue.

Reflection on “Why We Are Who We Are: Mission and the People of God” by Dr Mark Young

November 6, 2009

“Why We Are Who We Are: Mission and the People of God” by Dr Mark Young

Dr Young’s presentation was a succinct and biblical summary and development of the more thoughtful elements of the missional church conversation that has been occurring for several years[1]. His central thesis was that the ecclesiology of the Western Protestant church developed during the Reformation essentially as a conversation between Christians in the context of Christendom. Therefore, these definitions of the church were formulating their own positions in opposition to other definitions of the church in Christendom, as opposed to in relation to any pagan culture. This resulted in a church which is oriented towards believers, and produced seminaries where “Christians trained Christians in how to teach Christians to be better Christians”.

As the US has become increasingly post-Christian[2], following the lead of other Western countries[3], the cultural pre-understandings with which we come to the Biblical text have changed causing us to re-examine long held interpretations. Decreasing effectiveness has also caused us to question traditional church approaches to ministry. Two of the most pressing tasks demanded in this environment are a thorough re-examination of our Biblical interpretations and the development of Biblical church models reflecting this missional understanding.

Biblical Interpretation

Luther and Calvin have retained lasting influence because of how they shaped our understanding of the Scriptures through written systematic theologies and commentaries on the Scriptures. More recently, traditional, scholarly commentaries have been attacked as recording irrelevant debates with dead Germans. One reaction has been the development of “practical commentaries”.

Missional interpretations of Scripture have already influenced our understanding of some classic doctrines[4] and produced some excellent biblical theologies[5]. The next logical step appears to be the production of a comprehensive commentary series.

Dr Young quoted several passages, such as Genesis 12:1-3 and Exodus 19:4-6, which are transformed when viewed with an understanding of God’s grand purpose of making his glory evident in all the earth. We do not need to limit our approach to a few select texts. Rather, this should influence our understanding of all of Scripture.[6]

Missional Church Models

Defining the Church by means of its practices, whether they be sacraments or whatever, focuses attention on its activities when it gathers[7]. The Reformation emphasis on the preaching of the Word though a necessary corrective, is an example of this. The contemporary outcome of this emphasis, however, has been event-based ministry which results in the question “how do we get the members to support the mission of the church?[8]

A missional church model will mobilize the laity to engage in mission throughout the week. The question must change to, “how does the church support the mission of the members?[9]” Also, we need to re-examine our church models from the perspective of the community we are trying to reach. For example, is a local suburban gathering reflective of how mission will best be carried out in a particular community? Parish ministry may have been effective in England in the 1700’s[10] or in rural areas, but what about complex urban and suburban cities[11]?

Within Christendom, mission was popularly defined as something that occurred overseas, or in another culture. Western cultural dominance translated into Western missionaries taking the gospel to those they colonized. The Evangelical church in the US runs the risk of translating mission into something the affluent, middle-class churches do among the poor of their cities. While ministry to the poor is important, of equal importance must be considering how to mobilize each lay person to reach those with whom they have equal social standing.

In conclusion, Dr Young is correct to say that the church must take its place as those elect by God to bring his blessing and demonstrate his glory to the whole earth.


[1] For example, see Dr Tim Keller’s article: http://download.redeemer.com/pdf/learn/resources/Missional_Church-Keller.pdf (accessed November 3, 2009). I am also friends with Mike Frost (The Shaping of Things to Come (2003); Exiles (2006); ReJesus: a Wild Messiah for a Missional Church (2009)) for over 10 years, without actually having read any of his books. Although he is more radical in his thinking than I would agree with, he is proof of the ongoing conversation.

[2] http://www.norc.org/projects/General+Social+Survey.htm accessed November 3, 2009, reports that 25% of Americans have never attended a church.

[3] A recent survey of high school students in the “Bible-belt” of Sydney revealed that 75% had never attended any church activity – no Sunday service, wedding, funeral, youth group, etc. A similar survey of university students reported that 60% did not know anyone who attended church. Church attendance in Australia has been reported at 10%, with 3% of the population identified as evangelicals.

[4] Dr Young mentioned ecclesiology, the incarnation, and salvation.

[5] Christopher J.H. Wright, The Mission of God (2006) Downer’s Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press.

[6] I have heard it said that the Gospels provide us with insight into how to launch a ministry, and Acts provides principles on church growth and the NT Epistles focus on internal church health. But I think this is a very poor reading of the NT Epistles. As David De Silva shows repeatedly (in his An Introduction to the New Testament (2004) Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press), Paul and the other authors were very concerned with how the Christian community was viewed by and interacted with their pagan neighbours. Read through a missional lens, the stories and instructions equip us to live missionally in our post-Christian world. E.g. Daniel 2: a marginalised royal exile faithfully proclaims the kingdom of God to his pagan conqueror; Matt 13: the parable of the mustard seed and yeast; 2 Peter 3:3-13: the apostle responds to the threats of naturalism from those false teachers influenced by, probably, Epicurean, philosophy.

[7] As observed by Graham Stanton , this has been the result with even the minimalist, low-church approach of Knox-Robinson ecclesiology, which defines the church as any gathering of Christians where the Bible is taught (http://youthworkscollege.blogspot.com/2009/09/some-thoughts-on-church-and-culture.html). A more academic study, Martin Foord “Recent Directions in Anglican Ecclesiology” The Churchman (2001) can be found at: http://www.churchsociety.org/churchman/documents/Cman_115_4_Foord.pdf (accessed November 3, 2009)

[8] Dr Young referred to this as the “volunteer-organisation” approach to church.

[9] It is my conviction that people instinctively seek to replicate their primary spiritual experiences. If they were converted through a Billy Graham Crusade, or a campus ministry, or were significantly impacted by a Men’s ministry at church, then they encourage everyone to have the same experience. The church needs to help people have a significant spiritual experience of effectively living missionally. Most believers know they should share their faith, but they rarely do so because they feel ignorant of what to do, isolated from supportive fellow Christians, and intimidated by those they could share with. Rather than just teaching them that they should share their faith and exhorting them to do it periodically, a missional church will also consider how to form “missional teams” that work together among the same network of relationships in a common community.

[10] The accounts of the ministry of Richard Baxter, and other Puritan ministers, demonstrate that a Reformational, parish-based ministry can be very missional, in the right context.

[11] If we expect the gospel to travel through relationships, as opposed to events, then we need to examine the relationship networks that exist in a particular community. There are some communities where these are fairly simple: a tribal community in the Amazon; a rural community in outback Australia, etc. But modern cities are complex webs of overlapping relationship networks. Members of a family living in the suburbs will have different relationship networks: a mother of a pre-schooler will relate to other mothers of pre-schoolers in the neighbourhood, the father may spend most of his week working downtown, their teenager will relate to his peers at his high school who may live several suburbs away. Social networking sites both demonstrate and increase the complexity of relationship networks. A missional church model must be flexible enough to mobilise their members as missional teams operating within the strategically important relationship networks.

Don’t Scoff. God’s Promise is Sure: Judgment will come, and Righteousness will find a home.

November 1, 2009

Inductive Bible Study: 2 Peter 3:3-13

1.   Literary Context of Passage

The passage under discussion begins about two thirds of the way through this short letter. Peter begins the letter positively with an affirmation that God has promised believers everything they need for a godly life and an exhortation to grow in effective and productive godliness. He then asserts his credentials for claiming to have a reliable message before turning, in the second chapter, to strongly worded teaching on the presence and nature of false teachers within their assembly. This teaching follows a similar argument outlined in Jude. He then moves into a specific warning about scoffers who deny the coming of the Lord. Peter challenges the scoffers’ teaching by outlining some clear theological principles and then concludes with an exhortation to live holy lives and to be on guard against false teaching.

2 Peter Outline[1]

Salutation (1:1-2)

Excordium (1:3-15)

Implications of Divine Goodness (1:3-11)

Grace-based Godly Life (1:3-4)

Intentional Development of Godly Character (1:5-9)

Confirmation of Calling and Election (1:10-11)

Testamental Purpose (1:12-15)

Probatio (1:16-3:13)

Proof 1 – Apostolic Testimony (1:16-18)

Proof 2 – Prophetic Testimony (1:19-21)

Proof 3 – Certainty of Judgment (2:1-10a)

Digressio – Denunciation of False Teachers (2:10b-22)

Tranistio – Recapitulation and Introduction of Rest of the Probatio (3:1-2)

Proof 4 – Mocking of Prophecies Unfounded (3:3-7)

Scoffer’s First Challenge: “Where Is This Coming He Promised?” (3:4a)

Scoffer’s Second Challenge: Nothing Ever Changes (3:4b)

Peter’s Response to Second Challenge: God Created and Destroyed in the Past, Sustains Now and Will Judge in the Future (3:5-7)

Proof 5 – Delay Does Not Mean Uncertainty (3:8-13)

Peter’s Response to First Challenge: God’s Eternality, His Patient Purpose and His Certain Coming (3:8-13)

Preratio – Final Encouragement to the Readers to Remain Stable (3:14-18)

2.   Historical-Cultural Background

The author identifies himself as the apostle Peter, although this has been much disputed throughout the history of the Church. Many have argued the letter is pseudonymous[2]. The reasons given for these doubts are many, and beyond the scope of this paper. The position adopted in this paper is that the self-attestation of the epistle demands strong alternative arguments to overcome, and that those arguments fail, primarily because there is a lack of sufficient other Petrine sources with which to compare 2 Peter.

This theory of authorship then supposes a date for the letter between 64AD and 68AD. However, even pseudonymous authorship is limited to 140AD, the latest probable date of the Apocalypse of Peter, which borrows from 2 Peter[3].

There is little direct information about the recipients, unless one believes that 2 Peter 3:1 indicates that 2 Peter was written to the same communities of believers to which 1 Peter was addressed[4]. The internal evidence of the letter regarding the recipients is sparse, especially compared to the information regarding those who threaten them. They were believers, although we are unable to determine whether they are Gentiles, more familiar with Greek thought than with the Hebrew Scriptures, or Jewish believers. They had some familiarity with Paul’s writings, which would fit with a location in Asia Minor, but is not conclusive.[5]

These believers were under threat from false teachers and “scoffers”. The identification of these threats is more complex than simply assigning them to one well-known school of thought or heresy. The internal evidence of the letter suggests these false teachers:

1)      were part of their Christian communities (2:1a)

2)      would subtly introduce destructive heresies – esp. Christological (2:1b)

3)      would greedily exploit the believers using fabricated stories (2:3) c.f. 1:16

4)      had abandoned Christian morality for sensual (and sexual) indulgence (2:2,13-14; 3:3)

Many scholars have identified Epicurean ideas in this false teaching. However, given the marketplace of ideas that characterized the Greco-Roman world, we need not necessarily think of these teachers as Epicureans per se, but as those who had picked up Epicurean ideas, probably without realizing their source.[6]

The most relevant Epicurean ideas that seemed to have influenced these false teachers were:

“(1) The world is made of chance occurrences of passing atoms; (2) a doctrine of providence would destroy freedom; (3) since the world came about by chance, there can be no prophecy and such prophecies that have been made are largely unfulfilled, and (4) injustice in the world shows that there cannot be a provident deity.[7]

3.   Word Studies

Last Days (ἐσχάτων τῶν ἡμερῶν, 3:3)

The adjective ἔσχατος occurs 52 times in the New Testament meaning the last or final item of a series[8]. It is usually in comparison to the first or earlier items in a series. It is used to describe the last workers (Matt. 20:1-16), the last messenger sent (Mark 12:6), the last one to die (Mark 12:22), the last “deception” (Matt. 27:64) and the last Adam (1 Cor. 15:45).

It also carries the nuance of being the last thing when there is nothing to follow: the last penny paid (Matt. 5:26), the last enemy (1 Cor. 15:26), the last trumpet (1 Cor. 15:52).

Combined with “day” (ἡμέρα), ἔσχατος picks up on and develops Old Testament teaching. Not all the Old Testament references to the concept use the exact term “the last days”, but the general thrust is an expectation that God will bring a time where Israel will be delivered from oppression and exile (Ezek. 38:14-16; Dan. 10:14) by the Messiah (Gen 49:1, 12-14; Num 24:14-19; Isa 2:2-4; Micah 4:1-3). They will return to the Lord (Jer. 37:24) at which time the Holy Spirit will be poured out (Joel 2:28).

New Testament writers develop this theme by clearly calling the present, post-Ascension, age the “last days”[9]. Peter clearly applies Joel 2:28 to his contemporary experience on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:16-21). Paul describes the “terrible times in the last days” (2 Tim 3:1). James accuses the rich of accumulating wealth unjustly in the last days (James 5:3).

The New Testament writers are not limited to this exact term either. Peter uses the term “the last times” to describe when Christ was revealed (1 Pet. 1:20). Jude also uses “the last times” in the parallel verse (v.18) to 2 Pet. 3:3.

In New Testament usage, the term “last days” clearly refers to the period between Christ’s first appearance and his return. This appropriately supports the understanding found in 2 Peter 3:3, where the threat to believers from scoffers is in view. That threat will only be eliminated on the “day of judgment”.

Day of Judgment (ἡμέραν κρίσεως, 3:7) / Day of the Lord (ἡμέρα κυρίου, 3:10) / Day of God (τῆς τοῦ θεοῦ ἡμέρας, 3:12)

Matthew’s gospel records Jesus’ teaching about the “day of judgment” as a warning for those who reject the disciples (10:15), as a denunciation of those towns in which he had performed most of his miracles (11:22, 24), and against the Pharisees (12:36). The term also is used when discussing the judgment of angels (Jude 6), and the believer’s confidence (1 John 4:17).

The reference to this concept is also not limited to just one term. Paul uses the term “day of the Lord”, specifically the Lord Jesus Christ, to refer to end-time judgment (1 Cor. 1:8, 5:5; 2 Cor. 1:14; 1 Thess. 5:2, 4 and 2 Thess. 2:2). The 1 Thess. 5 reference is especially important because of its close parallel to 2 Peter 3:10. In both references the “day of the Lord” is compared to the coming of a “thief in the night” and speaks of destruction.

Additionally, Matthew describes the “day” or “hour” of the coming of the Lord, which is unknown (Matt. 24:36, 42, 44; 25:13). Paul also uses the single “day” (Rom. 2:16; 1 Cor. 3:13; 1 Thess. 5:4), as do other New Testament writers (Heb. 10:25; 2 Pet. 1:19), to speak of future judgment.

In summary, the Day of the Lord refers to a future event, whose exact timing is not revealed, at which all will experience God’s judgment. The righteous will be able to face that day with confidence because of the sufficient work of Jesus. The unrighteous will experience destruction.

Promise (ἐπαγγελία, 3:4, 9)

This feminine noun occurs 52 times in the New Testament. Eight of these uses are in Acts, twenty two in Paul’s writings and eighteen in Hebrews[10]. It is striking that it only occurs twice each in the Synoptics and in 1 John. In all except one occurrence (Acts 23:21) it is best translated “promise” and generally means the “promise of God”[11]. The neuter noun form, which only occurs twice, both in 2 Peter (1:4; 3:13), also means promise.

The promise sometimes refers to the Holy Spirit (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:4; 2:33; Gal 3:14; Eph. 1:13). More often it refers to God’s promise to Abraham, and his descendents – both the general promise of a people, land and blessing (Rom. 4:20, 15:8; Gal. 3:29; Heb. 6:12, 7:6, 11:13, 17; Acts 26:6) and the specific promise of a Messiah (Acts 13:23; Gal. 3:16).

The usage in 2 Peter has a different nuance as it specifically refers to the, as yet, unfulfilled promise of Christ’s return.

Heavens (οὐρανοὶ, 3:5, 7, 10, 12, 13)

The word occurs 274 times in the New Testament, 91 of which are in the plural. The use of the plural is unknown in secular Greek, and so scholars have speculated that it may have entered the New Testament through the Septuagint[12]. However, a survey of usage in the Septuagint reveals that almost every occurrence of the plural occurs in the poetic language of the Psalms.

Matthew uses the term in unique ways. He specifically refers to “your Father who is in Heaven”, and the “Kingdom of Heaven”, where other gospels use the “Kingdom of God”.[13]

The word “Heaven” occurs most frequently in the Gospels and Acts, but is also used in the Epistles. Five of its six occurrences in 2 Peter occur in this passage.

Heaven includes both physical and metaphysical components. Heaven is part of God’s creation (Gen. 1:1, 2 Pet. 3:5), yet it is also above and beyond the earth. Thus it includes the sky (Ps. 19:1), but also designates God’s dwelling place (Matt 5:16), which should not be thought of as a spatial location. In fact, the concepts of God and heaven are so closely intertwined that they can, on occasion, be used interchangeably, such as Matthew’s expression, “the Kingdom of Heaven”.

In 2 Peter 3, though, the physical component is clearly in view. In each occurrence, the word is partnered with “earth” to express the totality of creation (c.f. Gen. 1:1)[14]. In v.5 both heaven and earth were created. In v.7 both heaven and earth are reserved for fire. In v.10 the heavens will pass away, the “elements” will be burned up and the earth will be tested by fire. In v.12 the heavens are only partnered with the “elements”, and both will burn. In v.13 the new heavens and the new earth are the object of our anticipation.

Heavenly Bodies/Elements (στοιχεῖα, 3:10, 12)

This word occurs seven times in the New Testament, and three times in the Apocrypha of the New Testament. In Greek philosophy it meant the “principles of something”[15] in linguistics, science or music. In Galatians 4:3 and 9, Paul uses the word with a clearly pejorative sense, the “enslaving” and “weak and worthless” elementary principles of the world[16], in contrast to the message and experience of the sonship of God through his Son and by His Spirit. In Colossians 2:8 and 20, he again uses the term negatively, although with a more “spiritual” twist. He describes the elements as the spiritual foundation for hollow and deceptive philosophy, in contrast to Christ. He also denies that the rules of these elements have any authority over those who have “died with Christ”.

In Hebrew 5:12, the writer uses the term to describe the basic principles, the milk, of God’s word which their reader needed to know.

Finally, in 2 Peter 3:10 and 12 the term occurs in the context of the destruction of the heavens, the elements and the earth by fire[17]. This is in keeping with Stoic philosophy, and would suggest that the term refers to the basic building blocks of the created world. There is no reason for spiritual forces to be included in this passage.

4.   Structural-Grammatical Analysis

Peter begins by saying that the believers can presently know what will certainly characterize the last days (v.5): scoffers will come with their scoffing.

He then uses a chiasm[18] to outline the scoffer’s two part argument and his response (v.4-9). The parallel between the scoffers, who deliberately “overlook” (v.5) the fact of the three changes, and the believers, who are exhorted not to “overlook” (v.8) the fact of God’s different perspective of time, serves to drive a wedge between his readers and the his opponents[19].

V.10 uses powerful imagery to describe the “day of the Lord”. It’s coming is like a thief, an image similar to Jesus’ and Paul’s teaching. Peter then uses onomatopoeia (ῥοιζηδὸν) to describe the sound of the passing of the heavens.

Using a genitive absolute (Τούτων οὕτως πάντων λυομένων) to provide a causal connection (v.11)[20], Peter then exhorts the believers to holy and godly living in anticipation of the day of God. He concludes the section with a return to the theme of God’s promise (v.13).

 5.  Major Interpretive Issues

Who are the scoffers? (v.3) Peter clearly has in mind that they are the false teachers described in the previous chapter[21]. As recognized above, the identification of the content of these false teachings is significant for a correct interpretation of this passage. We concluded that these teachers had been influenced by elements of Epicurean thought, without necessarily being formal proponents of Epicurean philosophy, which would have excluded them from the Christian community[22].

The contemporary label for their worldview would be “naturalism”[23], which is characterized by the belief that only the material world exists and that the supernatural world does not.

Who are the “fathers” who have fallen asleep? (v.4) One option is that these are the first generation of Christian leaders[24]. This view requires the letter to be pseudonymous, since otherwise the author, the apostle Peter, would be included in this group. Green argues, though, that the early church did not refer to the first generation of Christians in this way[25]. A better option is to understand it as a reference as “ancestors” in general. The point of the scoffers was that things had not changed for a long time. Peter’s response confirms this, by mentioning three changes: the creation of the world, the destruction of creation by flood, and the future destruction of creation by fire. This discussion centers on evidence from the natural order, as revealed by Peter’s omission of the great salvation-historical change wrought by the incarnation of God’s Son.

What is the meaning of the double reference to the earth being created out of and through water? (v.5) Some have suggested this is influenced by the Greek philosophers, such as Thales of Miletus[26]. This is unnecessary, as the verse clearly refers to the event described in Genesis 1:6-10, where the earth is formed out of water by God’s word. However, it is less clear how Peter’s cosmological description of the creation event correlates with the Genesis account.

2 Peter 3:5 says the earth was formed “out of water and through water”. Both occurrences of water (ὕδατος) are a singular noun in the genitive form following their respective prepositions. Nicoll argues that two types of water are meant: the “primeval watery chaos”, and those waters which are “gathered into one place”[27]. On the surface, this fits with the Genesis account. But even so, it is less clear how the earth was formed “through” or “by means of” water.

One verb “formed” (συνεστῶσα, exist, endure[28]) governs both prepositions, so another possibility is suggested by Ps 24:2, to understand the prepositions not as describing discrete events but providing two dimensions to the same event. The poetic language of Ps 24:2 (“for he has founded it upon the seas and established it upon the rivers”[29]) provides a parallel for this approach. However, the Hebrew words for “seas” (יַמִּים) and “the rivers” (נְהָרוֹת) are sufficiently different from the generic term “waters” that Peter uses not to make this a compelling parallel.

However one interprets this phrase, Peter’s general message is clear. Water combined with the word of God as the means of God’s creation of the earth.

How do we understand God’s relationship with time? (v.8) There is a strong allusion to Psalm 90:4 (“For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night.”[30]) Some have taken these verses to suggest a literal correspondence between each day of creation and a thousand year period in history[31]. Thus, the six thousand year period of history would be followed by a thousand year “Sabbath”. However such an understanding neglects the argument of both the Psalm and Peter’s letter. “The Psalm speaks of the judgment of God that comes upon humanity and the transitory nature of life.[32]” Similarly, Peter’s argument is that God’s perspective of time is different to ours. What may seem like an interminably long delay to a mortal person does not test God’s patience because he is intent on fulfilling his purposes. Thus, it is better to interpret this verse metaphorically, as the use of the particle (ὡς) would suggest.

What does it mean “he is patient with you”? (v.9) Green, correctly, notes that the addition of the words “εἰς ὑμᾶς” are surprising, and identifies the “you” as those members of the congregation listening to the public reading of this letter who may have been enticed to follow the false teachers[33]. Davids suggests that the “you” refers to believers who have benefited from God’s patience and already responded to the message of grace[34]. These passive interpretations may be contrasted with a more activist understanding. In conjunction with v.12, these believers may in some way be able to contribute the fulfillment of God’s purposes and “hasten the day” of his coming. With this understanding, God’s patience is directed towards those believers who have yet to fulfill God’s purpose for their life. As shall be seen from v.12, the activist interpretation provides a better understanding of the whole passage than the passive interpretation.

How do we understand “not wishing that anyone should perish, but that all should reach repentance”? (v.9) This phrase addresses the complex issue of God’s will. Some have taken this verse to support universalism. However an interpretation which is more consistent with teaching of the rest of Scripture and our own experience – that some will perish – is to distinguish between God’s desire and his decree or plan. God does not desire the destruction of any of his creation, even the scoffers. His desire is that everyone be saved by turning from sinful thoughts and actions and humbly returning to him. Peter does not, here, address the issue of why God’s desire might not be fulfilled[35], except to suggest it has to do with time.

What is the significance of the present tense “being dissolved”? (v.11) At first glance the use of the present tense in the participle (λυομένων) appears unexpected. In v.10 the “heavenly bodies” are predicted to be dissolved in the future, and there is a clear connection of thought between that statement and this. The genitive absolute has a causal connotation[36]. In this case, the present tense must be understood as being a “futuristic present”[37], describing something that is certain.

How do the people of God “hasten the day”? (v.12) Peter writes that a true understanding of the temporality of this fallen Creation should motivate believers to live holy and godly lives, characterized by “waiting for” – an intellectual response[38] – and “hastening” – an active response – the coming of the day of God. Clearly this verse suggests that the activity of believers has some influence on the timing of the Day of God. Green states that people’s “repentance” will accelerate that timing. Peter teaches in Jerusalem (Acts 3:19-21) that repentance would bring times of refreshing from the Lord, as the prophets expected. The same thought is echoed in later Judaism, where one rabbi wrote, “If the Israelites were to repent for one day, the Son of David would come.[39]

Is there a more specific behavior commended to believers that might influence the coming of the Day? From v.9 we understand that the delay is to allow God’s purposes to be fulfilled, and those purposes involve the repentance of “all”. Jesus teaches that the end will come after the gospel of the kingdom is preached in the whole world (Matt. 24:14). Therefore, it is not just the repentance – holy and godly living – of those who are presently believers that is commended, but the proclamation of the gospel of the kingdom to the whole world that will hasten the coming of the Day of God[40].

6.   Analytical Outline

Don’t Scoff. God’s Promise is Sure: Judgment will come, and Righteousness will find a home.

Scoffers are characteristic of this age (v.3).

Their argument is two-fold (v.4):

  1. There is no evidence of God’s present concern for this world[41];
  2. There is no evidence that God has ever been directly involved in the world.

Peter’s Response is also two-fold (v.5-9):

B’. There are three movements in creation history that dramatically display God’s intervention: creation from/by water and word (v.5); destruction by water and word (v.6); and future destruction by fire (v.7).

A’: God’s experience of time is different (v.8). He is patiently accomplishing his purposes (v.9)

The Day will come unexpectedly and dramatically (v.10).

Believers must keep in mind this certain judgment and devote themselves to promoting the gospel of the kingdom so that everyone may repent (v.11-12)

The ultimate goal is an eternal home for righteousness in this creation (v.13)

7.   Interpretive Summary

Meaning Summary

Those whose world view may be characterized by “naturalism” study the evidence of contemporary existence and fail to find any evidence of supernatural intervention. They say that God does not seem to be active in the present, and extrapolate this to say that there is no evidence of him ever having been involved.

Peter’s response is that the Bible reveals that the universe had an originator, and that he destroyed the world once already. This proves that he is willing and capable of destroying it again.

Peter also argues that the involvement of God in the world at the moment does not express judgment but a desire for their salvation. He is patiently waiting for those he loves, whom he has commissioned, to fulfill his purpose for them – the universal proclamation of the gospel.

Still, his judgment is certain and believers must always keep it in mind[42] as they commit themselves to holiness and the accomplishment of God’s purposes, anticipating the time when righteousness will characterize God’s creation again.

Theological Summary

The Day of Judgment

This is the only place in the New Testament to explicitly describe the end of the world as a massive fireball, although “the idea of divine judgment by fire is frequent in the Old Testament”[43]. Peter’s three-fold repetition (v.7, 10 and 12) graphically emphasizes the fiery destruction and purification of fallen creation.

God and Creation

God is portrayed as the originator of the created order as well as its final judge. Through the flood, he is also demonstrated as having been dramatically involved in the past. There is no part of creation – the earth, the elements or the heavens – that are outside of his domain.

God and Time

The eternality of God lies behind his present dealing with humanity. Peter stresses, by developing the thought of Psalm 90:4, that God’s experience of time is different to ours by an incomprehensible order of magnitude. His purposes determine his activity, not human impatience.

God and Humanity

God desires the salvation of his beloved humanity. This requires our repentance. He also deigns to use the community of believers to accomplish his purposes through the world-wide proclamation of the gospel.

Application

Campus Crusade for Christ Australia’s mission statement is to “build spiritual movements everywhere so that everyone knows someone who truly follows Jesus”. As the Regional Campus Director for Sydney, I am committed to seeing spiritual movements be established and developed on the thirty-six campuses and among the 280,000 university students in my region. In a community where only 3% are evangelicals, and 60% of university students do not even know someone who attends church, our mission is a practical response to God’s desire that everyone be saved.

The prevailing approach among the two largest factions within the evangelical church in Sydney – the Anglicans and Hillsong – is to exhort their laity to bring friends to events where experts will present the gospel to them. In contrast, our approach is to mobilize the laity by exposing each believer to a new approach to evangelism, equipping them with basic training and tools, and encouraging them to share the gospel among their own relationship networks. Effective and bold witness, combined with spiritual multiplication through discipleship in the context of a community of believers, is work which will “hasten the day”.

One of the great challenges for students is to shrug off the suffocation of naturalism. The life ambition of materialistic students in Sydney may be summarized as “get good grades in school so that you can enter the university course you desire so that you can get into a good career so that you can afford to buy a house and get married and have children and put money towards retirement.” This meta-narrative presumes that all that we currently observe in the natural world informs our expectation of the future, and our belief about the past. Yet Peter’s exhortation to his readers explicitly contradicts it. We do not look to the “here and now” to define our life ambition, but to eternity. From a present perspective, surrendering a lucrative secular career in order to raise financial support to pursue full-time ministry may not appear rational. However if this is the role that God calls one to in order to “hasten the day” then it is perfectly sensible. If, as Jesus proclaims, the harvest is plentiful and the workers are few, then I can have no shame in challenging each believer to consider whether they might devote themselves to an appropriate role laboring full-time at this task.

Following Peter’s example, the challenges of scientific naturalism to the doctrine of creation, specifically, and of God’s involvement in the world generally, must be met and responded to with passion and intellectual vigor. Apologetics is a valid and necessary discipline for both evangelism and discipleship. The assumptions of naturalism, like the Epicurean philosophies in the early church, readily pervade our thinking. It must be countered with explicit teaching. My old campus ministry at Macquarie University holds “Worldview Wednesday” meetings to examine intellectual challenges to a biblical worldview.

Naturalism supports the indulgence of our sinful natures. Thinking clearly about our eternal destiny promotes holiness and a reassessment of priorities. Included in our ministry’s standard program for introductory Bible studies is the topic of “the eternal perspective”. Teaching this material regularly has proven valuable for keeping my own spiritual life in perspective.

Finally, we need to understand the nature of God’s work in the world if we are to cooperate with him. As in Jesus’ parable of the weeds (Matt. 13:24-30), now is not the time for judgment, but for patient proclamation. We must not withdraw from unbelievers, but engage them in love with the gospel of the kingdom. While I live at Denver Seminary I must intentionally pursue genuine relationships with unbelievers.

Bibliography

Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., & Bauer, W., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature. (2000) Chicago, IL. University of Chicago Press.

Balz, H. R., & Schneider, G., Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament. (1990-c1993) Grand Rapids, MI. Eerdmans.

Bauckham, Richard J., “The Delay of the Parousia” Tyndale Bulletin 31 (1980): 3-36

Bauckham, Richard J., Jude, 2 Peter. Word Biblical Commentary. (1983) Nashville, TN. Thomas Nelson

Black, David Alan, It’s Still Greek to Me (1988) Grand Rapids, MI. Baker Academic.

Blomberg, Craig L. “The New Testament Definition of Heresy (Or When Do Jesus and the Apostles Get Really Mad?)” JETS 45/1 (2002): 59-72

Davids, Peter H., The Letters of 2 Peter and Jude (2006) Grand Rapids, MI. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

De Silva, David A., An Introduction to the New Testament (2004) Grand Rapids, MI. InterVarsity Press.

Deterding, Paul E., “The New Testament View of Time and History” Concordia Journal (1995): 385-399

Green, Gene L., Jude and 2 Peter (2008) Grand Rapids, MI. Baker Academic.

Green, Joel B., “Narrating the Gospel in 1 and 2 Peter” Interpretation (2006): 263-277

Hayes, Richard B., “’Why Do You Stand Looking Up Toward Heaven?’ New Testament Eschatology At The Turn Of The Millennium” Modern Theology 16 (2000): 115-135

Kistemaker, Simon J. Exposition of the Epistles of Peter and the Epistle of Jude New Testament Commentary (1987) Grand Rapids, MI. Baker Book House.

Kuhn, Karl “2 Peter 3:1-13” Interpretation (2006): 310-312

Nicoll, W. Robertson. The Expositors Greek New Testament Volume V. (1960) Grand Rapids, MI. Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Sire, James. The Universe Next Door. (2004) 4th Edition. Downers Grove, IL. InterVarsity Press.

J.L. Sumney “Adversaries” in Dictionary of the later New Testament and its developments Ed. Martin, R. P., & Davids, P. H. (2000, c1997). Downers Grove, IL. InterVarsity Press.

Thiede, Carsten Peter., “A Pagan Reader of 2 Peter: Cosmic Conflagration in 2 Peter 3 And the Octavius of Minucíus Feux” JETS 26 (1986): 79-96

 

 


[1] Adapted from: Peter H. Davids The Letters of 2 Peter and Jude (2006) p.144-145.

[2] A recent helpful survey of various opinions is provided by Gene L. Greene Jude and 2 Peter (2008) p.139-150. C.f. David A. De Silva An Introduction to the New Testament (2004) p. 876 states that this is the NT epistle “for which the theory of pseudonymity has most to commend to itself.”

[3] Davids Letters p.130-131.

[4] Davids Letters p.132.

[5] Simon J. Kistemaker Exposition of the Epistles of Peter and the Epistle of Jude p.224.

[6] Green Jude and 2 Peter p.156.

[7] Ibid p.133, quoting Jerome H. Neyrey, 2 Peter, Jude (New York: Doubleday, 1993) p.122-23.

[8] Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., & Bauer, W. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature. p. 397

[9] Paul E. Deterding “The New Testament View of Time and History” p.397

[10] Balz, H. R., & Schneider, G. Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament Vol. 2. p. 18.

[11] BDAG Lexicon  p. 355

[12] Balz, Exegetical Dictionary Vol. 2. p. 543

[13] Ibid.

[14] BDAG Lexicon. p. 737.

[15] Balz. Exegetical Dictionary Vol. 3. p. 277.

[16] BDAG Lexicon identify two main categories of meaning: (1) basic components, such as elemental substances, celestial constellations or fundamental principles; and (2) transcendental spiritual powers. p. 946.

[17] Carsten Peter Thiede “A Pagan Reader of 2 Peter: Cosmic Conflagration in 2 Peter 3

And the Octavius of Minucíus Feux” p. 79-80 discusses the cultural background surrounding Peter’s description of the destruction by fire.

[18] Richard J. Bauckham Jude, 2 Peter p.296

[19] Richard J. Bauckham “The Delay of the Parousia”, regarding Peter’s response to the scoffers, states that, “It is also, as we shall see, the most thoroughly Jewish treatment, reproducing exactly the arguments we have been studying in the Jewish literature. In fact the passage 3:5-13 contains nothing which could not have been written by a non-Christian Jewish writer… It is possible that the author is closely dependent on a Jewish apocalyptic writing in this chapter, just as he depends on the epistle of Jude in chapter 2.” p.19.

[20] Kistemaker Exposition p.341

[21] J.L. Sumney “Adversaries” in Dictionary of the later New Testament and its developments Ed. Martin, R. P., & Davids, P. H. (2000, c1997).

[22] Craig L. Blomberg “The New Testament Definition of Heresy (Or When Do Jesus and the Apostles Get Really Mad?)” identifies two scholars: one of whom identifies the scoffers as Epicureans and the other as Stoics. The evidence is obviously not straightforward. p.70

[23] James W. Sire The Universe Next Door p.61

[24] Bauckham Jude, 2 Peter p.290-2. Nicoll The Expositors Greek New Testament Volume V states, “The Fathers must mean those of the preceding generation, in whose lifetime the parousia was expected.” p.143.

[25] Green Jude and 2 Peter p.317

[26] Davids Letters p.268 dismisses this option.

[27] W. Robertson Nicoll Expositors p.143

[28] BDAG. Lexicon.  p.973

[29] English Standard Version (ESV)

[30] ESV

[31] Green Jude and 2 Peter discusses the history of this approach, including the Jewish writings in the inter-testamental period and the probable early Christian use of this specific verse found in Barnabas 15:4. p.325 Bauckham Jude, 2 Peter says “this calculation lies behind the widespread Christian millenarianism of the second century.” p.306

[32] Green Jude and 2 Peter p.325

[33] Ibid p.328

[34] Davids Letters p.281

[35] Karl Kuhn “2 Peter 3:1-13” p.312

[36] Kistemaker Exposition p.341

[37] David Allan Black It’s Still Greek to Me p.107

[38] BDAG. Lexicon define this as “to give thought to something that is viewed as lying in the future, wait for, look for, expect the context indicates whether one does this in longing, in fear, or in a neutral state of mind.” p. 877

[39] Quoted by Kistemaker Exposition p.339.

[40] Ibid p.338

[41] Richard B. Hayes “’Why Do You Stand Looking Up Toward Heaven?’ New Testament Eschatology At The Turn Of The Millennium” p.132

[42] Green Jude and 2 Peter p.268-9

[43] Bauckham Jude, 2 Peter p.300

Evidence for the Existence of God

October 21, 2009

There seems little point in debating the existence of a god who has no impact on the contemporary world or on us personally. This paper will argue for the existence of the God of Christian orthodoxy – a personal God who is described as both transcendently powerful over the material universe and immanent in his creation, the Creator and Sustainer of all that exists and capable of supernaturally intervening in the world. The argument will prove the existence of God by examining evidence for his direct, supernatural intervention in the world, namely the argument from miracles. It will focus on the most significant miracle for the Christian faith, the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

The Argument Defined

The argument may be stated in the following propositions:

  1. The occurrence of even one supernatural event, i.e. a miracle, requires the existence of a supernatural cause, i.e. God.
  2. One supernatural event, that God raised Jesus Christ from the dead, has occurred:
    • There are well established historical facts concerning the death, burial and subsequent appearances of Jesus Christ, and the beginning of the Church;
    • The hypothesis that “God raised Jesus Christ from the dead” provides the best explanation of those facts;
    • This hypothesis entails that a supernatural event occurred.
  3. Therefore, God exists.

The Question of Miracles

Before launching into a proof for the resurrection of Jesus a more basic question must be addressed in light of the dominant naturalistic worldview in which we live: is it even possible for an enlightened person to accept miracles as a possibility?

David Hume has presented the most well-known argument against miracles. He defines a miracle as “a transgression of a law of nature by a particular volition of the Deity, or by the interposition of some invisible agent.[1]” Laws of nature, however, are established by “a firm and unalterable experience[2]”; they rest upon the testimony of multitudes of people in many different contexts.

“Nothing is esteemed a miracle, if it ever happens in the common course of nature. It is no miracle that a man, seemingly in good health, should die of a sudden: because such a kind of death, though more unusual than any other, has yet been frequently observed to happen. But it is a miracle, that a dead man should come to life; because that has never been observed in any age or country.[3]

He argues that the testimony of a few cannot outweigh the testimony of many because of the unreliability of those few who are typically moved by the attractive sensation of surprise and wonder associated with miracles or reports of miracles, biased by religious predisposition, unchallenged by critical thinking, and ignorant, i.e. uninformed by the advances of the Enlightenment.

In response to Hume’s argument, it may be observed that he begs the question. He assumes our experience excludes a history of miracles[4]. Also his injudicious characterization of ancient witnesses does not match the historical evidence. The question must be addressed directly: do we have reliable evidence for the occurrence of a supernatural event, the resurrection of Jesus? If so, it must be caused by a supernatural being.

The Milieu of Jesus’ Palestine

N.T. Wright devotes almost 500 pages[5] to describing the milieu from which the testimonies to Jesus’ resurrection arose. Using the test of continuity and discontinuity, he provides six areas in which the Christian testimony of Jesus’ resurrection transformed pre-existing Jewish theology in such a way as to prove that the witnesses were not predisposed to expect Jesus’ resurrection. These areas are[6]: belief in resurrection moved from being a peripheral item of belief, as it was in Second Temple Judaism, to the centre; the meaning of the resurrection sharpened; there was a single understanding of resurrection in Christianity compared with the spectrum of beliefs that were found in Judaism and paganism; the understanding of the event of the resurrection changed to become a single event occurring in two moments; a metaphorical meaning of resurrection, to include baptism and holiness, arose; and, finally, no one in Second Temple Judaism expected a resurrected Messiah because no one expected a Messiah who would die! Yet that description became central to Christian belief. The evidence shows that there was no religious predisposition to expect Jesus’ resurrection so, as Wright says, “What caused these mutations within Judaism, and why, and how?”[7]

Wright also argues “that the idea of resurrection is not something which ancient peoples could accept easily because they didn’t know the laws of nature… the ancients knew perfectly well that dead people didn’t rise[8]”. The second and fourth of Hume’s objections concerning the reliability of the testimony have therefore been addressed.

Also, early church history shows that the witnesses were challenged about their testimony. Peter and John are asked to defend their testimony before the Jewish religious authorities (Acts 4:1-17), Stephen was killed for testifying to the resurrected Jesus (Acts 8:55-56), and Paul confronted Greek philosophers in Athens with the message of the resurrection (Acts 17:31-32). Other early Church Fathers followed their example.

The Textual Evidence

Evaluating a historical event requires evaluating the written testimonies concerning that event. The textual evidence in support of the resurrection of Jesus Christ is too extensive to allow for anything other than a brief survey here.

Non-Biblical sources, such as Josephus, Suetonius, Tacitus and Pliny the Younger contain brief references to Jesus Christ and events or beliefs related to him. Although a couple of the individual texts are disputed, or considered embellished, they corroborate the Biblical texts.

The Biblical text written closest to the actual event being reported is 1 Corinthians 15:3-8. Written about 55AD, this text claims to record an oral tradition that Paul had previously received and passed onto them. Presumably Paul received this tradition himself during an early visit to Jerusalem, perhaps as early as 36AD[9]. This text is clearly written within a generation of, and perhaps records eye-witness testimony from only 3 years after, the original event. This is incredible when compared with the textual evidence of other historical events, which usually are written several generations, if not hundreds of years, later.

The bare facts in 1 Corinthians 15 are fleshed out with more extensive, complementary treatments in each of the four Gospels[10]. These early records also provide eye-witness testimony and allow us to identify certain historically reliable facts.

The Historical Facts

William Lane Craig has consistently argued for three or four incontrovertible facts: “

Jesus was buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea; Jesus’ tomb was found empty by a group of his women followers; on multiple occasions and under various circumstances, different individuals and groups of people experienced post-resurrection appearances of Jesus; and, the original disciples suddenly and sincerely came to believe that Jesus was risen from the dead despite (as noted above) their having every predisposition to the contrary[11]”.

Habermas more precisely identifies twelve separate facts that can be considered to be knowable history:

“(1) Jesus died due to crucifixion and (2) was buried afterwards. (3) Jesus’ death caused his disciples to experience despair and lose hope, believing that their master was dead. (4) More controversially, the tomb in which Jesus was buried was discovered to be empty just a few days later. (5) The disciples had real experiences which they thought were literal appearances of the risen Jesus. Due to these experiences, (6) the disciples were transformed… (7) This message was the center of preaching in the earliest church and (8) was especially proclaimed in Jerusalem, the same city where Jesus had recently died and had been buried.

As a direct result of this preaching, (9) the church was born, (10) featuring Sunday as the special day of worship. (11) James, a brother of Jesus who had been a skeptic, was converted when he believed he saw the resurrected Jesus. (12) A few years later, Paul was also converted to the Christian faith by an experience which he, likewise, thought was an appearance of the risen Jesus. [12]

Testing the Hypothesis

Any successful hypothesis must account for all the facts better than any alternative hypothesis. Various hypotheses have tried to account for Jesus’ resurrection. Osborne lists the following[13]:

The Political Theory: the disciples stole the body in order to gain notoriety and recognition for themselves. This does not cohere with the ethical teaching of those same men, nor account for their willingness to suffer and die for their beliefs;

The Swoon Theory: Jesus merely fainted on the cross and was later revived in the tomb. However, could Jesus have recovered from a flogging, crucifixion and piercing so quickly as to appear strong and healthy to his disciples?

The Mythical View: the resurrection narratives are understood as myths created by the early church to portray the significance of Jesus’ message and death. But how could such an elaborate myth have developed in such a short period of time? Again, why would the disciples die for a myth? The character of the stories is different from pagan myths.

The Subjective Vision Theory: the disciples had a series of dreams in which they saw Jesus, and these became the basis for the resurrection narratives. But Jesus appeared to people who were not expecting him. A dream could not account for Paul’s turnaround. When and why did the dreams cease?

The Objective Vision Theory: the visions were sent from God to teach Jesus’ followers that his resurrection was a spiritual reality. This view is tries to attribute the account of the resurrection to a supernatural cause without an actual physical miracle.

The Corporeal View: God raised Jesus Christ from the dead, and this involved a transformation of his physical body so that it was capable of existing spiritually.

The naturalist hypotheses fail to successfully account for the known facts. Knowing that Jesus endured a severe flogging, crucifixion and impalement to the point of death, and that he was buried in a guarded, identifiable location, how do we account for the empty tomb? The disciples were in no state of mind to steal the body and had plenty of incentive over the successive decades to recant any such lie. The Jewish and Roman authorities had great incentive to produce the body as the sect grew in popularity. There do not appear to be any other parties with a vested interest who are viable alternatives for providing a naturalistic explanation for the missing body. The supernatural “God raised Jesus from the dead” hypothesis appears to be the most elegant explanation that fits with known facts.

How does one account for the many reported appearances of the resurrected Jesus? The subjective vision theory, which seeks to attribute the appearances to psychological breaks from reality, has been thoroughly discredited. The appearances were to people who were not expecting them. In the case of the men walking to Emmaus, they did not even recognize it as an appearance until it ended. This theory cannot account for how Mary by the tomb, and the disciples in a locked room, and two men walking to Emmaus, and a crowd of five hundred on a distant mountain top could all have the same vision. The supernatural “God raised Jesus from the dead” hypothesis appears to be the most elegant explanation that fits with known facts.

How does one account for the mutations of Jewish theology and practice, and the transformation of the individual disciples, that led to the birth of the Church? Neither the Political Theory nor the Myth Theory provides a credible response. The known facts state that the disciples were transformed: from demoralized and fearful to bold proclaimers of and sufferers for their witness. What did they gain? Stephen, for example, maintained his witness to the resurrected Christ even as he was being killed (Acts 7:54-60). Tradition records the martyrdom of almost all the remaining disciples.

Could these known facts simply be myths? Given that this message was being publicly proclaimed in the same city in which Jesus was killed and buried within weeks of the actual event, there was insufficient time for a myth to develop. The written testimony is sourced within a few years of the actual events, and uses an even earlier oral tradition. The supernatural “God raised Jesus from the dead” hypothesis appears to be the most elegant explanation that fits with known facts.

Conclusion

Having argued that a supernatural even requires the existence of a supernatural being, and that the supernatural “God raised Jesus from the dead” hypothesis provides a more coherent, rational and elegantly simple explanation of the empty tomb, the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus, and the radical transformation of Jesus’ followers than alternative hypotheses, the conclusion must follow: God exists.

At this point, the reflection on the significance of this supernatural event becomes relevant to us personally. This is not just a single, ancient historical event, it is the first moment in God’s great act of restoring all of Creation to himself. How will we respond to, “The Kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the Good News”? (Mark 1:15)


 

Bibliography

Craig, William Lane, Assessing the New Testament evidence for the historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus. [1989] Edwin Mellen Press, Lewiston, NY.

Craig, William Lane, God? : a debate between a Christian and an atheist / William Lane Craig, Walter Sinnott-Armstrong. [2004] Oxford University Press, New York, NY.

Craig, William Lane, The historical argument for the Resurrection of Jesus during the Deist controversy. [1985] Edwin Mellor Press, Lewiston, NY.

Craig, William Lane, Jesus’ Resurrection: Fact or Figment?: A Debate between William Lane Craig and Gerd Ludemann. Edited by Copan, Paul H., Tacelli, Ronald K., [2000] Intervarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. 

Craig, William Lane, Knowing the Truth about the Resurrection: our response to the empty tomb. [1981] Servant Books, Ann Arbor, MI.

Crossan, John D., Stewart, Robert B., and Wright N.T. The Resurrection of Jesus: John Dominic Crossan and N.T. Wright in Dialogue [2006] Fortress Press, Minneapolis MN

Habermas, Gary R. Jesus’ Resurrection and Contemporary Criticism: An Apologetic [1989] Criswell Theological Review 4.1 pp.159-74.

Hume, David. An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. Vol. XXXVII, Part 3. The Harvard Classics. New York: P.F. Collier & Son, 1909–14; www.Bartleby.com, 2001. www.bartleby.com/37/3/. [10/20/2009]. Published April 24, 2001 by Bartleby.com; © 2001 Copyright Bartleby.com, Inc

Osborne, Grant R. The Resurrection Narratives: A Redactional Study. [1984] Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI.

Wright, N.T. The Resurrection of the Son of God, Christian Origins and the Question of God, Vol. 3 [2003] Fortress Press, Minneapolis MN {I am most disappointed that Denver Seminary library does not contain such a crucial book!}

 

 

 


[1] Hume, An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding [1909-1914] X, I

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid

[4] See Craig The historical argument for the Resurrection of Jesus during the Deist controversy. [1985] p.502-517 for a detailed response to Hume’s argument, but he begins by stating that Hume’s argument “seems either question-begging or mistaken”.

[5] Wright The Resurrection of the Son of God [2003]

[6] Crossan, Stewart, and Wright The Resurrection of Jesus: John Dominic Crossan and N.T. Wright in Dialogue [2006] p.18-19.

[7] Ibid p.19-20.

[8] Ibid p.17.

[9] See Craig Assessing the New Testament evidence for the historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus. [1989] p.7-19 where, after a comprehensive review of the evidence for and against this position, Craig concludes that Jerusalem in 36AD is most likely to be Paul’s source of the tradition.

[10] For a comprehensive assessment of the textual evidence in the gospels, see Osborne The Resurrection Narratives: A Redactional Study [1984] p.43-192.

[11] Craig Knowing the Truth about the Resurrection: our response to the empty tomb. [1981] p.39-123; Craig Assessing the New Testament evidence for the historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus. [1989] p.351-418; Craig Jesus’ Resurrection: Fact or Figment?: A Debate between William Lane Craig and Gerd Ludemann [2000] p. 32-34; Craig God? : a debate between a Christian and an atheist / William Lane Craig, Walter Sinnott-Armstrong. [2004] p.22-24.

[12] Habermas Jesus’ Resurrection and Contemporary Criticism: An Apologetic [1989] p.161-162.

[13] Osborne The Resurrection Narratives: A Redactional Study [1984] p.276-279. Several authors provide different lists with different emphases. Habernas [1989] lists five approaches from contemporary scholarship but his focus is on critical scholarship, not directly addressing the existence of God. Craig [1981] p.18-38 surveys three alternatives: the “conspiracy theory” (equivalent to Osborne’s Political Theory), the “apparent death theory” (equivalent to Osborne’s Swoon Theory), and the “Wrong Tomb Theory”.

The 30-Day Leviticus Challenge

October 20, 2009

August 2008, Christianity Today published an article entitled “The 30 Day Leviticus Challenge”

http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2008/august/13.30.html

I was asked to write a one-page review of it for O.T. Hebrew class.

The 30 Day Leviticus Challenge Reflection

Studying the book of Leviticus concentrates attention on two major confusions among Christians. Firstly, what do we do with all the stuff that came before Jesus? Secondly, how do we follow Jesus without falling into licentiousness or legalism?

Daniel Harrell’s article argues that these issues cannot be ignored because they affect our thinking about and practice of our faith today:

“As a Christian, you can’t fully comprehend the New Testament and its vocabulary… without first understanding Leviticus. The second greatest commandment, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’ comes from Leviticus.”

Interestingly, his approach was not to provide a hermeneutical approach. In fact, he admits that his “Levites for a month” adopted different hermeneutical approaches. One must assume he modeled one approach in his sermon series. The focus of the article was on the challenges presented and lessons learned by experientially engaging with the text.

A key pre-understanding that was brought to the exercise was that Leviticus was intended to be lived communally. Those who personally participated, as well as those who observed through social media, were pushed to engage more thoughtfully than usual with the Biblical text and to practice it more faithfully. Then came Harrell’s statement,

“For the participants in the Levitical experiment, its power for personal transformation was unexpected and perhaps the most rewarding aspect.”

Surprised? Thinking hard about what the text means and practicing it faithfully is transformational! Does this inform us more about the book of Leviticus, or about our own usual approach to and response to the teaching of the Bible more generally? The relative obscurity of Leviticus may have forced Harrell to bring his best to the task. Hopefully his example will inspire us with all of Scripture.


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