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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Project Complete - What's Not There

Many people use the Bible to support rather than to shape their views. As a litigator and sometimes appellate attorney, using authority to support my view, or more precisely my client's view, is my occupation. But just as an overzealous attorney can stretch the meaning of a Supreme Court case to the breaking point, so can Christians stretch claims based on the Bible. Here are my thoughts, starting at home.

The message of the prophets was that Israel was falling into ruin because it failed to take care of the poor. Exaggeration. The prophets did say things like this, but those verses were buried under a pile of verses about worshipping idols or more often, generic accusations of taking on the ways of foreign nations.

The kingdom of God/Heaven is a way of life not a far away place. More debatable than I thought. I have not run a tally, but I believe a solid majority of the references attributed to Jesus support this view. Nonetheless, I came across many that support the castle in the sky version. And from reading Paul, it seems that there was a pretty hot debate over exactly what it meant.

The Bible forbids gay marriage. Extreme exaggeration. While the references to justice for the poor are dwarfed by other material that no longer seems relevant, references to gay sex are dwarfed by references to justice for the poor. Not only are there relatively few references to gay sex, those references typically fall in lists of cultural behaviors that Christians have long since abandoned. And of course, gay sex is not the same thing as gay marriage. To beef up the profile of gay sex prohibitions, some Christians try to include stories about a crowd of men raping a couple of angels and prohibitions on sexual immorality into the list. Rape is obviously wrong for its own reasons, and claiming sex with a committed partner is an example of sexual immorality is classic circular reasoning. Gay marriage wasn't an issue 2000 years ago, and, not surprisingly, the Bible has nothing directly to say about it.

The Bible forbids abortion. Untrue. I have heard this claim made before, and I had it in my mind as I was reading. Are there verses that suggest life begins before birth? Yes, but there are also verses that say that life begins with taking breath. Passages that attribute extraordinary power to God, for example, sufficient to know someone in the womb, hardly establish the idea that life begins at conception. (Is it beyond God's power to know someone before he or she is conceived?) Furthermore, there are laws that explicitly treat causing a miscarriage differently from murder. Finally, there is nothing about intentionally terminating a pregnancy. Unlike gay marriage, I find this perplexing. Surely the women of ancient Israel knew how to terminate pregnancies. But for whatever the reason, the Bible says nothing directly and very little indirectly about it.

The Bible supports separation of Church and State. Untrue. Let's end at home. Jesus' trickery with "give to Caesar" was dodging his detractor's question and replacing it with what he wanted to talk about. The Old Testament is all about how to have a Godly kingdom. The New Testament is about how to run a society, sometimes in secret, within an oppressive empire, but nonetheless in compliance with God's law. I did not see any foundation of the First Amendment in the Bible.

5 comments:

Matt Dick said...

This is a super-thoughtful post. I am not in my normal rhythm of reading/responding, so I can't give it my normal response. I will have to get back to it, but in the meantime I wanted to acknowledge that I read this and enjoyed it. I'll get back to it.

scove

Becky Papp said...

The Kingdom of God....
I didn't know this was such a hot issue. I am anxious to review that myself. From what I read, though, I get the idea that the kingdom of God is different than the kingdom of heaven. The kingdom of God is a place that will be on earth in a very physical sense, while the kingdom of heaven is union with God after living your life accordingly. Does that make sense?

Matt Dick said...

I think it makes sense in that the two are distinct. I don't know that the bible supports that notion.

mazol

Matt Dick said...

I should clarify that I don't know if it doesn't, either.

reavinge

JimII said...

Becky, like Matt, I'm not sure if it is workable to see the two ideas as separate. I think it is a subtle question that requires very careful review because many of us come to the question with strong notions and because transalations play fast and loose with these terms sometimes. The notion that I bring to the Scripture is that Jesus believed in an afterlife, but that was not the focus of his ministry. I think that whenever Jesus is telling a parable about the Kingdom he is talking about a way of living on earth today.

My point from this post is that the Gospel writers have Jesus saying some things that would support the Kingdom as afterlife. I wonder if that can be resolved by distinguishing between K of G & K of H.

Oh yeah, and the other problem is Paul who had a dramatically different message than Jesus on these relatively esoteric points.