A Good Argument Against Inerrancy NOT

Is the Bible inerrant?

I’m not going to answer that question, but wait! Don’t go! I want you to read my critique of a popular argument against inerrancy.

You probably know how the debate goes. A fundamentalist says, “The Bible has to be inerrant for you to trust it. After all, if the Bible is wrong in one place, then how can you be sure it isn’t wrong in other places?”

And here is a common liberal or non-fundamentalist response: “The Bible doesn’t have to be without error for you to trust it. You trust things every day that are flawed. That chair is not perfect—it can collapse! The phone book is not infallible, but you trust it. The news is not 100% accurate, yet you rely on it to tell you what is going on. Why do you demand that the Bible be totally without error?”

Have you ever heard that argument?

I think it is comparing apples with oranges, myself. The examples that our fictitious liberal friend cites relate to the seen world. The phone book and the news contain information that is verifiable or falsifiable. You can check the facts to determine when they are true and when they are false. The same is true of a chair. You can tell whether or not a chair will collapse by looking at the chair itself. Is it in good condition, or is it broken?

But is that the case with the Bible? I’m not sure that you can totally verify its message. It relates to the unseen world. I cannot prove God’s intentions because I do not see God or directly hear his voice. I have to trust what a book tells me about him. How can I verify what is correct in the Bible? How can I identify what is wrong? There does not seem to be any criteria. So on what basis can I believe one part of the Bible and not another? On the basis of my personal preferences? Why should I trust them?

This is just something to think about. I do not discuss here certain relevant and important topics, such as apologetics, archaeology, and evolution. I’m not even totally opposed to apologetics. I just want to reevaluate the popular liberal argument that compares the Bible to a chair, a phone book, or the news.

I don’t think they’re entirely the same.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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44 Responses to A Good Argument Against Inerrancy NOT

  1. Steven Craig Miller says:

    I do believe that you have misunderstood the “liberal argument.” Our trust is not in the Bible (that is the Fundamentalist’s approach as I understand it), but our trust is in God. I’ve studied the Bible, learned how to read it in Hebrew and Greek, and I’ve seen the Bible’s errors for myself. That is something “verifiable”! On the other hand, I worship God, my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and not the Bible. God is something not “verifiable,” and never can be.

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  2. James Pate says:

    Thanks for your response, Stephen, and welcome.

    I’m not sure if you want me to recreate the debate you had with Ryan and Cheryl on Ben’s blog, but I want to raise a point:

    I submit that, on some level, you do trust the Bible. You say that your trust is in God, and that is good, but from where do you get your concept of God and Jesus Christ? I’d venture to say that it’s the Bible. Am I wrong on this?

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  3. Steven Craig Miller says:

    Obviously, all modern Christians get their knowledge of God and of Jesus either directly or indirectly through scripture. In a previous discussion (which you mentioned), I suggested that illiterate Christians receive salvation without being able to read scripture. Someone responded by saying that even if an illiterate Christian couldn’t read, someone could have read the Bible to him or her, and the preaching this person heard would have been based on the Bible. So my point fell flat. Nonetheless, I do believe that in the years immediately following Jesus’ crucifixion that there were many people (most of them illiterate, by the way) who converted to Christianity without ever reading scripture, and the message which they heard wasn’t something someone read from a papyrus scroll. The point I’m trying to make is that I don’t believe that scripture, or knowledge of scripture, is necessary for salvation. When Saint Paul preached the good news and someone converts under his preaching, it wasn’t because Saint Paul had read the Gospels written by Mathew, Mark, Luke or John. (According to many scholars, Paul died in 62-65 CE and the first Gospel was written in ca. 70 CE., but even if one dates the first Gospel earlier, I believe most everyone would concede that there was a time when Paul preached before the first Gospel was written.)

    Furthermore, when conservatives state that they “trust” and “believe in” the Bible, it seems to me that the words “trust” and “believe in” have religious connotations which make me uncomfortable. It is almost as if they venerate the Bible (something, no doubt, they would deny). So when you ask me if I “trust the Bible,” I find myself uncomfortable using that language.

    You ask: where do you get your concept of God and Jesus Christ? I’d venture to say that it’s the Bible. Am I wrong on this?

    Obviously, the Bible plays an important role in giving me my concept of God and Jesus. But my thinking has been shaped by many different sources, including my pastors, theological books, and biblical scholarship. But, no doubt, the most important of them is the Greek New Testament, which I continually read and re-read.

    In your post, you wrote: You can check the facts to determine when they are true and when they are false. The same is true of a chair. You can tell whether or not a chair will collapse by looking at the chair itself. Is it in good condition, or is it broken? But is that the case with the Bible? I’m not sure that you can totally verify its message. It relates to the unseen world.

    Actually, you can’t always know a chair is broken by looking at it. Of course, I assume what you meant was ‘examine’ the chair. And one of the best ways to examine a chair is to sit in it. So I get your point. You can check the chair, you can test it, and see whether or not it is broken. But that is also what scholars have done to the Bible. They have tested it, they have examined it closely, and they have found some errors in it.

    As for comparing apples and oranges, I don’t believe that the argument you presented from “our fictitious liberal friend” is as misplaced as you suggest. Now of course, you are right when you suggest that it is impossible to verify (or falsify) every detail written in scripture, because much of what is says relates to the unseen world, outside the purview of science (or even history). Nonetheless, some details can be verified, the Bible contains not only theology, but also history. Of course, even history cannot always be verified. But some historical statements can be checked by means of archeology and other non-biblical records, and other historical statements in the Bible can be check against other historical statements in the Bible. On both accounts, (mainstream) biblical scholars have found errors. So in that sense, it is very similar to examining a chair to see if it is broken.

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  4. Stephen (aka Q) says:

    My faith is not constructed solely on what it says in the Bible. My faith is a personal “walk” with God.

    The Bible shapes the way I understand my experiences. And my experiences shape the way I understand the Bible. It’s a dialogical process — a relational process. There’s a continual back-and-forth between the Bible and my life.

    The Bible isn’t a single voice speaking coherently; it’s a collection of voices. Each voice is wise, but the agreement between them is less than 100% perfect. Is Paul “right” and James “wrong”? No — but neither do they agree with one another.

    The Bible is full of tensions: the Pharisees were big on purity; Jesus was big on compassion; both are core biblical principles. There are even outright contradictions: the two accounts of Judas’s death.

    More significantly, whether we’re saved by faith apart from works; or whether our salvation is null and void unless our faith is completed by works.

    How do I deal with the multivocal reality of scripture?

    • I listen to the witness of the whole Bible;
    • I try to discern which text is supplying God’s wisdom for me in a given circumstance;
    • I try to apply the wisdom of that text sensitively to the concrete situation; and
    • I hope that God will guide me in the choices that I have to make.

    For inevitably the choices are mine to make, as a responsible actor.

    It’s all very relational, you see. My confidence in scripture isn’t based on infallibility, it’s based on the experience of living under the guidance of scripture and finding it trustworthy.

    Thus I wouldn’t compare the Bible to a chair, because the relational element doesn’t apply to furniture. It would be better for me to compare the Bible to my wife. She has also earned my trust, and in a similar way. Even though she is a flawed human being, just as we all are.

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  5. Steven Craig Miller says:

    To: Stephen (aka Q),

    I enjoyed your post, and agreed with 95% of it, which, on any given day, that has to be good, yes?

    You wrote: Thus I wouldn’t compare the Bible to a chair, because the relational element doesn’t apply to furniture.

    I would have problems with that statement. The Bible is a “thing,” not a person. It is the “letter” and not the “spirit” (cp. Paul who writes: τὸ γὰρ γράμμα ἀποκτέννει, τὸ δὲ πνεῦμα ζῳοποιεῖ — 2 Cor 3:6b). Instead of the Bible, I would suggest the phrase “word of God,” which appears to have a number of different meanings. Sometimes, the phrase “word of God” refers to the second person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ. Sometimes, the phrase “word of God” refers to the message of the church as proclaimed in her preaching and teaching. Sometimes the phrase “word of God” refers to the prophecies from the prophets in Hebrew scripture. Sometimes even the Bible is called “the word of God.” In my opinion, calling the Bible “the word of God” can cause theological confusion, so I generally refrain from using that term for the Bible. Carl Braaten wrote: The Bible is the written Word of God in a derived way; it is the deposit of preaching of the early church (1:75). To that I would concur.

    But I like your idea of relationship, and sometimes God might speak to us through the Bible. Similarly, one’s wife might speak to one via a phone, but one’s affection would be misplaced if one loved the phone.

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  6. James Pate says:

    I appreciate both of your contributions. They give me much to think on. Here are some points:

    First, to Steven Craig Miller:

    1. Is the Bible necessary for salvation? I’d say that the Gospel message that made its way into the Bible is certainly necessary, whether it is presented in its oral or written form. The Bible helps a person grow, and people in the first century had some access to the Scriptures, even if they were only the Old Testament at the time. The Bereans checked the Scriptures. Paul (or whomever you think it was) tells Timothy about the value of the Scriptures. Before the completion of the New Testament, Christians probably received the information about Jesus orally. Plus, God guided the church through prophecy (not that I’m a cessationist). What I’m trying to say is this: it doesn’t matter whether the contents of the NT were in a book in the first century. The early Christians still heard things that made their way into the Bible.

    2. Biblical inerrancy is a big question, as you very well know. It is a topic that encompasses comparison of the Bible with other ancient sources, text criticism, biblical contradictions, archaeology, and science. I’m not really equipped to defend inerrancy on all of these fronts. What I will say is that I do not always embrace skepticism regarding the Bible when someone points out an “error.” I mean, what we think we know–the standard by which we judge the Bible’s accuracy–is not always rock-solid. There may be things that modern experts are missing. Now, as a scholar (or one studying to be such), I feel that I have to go with what makes sense to me at the time, based on the evidence that I have, and that can lead me to a non-fundamentalist position. But, as a believer, I feel that I may not have all of the facts, so I do not totally rule out biblical accuracy.

    3. But, as I said, there are a lot of topics that I left untouched in my post. I knew that one could say, “Well, the Bible can be evaluated, and it turns out to be wrong in such and such cases.” I guess what I was trying to get at was that the Bible offers a correct picture of God. And we have to believe that the Bible is inerrant in its picture of God, since according to what criteria can we evaluate that picture? We have not directly seen God or heard his voice.

    Second, to Stephen:

    Thanks for your post. It give me much to think on. Maybe one concern that I have is that it puts the reader too much in the driver’s seat. It allows me to choose from the Bible that parts that I deem relevant, rather than making the Bible a reliable source of truth to which I must submit. My impression of your position may be one-sided, since you say that you try to take into consideration the entire witness of the Bible. It just seems to me that, in order to do the latter, you have to have some belief that the Bible is reliable.

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  7. Steven Craig Miller says:

    To: James,

    I don’t think either of us care merely to rehash old debates about inerrancy. You’re a smart person, I’m sure you can reach your own conclusion on this issue without my help. I only wanted to point out that your “fictitious liberal friend,” if you’ve given him or her any intelligence at all, most likely sees the errors in scripture as conclusively and as factual as finding a broken chair, or a incorrect phone number in a phone directory.

    But, you have raised another issue which might be worth exploring a little. You wrote: I guess what I was trying to get at was that the Bible offers a correct picture of God. And we have to believe that the Bible is inerrant in its picture of God, since according to what criteria can we evaluate that picture? We have not directly seen God or heard his voice.

    I don’t know if your “fictitious liberal friend” would necessarily agree with you on that point either. I’m not for sure most liberals feel comfortable with the picture of God in the book of Joshua. That God appears to favor racial genocide, and doesn’t follow the Geneva conventions of warfare. At least, I have serious reservations about that book. You’re a specialist in Hebrew scripture, you tell me, what do you think about the God of the book of Joshua?

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  8. James Pate says:

    Hi Steven,

    1. Yes, a liberal or non-fundamentalist would point out that the Bible is verifiably flawed. What I was addressing more was their argument for keeping the Bible. An atheist can say, “The Bible is flawed, so I reject it, much as I would reject a bad chair.” A non-fundamentalist Christian, however, would see the Bible as flawed and still accept it to some degree. He is, after all, a Christian. Although I attributed the non-fundamentalist argument I set forward to a “fictitious liberal friend,” it is a real argument that I have encountered. I read it in Samuele Bacchiocchi’s critique of inerrancy (Bacchiocchi is a Seventh-Day Adventist scholar), and I have heard the argument from some mainline pastors. My problem is that it doesn’t really answer the fundamentalist concern, and it may also open the door for one to pick-and-choose from the Bible. That is problematic because it gives authority to the picker-and-chooser. All becomes subjective.

    2. That brings me to point 2. Yes, a liberal or non-fundamentalist could point to the various pictures of God in the Bible, some of them quite harsh. What do I do with the God of Joshua? I feel I have to accept him in some way, shape, or form. Still, I have to balance that picture with other pictures to get a complete picture (which is still imperfect because, on some level, I am the one creating the sum of the parts).

    I’ll say more if you have any questions or comments.

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  9. Steven Craig Miller says:

    James wrote: My problem is that it doesn’t really answer the fundamentalist concern, and it may also open the door for one to pick-and-choose from the Bible. That is problematic because it gives authority to the picker-and-chooser. All becomes subjective.

    But that is not a problem for liberals. Of course, we pick and choose from the Bible! But the not-so-shocking news is that fundamentalists and conservatives pick and choose from the Bible as well (although, they generally are less aware of it). For example, take the passages: “Give to everyone who begs from you” (Luke 6:30a NRSV) and “lend expecting nothing in return” (Luke 6:35b NRSV). I’ve often “begged” conservatives to clean out their bank accounts and send me all their cash, I asked them to consider it a “loan” (expecting nothing in return). And I’ve never received a dime! Imagine that!

    Oh, by the way, James, I beg of you to clean out your bank accounts and send me all the cash you can. Consider it a loan! Would you like my address?

    What’s in your clothes closet? Have you ever worn “a garment made of two different materials” (cp. Leviticus 19:19d)? The real issue is not “should we pick and choose from the Bible,” but rather “how should we pick and choose from the Bible”! Because we all do it, every single one of us.

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  10. James Pate says:

    Yeah, I’ve had problems with the “Give to everyone who asks of you.” I’ll clean out my bank account if you clean out yours. 🙂

    Okay, I’ll set out how I think the conservative and the liberal approaches this issue of picking and choosing. There are similarities and differences.

    Overall, liberals tend to dismiss the passages that they do not like. “Paul said that about homosexuality? Well, that was just his opinion. He didn’t know what we know today.” There are exceptions to this. Some liberals try to say that Paul condemned something very specific–pederastry–rather than homosexuality in general. Some even argue that Leviticus 18:22 was God’s way to encourage Israel’s population growth, but that the law against homosexuality doesn’t apply anymore. By and large, I get the impression that liberals are more willing to say that the Bible is morally wrong or reflects a primitive human mindset.

    The conservative, by contrast, believes that every part of the Bible is inspired by God and has something to teach us, even if Christians no longer do the command literally. The mixed fabrics rule may have had a variety of lessons–don’t mix the holy with the unholy, don’t imitate the sacred fabric of the Tabernacle (which was mixed), or simply obey God because he said so. Are we literally required to do that? I don’t think so, though I will acknowledge that the Christian and the law of Moses is a complex issue that I have not thoroughly resolved.

    What about the Sermon on the Mount? Sure, there are conservatives who pick and choose. Dispensationalists say that it does not apply today. Some evangelicals argue that the Sermon was designed to show a bar of perfection so high that people would recognize their need of Christ. And then there are conservatives who simply reinterpret the passage about giving to make it more practical–such as seeing it as a command for generosity, not as something forcing us to give someone whatever he asks. I’m not sure what to do with the passage myself, but I think it has something to teach us, in any case.

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  11. James Pate says:

    Please pardon the grammatical mistake. It should read “how I think the conservative and the liberal approach the issue.”

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  12. Ryan says:

    Hi Steven and James. Not trying to restart this debate, but perhaps offer an alternative for those who are planning to send all their money to Steven… 😉

    Steven wrote… “Of course, we pick and choose from the Bible! But the not-so-shocking news is that fundamentalists and conservatives pick and choose from the Bible as well (although, they generally are less aware of it). For example, take the passages: “Give to everyone who begs from you” (Luke 6:30a NRSV) and “lend expecting nothing in return” (Luke 6:35b NRSV). I’ve often “begged” conservatives to clean out their bank accounts and send me all their cash, I asked them to consider it a “loan” (expecting nothing in return). And I’ve never received a dime! Imagine that!

    I think this scripture is being misinterpreted. Consider that God obeys His own commandments because God cannot sin. If you think He doesn’t, perhaps you misunderstood the commandment (which is the case here, I believe). If this passage means what Steven has interpreted it to mean, then all of us should be rich just for the asking, since God’s bank account is unlimited. If God doesn’t give everyone a BMW when they beg Him for one, or put a million dollars in Steven’s account simply because he begs Him for it, then why does He require me to do it?

    Greg Koukl has many times said, “Never read a Bible verse.” This is wise advice, because when we look at the context, most of the apparent contradictions disappear. So let’s see if this holds true here.

    I believe that his passage is speaking about how one treats one’s enemies. And v22 sets the tone for this passage by clarifying the reason for the enemies in the first place: “…for the sake of the Son of Man.”

    Calling people to repent, forsaking their idols and to put their faith in Christ alone tends to offend those who don’t like exclusive talk and don’t want to be ruled by anyone. In fact, v26 is clear that if you don’t gain enemies by sharing the truth of the gospel (no matter how lovingly), then there is something wrong with your message! (Note: it is clear that the enemies are due to your message and association with Christ, not with sinful behavior on your part.)

    The remaining verses explain how we are to treat such enemies. Clearly, the enemies being referred to here are hostile unbelievers. Are we to retaliate, condemn them, curse them, hate them? The answer is an emphatic no! This is how you are to respond: love, non-retaliation, give whatever they take (ie. steal) and don’t demand it back, pray for them, etc. Verse 29 is very similar to v30, and I think helps us understand the intent behind v30, thus: “Give to everyone who demands of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand [it] back.” You see this going on right now with believers in Iraq. Believers in some places are being demanded to convert to Islam or leave their homes in short order… or die. Luke 6:30 says essentially “give them whatever they demand.”

    Besides, if we take Steven’s interpretation, we immediately have conflict with James 4:2-4:

    James 4:2-4 NASB You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures. You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.

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  13. Steven Craig Miller says:

    James writes: Overall, liberals tend to dismiss the passages that they do not like.

    I’m sure it often looks like that. But my objections to the book of Joshua isn’t because I don’t like the story told, my objections are rooted in the fact that I find racial genocide to be morally wrong, and the mass slaughter of non-combatants, such as defenseless women and children, to be morally reprehensible. That is not exactly the same thing as not liking it.

    You are correct that there are some liberals who seem to claim that Jesus and Paul were liberals, just like them. That point of view seems to me to be intellectually dishonest. I just don’t understand it. And it has always bothered me that liberals haven’t been more upfront with explaining how they interpret scripture. Now, the way my former (Lutheran) pastor explained it to me, and the explanation in Braaten & Jenson’s “Christian Dogmatics,” is that we Lutherans view scripture through the “canon within the canon.” Braaten writes:

    The Holy Scriptures are the source and norm of the knowledge of God’s revelation which concerns the Christian faith. The ultimate authority of Christian theology is not the biblical canon as such, but the gospel of Jesus Christ to which the Scriptures bear witness—the “canon within the canon.” Jesus Christ himself is the Lord of the Scriptures, the source of its authority (1:61).

    What this means to me is that there is a hierarchy of principles. I will admit that they are not clearly defined principles, and that can create problems. But according to this principle, the gospel is a higher authority than scripture itself.

    As for Leviticus 18:22, it seems unfair to use Leviticus to condemn homosexuality, while ignoring most of the rest of the book of Leviticus. Of course, with Paul and what he writes in the first chapter of Romans, the situation is obviously different. I would suggest two things: (1) In my opinion, Paul’s condemnation of homosexuality is “historically conditioned,” and as such does not reflect God’s eternal law. (2) I believe that by the Church accepting practicing homosexuals into the church, we are in a similar position today as when Peter and Paul accepted non-kosher Gentiles into the church. One obviously similarity is that non-kosher Gentiles and homosexuals violate Levitical law.

    James writes: By and large, I get the impression that liberals are more willing to say that the Bible is morally wrong or reflects a primitive human mindset.

    I would concur with you completely here. And I think our case is easy to make. The book of Joshua is a case in point, since according to it, God does not instruct Joshua to follow the Geneva conventions of warfare, and thus according to the book of Joshua, non-combatant women and children were killed by Joshua’s army, and racial genocide was advocated. Neither the Hebrew scriptures, nor the New Testament, advocates the emancipation of slaves, rather they both condone slavery. In addition, there is no notion of human rights in the Bible, nor equality of the sexes. The Bible often advocates a lower morality, because the bible is “historically conditioned.” Human morality is different today than it was two thousand years ago, by this I don’t mean to suggest that human beings are necessarily better morally today than before (even modern armies violate the Geneva conventions of warfare).

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  14. Steven Craig Miller says:

    To: James,

    You wrote: The mixed fabrics rule may have had a variety of lessons–don’t mix the holy with the unholy, don’t imitate the sacred fabric of the Tabernacle (which was mixed), or simply obey God because he said so. Are we literally required to do that? I don’t think so …

    Why don’t you think so?

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  15. James Pate says:

    Here are some more points:

    1. What Ryan says is the same thing that my Bible study group concluded about Luke 6:30: that it is in the context of the command to love our enemies. I’ll add that Jesus does not tell us to give the beggar anything he wants. But we should give something. For example, I don’t have to give a beggar money for cigarettes, but I can buy a sandwich. Do I always follow this? No, but I think that Jesus wants to move us in the direction of being givers. Also, the idea that we should give a person whatever he wants contradicts the testimony of Scripture in other places. Paul (or whoever wrote the pastorals), for example, says that the church should only help true widows.

    2. Sure, conservative Christians may be wrong to quote selectively from Leviticus. But when a prohibition occurs throughout the Bible, as the one against homosexuality does, then something tells me that it is God’s universal command. And Paul in Romans 1 says that those who engage in homosexuality go against nature. I don’t think the prohibition is culturally-determined.

    3. Could the conquest be (at least in part) Israel carrying out God’s judgment on unrepentant sinners?

    4. That’s a good question about the mixed fabrics. I’ll toss this out. Maybe you’ll find it convincing, maybe not. One explanation for the rule (within Judaism) is that the tabernacle had mixed fabrics. Therefore, mixed fabrics are sacred. In the same way that one could not replicate the perfume used for Aaron, so one could not imitate the tabernacle in his dressing habits. But, now, the tabernacle is irrelevant, as far as Christians are concerned. Therefore, the rule no longer applies.

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  16. Steven Craig Miller says:

    To: James,

    You write: What Ryan says is the same thing that my Bible study group concluded about Luke 6:30: that it is in the context of the command to love our enemies.

    So, what are you suggesting? You can only give to beggars who are you enemies, you can’t give to friendly beggars?

    You continue: I’ll add that Jesus does not tell us to give the beggar anything he wants. But we should give something. For example, I don’t have to give a beggar money for cigarettes, but I can buy a sandwich. Do I always follow this? No, but I think that Jesus wants to move us in the direction of being givers.

    I like your honesty. If I understand you correctly, and please correct me if I haven’t, some days you “pick and choose” to follow this scriptural exhortation, and other days you “pick and choose” not to. Is that correct?

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  17. Ryan says:

    Steven writes… “So, what are you suggesting? You can only give to beggars who are you enemies, you can’t give to friendly beggars?

    Luke 6:30 doesn’t address the needy person; the context applies to hostile unbelievers.

    There are other scriptures that address giving and generosity, and they don’t command you to empty your bank account to every one who begs. Being generous and giving to those who are in need is the general commendation; first for the believer, then for the unbeliever. However, there are certainly those who you are not to put on the church assistance: young widows and those who are able to work: “For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order: if anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either” (2 Thess 3:10).

    Concerning the “genocide” in Joshua, God was judging the peoples living in the land and using His people to do it. In Sodom and Gomorrah, God Himself killed all living things with fire and brimstone. Even Lot, his wife and family would have been killed too if they didn’t obey the command to leave (in fact this happened to Lot’s daughters’ financees). In the flood, God destroyed all live that couldn’t swim. And lest you forget, in the judgment to come, God will again destroy those who are not for Him. He is the same yesterday, today and forever. Also, He was very gracious even though judgment did finally come. He gave 120 years warning in the time of the flood, many years warning to Ninevah when He actually did destroy them, and Canaan no doubt had similar warnings and lots of time to repent.

    God is not unjust and does no wrong.

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  18. Ryan says:

    One other example of God’s judgment falling on even babies is the 10th plague in Egypt. All the firstborn sons of the Egyptians (and, BTW, any of the Israelites who didn’t follow instructions) were killed. No man did this, but it was under the direct instruction of God Himself. There is no doubt that the Bible is clear that God does these things; He gives life and He can take it back whenever He wishes to accomplish His purposes. We may wonder how God justifies what we think is abhorrent, but honestly — who are we to charge God with sin? We know He is righteous and just, so we must trust that He knows what He is doing. I believe that babies cannot be held responsible for their sin nature. Why? Because God is fair and merciful, and babies have no cognition in order to turn from sin. It may be that at the resurrection these become the friends of the bridegroom (so to speak) and not the bride. There may be other options; I haven’t explored this fully. We can speculate, but let’s be sure of one thing: God is not immoral.

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  19. Steven Craig Miller says:

    James writes: Sure, conservative Christians may be wrong to quote selectively from Leviticus. But when a prohibition occurs throughout the Bible, as the one against homosexuality does, then something tells me that it is God’s universal command. And Paul in Romans 1 says that those who engage in homosexuality go against nature. I don’t think the prohibition is culturally-determined.

    Actually, the prohibition is rare in the Bible. For example, the Bible condones slavery more often than it condemns homosexuality, and yet most Christians today believe that slavery is wrong. As for Paul’s understanding of “nature,” isn’t possible that it was “historically conditioned”? For example Paul writes: “Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair, it is degrading to him?” (1 Corinthians 11:14). Now, I have no idea what Paul means by “long.” Is it long if it goes over the tops of one’s ears? Is it long if it is shoulder length? Or must it be down the middle of one’s back to be long? And how does “nature” teach us that if a man wears long hair that it is degrading to him?

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  20. James Pate says:

    Here are a few points:

    1. Do I pick and choose in my Christian life? Unfortunately, yes, and saying no to beggars is not even the worst of it. But I’m growing. I’m a work in progress.

    2. Paul may just be saying that men should look like men and women like women. That would be like the Torah’s prohibitions on cross-dressing. Sure, there is culture in that, since some cultures allow men to wear robes or dresses. But the aim of the law is to preserve the natural gender distinctions that God created.

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  21. Steven Craig Miller says:

    James writes: Do I pick and choose in my Christian life? Unfortunately, yes, and saying no to beggars is not even the worst of it. But I’m growing. I’m a work in progress.

    My comment was not meant to be an accusation. If it sounded like that, I apologize. I’ve enjoyed our conversation and I think very highly of you. The point I was attempting to make was merely both conservatives and liberals “pick and choose” from the Bible. For example, Luke writes: “none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions” (Luke 14:33). Most Christians find someway of claiming that this passage does not apply to them.

    James writes: Paul may just be saying that men should look like men and women like women. That would be like the Torah’s prohibitions on cross-dressing. Sure, there is culture in that, since some cultures allow men to wear robes or dresses. But the aim of the law is to preserve the natural gender distinctions that God created.

    I would concur with you. This just strengthens my contintion that Paul’s understanding of “nature” is “historically conditioned.”

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  22. James Pate says:

    Oh no, I know you weren’t accusing. And your point is well taken. Every church stresses some passages of Scripture and downplays others. Some do so explicitly, like the ones that have a canon within the canon. And some do so without necessarily knowing it.

    What I believe we should do is to try to find value in all of Scripture. Even that passage on possessions that you cited has a lesson to teach us. Personally, I interpret that in light of its setting. Maybe Jesus is saying that disciples in those days had to give up their possessions to follow him. They were on the road preaching. They would have no place to lay their heads. They would alienate their family. They were literally leaving everything behind.

    At the same time, I don’t think we should think “Well, that just applies to back then.” Jesus does not want us to be materialistic. We cannot serve God and mammon. Jesus told his disciples to sell all they had and give alms so that they might have treasures in heaven (Luke 12:33). We should have a focus on helping others, and heavenly things should mean more to us than earthly prosperity.

    But another point on this: Jesus did not require everyone to sell everything. The centurion whose servant he healed probably had many possessions, yet Jesus did not tell him to give all away. And Jesus praised his faith.

    I know I’m meandering here, but your point is good.

    How do you approach passages like that?

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  23. Steven Craig Miller says:

    I completely concur with your interpretation of Luke 14:33. Of course, just as Luke 14:33 is not written directly to us, this is true of most of scripture. The most obvious examples are Paul’s letters to various churches. And yet, Christians are often trying to generalize from specific exhortations so to create their own theologies.

    What about the command: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth …” (Mt 6:19)? Taken literally, this commandment precludes Christians having any savings accounts, IRAs, 401ks, retirement accounts, etc. According to your profile, you’re twenty years younger than I, and perhaps you haven’t thought a lot about retirement. But for me, retirement years are right around the next corner. AARP is already sending me their literature. Gray hairs are on my head and in my beard (come to think about it, perhaps I need to update my picture). Should Christians store up treasures on earth (such as in mutual funds)? Or no? How do you interpret this passage?

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  24. James Pate says:

    Ironically, the sermon I heard in church today quoted this passage. The way I interpret it is that we should not be greedy. Our heart should be in spiritual matters. You’ll probably say, “But the text says not to lay up treasures on earth.” That can open up an interesting topic by itself. Do most people divorce what the text means from what it says?

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  25. Steven Craig Miller says:

    The economic conditions in first century Palestine was unlike our present state of affairs. One could divide first century Palestine into four major groups: (a) the wealthiest made up 1 or 2 percent of the population. They dwelt in palaces and villas, financed impressive public buildings, constructed fortresses, etc. Attached to them was a subclass known as: (b) retainers, they made up about another 5 percent of the population. They were government and religious officials, military officers and bureaucrats etc. Next, and the largest group was: (c) the peasants, they made up around 90 percent of the population. They included agricultural workers, artisans, miners, and low-ranking servants. Some owned small parcels of land. They did not normally live in the cities, except as servants of the elites. Most peasants lived in rural areas. Finally, there were: (d) the radically marginalized, the homeless, beggars, the lame and blind, the unclean, and untouchable. Often scholars will simplify their explanation of this society, instead of speaking of four groups as I have, they will speak of a “two-class” society: (1) the wealthy and their retainers; against (2) the peasants. But no matter how one might slice it, the important thing to remember is that there was no “middle class” as we have today. During the first century, there was a small class at the very top who had control over most of the wealth, and there was the rest of the population (around 90 percent) at the bottom.

    Furthermore, I would suggest that Jesus’ teaching took place largely, perhaps almost exclusively, among the peasant class and largely among the villages and rarely in the big cities of Palestine (the one major exception is Jerusalem, of course). I would also suggest that the command: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth …” (Mt 6:19), might have been taken literally and seriously by first century peasants. I would also suggest that this is another example of teaching which is “historically conditioned.” Economic and spiritual advice for first century peasants, doesn’t translate well for 21st century middle class Christians. Our situation and economy is greatly different than Jesus’ 1st century economy. I would also suggest that the command: “lend, expecting nothing in return” (Luke 6:35) might have been taken literally and seriously by first century peasants, but it doesn’t make much sense to a 21st century Christian depositing money into a savings account. The economic situation has changed.

    Of course, even peasants might have some wealth, but I doubt very few of them had anything like a saving account like we have today. So I would suggest that not only is Paul’s understanding of “nature” “historically conditioned,” but also some of Jesus’ preaching about wealth could be “historically conditioned” also.

    What do you think? Does any of it make any sense to you?

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  26. James Pate says:

    Thanks for the information on first century Palestine. Are there good books or articles that discuss this? I think I read something about it years ago in Charlesworth’s Hillel and Jesus.

    My only problem with your description is that it seems rather rigid, though it most likely has a lot of truth in it. There was commerce in first century Palestine, for example. There was also some form of investment. Jesus did tell the parable of the talents, after all. And people could gain money through inheritance. That was the setting in which Jesus told one man to beware of covetousness. I guess what I’m trying to say is that there were ways for people back then to be greedy and covetousness, and to earn money. I don’t think Jesus was giving his message only to people who were stuck in an economic rut.

    There’s more that can be said on this, but I’ll see how you respond.

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  27. Steven Craig Miller says:

    What you say is true enough. In fact, I would add that the Jesus movement (or the emerging Christianity, or whatever you would like to call it) seems to have quickly moved from the rural areas where Jesus largely preached to the cities where Paul seems to have spent most of his time. And one can be greedy and covetousness as much without an assarion (a Roman copper coin worth about 1/16th of a denarius) to one’s name as one can with billions upon billions of denarii to one’s name. But how else would you suggest we understand the command: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth …” (Mt 6:19)? Should we take the phrase: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth …” to mean: It is okay to store up for yourselves treasures here on earth, go ahead and store up as much as you like, there is no real limit as to how much wealth you are allowed to store up, as long as you love God more than mammon. Is that the interpretation you prefer? Or do you have something else to suggest?

    Is it worse to re-interrupt the phrase: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth …” so that it means that it is okay to for Christians to store up treasures here on earth (it exact opposite meaning), or to say that the phrase is “historically conditioned,” but nonetheless means exactly what it says, although meant for a peasant audience, which do you think is worse? Or do you have some other alternative in mind?

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  28. James Pate says:

    I’m not sure. I don’t exactly think that the entire testimony of Scripture tells us not to work or earn money for our needs. There are plenty of passages that suggest the opposite. Maybe what Jesus is criticizing is an obsession with making money. He tells a parable, as you know, about a farmer who indeed stored up treasures on earth. His whole life was consumed with enjoying his prosperity and taking it easy. But he was not rich toward God. So I think that Matthew 6 is about our priority. And Jesus reminds us that there are limits to earthly wealth. It can rust (whatever he means by that), and robbers can steal it. But no one can take treasures of heaven from us.

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  29. Ryan says:

    Good discussion, but I’m not sure what it has to do specifically with inerrancy…

    Luke 12:21 says, “So is the man who stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”

    The text of Luke 12 is definitely giving encouragement and peace to those who have given up everything for Christ. Just as Paul speaks of some who will not get married because they want to devote themselves fully to Christ, there will be those who God has given the grace to sell everything. Not everyone will serve in this way; it seems that each give what he has purposed in his heart and give willingly and is not being forced to do so. But all must store up treasure in heaven and treat money and things for what they are worth in comparison to the life to come.

    Look at how Paul interprets Jesus’ command. Does he say, “Instruct those who are rich in this present world to sell everything they own?” No. In 1 Tim 6:17-19 he says, “Instruct those who are rich in this present world to not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed.”

    Furthermore, we have a specific example in the early church. Ananias sold a piece of property. Note what Peter said: “While it ramained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not under your control? Why is it that you have conceived this deed i nyour heart? You have not lied to men but to God” (Acts 5:4). Their sin was not that they should have sold the property; clearly there was no requirement to do so. Their sin was that they made it look like they laid the full proceeds at the apostles’ feet when they secretly kept back a portion of it. It seems clear that they could have said they were giving half of it, and that would have been fine. It was their lie that was the problem, but Peter’s reply teaches us about how they expected people to give: out of their own desire and from the heart. There was no expectation that everyone had to sell everything they had.

    We have another account in Acts 2: “And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart” (Acts 2:42-46). Evidently those in the community still had houses since they were meeting in them, so this passage could not be used to support the idea that they all sold everything and became beggars. The idea seems clearly that equality was central.

    On the subject of giving, it is important also to be careful to do what is best. If you are single, you are free to do as you please; but if you are married, if you give everything away against the wishes of your wife, you may subject your family to breakup unnecessarily. In that case, you may desire to give all and your wife may not; you can pray that God would so move her heart to allow you to give.

    Those are some of my observations.

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  30. Ryan says:

    Steven wrote… “The point I was attempting to make was merely both conservatives and liberals “pick and choose” from the Bible.

    While I’m sure you can find those from any label who pick and choose which scriptures they choose to obey, it does not follow from this that they are right in doing so, though the reasons for doing so might differ. The liberal may ignore certain scriptures because he feels they are the words of men and uninspired, whereas the conservative may ignore certain scriptures because they don’t seem to agree with what other scriptures say… or perhaps they just haven’t thought about it enough. But make no mistake: the scripture is meant to be fully submitted to, and to do this one must be able to understand what is being said in context as all of it is intended to speak to us in some way.

    In case you think that the commands of Jesus are not meant for us, Jesus says, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations… teaching them to observe all that I commanded you…” (Matt 28:19-20).

    The problem I see with many in the church today is they rush far to quickly into application before they have taken the time to properly understand what the scripture is really saying.

    Case in point is 1 Cor 11:14 concerning hair length. Unfortunately, I believe that many translations are unfaithful to the original, which makes it harder to discern what is being said. So we cannot entirely fault people for misunderstanding it. From what I have read, there is no punctuation in the Greek text, so it can make it pretty hard at times to determine the sense of what is being said. For this passage, the International Standard Version interprets it without a question mark: “Nature itself teaches you neither that it is disgraceful for a man to have long hair nor that hair is a woman’s glory, for hair is given as a substitute for coverings” (1 Cor 11:14-15). Indeed, nature shows us that the hair on the head of a boy and of a girl both grow without stopping at a certain length. Both have hair and nature teaches us nothing about its apporpriate length.

    Here again, the apostle Paul is refuting the doctrines of men that exist in amongst the various churches restricting the freedom of people to decide for themselves. They were to be modest, and a woman also had to respect her husband in what she decided, but the decision was up to her. V10 even says, “because of the angels” — clearly in reference to 1 Cor 6:3. If people (including men and women) will judge angels, then certainly they can make their own decisions when it comes to hair!

    Steven wrote… “As for Paul’s understanding of ‘nature,’ isn’t possible that it was ‘historically conditioned’?

    Given a proper understanding of the text, I don’t think Paul is advocating that nature teaches a first century person something different than a 21st century person. Hair didn’t stop at 1 1/2 inches in length all by itself back then, nor does it now.

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  31. Steven Craig Miller says:

    To: James,

    I don’t disagree with what you wrote. It all makes sense, but I’m unsure what it has to do with the command: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth …” While most conservatives claim that they follow all the teachings of scripture, my guess would be that most of them ignore Matthew 6:19. In your opinion, would that be a fair assessment of the current situation?

    How about 1 Peter 3:3? In your opinion, do most married conservative Christian women (cp. 1 Peter 3:1-3) ever wear their hair braided, ever wear gold ornaments (such as gold wedding rings), and ever wear “fine clothing” (especially at church)? How would you assess the current practice today among married conservative Christian woman? Do they religiously follow the clear and plain teaching of 1 Peter 3:3, or no?

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  32. Ryan says:

    Steven,

    Perhaps you would like to comment on what all this has to do with inerrancy.

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  33. Steven Craig Miller says:

    Ryan writes: Steven, Perhaps you would like to comment on what all this has to do with inerrancy.

    I know you have noticed, since you are a very intelligent person, that I have not been responding to your messages to me. The reason is quite simple, I prefer to have a pleasant respectful dialogue. I tried this once with you, and the whole thing became very unpleasant. On at least two occasions, you made inflammatory remarks about my Christian faith. And I responded in kind, making inflammatory remarks about you. Anyone who wants to look at the gory details can do so by looking at the comments to Ben Witherington’s article “Hermeneutics– A Guide for Perplexed Bible Readers” in his August 2007 archive. With all due respect to your well thought out position, I no longer have any desire to respond to your messages.

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  34. Ryan says:

    Steven,

    I understand how you may feel, although a careful review of our discussion should reveal that I was not being unreasonable nor unkind. As a result of things you were saying, I became concerned about your faith and in my opinion, that is more important than any academic dialogue. If you choose to not respond to my comments on this or any other thread, that is of course up to you. I will add my comments for the benefit of others as I feel so led.

    James, perhaps rather than continuing down this rabbit trail too much further, you might kindly ask Steven what these questions have to do with inerrancy. It may be that there is a connection, but I’m not seeing it at the moment.

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  35. Steven Craig Miller says:

    Ryan writes: although a careful review of our discussion should reveal that I was not being unreasonable nor unkind.

    I strongly disagree, in my opinion, you were most unkind.

    Ryan writes: As a result of things you were saying, I became concerned about your faith and in my opinion, that is more important than any academic dialogue.

    That is not what happened at all. From my point of view, you became nasty and inflammatory because I presented a theological point of view radically different from your own position. You can rationalize it and try to justify yourself all you want, but the clear facts of the matter are that I presented a thoughtful and reasoned theological point of view radically different from your own, and you decided to personally attack my religious beliefs with inflammatory personal statements.

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  36. Ryan says:

    Hi Steven,

    I am not planning on defending myself here; I am sure that James doesn’t want his post cluttered with such off-topic conversation. If you would like, we can continue this by email — you can find it through my profile. Otherwise, let’s try to stick to the topic.

    As a final comment, I have met a number of people who it seemed could care less about a discussion such as the one we had. The fact that you got so passionate gives me some hope.

    God bless,
    Ryan

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  37. James Pate says:

    To Ryan:

    I think that Steven’s topic is appropriate since it deals with the authority of Scripture. He’s responding to my statement that liberals pick and choose by saying that conservatives do too. The “you can’t pick and choose” argument is a big conservative defense of inerrancy, from my experience. So Steven is right to ask why conservatives do not (at least in his eyes) follow Scripture to the letter. And your comments are welcome too, since you point out that the whole counsel of Scripture should be considered.

    To Steven:

    I think that my comments were relevant to the treasures in heaven passage in the sense that they looked elsewhere at what Jesus said about the topic to understand better his stance on the issue. But let me add this: Why should we assume that Matthew 6 forbids a person to make any money at all? Maybe it means do not accumulate a bunch of riches. I’m not willing to die for what I just wrote, but I’ll toss that out.

    Regarding your question on the Peter passage, I’d say Peter was telling women to be modest, using his cultural context for what modest was.

    I’ll let you probe that. I’m off to bed. I have to get up early tomorrow.

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  38. Ryan says:

    Thanks for your explanation, James. I agree with the premise that if all scripture is God-breathed, then one cannot ignore any of it. One should not sit in judgment over God’s word, but rather seek to understand and submit to it. If you truly want to obey all God’s commands and ways and you ask Him for wisdom and understanding to accomplish this, He promises to give it to you… so I would encourage any of you to test Him on this.

    It seems to me that the most significant weakness of the contrary position is if scripture is not all inspired and contains errors, who then decides what is an error and what is authoritatively from God? If it makes errors in things that are relatively easy to confirm concerning matters of the material world and history, then how can we trust what it has to say about things not seen including the requirements to avoid eternal punishment and to be in right relationship with God?

    However, it seems to me that whether or not there exists a group of people out there who consciously or unconsciously ignore or overlook or “choose to not pick” one or more scriptures (for whatever reason) has no bearing on the fact of the inerrency of the scriptures itself. As the scripture says, “…let God be found true, though every man be found a liar…” (Rom 3:4)

    I am sure that Steven has a very long list of scriptures that he has issues or concerns with. While I do enjoy studying these scriptures, and am willing to look more carefully at them, time permitting, I am honestly wondering if we go through each one of them and are able to answer all his objections, whether it will satisfy him. (Steven, feel free to comment).

    In my opinion, I think it would be more productive on this topic to instead discuss the arguments for inerrency, which I brought up on Ben Witherington’s blog (ie. questions like those I raise in the first paragraph of this comment). James brought up an argument that does not work against inerrency. Are there better ones?

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  39. Steven Craig Miller says:

    James asks: Why should we assume that Matthew 6 forbids a person to make any money at all?

    The command “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth …” (Matthew 6:19), seems to imply that one should not have any saving accounts. But what about: “If you lend money to my people, to the poor among you, you shall not deal with them as a creditor; you shall not exact interest from them” (Exodus 22:25 NRSV). Or how about: “You shall not charge interest on loans to another Israelite, interest on money, interest on provisions, interest on anything that is lent” (Deuteronomy 23:19 NRSV).

    After all, usury (the lending or borrowing of money at interest) was considered immoral for most Christians during the first sixteen hundred years of Christianity. Only with the rise of capitalism and the changing religious views after the Reformation did usury become acceptable. Today most Christians practice some form of usury, many of us, conservatives included, go so far as to even open savings account for our children. We buy our homes with usury loans, we buy cars with usury loans, we go to school with usury loans, churches are financed with usury loans, many checking accounts have usury loans built in as part of its service. In fact, usury is so common, the term “usury” has changed its meaning so that today “usury” usually is used to mean “excessive interest.” But for sixteen hundred years usury (at any interest rate) was considered immoral and illegal. The exception was made, ironically, that Christians could borrow and lend money with Jews on the principle found in Deuteronomy 23:20.

    James writes: Regarding your question on the Peter passage, I’d say Peter was telling women to be modest, using his cultural context for what modest was.

    Precisely my point. One might even say, most Christians, including conservatives, “pick and choose” to ignore Peter’s exhortation at 1 Peter 3:3, at best only coming away with a generalized re-interpretation of its message to be modest and sadly that often goes out the window too.

    Just as an aside, I do believe that if one went and tried to compare most conservative versus liberal churches and looked at how the women dressed, I dare suggest that you wouldn’t find much difference between them. With the exception of some ultra-conservative groups (perhaps some Pentecostals, and then the Mennonites and Amish, obviously), most conservative Christian woman do not dress any more modest than what one would find in most liberal churches.

    And if I might take this thought experiment a bit further, if one went to a liberal Lutheran church and then a conservative Lutheran church, I doubt one would notice much difference between them, except that the liberal Lutherans would allow all Christians to take communion, and the pastor might be female. The sermons would sound about the same, the scripture readings would be from the same Bible, the hymns would be the same, to most outsiders, it would be hard for them to find any significant difference between them. Its something to think about.

    What about your tradition? If I attended your place of worship, what would I find to be different? Or let me put it another way, how do you as a conservative live your Christian life significantly differently than us liberals?

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  40. Ryan says:

    Steven wrote… “The command ‘Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth …’ (Matthew 6:19), seems to imply that one should not have any saving accounts.

    I don’t think you can make the implication that savings accounts are forbidden from this passage. The point Jesus seems to be making is summarized in verse 20: “for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Your treasure could be a parcel of land, a teddy bear collection, insurance polic(ies), heirlooms from your parents, your health, your friends, trophies and achievements… and for those of us with computers, your hard-disks full of PDF books, music, videos, software — $1000s of dollars of investment. The one who doesn’t have a savings account can just as easily have their heart’s ‘treasure’ elsewhere. At the same time, one can have a savings account and not make it their treasure. As I showed from other scripture, the Bible doesn’t forbid one from being rich, but commands such to be generous. Now, imagine storing $5000 under your pillow because you thought it was a sin to put it in the bank! Incidentally, the Bible tells us that the disciples and Jesus brought a money bag with them. Was Jesus saying that this little treasury was wrong? Indeed, there was a time when He commanded His disciples to take no money bag with them on one of their missionary journeys, but doesn’t this assume that to that point they were carrying one?

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  41. Ryan says:

    Steven writes… “After all, usury (the lending or borrowing of money at interest) was considered immoral for most Christians during the first sixteen hundred years of Christianity.

    The conclusion that lending or borrowing of money at interest is immoral is not a valid implication from those scriptures you quoted in Deuteronomy. Just because people in the church forbade it doesn’t mean that it was the commandment of God! Those passages in Deuteronomy speak about not taking advantage of the poor. It does not wholesale disallow lending at interest, except to the poor (and gives an example of someone who gives his coat as a pledge as the kind of poor it is referring to).

    Steven writes… “Today most Christians practice some form of usury, many of us, conservatives included, go so far as to even open savings account for our children. We buy our homes with usury loans, we buy cars with usury loans, we go to school with usury loans, churches are financed with usury loans, many checking accounts have usury loans built in as part of its service.

    You have misunderstood the scripture and therefore have misapplied it. Having a savings account is not forbidden by either Matthew 6:19 (as I have already shown) nor those passages in Deuteronomy. The bank is not “the poor among you” and is fully capable of (and in fact should pay you) reasonable interest. I put the gifts my children get from birthdays, etc. in an account for them as a way of teaching them how to save and not spend. As well as being wise, they need to learn to be generous, and this will give me opportunity to teach them this principle as well.

    It may not be wise to buy a car or other consumable on loan, but it is not forbidden. And, for the vast majority who have a decent job but insufficient cash to purchase a home, borrowing to buy a home is a very reasonable thing to do. Of course, renting is also an option, but really the only difference is whether you own your place of residence or not; the fact remains that rent is a form of interest.

    There sure seems to be a lot of misinformation about money out there, specifically concerning what the scripture teaches about it.

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  42. Steven Craig Miller says:

    To: James,

    I have another passage to add to the topic. Ezekiel writes:

    “If a man is righteous and does what is lawful and right — if he does not eat upon the mountains or life up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel, does not defile his neighbor’s wife or approach a woman during her menstrual period, does not oppress anyone, but restores to the debtor his pledge, commits no robbery, gives his bread to the hungry and covers the naked with a garment, does not take advance or accrued interest, withholds his hand from iniquity, executes true justice between contending parties, follows my statutes, and is careful to observe my ordinances, acting faithfully—such a one is righteous; he shall surely live, says the Lord God” (Ezekiel 18:5-9 NRSV).

    Ezekiel continues on this topic and then concludes that anyone who “takes advance or accrued interest; shall he live? He shall not. He has done all these abominable things; he shall surely die; his blood shall be upon himself” (Ezekiel 18:13 NRSV).

    According to Ezekiel 18:5-18, interest was “abominable,” taking interest was grouped with adultery, robbery, and idolatry, according to Ezekiel the punishment for receiving interest was death.

    In my opinion, Deuteronomy 23:19-20 and Ezekiel 18:5-18 together makes a strong argument. Furthermore, for roughly sixteen hundred years, Christianity agreed with this interpretation of these passages, namely borrowing or lending money for interest was immoral and criminal. Only with the rise of capitalism and the changing religious views after the Reformation did usury become acceptable, and even then it took one or two hundred years before it became acceptable to most everyone. And today, most Christians, even conservatives, practice usury contrary to the plain and clear teachings within scripture. According to Ezekiel, usury is an abomination and we all deserve the death penalty.

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  43. James Pate says:

    But you as a good Lutheran know that we all deserve the death penalty anyway.

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  44. James Pate says:

    One more point: Deuteronomy 23:20 allows the Israelite to lend to a foreigner on interest. So the law related to Israel as a nation. But we can still get some principles from it. The purpose of the law was to insure that, if a poor Israelite owed money, he would not be dragged deeper into debt and bondage through exorbitant interest rates. And I may have read this in one of the Jewish Publication Society commentaries on the Pentateuch: in those days, in the ancient Near East, interest could get pretty steep.

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