Biblical Putdowns & Trump Cards

While most online Christian interactions don’t end up at: “well, Hitler believed that too!” (Reductio ad Hitlerum) many times they are just as close with Christians using acceptable “putdowns” from Scripture. What are these? They are usually sayings of Jesus ripped from their context. For example:

“Well, I would discuss this further but I don’t want to throw my pearls before swine”

or

“Jesus said there would be wolves in sheeps clothing and you are looking rather wolfy.”|

These are acceptable, verbal uses of the Sword of the Spirit in many Christian circles but the real question is…are they? Let’s take a look:

(1) Pearls Before Swine

“Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.” (Matthew 7:6 ESV)

Pigs and dogs were scavengers during Jesus’s day and would have been considered unclean to Jews (I’d argue cats should be in here as well). They were outsider animals that Jesus used as analogy for those who are antagonistic or outside of the faith. The pearl is the gospel. Jesus makes clear that a Christian should be slow to judge (7:1-5) any person who is not in Christ but there are sometimes when a Christian should back away and not invest emotional/spiritual energy with someone. Notice that this saying is not applied to other Christian believers.

(2) Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?” (Matthew 7:15-16 ESV)

Jesus calls for Christians to not judge hastily but to also be discerning when it comes to prophets who come in the believers midst. Key word there is prophets.  Or those who claim to be a prophet. Also notice that it talks about fruit inspection of the person in question and that it matches up to the words they speak. It does not say that a person should be judged on the miraculous. Someone may have great wonders following their lives but that does not equal Christian maturity.

(3) Whitewashed Tombs 

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” (Matthew 23:27-28 ESV)

Jesus is addressing the Pharisees and Scribes for being hypocritical. Jesus is making a judgment on them (see, judging is okay) as he points out the disconnect between their outward actions and their inward state. He does not say that outward righteousness is bad but that outward righteousness is empty without the inward. Again, he is speaking to Pharisees and Scribes. Not believers. A believer who is filled with the Spirit cannot be inwardly dead because he is born again.

 (4) Deliver to Satan

“you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 5:5 ESV)

Satan’s realm in Scripture is another name for the earth (Luke 4:5-6; Ephesians 2:2). This man was to be cast out of the church not for punishment sake but to eventually be restored to the church. This man was consciously committing sexual sin that was outwardly expressed in the church since they all knew about it. Even though those involved were consenting adults there was no toleration for their sin if they did not repent. Loving the sinner meant allowing him to live the life he had chosen outside of the church.

(5) Holy Spirit Teaches Me

“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” (John 14:26 ESV)

The Bible makes clear that the Holy Spirit aides believers in their spiritual walk (Romans 8:14; Galatians 5:16,18) but this is not at the expense of knowledge/wisdom. This specific verse is quoted many times at the expense of human knowledge when in context it is talking specifically to the disciples about the writings of the Scriptures. Something that no longer happens today. I usually like to retort when someone says this passage with Revelation which says not to add or subtract one letter from the Scripture because when someone uses this passage in a discussion that is what they are doing.

How about you? What other some other Christian putdowns and trump cards you’ve experienced?

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Some Thoughts on the Death Penalty and N.T. Wright

“Capital punishment is to the whole society what self-defense is to the individual.” –J.P. Moreland

I have a great respect for N.T. Wright and greatly appreciate his works on Paul, Christian living/ethics and the Kingdom of God. This is why it deeply saddened me to read what I would argue is a poorly stated argument in an article for the Washington Post. Here is a paragraph from the article:

You can’t reconcile being pro-life on abortion and pro-death on the death penalty. Almost all the early Christian Fathers were opposed to the death penalty, even though it was of course standard practice across the ancient world. As far as they were concerned, their stance went along with the traditional ancient Jewish and Christian belief in life as a gift from God, which is why (for instance) they refused to follow the ubiquitous pagan practice of ‘exposing’ baby girls (i.e. leaving them out for the wolves or for slave-traders to pick up).


You can’t reconcile being pro-life on abortion and pro-death on the death penalty.

While the statement scores rhetorical points and at face value seems to make sense it has a couple of fatal errors. First, the term “pro-life” is a misnomer. When we say we are “pro-life” we say that we are against the unjust taking of innocent life. Life is not an absolute and can be forfeited when placed against higher laws (protection of innocent/justice). Also, the unborn child is not aborted because he/she committed a capital crime while a convicted person who is put to death is. Second, capital punishment is commanded in the Old Testament (Gen 9:6) and allowed in the New Testament (Rom 13:1-2,1 Pet 2:13-14). If supporting limited capital punishment immediately makes one not pro-life then Paul and Peter were not pro-life. Finally, Wright is building a caricature (sadly, sometimes true as seen from some in the audience at the recent Republican debate) of anyone who believes there are some crimes which still can be labeled a capital crime.

Almost all the early Christian Fathers were opposed to the death penalty, even though it was of course standard practice across the ancient world.

I believe what Wright is addressing here is the emperor-worshipping dictatorship of Rome which enforced the death penalty above the normally accepted natural law violation, capital crimes. I would agree with him on that and he would then be right to say “almost all” of the early Christians Fathers did not support Rome’s capital punishment. However, this doesn’t seem to be how he is using it. He is stating that ALL capital punishment was rejected by the Christians Fathers and that is not true. Two of the greatest church theologians, St. Augustine and St.  Thomas Aquinas, both wrote in favor of it [City of God 1.21;Summa theologica II-II, q. 64]. I’m not sure what he meant here but I think he overstated his case.

What about Jesus?

As a Christian, my ethic and life is to model and follow Christ’s. How then can I as a Christian say that my belief in capital punishment would fit my ethic model formed by Christ? Was not Christ put to death in a system where capital punishment went awry?

As I stated earlier, two passages of Scripture allow for the government (not individuals) to justly enforce capital punishment (Romans 13:1-2; 1 Peter 2:13-14) and encourages Christians to work within those governments to be good citizens. Every single government that existed at the time undoubtedly enforced capital punishment completely different then it is enforced today and both Paul and Peter or Jesus said nothing about it. In fact, they said God uses it to judge the world.

But wouldn’t Jesus forgive?

This question attempts to prove too much. While attempting to be an argument against capital punishment it also becomes an argument against any punishment. Why put a murderer in prison if they are forgiven? Wouldn’t Jesus forgive…look at Paul? What should we do with the murderer then? Prison but, again, Jesus forgave them? Why punish at all?

Also, Jesus himself never challenged the use of or the validity of the death penalty and taught submission to governments — even oppressive ones. Which is echoed again in both Paul and Peter later in the Epistles.

Finally, Jesus makes forgiveness available for everyone, even murderers. Governments however operate on different biblical principles when governing and man’s court is not ultimately God’s court although the latter has bearing on the former.

Conclusion

The subject of the death penalty is a difficult one because people in my position are not arguing the right to be “pro-death” as N.T. Wright stated. We are not advocating vigilantism or arguing for personal vendettas but simply stating we are “pro-life” because we are against the unjust taking of life. It is tragic when people are put to death but it is just as it was tragic that they themselves did not value life. However, it is because we value life and it’s because we value the protection of it that we believe that capital punishment is still applicable when capital crimes are committed. After thoroughly reading about the two cases that caused N.T. Wright’s response I do believe the defendants were rightly tried, faced a jury of their peers and were found guilty of a capital crime. May God rest their souls.

For more on a Christian perspective for limited uses of Capital Punishment visit here or visit J.P. Moreland’s here.