Comment threads are interesting. I don’t have a lot of free time, so I choose to engage there fairly little. When I do, it is usually rather short replies.
But a comment on this video from a while back just got my attention and I wrote a little article in response. Thought I’d share that response here as well, as I think it works on its own, and the content of the original comment is really contained here. Hope you enjoy it.
Thoughts on Biblical Thinking
When one reads your comment, it is easy to be struck by just how reasonable it sounds. Our human minds seek simplicity, and that is why false dichotomies are so attractive to us. I can honestly say that whenever I’ve engaged in conversation with people holding an opposing view on any theological issue, I have always encountered some version of your argument.
False dichotomies work on the ignorant. This is not to disparage the ignorant. We are all at varying levels of ignorance or knowledge about a whole host of issues, and no one is an expert at everything. The reason this kind of argument is for the ignorant is that a knowledgeable person understands why there are not only two options.
When dealing with Scripture, we have a clear repository of the knowledge we’ll be considering. It is easy, and frequently done, for a person to gain a partial knowledge of Scripture, begin thinking about it deeply, and draw conclusions before considering all that the text has to say. The result of this mode of forming theological opinions is that you can build up a very philosophically strong, self-consistent theology rather quickly, but will then find yourself constantly having to deal with “problem texts” that have to be explained away in service of the theology.
What I have found far better is to refrain from drawing conclusions until the whole of Scripture has spoken into your thinking on an issue. When we do this, we can be assured to come to a much more sound, biblical conclusion. And while this sounds both wise and simple to do, it is not so easy to accomplish. People are impatient. We want answers now. We want those answers to fit into a simple, easy-to-digest and easy-to-explain package. And the simple fact is that Scripture presents us with philosophical difficulties when it is allowed to speak without being bridled by human theories. God is love, but God also commanded the killing of entire city populations. God is just, but God poured His wrath out on His own innocent Son. God is one, but there are three who are God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God is good, but God sent an evil spirit to torment King Saul. Our temptation when encountering these things in the Bible is often to simply affirm whichever part of Scripture fits better into our own thinking, and try to explain why the other part of Scripture doesn’t really mean what it says.
On the other hand, we could just let all of Scripture be God’s word, and seek to understand it as best we can, allowing for philosophical questions to go unanswered, or have answers we don’t like. Make no mistake, when dealing with Scripture, no one is exempted from a mental challenge. The text won’t allow it. The question is not whether you will have to explain something difficult. The question is which difficulty you will choose. If you form your theology based on a partial survey of the text, followed by careful, deep reasoning, you will have avoided the philosophical challenge, but taken on the Scriptural challenge, because your theology now has to contend with texts that either are or seem pitted against it. But if you form your theology based on the whole text, you now have to contend with difficult philosophical questions, some of which you just might not have answers to. The benefit, though, is no more problem passages.
Like the other challenges mentioned, there is a challenge related to the Law of God. Your comment is a perfect example of the error of reasoning out a conclusion on partial evidence. There are two parts of your comment, and I will address them individually. In the first part, you present two possibilites for the nature of God’s Law, that it is either purely based on arbitrary reasons or concrete reasons. This is taken as given, not argued from Scripture or any clear reasoning. You simply present the two possibilities as if no other were possible. The only subsequent argumentation given is to declare an example I gave as void, ostensably because it clearly, to you, fits into the “concrete” category, and as such never changed. The problem is that you have artificially, through that wonderfully flawed human reason we all possess, restricted the possibilities to just these two. There is a third, and possibly more, but a third will do. The third possibility is that God may give commands that are intended only for certain people at certain times, to serve a defined purpose in His sovereign plans. Such commands would not be arbitrary, nor would they be required to be eternal. They are planned and purposeful, but not necessarily reflective of a morality based on the very nature of God and our nature as created in His image. This third possibility does not negate the existence of actual creation-based commands that really do not change, but is certainly a possible type of command.
Do we find such commands in Scripture? Well of course we do. When God told Noah to build an ark or for Abram to leave Ur, what kinds of commands were these? Were they completely arbitrary? Of course not. They were integral to God’s plan. Were they completely concrete? Of course not. There is no eternal principle that everyone everywhere should build an ark or leave Ur. They were purposeful, specific commands meant to fulfill a piece of God’s plan. Does any of the Law of Moses fit this category? Well, this category of Law could also be likened to rules given to children. As children grow and mature, they no longer need certain rules, even though those rules were not arbitrary. As a grown man, it is no longer necessary to have a father impose rules about what that man may eat or when he must sleep, etc. Rules change with maturity. Is this just an example pulled from my head? No. Scripture treats the Law just this way, when Paul refers to it as a guardian in Galatians 3, saying that that law was your guardian, and you are no longer under that guardian. Paul isn’t talking about penalties, but about laws always meant to come to a point at which there would be a change in the relationship it had to God’s people.
As for your attempt at refuting my example, you present an argument from silence, that since God doesn’t present a law with penalties, etc., concerning eating only plants, it must be one of those concrete, never changing laws. Scripture doesn’t make this argument. You are doing it again, making logical extrapolations where Scripture does not, in order to insist on what Scripture says. The fact is, God does alter what was said in Genesis 1 by what He says in Genesis 9.
And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. Gen. 1:29
Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything. Gen. 9:3
See? He even makes reference to what He said in Genesis 1, explaining how now it will be different. I don’t know where you get the idea from Scripture that what was said in Genesis 1 is unalterable. Scripture itself alters it. It is only human reason that has made you think anything different. And I can understand why. If you have committed yourself to a system of thought based on a partial understanding of Scripture, then you are going to run into problem passages that you have to try to explain. The problem is that you should have changed your theology, but instead you are trying to change the Bible.
So the moral of the story is this. Take your time. Don’t jump in and make grand proclamations about what is or isn’t possible when talking about God. Anytime you’re tempted to “logically” reduce the possibilities, ask the simple question whether Scripture says otherwise. You can avoid being wrong in exactly the way you needed to be right to make your argument sound.
Thanks for commenting. I do hope you check out the rest of what’s available, and I hope this has been helpful.