September 20, 2006

Euthyphro, and Plato's Nagging Question

Filed under: Random Stuff — Bob Gifford @ 2:44 pm

One difference between conservative and moderate-to-progressive Christians seems to involve the nature of biblical authority, reason and morality. To explore this a bit, let me introduce a little pagan philosophy. According to Socrates, Plato posed this question to Euthyphro, translated here into Christian terms:

Is what is moral commanded by God because it is moral, or is it moral because it’s commanded by God?

This is Euthyphro’s Dilemma, so-called because either answer presents us with theological problems. If something is commanded by God because it is moral, then God is not the highest authority, since God must be subservient to a greater quality called morality. On the other hand, if something is only moral because God commands that it is so, then morality is an entirely arbitrary standard that depends on God’s whim. Both alternatives seem equally unacceptable.

The resolution to this dilemma is that, included among the characteristics of God such as omniscience and omnipotence, is omnibenevolence. God is all-loving. Therefore, God can not command anything for us that is not ultimately best for us and the rest of God’s creation. God is not subservient to morality, but because of God’s love for us, God’s commands aren’t really arbitrary either. (For a fuller explanation, see God and Morality by Derrick Farnell.)

What I find interesting is an implication of this resolution to the dilemma. If God’s commands, as required by God’s very nature, are what is best for us, then morality can be objectively determined by reason independent of God’s revelation in Scripture. Now I accept the Bible as authoritative, but not as innerrant, and I’m often accused of “picking and choosing” Scripture to justify my opinions. In discussions on this blog and elsewhere, the conservative argument ultimately rests on “the Bible says it, so that settles it.” I’ve never had a good response to that argument other than the observation that the Bible contradicts itself, so we all end up picking and choosing verses to justify our positions.

But this observation that God is omnibenevolent and that God’s commands are therefore based on what is best for us gives another way to think about this. We must either accept that a) everything God commands us in the Bible is good for us, even if our intellect is not able to understand why, or that b) anything commanded in the Bible that is not good for us does not come from God. The first proposition places a belief in the inerrancy of the Bible over our ability to reason, and the second places our ability to reason over a belief in the inerrancy of the Bible.

There are many commandments in the Old Testament that we understand as having been superseded by the new covenant through Jesus Christ, so let me stick with the New Testament. Paul says that gays are condemned to live outside God’s grace, and that women can not hold positions of authority over men. Both these statements often seem to be in conflict with Jesus’ teachings, such as loving our neighbor as ourselves, or loving our enemies. (I really don’t want to get into yet another debate on these issues, but am just using them as examples.) If the Bible is inerrant, then we have to conclude that loving our neighbor as ourselves requires rejecting gay marriage and women pastors. It may seem that loving gays would mean allowing them the sacrament of holy marriage, or that loving women would mean allowing them full equality in our churches. But we are wrong. God, who is all-knowing as well as all-loving, has commanded us differently through the pen of the apostle Paul. This is the position of conservative Christians.

But I can’t buy it. I too believe in an all-knowing and all-loving God, but I also think our faculty of reasoning is a gift of God and not as fallible as conservatives would have us think. I just can’t logically see how loving gays means making them accept life-long celibacy or else forcing them from the church. I can’t think of any rational argument why keeping women out of positions of authority is an act of love. I humble myself before God and others, but I’m sorry, I just can’t see how these can be part of God’s morality, commanded by God out of God’s perfect love for us. Here I stand, I can do no other.

So this seems to be a fundamental difference in theology between Christian conservatives and progressives. By knowing God’s nature, are we capable of understanding God’s reasons for God’s commands to us, and thereby able to better discern God’s will? Or are we forever incapable of understanding why God has seemingly commanded those things that by our reasoning seem to violate God’s all-loving nature, and so forced to accept these commands anyway?

27 Comments

  1. Thanks for placing a link for us on the side of your blog. We appreciate the publicity.
    We also wanted to tell you about the religious right’s “Value Voters Summit” they are having this weekend. While none of us are invited we will have a blogger at the event for the weekend and he/she will be blogging in real time on our website to tell us what is going on. Please check it out.

    Comment by Faithful Democrats — September 21, 2006 @ 10:54 am

  2. There is a problem with this whole line of reasoning, and it runs back to definitions.

    God’s omnibenevolence is not “all-loving” but rather “entirely good;” that is, it touches on God’s moral perfection in se, rather than its intersection with the human economy. A tenet of the Reformation is soli deo gloria – to God’s glory alone. The whole universe does not move toward autonomous decisions or self-fulfillment so much as it moves ultimately towards God’s greatest glory (as yet to be revealed).

    Secondly, love has not here been defined. Love is more than people feeling loved. In the Scriptures, it is a verb or a state of being (not a feeling). As a father, I’m sure your son wanted to do some fairly outlandish things when he was small that you stopped him from doing. Did he feel diminished in his autonomy and personhood? Probably. I know that my sons experience anguish when I tell them they can’t run in the streets or play with electrical sockets. I hope the analogy is plain.

    God’s love is not meant to make us feel better about ourselves but to awe us at his overwhelming graciousness to us in the cross of Jesus Christ. Anyone who sees themselves for the cosmic rebels that they are – the broken yet defiant sinners they are – can’t help but feel loved & cherished by God when they see what the eternal Son suffered on our behalf.

    Comment by Chris — September 22, 2006 @ 11:48 am

  3. Bob,

    It appears that you are trying to build bridges between so-called ‘conservatives’ and so-called ‘progressives’. May Heaven richly bless your efforts on this behalf.

    And thanks for your very thoughtful post. I am one of those folks who is still struggling with the difference between the innerrancy of God’s Holy Word and the inerrancy of our interpretation of God’s Holy Word. Who’s interpretation can we trust? What translation is closest to the thinking of the ancient writers? Who’s politics and biases are getting in the way of our hearing God’s precious voice? Where is common ground?

    For months now, I have also been struggling with how we know just what is a commandment of God. The ten are easy to spot. Also, Christ’s new commandment is NOT easy to live-out but at least it’s obvious to point to as a commandment. But what about other standards? Has anyone of whom you know or whom you can reference wrestled with the ‘properties’ of a Biblical standard that make it a ‘Commandment of God’? The tithe? Turning the other cheek? What makes a Biblical standard a ‘Commandment’?

    If you’re interested, in my ignorance and sin, I propose to begin trying to articulate some properties (and remember, I’m really struggling here) that tell us when a Biblical standard is a commandment of God:

    1. A commandment of God is a standard that can be met, however imperfectly, by any person of any age at any stage of their walk of faith.

    2. Being obedient to a commandment of God will bring the obedient person to no violence or harm (immediately because of their obedience) to themselves, nor to others, nor to God’s creation. (While others might do violence to us because of our obedience, obeying the commandment itself will do us nor anyone else any violence).

    3. No commandment of God was in any way violated by Jesus of Nazareth. If Jesus didn’t do it, it isn’t commanded. Conversely, what He did, we should do also (however imperfectly) in reverence to God and with respect to the laws of the land.

    4. When enabled by The Holy Spirit, a commandment of God becomes a promise of God.
    “Thou shalt not steal” when enabled by The Holy Spirit, becomes “I am The Lord, your God. I will lovingly provide everything you need. You will have NO NEED of stealing, therefore, you shall not steal”.

    Bob, I’m way out of my water here but I hope you know some folks that can guide in this. Again, thanks especially for your post and thank you for a bridge building blog. May Jesus Christ Be Praised!

    Comment by Tom — September 22, 2006 @ 12:26 pm

  4. Oh, and by the way, those of us who advocate celibacy for someone else should be the first to demonstrate it for them. Jesus was celibate. If it was good enough for Him, isn’t it good enough for His followers?

    Comment by Tom — September 22, 2006 @ 12:47 pm

  5. For a different take on reconciling Biblical inerrancy, my personal position has evolved that the Bible is inerrant, but context matters. Therefore, Paul’s letter(which was itself, probably a reply to a letter) is a statement about a particular set of circumstances at a particular time and place. We can, and should, look to this for guidance about our own context, but even then, it is dangerous to reason by analogy.

    As to biblical contradictions, I feel that even they were placed there by God, because life is not simple, and straightforward answers to problems are rarely obvious. The complexity and contradictions in the bible mirror our own life.

    But that’s just me :). BTW, as a newer reader of this blog who lives in the South, its nice to hear a different take on theology and politics than what’s common around here…

    Comment by Matt — September 24, 2006 @ 11:47 am

  6. Chris –

    I had always thought the same thing about God being all-good, but the article I referred to (see here ) convinced me otherwise. It’s definitions again — saying God is all-good is just restating the Euthyphro Dilemma — is God good because God is moral, or is God moral because God is good? It becomes a circular definition. But saying that God is all-loving resolves this circularity.

    (Lots of logical navel-gazing!)

    As for your comments about what love means, I definitely agree. God’s love doesn’t mean God just does what we want God to do, but it means God does what God knows is best for us whether we like it or not.

    Comment by Bob — September 25, 2006 @ 6:54 pm

  7. Tom –

    Very interesting thoughts on discerning God’s “true” commandments. I agree with all your suggested points, but I would rather think of it differently. Christ has changed the relationship between humanity and God from “do this and don’t do this” to “follow me”. Jesus’ teachings and example are a large part of what we are following, but it’s also important that we look to Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit in the here-and-now. Christ lives, so God’s commandments are replaced by God’s son. We don’t follow the commandments, we follow the son.

    I should also say that I’m way out of my depth too. I’m an amateur theologian, reading and learning on my own without benefit of a formal education in divinity, and this post is my reflection on what I’ve been reading lately. So we’re all in the same boat.

    As for celibacy — Jesus also said that we are to join together in holy matrimony (don’t have time at the moment to look up a Bible reference). So I believe that God calls some of us to celibacy, but it is a gift of the Spirit that is not meant for us all. Most of us are called to a lifelong committed relationship with one person, I believe.

    Comment by Bob — September 25, 2006 @ 7:05 pm

  8. Matt –

    I couldn’t agree more about context, and about the Bible reflecting the complexity in the Bible and in our lives. I also think there is ambiguity in the Bible, which also reflects the world we live in. That’s one reason why I struggle with the idea of inerrancy — it seems to pretend that there is no ambiguity, that everything is black and white. Until we see as God sees, there will be plenty of gray.

    Comment by Bob — September 25, 2006 @ 7:11 pm

  9. Bob,

    Wow! Of course! “Follow me!” (Is it Okay to say ‘Eureka’ in your faith based blog?)
    “Follow Me” or “Come and See” or “I AM the Way, the Truth and the Life”. The law is useful: it alerts us to sin. However the law cannot save. Being crucified with Christ Jesus is the result of following Him. The law (and our sin) is put to death in following Him. Trying to know the ‘commandments’ may be well intended but misdirected. Instead, know the Christ and have Him ‘know’ me. Sounds like surrender; sounds like death to self. Sounds like resurrection and Newness of Life. Sounds like hope to me.

    Chris, Matt, Bob,

    Thanks for the words about God’s goodness and biblical context/inerrancy/ambiguity. God chooses to love us (though I’ll bet there are plenty of times when He doesn’t FEEL like loving me). I’ve got a LOT of prayer and study to do in and about God’s Holy Word. You guys are helping. Thanks for engaging with me. Now, to see as God sees…, hmmm

    Comment by Tom — September 26, 2006 @ 4:50 am

  10. Lurching the net (others surf, I lurch) I ran across this site. I like it. The posts are thoughtful.

    Now that I have reached an age where I am thinking about cramming for my finals, I have been spending some time thinking on things spiritual. Reared in the Lutheran faith, I have wandered wide and far from the organized church.

    Don’t mean to sound ‘flip’ but reading the one passage in the Bible, “God is Love”. Sent me off on a flight of fancy. All my life I have been taught, and believed, that ‘love’ was an attribute of God. But, that isn’t what the passage says. It says “God IS love”.

    Would enjoy hearing any thoughts on this subject.

    Thanks, Carol

    Comment by Carol — September 26, 2006 @ 1:42 pm

  11. Great discussion, guys! I enjoyed reading this. It was refreshing to see some actual discussion without so much divisive rhetoric. 🙂

    Comment by Jacke — September 28, 2006 @ 8:57 pm

  12. Similar to Matt, I too view the Bible as inerrant, but reading it properly requires an understanding of genre, context, history, and how to discern the universal from the specific. To use your examples, the issue of women in leadership becomes a problem in modern churches because people desire to make Paul’s specific incident a universal affirmative. The issue of how the modern church treats gays has become a problem because the church has failed to remain focused on sin as behavior, and has accepted the secular notion that it can be an identity.

    So, to bring my point home to the topic at hand, reason is an important tool in how we determine the way we follow God, not because we use it separately from the Bible, but because we use it in order to properly understand the Bible. Christianity asks us to believe because of our ability to think, not in spite of it.

    I believe that God desires us to understand Him through the Bible, so He made it understandable. However, since it is impossible for finite humans to completely understand an infinite God, there will be some things that remain beyond our capacity. How Jesus could be 100% God and 100% human at the same time is a good example of this.

    Euthyphro’s Dilemma seems to me like it is better resolved by looking at immorality, not morality. As Chris mentioned, we are the ones in rebellion against God, which makes us the inventors of evil and immorality through our exercise of free will and our choice to go our own way. In the same way we understand love because we see it modelled by God through His son, we understand morality because we see it modelled by God. There aren’t separable.

    Comment by Eric — September 29, 2006 @ 10:24 am

  13. True Christians

    Their need to be a biblical clarification of a true Christian since this title is so loosely used these days by, Mormons, Catholics, Jehovah Witnesses, Conservatives, Liberals, Modernists, progressives, Masons, Shriners, New Age (Christ conscience), 7th Day Adventists, Sinners, you name it.

    According to the Holy Scriptures there is only one voice that speaks the truth about Christianity, Jesus Christ the Messiah. All true followers (disciples) of Jesus speak the same thing he does. All other voices that proclaim to speak for Christianity are either another gospel, another Jesus, or another spirit. Jesus said in John 14:6, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. If I may use the words of Adam Clarke commentary on this verse:

    I am the Way – That leads so the Father: – the Truth that teaches the knowledge of God, and directs in the way: – the Life that animates all those who seek and serve him, and which is to be enjoyed eternally at the end of the way.

    Christ is the Way:

    1. By his doctrine, John_6:68.
    2. By his example, Peter_2:21.
    3. By his sacrifice, Heb_9:8, Heb_9:9.
    4. By his Spirit, John_16:13.

    He is the Truth:

    1. In opposition to all false religions.
    2. To the Mosaic law, which was only the shadow, not the truth or substance, of the good things which were to come. And
    3. In respect to all the promises of God, 2Co_1:20.

    He is the Life, both in grace and glory; the life that not only saves from death, but also destroys it. No man cometh unto the Father – By any other doctrine, by any other merit, or by any other intercession than mine.

    Which brings me to my point and main comment: Who are “true Christians”? Many who are said to be Christians or call themselves Christians, or answer to the name of Christians are not “truly” Christians? Lets look to the Holy Scriptures for this most important answer for the Word of God has the answer to every question.

    The Word of God says:

    2Timothy 3:16-17: All scripture [is] given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:
    That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.
    2Peter 1:20-21: Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.

    The first mention of Christian in the scriptures is found in Acts 11:26; and when he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch. And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people. And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.

    In the original Greek it is: Christianos; that is follower of Christ: a disciple (pupil).

    In order to follow Jesus Christ in His Kingdom a person MUST be born-again. Jesus said except a man is born-again he cannot see the kingdom of God. Being born again is a supernatural act performed by the Spirit of God. This takes place when a person submits to the drawing of the Holy Spirit, repent (turn from sin) and believe the gospel of Jesus Christ confess it with there mouth believe it in their heart, begin to rely on, trust in and have faith in the Lord God from then on.

    This born-again Christian now relies on the Holy Spirit to teach and guide him/her in all truth as they begin to renounce self-dependence, and selfish pursuits; they deny themselves for the Gospel sake. They actually imitate Christ, being transformed to his image in word and deeds. Jesus declared that those who do the will of His Father, which is in heaven, are His.

    Mark 8:34: And when he had called the people unto Him with his disciples also, he said unto them, Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.

    Luke 9:23: And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.

    Luke 14:27: And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.

    The “truly” born-again Christians follows Jesus who said: Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you. We live by the laws of God kingdom not this earthly kingdom. We love our enemy even to our own detriment even death. We love our brothers (these are those who do the will of the Father); we love our neighbors (who ever they may be). We bless them which persecute us, we bless and curse not, we recompense to no man evil for evil, we provide things honest in the sight of all men, we avenge not ourselves, but rather give place unto wrath, if our enemy hunger we feed him; if he thirst we give him drink, we overcome evil with good. (Note: the above does not neglect the commands from scripture to reprove, rebuke and expose sin and wickedness all in love of truth for the saving of souls: Luke 17:3, 1 Timothy 5:20, 2 Timothy 4:2, Titus 1:13, and 2 Timothy 2:15).

    “True” Christians look for a city, which hath foundations, whose builder, and maker is God. Now being fully persuaded to be a doer of the word of God by literally doing what Jesus said do.

    There are many that confess to be Christians throughout history and even down to the present day that engaged in bloody wars of conquest, slavery, the Holocaust and cruel exploitation of the poor. The truth is they are not followers of the Jesus Christ of the Holy Scriptures. They are not” true” Christians they are hypocrites (pretenders) whom Jesus refers to in Matthew 7:21-23: Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? And in thy name have cast out devils? And in thy name done many wonderful works?

    This earthly kingdom is not ours the same as it was not our Lord Jesus Christ when He walked this earth. Jesus utmost concerns were not political and economical issues during His ministry here on earth and shouldn’t be ours either. His concern was His everlasting kingdom being established and manifested to his subjects now whereby we may by His grace and tender mercies serve Him here and forevermore. Our duty is to pray for those in authority of this earthly kingdom regardless of who they are: that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this [is] good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour. The Sovereign God gives kingdoms to even the abase of men for His Sovereign purpose. The Holy Scriptures declare that God is the origin of power, and the supreme Governor of the universe, he delegates authority to whomsoever he will; and though in many cases the governor himself may not be of God.

    We that are “truly” born-again are to take up our cross daily fulfill the great commission. Preach the gospel in order that some men would repent, believe and be saved from an eternal hellfire. Be a doer of the WORDS of Jesus looking for and awaiting the new heaven and new earth. As we go forth we always keep in mind that the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us, which are saved, it is the power of God. We preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness;

    Beware of those who claim to be Christians but follow another Jesus, another spirit, and another gospel as the Apostle Paul was referring to in 2 Corinthians11: 4.

    By, William Taylor Sr.
    Bondservant of the Lord Jesus Christ
    http://www.actioncross.net

    Comment by William Taylor Sr — September 29, 2006 @ 5:06 pm

  14. I totally agree with Eric and W. Taylor. Especially the section that says: “We bless them which persecute us, we bless and curse not, we recompense to no man evil for evil, we provide things honest in the sight of all men, we avenge not ourselves, but rather give place unto wrath, if our enemy hunger we feed him; if he thirst we give him drink, we overcome evil with good. (Note: the above does not neglect the commands from scripture to reprove, rebuke and expose sin and wickedness all in love of truth for the saving of souls: Luke 17:3, 1 Timothy 5:20, 2 Timothy 4:2, Titus 1:13, and 2 Timothy 2:15).”

    That’s square on the target. In fact, I’ll leave it at that.

    And Eric, you may find a comment I posted discussing Jesus as 200% God/Man in relation to our understanding. I didn’t copy you, I promise!

    Comment by Elmo — September 29, 2006 @ 11:55 pm

  15. I want to add one more thought. You say that if God commands something because it is moral, he is not the highest authority.

    But when you say that you assume that the existence of morality before God’s command means there is something above God. But in this assumption, morality is based on the natural order, which was created by, guess who. So God’s moral commands are based somewhat on the natural order which He created. So I can comfortably say that God commands things because they are moral, and things are moral because God created them that way.

    Comment by Elmo — October 1, 2006 @ 6:36 am

  16. Hello,

    I received a link to your blog article from a dear friend at Ales Rarus. Let me disclose upfront that I am a conservative Roman Catholic Christian.

    Bob made the statement,

    In discussions on this blog and elsewhere, the conservative argument ultimately rests on “the Bible says it, so that settles it.” I’ve never had a good response to that argument other than the observation that the Bible contradicts itself, so we all end up picking and choosing verses to justify our positions.

    Have you ever considered an argument that is based on the history of the Bible’s Canonical formation? What makes the Bible authoritative? When you think about it, it all comes down to who put it together.

    Back in the 300’s, a group of Church fathers put together the first Canon. Next, Martin Luther put the Deuterocanonical (now protestant Apocryphal) books and passages in the Bible’s appendix. Later, the official King James Bible had these books and some passages taken out (although earlier additions had to have them under penalty of law). (If the Canon cannot be agreed upon, what can an apologist do if they are to argue with the Bible, especially if the non-Christian knows about this problem?)

    Let’s look at the first group of synthesizers. What gave them the authority to put the Canon of the Christian Bible together? The answer to this question is key since if the organizers had no authority, then the authority of the Bible must be questioned.

    Consider an historical event in the Bible that is surely true since it is still with us today. In the Acts of the Apostles, the leaders of the Church had a counsel to discuss the question of circumcision for non-Jews. After this counsel, the pronouncement was made that it was unnecessary. What gave them the authority to make such a radical decision (they were mostly if not all Jewish)? The Holy Sprit was with them that literally came from the mouth of Jesus as it says in the BIBLE.

    The Biblical authority question is a circular argument. One needs faith in Jesus to believe that the Bible is authoritative. It comes down to faith. With faith in Jesus, the Apostles were summoned in the Holy Spirit. After the Apostles, new shepherds were sent for God’s people.

    Further, it is not only faith in Jesus that is required for the belief in the Bible’s authority, but also faith in the ones that Jesus sent to shepherd God’s people. These include the Apostles, Bishops, and ordained ministers that were sent in Jesus’ name. These were the people who had the authority in faith and of the Holy Sprit to put the books of the Bible together. Jesus promised that hell would not overcome the Church that He built on Saint Peter.

    As a conservative Roman Catholic Christian I go even further. Since the Catholic Church put the Canon of (Christian) Scriptures together, it is the body that official teaches, or interprets what its Canon means.

    Ultimately, faith and reason together are what people will use to come to full Truth in Jesus. As the late Pope John Paul II (in his encyclical ”Fides et Ratio”) and Pope Benedict XVI have said (controversially so), Wisdom will bring us home to faith, hope, and true love.

    (Please see this about homosexuality and this about what laws of the Old Testament are still valid.)

    Comment by gbm3 — October 1, 2006 @ 5:25 pm

  17. …the Bible is as divisive today as it has always been. The Bible does not tolerate sin. The Bible tells us how God feels about sin. We either accept the Word of God as true, as useful for instruction, as the “anchor and foundation of any true Church,” or we do not.

    Of necessity, if one does not believe in an inerrant Bible and consider it the guidebook for the Christian life it separates him from the one who does believe in an inerrant Bible, from the one who does consider it the guidebook for the Christian life. It is not “Conservative” Christians who are intolerant of sin and it’s practice, it is GOD who is intolerant of sin and its practice. The Holy Bible is intolerant of sin and it is still the lightening rod of controversy which it has been since early Christians first shared it with unbelievers.

    When Christians politically attack each other they do not attack each other so much as they attack the precepts and tenets of the Bible. The same Bible which Martin Luther was “conquered” by when he said “my conscience is bound in the Word of God,” We would all do well to remember our “anchor and foundation.”

    http://jackehammer.blogspot.com/2006/08/defending-faith-from-political-attack.html

    Comment by Jacke — October 1, 2006 @ 7:46 pm

  18. Martin Luther believed in “sola scriptura”, and wrote the first German translation of the Bible. Luther, like me, believed the Bible is authoritative. But he certainly didn’t believe the Bible was inerrant – such a thought doesn’t appear anywhere in the historical confessions of the Lutheran church, and as far as I know, in the Reformed, Presbyterian, Anglican, Congregational or even Roman Catholic statements of faith either. Just because we don’t believe in an inerrant Bible doesn’t mean we don’t believe the Bible reveals the Word of God.

    Comment by Bob — October 1, 2006 @ 9:06 pm

  19. What you say about Luther’s belief or unbelief in an inerrant Bible may be true, Bob. I don’t have the background in the Lutheran Church that you do and don’t pretend otherwise. Martin Luther did, however, state:

    “UNLESS I am refuted and convicted by testimonies of the Scriptures or by clear arguments (since I believe neither the pope nor the councils alone, it being evident that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I AM CONQUERED BY THE HOLY SCRIPTURES QUOTED BY ME, AND MY CONSCIENCE IS BOUND IN THE WORD OF GOD: I cannot and will not recant any thing against the conscience.” ~ “Luther,” “before the royal diet in the city of Worms on April 18, 1521” (EMPHASIS MINE)

    And according to Tony Warren in this article ( What is Reformed Christianity?) he states:

    “God’s Word is the anchor and foundation of any true Church, and man’s subjection to it is essential. Thus these faithful men of old were convinced that true and proper worship of God requires a strong rejection of every doctrine that is contrary to His divinely inspired Word. However, the Roman Church rejected this principle and held steadfastly to rule of Church hierarchy and traditions of men over both the scriptures, and the Church. Noted Theologian Martin Luther, who understood this error of usurping authority from God, took the stand that is often looked upon as the watershed of the Reformation. For all intents and purposes, he started the Historical Reformation movement in 1517 when he nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Roman Church in Wittenberg.”

    Now, I don’t point these things out to start an argument with you, Bob. As I said, you know much more about the Lutheran faith than do I. I was raised in the Baptist faith and remain in the Baptist faith today. What you have said in your reply is educational but it makes what I said no less true and your reply in no way responds to it:

    “…if one does not believe in an inerrant Bible and consider it the guidebook for the Christian life it separates him from the one who does believe in an inerrant Bible, from the one who does consider it the guidebook for the Christian life. It is not “Conservative” Christians who are intolerant of sin and it’s practice, it is GOD who is intolerant of sin and its practice. The Holy Bible is intolerant of sin and it is still the lightening rod of controversy which it has been since early Christians first shared it with unbelievers.
    When Christians politically attack each other they do not attack each other so much as they attack the precepts and tenets of the Bible. The same Bible which Martin Luther was “conquered” by when he said “my conscience is bound in the Word of God,” We would all do well to remember our “anchor and foundation.”

    Comment by Jacke — October 1, 2006 @ 11:30 pm

  20. Sorry, my link to Tony Warren’s “What is Reformed Christianity?” didn’t come through: http://www.mountainretreatorg.net/reading/article.cgi?id=55

    Comment by Jacke — October 1, 2006 @ 11:35 pm

  21. Jacke –

    I just don’t understand what the quote you give is trying to say. Here’s my point – I, like Martin Luther 500 years ago and the majority of Christians today, believe that the Bible is the authoritative revelation of God’s action in our world, but it is not inerrant. This has nothing to do with intolerance of sin, and making intolerance of sin the sole message of the Bible is a hermeneutic leap not justified by the plain sense meaning of the Bible itself.

    Comment by Bob — October 2, 2006 @ 8:58 am

  22. You’d need to read my entire blog entry to understand the context, Bob. Also, my response asn’t exactly a reply to YOU, per se, it was intended to follow on the heels of what gbm3 said. It was intended to continue a thought and I felt it was pertinent following gbm3’s response. 🙂

    Comment by Jacke — October 2, 2006 @ 11:25 am

  23. “Also, my response asn’t exactly a reply to YOU[, Bob], per se, it was intended to follow on the heels of what gbm3 said. It was intended to continue a thought and I felt it was pertinent following gbm3’s response.” -Jacke

    I am confused. To what specific point(s) in my comment are you replying? Please be more explicit. Thanks.

    Comment by Anonymous — October 3, 2006 @ 5:56 pm

  24. Sorry, I forgot my name in the immediately preceding “Anonymous” comment (it’s usually automatic).

    Comment by gbm3 — October 3, 2006 @ 5:58 pm

  25. […] Ultimately I suppose it goes back to the Euthyphro Dilemma. If we judge morality by what the Bible says (or what we interpret it to say), then morality loses any meaning for our lives other than trying to follow the rules. On the other hand, if we judge morality based upon our understanding of God’s perfect love for us, and respond with our own love for God and each other, then morality has a much richer meaning. Our actions are based on what is best for others, and by this measure, it’s not hard to differentiate between a loving gay relationship and child abuse. […]

    Pingback by I am a Christian Too » Foleygate: Shifting Blame, Missing the Point — October 5, 2006 @ 8:20 pm

  26. Jacke,

    Since you gave a good website on “Reformed Christianity”, here’s one on Catholic understanding of “sola scriptura”.

    Specifically:
    http://www.catholic.com/library/Proving_Inspiration.asp

    In general:
    http://www.catholic.com/library/scripture_tradition.asp

    Comment by gbm3 — October 7, 2006 @ 6:40 pm

  27. Hi Bob,
    Thanks for the great blog, and for this great post. I have only recently discovered your site, so this response is late in coming… but better late than never, I hope. 🙂

    I generally find that when people say that they believe the Bible is inerrant, what they (perhaps unconsciously) mean is that their interpretation of it is inerrant … and this is hubris. Thus, for example, they say that the Bible condemns homosexuality so they are justified in condemning homosexuals themselves, thereby conveniently justifying their own bigotry. But the important question is, does the Bible provide this condemnation? Or is that just a prevailing interpretation, which should be subject to reexamination?

    For another point of view, see these books and websites:

    * What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality by Daniel A. Helminiak
    * What the Bible Says – And Doesn’t Say – About Homosexuality by Rev. Mel White
    * Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality By John Boswell
    * Homosexuality and Christian Faith: Questions of Conscience for the Churches Edited by Walter Wink

    * http://www.gayxjw.org/bible.html
    * http://www.christiangays.com/articles/shepherd.shtml
    * http://www.soulforce.org

    (This list is far from exhaustive.)

    Even when we believe that God inspired the writing of the Bible, it was through the fallible vehicle of humans that it was written, and then through the fallible vehicle of humans that the specific books of the bible were compiled in the 4th century AD, and through the fallible vehicle of humans interpreted from its original languages into Latin and then into English. Should we consider that God’s Will has continually been misunderstood by mankind except by those who wrote the Bible and compiled it and interpreted it from language to language … and are now interpreting its meaning in today’s context?

    And finally, on this question of infallibility, I am reminded of an old joke:
    “I used to think my brain is the most wonderful organ of the body, but then I thought, ‘Hey, wait a minute, look who’s telling me this!'”

    Comment by Rick — November 11, 2006 @ 3:37 pm

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