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« Never Read a Bible Verse series Part 6 (Video) | Main | Can We Make the Pro-Life Movement "Cool?" »

December 15, 2009


>>Frankly, I don't think that I'm the only one who reads things as he or she wants to read them.

Actually, I don't think you're reading them at all. Picking one thing out here and there is not reading the Bible, and you shouldn't expect to be able to understand it that way, and you shouldn't expect us to take an "interpretation" based on that kind of approach seriously.

>>The Bible says adultery is a sin. That hasn't changed. The penalty for adultery is stoning. Jesus didn't change the penalty. So, why don't we stone adulterers? Is it just that we've decided not to?

Asked and answered more than once. Just go back and read my earlier comments again.

>>Oh, and I did understand the red curb example. Whether or not something is immoral depends on circumstances. I think there's name for this...


"Picking one thing out here..."

is what everyone does when they read the Bible.

Adultery. Wait. I think I figured it out. It's like the 10th amendment. Powers not given to the federal government revert to the states. Ok. New Covenant. No earthly penalties prescribed, because Jesus didn't come to establish a kingdom on Earth. So, decisions about earthly penalties revert to the humans. We can stone, but we don't have to. It's up to us. Yes? If we ask the musical question, what do we do with a drunken sailor, just as in the song, there's a long list of possible answers. It's up to us. Is this it?

Red curb. You did say that whether or not parking next to a red curb is immoral or not depends on circumstances, yes?

>>"Picking one thing out here..." is what everyone does when they read the Bible.

No, actually it isn't. Reading it as a whole just as you would read any other book is the only way to understand things in context.

>>You did say that whether or not parking next to a red curb is immoral or not depends on circumstances, yes?

I said that there's no moral component to parking next to the color red, but the moral component comes in with the rebellion against the governing authority and breaking the law.

So, it's ok if the governing authority changes the law to fit circumstances?

Did I figure out the answer to the adultery question?

Oh, and huge numbers of people have read the Bible as a whole, and they've come to diametrically opposing conclusions. So, it's not just the biblically illiterate who disagree with you.

I understand what you are saying about WHY what is a sin changes, but we can agree that what is a sin does change, yes? As I understand it, you're saying it's ok if what is a sin changes, because God changes it, but the list of sins does change, yes? Is this something that we can agree on?

No, wait, wait, this is the answer to the adultery question, right?

"The principle of the death penalty for murder, as a principle and not merely as part of a law code to govern a particular nation, is given in the Bible long before the OT Law is given."

So, if a sin is punishable by execution BEFORE the OT LAW, then it's punishable by death under the New Covenant, too? Is that the answer? Did I get it yet?

Ah, ha! Now I see what I missed. I did read too fast the first time, and I missed this one.

>>Where did Jesus say that all earthly penalties associated with all of the sins of the OT were all null and void?

He doesn't. Since God no longer governs a political nation meant to reflect Him, this is left up to the countries to determine.

Got it. Whether or not we stone adulterers is up to us. So, it's not wrong to stone adulterers (or hit them with a wedge), but we don't have to do this if we don't want to. Sorry, I read too fast the first time, but there were a lot of comments coming back to me from multiple sources.

On the ceremonial-

Amy's red curb example does the job on this. It is not inherently wrong to park at a red curb. But our society has a variety of good practical reasons to reserve certain areas as places not to have parked cars. It has chosen to indicate this in many cases by painting curbs red. Society might have chosen to paint them purple instead, or cast them in a special shape, or to have left the curbs alone and always posted signs, or...

For the most part, we are morally obligated to obey the laws of our society. So what was not inherently required by morality becomes so derivatively.

Now, lets suppose, contrary to fact, that there is a group of Americans that believe that America is a perfectly just society. That every law on its books has been breathed into the ears of lawmakers by God himself. Just for fun, let's, combine "America" and "fundie" and call them Amerundies.

Suppose also that we fast forward to a time when no one uses cars. We all get from A to B via teleporters. Once in a blue moon, someone dusts off an old car and drives somewhere just to make a splash.

Now, there are a lot of objections to our Amerundies' point-of-view. But one argument that you can't make is that the Amerundies no longer support red curb laws. Red curb laws became irrelevant along with the automobile.

On Adultrey-

In many societies and times adultery has been punishable by death. In India, for example, there was at one time a law that an adulterous wife should be taken to a public place and devoured by dogs. Adultery is still punishable by death in some places (does "honor-killing" ring a bell). The laws have typically been harder on adulterous women than adulterous men.

The de-criminalization of adultery in the West is a very recent event and probably is related to the improvements in medicine, which moderated one of the most obvious and devastating harms of adultery.*

That society sets the punishments for all crimes and is ordained by God to do so is a Biblical principle and has been upheld in various ways throughout the history of the church.

Disagreements about what the Bible has to say about the morality of adultery are fairly recent and probably track with the relaxation of societal laws. As laws that punish a certain act are relaxed, more and more people will do that act. Churches that once held those acts as sinful will come under increasing pressure to liberalize their views.

Most Christian churches cannot openly say:

We are liberalizing our views, so either the Bible is wrong or we are choosing to act in defiance of it (but please come to church and donate anyway).
Because of this, those churches that cave to the pressure are going to end up scripture twisting. Hence the disagreements.

What gave you the idea that stiff penalties on adultery were voided in the first century?

Was it, in the end, the attempted stoning of the woman caught in adultery? If so, then whether the story is genuine and whether the woman was innocent becomes quite relevant. If the story wasn't genuine or she was innocent, then the story doesn't void the punishments on adultery.


*-None of this is to say, of course, that adultery is OK and that it doesn't cause all sorts of harms. It isn't, and it does. But none of the harms are as easy to see. And it would be wrong even without the harms.

Ironically, some people have committed adultery because they were stoned. :-)

"And to repeat, I don't see where Jesus says "stop stoning"."

Ahhh, that's your problem. You are equating Christianity with the earthly ministry of Jesus. Bad assumption. In fact, no one in the history of the Church actually believed that. Read the book of Acts. Soon after the ascension, the Church has to deal with many issues that Jesus never addressed, e.g., Gentiles and the Mosaic Law.

To be blunt: why don't you let the people who believe the faith tell you what they believe rather than telling them what you think they ought to believe. That would be the polite thing to do.

It is only the gift of longsuffering that we Christians tolerate these excursions into deep ignorance by skeptics who are less skeptical of their "knowledge" of Christianity than they are of its God and Christ.

"What gave you the idea that stiff penalties on adultery were voided in the first century?"

Well, since everyone jumped on me when I said that the Bible says to stone adulterers, I assumed that everyone was saying that that the biblical command to stone adulterers had been changed. (If it hasn't been changed, then I'm correct when I say the Bible says stone adulterers.)

Ok, so let's say I wrong when I say that the Bible says stone adulterers. This is clearly a change from the OT, and that change must have occurred at a specific point in time. Since the change is a part of the New Covenant thing, the logical time point for this change would be the point in time when Jesus "fulfills" the Law, that is, at the moment of his death.

Hence, the command to stone adulterers is repealed in the first century. Again, if the command has not been repealed, then what's the problem with my original comment?

Francis Beckwith? Are you the same FB who's been judged just barely heaven-worthy by the T-Bloggers? Congrats on your narrow escape from eternal damnation.

"Soon after the ascension, the Church has to deal with many issues that Jesus never addressed, e.g., Gentiles and the Mosaic Law."

Ah, yes, it's odd the way that Jesus seemed to fail to address issues involving gentiles. One might wonder if he ever really intended to reach the gentiles.

"Why don't you let the people who believe the faith tell you what they believe rather than telling them what you think they ought to believe."

Have I prevented people who believe a certain thing from telling me what they believe? Did I really tell them what they ought to believe or did I just raise questions about what they believed and/or did I just suggest that there may be many interpretations of a given ancient text? Do you and Jason Engwer agree on all points of Christian doctrine or could many parts of the Bible be quite open to multiple interpreations?

You know, I stopped going to church shortly after a woman said to me, "I don't come here to have my beliefs challenged, I come here to have my beliefs confirmed". She was right. So I left.


Nothing about the Bible changed. The Bible has always said:

1) Adultery is wrong.
2) It is the divinely appointed vocation of the temporal authorities to set the temporal penalty for adultery and all other crimes.

In Biblical times, an incomplete list of the temporal authorities since Moses were in historical order:

1) Moses
2) The Priests
3) The Judges
4) The Kings
n) Rome

Today the temporal authorities are different and have recently set different punishments. I think the reason for the recent change is the advance in medicine, but there is probably a good argument that they have gone too far.

This is not hard to understand.

>>"You know, I stopped going to church shortly after a woman said to me, "I don't come here to have my beliefs challenged, I come here to have my beliefs confirmed". She was right. So I left."

Did her statement make you begin to wonder if all church-goers were just lotus-eaters?

Why were you going to church prior to stopping?


I follow what you are saying, but I think the penalty of stoning in the OT is set directly by God's command and not by temporal authorities. But perhaps this is my ignorance showing again.

"Why were you going to church prior to stopping?"

Everyone in the family went to church. Problem was, at a certain point, it stopped working for me. So, why hang around to agitate those who were happy with it?

>>"Problem was, at a certain point, it stopped working for me."

I hear you loud and clear.

A close relative had a negative church experience many years ago...and began to equate all things "Christ" with the shortcomings of the church(es) and the falllible people therein. I came close to doing the same. Then I came to realize that MY mistake was looking to other people to define Christianity...people who make mistakes, let emotion override sound judgment, allow their zeal to surpass their knowledge, and otherwise do a poor job of representing their Savior.

The whole of Christianity resides in the person of Jesus Christ. He was the standard bearer, not any of His followers. Overall, Christians have historically done a pretty poor job of representing their Savior to those who do not know Him. Still others want nothing to do with God...if He is a Father. Fathers might leave you, they sometimes beat you, they come home drunk... We can't rely on human beings to give us the picture of perfection that we have in Christ. Understanding that requires going beyond the milk of the Gospel. The Bible contains a plethora of "meat and potatoes", but as one navigates through, like any other endeavor, there are bones to avoid.

In short, anyone who bases their opinion of Chrisianity on Christians will be disappointed to various extents. It is also the world's endeavor to exploit those shortcomings. We have to keep our eye on the ball (Christ) and not so much all the players running around.

You said:

It "stopped working for you."

What were you wanting (the church) to do (for you?)

I also don't think you would agitate those around you as much as you might think. Is it possible that was just a viable self-justification for not going anymore? I'll bet you a nickel you could disclose other reasons. ;)

P.S. - I've genuinely appreciated you candor thus far.


Thank you for your comments. When I said "it" (stopped working for me), I didn't mean to imply that it was just a particular church or even Christians. It's true that part of my disillusionment was due to the behavior of certain Christians, but that's not really the whole story. I expect people to be flawed, but I realize that's not enough of a reason to reject a particular idea (many scientists are real jerks, but they can still have brilliant ideas).

A few years back, I actually went back to attending church for about a year because I liked the guy who was the pastor of this particular church. Good guy, good example of the positive side of religion. I even liked singing the old hymns (though a child of rock and roll, I never like "contemporary" Christian music). But after while, I realized that I just didn't believe what was being said, and it felt a bit fraudulent to be sitting there. So, I bailed out again. In this case, no one said anything to me, I just didn't feel like disturbing this particular universe.


I don't think you are ignorant. Far from it. But so far we have disagreed plenty. Obviously, in those instances I believe you are wrong.

On the the penalties set in the OT, I am reading what went on there through NT goggles. In particular Romans 13, which, I think, is an exposition of Jesus' famous "Render unto Caesar" teaching in Matthew 22. Romans 13 points out pretty clearly that punishing evil doing is given to the temporal authorities. That includes the OT authorities, e.g. Moses, the Priests, the Judges etc. So when punishments like stoning for adultery are prescribed, I assume:

1. That these were the punishments that Moses (usually) in fact called for, and

2. The punishing authority was the divinely inspired in those cases, and therefore

3. The punishments in question were the correct ones in that historical and social context.

I do not believe that this commits me to the claim that the punishing authority is always divinely inspired. Nor do I think it commits me to the claim that the temporal authorities are always right.


I'm not sure if we're disagreeing on these points or not. I said that the OT says God specifically prescribed the penalty of stoning, that is, it's God who says hit people with rocks, and Moses just passes along the message. You're saying the penalty is "divinely insprired". I'm not sure that there's difference. Obviously, the punishment itself will have to be carried out by the temporal authorities, but according to the OT, the specific penalty is God's idea.

Now, the question is, in the NT, did God change his mind about the penalty? Has the penalty been revoked or not? If I understand Amy correctly, what changes is that after the introduction of the New Covenant, God takes a hands-off approach to penalties, so it's now up to us to decide about stoning. The original stoning law has expired, and we can renew or not renew, according to taste.

(Now, in reality, I think that it's people who come up with the idea of hitting other people with rocks, and I don't think that God had anything to do with it, but it's always interesting to explore the OT/NT hypotheses.)

I think what Paul has to say about the temporal authorities is true for the temporal authorities in the OT as well. What's changed between the OT and now that most directly 'repeals' the stoning penalty is the temporal authorities. It was Moses, then the Priests then the Judges etc. in the OT. Today, here in America, it's a representative republic. But the right to set those penalties has always rested with the temporal authority.

Here are the first two verse of Leviticus 20, a chapter that later includes a "stone the adulterers" verse.

The LORD said to Moses, "Say to the Israelites: 'Any Israelite or any alien living in Israel who gives [a] any of his children to Molech must be put to death. The people of the community are to stone him.'

Maybe there's a context that I'm overlooking, but that really looks to me like God is telling Moses that the penalty for various acts (others are listed in subsequent verses) will be stoning. Stoning appears to be God's idea and God's direct command. With respect to penalties, I don't think that Moses has any option here.

You are right. Moses had no option. It does not follow that later authorities in different historical and societal contexts have no option. And, in fact, they do. That this is the case is not spelled out in Leviticus 20. Paul makes that point in Romans 13.

Doesn't Tiger Woods consider himself to be a Buddhist, like his mother, more than an adherent to any other faith? I realize that he has mentioned sin and transgressions on his blog.

I've been reading through this particular thread with great interest. I think it gets confusing when we combine God's dealings with Israel as a nation, and His dealing with His children as a whole. While it was prescribed punishment for someone caught in adultry to be stoned - that was for Israel as a nation. In the bible we read that the punishment for breaking any of God's commands is death, yet in God's commands to the nation of Israel if you stole, you had to replace whatever it was 5 times over.

During old testament times, Israel was the nation that God worked in and worked through, they were His chosen people. The laws and punishments given breaking those laws were given to the people for governance of their nation.

The nation of Israel was not able to enforce these laws outside of their nation, unless they conquered other nations, which became then part of Israel. God's dealt with Israel as a nation in the OT, laws given (outside of the ten commandments) were given to Israel as a nation.

The Ten Commandments are the laws which are written on our hearts. The punishment for breaking them is death. Jesus said all the law was summed up in these two commands... Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and stregnth. And the second, to love your neighbor as yourself. These are the laws which we break daily, these are the ones for which Jesus suffered our punishment -death.

>>Ah, yes, it's odd the way that Jesus seemed to fail to address issues involving gentiles. One might wonder if he ever really intended to reach the gentiles.

A person could only wonder that if he didn't know the Bible. From the very beginning, Abraham was promised that the whole world would be blessed through him. Everything God did through Israel (according to the reasons given in the Bible) was done "so that the world would know" that He is God. And in the end (Acts 1), Jesus says to His disciples, "You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth," illustrating an ever-widening circle they are commanded to reach.

And there's also the quote from Jesus I mentioned earlier about declaring all foods to be clean (i.e., that there's no moral component in eating the food beyond the OT covenant keeping, opening the door for Gentiles who are not part of the Mosaic Covenant).

And then, of course, there's Matthew 28 where Jesus says, "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit."

You keep making claims about what the Bible says, but you have some very incomplete and/or wrong ideas about what it says. And you should know this since you haven't spent much time reading it as a whole, studying it. I agree with Frank that I'm stumped by your lack of skepticism about your own Bible knowledge.

Who said that Jesus failed to addressed "many issues" involving gentiles? Was it me? Or was it the biblical scholar Francis Beckwith?

Say your number one priority is reaching gentiles. Ya think maybe you might want to address those "many issues" when you have the chance?

Oh, dear. There I go again with my unrealistic expectations.

Frank did not say that he wondered if Jesus wanted to reach the Gentiles. That was your comment, and that's what I was responding to.

And regardless, the Bible does address those issues, so no problem there (as Frank points out in his comment). God did address it "when He had the chance."

Also, Frank is a philosopher, not a biblical scholar. (BTW, I would not call myself a biblical scholar, either.)

So now you're dropping the charge that maybe Jesus didn't want to reach the Gentiles, and you're back to telling us what you would have done if you were God? Sorry if I don't find that compelling!

Frank noted that Jesus failed to address "many issues" with respect to gentiles that would come up in the immediate aftermath of Jesus's death. This is what prompted my comment. It was Frank's observation that started this. So, Frank is wrong when he says that "many issues" were not addressed? Is this what you are saying?

Given the failure to issue many issues, I commented that I find it odd that so many issues where not addressed, in light of the alleged desire to reach the gentiles. This is not what I would have expected, given the priorities. Yes, I know that there are a few verses in which Jesus addresses the gentile question, I'm not completely ignorant, but there are far fewer verses than I would expect if reaching gentiles is a high priority. And I find it odd that Jesus spent almost all of his time with Jews when the point was to reach out to non-Jews. Oh, I know, God can do things however he wants, so these are all untestable hypotheses. Since God can do as he pleases, you can chose to conclude that this isn't odd. One can conclude as one wishes, and one can dismiss the oddities. However Jesus did it, that was the right way to do it, right?

Here's what I don't find compelling. I don't find it compelling when documents written by those who decided to expand the religious system to non-Jews contain pro-expansion words attributed to Jesus. After Jesus' death, there is clearly a conflict over the question of expanding the group to include non-Jews with some for and some against. Ultimately, the NT would be written by those in favor of a more inclusive approach, and not suprisingly, we have Jesus saying inclusive things. What else would you expect?

Now, could Jesus have said these things? Well, yes, but I don't know how we can know that he did? Given the bias, who knows what Jesus actually said? Here's where the absence of an autobiography becomes critical. In the absence of words written by Jesus, all we have are the words of those with a certain agenda. We have no independent corroboration of what Jesus did or did not say. The NT could be accurate. Or it could simply reflect the bias of the writers.

There are many OT laws punishable by stoning to death.

“And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst, They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou?
Jesus ... said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.”

Would this not apply to all the OT laws that were punishable by stoning to death?

Jesus did not change the law but made it imposable for the punishment of stoning to death to be carried out.

>>I find it odd that so many issues where not addressed, in light of the alleged desire to reach the gentiles.


>>I don't find it compelling when documents written by those who decided to expand the religious system to non-Jews contain pro-expansion words attributed to Jesus.

Odd if it isn't, not believed if it is. Can't really win.

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