Friday, September 19, 2014

Tattoos, blood, and dubious appeals to context.

A while ago I went on a short rant about how often I see an unsupported appeal to "context" to explain away all sorts of uncomfortable scriptures. While cataloguing my books, I ran across an example I'd like to share with you. The author is dealing w/ Lev. 19:28:

"If we study Leviticus in its context, we see that it isn't talking about tattoos in general, but tattoos that identify a person with a pagan deity or pagan practice. Two verses before, it forbids the eating of meat with blood in it. Does this mean you can't eat your steaks rare? Not at all. This is talking specifically about the meat that was offered as a sacrifice, not an evening out at Mortons..." (Kimmel, 'Grace Based Parenting', pp. 155,156)

Ok, so we have an appeal to context, and an absolute claim (unsupported in the book) that the prohibition unambiguously applies only to pagan tattoos. Then even more troubling, a similar unsupported appeal to context is used to say that the prohibition against eating blood applies only to sacrificial meats, which is a very, very dubious bit of exegesis! By the same token we could say vs. 29 means we can't sell our daughters into *pagan* prostitution, but regular prostitution is OK. Do a search for "eat, blood" on biblegateway and read how many vss. prohibit it strongly. Also, read Deut. 12:20-25 and ask yourself if that sounds like a general prohibition against eating blood or not. Read Lev. 17:14 and ask yourself if that seems like a rationale for the prohibition. And then look at Acts 15:20,29 and 21:25 and see that the prohibition carries into the NT, and if you feel inclined to say that there too it applies only to blood sacrificed to idols, then ask yourself why you don't say only the sexual immorality prohibited in the same verse only applies to that done in worship to idols.

All that so say, a well-supported understanding of the actual, demonstrated historical and textual context is very important to interpretation, but don't let writers sucker you with appeals to context that aren't carefully supported and especially when they ignore the whole testimony of Scripture.  I'm sure we've all imbibed bucketloads of asides like this on our course of reading books and listening to sermons, and probably repeated them too, not without effect. My advice would be when someone is telling you the bible doesn't mean what it seems to be saying, don't take their word for it, even if they say the magical word "context", until you've verified that it indeed IS the context and that it doesn't go against the rest of the witness of the Scriptures.

The Risk of Obedience Vs. the Risk of Inaction

In several conversations with friends about Abolition, it has come up that we are at risk of “judging” and it is often pointed out what our Lord, his brother, and his apostles said about judging others.  Now the proper understanding of what kind of judging the Lord was warning against has been dealt with elsewhere, yet even with a proper understanding of the sin of judging in mind, I’ve never brushed aside the concern when my brothers and sisters have brought it up.  I agree, it IS a risk.

Yet to live is to risk. In God’s appointed order time pushes us on, through crossroad after crossroad where we must take risks in order to obey, and when we reach the Celestial City, we will not be asked how studiously we avoided risks.  This applies even to risks of sin. To avoid risk is not to avoid sin.  In Galatians 6:1, Paul directs us to risk sin in order to help a brother.  Every act of obedience carries with it a risk of sin.  The risk is unavoidable, and we aren’t too busy ourselves avoiding it.  We are to obey with open eyes, watching ourselves lest we be tempted.

If we fear the Master, thinking Him a hard man, he will try us by our own words and ask why we did not invest his gifts in the necessary risks, risking failure to give him a return.  There will be, he has told us, those who come cringing out holding the gift returned, unrisked, unprofitable.  He may well say to them on that day:
“I gave you a task, I have you my Truth, my Spirit, my gifts, and you did not use them to pray with your every action that my Father’s will would be done on earth as in heaven; you did not use them to cry out against murder and mayhem, to follow your master in driving out Beelzebub and destroying his works.”

Action, obedience, is risky.  Our judgment is never guaranteed to be perfect – it is true that with crying out against murder and oppression comes the risk of sin, yet not to do this comes with risk as well! A great and terrible risk: to neglect the command to love our neighbor as ourselves, to fail to take into account the weightier matters of the law. 

There is something further. I suspect that what prompts so many to point out the risk taken by abolitionists is not a genuine fear of the possibility of unrighteous judging.  I am afraid that it might be something less noble, less spiritual – that it might be the fear of man, the fear of contradicting the spirit of the age and facing a dragon’s wrath.  They know that the dragon only pursues those who keep the commandments of God as well as the testimony of Jesus (Rev. 12:7), and this makes them not very eager to keep those commands. 

In short, I am afraid that this is in many cases nothing but cowardice.  Now I sympathize with those who fear man, I have felt that fear myself.  We are commanded to have mercy on those who doubt.  Yet we are, at the end of the day, not those who shrink back and are destroyed - but those who believe and are saved.  The coward has no lasting refuge in inaction; we know this and have a sobering warning from our Lord.  Turn to the twenty-first chapter of Revelation and read; in the list of those who have not conquered, the cowardly who shrunk so studiously from risk and the fear of public scorn will have the reward for their great care: their portion in the lake of fire, along with the faithless, the detestable, murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars.

And what of those who risked, watching themselves to remain unstained yet always striving towards the upward call of God in Christ Jesus, keeping His word? “The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son.”