Posts tagged with: bible

Our week-long series concludes with a reflection on the implications of the great biblical theme of the consummation of creation into the new heavens and the new earth.

Consummation – Revelation 22:1–5

To the extent that we are able in this life, Christians are called to the path of holiness. This path begins with the recognition of the boundaries God has set up, in the created and preserved world and in his law, both in its divine and natural promulgations. We can be sure that there will be an eschatological reality in which “no longer will there by any curse” (Revelation 22:3 NIV).

And this assurance gives us the hope to spur us on to more wholeheartedly work for the good during our time on this earth. One way in which we can begin to live out this calling is to work against the effects of sin and evil in the world.

Attitudes which reduce animals (or humans) to having merely instrumental value reflect sin and corruption, not righteousness and restoration. Creating mice with human brains so that they can be killed in utero violates the value conferred upon animals as sharing with humans “the breath of life.”

But even more seriously, these actions violate the created dignity of human beings who bear the image of God. Both the perpetrators and victims are effected negatively.

Quite simply, human beings, as God’s image-bearers, are placed in a position of unique authority over creation, but also bear in themselves inherent dignity which places the worth of human beings as far greater than that of plants, or even animals. This doesn’t devalue the rest of creation; but it rightly orders creation with humanity at its head. This inherent and overarching value of the human person is what Jesus points to when he states, “You are worth more than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:31 NIV).

The possible “benefits” from the research in human-animal cellular and genetic mixing do not provide justification for crossing the boundaries that God has set up. Such pragmatic arguments are inadequate.

Simply because Adam and Eve could take the fruit and eat did not mean that they should. Simply because people could build a “tower that reaches to the heavens” did not mean that they should. And simply because we humans are able to create chimeras does not mean that we should. Indeed, the Bible gives us good reasons that we should not.

Blog author: jballor
Thursday, September 28, 2006
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The penultimate installment of the series on the biblical/theological case against chimeras focuses on the impact and significance of redemption.

Redemption – Romans 8:18–27

Flowing out of our discussion on creation and fall, it is the recognition that there still are limits on human activity with regard to animals that is most important for us in this discussion.

The apostle Paul notes that “the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God” (Romans 8:20–21 NIV).

Here we have a hint at the reversal of the curse on the human-animal-plant relationships. Paul continues in this section to address the “firstfruits of the Spirit” which believers have received after the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Our task as believers is to bear witness to the saving work of Jesus Christ. This work has begun to reverse the effects of sin and the curse, first and especially in the lives of believers, but also through the grateful work of believers, who are seeking to live up to their calling as faithful stewards.

The original purpose of plants was simply to provide sustenance for life, as is illustrated in Gen. 1:29-30. With the redemptive work of Christ in view, Christians are called to, in some way at least, attempt to realize and bring out the goodness of the created world. With this in mind, conclusions about the genetic manipulation of plants are not necessarily the same as that with respect to animals and humans.

The created purpose of animals was one that was different from plants. Animals, in sharing the status of beings with the “breath of life,” possess a level of importance that is not reducible to merely instrumental or pragmatic value.

The reduction of animals to pragmatic use as a source of food is a result of sin, illustrated in Genesis 9. But even here, at the depths of sin’s corruption of relationship, there remain limits and boundaries.

We should view the possibility of interspecies mixing and the creation of human-animal chimeras as just this sort of limit, because it undermines and violates the created order, which distinguishes between plants, animals with the breath of life, and humans created in the image of God.

That humans have the ability to make certain things has never been a valid argument for actually making them. God confirms in the case of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9) that humans are capable of a great many, seemingly limitless, accomplishments.

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, September 27, 2006
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Part III of our series focuses on the human fall into sin and the disastrous consequences that follow from it.

Fall – Genesis 9:1–7

The harmonious picture of the created order is quickly marred, however, by the fall of human beings. The fall has tragic comprehensive effects, both on the nature of humans themselves, and on the rest of creation.

The corruption of the relationship between humans and the rest of the created order is foreshadowed in the curses in Genesis 3:14–19. Notably the serpent, perhaps as both representative of the Satanic power and the animal world, is set in enmity against Eve and humankind. But most directly relevant for the discussion here regarding animal/human relations is the breakdown of the relationship between animals and humans that is formalized in Genesis 9.

It is at this point, with the institution of the Noahic covenant, that God pronounces some of the details of the broken relationship between humans and animals, those others who share with humans the “breath of life.” God says in verses 2 and 3 that “the fear and dread of you will fall” upon all animals and “everything that lives and moves will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything.”

Human sin has now blurred some of the created distinction between plants and animals. Animals, sharing the “breath of life” with humans, were created with their own purposes and value, presumably off-limits as food for human consumption. The fall into sin has corrupted all forms of relationship, including that between humans and animals. This has finally manifested itself following the flood with the erasure of the distinction between plants and animals for the purposes of food.

Verse 4 points out a single prohibition, “But you must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it.” So even though the line between animals and plants has been marred, it is not completely eradicated. There are still limits to the uses humans can make of animals. Other legislation, such as the prohibition against bestiality, also points to this fractured but still existent limitation.

Part II of our week-long series on the ethics of chimeras begins with an examination of the creation account in the book of Genesis.

Creation – Genesis 1:26–30

The creation account in Genesis provides us with essential insights into the nature of the created world, from rocks and trees to birds and bees. It also tells us important things about ourselves and the role of human beings in relationship to the rest of creation.

The distinctions between various parts of the created world—plants, animals, and humans—are critical to discerning the best use and attitudes toward them.

We find in verses 29 and 30 of Genesis 1 God’s creational purpose for plantlife. Plants are originally given and intended to provide for the life of the rest of creation, especially those creatures with the “breath of life.” In this way, the original purpose for plants was to be food for humans and animals and in this way to sustain life.

So the first distinction among living creatures is that between plants and those with the “breath of life,” animals and humans. The second major distinction is made among those creatures with the “breath of life,” between animals and humans, the latter created in the “image of God.”

Genesis 1:26–28 forms a complex and interrelated picture of the original state of humanity. Created in the image of God, human beings are placed in dominion over “all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” Thus, verse 26 speaks to the placement of human beings as God’s earthly representatives.

Within the original Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) context of this passage, the language of “image-bearing” would have been immediately understandable. When a vassal or representative of the king spoke or acted with royal authority, he was said to “bear the image” of the king, a physical representation of the king and his authority. Verse 27 narrates the creation of human beings alluded to in the previous verse, and the placement as God’s image-bearers, representatives of the divine King.

There are, of course, no rights or privileges without responsibility, so on the heels of the creation of human beings and their placement in dominion, we find the corresponding responsibilities and blessings laid out in the following verse. Verse 28 is most often understood in terms of “stewardship,” and here again we run up against the political and social structure of the ANE. A steward was one who was in charge of a household or kingdom during the ruler’s absence. Humans, in exercising their exalted place of stewardship, are to be productive and creative rulers of the earth. This is the norm of human existence and the standard to which we are called.

An early exercise of this stewardly dominion over the animal world can be found in Genesis 2:19–20, in which the animals are brought to Adam to be named, “and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name.”

And so we have a tripartite division between plants, animals, and humans displayed in these verses. Plants form the base of the picture, created to give life to those creatures with the “breath of life.” Animals, as possessors of this “breath of life,” live off the plants, but remain distinct from human beings, who alone are created in the “image of God.”

This week will feature a five part series, with one installment per day, putting forth my presentation of a biblical-theological case against the creation of certain kinds of chimeras, or human-animal hybrids. Part I follows below.

Advances in the sciences sometimes appear to occur overnight. Such appearances can often be deceiving, however. Rare is the technological or scientific advance that does not follow years upon years of research, trial and error, failure and experimentation.

The latest news coming from the field of biology and genetics hasn’t happened “overnight,” but things are advancing quickly. Some of the more interesting, and indeed troubling, developments have to do with what are known as “chimeras.”

The Chimera, of course, is a fire-breathing creature from Greek mythology, with the head of a lion, the body of a goat, and the tail of a serpent. In the scientific community, however, chimeras are organisms most often created by the intermixing of species.

We are faced now with the possibility of new technological advances giving humans the ability to do radically new things. A scientific pragmatism is at work, which reduces elements of the material world to their practical uses, and ignores the basic structures of creation. (more…)

Blog author: jballor
Tuesday, July 25, 2006
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The amount of media attention over the past week’s devoted to President Bush’s utterance of a “naughty” word has been incredible. Maureen Dowd uses it as just one more bit of proof supporting her depiction of the president as a frat-boy, who “has enshrined his immaturity and insularity, turning every environment he inhabits — no matter how decorous or serious — into a comfortable frat house.”

She writes, “No matter what the trappings or the ceremonies require of the leader of the free world, he brings the same DKE bearing and cadences, the same insouciance and smart-alecky attitude, the same simplistic approach — swearing, swaggering, talking to Tony Blair with his mouth full of buttered roll, and giving a startled Angela Merkel an impromptu shoulder rub. He can make even a global summit meeting seem like a kegger.”

Harry Shearer of Simpsons fame takes the same tack with this, umm, “rap”. In an impression of Bush, Shearer intones, “Now sure I’m a moral man who has God-fearin’ ways, I wouldn’t use a dirty word or worse, a smutty phrase, I’ve restored dignity to the White House…”

It reminds me of a preferred tactic of progressive Christian speaker Tony Campolo, who in the 1980s would often begin speeches in the following way:

I have three things I’d like to say today. First, while you were sleeping last night, 30,000 kids died of starvation or diseases related to malnutrition. Second, most of you don’t give a s#!%. What’s worse is that you’re more upset with the fact that I said s#!% than the fact that 30,000 kids died last night.

Is George W. Bush a hypocrite because he’s a Christian and he cussed? And why is it such a big news story? What a scandal the words of Martin Luther, or even the apostle Paul himself, might be…

Here’s how the NIV translates Philippians 3:8: “What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ.”

The word that appears as “rubbish” is the Greek word skubala, a form of skubalon. The most immediate and core sense of skubalon seems to be the equivalent of the word President Bush uttered, e.g. “the excrement of animals,” with the somewhat more remote sense being that of “things worthless and detestable.”

Jerome uses the Latin word stercus to represent the Greek in the Vulgate, which still comes over as a technical medical term in English for feces. The KJV translates that part of Philippians 3:8 as “dung.”

This is to say nothing at all of all the rather “earthy” imagery of many parts of the OT. Whatever else you or I think of him, on this one point at least, maybe Tony Campolo is on to something. And it seems to me that conclusions on this point will have important implications for just how Christians are to engage the culture.

More on Christians and swearing:

More with Tony Campolo:

  • “An Exchange on Christian Compassion,” (2-CD Set). This spirited debate was recorded on October 29, 1996. The exchange centered on the question of whether liberals are more compassionate than conservatives, and featured Rev. Robert A. Sirico and Doug Bandow arguing for the conservative side, and Rev. Tony Campolo representing the liberal side.
Blog author: jballor
Tuesday, July 18, 2006
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There’s some discussion at Mirror of Justice (here and here) of Martin Marty’s recent piece in The Christian Century, “Snookered,” which raises the issue of the validity of politicians invoking Scripture, using the example of Tom DeLay.

The new progressive Christian approach seems to be to assert, rightly of course, that “God is not a Republican. Or a Democrat,” and is rather more nuanced and convincing than, say, “Jesus is a Liberal.”

And since so much politics, aside from a few issues, is about matters of prudence and judgment rather than clear moral principles, it seems correct to assert the difficulty of moving facilely from Scripture to public policy.

Even so, the Bible does give us some rather clear guidelines for making prudential political judgements, doesn’t it? After all, “The heart of the wise inclines to the right, but the heart of the fool to the left” (Ecclesiastes 10:2 NIV). Just kidding, of course.

Blog author: sgrabill
Wednesday, June 28, 2006
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A Biblical Case for Natural Law by David VanDrunen

David VanDrunen’s new monograph, A Biblical Case for Natural Law, is a must read for Christians who are perplexed about the biblical standing of natural law. It makes a biblical case for the existence and practical importance of natural law.

Through his examination of the redemptive-historical context of natural law, professor VanDrunen is helping to shift debate away from the badly caricatured doctrine of sola scriptura toward a fuller understanding of the biblical theology underlying natural law. As Protestants rediscover the biblical basis for natural law and the doctrinal resources of their own theological traditions, I hope we can recover a sense of our catholicity with the broader and older Christian moral tradition.

John T. McNeill, a renowned Calvin scholar and dean of twentieth-century Reformation studies, once made a bold assertion to this effect: “There is no real discontinuity between the teaching of the Reformers and that of their predecessors with respect to natural law.” Can McNeill’s claim withstand historical scrutiny? I think so, but see for yourself.

David Klinghoffer, a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, writes at NRO this week about the use of biblical texts in support of immigration liberalization by liberals, “Borders & the Bible: It’s not the gospel according to Hillary.”

I find this essay problematic on a number of levels. Klinghoffer first reprimands Hillary Clinton, among others, for quoting the Bible: “While the Left typically resists applying Biblical insights to modern political problems, liberals have seemed to make an exception for the immigrant issue.” But then, it isn’t really so much a problem that liberals have quoted the Bible, but they have done so in a way that Klinghoffer doesn’t like.

He says, “There is a problem, of course, with selective cherry-picking of Biblical verses to support the political cause of your choice. This, in fact, has become a favored tactic among advocates of ‘spiritual activism’ (as they’re called on the Left).” Now while I agree that “selective cherry-picking” is a problem, Klinghoffer can’t have it both ways. Either liberals don’t typically refer to Scripture and thus the use of the Bible in the immigration debate is an oddity, or they do typically quote Scripture as “a favored tactic” and do it in a selective and problematic way.

Klinghoffer continues, “If we want to take the Bible as a guide to crafting wise policies, that means trying our best to see Scripture as an organic whole with a unitary message.” Again, it appears that the problem with Hillary and others isn’t so much that they are using Scripture, but they are doing so in a bad way. We seem to have that cleared up.

Klinghoffer proceeds to show us how Scripture might actually be used as a guide to “crafting wise policies” with respect to immigration. He goes on to emphasize the Pentateuch (the Five Books of Moses) as “a highly political text, very much concerned with worldly questions of law and policy, including the treatment of citizens and non-citizens by a sovereign government comprising an executive branch (the king and his officers) and a judicial one (a council of elders).”

From this foundation, Klinghoffer draws two important conclusions. First, citing Rabbi Meir Soloveichik’s understanding of kosher laws, “we must always bear in mind that God created peoples and animals separate, with their differences, for reasons of His own.” Thus, “The colors of the rainbow create a beautiful visual array. When the same colors are mixed together haphazardly, on the other hand, their beauty is marred and muddied.” I’m not sure exactly what this means, but it has disturbing overtones. (more…)

Blog author: jcouretas
Friday, April 21, 2006
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“Extreme Humility”

Over at OrthodoxyToday.org, Fr. Theodore Stylianpoulos demolishes the media driven speculation that the so-called Gospel of Judas might somehow turn traditional Christianity on its head.

The Gospel of Judas is but another small window to Gnosticism, a hodgepodge of religious speculations that exploded on the scene during the second century. At that time, individual intellectuals or small and elitist groups around them, bothered by the basic story of the Bible, especially the violent God of the Old Testament and the scandalous death and resurrection of Jesus, generated their own religious philosophy. They combined Jewish, Christian and pagan elements to construct literally fantastic systems of speculation including astrology and magic. The core theme, found in the Gospel of Judas, is secret knowledge (gnosis) that leads to salvation.

This is Holy Week in the Eastern Orthodox Church. Daily observances mark Christ’s passion and culminate in Great and Holy Friday and Saturday and, the Feast of Feasts, Pascha (Easter Sunday). In these services, one is struck by the unequivocal condemnation — both in the Gospel readings and in the hymns — of Judas’ deceit and betrayal and greed. Not a lot of nuance or reinterpretation of the Gnostic view here. This would only surprise someone completely unfamiliar with Church history and, in particular, the Ecumenical Councils. Fr. Stylianopoulos, the Archbishop Iakovos Professor of Orthodox Theology and Professor of New Testament at the Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, exposes the logical flaw behind a Gnostic interpretation of Judas’ suicide:

The vilification of Judas in Christian history is lamentable. For Christians, the right response to all sinners, including ourselves, is sorrow and prayer in the spirit of Christ’s love who forgave his crucifiers. What a magnificent testimony to God’s forgiveness, if Judas, like Peter, had repented of his misdeed and run up to Jesus as he stumbled up the hill to Golgotha and asked for mercy! Forgiveness would have been certain. But it was not to be. Falling into despair on account of his betrayal, Judas killed himself, an act that would otherwise have no reasonable explanation, unless one is prepared to adopt the Gnostic system and see Judas as committing suicide to release his own soul to astral regions.

Of course, it’s hard to take these media-driven Gnostic “revelations” seriously when they are accompanied by sophisticated video and book merchandising campaigns. The National Geographic Society, which made the new translation of the Coptic-language “Gospel of Judas” public, also released two books and a DVD in conjunction with what it modestly refers to as “one of the greatest discoveries of the 20th Century.” All, of course, in time for Easter.

Gnosticism, the heresy, is everywhere with us today and is visible in things like New Age practices. Book publishers will continue to “rediscover” Gnostic writings, as we saw last year with Elaine Pagel’s book, “Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas.” The main attraction of Gnostic beliefs is that it gives us a free pass. We can become our own gods, make our own personal religion, and avoid the labor and struggle and repentance that Christ demands of us. “Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (Matt. 7:14).

And Gnosticism can be profitable, as National Geographic is showing us. When coupled with the allure of secret spiritual knowledge, buying a $24.95 DVD doesn’t seem like such a bad deal.