Toward A Theology Of Guns: A Christian's Perspective, Pt. 7

As those of you who have been reading this series know, thus far I have been systematically working  through passages of the New Testament that are used by pro-gun advocates to promote their agenda of owning and using guns.  To see those posts, click HERE.  In spite of the fact that a number of people have commented on these posts with antagonism to what I have to say, not one person has yet offered a well-researched, well-argued or solidly-grounded argument of refutation.  In this post, the seventh in this series, I want to continue working toward a theology of guns in the manner I have been doing thus far.  In short, here I want to deal with a misused passage that pro-gun advocates attempt to use to justify their claims.

In particular, here I want to address a statement that is, in many ways, used more frequently than most others.  In fact, I heard someone make this claim just yesterday saying, "I'm a Christian woman but I'm also a pre-school teacher.  You had better believe that if someone came into my class and tried to hurt my students I'd shoot and kill them on the spot."  Again, this line of thought is not at all uncommon.  In fact, this argument can be traced as far back as St. Augustine, that is, to around the fourth century CE.  In a writing titled "A Reply to Faustaus the Manichean" (22:74), Augustine said the following:
The real evils in war are love of violence, revengeful cruelty, fierce and implacable enmity, wild resistance, and the lust of power, and such like; and it is generally to punish these things, when force is required to inflict the punishment, that, in obedience to God or some lawful authority, good men undertake wars, when they find themselves in such a position as regards the conduct of human affairs, that right conduct requires them to act, or to make others act in this way. Otherwise John, when the soldiers who came to be baptized asked, What shall we do? would have replied, Throw away your arms; give up the service; never strike, or wound, or disable any one.
Of course, Augustine's argument is terribly flawed here as it is an argument from silence.  Indeed, he commits the logical fallacy of putting words in (or taking words out of) John's mouth.  He essentially builds his theology on what was not said, which is quite a terrible way to go about doing theology.  Unfortunately, Augustine has many heirs in this regard still today!  Problematically, he says very similar things in his commentary on Jesus' Sermon on the Mount such as, "For how great violence is necessary, in order that a man may love his enemies..." (15:40).  One of the more troubling aspects of this is that here, Augustine completely misunderstands the ethic of non-violence that Jesus issues in the Sermon on the Mount.  Indeed, Jesus' remarks to "turn the other cheek," "walk the extra mile" (Mt 5:38-41), etc., seem to be completely lost on Augustine and again, many of his heirs living today.

Even more, Augustine attempts to spin Mt 5:39, a passage about abstinence from violence, into its exact opposite, namely, a passage promoting self-defense.  It is this issue, the issue of self-defense, that the school teacher mentioned above is getting at.  And it is the matter of self-defense that I hear more pro-gun advocates, especially those who also identify themselves as Christians, appeal to almost more than anything else.  Even in some of the comments on the posts throughout this series, I have had folks make remarks about it being their God-ordained duty to defend themselves, their family, and others who might be receiving the unjust end of injustice.  In large measure, I think, we have St. Augustine to thank for this erroneous thinking.

The fact is, in Mt 5:39 Jesus is not offering his followers a model of self-defense or any kind of violent defense.  That passage says this:  ἐγὼ δὲ λέγω ὑμῖν μὴ ἀντιστῆναι τῷ πονηρῷ.  Interestingly enough, most English translations render this as "But I myself say to you, 'Do not resist the Evil One.'"  There is one problem with such translations, however, namely that the term ἀντιστῆναι (from ἀνθίστημι), when set within the larger context of its use in the Bible, especially the Septuagint (LXX), does not simply mean "to resist," but rather "to resist forcefully" or "to resist violently" or even "to attack."  For example, in Num 10:9 this term is used and refers to "the opposition who attacks you."  Likewise, in Dt 9:2 the term is used and refers to "attacking" or "fighting" the Ammonites.  This term is a Greek compound word, which literally brings the ideas of "against" and "to stand" together, and gives us the concept of "to stand against," as in one army standing against (fighting) another.  The point is this, as Walter Wink once noted:  The verb doesn't mean to "stand still" but rather, to actively take a stand against, that is, to act with force or violence.

So, what are the ramifications of this for Mt 5:39?  Well, first of all, instead of rendering the passage in a watered-down manner such as "Do not resist the evil one." we would be more correct to translate it with its fuller force as "Do not violently resist the Evil One."  In short, if Jesus' command is not to resist the Evil One, then that makes little sense!  Obviously he is not saying, "Go ahead, submit to the Evil One, I don't mind; it'll be fun."  Such a view does not square with Jesus' other commands to flee evil and avoid it at all costs.  Instead, what Jesus is saying is, "Do not use the evils of violence to resist violence."  Or to put it into simpler English:  "Do not use violence to try to stop or end violence."  The implications here square well with Jesus' statement made later in Mt 26:52 that "Those who live by the sword die by the sword."  Jesus' equation works in a perfectly logical and consistent manner:  Violence breeds violence.  Put a bit more colorfully, Jesus' command to not use swords and violence to try to stop violence would sound, in our modern day culture, something like, "Do not use guns and violence to try to stop violence."

You see, Jesus understood something that Mr. LaPierre of the NRA can't seem to wrap his (brain)washed brain around, namely, this very simple equation.  It is basic math:  1 + 1=2.  Violence + Violence = More Violence.  Nonviolence + Nonviolence = More Nonviolence.  Peace + Peace = More Peace.  What does it say about the level of ignorance in this country that people cannot grasp the truth of such simple equations?  And further, what does it say about those who call themselves Christians one minute but at the same time, at the drop of a hat, they're ready to load up a weapon and shoot and kill someone?  I'll tell you what it says, it says that people are so blinded by a culture of death and violence that they lack the very basic skills to be able to understand that the way forward is peace and peacemaking...at all costs!

Please hear me when I say this:  Jesus did not leave his followers with a theology of self-defense.  Just as well, Jesus never sanctioned the use of violence in any circumstance, even when they themselves were being treated violently and unjustly or when that might have been the case with others.  The myth that "God has given me the duty to protect my family with guns and violence" is just that, it is a myth.  It is a myth that is more American and Augustinian than Christian.  It is a myth that can find much of its origins not only in Augustine, but also and especially during the presidency of J. Edgar Hoover, who launched the American "War on Crime" and in the process, created a propaganda machine that made Americans nervous and afraid.  It was Hoover who created narratives about thieves, bank robbers, kidnappers, etc., that were meant to frighten Americans so that they would trust in and cling to federal and state intervention.  In fact, it is out of this movement that the whole modern day concept of the American armed police force grew.  How ironic is it, then, that police are so often these days appealed to in the context of debates about gun control?!?  

I will say more about Hoover, the concept of self-defense among Christians, and violence in forthcoming posts.  And yes, I have quite a few more posts to come in this series!  For now, however, let it be known that in addition to the passages already cited in the previous six parts of this series, Mt 5:39 is actually a passage that comports well with the rest of Jesus' thinking on peaceful and non-violent engagement.  Imagine that!


"Entering the Fray" for Kindle

Hello everyone, I am happy to announce today that my book Entering the Fray: A Primer on New Testament Issues for the Church & Academy was released in Kindle format today.  Best of all, the prices is less than $10.00!  That's right, you can get Entering the Fray for $9.99 in Kindle format.  That's over 300 pages of New Testament research and history for $9.99.  I will say, while I am pleased that the Kindle format has finally been released, I was a little displeased that they modified the "callout boxes" throughout the book if but then again, it may have been the case that had they not done that, the book would have never been released for Kindle.   Regardless, the content of the book stays the same but the format/layout changes just a bit.  Anyway, if you would, head on over to Amazon and check out the Kindle version of Entering the Fray by clicking HERE.  Or, if that doesn't suit your tastes, order a hard copy HERE.  Or, you have another option of ordering the audio book version HERE.  And after you've done that, check out Entering the Fray's companion site HERE.


Contextualization in World Missions: A Brief Review

Recently I had the opportunity to read A. Scott Moreau's new work titled Contextualization in World Missions: Mapping and Assessing Evangelical Models.  I want to say "Thank you!" to Kregel for the gratis review copy.  I also want to say "Kudos!" to Dr. Moreau, who is Professor of Intercultural Studies at Wheaton College (Ill.), for producing a very fine and helpful work.  Indeed, I have even been able to engage this text for some of my dissertation work.

In this book, which spans 429 pages and is divided into 14 chapters across two major parts or sections, Moreau's goal is to interact with the major theories or models of contextualization that have been put forth within missiological studies over the last several decades.  Throughout he uses the analogy of a map (hence the subtitle) and also discusses the various "maps" of contextualization that others have developed.  As a Bible scholar I found Moreau's work helpful but, of course, I wish there had been much more engagement with exegetical and theological texts.  At the outset, however, Moreau remarks, "a discerning reader will see that only occasionally do I draw on theologians and biblical scholars.  They have much to say about our landscape, but I have chosen to develop this map from the ever-growing range of perspectives offered by missiologists.  While this constraint limits the sophistication in some areas, it also frames the discussion in light of the perspectives of those who most deeply engage in and explore the landmass of evangelical contextualization" (21).

While I have done quite a bit of study and research on contextualization, I'm not sure that by Moreau's standards I could be considered an insider to these conversations.  Even as I read, I found myself having to read pages over again several times to comprehend concepts, diagrams (or maps), charts, etc., which would seem to be in agreement with this fact.  For the most part the book is very readable and user-friendly.  That said, there are some difficult concepts to grasp.  Moreau strives to make things as easy to understand as possible.  His stories, definitions, questions at the end of each chapter, illustrations, etc., all help in this regard.  Even so and rightly so, there are some thick and intricate concepts that readers, especially readers new to this topic, will have to work to get through.

There were a number of typos throughout and one of the most unfortunate occurrences of this left off the beginning of a paragraph (84).  Of course, this may have been the typesetter's fault and not Moreau's as this sort of thing happens more often than one would think.  Besides Moreau's great descriptions of the various models he interacts with, the appendices in this book make it well worth the buy.  In fact, I found myself engaging the appendices very frequently throughout my reading of this volume.  To be honest, I don't think reading this book just once, especially for someone who is new to this field, is enough.  It wasn't for me.  I'm going to have to read this at least a couple more times.  I would highly recommend this work to everyone in my field and I can say with some confidence that in time, among missiologists and intercultural studies majors, this work will become a standard textbook and reference work.

Personally, I'm grateful for this work on many fronts.  I'm grateful for it as a student for whom it was a good resource during the writing of my dissertation.  I'm also grateful for it as one who is interested in overseas mission work.  Just as well, I am grateful for this book as an evangelical who has wrestled with many of the theological and ethical implications and ramifications of various passages in the New Testament that seem to be dealing with contextualization.  Finally, I'm also grateful for this work as a churchman, that is, as one who is often asked tough questions by laity about how to live faithfully in pluralistic contexts.  So, not only do I say thanks to Kregel for this copy, I also say thanks to Dr. A Scott Moreau for giving us all an insightful, helpful, and informative resource for how to responsibly, credibly, and faithfully advance the Kingdom of God in whatever context(s) we may find ourselves in.  So wherever you find yourself doing ministry today, I'd encourage you to enhance it by getting this book.  Do that by clicking HERE and heading on over to Kregel's site and getting your copy.


Toward A Theology Of Guns: A Christian's Perspective, Pt. 6

Thus far in my series on the relationship between Christians and guns, I have dealt with a number of passages in the New Testament that pro-gun advocates attempt to use in their agenda to favorably link Jesus to guns and Christianity or Christians to guns.  I have shown thus far, however, that such endeavors are unfounded and misplaced.  You can read more by clicking the following links:

In Pt. 2 I also dealt with the theological concept of incarnation and showed how it is both rooted in peace and has the ethical and theological implications of being peacemakers.  Here, I want to look at the evangelical concept of salvation and ask what contribution it might play in the discussion of Christians and guns.

All throughout the Bible, that is, across both Testaments, the concept of salvation looms large.  For example, several Hebrew words are related to the idea of salvation such as yasa', yesu'ah, yesa', and tesu'ah.  These words can mean "to be delivered," "to be saved," "to be victorious," and "to be preserved."  In the New Testament, the terms sozo, soteria, and soter carry the ideas of being saved, rescued, delivered, helped, and redeemed.  Even Jesus' name "Iesous" is from the Hebrew "Joshua" which means "Yahweh is salvation."  (I have, of course, linked nouns, adjectives, and verbs together here so as to help keep this post succinct.)  

The fact is, across the cannon the concept of salvation is central.  For this reason, it is also at the heart of evangelical Christianity.  For evangelicals, a large premium is placed on the doctrine of salvation in Jesus Christ alone.  The belief is that humans have submitted to corruption instead of God and in the process, they became estranged from God.  By way of this act, they forfeited their relationship with God and caused a rupture in that relationship.  Grieved by this, God set a plan of salvation in motion.  This plan was to overcome the rupture.  It would be overcome by sending Jesus, the divine who would become human and show humans how to reconnect with God.  Or, put more theologically, Jesus would help humans realize their need for God and show them the way to God.  That way was none other than Jesus himself.  Jesus is Yahweh's gift of salvation to humans.

For almost all evangelicals, the concept of salvation is of paramount importance as it drives outreach, evangelism, missions, preaching, teaching, etc.  Thus, for evangelicals, those who have experienced salvation already, the aim is to help others experience this salvation.  The belief that runs alongside this is that for those who do not accept and confess Jesus' salvation before death, the end that awaits them is hell.  Hell is everlasting separation from God while salvation is forever being in God's presence.  For Christians, the salvation of the other or the salvation of all is of great significance.  In short, it is a first-order doctrine.

Now, one thing that I often hear from Christians with guns is that it is their responsibility, ordered from God-on-high, to protect their family members.  This, they say, is why they own and carry guns and are not afraid to use them.  However, I must ask:  Where is this taught in the Bible?  I can't seem to find it.  In addition to the problem of the absence of this belief is the fact that it does not square with the first-order belief of salvation.  For example, the scenario that we often hear is this:  "If someone breaks in my house and tries to hurt my wife or children, I'm going to defend them and if I have a gun, you had better believe that I'm going to use it."

Now, granted a person can be shot without being killed.   But much of the time people are going to be killed if shot while intruding.  Now, try to follow my logic here.  If a person breaks into your home, then it probably stands to reason that they are not a devout Christian.  Devout Christians do not do this kind of thing.  If they are not a (devout) Christian, this means that probably do not have salvation from God.  Now, if it is the Christian's job to "evangelize" and this is the Christian's first order of business, then I must ask:  If a Christian shoots and kills someone who does not have salvation, doesn't that go against the very heart of Christian belief?  Yes it does, in fact, it goes directly against it.  Shooting and killing the intruder deprives him or her the opportunity of experiencing and living out God's salvation.  This is a contradiction in terms!!!  Suppose the Christian doesn't shoot and kill but just wounds the intruder.  Isn't highly likely that the intruder will dislike Christians all the more?  Why sure.  Either way, shooting the person, whether to kill or not, stands the chance of ruining the intruder's chance at salvation and becoming a Christian.  Instead, what could be done is to try to talk the person out of what they're doing.  You say, "Oh but that's unrealistic."  Well, I point you HERE to an article where two teachers recently talked a shooter in a school out of doing more harm with the gun.  And I remind you also of the fact that hostage negotiators often do this kind of talking quite successfully.  Thus, instead of taking carry-concealed classes, perhaps Christians would fare better to take negotiating classes if they're really scared, concerned, or worried.

For a Christian to own a gun and be willing to shoot someone, especially to kill them, goes directly against the heart of Christianity.  Whether this means being armed personally as a civilian or as one in the military, it poses great theological and ethical problems.  Christians who own guns and are willing to use them on people act against two of the most fundamental beliefs of the Christian faith, namely, the doctrines of the incarnation and salvation.  To put these two beliefs in jeopardy is just not worth it.  Of course, there is more to be said and I will say more but for now, I'm settled on the fact that the New Testament does not permit Christians to own and use weapons.  As one might expect, the outworking of Christian theology and ethics aligns with this.


Toward A Theology Of Guns: A Christian's Perspective, Pt. 5

Since I wrote the last post in the series, there have been a handful of school shootings take place in the U.S., not to mention a pastor whose son killed him, his wife, and his siblings with the guns they had in their home. A study was also released which showed that more than nearly 60% of the time, having guns in the home leads to someone in the home  shooting another person living in the home, not an intruder. Just as well, the presidential administration rolled out some more laws on guns and gun control. 

In my view, it is high time that Christians be talking about guns and and violence in the United States (and across the world for that matter) and working toward a well-reasoned and scritpurally-based theology of guns. That's precisely what I've been aiming to do here.

In this series I have been systematically dealing with passages from the New Testament that are often used by pro-gun advocates in an attempt to bolster their pro-gun agenda. I have shown, however, that these are gross misinterpretations and misuses of the New Testament. The fact is, if you want to argue for guns, go ahead and do so, but you seriously need to refrain from making Jesus your posterboy and putting false words in his mouth. That really needs to stop!  Anyway, for anyone interested in those early posts click the following links: Pt. 1 (Lk 22:35-36); Pt. 2 (Mt 26:52; Lk 19:42, 22:35-36); Pt. 3 (Jn 2:15-16); and Pt. 4 (Mt 8:5-13 and Lk 7:2-10).

In this post, I want to deal with a few more passages in the New Testament that folks erroneously appeal to try to paint a portrait of a violent Jesus namely, Rev 19:15 and Mt 10:34/Lk 12:51. I will deal with the former first and then move on to the latter. In Rev 19:15 we read what, on the surface, appear to be quite chilling words. The text says καὶ ἐκ τοῦ στόματος αὐτοῦ ἐκπορεύεται ῥομφαία ὀξεῖα, ἵνα ἐν αὐτῇ πατάξῃ τὰ ἔθνη, καὶ αὐτὸς ποιμανεῖ αὐτοὺς ἐν ῥάβδῳ σιδηρᾷ, καὶ αὐτὸς πατεῖ τὴν ληνὸν τοῦ οἴνου τοῦ θυμοῦ τῆς ὀργῆς τοῦ θεοῦ τοῦ παντοκράτορος (And coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword so that by it the nations might be struck down, and he will shepherd them with an iron rod. And he is treading the winepress of the grapes of the wrath of God Almighty.). Now, what we must keep in mind here is context. The first bit of context that we need to remember is that this verse is set within the larger drama of a battle that takes place in the sky (or the heavens). In short, this is not a battle on earth. Further, the sword is a "sword from out of the mouth," not a sword worn on Jesus' hip. The significance of this cannot be underestimated for it forces us to reckon with the fact that the sword represents something else, namely, as Revelation already told us two verses earlier, God's Word (19:13).  Also in Rev 19:13 this "Word" is affiliated with blood. What is interesting here, however, is the fact that this is not blood that Jesus has shed by the sword nor blood avenged by Jesus defending himself. Instead, this blood is none other than Jesus' own blood, his martyr blood, his savior blood.

In short, it is not by the shedding of blood or the wielding of a physical sword that Jesus reigns but rather, by being willing to lay down his life and by the Word of God. What we have here then is Jesus subverting the violent and militaristic norms of his day. Whereas others did use physical swords to conquer, Jesus did/will not. Whereas others did use force and violence to achieve their victorious ends, Jesus did/will not, instead, he lays down his life without violence or retaliation. This is also made quite clear by the "lion becoming the lamb" imagery used in this portion of Revelation. In the end, what seems violent on the surface, what seems like an image of a military king or warrior king is actually a crucified carpenter or more to the point in this context, a crucified and slaughtered lamb whose own shed blood is salvific. Another point worth making here is similar to points made in earlier posts of this series, namely, the difference between descriptive and prescriptive. Here, the action is actually both. What we have here is descriptive of peace and what we have here is also prescriptive for how Jesus' followers should conduct themselves in violent contexts, that is, by speaking God's Word (the Sword of God) and being willing to lay down their lives non-violently.

We also have another passage that connects Jesus with a sword in Mt 10:34 which is closely paralleled in Lk 12:51. Here's what Mt 10:34 says: Μὴ νομίσητε ὅτι ἦλθον βαλεῖν εἰρήνην ἐπὶ τὴν γῆν• οὐκ ἦλθον βαλεῖν εἰρήνην ἀλλὰ μάχαιραν (You all do not think that I have come to bring peace on the earth. I have not come to bring peace but a sword.). Once again, we must understand the immediate context here. These words are uttered within a larger discourse related to family. In the ancient world, we know that kinship ties were extremely important. This is why maintaining one's family honor and avoiding family shame was seen as incredibly virtuous. To bring shame or harm upon one's family was to be avoided at all costs.

This is, in fact, what would have made Jesus' words so difficult for his ancient hearers. He is not speaking of literally carrying a sword but rather, he is speaking of how he himself, his life, his words, and his movement, will often be seen as divisive within families. For example, a father might have certain beliefs which the rest of the family is to follow. If one veers from these beliefs, it will bring shame upon the family. If one veers from believing in the family's religion to believing in and following a crucified carpenter, this has the potential of bringing a terrible amount of shame on the family. Thus, one will be "cut off" from the family, divided from them. Thus, the comment about the sword here is not literal, rather it is metaphorical. This is proven by the fact that this is how Luke interpreted it. In fact, Luke replaces the word "sword" (μάχαιραν) with the word "division" (διαμερισμόν).

What is going on here is that Jesus is saying that he knew/knows how divisive his movement will be. We must understand that he is not talking about carrying a sword or any other type of weapon. Further, we must realize that what Jesus says here is referring to the "effect" of his coming, not the "purpose" of his coming. There is a big difference between those two things! Jesus is saying that he knew his coming would be divisive and have divisive effects, but that even thought this was the case it ultimately had to be done. For Jesus, it is not the "family" that defines a person nor is it the family that is one's greatest allegiance, instead one's highest allegiance is to Jesus, even at the cost of being "cut off/divided" from those who are anti-Jesus in one's family. Note here that Jesus is also not advocating the use of swords or weapons to protect one's family!

At the end of the day, these are two more passages that, as we see, cannot be used to advance the notion of a pro-violence and pro-gun Jesus. Jesus and acting in violence do not go together, they do not mix (other than in the instance where Jesus has violence enacted upon him). These verses cannot be used in an attempt to marshal evidence for a pro-gun Jesus or a pro-gun Christianity. It just doesn't work! As I continue to work towards a Christian theology of guns, it is only becoming more and more clear that trying to drag Jesus into the pro-gun (or pro-weapon or pro-defense) conversation just doesn't work. Further, it is becoming more and more clear that in working toward a theology of guns, we are actually working toward a Christian theology of peace and non-violence. This, however, does not surprise me in the least, nor should it surprise you.  There is a reason, after all, that he was called the Prince of Peace.


Conversational Koine: A Weekend Immersion Event

I am pleased to announce today, an upcoming Conversational Koine event that will take place in Lexington, KY.  You can see more details on the flyer below but let me draw your attention to several things.  The event is an immersion event, which means that you will jump right into speaking, hearing, and responding in and to Koine Greek.  This is an event aimed at those interested in beginning to learn to speak Koine.  This means that the immersion event is open to folks who have never studied Greek a day in their lives as well as professors or students who may have spent many years studying Greek.

The event will be co-led by me (Michael Halcomb) and my friend Jordan Day.  We have developed a great weekend workshop curriculum and expect that those who participate will come away not only with a greater love for Greek but a greater ability to begin speaking it and engaging it in their Greek New Testament.  If you have questions feel free to contact me.  Please note that the workshop is only $99 (+ a small tax fee if you pay online) and is on a first come first serve basis.  Currently we have 12 spots allotted.  Feel free to download and share the flyer posted below.  Click HERE for an image file of the flyer.


Converstional Koine: Interested?

As many of you know, I posted a flyer on Pisteuomen a few weeks ago (see HERE and see the original flyer below) about a Conversational Koine class that I am teaching. There was a great response and numerous people have enrolled. In fact, I have filled 3 classes. However, I have had to "waitlist" 3 people for a potential fourth class. If I can get at least 2 more people to sign up, I am willing to offer it. We begin tomorrow and the class will meet every Tuesday (Jan 22nd - Apr 30th) from 3:45pm-4:45pm (Eastern Standard Time). The class is online and is $30 for the entire semester. Note that the everything except the time (for this new class 3:45pm-4:45pm) is the same.

***UPDATE:  Since posting this there have been a number of inquiries and I am going to have the class.  There are still a couple of openings for this 3:45pm-4:45pm (EST zone) if a couple of others are interested.

Click HERE for a .jpg version of the flyer for download

Conversational Koine


Call For Papers: Mark's Gospel in Mediterranean Context

See the embedded flyer below.  Feel free to download it, share it with others, and by all means, feel free to submit an abstract.


Toward A Theology Of Guns: A Christian's Perspective, Pt. 4

Thus far in my series "Toward A Theology of Guns: A Christian's Perspective" I have dealt with three passages in the New Testament that folks often try to use to build a cumulative case to argue that it is okay for Christians to carry weapons and engage in violence.  Today, I want to continue on in the same manner and deal with the argument that since Jesus healed a centurion, he must have been okay with swords and violence.  First, however, I want to briefly summarize the previous three posts.

Post #1:  In this post I showed how fallacious interpretations of Lk 22:35-36 are often used to contend that Jesus promoted the use of swords among his followers.  I set my argument within the context of the ancient Hebrew "Two Swords Tradition," which, in Luke's account, Jesus is tactfully and purposefully subverting or overturning.  Thus, Lk 22:35-36 cannot be used to argue that Jesus was okay with violence or his followers wielding weapons.  I also showed how it is a false analogy fallacy to attempt to equate a sword with gun here.

Post #2:  In this post I argued that the theological tenet of "Incarnation" is grounded in the principle, practice, and ethos of peace and peacemaking.  I set this again within the context of the discussion of Luke's Gospel and once more spoke of Lk 22:35-36.  In the overall scheme of Luke's narrative, peace is a (if not "the") guiding theme.  In working toward a theology of guns, I showed how the incarnation resists any and all types of violent acts by those who call themselves followers of Jesus.

Post #3:  In this post I showed that the argument "Jesus was violent in the Jerusalem temple, therefore I can be violent when needed too" is terribly flawed.  I showed how the Greek text of Jn 2 (esp. Vv. 15-16) has often been mishandled to promote such views and how, actually, this narrative is not violent at all.  Instead, Jesus, simply acted like any shepherd or overseer of a herd or flock of animals would have.  In fact, he is "saving" the animals.  In this story he does not make a "whip" and he does not hit or strike humans.  I also showed here how the attempt to equate a "makeshift whip" with guns is incredibly fallacious.

In today's post, I want to address the frequent appeal to Mt 8:5-13 (cf. Lk 7:2-10), the story where Jesus encounters and heals a centurion, that tries to use this passage to argue that Jesus was okay with the use of weapons and violence.  There is no need to cite the story in full here (click the references above to read them) but here's the line of thinking that is used, which I alluded to above:  

Jesus healed a centurion.
Centurions carried swords.
Therefore, Jesus must have been okay with swords.  
(Therefore, Jesus doesn't mind if I carry a gun.)

This argument is quite easy to debunk.  Let me offer a number of points.  Firstly, what we have here is the simple logical fallacy known as "Jumping to Conclusions" (some might also classify this as a "Hasty Generalization").  The problem with "Jumping to Conclusions" fallacies is that they quickly draw conclusions without taking into account easily accessible and relevant data.  An example of jumping to a conclusion would be: "She wants to adopt a baby.  Therefore, she must be infertile."  In this instance, a person has jumped to a conclusion without asking if the woman might want to adopt because she has a burden for the world orphan crisis, or if she does not want to endure the pain of child birth, or perhaps if she herself was adopted and was so moved by that experience that she wanted to do the same.  In short, the jump to a conclusion was an ignorant move because it failed to take into consideration relevant data.  The woman might not have fertility issues at all and she may have different motivations for adopting that what the person has concluded.

When it comes to the story of the centurion, nowhere in Matthew's story is it reported that the man is carrying a sword or any other weapon.  Might this be why Jesus did not say anything about the sword?  Is there any proof, after all, that centurion's simply carried swords around all the time when not in battle?  Was the centurion still "active duty"?  Did Jesus know the man was a centurion, that is, was it obvious to him?  Was it only after the story was recorded that the Gospel writer found out the man was a centurion?  

One has to also come to terms with the fact that the Gospel writers all had purposes and agendas when writing.  It would have made very little sense in a story where Mathew wanted to emphasize faith and healing to simply insert a comment about a sword.  In fact, it would have likely detracted from the overall point of the story.  Might we say, then, that this could be another reason why the sword is not mentioned?  What we must be careful of doing when reading the Bible is falling into logical pitfalls.  In addition to the "Jump to Conclusions" fallacy mentioned above, many people when engaging this story also fall into the "Argument From Silence" fallacy.  

The problem with an argument from silence is that, like jumping to a conclusion, it draws a conclusion based on a "lack" of evidence.  An important thing to keep in mind here is that this argument often cuts both ways.  For example, the person who wants to argue that it is okay to carry guns because the centurion carried a sword and Jesus healed him, praised his faith, and didn't rebuke him, must also realize that Jesus encountered zealots, prostitutes, and other people with sketchy pasts and often didn't rebuke them.  For example, while Jesus rebukes one political zealot on the cross, he praises the other.  An argument from silence would conclude then that political zealotry of the dangerous sort this man practiced in the past was okay and should be practiced by Jesus' followers today.  In Lk 7:37 Jesus meets a "sinner" (αμαρτωλος) and ends up taking up for her.  Using the same flawed logic one would read this story and conclude that Jesus was okay with sinning.  This, as we know, is just not the case.  In the story of the centurion, it might be the case, as noted above, that he doesn't have a sword, after all, it is not mentioned.  Or, again, maybe he ceased being a centurion after his encounter with Jesus.  These too, are arguments from silence really contribute nothing to the conversation and thus, should be avoided, as should the arguments put forth that advocate a pro-weapon and pro-violence Jesus based on his meeting with the centurion.

Another thing that readers of the Bible really need to understand, and this is a point that is lost on way too many folks, is that there is a great difference in things that are prescriptive and descriptive.  I made the point in an earlier post in this series, for example, that just because the Bible describes Judas as attempting to commit suicide via hanging himself, this is not a prescription for all readers of the Bible to go and do likewise.    I also made the point that just because the Gospels describe Peter as having a sword, this is not a prescription for everyone to follow his lead.  Instead, Jesus is the example we emulate.  In the same way, then, just because the centurion in Matthew "might" have had a sword (he is NOT described as having one), this is not prescriptive for how to act.  I'll say it again:  Jesus, who NEVER donned a sword, is the example to follow. 

So, it turns out that to disprove the claims put forward by pro-gun advocates that Mt 8:5-13 is proof that Jesus is okay with weapons and violence (ergo he is okay with Christians owning and using guns today) has no legs to stand on.  In fact, it doesn't even take hard exegesis to prove this, it just takes a little bit of close reading and logic.  Thus far, then, I have shown that neither Lk 22:35-36, Jn 2:13-25 (and its parallels in Mt 21:12-13, Mk 11:15-17 and Lk 19:45-46), nor Mt 8:5-13 can be used to advance the thesis that it is okay for Jesus to own guns, use guns, or participate in acts of violence.  In addition, I have shown how the concept of incarnation as well as the prevalent theme of "peace" in Luke's account, run contrary to such claims.  As I continue this series, I will continue to show that this is the case across the whole of the New Testament.


Toward A Theology Of Guns: A Christian's Perspective, Pt. 3

In the third part of this series, which is titled "Toward A Theology Of Guns: A Christian's Perspective," I want to address a specific claim that is often used to help build a case that Christians can use violence. Honestly, in my view, this argument is completely absurd and completely disconnects the Bible from exegesis, reality, and theology. I am not surprised, however, that many American Christians use it to attempt to justify their violent ends; we are after all, a culture of violence and death and have been greatly influenced in this regard. You can see this argument used in the comment section of my previous post in this series HERE, as well as in another comment section of a post I wrote on guns HERE.

The argument goes like this: In the temple, Jesus flipped over tables and used a whip. Thus, Jesus used violence against people. Therefore, since we are Jesus' followers, there are times when it is advantageous to use violence. In modern times, we do not use whips but guns. Since Jesus was okay with the weapons of his day, he would be okay with us using the weapons of our day, that is, guns.

Right out of the gate, we need to know that, in terms of logic, there are two fallacies here. The first is what we call the "Fallacy of the Undistributed Middle" and the second is a "False Analogy Fallacy." Since I have already discussed the false analogy in the previous post of this series (click HERE to read it) in relation to guns, in this post I'll simply deal with the undistributed middle. Following this, I'll offer some exegetical points on this story of Jesus in the temple.

When it comes to the fallacy of the undistributed middle, we need to know how it works. The underlying presupposition of this fallacy is as follows: We can assume that since two things share a certain property, that then makes them the same thing. (I trust that you can see how this also relates to the false analogy fallacy.) In terms of logic, we might break it down this way:

X has property 1.
Y has property 1.
Therefore, X = Y.

The problems with such reasoning are quite easy to recognize. Let's use real objects in this equation where "X" represents a banana and "Y" represents a school bus:

The banana has the property of yellow.
The school bus has the property of yellow.
Therefore, the banana equals the school bus.

Now, we can all immediately see how absurd this line of reasoning is! Just because these two properties share the property yellow does not make them the same thing. A school bus is not edible, but a banana is. Just as well, the fruit we know as a banana does not have an engine, steering wheel, etc. The two objects are completely different despite sharing one property or characteristic. Now, let me show you how this is precisely the logical fallacy used when people speak of Jesus and the temple event. In the following equation,"X" represents Jesus and "Y" represents the Christian of today:

Jesus has the properties of violence and weapons in the temple event.
I have the properties of violence and weapons when I carry a gun.
Therefore, Jesus is just like me or I am just like Jesus when I am violent and carry weapons.

Or, the argument is nuanced and put forth this way:

Jesus' whip in the temple has the property of violence.
My gun today has the property of violence.
Therefore, the whip Jesus used and my gun are the same thing.

Some major problems with such lines of reasoning are that they wrongly equate two things which seem to share a property. In short, just because a person shares one characteristic or trait with Jesus, that does not put them on par with Jesus. Just as well, just because a gun and a whip can be used as weapons, that does not make them equal. There is simply no way that a whip can accomplish the same things as a gun, especially in the same amount of time. But there are other issues here that we have to address too. In fact, there are a couple more logical fallacies to point out.

For example, here we have the fallacy of making the exception the rule. That is, we take one of Jesus' actions on one occasion and make it the rule for how to live like him or follow him. This one act must be kept in proper perspective and seen in the broader scope of his life and ministry; in short, it must be kept in check and balance with the other things he said and did. This actually leads us into the matter of intentions. Was Jesus being violent? Did Jesus harm anyone or any animal? Did Jesus intend to harm anyone or any animal? What is the context of Jesus' actions? We will deal with these questions below.

Something else we need to keep in mind is that there is a difference between something that is prescriptive and something that is descriptive. Here I must ask: Just because we read a narrative in the Bible does that mean we should take the same course of action? Should we try to hang ourselves like Judas? Should we try to lie like Ananias and Sapphira? Of course not! Well, what about Jesus, should we try to do everything he did? Well, clearly, we humans are not able to die and bring people salvation. Neither can we sit at the right hand of the Father. Neither can we have the property of divinity that Jesus has. The list could go on and on...you get the point. There are some things that Jesus can be and do that we can't. Just because we read a descriptive account of Jesus doing something doesn't mean it we are prescribed to do the same thing. Don't get me wrong, sometimes that is the case, surely it is, but sometimes it is not.

We also have a fallacy here of making part of Jesus stand for the whole of Jesus. This is known as the Compositional Fallacy. Thus, it does not stand to reason, even if Jesus was violent on this one occasion, that Jesus was a violent person. As you can see, this is related to the "exception as the rule" fallacy. There is clearly much more to Jesus than this one event. But this does lead us into the matter of exegesis, a place where we must deal with intentions and meaning. What were Jesus' intentions in the temple? What did this act mean or signify?

One thing that is interesting about the interpretation of the temple passage (let's use Jn 2:13-25 here) is that up until Augustine in the 5th century CE, interpreters had viewed this by and large as a passage of non-violence. Andy Alexis-Baker ("Violence, Nonviolence and the Temple Incident in John 2:13-15," Biblical Interpretation 20 [2012]: 73-96) has shown that early readings of this passage from Origen, Cosmas Indicopleustes, and Barhadbesabba (relating a story about Theodore of Mopsuestia) all understood this event as nonviolent. Augustine, however, was the first to take this story in a violent way. For him, it was a template for how to treat heretics, particularly the Donatists of his day. In his Contra litteras Petiliani (2.10.24; 2.81.178), Augustine says of this passage that it proves "Christ [is] a persecutor" and that "Christ even bodily persecuted those whom he expelled from the temple with whippings."

It was this reading that would influence many interpreters who would come after Augustine. In fact, Michael Gorman ("The Oldest Epitome of Augustine's Tractatus in Euangelium Ioannis and Commentaries on the Gospel of John in the Early Middle Ages," Revue des Etudes Augustiniennes 43 [1997]: 74) notes that "nearly all commentaries on John compiled in this period tend to be indistinguishable from reworkings of Augustine's treatise, a masterpiece which dominated studies of the fourth Gospel for centuries." Without citing all of the Medieval interpreters here, we can see even in Bernard of Clairvaux (De laude novae militia, 5) that the Knights Templars used this passage in such a way so as to give their crusades some biblical basis. In the Reformation era, Calvin followed this track and used this passage as a model for how to deal with heretics. It was Calvin who even defended having Michael Servetus burned at the stake (Defensio Orthdoxae Fidei). Many modern readers also follow this reading. However, does the text bear the weight of such conclusions?

One thing that we must make clear from context is that within the ancient world, weapons were not allowed in the temple; they were effectively banned from the temple. Thus, it is erroneous to see the comment in Jn 2:15 which says καὶ ποιήσας φραγέλλιον ἐκ σχοινίων (And he made a whip out of cords) in terms of Jesus fashioning a weapon. This is completely different from the "flogging" (φραγελλόω - Mt 27:26; Mk 15:15) that happens to Jesus in the passion narratives. Indeed, when Josephus (Antiquities 8.385) uses the phrase ἐκ σχοινίων (out of cords), he actually refers to taking the threads out of a sackcloth garment. In Acts 27:32 this same terminology is used for a rope attached to the anchor of a ship. Raymond Brown (The Gospel According to John, 115) has asserted that Jesus made the makeshift whip from the "rushes used as bedding for the animals" while Ernst Haenchen (Das Johannesevangelium, 200) has contended that Jesus made a "kind of whip" (here the variant reading which contains ὡς φραγέλλιοιν is used) "out of the ropes with which the animals had been tied up. He did not use it against people, but drove out the animals with it." As Alexis-Baker asserts, "If Jesus had used the kind of weapon that Romans used to punish people, the temple guards and Roman garrison stationed nearby would have acted swiftly" (88).

But what about the interpretation of persons like John McHugh (John, International Commentary Series), who argue that Jesus used the whips on people? Well, Alexis-Baker's explanation of the Greek renders such views erroneous. Much of the debate centers on the word πάντας in the remainder of the clause πάντας ἐξέβαλεν ἐκ τοῦ ἱεροῦ τά τε πρόβατα καὶ τοὺς βόας of Jn 2:15. The term πάντας is a masculine adjective. Alexis-Baker shows that if John had used the neuter form of the adjective (πάντα) then Jesus would have only driven out the sheep. However, the sheep during this time period were sacrificial and thus, all male (Ex 12:5). Thus, the masculine term is a reference to all the sheep and cattle. Had John used the feminine form of the adjective (πᾶσας), it would refer to Jesus only driving out the doves. Nowhere does the narrative suggest that Jesus used a whip to drive out the doves or dove dealers. Instead, in Jn 2:16, Jesus commands the dove dealers saying, ἄρατε ταῦτα ἐντεῦθεν, μὴ ποιεῖτε τὸν οἶκον τοῦ πατρός μου οἶκον ἐμπορίου. ("You all remove these, you all do not make my father's house a market!"). Clearly, at this point, the vendors are still in the temple area after he has driven out the sheep and cattle. Taking this together with the fact that the there is a τε...καὶ construction in 2:15 (i.e. τε πρόβατα καὶ τοὺς βόας), we know that Jesus only drove the animals out with his threaded makeshift whip. In a τε...καὶ construction we find persons, things, or ideas that are corresponding opposites. As Alexis-Baker notes, an author does this to signal a close connection between items. In short, the adjective πάντας refers to the paired sheep and cattle or put differently, the πάντας modifies the contents of the τε...καὶ construction, namely, the πρόβατα (male sheep) and τοὺς βόας (male cattle).

So what were Jesus' intentions? Well, we can say that part of his intentions were to get the animals out of the temple area. In fact, with his makeshift rope he drives them out, like any shepherd would, and in doing so, actually saved and protected the animals. As Alexis-Baker notes, "...he drove out their animals, and wanting to look after their property, they followed after the cattle and sheep" (94). To cite Alexis-Baker again, "In a real sense, the narrative does not depict Jesus beating the animals; but instead he saves their lives from sacrificial slaughter in a monetary and religious system. The fact that he deliberately refrains from overturning caged pigeons shows his carefulness with the animals" (94). Further, "The fact that Jesus used a makeshift instrument to move the cattle and sheep out of the temple is logically very different from warfare and capital punishment. Jesus did not kill anybody" (95). Indeed, I would contend that if we want to use Jesus as a model here, we see him as: 1) An example of one who has righteous indignation at religious corruption, although, not a type of anger that allows for the use of religious violence or force; 2) An example of showing great concern for life, even animal life; and 3) An example of non-violence.

To be clear, Jesus was not being violent towards animals or people in this story. He was simply driving animals out (and saving them by doing so!) the way anyone who works with sheep or cattle would have. He did not have a dangerous weapon but a makeshift rope like made out of the ropes the animals were tied with. So, the contention that we can use this story as a platform for a violent Jesus and a God who would be okay with Christians being violent and carrying weapons such as guns needs to finally be put to rest. That is a gross distortion of this passage and a dishonest reading of it. Jesus' whip was not used in a violent way. Guns are meant to harm and/or kill. It is a false analogy to equate the two. To cite Alexis-Baker one last time, "To move from a little whip and overturning a table to firing machine guns, missiles and other modern weaponry is simply absurd" (95). Such a reading makes sense not only of the (Greek) text itself, but also the context. Unfortunately, vested interests often ignore such things so as to propagate and promote their causes. Hopefully, Christians will begin sooner rather than later being responsible interpreters and peacemaking citizens in this world. One can no longer say "I'm being like Jesus when I carry a gun because Jesus was violent and carried weapons too." and still maintain logical or theological credibility. In fact, that's precisely the opposite of what we learn about Jesus the peacemaker. Peace, after all, was in large part the whole aim of Jesus: To bring peace between humans and God, and peace between humans and humans. Guns and weapons are but one barrier to preventing such peace from happening. Christians, please, lay down your guns.

For other posts in this series, click the links below:
Part 1
Part 2

In the next post of this series I will look at some of the "violent" imagery in the Gospels and see how that squares with what some people refer to as the "violent God of the Bible."


Conversational Koine Greek: An Interactive & Online Course

I'm pleased to announce today an upcoming online class that I'm going to be offering for the 2013 winter/spring semester.  The course is titled "Conversational Koine" and is open to all.  That's right, if you've never read or spoke Greek a day in your life, or if you've studied Greek for years, this class is for you.  The class is designed in such a way that all skill levels can interact with one another.  The entire class is taught in Koine Greek and you will find that even after the first session, you'll be able to read and speak some Greek. By the end of the semester, you will be amazed with the results.  The class is taught in a conversational manner.  Throughout the semester we read, speak, share stories, etc.  The flyer below contains the details of when, where, cost, etc.  As you can see, the class begins at the end of this month and goes to the end of April.  The cap for the class is 10 people and 2 of those spots are already taken, which leaves us with 8.  So, if you want to get involved, please email me and secure your spot as soon as possible.  I am operating on a first come first serve basis.  All I ask is that if you commit, you really, truly commit.  For those who will have trouble paying the small fee, scholarships are available.  Beyond the sheer value of learning a language (and having tons of fun while doing it!), there's also a small added bonus for students who attend every class: A free copy of one of my publications.  But that offer is only good for those who join this semester, so, act now!  Last semester was excellent and I expect no less from this semester.  I am excited about the upcoming session.  If you have any questions or want to join, please email me at the email address in the flyer (which, by the way, you may share with others).  Thanks and Happy New Year!

Click HERE for a .jpg version of the flyer for download

Conversational Koine