Over the years, I’ve heard, and even used, a common form of argumentation that is beginning to bother me. It seems to have the sound of wisdom and biblical correctness, but I’m just not sure it is a biblical argument at all. You’ll often hear it said that doing something or not doing something places us on a slippery slope. “If you allow such and such, which isn’t necessarily wrong, then you’ll allow such and such, which isn’t necessarily wrong, but then you’ll allow such and such, which isn’t necessarily wrong, but then you’ll allow such and such and that is wrong, so we shouldn’t do that first thing I mentioned.”
Or I’ve heard it this way, “Is action A wrong? Well, A is the same as B. B is the same as C. C is the same as D. We know D is wrong, so A must be wrong as well.” I’ve also heard the argument made the opposite way. “Is action A right? Well, A is the same as B. B is the same as C. C is the same as D. We know D is right, so A must be right as well.”
There is a Bible passage that is causing me to think this kind of argumentation just isn’t biblical. Rather, it may simply be the last effort of those who don’t really have a biblical case to make.
Read Luke 6:1-5. Jesus’ disciples were plucking heads of grain, sifting the chaff out by rubbing it in their hands, and eating it. The rub (pardon the pun) was this was all happening on the Sabbath. We know the Sabbath law. They weren’t to do any work on the Sabbath day (Exodus 20:9-10). The question was, were the disciples working?
The facts: 1) if a farmer went out and harvested his field or sifted the chaff on the Sabbath, he would have been sinning and 2) the Lord of the Sabbath said what the disciples were doing was not sinning.
What was the Pharisees logic? Wasn’t it the “logic” of the slippery slope? If you can pluck one grain and sift it, you can pluck two. If you can pluck two, you can pluck ten. If you can pluck ten, you can pluck a whole row. If you can pluck a whole row, you can pluck a whole field. We know that plucking a field is wrong. Therefore, plucking a row, plucking ten, and plucking only one is wrong.
They might even say, “Well, we’re not really sure if just plucking one is wrong, but isn’t it better to be on the safe side? Nobody can pluck even one grain on the Sabbath.” Hey, I know I’ve used this kind of argument myself. The problem is, it just doesn’t hold up in Luke 6 because Jesus is there to say that plucking a few heads of grain and rubbing it in their hands wasn’t working and wasn’t a violation of the Sabbath law. He should know. He’s Lord of the Sabbath.
Of course, someone could make the argument the opposite way. “If plucking one grain is okay, then plucking two is okay, then plucking ten is okay, then plucking a row is okay, then plucking the field is okay. If we can pluck one grain, we can pluck one field.” No doubt, we all recognize a farmer harvesting his field on the Sabbath was a violation of the Sabbath law. But we can use the “slippery slope” to make it seem lawful.
In either direction, this “slippery slope” logic is simply not a means of demonstrating authorization or condemnation. It is a bad argument to say something is wrong just because we think it is like something else that we are certain is wrong. It is also a bad argument to claim that something is wrong simply to be safe. It is just as unsafe to bind where God hasn’t bound as it is to loose what God hasn’t loosed. It is also a bad argument to claim something is right simply because it is like something we are certain is right.
Luke 6:1-5 demonstrates that there may be two very similar actions and one is lawful, while the other is unlawful.
I’ll share what my struggle with this is. I’m a very black and white person. I don’t like gray areas. I don’t like claiming something is a matter of judgment. I want a rule for every situation that clearly states what I’m allowed or not allowed to do. I don’t really want to have to think about it or discuss it or debate it and then still be a little bit up in the air.
But in Luke 6:1-5 we know that the disciples were not violating the Sabbath law by plucking a few grains and sifting the chaff in their hands. We know they would have violated the law if they harvested the field. When would they have crossed the line? Is the line an amount? Or is the line a motivation? Is it possible that someone else may have come out and only plucked a few heads of grain and have been violating the law? I just don’t know when the line would be crossed, which means there is a bit of personal judgment each of us must make in this scenario. Further, we also learn that we aren’t allowed to establish a rule for everyone based on our personal line.
Let’s use a modern day example. What about modest dress? The Bible rebukes lasciviousness, licentiousness, or sensuality (Romans 13:13; 2 Corinthians 12:21; Galatians 5:19; et al). Lasciviousness is that which promotes, stimulates, expresses, or invites sexual feelings and actions. However, the Bible never spells out all the lines of what is sensuality in regard to our dress. I have no doubt that a woman walking around men other than her husband in a bikini is being lascivious and sensual. But what if she wears a shirt that doesn’t have sleeves? Or what if she wears a skirt that comes just above her knees when she sits down? I have my personal lines that I enforce in my family, but can I enforce those rules on everyone? I know that some brethren are like me. They want to find some kind of line to remove all manner of judgment or potential gray area here. But I can’t find such a line in scripture. Knowing exactly where that line is crossed is not laid out in scripture. In fact, I’m not convinced the line is completely a matter of length. Sometimes it is a matter of motivation. One woman may wear a skirt that comes just below her knees but is striving to stimulate someone else sexually because of her shapely lower legs. Another woman may wear the same skirt in the attempt to hide sexuality by covering her upper legs. Both might be wearing the exact same skirt and it be lasciviousness for one and not the other.
Oh, I know, we want to cry, “But you are on a slippery slope!” Hey, I want to cry that. But are we really on a slippery slope? Or are we just making a decision that needs to be judged by itself in reference to the will of God and not in reference to every other similar decision we have to make?
Perhaps there is a valid place for saying “slippery slope.” However, I think we need to be cautious. I definitely think we need some personal humility about our own judgments instead of thinking our view of the slippery slope suddenly translates into rules for everyone else and all the other congregations. If we aren’t careful, we may find that we are on a slippery slope ourselves.
Skeptics often look for reasons to dismiss the Bible. A recent complaint I heard against those who simply accept the Scriptures is, “How can you just believe in a book that talks about unicorns?”
Most of us scratch our heads and say, “What on earth are you talking about?” But, it is true that the King James Version of the Bible does mention unicorns in several places: Numbers 23:22 (KJV); Numbers 24:8 (KJV); Deuteronomy 33:17 (KJV); Job 39:9-10 (KJV); Psalm 22:21 (KJV); Psalm 29:6 (KJV); Psalm 92:10 (KJV); Isaiah 34:7 (KJV).
Many of us, having moved past the antiquated King James will likely just say, that’s only a problem for folks hanging on to the “Authorized Version.” However, we still need to deal with why that is there.
I don’t know why the King James translators used that particular word. Did they believe a mythical creature with life-giving blood, who could be captured by getting it to lay its head in the lap of a virgin actually existed at some time? I don’t know. Even if they did, that doesn’t mean that is what the Bible was actually teaching.
What I do know is this, the word “unicorn” and the Greek and Latin words that caused it to be in the KJV Bible simply mean “one horn.” They do not necessarily mean the mythical creature we speak of today. Considering the existence of the rhinoceros, is there really that big of a problem in believing that at some point there was an animal in existence that had a single horn? We also have the narwhal. Please, don’t give me arguments saying the rhino’s horn is just hair and the narwhal’s is a tooth. The fact is they look like horns and men would naturally call them by names that identify that marker. To think there might have been an animal that had a single horn that died out is not that hard to believe. It doesn’t mean the animal was magical. It only means it had one horn.
However, having said that, there are actually some pretty good arguments made for knowing what animal is referred to. I’m going to call a hostile witness to the stand: Isaac Asimov, a well-known atheist.
The Hebrew word represented in the King James Version by “unicorn” is re’em, which undoubtedly refers to the wild ox (urus or aurochs) ancestral to the domesticated cattle of today. The re’em still flourished in early historical times and a few existed into modern times, although it is now extinct. It was a dangerous creature of great strength and was similar in form and temperament to the Asian buffaloes.
The Revised Standard Version translates re’em as “wild ox.” The verse in Numbers is translated as “they have as it were the horns of the wild ox,” while the one in Job is translated “Is the wild ox willing to serve you?” The Anchor Bible translates the verse in Job as “Will the buffalo deign to serve you?”
The wild ox was a favorite prey of the hunt-loving Assyrian monarchs (the animal was called rumu in Assyrian, essentially the same word as re’em) and was displayed in their large bas-reliefs. Here the wild ox was invariably shown in profile and only one horn was visible. One can well imagine that the animal represented in this fashion would come to be called “one-horn” as a familiar nickname, much as we might refer to “longhorns” in speaking of a certain breed of cattle.
As the animal itself grew less common under the pressure of increasing human population and the depredations of the hunt, it might come to be forgotten that there was a second horn hidden behind the first in the sculptures and “one-horn” might come to be considered a literal description of the animal.
When the first Greek translation of the Bible was prepared about 250 B.C., the animal was already rare in the long-settled areas of the Near East and the Greeks, who had no direct experience with it, had no word for it. They used a translation of “one-horn” instead and it became monokeros. In Latin and in English it became the Latin word for “one-horn”; that is, “unicorn.”
The Biblical writers could scarcely have had the intention of implying that the wild ox literally had one horn. There is one Biblical quotation, in fact, that clearly contradicts that notion. In the Book of Deuteronomy, when Moses is giving his final blessing to each tribe, he speaks of the tribe of Joseph (Ephraim and Manasseh) as follows: “His glory is like the firstling of his bullock, and his horns are like the horns of unicorns….”
Here the word is placed in the plural since the thought of a “one-horn’s” single horn seems to make the phrase “horns of a unicorn” self-contradictory. Still, the original Hebrew has the word in the singular so that we must speak of the “horns of a unicorn,” which makes it clear that a unicorn has more than one horn (Asimov’s Guide to the Bible, 1968, v. 1, pp. 186-187).
Obviously, I’m not suggesting that Asimov is an authority on all things biblical. However, when an atheist who would naturally want to take every possible potshot at the Bible he could can tell that the King James Version didn’t actually teach the existence of the mythical creature we call a unicorn, then perhaps that should lay any of our fears to rest on this subject.
We can trust God’s word. Let’s continue to trust in it.
With the increasing rise of Pentecostalism and the Charismatic movements, even more Christians are beginning to think the miraculous gifts of the Spirit should be going on today and lasting until Jesus returns. The question is not will the gifts ever cease. Everyone knows that I Corinthians 13:8-10 says, “Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes the partial will pass away.”
We all know that when the perfect comes, the gifts will end. The question is whether or not the perfect has already come. Most folks read this verse and say, “Oh, Jesus was perfect. It must be talking about Him.” But does that really fit the context.
Please note that the greater context of this chapter is that love is greater than the miraculous gifts. Why? Because love never ends. At the conclusion of the chapter, Paul adds in two other enduring items that will continue on even after the gifts have ceased–faith and hope (I Corinthians 13:13).
Keep this picture in mind. Paul says when the perfect comes, the miraculous gifts will cease, but love, faith, and hope will endure. Does that fit Jesus’ second coming?
According to Hebrews 11:1, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Faith is about what is not seen. When Jesus returns and we are with Him in heaven, it will no longer be faith. It will be sight. After Jesus comes, faith ends. It doesn’t endure.
Also, according to Romans 8:24-25, “For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” There it is again. Hope is about something that is not seen. In fact, once we have seen it we no longer have hope. When Jesus returns, we’ll no longer have hope of Jesus’ return. When we are in heaven with Jesus, we’ll no longer have hope of being in heaven. It will all be sight. After Jesus comes, hope ends. It doesn’t endure.
Do you see the point? Paul said after the perfect comes, the gifts would end, but love, faith, and hope would endure. Yet, faith and hope will not endure after Jesus returns. Jesus must not be the perfect.
Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying Jesus was imperfect. I’m saying that I Corinthians 13:10 is not referring to Jesus when it speaks of the perfect.
What is the perfect then? Come back next Tuesday and I’ll share what I believe is the perfect in I Corinthians 13:10.
I had a great Memorial Day. First, I got to sleep in, which was important because Trina, my 18-month old, had a little accident on Sunday night and woke up several times throughout the night because of it. Don’t worry, it wasn’t major and she is doing much better now. Second, since the rain was held at bay, I was able to do some landscaping work. I had to build up our front flower bed, which involved hauling a bunch of landscaping bricks up the hill through my yard and redistributing a bunch of dirt. My arms, legs, and back are a bit sore today. However, to top the day off, my family was invited to a good friend’s house for a cookout and volleyball. What a blast.
However, I learned last night that almost no one knows the rules of volleyball have changed. In fact, you probably aren’t aware they have changed. Don’t worry, until Tessa started playing for a local league, I had no idea. You may believe that in volleyball you only score on the serve. Not anymore. Actually, someone scores every time. Whoever wins the rally or the volley gets a point whether their team served or not. You may have thought a volleyball game was played to 15 or perhaps 21. Not so. It is now played to 25 with one exception. If you are playing a match, you will play best 2 out of 3 or best 3 out of 5 games. In this case, if the series goes to the final tie-breaking game, that final game is played to 15.
I tried to tell the other players, but they mocked me and acted like I was out of my mind. I encouraged them to Google it. If they did, they’ll find what I found–new rules.
I also learned something else last night, something more important than just the fact that almost no one knows that the rules for volleyball have actually changed. I learned that in order to play a game, you have to agree on the rules. We got started and the other team served. My team won the point. Then I served and my team won that point. I called out the score, “Two serving zero,” and everyone accept Tessa, my son Ethan, and one other player went berserk. We had to spend 5 to 10 minutes determining exactly how we were going to play. As old habits die hard, we played the old way. However, at least we all had a standard by which we could judge the game. Even if we didn’t like the standard (Tessa hated it), we knew what was expected and how to play.
This reminds me of most Bible discussions today. Too often folks just plow into a discussion about whether or not something is right or wrong and they get nowhere. They leave the discussion and simply can’t understand why the other person didn’t get it. Usually, the problem is they were playing by different rules. They don’t disagree simply because they disagree about the one issue. They disagree because they read the Bible differently. If I can describe it this way, they’re using different sets of rules.
II Timothy 3:16-17 says, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.”
God gave us the Bible so we could serve and glorify Him through the good works He has planned for us. However, before we can have good discussions about those good works, we need to be playing by the same rules. Before you get involved with someone else about a Bible discussion, back up and discuss how to use the Bible. You might be surprised the differences you find and you might have some more fruitful discussions with people.
While in Lafayette, Georgia, I’ve preached two sermons that looked at Philippians 2:3-4, applying them in two different contexts–marriage and the local congregation. This repetition has reminded me of something I wanted to share with you.
As a preacher, I sometimes have an idea for a sermon but then think, “I can’t do that one; I preached on that already.” That may have even been 5 years ago. Certainly, I shouldn’t be lazy, rehashing old study to keep from having to do work today. However, I’ve preached these two sermons in numerous places. Each time I do, I usually have to say, “I’m preaching this again, because even though I’ve said it to me before, I seem to have forgotten and need to be reminded.”
The messages from God’s word are not lessons we hear once and have internalized and mastered. Oh no, I need to hear these same messages over and over and over again. Don’t worry, I won’t start repreaching all my sermons. However, I will encourage us to go back and keep studying or restudying. As Peter said in II Peter 1:12-13, we constantly need to be reminded of the Biblical messages.
Whatever you think you’ve gotten down, go back and study it again.