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« Good and Bad, Right and Wrong (Part Two) | Main | Signed, Anonymous »

Good and Bad, Right and Wrong (Part Three)

Searching for Clarity in Contemporary Confusion
While the scriptures do answer many questions directly, mitigating circumstances or contrasting scriptures often place other questions outside the scope of precise chapter and verse. In these cases, it is still possible to discern the ethical route that must be taken. Circumstantial evidence, also called “prima facie” evidence may lead to a conclusion that is universally perceived as wrong, or that forces an evil or wrong to be committed.

A clear example of prima facie scriptures may be seen in the practice of a certain sect to refuse to take blood transfusions. They base their belief, in part on the following scriptures:

Leviticus 17:10 And whatsoever man there be of the house of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn among you, that eateth any manner of blood; I will even set my face against that soul that eateth blood, and will cut him off from among his people. (KJV)

Acts 15:20 But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood. (KJV)

Eating blood, a pagan ritual, does not equate to an intravenous blood transfusion. If we believe that these scriptures do forbid such a procedure, we are immediately faced with a huge conundrum. Medical science has dramatic and historical proof that blood transfusions save lives. Suppose that I refuse a blood transfusion, or I forbid doctors to give my child a blood transfusion, even though certain death would follow. In either case, by citing these scriptures as the reason for my decision, I have forced a fatal convolution upon sound biblical interpretation. In a sense, I have made the Bible responsible for my own, or my child’s, death. Some, who have held such beliefs, have even said that God must have wanted their child to die, although a routine procedure that would have averted death lay well within their grasp. These people often seek supposed moral refuge in the thought that they would rather obey the scriptures rather than the orders of a doctor. In the interest of consistency, then, they ought never to seek medical attention for any condition at any time, whether from doctor, dentist, optometrist or any other medical professional. To say that medical treatment is proper, except for blood transfusions, demonstrates great confusion, if not outright hypocrisy.

It seems quite obvious to me that a superficial and non-exegetical use of the scriptures spells danger. The Law of Prima Facie holds that things do not always exist as they seem to appear. All factors associated with a scripture must be weighed against the face value of that scripture. The following principles, therefore, come to light:

Process: All relevant facts need to be processed before arriving at a decision.
Context: The cultural and interpretive context of a scripture should always be explored.
Consequences: The full range of consequences should be leveraged against inconvenient or bizarre actions.
Divine attributes: No scripture should work against the character or attributes of God.

Other examples abound in which adherents cite scripture as the basis for their beliefs. They include: insistence on keeping the Sabbath (Saturday), mandating the observance of dietary laws and other Jewish customs, subscribing to certain eschatological views, communistic forms of government, metaphysical healing, baptism by proxy, gambling and other widespread beliefs and practices. One must apply the Law of Prima Facie to every doctrine or teaching that appears on the horizon of church polity.

Lest those who seek to subvert the scriptures try to take advantage of this view and call every verse with which they disagree an example of prima facie, I wish to strongly state that the Bible must be taken literally everywhere it is possible to do so. Wherever the meaning is clearly metaphorical or is extremely limited in its scope, we must point these factors out. Otherwise, we would fall into the equal and opposite errors of those who only interpret scripture in a metaphorical or spiritual sense.

The Law of The Larger Principle

As time goes on, the inventions and practices of humankind continue to multiply. The Bible contains no references to many of these things simply because they didn’t exist when the Bible was written. How do we arrive at a moral or ethical position on these eventualities if we cannot find scriptures about them?

First, we certainly must conclude that the question of morality and ethics impinges upon modern inventions, even though the Bible did not anticipate all of them. From smoking tobacco to the atomic bomb, from television to sociobiology, from crack cocaine to feeding tubes, from cybersex to invitro fertilization, we must wend our way through the ethical maze served up to us by modern life.

I submit that the Bible teaches us of larger principles that adequately govern life today, despite the fact that twenty or more centuries have passed since the final pages of scripture were written. Each question we encounter in our modern world connects back to a general or foundational statement of truth found in the Bible. Based upon the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:3-17), here is a list of such truths, and the implications they contain, that broadly apply to contemporary themes:

The Law of Worship: Thou shalt have no other gods before me. God alone must be glorified in all of man’s work.
The Law of Creation: Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image. God created man, animals, plants and all matter in a specific way and for specific reasons.
The Law of Respect: Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain. Man must respect himself and all other persons.
The Law of Order: Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. God created all things to work within a certain ordained pattern.
The Law of Honor: Honour thy father and thy mother. There are those to whom we must give a high degree of dignity.
The Law of Life: Thou shalt not kill. All of life is a gift of God.
The Law of Fidelity: Thou shalt not commit adultery. Faithfulness to our commitments forms the basis for enduring relationships.
The Law of Reciprocity: Thou shalt not steal. Unlawfully claiming another’s possessions sets up retaliation and seriously destabilizes society.
The Law of Truth: Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour. Our thoughts and actions must be based on total honesty.
The Law of Love: Thou shalt not covet. Love must define our basic motivation for all interaction between people.

The Ten Commandments, therefore, provide a clear and efficient structure to determine most, if not all, ethical issues that have developed subsequent to their issue. Even the nuances of today’s technological explosion fall under the umbrella of God’s magnificent laws. It is my belief that every significant human behavior must find congruency with these laws or principles. The spectrum is too broad to deal with every particularity, but it is possible for us to show the application of the larger principles to a representative list of problems.

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