Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

Did Jesus really teach that it is wrong to judge others?

Great post by Matt at MandM on an often misunderstood verse.

Here’s the passage in question, Matthew 7:1-5:

1“Do not judge, or you too will be judged.

2For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

3“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?

4How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?

5You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

Most people only quote the first verse, but they don’t look at the rest of the verses that come after.

Here’s what Matt has to say about those other verses:

The phrase translated in the NIV as, “do not judge, or you too will be judged,” was originally written by Matthew in Koine (a Greek dialect). The Interlinear Bible gives the literal translation here as, “do not judge that you be judged.” In other words, do not judge others in a way that leads one to put oneself under judgement.

[...]One is not to judge in a way that brings judgment on oneself. The reason for this (“for”) is that the standard one uses to judge others is the standard that one’s own behaviour will be measured by. Jesus goes on to illustrate, with a sarcastic example, precisely what he is talking about; a person who nit-picks or censures the minor faults of others (taking the speck out of their brothers eye) who ignores the serious, grave, moral faults in their own life (the log in one’s own eye). His point is that such faults actually blind the person’s ability to be able to make competent moral judgments. This suggests that Jesus is focusing on a certain type of judging and not the making of judgments per se.

In fact, the conclusion that Jesus does not mean to condemn all judging of others is evident from the proceeding sentences in the above quote. Rather than engaging in the kind of judgment Jesus has condemned one should “first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” In other words one should try to rectify the serious moral flaws in one’s own life precisely so one can assist others with theirs. One needs to avoid hypocrisy in order to make constructive and effective moral judgments about others. This would make no sense if Jesus meant to condemn all judging by this passage.

This is something I actually try to do, and it’s easy. Before you open your mouth to judge someone, you have to look at your own life and make sure that you don’t do the thing you’re condeming.

I try not to say anything about individual people at all, but just talk about behaviors in general that are harmful. I don’t ask people if they do any of those behaviors. If they try to tell me about their bad behaviors, I tell them that their personal lives are not up for discussion, unless they explicitly ask me to comment on their specific case. So, instead of saying “you’re bad!”, I say “this behavior is bad and here’s why”. And I make sure I don’t DO that behavior before I declare it as immoral!

I hear this challenge about Christians being too judgmental all the time from non-Christians. If you do, too, then you should definitely click through to MandM and read the whole thing. There’s a logical element, a common sense element and a hermeneutical element to this problem, and all are discussed by Matt. He’s a sharp guy, you’re bound to learn something new that you can use.

Filed under: Polemics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Walt Russell explains how to read the Bible effectively

Below I go over two posts written by Biola University New Testament professor Walt Russell. The material below is almost the same talk he gave for the Stand to Reason Masters Series in Christian Thought. His book on the subject of interpreting the Bible is called “Playing With Fire: How the Bible Ignites Change in Your Soul“. I highly recommend that you read the book, so you know how to read the Bible effectively. But these four articles will teach you most of what you need to know if you don’t want to buy the book.

Here is part one which talks about how postmodern relativism is at odds with discovering the original intent of an author.

Excerpt:

Twenty-four year-old “Janet” (not her real name) was angry at my emphasis on seeking to discover authors’ intentions when we read their texts. She was an evangelical Christian and a second grade teacher in a public school. She prided herself in helping her 20 students learn to love literature. She would read them a story as they gathered around her, and then ask each child, “What does the story mean to you?” She prodded them to come up with their own unique meanings. With such strong encouragement, the class of 20 would eventually have 20 different meanings for the one story. Janet sensed that I was a naysayer about such “love of literature.” Pouring a little emotional gasoline on the fire, I said, “Janet, you’re certainly doing your part to insure that these 7 year-olds will never recover from a radically relativistic view of meaning!” Now I had her full attention.

Here is part two which talks about the importance of knowing the genre of a text before you try to interpret it.

Excerpt:

“INDIANS SLAY TIGERS!” — the newspaper headline virtually screams out at you. The thought of something being slain is repulsive. You’re gripped by a mental image of southern India’s Bengal tiger. You imagine its beautiful face, its stripes and piercing eyes. Then your image is shattered by the sudden blast of a high-powered rifle. You see the exquisite creature writhe in pain, fall gracelessly in its tracks and die. Having read no further than the headline, you feel sick, as if you’ve witnessed something tragic.

But should you feel this way? The slaughter of an endangered species — especially one as magnificent as the Bengal tiger — is horrifying, no doubt. But suppose you failed to notice that the headline “INDIANS SLAY TIGERS!” appeared in the sports page of the morning paper. Clearly enough, it now refers to different Indians, different Tigers and a different manner of slaying than you originally thought. And is it really that tragic that the Cleveland Indians badly beat the Detroit Tigers in a major league baseball game last night? Not unless you’re a long-suffering Detroit Tigers’ baseball fan. But how do you now know that the headline is about baseball and not tiger-slaying in India? You look at the words “INDIANS SLAY TIGERS” and you know exactly what each word means. When you combine these words, how can they not mean exactly what you first thought they did — that Indians slay tigers? Answer: because their meanings are communicated (as the meanings of all words are) through genres!

Here is part three which talks about the importance of reading the context of a verse before you try to interpret it.

Excerpt:

“Never Read a Bible Verse!” That’s the title of a little booklet my friend and Christian radio personality, Gregory Koukl, has written to help people read the Bible well. What great advice. “That’s right, never read a Bible verse. Instead, always read a paragraph — at least.” But the current is flowing the other way in our popular sound-bite culture. Not to be left out (or left behind!), the Church has its own version of sound-bite culture: verse-bite culture. In verse-bite culture we take a sentence or sentence-fragment from a biblical paragraph, memorize it out of context, write it on a little card, put it on a billboard, a plaque, a rock, etc. Somehow we think that just because this little chunk of Scripture has a verse number in front of it, it was meant to be a free-standing unit of thought. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Apart from the fact that chapter and verse divisions weren’t added to the New Testament text until 1560 — long after the New Testament’s inspired authorship — there is a more important reason for never reading just a Bible verse, and instead reading at least the paragraph that contains it.

Here is part four which talks about the importance of applying the words of the Bible to your life.

One verse that is often misinterpreted is missing from the articles, but present in the STR lecture. It’s Philippians 1:6 that says “6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus”. Russell says in the lecture that this promise is specifically intended for the church in Philippi, to whom Paul is writing, not necessarily to all Christians. He is giving them a promise just after directly referring to their good work in supporting him in his ministry. Some verses are just not meant for us, and the context reveals it.

Filed under: Commentary, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Michael Licona on ancient biography and harmonizing Bible contradictions

Brian Auten posted the latest lecture by Dr. Michael Licona at Apologetics 315. Brian’s site has the MP3 file (48 minutes, 44.5 Mb). I can make a smaller version for anyone who wants it.

Here is the video and my point-form summary.

The topic:

  • Contradictions do not affect the minimum facts case for the resurrection, although they are troubling
  • Most people respond to alleged contradictions by trying to harmonize them
  • Most verses that appear contradictory can be harmonized successfully
  • Some verses cannot be harmonized successfully without really damaging the texts
  • Christians should not gloss over these few real contradictions nor pretend that they don’t exist
  • How should we respond to the verses that cannot easily be harmonized?

Genre considerations:

  • The genre of the gospels is “ancient biography”
  • Ancient biography is not the same genre as modern biography
Insignificant differences

1. Contradictions vs. Differences:

  • In ancient biography, if a source mentions one person’s name, it does not mean that other people were not present
  • Example: one woman versus two women at the tomb, an account may only mention one woman when there are two
  • That is a difference, not a contradiction

2. Time compression:

  • in ancient biography, writers are allowed to leave out events in order to compress time
  • Some gospels omit details (guy version) and other gospels give more details (girl version)
  • For example, the cursing of the fig tree in Mark and Matthew

3. Narrative flow:

  • the ancient biographer’s style was to link together events into a narrative, even if they are slightly out of order
  • This means that the ordering matters less to ancient biographers than forming a coherent narrative
  • For example, the prediction by Jesus that Peter would deny him

Significant differences:

1. Biography allows for portrait painting

  • When people paint portraits, they sometimes use illustrations or imagery to convey the person’s character
  • For example, Shakespeare adds things to his history of Julius Caesar to make it more dramatic
  • For example, the genealogies in Matthew, the portrait of Jesus in the garden in John

2. Even if there are contradictions in an account it doesn’t mean that the basic facts are undermined

  • For example, even if we don’t know for sure if one thief or two thieves cursed Jesus, no one doubts that he was crucified
  • The basic details of the story are not affected by apparent contradictions

Then there is a period of Questions and Answers.

Filed under: Polemics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Walt Russell explains how to read the Bible effectively

Below I go over two potss written by Biola University New Testament professor Walt Russell. The material below is almost the same talk he gave for the Stand to Reason Masters Series in Christian Thought. His book on the subject of interpreting the Bible is called “Playing With Fire: How the Bible Ignites Change in Your Soul“. I highly recommend that you read the book, so you know how to read the Bible effectively. But these four articles will teach you most of what you need to know if you don’t want to buy the book.

Here is part one which talks about how postmodern relativism is at odds with discovering the original intent of an author.

Excerpt:

Twenty-four year-old “Janet” (not her real name) was angry at my emphasis on seeking to discover authors’ intentions when we read their texts. She was an evangelical Christian and a second grade teacher in a public school. She prided herself in helping her 20 students learn to love literature. She would read them a story as they gathered around her, and then ask each child, “What does the story mean to you?” She prodded them to come up with their own unique meanings. With such strong encouragement, the class of 20 would eventually have 20 different meanings for the one story. Janet sensed that I was a naysayer about such “love of literature.” Pouring a little emotional gasoline on the fire, I said, “Janet, you’re certainly doing your part to insure that these 7 year-olds will never recover from a radically relativistic view of meaning!” Now I had her full attention.

Here is part two which talks about the importance of knowing the genre of a text before you try to interpret it.

Excerpt:

“INDIANS SLAY TIGERS!” — the newspaper headline virtually screams out at you. The thought of something being slain is repulsive. You’re gripped by a mental image of southern India’s Bengal tiger. You imagine its beautiful face, its stripes and piercing eyes. Then your image is shattered by the sudden blast of a high-powered rifle. You see the exquisite creature writhe in pain, fall gracelessly in its tracks and die. Having read no further than the headline, you feel sick, as if you’ve witnessed something tragic.

But should you feel this way? The slaughter of an endangered species — especially one as magnificent as the Bengal tiger — is horrifying, no doubt. But suppose you failed to notice that the headline “INDIANS SLAY TIGERS!” appeared in the sports page of the morning paper. Clearly enough, it now refers to different Indians, different Tigers and a different manner of slaying than you originally thought. And is it really that tragic that the Cleveland Indians badly beat the Detroit Tigers in a major league baseball game last night? Not unless you’re a long-suffering Detroit Tigers’ baseball fan. But how do you now know that the headline is about baseball and not tiger-slaying in India? You look at the words “INDIANS SLAY TIGERS” and you know exactly what each word means. When you combine these words, how can they not mean exactly what you first thought they did — that Indians slay tigers? Answer: because their meanings are communicated (as the meanings of all words are) through genres!

Here is part three which talks about the importance of reading the context of a verse before you try to interpret it.

Excerpt:

“Never Read a Bible Verse!” That’s the title of a little booklet my friend and Christian radio personality, Gregory Koukl, has written to help people read the Bible well. What great advice. “That’s right, never read a Bible verse. Instead, always read a paragraph — at least.” But the current is flowing the other way in our popular sound-bite culture. Not to be left out (or left behind!), the Church has its own version of sound-bite culture: verse-bite culture. In verse-bite culture we take a sentence or sentence-fragment from a biblical paragraph, memorize it out of context, write it on a little card, put it on a billboard, a plaque, a rock, etc. Somehow we think that just because this little chunk of Scripture has a verse number in front of it, it was meant to be a free-standing unit of thought. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Apart from the fact that chapter and verse divisions weren’t added to the New Testament text until 1560 — long after the New Testament’s inspired authorship — there is a more important reason for never reading just a Bible verse, and instead reading at least the paragraph that contains it.

Here is part four which talks about the importance of applying the words of the Bible to your life.

One verse that is often misinterpreted is missing from the articles, but present in the STR lecture. It’s Philippians 1:6 that says “6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus”. Russell says in the lecture that this promise is specifically intended for the church in Philippi, to whom Paul is writing, not necessarily to all Christians. He is giving them a promise just after directly referring to their good work in supporting him in his ministry. Some verses are just not meant for us, and the context reveals it.

Filed under: Commentary, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Does the Bible mention unicorns?

Michael Shermer, who appears in the video, asks Christians to explain why there are unicorns in the Bible. (H/T Letitia) The Bible certainly mentions the word unicorn. But does it refer to the mythical horse-like creature, like Shermer seems to think?

Once you go back to the original language, it turns out that the unicorn that is mentioned is really a rhinoceros.

You can read a debate between Greg Koukl and Michael Shermer here. This debate was moderated by radio show host Hugh Hewitt, and presumably transcribed by his much-maligned producer Duane Patterson. Hewitt also moderated the famous debate at Biola University, featuring William Lane Craig and Christopher Hitchens.

Filed under: Videos, , , , , , , , ,

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