Time-traveling Jesus is your Magic 8-Ball

One of my Facebook friends posted a news article about the Westboro Baptist Church protesting Billy Graham. Someone (one of my friend’s friends) made the following comment:

 Jesus never opened his mouth on controversial topics like abortion or gay marriage. They start from a fallacious premise that silence equals acceptance.

This comment points out what I’ve been saying for years (and something that anyone really ought to be able to recognize as bad logic). The problem is this: They argue that because Jesus (or Moses, or Paul) didn’t talk about something or talk about something very much, such silence equals tacit approval.

The biggest problem with this logic is that it is nothing more than an argument from silence, arguments which are notoriously weak. In the case of the two examples cited above, it is not unreasonable to suppose that Jesus would have been silent on these matters. Abortion was known in the Roman Empire (it was illegal but rarely prosecuted unless the husband did not know or had objected to it; it also carried little shame with it) but it was forbidden among the Jews because the Mosaic Law forbade it (though not as murder). Gay marriage is a phenomenon unknown until the 21st century so expecting Jesus and Paul to issue prohibitions against it would be like expecting them to talk about TV or pirating digital media. There was no such thing as “healthcare” as we know it in the first century so expecting a statement from the NT on this is also anachronistic.

I realize that the Bible may very well speak in principle to these and other issues. But arguing from principle is not the same as being able to say, “The Bible says _____ about ______.”

I note here that Christians (especially what have been termed “progressive Christians”) combine such arguments from silence with positive statements in Scripture that seem, to them at least, to solidify their arguments.

For example:

Jesus never said anything about gay marriage but he did talk about loving one’s enemies and the Bible says, “God is love, so you have no foundation for denying them the right to marry except that you’re narrow-minded and bigoted.

See what happened there? It started with an argument from silence and then shifted to two truths that have little (if anything) to do with the issue at hand. “God is love” must mean that we simply approve any behavior that someone claims to be innate and therefore not responsible for. (Funny how they don’t apply this argument across the board. Equally funny how the command to love one’s enemies doesn’t apply to those who are “narrow-minded and bigoted.”)

I used to think that people who reasoned this way just weren’t that smart but this kind of reasoning is so common that there must be something else going on since there can’t possibly be that many less-than-smart people in the world.

Apparently first-century Jesus should have been so concerned about the issue that concerns me today in the 21st century that he should have spoken to crowds that had no inkling that one day gay marriage would be an issue in a country on the other side of the world and thus spoken on it definitively, leaving no room for wondering whether he was for it or against it.

But he actually did one better: like a magic 8-ball, he issues pronouncements that we can feel free to apply anytime, anywhere, to any situation, regardless of what Jesus might or might not really think about the issue.

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About Michael R. Jones

Pastor and PhD candidate writing on Paul's theology of suffering.
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3 Responses to Time-traveling Jesus is your Magic 8-Ball

  1. I love the main message of the article here, that silence does not mean approval. I think I disagree with a few things. Same sex unions existed as early as 13th century Europe, and even though unions or marriage between the same sex may have not existed during Jesus’ time on earth, homosexuals did. I think their main point (people who support same sex marriage) is Jesus never spoke on homosexuality directly. He did say that a man is to leave his family and become one with his wife, which Christians will point to as condemning homosexuality. Others in support of same sex marriage, will not be satisfied by that passage.

    I guess my main thoughts on this new “hot topic” is that God gave us free will. I think our government should do the same. I am not in approval of same sex marriage, but I do not think we should force people to live a Christian lifestyle. I sometimes feel that Christians want to live in a country where sin is illegal, to the best of its ability. No cursing, nudity, alcohol, gambling, same sex marriage, abortion, etc. Obviously you can’t force someone to truely believe or have faith, but I feel like some almost want to force everyone to live the lifestyle. Just like God, I think our government should give people free will.

    • Thanks for reading, Daniel.

      Same-sex unions of various kinds were known in ancient Greece (and other cultures) long before the time of Christ but homosexuality was not only forbidden among the Jews, it was socially unacceptable (this implies that they did indeed know of the phenomenon). That’s why it was unreasonable to expect Jesus to have addressed it, not because they didn’t know about its existence. In fact, in the centuries prior to Christ, the Hellenization of Jews even in Holy Land led to disputes about Greek practices involving nudity and the like. The Romans had more of a “live-and-let-live” policy (as long as you paid your taxes) and so it had become less of an issue by the time of Christ because their own law and social norms had established the boundaries.

      I am in complete agreement with your statement that some Christians want to live in an antiseptic society and that is a foolish notion. One thing we should all see from Scripture is that sin comes from the inside not from the outside. So people don’t love pornography because it’s so readily available, pornography is readily available because lust is in our hearts.

      Corollary to this is that Jesus works from the inside out. So the way we get people to stop looking at pornography is not to pass laws against it (though I, like most parents, would like it not to be quite so easy for children to get to it), but to change people’s hearts through the Gospel.

      These same Christians should spend more time on mission, lovingly and graciously engaging their political opponents with the Gospel, and less time filing lawsuits and endorsing candidates, many of these things they detest may become less and less of an issue.

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