Thursday, February 28, 2008

God's son: adopted and otherwise

The Greek text of John 3.16 calls Christ "monogenes" which has traditionally been rendered "only begotten son" (KJV, and those in that translation family) or "his one begotten Son" (Wycliffe's translation).

The force of monogenes is that Christ is the one "natural born" son of God. We, in turn, in the waters of Baptism become God's children, not by "natural birth," but by adoption. God graciously takes us who were born in sin, children of the devil, and adopts us into His own family.

In the last 50 years, it has been argued that people do not and cannot understand this argument, and that Christians who are otherwise intelligent cannot understand the force of the word "begotten." So we have a number of translations just ignoring the Greek text, and calling Christ "God's only son," or "his one and only son." (See examples at the end).

Which begs the question: if we are indeed the children of God (per Eph. 1.5, Romans 8.14-16, and Galatians 4.4-6) how can Christ be God's "only son"?

Of course, Christ is not God's only son: God has innumerable (Rev. 7.9) children, all of whom are really God's children. Really. Not imaginary, not honorary, but children of God.

All of which leads us to the question: why are we using translations which deliberately mis-translate John 3.16? The concept of "begottenness" isn't that complex to explain briefly. And ignoring "monogenes" confuses so much: the divine nature of Christ, the human nature of Christ, our nature as God's children, and the concept of adoption (both natural and spiritual).

The LCMS bit into the NIV virus for some 25 years, and has now bitten into the equally damaging ESV. All of which means that those who continue to use the ESV must carefully correct this and other errors that continue in our midst.

NIV: "his one and only Son" (footnote: "Or his only begotten Son")

NASB: "only begotten Son"

The Message: "his one and only Son"

Amplified: "His only begotten ([a]unique) Son"

New Living: "his one and only Son"

ESV: "his only Son"

CEV: "his only Son"

NKJV: "His only begotten Son"

New Century: "his one and only Son"

21st Century KJV: "His only begotten Son"

ASV: "his only begotten Son"

NIV--UK: "his one and only Son"

TNIV: "his one and only Son"

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The consequences of ideas: North Korea

Those who imagine that ideas have no consequences need to consider North Korea.

Pyongyang was once known as the "Jerusalem of the east." A center of vibrant Christianity in the early 20th century, Pyongyang is now the capital of the world's only remaining Stalinest regime, a brutal, cruel dictatorship which deals with its inhabitants with harsh, unremitting destruction. And the brunt of oppression lands on Christians there.

This video is not directed at the oppression of Christians, but it is a sobering reminder of what our brothers and sisters in North Korea live with (and die with) every day.

Turning cyberspace into sacred space

The internet has changed the lives of all of us. And no less our religious lives. An easy, quick, and mundane example is my use of a Bible concordance (used for finding a particular text when I can only think of a few words): I have a large, cumbersome and hard to read book edition. Or I can go to a site like Bible Gateway and search. You may have guessed that my book version gets used very seldom.

Some are doing things like cyber-Masses, and other such rites. I am very wary of such, mainly because Christ became incarnate and lived among us, and He didn't send a modem. But I am open to there being means of using the net that I'm not ready for yet. This is an interesting talk (from Youtube's Google Tech Talks) about the uses of the net for faiths, Christian and otherwise:

Saying your prayers

Once again, I'm ashamed to admit that I'm posting a non-theology piece.
: )

I generally try to avoid political discussion, but my wide-ranging musical interests just kind of burst forth occasionally. Here's one. This is a great performance by Aretha Franklin from 1970: great range, a well-done rendition of the song, and the usual vibrant performance by Miss Franklin. (For those who grumble about the sometimes nonsense and trivia on Youtube: we need to remind ourselves that even 10 years ago, it would have been literally impossible for anyone in the general public to listen to something like this. Be thankful. Despite all the crud in our lives as a society, we live in a wonderful time).

The closing of a seminary

I've written before about how internet and other "alternative" methods of training ministers is going to change the traditional seminary models. This hasn't happened as quickly as I'd thought it would, but it's happening. Here's an interesting piece from Fr. Chris Tessone about the closing of a residential M.Div. program in an Episcopal seminary, Seabury-Western. I feel no small sympathy for those who are caught in this process: most students apparently will not be able to complete the programs they're in at that school. But I am hopeful about the future. Training for those who will be pastors will change. The question is always how we adapt to the change. We can try to stand athwart changes, and demand that they not occur. Or we can ask ourselves how such opportunities as the internet, on-demand video, falling prices of books will positively impact what we have traditionally known as "seminary."

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Lutheran artists

I'm intrigued by something that's missing. Or seems to be missing.

It's Lutherans in the arts. A Google search for "Lutheran novelists" basically brings up 2: Walter Wangerin and Lars Walker. Looking for a sculptor who's identified as Lutheran brings up one, Elimo Njau, who's Tanzanian. Lutherans abound in church musicians, meaning folks who write hymns. Which isn't bad, by any means, but there are no contemporary, non-religious Lutheran musicians that I can find.

It's all well and good to talk about Luther's doctrine of vocation, but I wonder why wide swaths of vocation (in America, at least) have few Lutherans in their midst. I'm thinking about artists today, but I wonder, too about other areas. I don't know a reason for this. Does anyone have a guess?

Friday, February 22, 2008

Grumbling about music

Well, it's February and it's dark and dreary and disgusting out. And since we're sort of mid-way between festivals, it's a good time to complain about music.

2 objects of complaint. One a hymn, and one a song. Of course a hymn is a song, but a song is not -- necessarily -- a hymn. But these are bad, and each is associated with a festival: one a secular Christmas song, and the other a much-loved (in Lutheran circles, at least) Transfiguration hymn.

The first is "Here Comes Santa Claus," written in 1947 by Gene Autrey, and for this act alone, the man deserves to be thrown off a ship. The song has inane lyrics, a Chinese water-torture kind of melody, and is just horrible, and yet the thing starts blasting out daily, sometimes hourly on radio stations as soon as Halloween is over.

For anyone who has had the good fortune to have never heard this piece, I'm going to break your string of good luck. Listen up:

The next is " 'Tis Good, Lord, to Be Here" (LSB 414) I know it's a little like saying that your grandma's ugly to say that this hymn is ugly, but it is. Again, a Chinese water torture tune, but what makes me insane is verse 5: "But since Thou bidst us leave the mount, Come with us to the plain." OK, maybe this is petty, but when, ever, did Christ bid the Apostles to "leave the mount"? I'll give you five centuries to look for it, but there's none. It's just one of those irritating throw-away lines, likely designed to "finish off" the story of the Transfiguration, despite the fact that the Bible has a maddening tendency to sometimes leave stories unfinished.

Jesus' prayers

"Now if Jesus prays and does so not in vain, since He gets what He asks for in prayer when He might not have done so apart from prayer, which of us would neglect to pray? Mark says that 'in the morning, a great while before day, He rose and went out to a lonely place, and there He prayed' (Mark 1.35). And Luke says, 'He was praying in a certain place, and when He ceased, one of His disciples said to Him' (Luke 11.1) and elsewhere, 'And all night he continued in prayer to God' (Luke 6.12). And John records His prayer, saying, 'When Jesus had spoken these words, He lifted up His eyes to heaven and said, 'Father, the hour has come; glorify your son that the son may glorify you' (John 17.1). The same evangelist writes that the Lord said that He knew 'you hear me always' (John 11.42), and this shows that the one who prays 'always' is 'always' heard."

Origen, On Prayer

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Why did God become a man?: an Amazon review

My review of Cur Deus Homo, by St. Anselm, translated (1903) by Sidney Norton Deane.

"The scandal of Christianity is that God -- the Almighty God who created all that is seen and unseen -- became a man. Specifically, He became a male Palestinian who lived on earth from around 4 B.C. to around 29-30 A.D. A man who was born of a woman, who was hungry, thirsty, sleepy, tired -- everything that we do -- but without sin.

And that man who at the same time God suffered for us under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried and rose from the dead on the third day.

All of this is affirmed by orthodox Christians. The question that has been asked -- and which this book seeks to answer -- is not, "Did this all happen?," but "Why did God become man?" St. Anselm's discussion is the classic discussion of western theories of the Atonement.

A little baffling is the paucity of scripture in this book, but St. Anselm is trying to answer the question by use of reason, in the form of a dialog.

This particular translation was completed in 1903 and this is a reprint of that translation which has been out of print for some time. It's a good reprint, easy to read (the book is surprisingly short for as influential as it has been) and well-bound. The publisher has done good for all Christians by providing this printing of this book. While not simple reading, this book is not difficult for educated Christians -- lay or clergy -- to read and ponder."

How great and how just is God's compassion: Cur Deus Homo, chapter XX

Now we have found the compassion of God which
appeared lost to you when we were considering God's
holiness and man's sin ; we have found it, I say, so
great and so consistent with his holiness, as to be in
comparably above anything that can be conceived.
For what compassion can excel these words of the
Father, addressed to the sinner doomed to eternal
torments and having noway of escape: "Take my
only begotten Son and make him an offering for your
self;" or these words of the Son: "Take me, and
ransom your souls." For these are the voices they
utter, when inviting and leading us to faith in the
Gospel. Or can anything be more just than for him
to remit all debt since he has earned a reward greater
than all debt, if given with the love which he de

Monday, February 18, 2008

Correcting the church

"Restorationism" is a strain in American church life.

Put briefly, restorationists teach that they are restoring apostolic or primitive Christianity. That somewhere along the way, the Church lost its way, and that it must be restored to that primitive purity. Restorationism encompasses a broad swath of American churches, from the United Church of Christ to the "churches of Christ" (the Campbellites), the Disciples of Christ. And though they wouldn't usually claim each other, Mormonism is from a historical standpoint the step-child of the Restorationist movement.

Jesus is clear: the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church (Matt. 16.18) For the Restorationist, the challenge is acknowledging the truth of what Jesus said with the claim that for some 1,500 years, the Church was not adequate, not fully the Church, or in serious, substantial error.

In a recent discussion, I pointed out that Lutheran catechisms sometimes query children, "When did the Lutheran Church begin?" with the answer given as "Oct. 31, 1517." And while a pastor argued that the proper answer should be April 25, 1530 (date of the adoption of the Augsburg confession), the answer should be -- if one properly believes that the Lutheran churches are nothing more than a continuation of primitive Christianity -- "the day of Pentecost."

Lutherans who believe there was a new beginning of the Church in 1517 (or 1530) have become early Restorationists. In other words, they are saying that there was no "church" (or that "church" only happened accidentally -- to use the philosophical term) from some point in early Christianity to 1517.

Of course, these Lutherans aren't the only ones falling for this error. Those who shill for the ordination of women argue that the Church -- by not ordaining women -- was erring -- or at least mistaken -- for centuries. Nothing changes if the argument is made that there were ordinations of women in the early churches: this is simply a variety of a Restorationist argument.

This is not a small matter. Either the Church was there -- in 203 a.d. and 568 and 1134 and 1516 and 2008 -- or it was not. Either there is -- now and then and always -- "one Lord, one faith, one baptism" (Eph. 4.5) or there was not. We can't have it both ways. It's very self-flattering to imagine that we know more than our Fathers in the faith knew, and that God needs us to do what He could not do. This is not to say that there have not been errors in the Church. That is plain. But God preserves His Church in love and pity. He does not need our tinkering to make that Church work.

"What is meant by the fall?"

In the dark hours of the night, when we wonder about sin and evil, and especially that sin and evil that persists in our own lives, we wonder what it meant that Adam fell, and how we participate in that fall, in that sin. And so wondered G. K. Chesterton, and here are his thoughts:

"And to the question, 'What is meant by the fall?' I could answer with complete sincerity, 'That whatever I am, I am not myself.' That is the prime paradox of our religion; something that we have never in any full sense known, is not only better than ourselves, but even more natural to us than ourselves. And there is really no test of this except the merely experimental one with which these pages began, the test of the padded cell and the open door. It is only since I have known orthodoxy that I have known mental emancipation."

Sunday, February 17, 2008

What is meant by orthodoxy

There is a great treasure in James Schalls' book Another Sort of Learning. It's a book of various essays about the important learning (not that all learning is not important) that must go on throughout all of our lives. It's one of those wonderful books that the reader can pick up, open at any spot, and profit from and enjoy what's on the page.

This is from his appreciative essay on 2 of G. K. Chesterton's books: Heretics and Orthodoxy:

"What he meant by orthodoxy was substantially what was in the Creeds as the Church understood them. These Creeds are the foundation of our dignity, and our dignity is undermined somehow every time we seek to change one iota of their content. Indeed, the very effort to change them is itself an instrument in the process of weaving or fashioning another sort of man from the one the Creeds describe. Ultimately, to change the man, you must first change the Creeds. That is why thinking is such a perilous occupation, for in changing your mind, you may well end up changing the world. We can be murdered for our beliefs, but we can more easily be destroyed by our doctrines."

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The art of the collect

This is a fine post, amiably stolen from Even the Devils Believe, and written by my neighbor just down the road, Fr. Chris Tessone, over in Durham. It's a fine summary of what it means to pray the Collects of the church.

I'm convinced that the Collects are a gift given not just that the church might pray together, but that we might continually be schooled in the art of praying, whether in the Mass, in our families, or as individuals. When we give up the Collects in Mass, and substitute our own drivel, we give up a good and salutary gift from the church.

"This post over at massinformation has me thinking about collects. The old collects are one of the many things I love about the pre-Conciliar liturgies — for many of us from a Lutheran background, at least, there is a tremendous amount of continuity between the collects used back when Luther split from the Roman Church to the 1962 Missal and other traditional rites, not only in content but in wording and style as well.

Our childhood pastor used to teach a useful formula during confirmation class that gives a basic insight into how all collects should be constructed:


The address is fairly simple — usually something like "almighty God" or "heavenly Father". Some simple term of address for God. The basis reveals certain attributes about God on which the pray-er bases the petition that comes later. The collect is the petition itself, the meat of the prayer. The dedication is a familiar formula, something like "Through Jesus Christ, your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns…" etc. And then the ending, which is always "Amen".

If we take a look at the collect for this past Sunday from the Book of Common Prayer (1979), we'll see this in action:

ADDRESS: Almighty God, BASIS: whose blessed Son was led by the Spirit to be tempted by Satan; COLLECT: Come quickly to help us who are assaulted by many temptations; and, as you know the weaknesses of each of us, let each one find you mighty to save; DEDICATION: through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. ENDING: Amen.

Although one might choose to use different language or cast things in a little different light, this has been, for quite some time, a fairly productive way of looking at and constructing collects. Deviating from it can be dangerous, because there is a very clear theology at work here. Praying a collect is not just an act of petition or thanksgiving. Because of the address and basis, we are reminded of attributes of God — God's love, mercy, concern, care, sometimes God's judgment or demand for justice. If we recast these as petitions, which is becoming a common practice, we change the collect from a theological statement about God's essence, from which our petitions follow, into a prayer that is all about desire, which provides no certainty about who God is and is not.

Beyond the theological point, this is a useful framework to learn because it makes extemporaneous prayer easier and more reliably prayerful. All of us, lay or ordained, find ourselves in situations where we are asked to lead prayer off-the-cuff for a group, and this gives an easy guide for thinking about how to form those public prayers. It helps prevent rambling (I've found this a particular problem for myself!) and grounds our petitions in a wider awareness of who our God is and why we pray these petitions in the first place."

Monday, February 11, 2008

Google tech talks on youtube

My day job involves -- on average -- an hour of paperwork a day. It's paperwork that's free of thought, and just means getting various documents readied, copied, whatever. But I've found a way to make this unappealing task a little easier on me: by listening to various speakers on

I'm a big proponent of cross-fertilization. I think that many folks who think about theology have a tunnel vision, and many don't read -- or listen to -- stuff about other fields. I've found that my "other" reading can often enlighten what I read and study in the scriptures and the fathers.

Youtube has exploded over the last year or so, giving us a plethora of helpful speakers. Here's my most recent suggestion. The Google corporation brings in various speakers on apparently a weekly basis and these speakers are videoed and uploaded to youtube. Some of the speakers are of no interest, and some are just -- to me -- dull. But there's a lot of good stuff here, and I commend it to you.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Picturing the world

OK, so here I go again, pimping for a museum.

In this case, one close to home.

The Ackland is on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, a school some 40 miles from me, and one I'm pretty familiar with, having 2 daughters currently studying there: Katie, expected BAs in history and political science this year, and Alexandra, who's studying mass communications and hopes to graduate in 2010.

And this is an exhibit at the Ackland that's well worth the visit: striking photojournalism from graduates of the university's journalism school.

Here's more information about the exhibit.

"We are by nature sinful and unclean": part 2

A few days back, I talked a bit about the problem with the liturgy's confession of sins (in several of the LSB orders) in which we confess that "we are by nature sinful and unclean," and how this is a Christological problem. That is, if the essence of humanity involves sin, then either Christ is a sinner, or He is not God. In continuing my reading of St. Anselm's Cur Deus Homo ("Why God Became Man") and I found this passage (from section 11 of the second book") to be helpful about this discussion:

"I do not think mortality inheres in the
essential nature of man, but only as corrupted. Since,
had man never sinned, and had his immortality been
unchangeably confirmed, he would have been as really
man ; and, when the dying rise again, incorruptible,
they will no less be really men. For, if mortality was
an essential attribute of human nature, then he who
was immortal could not be man. Wherefore, neither
corruption nor incorruption belong essentially to hu
man nature, for neither makes nor destroys a man ;
but happiness accrues to him from the one, and misery
from the other. But since all men die, mortality is
included in the definition of man, as given by philos
ophers, for they have never even believed in the pos
sibility of man s being immortal in all respects. And
so it is not enough to prove that that man ought to be
subject to death, for us to say that he will be in all
respects a man."

"The Divine and human natures must unite in one person"

"Moreover, man, for whom he was to pray, and the devil, whom he was to vanquish, have both put on a false likeness to God by their own will. Wherefore they have sinned, as it were, especially against the person of the Son, who is believed to be the very image of God. Wherefore the punishment or pardon of guilt is with peculiar propriety ascribed to him upon whom chiefly the injury was inflicted. Since, therefore, infallible reason has brought us to this necessary conclusion, that the Divine and human natures must unite in one person, and that this is evidently more fitting in respect to the person of the Word than the other persons, we determine that God the Word must unite with man in one person."

St. Anselm of Canterbury, Cur Deus Homo

Friday, February 08, 2008

The sufferings of the church, and the power of Christ

"Let us be calmly confident in this cause which has to do with God's
word. Christ, whose cause it is, will staunchly defend and uphold it
against the cunning of the vile devil and the tyranny of the wicked
and deceitful world. For those who confess him before this evil and
adulterous generation and must suffer much thereby, Christ in turn
will confess them before his heavenly Father and requite them for
their suffering with the delights of eternity [Matt. 10:32]. God
himself says, I Samuel 2 [:30], "He who honors me, I will honor." Even
if the waves of the sea are strong and huge billows rise up and roar
furiously as though they would drown us, the Lord is still on high and
has begun a kingdom as wide as the world which he now rules and has
decreed that it shall endure. He is greater, yes, almighty, and he
will accomplish it. Amen. There is no other way—if we desire to
possess Christ, to live and to rule with him in eternity, then
suffering must first be endured. Because this is so, why should we
heed the rage and fury of such deadly powers, of whom Psalm 2 [:4]
says God in heaven laughs at them and holds them in derision. If the
eternal and omnipotent emperor whose name is God and who lives to all
eternity mocks and derides them, why should we fear them, or mourn and
weep? Truly, God does not mock them in his own defense. He will always
be the one dwelling in heaven no matter how they rage against him. But
he mocks them to encourage us, so that we may take heart and bravely
laugh at their onslaughts. Therefore the only thing necessary for us
to do is to believe and to pray most confidently in Christ's name that
God will give us strength, since he has erected his kingdom and this
is his doing. It is he who without our help, counsel, thought, or
effort has brought his kingdom forth and has advanced and preserved it
to this day. I have no doubt that he will consummate it without our
advice or assistance. Because "I know in whom I believe," as St. Paul
says [II Tim. 1:12], I am certain that he will grant me more, do far
more abundantly, and help and counsel us beyond all that we ask or
think [Eph. 3:20]. He is called the Lord who can and will help in a
wonderful, glorious, and mighty way, particularly when the need is the
greatest. We are meant to be human beings, not divine. So let us take
comfort in his word and, trusting his promise, call upon him
confidently for deliverance in time of distress and he will help. That
is all there is to it; we have no alternative; otherwise, eternal
unrest would be our reward. May God save us from that for the sake of
his dear Son, our Savior and eternal Priest, Jesus Christ. Amen."

Source: Luther's Works, 43:176.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

"The Sound of the Dove" a review on Amazon

My review from of Beverly Bush Patterson's The Sound of the Dove: Singing in Appalachian Primitive Baptist Churches

"Folks who are theologically inclined tend to try to understand churches by understanding their theology and listening to what is said in books, sermons, and courses.

Beverly Bush Patterson uses another means to understand the Primitive Baptist churches: their music, specifically their songs, songbooks, song tunes, and hymn choices in individual congregations. While not downplaying Primitive Baptist theology and preaching, the author sees their music as a perhaps more reliable means of understanding how theology and doctrine plays out in congregational life.

This includes a detailed analysis of hymn and song choices and hymn tune choices in congregations. And while I'm making this sound dry, this book is anything but dry: it is a good, well-written, well-told analysis of a little-known group in American religious life.

A slightly secondary theme in the book is the role and function of women in Primitive Baptist churches. This isn't an easily done analysis, since women in Primitive Baptist churches operate in a "silent" setting in their churches, neither preaching nor holding offices within the congregations. Patterson seeks to understand how women in these congregations understand their faith, live within the parameters of their theology, and express their faith."


Ennui is often defined as boredom, listlessness, or discontent. But it's far more than that.

In theological terms, ennui is that sin that views one's life as meaningless, that falls to the temptation to imagine that the place where God has placed me is useless, that ultimately my life is of no value.

The crucial sin of ennui is to imagine that God has made a mistake, to believe that God has kept me from where I should be, or that there is more there, and that I am not there.

Ennui is thought to be a sin of middle age. In a way that's true, because middle age is when we look back on childhood dreams and realize that we have not fulfilled those, and that we will not fulfill them. But it's not a sin peculiar to middle age. Even children can be subject to it. Remember, for instance, when one is 13 or 14, and how the years seem to stretch out forever, and how we imagine that it will be an unimaginably long time until we can enter real life.

The answer to ennui is contentment. Contentment in the sense of knowing where God has placed us, and that He makes no mistakes. Of knowing the deep reality of what Jesus said in Matthew 6.8: "for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him."

Your Father knows. Knows what you need, and when you need it. And in reality, you have had everything you need. That's the deep reality of our lives, that we live and move and have our being in God, a God Who knows your needs -- in every sense of the word -- and provides.

A sainted teacher once suggested that we especially pray for those tempted by ennui on Wednesdays. Which is appropriate, given that it's the day in the middle of the week, the time when many are tempted to this peculiar form of despair. But ennui is a sin to which all are tempted. Remembering Luther's explanation of the Our Father here is good: "God gives daily bread, even without our prayer, to all wicked men; but we pray in this petition that He would lead us to know it, and to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving."

Perhaps the root of sin is receiving God's blessings without thanksgiving. But to remember God's care and thank Him for it: this is the cure for ennui.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

What you can do for good books

I think that one of the best-kept secrets of Lutheranism are theology books. And if you are reading this, I suspect you read at least your share of those books.

In the last 10 or 15 years, Concordia Publishing House has done a very find job of publishing incisive new books on Lutheran theology and practice. Not to mention the fine older authors whom they've been re-printing. (I'm also a very big fan of Repristination Press, which only does reprints, and has served, I suspect, as a goad to CPH and others for reprinting books which have sadly been allowed to fall out of print).

But I know about these sources. Likely you do, too. But Joe Baptist or Jane Methodist likely don't know about them, and they would profit from them, too. They are unlikely to go directly to Repristination or CPH. Where they will go is to Amazon or other online sellers. And that's where you come in.

I have tried to make a point of writing an online review for every book I read. Whether positive or negative, if I've spent the time reading it, I try to help other readers to know if the book is worthwhile or not. I often use reviews to determine if a book is worth my time. Recommendations from acquaintances whose thinking I trust are better, but failing that, a review is invaluable. And there are excellent books of Lutheran theology which need your review.

Reviews should be thoughtful, insightful, and, when possible, point to the use a reader might find for the book. Here's an example of one I did for Chemnitz's The Two Natures in Christ.

Lots of folks have bad theology. They worship a God whom they don't know well, they pray badly, and they teach others badly. But there are thoughtful readers who can be corrected. A good review may steer them to good theology.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Fistfights and abortion

This is a brief treatment I did a couple of years ago of an often-misunderstood passage in Exodus 23.

"It's a common scene: 2 young men involved in a brawl. On the street, or in a bar, or in a home. Then there's a complication: a pregnant woman is hit. Maybe she's trying to defend her husband. Maybe she's just in there for the fight. But for whatever reason, she gets involved. And her injuries are so severe that she goes into premature labor, and gives birth early.

If this sounds like a scene out of this morning's newspaper, rest assured it's not: it's taken from the book of Exodus. The people of Israel were just as prone to violence as our society is, and God gave them laws dealing with that type of violence. Unfortunately, a bad interpretation of one of those laws sometimes throws pro-life Christians for a loop.

This is the passage:

22 If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart from her, and yet no mischief follow: he shall be surely punished, according as the woman's husband will lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine.

Our opponents will sometimes argue that this passage shows that an unborn child was not treated as a full human being. "See?" they will say, "The passage says that if men are fighting, and a pregnant woman is hurt, and then has a miscarriage, the worst punishment given was a fine." But this is not what the passage is saying.

First, we have to remember that Old Testament laws such as this one are not binding on Christians or on our societies. But by studying such passages we gain insight into how our society should deal with various issues. And I plan to show that rather than saying that an unborn child is somehow less than human, this passage shows the opposite: that the child is fully human, and that any injury or death to the child was to be dealt with like the injury or death of any other person. (The overriding concern, of course, is that God -- or his representatives in the civil government -- is the only one allowed to take human life: Exodus 20:13, Matthew 5:21, and Romans 13:9).

"Fruit" in this passage means "child," and the Bible uses this to mean a living child. (See Gen. 30:2, Deut. 7:13, Psalm 127:3, Isaiah 13:18, Hosea 9:16, and Luke 1:42).

The meaning of this passage is simple. The 2 men are brawling, the woman is injured, her child is born, "and yet no mischief follows": in other words, there is no injury to the child. The child may be a few weeks early, but still alive. However, since a pregnant woman is carrying an innocent and helpless child, she and the child have special protections, and the man who injures her is to be punished as determined by the woman's husband and the judges.

Our opponents conveniently leave out the rest of this passage. I'll quote the entire context:

22 If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart from her, and yet no mischief follow: he shall be surely punished, according as the woman's husband will lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine.

23 And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life,

24 Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot,

25 Burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.

Verses 23-25 make it very plain: "if mischief follow," that is, if the child dies or is injured, there is to be appropriate punishment. And "life for life" means that the man doing the injuries was to be punished with the death penalty if he brought about the death of the child. (See Gen. 9:6).

Exodus 21 does not teach that the unborn child is expendable, somehow less than a human being. On the contrary, it teaches very plainly that the unborn are indeed "fully human," and that their lives are owed not only legal, but all ethical and moral protections."