Saturday, March 2, 2013

Surrejoinder to Mike F.

“A text without a context is a pretext for a proof text.” 
~ D.A. Carson, Qtd. in “Quoting out of Context,” Fallacy Files.i

I was extremely surprised to discover that you had posted so quickly after I linked to my 11,518 word essay (an essay that, I might add, I took three days and seven drafts to produce for you). Additionally, I was disheartened by the fact that you only commented on a very small portion of it – what amounted, basically, to approximately 1,080 words. And this was itself only a portion of my preliminary remarks, not even the body of my response. You fully ignored 90.6% of the body of my text.

Furthermore, since I believe you usually to be fair-minded, I was perplexed that you misrepresented even those portions that you did (appear to) address. I trust, therefore, that these misrepresentations were unintentional and that you will be receptive to my corrections.

As you should know, I am pleased to participate in responsible and productive discussions (as time allows). However, having 90% of my work ignored and subsequently discovering that the confusions and assertions that I tried to bring to your attention regarding your initial post, far from being remedied (or even acknowledged), have multiplied, is neither responsible nor productive. It is simply a charade.

You accused me of ignoring your substantial points. This is as uncharitable as it is incorrect. Your initial post – combined with a further, additional comment – totaled 1,020 words in 8 paragraphs. I explicitly remarked on points in 6 of your paragraphs (totaling 883 words). Therefore conservatively, by clumsy paragraph count, I expressly addressed 75% of your text (86.6% if one bases the relevant calculation on word counts instead). Additionally, the 2 paragraphs that I did not remark upon contained no new or substantial points, as far as I could tell. But even if these last two paragraphs are included in the count, my setting aside roughly 1/4 of your text (14% by word count) is a far cry from the roughly 9/10 of mine that you neglected!

You wrote: “The applause for Matt's response seems a bit hasty to me, in that he has merely pointed out several contradictions in the way I articulated my points, and has yet to address any of them. ...He has hardly addressed any of the points I attempted to make in my original post ...”

This strikes me as incredible. While I am sure that I don't know the reasons other readers found my reply praiseworthy (to the extent that they actually did), and while it matters little to me whether people “Like” my reply or not, it seems at least possible that the reason for their “applause” is the same as the reason for your apparent puzzlement: Perhaps they read more of my text than merely the introduction.

Amongst the points of yours that I addressed in the body of my previous text were: your misuse of the word interpret, your substandard and highly contestable construal of liberty, and your sustained and (fallacious) attack on (a straw-man version of) Christianity. Perhaps I misunderstood your initial post, but I took it that I was addressing your substantial points.

Later you request that I “...address the obvious points made in my initial post regarding self proclaimed Christians and Biblical jurisprudence”.

I am sorry that you yourself seem not to have understood my response. In reflecting upon the matter, your unawareness of the fact that I did respond to claims about “Christianity” and “Biblical jurisprudence” may be due to my having expressed myself poorly. I will try once more, then. I apologize if I seem abrasive. However, since my subtle approach seems to have been ineffective, perhaps I will have greater success being blunt.

This surrejoinder will have two main divisions. In PART ONE, I will try to be as direct as I can regarding what I consider to be the major defect in your entire presentation. Nota Bene: This part is by far the more important of the two. Kindly give it the lion's share (whether colloquially, or literally) of your time and energy.

However, so that I will not be accused subsequently of neglecting any portion of your text, in PART TWO I will try to reply (even if briefly) to every point that you raised, (quasi-)exhaustively. I will use the quote-and-intersperse-response format that will be familiar to you from previous exchanges that we have had. However, let me STRESS that the points that appear in the second part, although not necessarily less “important” than the points in the first part, are LOGICALLY SUBSEQUENT to the points in the first part. To put it another way, while the second part deals with particular interpretations, the first part deals with the methods by which one can obtain interpretations in the first place. It is needful, then (at least insofar as I am to remain a party to this exchange), that PART ONE be given priority in every relevant respect.

But without further ado, here is my analysis of the main difficulty plaguing your whole project.

******************** PART ONE ********************


You have a disturbingly simplistic view of interpretation. This distorted view appears to pertain not just to biblical interpretation, but to interpretation of texts generally.

You wrote:
 ...'Thou shalt not kill' leaves about as much room for interpretation as the Second Amendment - which is none. Only those who wish to justify their lack of adherence to it need to interpret it. Those who abide by it need only read it word for word.
I addressed this previously (and at some length) in my initial reply, PART TWO, Subsection C, titled “Simplifications regarding the function of, and need for, interpretation.” But this earlier work seems to have gone unnoticed.

Put bluntly: reading is not the same thing as interpretation. In my earlier text, I gave several reasons that these processes should be distinguished. (You can see these reasons my revisiting my link and searching for the following sentence: At this point, you might object that no term other than “read” is necessary.)

I will not reproduce the entire passage here. I ask, however, that you go back to the previous reply and read the relevant section as I wrote it. However, to rehearse the gist of it, I argued that reading and interpretation cannot be identical, giving several reasons for this conclusion.

REASON #1 that reading and interpretation are not identical: If reading and interpretation were identical, given that a text was read completely, then there would be no such thing as an honest mistake of interpretation. But there are honest mistakes concerning texts that are read completely. In fact, such mistakes are made not infrequently. But if one can read a text completely and yet make honest mistakes about what the text means, reading and interpretation are not identical.

While you do not respond to this reason directly, it seems to me that you tacitly admit it that it is correct. Referring to a particular sentence, and proffering your own interpretation of it, you yourself typed: “ least, that is how I comprehend this particular piece of language...”. You add (albeit with no small dollop of sarcasm) that “...maybe my comprehension skills are as poor as my composition skills.” However, your point (sarcastic or not) makes no sense unless “reading” and “comprehension [of what is read]” are distinct processes. If we take “comprehension of what is read” to be another way of saying “interpret what is read,” then you can be fairly understood to be affirming my point: reading a text and extracting meaning from that text are separate actions.

REASON #2 that reading and interpretation are not identical: If reading and interpretation were the same, to quote myself from earlier, “then there should be no texts that can be read without being understood.” However, this is not the case. Surely texts can be read without being understood. I gave three examples of texts (a line from a Lewis Carroll poem, a line from the tax code, and a sentence containing several negations) that can be read but not necessarily understood. You gave no response to this at all. But if texts can be read and not understood, then reading and interpretation are not the same.

In END NOTE #7 of the previous response I added, further, REASON #3 that reading and interpretation are not identical: “[R]eaders need training in skills such as 'identifying main ideas' and so on – training that goes beyond bare literacy.” This applies not only to young readers, but to adults as well (and I cited philosopher Mortimer Adler's famous text, How to Read a Book). Again, you have given no reply to this. But if persons can read (that is, if they are literate) but they still require further training to properly or fully understand what they read, then reading and interpretation are not identical.

Presently, I will add two more quick observations to my (so far uncontested and, possibly, affirmed by you) case that reading and interpretation are different things.

REASON #4 that reading and interpretation are not identical: I an unaware of any scholar – in any area of study – that argues otherwise. It is important to realize that the distinction between reading a text and interpreting a text is not simply maintained by Christians. It manifestly accepted by academics of all manner of ideological persuasions – including those, like media darling Bart Ehrman, who (to my mind) come across as anti-Christian. Ehrman is a distinguished Professor of New Testament studies and ancient Christianity at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. He also seems to me, at times, to be a disgruntled former Evangelical Protestant. In any case, he advances several theses that militate against historic Christian doctrines. Nevertheless, Ehrman is a careful scholar and (as far as I can tell) he nowhere endorses anything like the view that interpreting the Bible is easy or transparent. And he certainly does not declare that interpreting the Bible involving nothing other than "reading it". In fact, in his own personal reflections, he describes his time at Princeton University (specifically, Princeton Theological Seminary) as a time in which he “...loaded [his] schedule as much as [he] could[on] exegesis (interpretation)...”.ii Why would it be necessary to pile interpretation classes onto one's University course load, if interpretation is a transparent process for honest readers? Why in the world would Princeton University be conducting graduate level classes in interpretation, if interpretation were nothing more than basic reading? Do you imagine that students attend Ivy League Universities to learn how to read? Or do you maintain that all universities are thoroughly dishonest? But if no serious academic advances the view that reading and interpretation are identical, probably, this is a good reason to think that reading and interpretation are not identical.

REASON #5 that reading and interpretation are not identical: The reading/interpretation distinction is fundamental to literary studies of all sorts. This distinction has been central to various approaches ranging from classicist and modernist ones to post-classical and post-modernist varieties. (These latter varieties include the more “exotic” continental philosophical schools such as structuralism, post-structuralism, semiotics, and Marxist-“Liberationist” hermeneutics – e.g., “feminist theory,” “critical race theory,” and many others.) But, probably, a cross-cutting distinction that is fundamental to many disciplines and widely acknowledged by individuals with wildly divergent viewpoints (who otherwise agree on little else), is a sound distinction. If so, then reading and interpretation are not identical.

For the above five reasons (and, again, PLEASE examine the fuller treatment of some of these issues in my previous reply), four of which have gone uncontested and one of which (it seems plausible) you tacitly admit, we should conclude that reading and interpretation are not the same activities.


Once one properly distinguishes between reading and interpretation, a glaring fact emerges. You really haven't, in a sustained way, given any interpretation of the passages that you allude to or quote.

For since reading and interpretation are distinct activities, then relatedly, simply quoting a passage is not the same thing as analyzing that passage.

Revisiting your remark from earlier: “...the Second Amendment...leaves... [no] room for interpretation... [I]t [only] need...[be] read...word for word.”

This is simply mistaken. (See again, my first reply, PART TWO, Subsection C as well as my text, above.)

But let's pursue this a bit farther, using the Second Amendment as our example. Focusing on the Second Amendment for a moment or two has an advantage, namely, because the two of us are (I think) in basic (if accidental) agreement about the meaning of the text of the Second Amendment, we will not get bogged down in an argument about conclusions, but can focus instead on METHODS. Where we differ appears to be in this: Whereas I think that interpreting the Second Amendment is difficult (not easy) and that the act of interpreting the text is distinct from the act of simply reading it (even reading it “word for word”), you apparently think that once the text is simply read entirely (“word for word”), the meaning will be clear to any honest observer.

So consider a hypothetical third reader. Call him “John Doe.” Let's say that John Doe reads the text of the Second Amendment (which I know that you well know, but which I will display just for the sake of completeness).

U.S. Constitution, Amendment II: A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

Having read the above, suppose that John Doe, professing himself to be an honest fellow of good faith, reports to the two of us as follows.

Hey, guys. You know, I really am 'open' to the idea that you two are right about the Second Amendment supporting a broad-based, individual right to own guns. Nevertheless, to be frank, after reading the Second Amendment text closely, I am unsure whether that interpretation of the text is correct or not. I mean, number one, I have heard people argue that the words 'bear arms' do not mean the same thing as 'own guns'. Number two, I notice that the Second Amendment uses the word 'militia' and I am confused about how to relate 'militia membership' with 'bearing arms'. And number three, truthfully, I don't know what to make of the phrase 'well-regulated', especially since some people argue that this is an allusion to structured control by the Executive.”

Okay, please don't confuse my point, here. Let me stress again: I think that the two of us agree regarding the interpretation of the Second Amendment. My point here is certainly NOT to argue about the meaning of the Second Amendment – a point on which we are in agreement. I want to get to METHODS.

What I want to highlight is something that would seem to be a consequence of the view of textual transparency that you are apparently wanting to articulate. If, as you appear lately to maintain, reading the Second Amendment text is all that is necessary for properly understanding the text, you would appear to have nothing more to say to John Doe than this:

Look, man: Can't you read? Just read the thing again, word for word. Unless you're dishonest, it should be obvious that there is no question that the text supports an individual right to own firearms. If you conclude any differently then you must be intentionally falsifying the text for selfish reasons – either that, or you're a dunce.”

Again, don't miss my point – PLEASE! I am not saying that you DO respond this way. You have never seemed to me to reply this way. (Although, maybe you have done so and I have simply not noted it.) My point, though, is that you seemingly ought to reply this way IF it is true to say that reading the Second Amendment always and for everyone automatically instilled in them the correct meaning of the text unless they self servingly and purposefully LIE about the meaning.

Yet this is not how you (seem to) reply. Instead you – and I do the same, here – patiently (well, maybe not always patiently) try to educate people regarding certain (what I think of as admittedly difficult) portions of the text.

For example, since “well-regulated” is a phrase that is no longer in wide use, we may find it helpful to discuss with people what this phrase may have signified to readers 200+ years ago (e.g., being properly behaved or, so to speak, ruling [or being practiced in the use of] their firearms). On this matter one could consult dictionaries that were contemporary to the time period in consideration. One thinks of Samuel Johnson's famous dictionary, for instance. Similarly, we can look up the word “bear” (discovering that it signifies both carrying and possessing). We could also see if the phrase and words in question occur in other literature from the same period, and we could compare these occurrences to the occurrences in the Second Amendment text for clues to meaning. However, these types of procedure take work and effort above merely reading the text of the Second Amendment itself.

Moreover, wouldn't we try to provide honest readers like John Doe with some of the historical context that, once made salient, sheds light on the link between “bearing arms” and the militia? One way to do this would be as I have done previously. In a different blog post I argued that “...the conception of the militia at the time of the Second Amendment's ratification was the body of all citizens capable of military service, who would bring the sorts of lawful weapons that they possessed at home to militia duty.” Furthermore, I argued (loc. cit.) that “if one has a ... Jeffersonian attitude on the matter, one sees that while it is correct to say that one does not obtain 'gun rights' in virtue of one's militia membership, nevertheless, the ability to join into a citizens' militia together with one's armed neighbors is itself an important right. Indeed, if we take Jefferson's gun-possession-being-a-duty comment seriously, we may well infer that membership in a citizens' militia is itself a duty. It is not, to be sure, the precondition of keeping and bearing arms; but, nonetheless, it is a main reason for the importance of keeping and bearing arms.” However, again, this sort of strategy requires an investment of time and energy over and above the time and energy required to simply read the text of the Second Amendment itself.

Another way to establish the relevant context would be to furnish testimony from people living during the time period in which the Constitution was drafted. For one thing, one may hope that in such testimony may lie insight into the meaning of the main text's under review. You recently linked to a page that serves as a excellent example of this sort of tactic.iii Surely, however, reading the quotes on this page (to say nothing of actually compiling them in the first place) constitutes more of an effort than merely reading the text of the Second Amendment itself.

The point is that careful readers are at pains to properly decipher the meaning of the texts. This process of “deciphering” is just another name for interpretation. It takes real effort – consulting dictionaries, comparing other pieces of literature, familiarizing oneself with the relevant history, and so on – if it is to be executed properly. For, in the case of the Second Amendment text, although the words employed are English words, still, there are several factors that present difficulties.

Number one factor that presents difficulties interpreting the Second Amendment: there is a time-gap between us and the text. As readers, our context in early 21st century America is very different from that of the Founders who wrote in the context of the late 18th century. We have to first determine what the text would have meant to its original audience before we can determine what it means for us today. Correlatively, and conservatively, a text cannot mean now what it never would have meant originally.

Number two factor that presents difficulties interpreting the Second Amendment: there is a language-gap. This gap has two aspects to it.

Firstly, although the Founders wrote in English, still, key words are no longer in wide currency today. English changes over time, as does any language. Some words are added (for example “superstrings,” "carjacking,” and “audiophile” would not have been recognizable words of English to the Founders), some subtracted (or at least have their usage reduced, e.g., “thence,” “thou,” and “humbug” are no longer widely used), while still others assume different meanings than they once had (e.g., “gay,” once meant carefree and now means something else entirely; “nice” once meant foolish and now it means amiable; and “awful” once meant full of awe, while now it means nearly the opposite). This is simply to say that merely reading a text – even “word for word” – may not yield immediate comprehension of that text. For some of the words that are read may themselves require no little effort to understand.

Secondly, the Founders wrote the Constitution in what is sometimes called “Legal English.” It is likely that many of the constructions that they employed, being technical legal terms, would have been obscure even to “lay persons” living in the late 18th century. For example, the Fifth Amendment states that: “No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury...”. We can certainly look up words like “presentment.” But in the 18th century, as now, such words (also “jeopardy” and even “due process of law”) were not commonly used outside of legal contexts.

This underscores a point that I made in the previous response (first in PART TWO, Subsection C and then again in END NOTE # 5). Texts can be classified according to genre. “Genre” is a word that, in the sense presently relevant to us, indicates literary type. For example, two large categories are poetry and prose. However, these categories subdivide into subcategories. For example, prose can be narrative (story-telling), aphoristic (wise-sayings), legal (law-giving), and so on. These can be further subdivided. For instance, narratives can be fictional or nonfictional, they could be broadly historical or biographical, etc. It would be unsound to interpret poetry using the same methods or approaches that one would use to interpret an historical narrative. This is simply to say that, prior to interpreting, one must take care to identify the genre (i.e., the sort of literature) of which a given text is an instance. As English Professor Leland Ryken has commented, “Any piece of writing must be read in terms of what it is.” Genre matters.

Number three factor that presents difficulties interpreting the Second Amendment: there is a social-cultural gap. This is simply to say that the “stage” of American civilization during the 1780s and 1790s was different in important respects from the stage in which we find ourselves presently. The Founders would have been concerned about social issues that are, in many ways, distinct from those with which we are presently concerned. Foremost in the Founders' minds, for example, would have likely been issues such as how to deal with: the oppression directed at them by King George III, the very real threat of foreign invasion from Russia, the stirrings of revolution in France, the establishment of a patent system, and the founding of Washington DC. Emphasis on British interference and the frightfully brutal French Revolution is as foreign to us as our present concern with so-called “school shooters” would be to the Founders. Culturally, Mozart was alive and composing and the Rococo and anti-Rococo painting styles were giving way to a sort of Neo-classicism and emphasis on historical themes. Our “pop” culture and postmodern styles situate us in very different aesthetic environs than those lived in by the Founders.

Emphasis on culture and society has two equal and opposite errors. One error is to completely minimize the effect of society and culture, such that one imagines that there is no intellectual distance between contemporary readers and texts composed during other time periods. (You seem to be implicated in this error.) The other error is to inordinately maximize the effects of society and culture, such that one ends up denying that contemporary readers can understand anything about the “original meaning” of earlier texts at all. (This error is sometimes associated with "postmodernism.") The middle way (via media) here seems to be to acknowledge the intellectual distance elicited by the considerable socio-cultural variations and try to correct for these factors by bringing them from the level of background presupposition into the foreground, in order to facilitate analysis. This is just to say that we need to be conscious, both of our how our own experiences and socio-cultural vantage point color our perspectives, as well as how the perspectives of the original audiences would have been relevantly different. Bringing these matters to light, we can move towards an understanding of texts that carefully assesses the following questions. What did the original author intend to say? What would the original audience have understood him to have said? And, from our answers to these questions, we may then proceed to ask: Given the original meaning, what can contemporary readers learn from this text?

(Arguably, there are also philosophical or worldview gaps, but I will set these aside, presently.)

This is not to say that the gaps are unbridgeable. Far from it! I believe that all of these gaps can be successfully and convincingly bridged. I think that we have successfully bridged these gaps in our understanding of the Second Amendment (although you may have bridged these gaps without being conscious about your having done so). We can get some good 18th century dictionary. We get a good legal dictionary. We do some quality historical research. And then, bingo! After suitable effort, investigation, and argument we may find ourselves able to make headway in the task of properly understanding the U.S. Constitution and the other Founding documents.

However, to say that the gaps are potentially bridgeable is not to say that the gaps do not exist or that bridging the gaps is automatic or guaranteed. The gaps do exist. And they constitute very real obstacles to readers wishing to understand the documents that the Founders have left for us. These matters are not obvious. More to the point, it takes real work to properly understand the Constitution. Reading it – even “word for word” – is not going to serve as a replacement for the sorts of lexical, historical, and cultural investigations without which 21st century readers stand quite a distance apart from the Founders and the Founders' writings.


The three “gaps” that separate contemporary – even if well-intentioned – readers from the Constitution, are even more extreme when one turns to the Bible. (This matter has a bit of overlap with my END NOTE #5 in my previous reply, which, please, see again.) Consider again the gaps.

Whereas modern readers are separated from the period of the drafting of the Constitution by over two centuries (~ 220+ years), they are separated from the writing of the most recent books of the New Testament by NINETEEN centuries! When we consider the oldest portions of the Old Testament, the gap extends possibly as far as THIRTY centuries (or more). A “just read it” hermeneutic is simply in denial about the vast ocean of time separating us from the biblical authors.

Whereas modern readers share some socio-cultural overlap with the Constitution's authors, since we are, after all, citizen's of the country that they founded and we still have some of the same concerns (e.g., the threat of domestic tyranny), still, as we rehearsed above, our present day social and cultural issues diverge considerably from those with which the Founders would have been familiar. However, to say that the social-cultural contexts of 21st century Americans differ radically from 12th-10th Hebrews in Mesopotamia and Egypt, 8th century BC Israelites in Canaan, 6th century BC exiles in Babylonia, or even AD 1st century Jews in Palestine is an understatement of gargantuan proportions! So again, a “just read it” hermeneutic is woefully inadequate to the task of truly bridging this social-cultural chasm and making sense of texts that were addressed to people whose concerns and experiences were very different from our own.

Finally, whereas modern readers share considerable common ground with the Founders in terms of language, our gap with the biblical authors is arguably at its apogee point on this issue. Whereas our everyday use of English differs in important ways from the English of the Founders, still, we're dealing in both cases with recognizable variants of English. The biblical authors, by contrast, wrote in Hebrew, Aramaic (both for the Old Testament), and Koine Greek (for the New Testament). Bart Ehrman makes the claim that “...the full meaning and nuance of the [original] Greek text of the New Testament could be grasped only when it is read and studied in the original language (the same thing applies to the Old Testament...Hebrew).”iv This is a strong claim, and I am disinclined to go along with it very far. The key point, however, is that the lexical distance or language gap between modern readers and ancient authors is nothing to wave aside with a naïve “just read it” view. Such a view is a disastrous mishandling of the very real linguistic difficulties that the biblical texts can present.

Again, as I said in the case of the U.S. Constitution, to acknowledge that there are intellectual barriers to proper biblical interpretation, that is, to admit that there are very real gaps separating us from the correct meaning of the text, is not to say that the gaps are unbridgeable. However, if it takes effort to understand the more temporally, socio-culturally, and linguistically proximate Constitution – and it certainly does – then, a fortiori, it will take even greater effort to discern the correct meaning of a text, like the Bible, which is more distant in every relevant way.

This is simply to say that the Bible is, as I put it in my previous reply, is a difficult (but often profound) book. The Bible itself cautions the would-be reader to be a diligent “...worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15, NIV). Interpreting requires work. And the work must be done skillfully in order to be done correctly.


Again, as I argued in my previous reply (PART TWO, Subsection C) it is not a matter of interpreting or not interpreting. We interpret constantly. As systematic theologian and professor Michael Williams once remarked, “All persons are interpreters.” The question is: Is our interpretation sound or unsound? Or, to put it another way, as Williams inquires, “Do we interpret well, or poorly?”

I may actually have some sympathy for various of the interpretive conclusions that you desire to advance. But with your apparent interpretive method, I have no sympathy.


>>...let's examine briefly it's mention in [canon]...These are merely the most popular verses on the subject. ... Acts 4:32-35 - 32 And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common. 33 And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all. 34 Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, 35 And laid them down at the apostles' feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need.

Let me reproduce the same text from the NIV (simply because I take it that the NIV is a more readable translation for contemporary audiences).

“All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.”

Let me use these texts as the basis for a SKETCH of a case study in exegesis, that is, in careful interpretation.

First, however, let me make a preliminary note. You have reproduced a text. You have not offered ANY interpretation of that text yourself. If you deny this (or that you need to offer an interpretation of your own), then probably have read this deeply into the text too hastily.

For a reflective reader, the question, on reading any text, will be: What does this text mean? This, as I have taken pains above to show, is why “interpretation” is both distinct from reading as well as unavoidable, insofar as one takes a text seriously. To make any progress, this basic point needs to be clear. Once it is clear, we can try to discover the correct interpretation of the text. Let us try to do so now, keeping your concerns focused in our minds.

Your initial claim was as follows:

“[I]f you own private property, you are not a Christian, as Jesus did not subscribe to the concept of private property, but quite the opposite.”

This claim was important to your initial complaints. The thrust of your diatribe seemed geared around Christians not doing, to your satisfaction, either of two things: following Jesus' commands or following “God's rules” more broadly. (This latter category you elsewhere glossed with other phrases such as “God's laws” and the “Mosaic law”. In one place, you admit that for being Christian, it might be sufficient the follow Jesus' commands only. However, as I cover this point more in depth [below], I will, in what follows, ignore the phrase “God's rules,” broadly construed.)

With this in mind, I observe that you now reproduce a passage from The Book of the Acts of the Apostles (hereinafter, Acts), specifically, chapter 4, verses 32-35.

Here are a few pertinent questions for study.

Of what genre is this text an example?

It appears to be best described as some sort of historical work. To be specific, New Testament scholar Craig Blomberg labels Acts “theological history”.v It is a sort of account about the development of the early church. For our purposes, it is crucial to note that the book is not, in any plausible sense, a legal treatise. Therefore, it is not obvious that this text is decreeing, enacting, legislating, or otherwise putting into effect any sort of “law,” “statute,” “ordinance,” “precept,” or anything else relevantly like these. Now to say that “it is not obvious” does NOT mean that it is not the case. It may be the case that a non-legal “treatise” might, after all, contain something of relevance to law. But, in this instance, such does not appear to be the case. For example, the text does not contain statements anything like the following: “Christians shall not own 'private property.'”

Who are the persons referred to in the text?

In the quoted text, the following persons are noted. Number one, there is a reference to “[a]ll the believers”. Number two, we read about certain doings of “ the apostles”. Number three, there is a mention of “the Lord Jesus”. And, finally, there are designated “those who owned land or houses”. Most obviously, it is highly implausible that this text should directly support the notion that Jesus HIMSELF “opposed the conception of private property” for the simple reason that Jesus himself does not “oppose” ANYTHING in this text. He is spoken OF, but he himself doesn't say anything at all.

Is anyone speaking?

None of the persons mentioned by the text are represented in the text as speaking. No one is quoted, for example. The account is being given from the perspective of the author of Acts (historically, Luke). The text is merely a DESCRIPTION of the operations of one specific Christian church. It is not clear that there are any PRESCRIPTIONS given in the text at all.

What is going on in the text?

The reader is presented with a snapshot of one particular church. In context, the church in question was the one formed in Jerusalem, after Jesus Resurrected from the dead and sent the Holy Spirit to the Apostles (see Acts 2).

In order to appreciate the description of this church, it would be helpful to reacquaint ourselves with the events that led up to its formation. Acts 2:5, NIV, relates: “Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven.” At the time in question, Jews from around the Roman Empire were gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate Shavuot (also called the “Festival of Weeks”). This was also called Pentecost (i.e., “the fiftieth [day]”) because it occurred fifty days after Pesach (“Passover”). In the midst of this gathering of Jews “...all together in one place...” (v. 1), the people perceived “a sound like the blowing of a violent wind...from heaven” (v. 2) along with “what seemed to be tongues of fire” (v. 3). The people were “bewilder[ed]” (v. 6) and “[u]tterly amazed” (v. 7) “because each one heard their own language being spoken” (v. 6). The Apostle Peter, who had recently been so fearful of being associated with the disgraced Jesus that he thrice denied knowing who Jesus was (Matthew 26:69-75 // Mark 14:66-72 // Luke 22:54-62 // Gospel of John 18:15-18; 25-27), became suddenly emboldened and addressed the (partially mocking, q.v. Acts 2:13) crowd. Quoting Joel 2:28-32, Peter appealed to the those in the crowd who had personally witnessed Jesus' “miracles, wonders and signs” (v. 22), including seeing the empty tomb and the Resurrected Jesus (cf. v. 32), to be mindful of these experiences and to know their theological importance: “God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah” (v. 36). This day marks the beginning of the Jerusalem church when: “Those who accepted [Peter's] message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number...” (v. 41).

The following picture emerges. We have the city of Jerusalem, filled with Jews visiting from around the Roman Empire. During the Feast of Pentecost, many of these Jews believed that they had witnessed God acting in their midst to empower a handful of men (the Apostles) who had just barely come out from being huddled together “with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders” (John 20:19, NIV). These men who were the followers of Jesus, who had himself recently been executed as a criminal. The Apostles had every reason to be as unobtrusive as possible when Peter began addressing the crowd. What Peter proclaimed to the people, and what 3,000 of them are said to have agreed with on the spot, was that despite the fact that many of the very people in attendance that day had lent their voices to the chorus calling for Jesus' crucifixion (Acts 2:23), God had acted on Israel's behalf and vindicated Jesus' radical claims to divinity by raising Jesus from the dead (v. 32) and revealing him to have been Israel's long-awaited Messiah (see, e.g., Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12).

It is, I should think, quite difficult to fully appreciate the exceptional atmosphere that surrounds the formation of the Jerusalem church. Perhaps the closest that we could get would be to consider an analogy with the Founding of the nation.

If we try to imagine, for example, what it must have felt like to be a part of the great acts of defiance against King George III, including the drafting and endorsement of a statement formally declaring that the colonies now claimed for themselves independence, we might come as close as it is possible for us to come to the nervous jubilation that would have surely permeated the event of the creation of the first church. For then as now, internally, the Jews were a very tightly controlled group. Coming to terms with what they had experienced, for many Jews, demanded a radical, if not yet complete, break with religion as they knew and practiced it. Accordingly, acceptance of the Apostles' message must have been both frightening and exciting. And, again, perhaps the closest point of contact that Americans might have with this would be the singular episodes that constitute the founding of our country.

So let us try to imagine such a case. Imagine revolutionaries, or sympathizers, selling off pieces of property in order to help further a cause that, by all appearances, may only have seemed to have had “one chance” (in the colloquial sense) to succeed. Had the war effort failed, and no Constitution ever been drafted, would we today be tempted towards the view that these enthusiastic and self-sacrificing rebels were intending to establish a sort of communal government? Or if, during the early meetings of the Continental Congress, lodging and eating accommodations had been provided for delegates by an abundance of generosity on the part of a committed network of supporters, would we today suppose, had the movement failed and been unable to explicitly say otherwise, that these noble gestures, at the inception of our nation, were intended to establish the pattern that government functionaries should get free room and board as a general and exceptionless rule?

Modestly, we may reasonably say that the Founding of our nation was a once in a lifetime event. Many people made exceptional sacrifices during that time and, because they did so, the brilliant embers of that movement did not grow cold and die, but became a conflagration that, at least for a time, incinerated the ropes of oppression that tied down the colonies.

Similarly, I think that it is (to put it mildly), extremely plausible that this picture gives a satisfying explanation of the references from Acts 2 and 4 (&al.) that have you so disturbed. For the founding of Christianity was, to the Jews who happened to find themselves in the midst of it, embedded within a tissue of events that even non-Christian observers could admit to having been unparalleled. Those fervid first converts made the same sorts of exceptional self-sacrifices that we may see others make for causes that are far less worthy (e.g., those causes initiated by “Hope & Change” political double-talk). Those early Jews who had been impressed with what they saw and heard wanted to be a part of this brand new Christian movement (“the way”). However, many of these Jews, we may plausibly infer from the historical context, would have been sojourners in Jerusalem – without permanent residence. Wanting to remain in Jerusalem beyond the time anticipated for the celebration of the Jewish festival for which they came may have been impractical (at best) for many of these people. We read, however, that generous persons, through the ongoing sale and donation of their property ("...from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them..."), made it possible for many people to do exactly this – to remain, perhaps just a few more days or weeks, maybe, being a part of this singular episode. Much as had the heroic efforts of our Patriot Founders pushed forward the “American experiment” into a later stage of growth, a stage that provided us with the Constitution and other documentary evidence of their matured plan for this nation, so too did the selfless acts of the early members of the Jerusalem church propel the incipient Christian movement into its “toddlerhood.” And as historians are wont to note, later stages of movements often display adaptations to changing circumstances – or else the movements die.

There is about as much reason to suppose that the unique and extraordinary measures taken by the Jerusalem church were meant to be normative as there would be for supposing that similarly self-sacrificial and communal efforts in early America, during the throes of revolution, should ever have been thought to be “standard” for all time (even had the movement never reached a stage where it would have been able to explicitly inform us otherwise – and, in fact, the Bible, in its wider context, arguably does inform us otherwise in the Christian case). Even the atheist observer and the prolific author, Isaac Asimov, described the communal arrangements of the first Christian church as an “idyllic picture of union and selflessness” and not as some sort of proto-Marxist

For the record, I am open to reviewing a thoughtful case purporting to show that the arrangements of the Jerusalem church were intended to be, or were exemplars of, a strict and binding requirement for all Christians. But you haven't even remotely made such a case. All you have done is quoted a passage, without context or a proposed interpretation. This is not an argument, it's just hand waving and bluster.

For neither in Acts 4 that you reproduce, nor in Acts 2 that you do not (nor in any other text as far as I am aware), is there an explicit setting forth of communal living as a positive and normative regulation governing Christian living – period.

In the first place, as I have noted above, Jesus is not even present in the quoted texts and therefore cannot plausibly be said – himself – to have laid down ANY regulations in those places. Hence, your initial complaint that “Jesus did not subscribe to the concept of private property, but quite the opposite” is not plausibly supported by Acts 4 in the slightest degree. At best, Acts 4 would show something about the Apostles, not Jesus directly.

But, in the second place, Acts 4 (specifically, and, for the most part, the entire Book of Acts, generally) is descriptive, that is, it merely REPORTS to us what the Jerusalem church did. It is not prescriptive, that is, it does not expressly enact any laws, rules, standards, or anything of the sort. So what it shows about the Apostles was that they once were a part of a church that had some sort of communal arrangement. They nowhere explicitly TEACH that this arrangement ought be standardized or regulative.

In the third place, the description pertains to only one particular church. Other churches functioned differently. St. Paul's instructions to Timothy, in the epistle of 1 Timothy, seem to assume self-sufficient households when Paul writes that young church members should provide for their elderly parents and “...put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents...” (1 Timothy 5:4, NIV). Paul then adds, more strongly: “Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (v. 8). It is anyone's guess how the Apostle could charge people with “providing for” their households were it the case that people were plainly forbidden to have non-communal resources – or, for that matter, non-communal households themselves! These latter statements, read merely descriptively, not only seem to show that other churches (permissibly) had non-communal arrangements, but these verses are also better candidates for being read prescriptively as well. And that seemingly bodes ill for your thesis.

In the fourth place, here you seemingly fail to draw yet another crucial distinction. To be precise, you fail to distinguish between the (positive) endorsement of generosity and the (negative) opposition to owning possessions. It isn't clear that the atheist Asimov isn't entirely correct to simply view the relevant texts as being descriptions of free choices of self-sacrifice and gestures of solidarity on the parts of the early Jerusalem church Christians.

Finally, in the fifth place, I remind readers that “private property” is: number one, not mentioned; number two, a philosophically laden notion (see further down for more on this) that; number three, changes over time and which; number four, would have to be shown relevantly similar to our contemporary conception even if it WERE mentioned (which it isn't).

Hence your appeal to Acts 4 (and any text relevantly similar) does no work for you. Your misapprehension of the relevance of the text, in my opinion, likely stems from your hermeneutic. However, I hastily add that it doesn't appear to me that you HAVE “read it word for word” even by your own inadequate standards, but rather you seem to have READ INTO IT those notions that you wished to find. I earnestly entreat you to seriously ponder the points that I have raised in my explanation and defense for the need (due in part to the “gaps” that I mentioned) for a more careful approach to interpretation than the one that you have adopted. So long as your own framework for “debate” appears to be built with naïve tactics of “proof-texting” that are, perhaps, vestiges of some previous contact that you had with “King James Only”-style Fundamentalists; and so long as you don't care to entertain a reasonable approach instead; it is likely that you and I will be at an impasse. For I have little time or patience for professing Christians who pervert Scripture by summoning isolated passages in stilted and wooden ways, without context, and then use appeals to the Holy Spirit as a “get out of using your brain, free” card. I can see little value in going back and forth with an atheist who adopts the same approach to the Bible without even the Holy Spirit to back him up!

Your appeal to Matthew 19 is at least much more understandable. The text is difficult.

>>Matthew 19:16-24 16 And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life? 17 And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments. 18 He saith unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, 19 Honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. 20 The young man saith unto him, All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet? 21 Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me. 22 But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions. 23 Then said Jesus unto his disciples, Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven. 24 And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.

Again, I must begin here by noting that you have REPRODUCED another text but offered no INTERPRETATION of your own. You have simply asserted, to remind readers, the following conditional: “[I]f you own private property, you are not a Christian, as Jesus did not subscribe to the concept of private property, but quite the opposite.”

As with the previous text – or ANY text – contemplative readers will, having read the text, want to know what the text means. So let us carefully work through the following questions.

WHO figures in this text?

Unlike Acts 4, Jesus clearly figures prominently as a speaker in this Matthew 19:16-24 (// Mark 10:17-27 // Luke 18:18-30). This makes the text at least a more understandable passage than Acts 4 for you to have believed supports your contentions about Jesus. The other character of importance in this text is designated variously as “one” (KJV), “a man” (NIV), and “the young man.” He is sometimes termed “the rich young ruler.”

WHAT is going on in this text?

The young man approaches Jesus and asks two questions. Firstly, he asks: “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” Secondly, he follows up with the question: “What do I still lack?”

Now, with your specific complaints in mind, let us note well several things.

Number one, there is no mention in this text of “private property.” I say this not intending to dwell on it, as I have remarked further elsewhere. But it is worth emphasizing, WHATEVER it is that Jesus IS talking about, he doesn't use the phrase that you use. So if you wish to argue that Jesus “really meant” to condemn “private property” two things are needful. Firstly, you owe us some argument that explicitly connects Jesus' precise words to some coherent explanation of what you mean by “private property.” Secondly, you owe us an explanation of how it can be that you are merely “reading” the text “word for word” when you seemingly are managing to “find” phrases in it that do not expressly appear.

Number two, WHATEVER it is that Jesus DID say, St. Paul does not seem to have understood him to have meant that wealth is intrinsically offensive. For Paul writes to Timothy enjoining him to “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment” (1 Timothy 6:17, NIV). For the Apostle Paul, as we shall more in depth in a moment, Jesus' teaching constituted a warning against “putting hope” or “trust” in wealth (or “loving” money), as opposed to merely “possessing” it (to echo your phrase). As I think St. Thomas Aquinas says somewhere about the vice of Greed, the sin lay in foolishly elevating desire for temporal, earthly, perishable treasures over eternal, heavenly, imperishable ones.

Number three, it is worth observing carefully that the text in question is an account of what Jesus said to one particular person on one particular occasion. It is not at all clear that Jesus is addressing “the church” broadly or “all Christians” generally or anything of the sort. For, straightforwardly, Jesus is answering the question, What does this one specific rich young man lack? And Jesus' answer to that specific individual only clearly applies to anyone else – much less EVERYONE else – if it can be shown that Jesus' reply was directed beyond the immediate audience or that whatever it was about the rich young man that prompted Jesus' reply to him also pertains to someone else – or everyone else. But if THIS is your thesis, then you owe us more that just a reproduction of a text that anyone can find for him- or herself on You owe us at least two things. Firstly, you owe us an argument as to how it is that, although Jesus seems to be addressing one specific person, readers are really supposed to understand that this ruler is merely figurative for “everyone”. Or you owe us an argument to that effect that, although Jesus really is only speaking to one person, literally, still, something about the rest of us (or ALL of us) is relevantly similar to the addressee and, thus, something about some (or all) of us makes Jesus instruction just as pressing for us as for the original addressee. As things stand, however, you have done neither. (These are just “food for thought” questions, mind you. I already stated that I might have some sympathy for [portions of] what you sometimes seem to want to say. I won't go into this presently, but we could discuss it.)

Consider an analogy. Suppose that you and I are both taking a class together – suppose it's a history class. You have a real aptitude for history and this, together with your enthusiasm for the subject (perhaps it's early American history), issues in your doing very well in the course. On the other hand, I am struggling. One day, I remain after class for a few moments and ask: “Teacher, what must I do to pass this course?” And the teacher answers: “Study hard and so that you are able to pass all the tests.” I press, however: “I have studied hard – from the beginning of the course. I am still struggling to remember my 'facts.' What do I still lack?” And the teacher replies: “If you want to do better, write out your study material – over and over. Repetitio est mater studiorum.” Now suppose that you – or another student – happen to overhear this exchange between me and the teacher. Would it follow that the teacher was saying that you, the third-party observer, HAD to write out your study material? No. The extra instruction was tailored to my questions (and, if the teacher is insightful, to my needs). Maybe someone else could profitably apply to their own lives. I wouldn't rule it out. But it is important, as an interpretive matter, to acknowledge that the instruction was, in the first instance, given to me. This acknowledge should check any impulse to think that this instruction suddenly becomes a NECESSITY for EVERYONE (perhaps merely because it was the teacher who spoke it). Similarly, I might suggest, while it may be true that other “rich young rulers” (and other persons besides) might reasonably profit from Jesus instruction, is it obvious that the instruction was intended to apply to everyone? I think not. That this instruction constitutes a universal “command” to “all Christians” is even more implausible.

We asked, a moment ago, whether third-party observers have the same requirements laid upon them as the explicit addressees. It is worth asking, however, even just as an exercise, what express OBLIGATIONS are born by the addressees themselves. So, number four, we should meticulously track Jesus' actual replies. Question one was about what MUST be done to inherit eternal life. And to this, Jesus answers: “...keep the commandments” (v. 17). At this point, the inquisitive young man presses Jesus further about what he “still lack[s]” (v. 20). If we carefully – and literally – register Jesus' responses, the following summary is tempting. Jesus “[makes] a plain difference between keeping the commandments, which is necessary...and being perfect, which he [counsels] only to them that [will].”vii It is apparent that Jesus replies with two conditionals: “if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments” and “if thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor...” (vv. 17 & 21). Now you may want to urge that “enter into life” and “be perfect” are equivalent. But this is far from obvious. Consider what St. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians chapter 3:

“For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames” (vv. 11-15).

Paul seems to suggest that it is possible (although this is not say that it is advantageous) to “ one escaping through the flames” – that is, it seems, to be saved, but barely. Now, clearly, we might think that Christians ought not aim low. What if, aiming low, one misses, for instance? Moreover, Jesus encourages us to “Be perfect...” (Matthew 5:48, NIV). But two points should be intuitive. Firstly, “being perfect” is difficult. But Jesus elsewhere says that his “yoke is easy and [his] burden is light” (Matthew 11:30, NIV). Is it a “light burden” to OBLIGATE human beings to be perfect? The Catholic Church distinguishes between precepts like the Ten Commandments that are strictly necessary for salvation (the Catholics reckons the Decalog as one of the “four pillars of the Church”), and counsels like the “vow of poverty” that are not strictly necessary for salvation, but are “...for those who desired to do more than the minimum and to aim at Christian perfection, so far as that can be obtained here upon earth.”viii One can see a parallel in my history class example. It is one thing to ask about what MUST be done to “pass” (or gain admission to heaven), it is, intuitively, another matter to ask about what can be done ABOVE THAT to “ace” the course (or be perfect, as Our Heavenly Father is perfect).

What of Jesus' additional remarks, though? “Then said Jesus unto his disciples, Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven. And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God” (vv. 23-24). Must we “falsify” these in order to hold that (something like) a “vow of poverty” is NOT a strict requirement for all Christians?

Consider first Jesus' words, first. Jesus does not appear to be saying that it is IMPOSSIBLE for a rich person to enter heaven. But, if renouncing all “wealth and possessions” (in Mike's turn of phrase) were a STRICT NECESSITY, he would have to be saying just this. It does however seem as though Jesus is saying that it is VERY DIFFICULT for a rich person to enter into heaven, in virtue of their RICHES. There is a parallel passage in Mark 10. In verse 24 of that parallel account, we read: “...Children, how hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God!” (KJV). Two points: Firstly, this “trust in” portion is a textual variant; but secondly, as Oxford University New Testament Professor Christopher Tuckett has noted: “...there is widespread (but by no means universal) acceptance of...the theory of Markan Priority...”.ix To put it differently, most biblical scholars hold that Mark's Gospel is both older than Matthew and Luke (the “Synoptics”) but was also probably used as a source by Matthew and Luke. Elsewhere, Jesus critiques, not “wealth and possession” per se, but on service to false gods. Clearly: “You cannot serve both God and Money” (Matthew 6:24, NIV). Additionally, it is well to bear in mind that “everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked” (Luke 12:48b, NIV). In the end, “With man [these things are] impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26, NIV).

Next, consider St. Paul, again. Recall that St. Paul had advised Timothy to “Command those who are rich in this present world put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment” (6:17, NIV). Furthermore, it was Paul who famously admonished: “But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the LOVE OF MONEY is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs” (1 Timothy 6:6-10, NIV).

Finally, the author of the Book of Hebrews, in speaking to Christians who had “stood their the face of suffering” (10:32, NIV) praises them for “joyfully accept[ing] the confiscation of [their] property” (v. 34). Such praise would scarcely make sense if these Christians had been REQUIRED to do without property. This author warns also: “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have...”(Hebrews 13:5, NIV).

I pass then (even if tentatively) the following verdict. Given the facts that: (1) the phrase “private property” does not explicitly occur in the quoted passage; (2) Jesus' first generation followers like the Apostle Paul did not seem to have understood Jesus to have been requiring poverty or making sweeping and universally binding denunciations of “wealth and possession”; (3) Jesus was speaking in the first place to “the rich young man” specifically and not obviously addressing the entire Church generally; (4) Jesus himself seems to draw a distinction between those things (keeping the Commandments) that are NECESSARY for salvation and those things (like perfect charity [i.e., total poverty] and, elsewhere, perfect chastity [celibacy, cf. 1 Timothy 4:3 & 1 Corinthians 7] and “holy obedience”) that are counseled to those who desire to do more than what is necessary; (5) Jesus does not seem to say that it is IMPOSSIBLE for a rich person to enter heaven, but does seem to say that it is MORE DIFFICULT; and (6) the overall testimony of Scripture (the broader literary context) seems to support the idea that while the LOVE OF MONEY is “the root of many kinds of evil”, and Christians ought be concerned with amassing “treasures in heaven” (Matthew 6:20, NIV); therefore, (7) it seems that there is no EXPLICIT obligation laid upon Christians to take “vows of poverty” or enter into communal living arrangements.

Rather, the obligation is towards true love for God and our fellows, and generosity. This comports with the Ten Commandments, and does not “add” to them. For as Jesus said to the Pharisees: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37, NIV). It is the Pharisees who “...tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them” (Matthew 23:4, NIV).

St. Paul reminds us that: “If [we] give all [we] possess to the poor...but do not have love, [we] gain nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:3, NIV). And the Apostle John concurred: “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4:8, NIV). And, again, this is not a novelty introduced by Jesus. About the “Old Testament God” the Psalmist proclaimed: “You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise” (Psalm 51:16-17, NIV).

And again: “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work” (2 Corinthians 9:6-8, NIV).

We are clearly discouraged from “stor[ing] up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal” and encouraged to “store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matthew 6:19-20, NIV). However, this does not seem to take the cold and mechanical form of a lifeless negative statute, but as a call for charity and a proper perspective: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21, NIV). Wealth certainly seems to be a potential encumbrance. The Psalmist truly spoke, saying: “Better the little that the righteous have than the wealth of many wicked” (Psalm 37:16, NIV).

And it was the “Old Testament God” (who “sends poverty and wealth” 1 Samuel 2:7, NIV) who counseled: “Do not wear yourself out to get rich; have the wisdom to show restraint. Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone, for they will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle” (Proverbs 23:4-5, NIV).

Hence, nowhere can I find grounds for thinking that “wealth and possessions” are forbidden. What you have thought was prima facie evidence for some kind of blanket “ban” on “private property” (so called), simply doesn't hold up. What the evidence shows is that riches should not be served, loved, or sought after – pro tanto.

******************** PART TWO ********************

>>Adam, your assertion that "Religion of any kind is subject to interpretation and can be understood or practiced in any way a person sees fit" get's right at the heart of my issue here. At least in the case of Christianity, it is not true. Christianity is a set of laws and rules, and such rules are not only obvious, but they are marked by the empowering feature of laws and rules - consequences. The 10 Commandments, the teachings of Jesus, sins, condemnation, HELL.

Directed towards another responder or to me, the notion that “Christianity is a set of laws and rules...” is merely an assertion. By “assertion,” I mean a statement that you put forth as being true, without giving any evidence or argument in support of the statement's truth. Were you to give evidence, then I could evaluate that evidence and, perhaps, marshal counter-evidence (if appropriate). Were you to give arguments, then I could evaluate those arguments and, perhaps, give a counter-argument (if appropriate). As it stands, I cannot perform an evaluation on nonexistent evidence or argument. You have merely supplied an un-evidenced, un-argued assertion. In this case, it is suitable to reply with a request for evidence or a counter-assertion.

Christianity is not defined as a “set of laws and rules” by any theologian with which I am familiar. I am also unaware of any individual professing Christian who would define her faith in those terms. Hence, your stipulated “definition,” besides being un-evidenced and un-argued is also ahistorical (that is, not comporting with the history of Christianity) and, arguably, an instance of the straw-man fallacy.

I argued this already in PART THREE of my previous response. It was part of the 90% of my text that you ignored.

>>These are rules and consequences. And "Thou shalt not kill" leaves about as much room for interpretation as the Second Amendment - which is none. Only those who wish to justify their lack of adherence to it need to interpret it. Those who abide by it need only read it word for word.

By now, I have replied to this twice, at some length. See PART TWO, SUBSECTION C of my first reply and PART ONE of the present reply (above).

>>Luckily for the Christians I am referring to in my above post, man has AMENDED God's rules to adhere to their disregard of them. And I have had every silly amendment I can think of tossed at me by Christians throughout the episodes of this discussion that I have participated in outside of this FB post.

You glibly speak about “God's rules” without actually producing your own thoroughgoing suggestion about what this is actually supposed to amount to. It seems that you do this because of your mistaken and naïve view of interpretation. This is why I have been at pains to bring issues relating to interpretation to the fore in this discussion. We cannot really make headway so long as you have a simplistic “just read it” view of interpreting a collection of texts (the Bible), of diverse genres, composed 2,000+ years ago, in very different circumstances, in different languages, and often employing unfamiliar idioms.

To be sure, a Christian ought to be concerned with “God's rules.” However, it is simply wrong-headed to think that “the rules” themselves are in any EXHAUSTIVE or COMPREHENSIVE way obvious.

Theologians, professing themselves to be honest investigators and committed followers of Jesus have gone through tremendous – indeed, sometimes Herculean – efforts to try to provide a comprehensive framework for enumerating “God's rules.” Just in the 20th century, philosopher, theologian, and historian R.J. Rushdoony produced a monumental 3 volume treatise titled The Institutes of Biblical Law. In his work, formally inspired by John Calvin's classic Institutes of the Christian Religion, Rushdoony attempts to carry to completion the project that you seemingly believe can be accomplished with an honest “once through” of the Bible. I submit that this is either a shockingly naïve or supremely arrogant view for you to hold (possibly both).

I do not agree with many of Rushdoony's conclusions. But I certainly do think that carrying out the project of enumerating exhaustively a system of regulations that could, with any plausibility, claim to be “God's rules” would surely run to the thousands of pages. Catholic thinkers have a rich heritage of this sort of investigation (although, to be sure, NOT carried out within the confines of sola scriptura – another issue that you have skated past). St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Robert Bellarmine are only two of the names of the Church's philosopher's who have attempted such endeavors with fervor. And their literary output was prodigious.

>>There seems to be endless justifications throughout the Bible for the complete disregard of Mosaic law and the lessons of the Old Testament that are attributed to divine intervention, all of them "interpretations".

Your repeated, disparaging use of the word “interpretation” is, again, possibly the central defect in your tirade. See, again, PART ONE of this reply, above, and PART TWO, Subsection C of the previous reply.

As to the “disregard of Mosaic law,” this issue gets one into deep theological waters. I spent considerable time addressing this in my previous response. After rebutting your premise that “The Bible is the Constitution of Christianity,” which premise is, as much else you have written on this topic, ill-evidenced and inadequately argued, I state the following:

“Both Protestants and Catholics can point out, for example, that certain passages in the New Testament plausibly abrogate various portions of the Old Testament (see, e.g., Jeremiah 31:31-34; Matthew 9:17 // Mark 2:22; Hebrews Ch. 8, esp. vv. 7 & 13). In Protestant circles alone there are no fewer than five distinct conceptions of the relationship between testaments. [END NOTE # 6] But your facile treatment gives unfamiliar readers the impression that the matters are obvious. This is either naïve of you or misleading - or both. Contrary to your dismissive rhetoric, fastidious interpretation (that is, a sound and sober hermeneutic) is of the utmost importance. [See reply 1, PART THREE, Subsection C & this reply, PART ONE, above]”

However, I will not say more about this specific issue for two reasons. First, as your implausible view of interpretation is a MUCH larger issue than the nuanced question of how the Christian relates to Mosaic Law, and as the adoption of a passably plausible view of interpretation is a prerequisite for fruitfully thinking about the question of how the Christian relates to Mosaic Law, such a question must be subordinated to the interpretive issues that I have spotlighted. Issues pertaining to interpretive methodology are logically prior to specific questions about this or that interpretation.

Second, you're overall position is both untenable and prejudicial. You seem to maintain flatly that you're just correct in your “reading” of the various texts – from the Constitution back to the Bible – and that's all there is to it. Everyone else is simply dishonest. Forgive me for saying so, but this strikes me as delusional. Are you serious? I think it would be more charitable of me to simply proceed as if this sort of rhetoric is merely “venting” on your part and to ignore it, than it would be for me to try formalize this “argument” merely in order to expose the plethora of informal fallacies lurking about.

Let me be clear: As a matter of fact, I agree with your interpretation of the Second Amendment. But, as I took pains to say above, I deny that there is much that is obvious about the Second Amendment. I think that Constitutional interpretation is difficult. The situation with the Bible is even more obscure – not insurmountably obscure, but obscure nonetheless. Although, in places (and with many qualifications), I may have some sympathy with various of your complaints, your approach to interpretation is not just imperfect in some manageable way, it is a catastrophe.

>>Pretty much everything that comes after the handing down of the 10 Commandments, including Jesus and his teachings. And seeing as how God did not hand down his endorsement of Jesus as authentic in the same way that he handed down the 10 Commandments to Moses, the veracity of Jesus' divinity merely rests on Jesus' word - the word of yet another man, and his own interpretation of the laws of God and their application. Not that this has any less veracity than the account of Moses - it too is merely the word of a man. And in his case, 0 witnesses. At least in the case of Jesus, we allegedly have witnesses. But I digress.

At least you recognize the digression. Are you trying to concoct some sort of witches' brew, tossing into it every quibble with Christianity that crosses your mind? If this is to be a serious discussion, we will require more than a little focus. Given all of the un-argued assertions that you have already racked up, it is imprudent of you to dig yourself deeper into an evidential hole. You owe readers quite a lot of evidence already.

Moreover, I find the assertion “... the veracity of Jesus' divinity merely rests on Jesus' word...” more than a little annoying on a personal level, since I addressed this issue with you previously and yet you seem to have taken no cognizance of that earlier effort. Mind you, it's not that I expect that you should fall into lockstep with me just because I have addressed a point on some past occasion. Instead, I would hope that, if you wish to be thoughtful and sedulous in your examination of these important matters, you would not want to set yourself up a straw man to burn ritualistically, but would be determined to address that which Christians actually believe. If you want to design your own ersatz version of “Christianity” to knock over for amusement, then I suppose you can feel to fantasize that “the veracity of Jesus' divinity merely rests on Jesus' word.” If you want to deal with the real McCoy, then the linchpin is the Resurrection: “[I]f Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain...” (1 Corinthians 15:14, KJV). Hence my “annoyance” stems from this: either you have mistaken metaphysical and epistemological issues (what Jesus' divinity “rests on” in fact versus how we might come to know about that divinity) yet again, despite my repeated corrections; or you have disregarded what Christians say about themselves preferring instead to attribute to Christians beliefs that are convenient for you to dismiss (which is the sort of straw man attack that I have also brought to your attention several times). Such oversights do not encourage me to spend even more time discussing any of these issues with you, since it may seem that my great expenditures of time and energy make little lasting impression.

>>An example of this sort of amending; I have been told that the Bible makes a case for denying that you are Christian, or otherwise defying the teachings and laws of the Bible, in cases where devotion would cause you harm. Basically, the Christian equivalent to Islam's "Taqiyya", but for personal benefit, rather than the benefit of the faith.

“I have been told that” having cameras are every street corner is a good thing and not a threat to liberty. Don't believe everything you hear (cf. 1 John 4:1, KJV).

For sure, the Bible relates incidents in which people lie. I am unaware, however, of any text that (explicitly or implicitly) endorses dissimulation.

Take a case. When Peter thrice denied knowing Jesus after Jesus' arrest, we are told that he “wept bitterly” (Matthew 26:75 // Luke 22:62). Christianity is nothing if it isn't rooted in the First Great Commandment: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37, NIV; Cf. v. 38). “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good” (Romans 12:9, NIV). This is, in fact, how Jesus restores Peter after the latter's cowardly denial – Jesus thrice asks Peter “Do you love me?” (See John 21:15-17).

Religious dissimulation is arguably rooted in Talmudic Judaism. I gave an example of this in my response to another poster already. The goyim are misled into believing that, in Orthodox Judaism, “Torah” designates the first five books (Pentateuch) of the Tanakh or “Hebrew Bible” (that is, of the Old Testament). In reality, however, “Torah” designates the Talmud (even in combination with the Zohar). The Rabbis have decreed that it is needful that they place a “hedge around the law.” This may require the manifestly contradictory notion of “lying for the sake of the truth.” The Rabbis teach dissimulation (and this practice has such well-known examples as the conversos/marranos of 15th century Spain and the embarrassing case of Shabbatai Zevi, who was believed to be the Messiah by various Lurianic Kabbalistics in the 17th century – before he “committed the worst possible sin”x by converting to Islam). Incidentally, Muhammad would have had contact with the Rabbis of Medinaxi and this contact, provides the basis for a plausible account not only of the Koranic material that was arguably sourced to Jewish Midrash, but also for the Taqiyya praxis that you mention.xii

However, this sort of dissimulation has certainly been incorporated into the “West.” For example, Winston Church (in)famously opined that “In wartime, truth is so precious that she should always be surrounded by a bodyguard of lies.” This Gentile version of the “hedge around the law” was approvingly quoted by Donald Rumsfeld in 2001 (when he was Secretary of Defense).xiii A related sentiment was popularized by Christopher Nolan in his movie, The Dark Knight, with the line: “Sometimes the truth isn't good enough. Sometimes people deserve more.” Examples could be multiplied easily.

In the history of the Church, for many years, scholastic theologians stood “[w]ith St. Augustine...[and] never deviated from Augustine's definition of a lie and his teaching that to utter the opposite of what one holds to be true is intrinsically evil.”xiv “St. Augustine...wrote two short treatises to prove that it is never lawful to tell a lie. His doctrine on this point has generally been followed in the Western Church, and it has been defended as the common opinion by the Schoolmen and by modern divines. … St. Augustine held that the naked truth must be told whatever the consequences may be. He directs that in difficult cases silence should be observed if possible.”xv

However, sadly, “In the 16th century this tradition began to weaken...”.xvi To be more exact, the Church's disapprobation of lying was attenuated when it was infiltrated by Judaizing Kabbalists like Giovanni Pico della Mirandola. At that time, even the Church began to succumb to the rationalization of tactics of deceit – e.g., “equivocation” and “mental reservation.”xvii

However, this corruption was at the (not inconsiderable) level of theology. The Bible's teaching against “bearing false witness” (e.g., Exodus 20:16) is unaffected and has been preserved in various streams and rivulets in the Church.

>>I said that wearing make-up or cutting your hair for, let's say a job, was practicing vanity and a sin. Well, I have been told that this is acceptable in the eyes of God, based on an interpretation (of course) of Jesus' statement "Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's" - the idea that you can follow Roman law that contradicts God's/Christ's law, out of self preservation, and not be charged with the sin associated with those activities or denial of God/Christ.

As far as I can tell, you have nowhere given a coherent explanation of what you mean by “vanity,” “sin.” “wearing make-up,” or “cutting hair.” Short of being supplied with a fuller account (including your justifying evidence) of what you mean, I am at a loss as to how to evaluate any of this.

>>...[I]t makes no sense for God to have set LAWS for man, especially in the way we are told he did so in the account of Moses, and how strictly he wants us to adhere to them, as is exemplified in the Old Testament, just to turn around and allow man to break those laws simply because it would become difficult or deadly to follow them.

Again, regarding the issues swirling around the notion of “God's laws” and “God's rules,” see above.

>>That notion makes far less sense than any contradictions found in my original post here.

There seems to be another confusion here. The problem with contradictions isn't that they “make no sense” (whatever that means). The problem with contradictions is that they are necessarily false. Hence, insofar as you typed a contradictory set of statements (and you have since clarified), you typed something that cannot possibly be true.

>>For now, I leave you with...The Bible:

“They profess that they know God, but in works they deny him” (Tit.1:16).

Indeed. In context, it is noteworthy that St. Paul connects these “professing deniers” to people who people who “pay...attention to Jewish myths” and “to the merely human commands of those who reject the truth” (v. 14). This hearkens back to Jesus' rebuke of the Pharisees that I also quoted in a response to another poster. I wrote: “Jesus actually condemned the 'Oral Torah' [Torah She-Beal Peh] right to their faces saying that they had 'let go of the commands of God and [were] holding on to human traditions' (Matthew 15:1-9 // Mark 7:1-23). For this, the Pharisees (forerunners to the Rabbinate) tried to stone Jesus to death (q.v. John 8:59) before finally finishing the job (1 Thessalonians 2:15) and bragging about it (cf. BT Sanhedrin 43a...).”xviii

>>By his own admission, his response is an attempt to clear up several confusing and contradictory assertions I made, as such clarification is necessary BEFORE he can address any points I am trying to make. Additionally, there is an intent to focus on, and possibly an intent to illustrate to others, my inadequacies as a writer, instead of using common intuition (as others here have done with success) in comprehending the writing of an "average joe". … He has ...rather illustrated the fact that I am not a brilliantly articulate writer. This leads me to wonder if some here actually understood his response. They seem (and I am assuming here, as they never clarified to the T just what about his response they were applauding) to have found it to have addressed the issues in my original post - not my inadequacies as a writer.

Certainly I did type that “...if you sharpen up your own text, I could do likewise with my response.” And without a doubt it was needful that any serious evaluator “attempt to clear up several confusing and contradictory assertions” present in your text. However, it simply is not true that my response was merely an attempt to address these preliminary issues, still less is it true that I “admitted” this. This is why I discussed the relevant points under the heading “preliminary remarks”. I then immediately proceed to state that:

“From here on I will ignore the more sensational difficulties (like the aforementioned contradiction), and I will try to highlight a few of (what I detect to be) the main conceptual difficulties in your presentation.”

After the preliminaries were out of the way, I went ahead to the substantial conceptual difficulties in your presentation. I spent far greater effort of these conceptual difficulties than I did on the issues of your “confusing and contradictory assertions”, and yet you ignored this greater effort entirely. Not only did you focus on what I labeled “preliminary” and promptly set aside, you had the temerity to insinuate – falsely – that I “admitted” that my whole presentation was simply an appeal for clarification.

This is upsetting. It is also a gross misrepresentation of what I wrote. I am hopeful that such a perverse reception will not greet my latest efforts.

Finally, I couldn't very well have gone on to assess the merits (and demerits) of your conceptions if I had merely excused myself due to your “contradictory and confusing assertions” and not used by “common intuition” to excavate the far more serious difficulties with your proposals. Once again, I explicitly set aside the sensational difficulties (like the contradiction) and busied myself for more than 10,000 words addressing myself to some notions (for example, interpretation) at the core of your project (whether or not you yourself recognize these notions to be core notions).

>>Now, for my response to his response. I would also like to note that nothing I say, including the above paragraph, is ever an attack on anyone personally, just as Matt noted in the opening of his response to me here. I also have the utmost respect for anyone who donates time and thought to my posts here, and hope that seemingly severe language on my part will never be construed as a personal attack. Matt, firstly, where you are correct. “The definition of the word 'Christian' is one who believes that Jesus of Nazareth is the divine son of the God of Abraham.” “..Believing that Jesus was the son of God doesn't make you a Christian.” You are correct that these two statements are contradictory at face value. This point was made to me by my sister as well. Allow me to clarify.


>>The first sentence is the popularly accepted definition - the one you may find in dictionarys. The second sentence alludes to the point of view that merely believing in Jesus' divinity does not constitute being a Christian, because it is not enough to get you into heaven - and I should have clarified that it was my point of view (this was where that intuition would have come in handy). Also, my statement that "Believing that Jesus was the son of God doesn't make you a Christian any more than believing you can fly makes you a bird." not only alludes to the fact that this is my opinion of what defines a Christian, but it alludes to the fact that I am challenging the popularly accepted definition. Or, at least, that is how I comprehend this particular piece of language, and maybe my comprehension skills are as poor as my composition skills. Alas, what I should have said, and this was my sister's point, was that while believing in Jesus' divinity makes you a Christian, it does not make you a GOOD Christian, or rather one that will get into heaven. And isn't that the point of being a Christian - to get into heaven? Now, to save from sending up any more red flags, let me make clear that my previous two sentences are merely my point of view.

I mentioned some of this in my previous response. See, especially, the somewhat lengthy END NOTE # 11.

>>So, to clarify, the point of view I intended to represent was that, while it constitutes being a Christian to believe in the divinity of Jesus, that alone will not get you into heaven. You must also live by all of the teachings of the Bible, or at least all of the teachings of Jesus.

I am not inclined to want to further complicate matters by discoursing on soteriology. Again, the logically prior issue is the possession and application of a plausible hermeneutic, which you do not yet have. We need to focus first on the issues regarding the function of, and need for, interpretation, as I have by now stressed numerous times.

Additionally, it seems to me that you yourself really should be loath to complicate matters. In the above text, you admit that, with respect to “being a Christian” (no doubt in some suitably full sense that meets your standards), it suffices that one “at least by...all of the teachings of Jesus.” But if you admit this much, then you have to drop at once all the previous complaining about how the “Mosaic law” isn't followed. Again, you seem to compound confusion with confusion.

It is far better, I think, to focus on the issue of sound hermeneutics. And your agreement, here, would save you from having to explain your apparent back-peddling.

>>Now, this may be merely my point of view. And it is clearly not widely shared by some Christians, because the consensus I am getting from many regarding this discussion is somewhere along the lines of "the Bible says you can do whatever the fuck you wanna do, so long as you say sorry on your death bed". I'm obviously paraphrasing here. However, if this is true, and my point of view is incorrect, what the hell is the point of the thousands pages long text of the Bible? It needed not be any longer than that. "Do whatever you want to or must do, just believe in the divinity of Jesus and repent anything you feel guilty about before you die, and you will get into heaven." But getting back on track...

As I expressed in the opening to my first reply, I have sympathy for a number of your complaints. I do not personally think much of a lot of the professing Christians that I have met. But, again, just as I agree with your interpretation of the Second Amendment, but disagree with what appears to be your “just read it” method of interpretation; so too is it the case that EVEN WERE I to agree with some aspects of your interpretations of various Bible texts, still I could not countenance what I hold to be a transparently substandard interpretative method.

Therefore, let me be quite clear that what I am am primarily disagreeing with you about is a methodological issue. As things stands, with a few exceptions, I want to suspend my endorsement of, or opposition to, particular interpretations and get to the larger issue of interpretive method.

Additionally, if you are truly interested, I would be delighted to speak with you about personal eschatology and soteriology and the like. However, these complex issues are logically subsequent to the adoption of a sound interpretive methodology.

>>To your next assertion, regarding "[shooting] from the hip"; when I say "most Christians" or "most Republicans" or "most guitarists" or "most ________", I am obviously referring to those that I have interacted with or observed in my own life. I do not have a staff of analysts to research, survey and assess some 200+ million people in America, or the many millions more the world over, who consider themselves Christians. And no one else here does either. So unless such a survey has been done, dealing with the same questions and criteria, anyone would be similarly shooting from the hip in this matter. Did I look for such a sociological study? No, and for that, and making a generalization, I stand guilty as charged.

I agree. Of course, “ anyone...similarly shooting from the hip in this matter” would receive the same response that I gave to you. It's idle speculation, regardless of who makes it.

>>However...was I so wrong?

I have no idea. That's the utility of actually having the sort of sociological study that we obviously do not have. With such a study we could assess the veracity of your speculations. Without such a study, I am at a loss.

>>...let's ask our peers...Do many Christians they know fit my generalization closely enough? Was it a grossly unfair or erroneous generalization to make? I think not.

Again, you may “think not.” But without a study, I simply cannot assess your speculations. “Asking our peers” (whatever “peers” means here) might actually be the stirrings of a(n informal) sociological study. However, I wrote to you with several misgivings regarding the last questionnaire that you posted (regarding 9/11, I believe), and, mutatis mutandis, I think many of those misgivings would translate just as well to an informal “asking of peers” in the present case. (I can try to dig up what I wrote, if necessary.)

>>You agreed with my generalization with the very first sentence of your response, calling it "well grounded". Now, in light of that, can not your later criticism of my generalization of "most Christians" be considered contradictory? Or have you conducted or found such a thorough study of your own from which you base your assessment of my "suspicion" and it's grounds?

My statement was: “I think that your suspicion is well-grounded that '...Jesus would abhor the lifestyles and behavior of most Americans, especially those who claim to be Christians.'” Of course, the embedded sentence is your prose, not mine. Had I written it, I would not have referred to “most Christians.” My error, then, was that I did not properly qualify my sympathy with your statement. Of course, I cannot literally endorse speculations about “most [whatever]” without good reasons. Qualified, I can agree that: “Jesus would abhor the lifestyles and behavior of many Americans, especially those who claim to be Christians.” “Many” leaves the exact number intentionally vague.xix

>>And honestly, must one know or study millions of people in a demographic to gain a round-about assessment of the lot? Can we not assume that where there are 7 in 10, that there are 700,000 in 1M?

In my dictionary, “assume” means, primarily, Suppose to be the case, without proof [that is, more cautiously, evidence or argument]. One does not, strictly speaking, “assume” that “where there are 7 in 10, ...there are 700,000 in 1M”. 7/10 is simply a reduced form of the fraction 700,000/1,000,000. That is, “7 in 10” is strictly equivalent to “700,000 in 1M”. This is not an “assumption.” It is a mathematically demonstrable identity statement. See the end note.xx

>>I know, on a personal level, many self proclaimed Christians, and have likely interacted with hundreds in my lifetime. And anyone here knows I cannot keep my debating mouth shut for long. And we haven't been talking about the weather. I have this conversation with many, many Christians. I don't claim to be some expert, but I think it is unfair to say that I cannot make an assumption on the majority of the demographic. If I am shooting from the hip here, I am a damn good shot, if I do say so myself. Yes, I am making a generalization, and maybe doing something that I often look down on in other cases, under different circumstances. But in this case, I stand by it.

Earlier, I restated my qualified agreement with you in these terms: “Jesus would abhor the lifestyles and behavior of many Americans, especially those who claim to be Christians.”

So, if you want to now emphatically state:

“Jesus would abhor the lifestyles and behavior of many, many Americans, especially those who claim to be Christians”

I won't object. It's vague, but your point is intuitive.

However, it's not at all clear that vaguely designating “many, many Christians” is the same thing as vaguely designating “most Christians”. So I still object to the original speculation.

>>So I will say it again. Most Christians in this country are outright sinners. And I will take responsibility for that generalization, and whatever criticism that it brings me. I am confident that it holds water. Call it faith if it pleases you.

Again, you are seemingly trying to make points using non-equivalent expressions.

Earlier, you referred to “lifestyles and behavior.” This is also vague. But, importantly, it's not clear to me that this phrase is synonymous with “sinners”. “Sinners” is ambiguous.

For example, Christian theologians have traditionally distinguished “original sin” (i.e., roughly, an inherited disposition that agents have towards actual sin) and “actual sin” (i.e., roughly, a wrongful action freely committed by an agent).

Consider a baby. On the account that I have sketched, a baby has an (arguably latent) disposition to commit actual sin. But, on any plausible description, the baby could not be said to have committed any actual sin. Therefore, the baby is “a sinner” in the sense of being affected by original sin, but not “a sinner” in the sense of committing any actual sin.

Now “sinfulness” is construable similarly to falsity. To be more specific, one could say that, a generalization like “All ravens are black” is, strictly, false just in case “some raven is white” is true. In fact, since there are albino ravens, the generalization “All ravens are black” is false in this strict sense. Analogously (to pick on John Doe again), the generalization “John Doe is sinless (in the sense of actual sin)” is false just in case “John Doe committed at least one (actual) sin” is true.

However, sinfulness could also be meaningfully described either as occasional or habitual. So, again roughly, we might think it plausible that, by “lifestyle and behavior,” what is in view is something like habitual sinfulness.

What's the point of all of this?

Here's the point. I think that Christians – whether Catholics or Protestants – would volunteer a generalization that is stronger than your statement “Most Christians in this country are outright sinners.” For, in the dual senses of original sin and occasional, actual sin, “...all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God...” (Romans 3:23, NIV). (This is why, as it is sometimes put [with various attributions], Jesus, is the Great Physician [cf. Matthew 9:12-13 & Luke 4:23] and the church [militant] is mainly a “hospital for sinners, rather than, in the first place, a museum for saints”.)

However, saying that each and every human soul is stained with the taint of original sin; or saying that each and every human actor, who both has attained the “age of reason” and has adequate cognitive abilities in her possession, has committed some actual sin or other; is surely not the same thing as saying that of these people all, “most,” or even many of them are habitually sinful.

Therefore, before your statements can be evaluated, it is needful find out more about what you mean to express by the phrase “lifestyles and behavior” or the sentence “Most Christians in this country are outright sinners.” Under some disambiguations, these statements arguably express Christian sentiments. Under other disambiguations, they may not. Under some disambiguations, your assertions may need the support of sociological evidence. Under other disambiguations, they may not.

>>As for my "varying - and non-equivalent - accounts of a matter"; You are correct in that living, necessarily living, and wanting to live by every tenet of the Bible are different things. And I'm not certain that I asserted otherwise.

Just to be clear, I wasn't “certain that [you] asserted otherwise” either. This – again, limited to my introduction and preliminaries – was listed as a point about which I wasn't sure what you were trying to say. I wrote: “ one place you claim that to be a 'Christian' (in your sense) one 'must live by the tenets of Christianity'. Elsewhere, however, you put ***what looks like it was supposed to be the same point*** in different language, ostensibly claiming that being a 'Christian' (again, presumably in your sense) requires that one 'want to live by every tenet of [Christianity]'.”

>>[On] the contrary, I illustrated that wanting to live by every tenet and only doing so out of need or attrition were different things.

One of the relevant comments of yours read: “Either you want to live by every tenet of the Bible and nothing more, or you do not. You do not 'interpret' the tenets of the faith to fit your desired lifestyle. You desire the lifestyle that comes with those tenets.”

Now I have addressed your disparaging misuse of the word “interpret” extensively, both in PART TWO, Subsection C of my first reply as well as in the body of the present response, above. I will not repeat myself here. But please see these sections again as I believe that these constitute the most pressing concern before us.

What I wish to highlight here is that you have several (additional) logical problems in the above three sentences. Number one, “every tenet of the Bible” is ambiguous. I commented to this effect in my previous reply (PART TWO, Subsection A). And I disambiguated the statement as follows.

*** BEGIN QUOTE FROM REPLY 1, PART TWO, Subsection A ***

Call the first disambiguation the "Electronic Counting Machine" premise:

1*. If the Bible is the "constitution of Christianity," then a person must robotically obey every single tenet, of every single era of "heilsgeschichte," in order to count as "Christian."

Call the second disambiguation the "Hand Counted" premise:

1**. If the Bible is the "constitution of Christianity," then a person must obey every tenet of it that is presently in force, in order to count as "Christian."

*** END QUOTE ***

Firstly, the extension of “every tenet of the Bible” could be take in either of senses 1* or 1**. I argued, previously, that the Christian should deny 1* but could accept the consequent clause of 1** in the limited sense that I noted above.

Secondly, “tenet of the Bible” has an extension that is, as things stand, ill-defined.

But before one could go about defining the extension, one must have a sound hermeneutic in place. So the text pertaining to interpretation, both above and in my previous reply (PART TWO, Subsection C) is, as I am growing tired of typing, of the utmost importance. No progress can be made until you address the implausibility of your hermeneutic.

Number two, wanting to live by every tenet of the Bible is arguably a red herring. As I noted in my previous reply (again, see PART TWO, Subsection A) Christians often define Christianity in terms of Church membership (whether in the Visible Church, as Catholics do, or the Invisible Church, as Protestant do). You haven't explained what “every tenet of the Bible” has to do with Church membership. You just ignore this complication. See, again, my textual warning concerning straw man arguments, previous reply, PART THREE.

Number three, your sentences 2 & 3 could be construed as another false dilemma. To be more precise, 2: “You do not 'interpret' the tenets of the faith to fit your desired lifestyle” and 3: “You desire the lifestyle that comes with those tenets” seemingly could be glossed this way:

Either a person modifies the genuine, Good rules to conform to their personal, bad desires; or a person modifies their personal, bad desires so that they desire the genuine, Good rules.

This is a false dilemma because the two options presented are not the only ones available. Here is a fuller list of the alternatives.

Where a set of Good rules are fully and genuinely known by a person (call her “Jane Doe”), but those rules conflict with Jane's personal, bad desires, Jane has the following options.

OPTION 1: Jane could modify the genuine, Good rules to accommodate her personal, bad desires.

This option leaves the desires as they are and changes (or, rather, falsifies) the rules.

OPTION 2: Jane could modify her personal, bad desires so that she truly desire to accommodate the genuine, Good rules.

This option leaves the rules as they are and changes the desires so that the become desires to conform to the genuine rules.


OPTION 3: Jane could will to conform to the rules, regardless of her desires.

This options leaves BOTH the rules AND the desires as they are and the will simply overrules nonconformist desires and impels conformity with the genuine rules. You err by neglecting this third option.

Yet this third option has remarkably good prima facie biblical evidence in its favor. For example, in one place Jesus tells the crowd: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34, NIV // Luke 9:23). The language of “self-denial” surely rules out option 1. But it seems to me closer to the neglected option 3 than to your option 2. Or again, St. Peter writes: “For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. ...Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.” (Colossians 3:3,5, NIV). Again, this language of death seems to comport more closely with a conception of frustrated desires than with desires that are modified so that they can be fulfilled.

But, note well that I call this biblical evidence prima facie evidence. My reservations, here, amount neither to a thoroughly worked out case, nor a systematic exegesis. Not to beat a dead horse, but we need to address the methodological issues pertaining to interpretation.

>>Honestly, I am combing over the paragraph that you refer to here over and over trying to find the err in it, and only feeling better about myself, lol. Perhaps it's time for a breakdown... 1. Let's operate under the assumption that in order to get into heaven, one "must live" (necessity) by all of the tenets of the Bible.

You statement labeled “1” is doubly problematic. Firstly, “live by” is ambiguous. To be more exact, the phrase could mean more than one thing. Specifically, the idea “Living by all of the tenets of the Bible” could mean (something like) consciously adopting the tenets of the Bible as a guide for living. Alternatively, it could mean something stronger, for example (roughly), successfully conforming to the tenets of the Bible.

To illustrate, consider the similar phrase “go by,” in a sentence structured analogously to your number 1, namely: Let's operate under the assumption that in order to locate Davy Jones' Locker, one must go by Sao Feng's Navigation Charts.

Of course, one might consciously adopt Sao Feng's Navigation Charts as a guide for locating Davy Jones' Locker without successfully using Sao Feng's Navigation Charts to locate Davy Jones' Locker.

“Heaven,” however, is (something like) “where [Jesus is]” (John 14:3, NIV). “Getting to heaven” is shorthand for (something like) being with Jesus and his Father. And Jesus himself said: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6, NIV). Jesus himself is the way. Jesus himself is the door to heaven. “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved” (John 10:9, NIV). The “gate” isn't a rulebook, it's Jesus himself.

In Protestantism, however, theologians talk of an “Order of Salvation” (Ordo Salutis). Different Protestant theologies cash this out differently. But, VERY ROUGHLY, one could say that these “Orders” distinguish various “stages” on the “journey to heaven.”

Early stages might include “conversion” and “regeneration.” Intermediate stages might include “justification” and “sanctification.” The final stage – the “end” or personal eschatological stage – would be “glorification” (in heaven) or “reprobation” (in hell). Some Protestants, chiefly Calvinists, hold that if one is truly “elect,” then, IF one will truly enters into the first “stages” of salvation, then one will inevitably conclude the journey successfully in heaven. (From time to time you appear to me to display Calvinist leanings. If you wish to argue that Calvinism is correct, you have MUCH more work to do than merely quoting a few Bible verses. But, I can't honestly image that you'd be interested in this. Are you then going to argue that Calvinism would be true [if God existed]!) Other Protestants hold that one can “fall away” or apostasize. If a person can “fall away,” then this implies that not all those who begin the journey to heaven will actually arrive.

Similarly, Catholics distinguish between redemption (the accessibility of heaven, due to Jesus' atoning sacrifice, to all souls) and salvation (the achievement of heaven, due to purified soul, of those individuals who displayed, by God's grace, a working faith). Additionally, Catholics differentiate the Church during its “pilgrim journey on earth” (that is, the Church Militant) and the Church in heaven (that is, the Church Triumphant). The Catholic holds neither that redemption guarantees salvation, nor that a member of the Church Militant will, in virtue of that membership, ultimately be a part of the Church Triumphant. The Catholic takes very seriously one's last chances (e.g., see the attention paid, historically, to the notion of the ars moriendi).

Christ describes his “Father's house” as having many rooms, and speaks of “prepar[ing] a place” for those that love him. To love God involves something like knowing God and serving God, through acts of faith, hope, and charity (the three theological virtues, which are only available through God's sanctifying Grace).

Moreover, as I said in my first reply, in END NOTE # 11: “One way to construe your 'thesis' is that you seem to be suggesting that there can be no 'bad Christians.'” In light of what I related in PART THREE of my first reply, and given what has been outline above, this sort of “assumption” is tantamount to the erection of a straw man version of Christianity (either that, or a smuggling in of Calvinism).

But my comments here are scattered. I am really not sure what you're driving at, honestly.

>>2. We have established that believing in the divinity of Jesus is a tenet of the Bible, as well as necessary in order to get into heaven. Thus, such belief is congruent with "living" (matter-of-fact) by all of the tenets of the Bible.

I think perhaps you might be confusing the exchange that you and I are having with the exchange you are having with someone else. Without affirming or denying the propositional content of your statement number 2 where, pray tell, did “we establish” these things?

>>3. From what I understand, attrition is a sin; those who only claim to love God or repent their sins because they will be punished if they do not, by other men in this world, or by God in the next, do not go to heaven. Thus, "wanting to live" by every tenet of the Bible is, in turn, a tenet of the Bible.

I apologize: I don't follow this third point. According to Dictionary dot com, “attrition” variously means “a reduction or decrease in numbers, size, or strength”; “a wearing down or weakening of resistance, especially as a result of continuous pressure or harassment”; “a gradual reduction in work force without firing of personnel, as when workers resign or retire and are not replaced”; “the act of rubbing against something; friction”; or “a wearing down or away by friction; abrasion”. None of these definitions seems to me obviously to have anything to do with the present discussion. Perhaps you could rephrase the point – AFTER, of course, we have addressed the issue of interpretation.

>>I hope I have cleared some of this up for you, however, I feel like I am simply reiterating the same things in different language, and just being redundant. But I see no other way to put this. If I have not, and my points are still unclear, chalk it up to my further inadequacies of communication. As for my idiosyncratic phrases; “Comprehensive – adj. 1. of large scope; covering or involving much; inclusive: a comprehensive study of world affairs. 2. comprehending mentally; having an extensive mental range or grasp.” “Familiar – adj. 2. well-acquainted; thoroughly conversant: to be familiar with a subject.” So, to be "comprehensively familiar" with the Bible is to be well acquainted with it on a large scope, or inclusively, as well as to fully comprehend, or understand, the text therein.

Actually, I assumed this. Did you happen to read my END NOTE # 2 in the first reply?

>>While this can be called an idiosyncrasy because one finds it strange, I find this no more idiosyncratic than the usage of the word interlocutor to describe those engaged in a conversation. It is not incorrect, just not usual.

By “idiosyncratic,” I mean a usage that is unique to you as an individual. “Interlocutor” may be a word that is not in wide currency, but my use of it was not “idiosyncratic.” My usage comported with the well-established (even if seldom known) meaning of the word. Some of your phrases seem to me to have no clear antecedents (that is, you sometimes use words in ways that are either subtly or not-so-subtly at odds with the meanings listed in dictionaries). But, again, I surmised what you meant and commented to that effect – both in the introduction and in END NOTE #2. The point was not part of the body of my reply.

>>At long last, private property; "It is enormously anachronistic to attribute to first century Palestinian Jews opinions on a constellation of concepts that weren't even formulated until hundreds of years later." I beg to differ. Simply because a concept had not been declared or named as such, does not mean the behavior or action associated with the concept had not been practiced. The concept of human rights had not been defined as we know it today until, I believe, the 13th century. Does that mean no man before the 13th century had rights? Of course not.

Here you mention “private property” and “human rights.” Let me take them in reverse order.

We need to be mindful of the metaphysics/epistemology distinction, for it bears crucially on your comments about human rights. For readers' reference, I explained this distinction previously (in my Reply 1, PART ONE, Subsection B), regarding your prior confusion of WHAT established Christianity (a metaphysical point) and HOW WE KNOW about Christianity (an epistemological point). In that place, I wrote: “'Epistemological questions' are questions having to do with how a person can know something. 'Metaphsyical questions' are questions having to do with what something *is*. The asterisks around the 'is' indicate that the word is to be read with suitable gravity in order to grasp the meaning.”

So, for the sake of punctuating this distinction for readers, yes indeed, HAVING RIGHTS is a metaphysical issue. The formulation of a CONCEPT of rights or how we we come to KNOW that we have rights, are both epistemological issues. Metaphysics and epistemology have to be kept distinct in our minds. Readers should be aware that it's not that metaphysics and epistemology necessarily “have nothing to do” with each other. It's merely that they're not, in the first place, concerned with the same things. Confusing them invites equivocation and leads to invalid inferences.

Admittedly, this point is extremely difficult to grasp. The confusion has cropped up before. Mike posted on the subject of Habeas Corpus back in January of 2012 and at some point in what became a lengthy exchange I remarked, in part: “When I say 'ground' I am talking metaphysics. How 'we've come to understand' rights would be epistemology. What human beings have struggled for would be history. With metaphysical concerns we're asking a different sort of question” (Reply from Matthew Bell to Mike Frank, via Facebook, January 15, 2012 at 1:12am.) For a start, please see, again, my explanation of this distinction in my first reply, PART ONE, Subsection B.

With respect to human rights, then, we can say the following. IF there really ARE such things as rights that belong to humans merely in virtue of their humanity (that is, if there are such things as “human rights” – and personally I think that there are), THEN wherever and whenever one has an instance of a human, said human has those rights – even if the right-holders cannot articulate them or understand them. Note well, though, the antecedent clause: IF THERE REALLY ARE SUCH THINGS AS RIGHTS. Mike brings this in here to draw an analogy. I don't wish to derail the conversation into a discussion of rights. However, I have complained to Mike before that while this picture of timeless, inalienable rights makes sense on the theistic worldview (which holds that the rights are grounded – metaphysically – in God), such “rights” are apparently groundless on the atheistic worldview (which has no obvious candidate for the metaphysical ground of human rights). I just wish to register this here (food for further thought).

But is “private property” relevantly similar to “human rights”? Honestly, I don't know. I am inclined, however, to think that it is not.

For instance, as I mention elsewhere in this reply, “private property” is generally understood to designate (something like) “a kind of system that allocates particular objects like pieces of land to particular individuals to use and manage as they please...”.xxi Now, for sure, in the case of human rights, we can envision a sort of “explanatory system” that tells people about (epistemically) the rights that they have (metaphysically). But that doesn't appear to me to be what is in view with respect to “private property.”

Arguably, private property isn't a similar sort of thing as human rights. To be specific, I think that it is very reasonable to suppose that, unlike human rights, private property doesn't exist apart from a human system of government that brings it into existence.

It is doubtless true that some people (although, not I) might think that human rights themselves don't exist apart from a human system of government that brings them into existence. In the case of human rights, I think that this view is mistaken, and I have argued against elsewhere. But I am not sure that it is mistaken in the case of private property. What you owe, then, is an argument showing that private property can exist apart from a human system of government that brings it into existence.

It can't really imagine how you will do this, however. I have seen a Christian attempt to do this.xxii The Christian can argue (for example) that God instituted property rights. Heretofore I have not been much impressed with the Christian arguments that I have seen for this conclusion. However, the present point is that for an atheist to ground property rights in God would be for the atheist to argue that, after all, there are no such things as property rights. So you cannot appeal to God's alleged granting of “private property rights” to, say, Abraham. I mean, you COULD. But then it would turn out that “private property rights” only exist if God exists. And I can't imagine that you'd want to argue for THAT.

I hasten to add that nothing COMPELS the Christian to hold that “God instituted property rights.” It is OPEN to the Christian to try to do this, but he or she need not. I do not go that way, for instance.

As for me, presently, I simply deny that “private property” is relevantly similar to human rights. To be exact, by my lights, human rights have always existed because they were given to human beings by their Creator. However, “private property” is not like this. “Private property” is merely shorthand terminology for one variety of a human system of resource or access-right allocation.

Unlike human rights, which people can possess without being aware, “private property” is defined by access to resources according to well-defined, national access-rules. One simply cannot be meaningfully said to have “access to resources according to well-defined, national access-rules” if those rules are unknown (since “well-defined by x, but unknown to x” would be contradictory). People can have human rights without knowing about them because human rights are not reducible to “rules.” “Private property” is, arguably, nothing but rules. Without the rules, there simply is no “private property.”

Or so say I. It's up to you to make a case for something different it you wish. I am open to being shown that I am wrong on this point about “private property.” I have never thought about it much and certainly do not have an entirely worked out schema. Of course, I am not required to have one – I am, after all, merely replying to YOUR proposal. To argue AGAINST you by pointing out where you have failed to discharge your rational obligations, it is not incumbent on me to argue FOR some positive case of my own. So maybe a good argument from you could convince me. I wait to see.

>>The concept of private property did indeed exist - the Romans kept multitudes of private property, as did the Egyptians.

These are complex matters. I am going to ignore your flourish about about “the Egyptians,” since you neither specify what you mean, nor seem to concern yourself with the fact that “the Egyptians” span millennia, in no fewer than three distinct Kingdoms, excluding complications arising from the various conquests from Persian, Greek (e.g., during the Alexandrian and Hellenistic periods), Roman, Byzantine, and Muslim occupiers.

Let's rehearse a few items. For my part, regarding “private property,” my central reservations, expressed in my previous reply were twofold. Firstly, I wrote that “ seems very doubtful that there is much substance to the idea that there is one notion of 'private property' such that that notion and only that notion answers to the definite description 'THE concept of private property'.” Secondly, and “[more seriously,” I reminded that “the various modern notions of private property arose quite late in the history of philosophy.” It was on these bases that I warned that it seemed “enormously anachronistic to attribute to first century Palestinian Jews opinions on a constellation of concepts that weren't even formulated until hundreds of years later.”

For your part, you alleged that Jesus himself opposed “THE concept of private property.” However, to my FIRST reservation, you have not made any case that there IS any such thing as ONE and ONLY ONE concept of “private property” such that it makes sense to say of a person (for example, Jesus) that that person is “for” or “against” THE SINGLE concept of “private property.” Your additional comments about Rome do nothing to make your use of the definite article “the” any more plausible.

You basically say: Well, the Romans had a conception of private property.

However, it is insufficient for your purposes that the Romans had A CONCEPTION of private property. It needs to be shown (by you) that the Romans had a conception of private property that is, if not exactly THE SAME, is nonetheless RELEVANTLY SIMILAR to the one held in America today. Or else, even if you could satisfactorily show that Jesus opposed the ROMAN CONCEPTION, you would not have shown that Jesus opposed the AMERICAN CONCEPTION.

To reinforce this point, consider an analogy (fictional). Suppose that there was a wise teacher, call him “The Schmuddha,” who lived in Ancient Asia. Suppose further that, during the relevant time in history, it was a common medical practice in that area of the world for physicians to perform bloodletting to treat various diseases. Now The Schmuddha was truly ahead of his time. Realizing that this practice of bloodletting further and needlessly weakened sick people at a time when being weak was exactly the wrong thing for them, he went about warning all who would listen to avoid this practice. Somewhat unfortunately, however, the only extant records of his opposition to this practice, put his warning this way: “Go ye not to a physician.” Quoting this, has a person shown that The Schmuddha is on record opposing what we NOW call “modern medicine”? Has a person shown that The Schmuddha warns CONTEMPORARY people from visiting professionals presently designated by the term “physician”? Obviously not. If The Schmuddha opposed medicine-in-his-day based on a principled objection to bloodletting, then it wouldn't follow automatically that The Schmuddha would condemn modern-medicine, since modern-medicine doesn't involve the practice which was the focus of his concern.

Thus, even if you COULD satisfactorily show that Jesus opposed “private property” as it was understood in AD first century Roman-controlled Palestine, it wouldn't follow automatically that Jesus would oppose what is, in 2013, designated by the label “private property.”

Consider a reason why Jesus might not (assuming, for a moment, that Jesus DID “oppose” SOME notion of “private property” – which notion I argued against, in part one of this reply). The textbook Roman conception of “private property” is transparently inequitable. (The TEXTBOOK American conception at least has the pretense of being equitable.) The Wikipedia article on the Roman Empire comments, in relation to the Roman conception of “private property” that “Roman law facilitated the acquisition of wealth by a pro-Roman elite who found their new privileges as citizens to be advantageous.”xxiii Moreover, the textbook Roman conception of “private property” remained at the mercy of the Emperor. Jim Powell notes that “ Imperial Roman constitution described the various powers of an emperor [but] didn’t impose any limits on him whatsoever.”xxiv This led to numerous, widespread property seizures that were not – even in principle – able to be challenged. As Powell puts it: “The limitations of Roman law are obvious enough: the failure to embrace the self-ownership principle (which would have required ending slavery) and the failure to limit the power of government.”xxv

Hence, the Roman conception of “private property” was (unabashedly) elitist. If this shameless elitism formed the basis for a condemnation of “private property” by Jesus – assuming that you can show that there IS such a condemnation – then although it might follow that Jesus would condemn the elitist abuses of corporate “private property” (or “imminent domain”) today, it would not automatically follow that he would condemn the “average Joe's” “possession” of, say, a modest house.

Let me try to put the point in slightly different language. EVEN IF YOU COULD show that Jesus opposed SOME conception of “private property” (and I am not conceding that you have done this – on the contrary, I have yet to see good evidence of even this, see my exegetical comments on your quoted passages from the Bible, above), you would not have shown that Jesus, ipso facto, opposes EVERY conception of “private property,” because there may be some specific fault inherent in the conception that Jesus DOES oppose (assuming, contrary to my argument earlier, that he opposed ANY) – for example, a fault like elitism – that is arguably not present in another conception.

Recall that my second reservation, restated just above, was that the MODERN conception of “private property” was certainly not known in Jesus' day. Therefore, the point that I am making can be made more specific. In order to show that Jesus' condemnation of some EARLY VERSION of a conception of “private property” applies also to a LATER VERSION, you would need to show that the two conceptions are relevantly similar in whatever respect it is that elicited Jesus' (supposed) condemnation. You haven't shown ANY relevant similarity. You have merely LABELED both “conceptions” with the same label. The problem, then, is that you EQUIVOCATE on the term “private property.” It's like the farcical argument that goes from the aphorisms Knowledge is Power and Power Corrupts to the supposed conclusion that Therefore, Knowledge Corrupts. The problem with this (burlesque of an) argument is that the word “knowledge” does not mean the same thing in both aphorisms. Hence, the “argument” equivocates on the term “knowledge.”

But, as I say, in this section I have granted - just as an exercise – that you even HAVE an equivocal argument. In reality, you haven't satisfactorily demonstrated that Jesus opposed ANY conception of “private property.” See, again (above), my analyses of the Bible passages that you quoted.

>>Numerous civilizations exhibited the concept of private property. God "gave" Abraham and his bloodline the land of Canaan, as an "everlasting possession", in such a way that they could expel the current inhabitants by force. The concept of private property is the foundation for the existence of the State of Israel. It would appear that you are overlooking a major feature of this time period, in which private property seems to have a huge role. ...Point being, private property was indeed around at least as early as Genesis 17:8, centuries before Jesus was born...

“The State of Israel” is ambiguous. I assume that you mean the modern state calling itself by that name. As far as I can see, the topic of the modern “Israeli” state is not remotely germane to the topics that have so far been discussed in relation to Christianity. As such, I will not address it. (However, I have no conception of why you would think that the Israeli state would rest upon “the foundation” of “private property.” If you're referring to the so-called “right of return,” such seems transparently collectivist to me.)

As to “private property,” as far as I can tell, the most straightforward summary (albeit a rough one) of “private property” is to say of it that it is a property system in which “ rules are organized around the idea that various contested resources are assigned to the decisional authority of particular individuals (or families or firms).”xxvi

The upshot, here, is that “private property” is a subset of a (human-instituted) system of national rules whereby individuals in the nation are allocated, by their government (although perhaps in virtue of the “mixing of their labor” with some piece of land), “decisional authority” over particular resources.

With respect to Abraham, he was not – after leaving the Caldean people – a citizen of any overarching nation. Abraham left Ur and became, himself, the head of a burgeoning, albeit nascent, new nation. Therefore, Abraham did not have his “decisional authority” allocated to him by a (human-instituted) system of national rules.

Now if Abraham, as the head of this new nation, had allocated various of the resources he controlled to OTHER individuals that belonged to his new nation, then THIS would be something like a rudimentary “private property” system. But this does not appear to be the case. The fact is, Abraham had no overarching legal system standing over him. Hence, his property holdings are not “private property” holdings in the sense in which that term is used today. For you to say that Abraham owned “private property” you need to “jury rig” a definition. In other words, you beg the question. You simply assume that any unilateral control of resources amounts to “private property.” You need an argument for this, which you have not produced.

Again, Abraham didn't have resources or access rights allocated to him by a human system of distribution (which is constitutive of the definition of “private property”). Therefore, Abraham didn't have “private property.” Abraham seems to have had tribal property. But it is important, in this context, to distinguish clan or tribal property systems from private property systems. Although the former are arguably forerunners or precursors to the latter, the two are not the same sorts of system.xxvii

>>...Jesus' disdain for wealth and possession is well exemplified in many of his teachings, contrary to his father's sometimes outright granting of it to men. ...

I am not sure what to make of this. What do you mean by “disdain”? What relation is there between “wealth and possession” (“wealth” in what sense? “possession” by whom?) and “private property.” To be more specific:

Firstly, if you are using “disdain” in the strict, “dictionary-sense,” then your remark might seem to undercut your earlier complaints. To be exact, if, in the above comment, “disdain” means marks out the idea “that...something is unworthy of one's consideration,” then insofar as Jesus was truly “disdainful” of “wealth and possession” we would expect that he simply wouldn't have thought about those things at all. It doesn't seem to me that one can automatically be said to condemn things that one never even considers. Hence, if Jesus “disdained wealth” then it would appear that he did not “oppose” it.

Secondly, and more seriously, “disdain” is a feeling. As philosopher's put it, feelings are “non-cognitive.” You know, so, on this picture, you seem to be asserting (again, by “asserting” I mean putting forward as true without argument) that when Jesus thought of “wealth and possession” he basically felt icky and may have exclaimed “boo!” However, even if this is the case (and you haven't SHOWN that it is), it doesn't seem to me to add anything to the discussion. I mean, I don't like okra. When I think of okra I feel icky – and I may even exclaim “boo!” But I am not OPPOSED to okra in some broad sense.

At best, here, you simply have neither explained what you're talking about when you speak of Jesus' alleged “disdain,” nor have you made it clear just what this has to do with Jesus' supposed “opposition” to “private property.”

At worst, it seems that, to the degree that Jesus either WAS genuinely “disdainful of wealth, etc.” or “booed” wealth, then it is conceivable that to that same degree he wouldn't have “opposed wealth, etc.” (either because he wouldn't have paid it any mind at all or because non-cognitive exclamations regarding something do not obviously issue in cognitive opposition to that thing).

>>In closing, I would like to again note that nothing in any of my writings, here or elsewhere, should be construed as attacking or aggressive to any person, unless specifically stated otherwise. And anything that may sound questionable in that respect are no doubt sarcastic or fun in spirit. I greatly value Matt's input to these debates. He has a way of raising the bar on research, writing and even vocab, every time he contributes. He has caused me to think longer, read more, and writer better - and for that we can all thank him.


One of my own personal “rules of debate” is that I try to focus on the largest issue between me and my interlocutor. Unless I am badly mistaken (and feel free to correct me), you are a professing atheist. In your case, then, the largest (presently relevant) issue between the two of us is the existence of god.

It is against my usual prudential rules to, for example, argue with atheists about the proper way to understand parts of the bible, when the understanding biblical minutia is arguably secondary to the existence of god. Furthermore, developing a comprehensive systematic theology is a serious and difficult enterprise. However, it is doubtful to me whether an atheist has anything like motivation enough to impel him to persevere in such an endeavor.

I have suspended this usual rule in your case because I have taken you to be sincere. However, it will be difficult for me to maintain faith in your sincerity if you are going to develop a track record for stipulating straw-man “definitions,” posing uncharitable false dilemmas, and, in general, ignoring nearly all (90%!) of the text that I take great pains to produce.

I hope that my surrejoinder will be taken more seriously, looked at more thoroughly, and responded to (if at all) more reasonably, than my initial reply. If your investigations are honest enterprises, I would be delighted to participate. Else, I wouldn't. I trust that your next move will more clearly reveal your intentions.

I have made it quite clear that the issues of MAIN IMPORTANCE are the ones that relate to INTERPRETATION. THESE, then, are the issues that I am prepared to discuss further, if desired.


Matthew J. Bell


>>...*All verses are taken from The King James Bible for consistency, just for Blackie*...

The texts that constitute the Bible were originally written in three languages: Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. Besides the Aramaic, Hebrew (Masoretic Text), and Greek texts (including the Old Testament version known as the Septuagint-LXX), important textual streams were generated from copies of the Aramaic, Hebrew, and Greek originals made in Latin (including St. Jerome's important 4th century Vulgate), Syriac, and Coptic. Beginning perhaps as early as the AD 7th century, translations from various manuscripts were made in vernacular languages like English (e.g., Caedmon's “psalters” and Bede's gospels). Of course, English has evolved over time. These early efforts would have been made in what we now call “Old English,” and would be virtually undecipherable by casual readers today. There were few new editions during the “Middle English” period. However, one exception to this dearth of material was John Wycliffe's important translation effort (14th century).

The translation enterprise picked up considerable energy following two developments. Firstly, the Renaissance reacquainted scholars with textual evidence in the original Greek and Hebrew languages. Secondly, the invention of the printing press in 1450 by Johannes Gutenberg (as the story goes), rendered possible the copying of texts without the tedium of the manual, scribal methods. Subsequently, numerous important English translations were produced, most notably, William Tyndale fledgling effort (AD 16th c.) the Geneva Bible (ca. 1560), the Douay-Rheims (ca. 1610), and the Authorized Version or “AV” (ca. 1611).

Bible translations were brought squarely into the modern period with the publication (ca. 1769) of the Revised King James Version. Following the discovery, in the 18th and 19th centuries, of important early manuscripts, the contemporary “critical” Bible edition was born. These editions, for example Brooke Westcott and Fenton Hort's groundbreaking The New Testament in the Original Greek (1881), the Revised Version (1885), and the American Standard Version (1901), began to draw much more widely from various Greek manuscript families (e.g., Alexandrian, Western, and Byzantine, including the famous Textus Receptus) that, before this point, had remained largely isolated.

Finally, after the location of the Dead Sea Scolls (ca. 1946-1956) along with several other important, early papyri, new critical translations began to emerge. These titles may sound more familiar to contemporary readers than some listed previously. They include the Revised Standard Version (1952), the New American Standard Bible (1971), the New International Version (1978), the New King James Version (1979), and the New Revised Standard Version (1991).

The agnostic, anti-Evangelical Professor Ehrman is worth now quoting. According to him, “Most of [the manuscript] differences are completely immaterial and insignificant.”xxviii Here, though, is the proverbial “bottom line.” It really does not make much difference what version of the Bible one selects.xxix Today, Bible selection is (nearly entirely)xxx a non-issue.

i“Quoting out of Context,” Fallacy Files. <>.
iiBart D. Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus (San Francisco: Harper, 2005), p. 8.
ivEhrman, op. cit., p. 6.
vCraig L. Blomberg, “The Historical Reliability of the New Testament,” William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith, Rev.Ed. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1994), p. 219.
viIsaac Asimov, Asimov's Guide to the Bible (NY: Weathervane, 1981), p. 1003.
viiThe Original and True Rheims New Testament, 1582, William G. von Peters, Ed., 2004, Annotation # 21 to Matthew 19, p. 42, .
viiiArthur Barnes, “Evangelical Counsels,” The Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, NY: Robert Appleton Co., 1908, <>.
ixChristopher M. Tuckett, “The current state of the Synoptic Problem,” Conference Paper, Oxford Conference In The Synoptic Problem, 2008, p. 1.
xJoseph Dan, Kabbalah: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2007), p. 89.
xiSee, e.g., “Muhammad and Jews of Medina,” Muhammad: Legacy of a Prophet, PBS, <>.
xiiIt should be noted that although Taqiyya is “...emphasized in Shi'a Islam...The term taqiyya does not exist in Sunni jurisprudence...[in which] denying your faith under duress is 'only at most permitted and not under all circumstances obligatory'...”, “Taqiyya,” Wikipedia, 26 February 2013, <>.
xiiiErwin Chemerinsky, “Truth is vital for a democracy,” Reproduced in: Deseret News (Salt Lake City) from the L.A. Times, October 13, 2001, Saturday, P. A09.
xiv“Lying,” New Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol 9, 1967, p. 662, qtd. in Michael Hoffman, “Proto-Rabbinic Tactics of Deceit and their Adoption during the Renaissance,” Revisionist History, No. 62, May – June 2012, p. 1.
xvThomas Slater, “Lying,” The Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. 9, NY: Robert Appleton Co., 1910, p. 469, <>.
xvi“Lying,” Loc. cit.)
xviiThis is investigated by Michael Hoffman, Revisionist History, No. 62, May – June 2012. And for further information on Judaism and dissimulation, see Michael Hoffman, Judaism Discovered (Independent History & Research, 2008).
xviiiSee Peter Schaefer, Jesus in the Talmud (Princeton: Princeton UP, 2007), passim.
xix“Most” is a tricky word in any case. It has no technical meaning. E.g., by “some” we can mean, “at least one [of something]”; by “all” we can mean “every instance [of something]”; and by “the” we can mean “one and only one [of something].” “Most” is not defined with this sort of specificity. Intuitively, it means some quantity greater than half but not quite all. But how much greater than half? Does 50.00001% count as “most”? It's unclear.
xxHere – roughly – are (sketches of) two mathematical proofs that (700,000/1,000,000) = 7/10.
((700,000/1,000,000)/(100,000/100,000)) = 7/10.
By one of the divisive properties of identity, any non-zero number, M, divided by itself, equals 1: that is, M/M = 1.
Therefore, STEP 2:
100,000/100,000 = 1.
Therefore, STEP 3:
((700,000/1,000,000)/(100,000/100,000)) = ((700,000/1,000,000)/(1)).
By another of the divisive properties of identity, any number, N, divided by 1, equals that number, N: that is, N/1 = N.
Therefore, STEP 4:
((700,000/1,000,000)/(1)) = (700,000/1,000,000).
So, STEP 5:
BOTH ((700,000/1,000,000)/(1)) = (700,000/1,000,000) AND ((700,000/1,000,000)/(100,000/100,000)) = 7/10.
Therefore, STEP 6:
(700,000/1,000,000) = 7/10.

Alternatively, we could demonstrate as follows.
Alternate proof that: 7/10 = (700,000/1,000,000).
(7/10 * (100,000/100,000)) = (700,000/1,000,000)
By one of the multiplicative rules of identity, any number, N, divided by itself, equals 1. That is, N/N = 1.
Thus, (100,000/100,000) = 1.
By another of the multiplicative rules of identity, any number, M, multiplied by 1, equals that (original) number, M: That is, M * 1 = M
Thus, 7/10 * 1 = 7/10.
Since (100,000/100,000) = 1, (7/10 * (100,000/100,000)) = 7/10
BOTH (7/10 * (100,000/100,000)) = (700,000/1,000,000) AND (7/10 * (100,000/100,000)) = 7/10.
7/10 = (700,000/1,000,000).
xxiJeremy Waldron, “Property and Ownership,” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Spring 2012 Ed., Edward N. Zalta, Ed., <>.
xxiiHerbert W. Titus, “DOMINION AND PROPERTY,” Biblical Principles of Law, <>.
xxiii“Roman Empire,” Wikipedia, 28 February 2013, <>.
xxivJim Powell, “Ancient Romans contributions to private property rights,” Liberty Story,
xxviWaldron, op. cit.
xxviiSee: Powell, op. cit.
xxviiiEhrman, op. cit., p. 10.
xxixHowever, the point is almost irrelevant in our day and age when we can simply use the internet to consult nearly any version of our choosing. We can even compare versions side by side. See, e.g., http:// or . If one wishes, one can even consult critical editions in Hebrew and Greek (not to mention other important languages like Latin).
xxxWith the preponderance of critical translations, it is best to avoid cultic translations like that proffered by Jehovah Witnesses.

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