November 30, 2010 by Stacy McDonald

Legalism: Yours, Mine, and Ours

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“For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” (Galatians 5:13)

Legalism has always been a real issue in the Church (and in our hearts); and likely, it will be until Christ’s return. But, lately I’ve seen the word bandied about like a toddler with a pocket knife. Let’s be very careful where we aim this divisive little blade; and perhaps decide whether or not we should “aim” it at all.

We all struggle with legalism to some degree. I do; and, worse than that, you do too! We try to do things in the flesh and fail to walk by faith. In the beginning, Eve struggled with legalism, choosing to do things her way rather than God’s—adding to His Word and giving ground to the Devil to deceive her.

God said to the Adam:

“Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”” (Genesis 2:16-17)

But notice how Eve adds to God’s Word:

“And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden; but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.’ ”” (Genesis 3:2-3) emphasis mine

God says in His Word that drunkenness is a sin. Man adds to that “nor shalt you ever drink alcohol.” Yes, many people have very good reasons for avoiding alcohol; but, the fact is that, biblically, they cannot call it sin.

Like Eve, we have trouble obeying God. We want our list of rules so that we can keep them—or so we think. We all battle the flesh; therefore, we must rely on His grace as we humbly walk by faith.

Legalism is a loaded word; but, as far as I can tell, there are three ways it is used, two are legitimate usages and one is just handy for shutting someone down. All Fred has to do when losing a debate on a biblical topic is accuse you of legalism and the conversation is closed. With fear and trembling, many back off—and Fred is the winner. Or is he?

Still, true legalism is a thing to detest. The two following definitions are what I would call the real McCoy:

Grace Plus Nothing

The first form of legalism is the ugliest because it attempts to usurp the very Grace of God. Most of us will agree on this one. Anything that adds works to our salvation is legalism. There is nothing we can do to earn God’s favor. Without Christ we are totally depraved, totally helpless, and totally in need of a Savior. Our “good works” are as filthy rags and we can’t do anything to earn our salvation—He did it all. I didn’t find Jesus; He found me, kicking and screaming.

“Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.” (Galatians 5:1)

Holier Than Jesus

The second form of legalism has to do with adding rules to God’s laws (Col. 2:20-22). I have found this to be what most people are referring to when they talk about legalism. Sometimes this type of legalism is simply a matter of misinterpreting the Scriptures. Other times it is an issue of pride. Usually, it’s a poor attempt at holiness—trying to do things in our own strength and in our own wisdom, rather than in God’s.

No matter what, we can’t automatically decide that wickedness is what motivates another man. In fact, we have a responsibility to always assume the best of others. If we fear someone is walking in legalism, we should pray for him; and perhaps reason with him in the spirit of 2 Timothy 2, seeking to be patient, and correcting our brother in humility.

In fact, Paul tells us to view one who is walking in legalism as our weaker brother (1 Cor. 10:27-33) and that we should avoid carelessly harming his weak conscience (1 Cor. 8:12). Love trumps personal liberty (1 Cor. 9:19).

Yet if your brother is grieved because of your food, you are no longer walking in love. Do not destroy with your food the one for whom Christ died. (Romans 14:15)

We are to walk in love toward our brother, admonishing him in love, not disdain. Rather than condemn him as an enemy, 1 Thessalonians instructs us to be patient with him—even helping to strengthen him. “Now we exhort you, brethren… uphold the weak, be patient with all.” (1 Thessalonians 5:14)

There are indeed precious souls who are bound up in false teachings that keep them from living the full life that God intended. But will we ever all agree on what is legalism and what is part of living a godly life? I doubt it.

John doesn’t believe in celebrating Christmas, but he enjoys a glass of wine with dinner. His friend, Carl, believes alcohol consumption, even in moderation is wrong, but he has the most beautiful Christmas tree you’ve ever seen.

Jennifer believes in adhering to Old Testament dietary restrictions, but feels the freedom to wear modest pants. Her sister-in-law would never put on a pair or pants, but she thinks Jennifer is being legalistic about not eating pork.

Depending upon who you talk to, any of these things (and plenty more) may be labeled as legalistic.

All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify. Let no one seek his own, but each one the other’s well-being. (1 Corinthians 10:23-24)

It’s that “putting others first” thing again. Discussing, studying, and sharing our various ideas and views is healthy and good. Iron sharpens iron as we are all learning and growing, but we must be so careful of the way we treat one another—being forbearing with one another’s weaknesses and faults.

“With all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love.” (Ephesians 4:2)

I do believe that there are extreme situations where false teachings (legalism) may have devastating effects. I’ve seen the abandoned wife sentenced (by her church) to a lifetime of obligatory singleness, forced off to work while her fatherless children are sentenced to day care.

I’ve heard of people who get so bound up in a list of man-made, superstitious taboos, that they live in fear and misery, and ultimately are unable to be a credible witness to the lost.

I’ve seen unnecessary divisions within churches and families over secondary issues that could have been solved if humility and forbearance had ruled the day (though I realize there are times when division is necessary).

Yes, it is true there are those who would burden the flock with man made rules that shackle the weak (Colossians 2:16-23). But false teachers are not simply leaders with legalistic tendencies; they are wolves in sheep’s clothing. It seems clear in Mark 13:22, and in the following verses that the false teachers Jesus talks about are not even Christians. They are wicked men who purposely lead astray God’s people for personal gain (monetarily or emotionally).

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them.” (Matthew 7:15-20)

Jesus said there is a clear difference between a false prophet and a true one: the fruit. Verse 20 shows us that we can examine the fruit of a Christian teacher/leader and probably get a pretty good idea of whether or not he is of God.

Then, in verse 21, Jesus talks about the false teachers who prophesy in His name, but in the end find they are not His. Interestingly, Jesus doesn’t rebuke them for their legalism; He rejects them for their lawlessness. “And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’” (Matthew 7:23, emphasis mine). Like the Pharisees, false teachers are hypocrites, preaching one thing and living another. (Matthew 23:1-5)

“Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” (Matthew 23:28)

The False “Legalist” Label

The third form of legalism is imaginary. If you believe in living according to God’s Word, you better be prepared for false accusations of legalism from someone, somewhere, at some time. Growing Antinomianism (anti-law) in our culture has escalated such accusations.

“Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” (2 Timothy 3:12)

Even when you seek to obey God in faith because you love Him (not because you’re attempting to earn his favor) those looking in from the outside may make assumptions about you—especially if they are convicted by your lifestyle and unwilling to evaluate their own lives.

Typically, those who falsely accuse others of legalism have unresolved guilt or sin issues of their own. Some, because of a legalistic or idolatrous past, assume others are walking in the same sin in which they themselves have struggled. See Sally Used to be a Legalist.

Recently, I received a comment from a reader on another post that hit the nail right on the head. I’ve modified it here to fit the broader problem:

Calling others legalistic based on outward appearance is itself legalistic and hypocritical. Some of those who say that they have left legalism have really just exchanged one form for another and are still judging the spirituality of others based on how they are perceived by the ex-legalist.

Our works don’t save us – our faith in Jesus does. But if we are in Christ, we must walk in those good works (prepared ahead of time by Him) for the glory of God. It’s what we were created for.

“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10)

It is crucial as Believers to respond biblically to false accusations. When you are reproached for living out your faith by honoring the Lord, it is a personal affront to Christ Himself. Your goal must be to glorify Him in the midst of it – to honor His name.

“If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified.” (1 Peter 4:14)

So, when people speak evil of you, do not return like for like. Seek to respond in a Christ like manner, so that God may use it for His own glory. We learn in 1 Peter to make sure our conduct is honorable among the Gentiles “that when they speak against [us] as evildoers, they may, by [our] good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation.” (1 Peter 2:12)

We would all do well to remember God’s command to love. Read 1 Corinthians 13 and absorb it until it becomes part of who you are. Don’t attempt to teach anyone anything without keeping in mind the royal law (James 2:8). Let us speak the truth, teach God’s Word, preach against sin, encourage the brethren, reach out to the lost, care for the orphan and widow, heal the sick, and feed the poor…in love. Let us do it all in love.

When we rebuke or correct a brother or sister, may our love overshadow the temporary pain of the rebuke. And when we see a brother or sister in sin, may we see them through the blood stained lens of the Gospel.

Legalism is real because sin is real. We are weak, but He is strong. His grace is sufficient for me (2 Corinthians 12:9)—and I must extend that grace to my brothers and sisters (Matthew 6:12) as we travel together on the path of sanctification. Let us walk together in love, so that we may dwell together in unity—even as we boldly speak the Truth without compromise.

Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” (Psalm 133:1)

Special thanks to R.C. Sproul Jr. for helping me to flesh out the three different ways the word legalism is used, and for leaving us with these words:

“May we all never fall into the first. May we be quick to repent of the second. And may we all be boldly guilty of the third.” – R.C. Sproul Jr.

Be sure to check out a fantastic little booklet called Dressed up for Church: A Contrarian Rag on Appropriate Clothing by Presbyterian pastor, Phillip Kayser. You can download it for free HERE. Don’t miss the chapter entitled “The New Legalism.”

Read the following article about the way a growing number of Christians persecute other Christians today: Persecution from…Christians?

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25 Responses to “Legalism: Yours, Mine, and Ours”

  1. Melissa Sward says:

    I appreciate how simply you managed to explain something so dangerous. I have often thought of legalism like you explained it, but couldn’t put it in the exact words. I have seen so many people use it like a weapon and have been hurt by the accusation myself. I am grateful for a husband that lives by faith and the fear of God and not man. He has gently removed us from some “friendships/fellowships” because of their lack of grace and love and their love of legalism.
    We are accepted by Christ and share his acceptance.
    I am presently reading Life Views by R.C. Sproul and was tickled to see his son helped you with this understanding.

  2. Kim says:

    Thank you so much for a wonderful post!

  3. Kelly says:

    I appreciated this post so much and plan to link to it this weekend. A matter on my heart so much lately.

    Thank you so much for sharing wise, loving words. I’ve enjoyed your blog for a long while!

  4. […] Legalism: Yours, Mine, and Ours –   On my heart a lot lately, I really appreciated this post.  Mrs. MacDonald has a wonderful blog if you haven’t been over there yet! […]

  5. Jodie says:

    Thank you for posting this. I have been accused of “legalism” because of a desire to be obedient to God’s word. Funny thing, I have never found the word “legalistic” in the bible.

  6. Nancy says:

    Stacy —

    So who decides the difference between “legalism” and striving to serve God out of gratitude for what he’s done in my life? I’m a woman and a professional educator. I believe God has asked me to serve him through my work outside the home as well as through my service to my family.

    You’ve written plenty here that suggests you’d tell me that I need to walk away from my career (and the people I serve there) in order to serve my family. How is that not legalism on your part?

  7. Stacy McDonald says:

    Hi Nancy,

    I have not and would not tell you what you “need” to do.

  8. Quivers of Men says:

    Stacy, thank you for this post! We love your exposé on unbiblical legalism. Only biblical legalism should be utilized! And we also thank you for the book recommendation! Far too often we’ve been forced to look down condescendingly on our brothers and sisters in Christ for not dressing appropriately in church.

    In the service of the Lord,
    Quivers of Men

  9. Stacy McDonald says:

    Hi Quiver Man,

    What a funny guy you are! I bet you’re fun to have around the house. ;-)

    Sorry, but there is no such thing as “biblical legalism.” You may find it helpful in the future to actually read the articles you comment on. It’s much less embarrassing that way.

  10. Christine says:

    Thank you for your post. Just one concern I have…

    “I do believe that there are extreme situations where false teachings (legalism) may have devastating effects. I’ve seen the abandoned wife sentenced (by her church) to a lifetime of obligatory singleness, forced off to work while her fatherless children are sentenced to day care.”

    I know this is topic is very personal for you, which is why you often speak strongly about this topic. But this is a topic close to my heart as well, and I am one of the “legalists” who believe the scriptures do not allow for remarriage outside of the death of a spouse. (Nor do I believe in breaking up marriages that began in error.) Legalism is, at its root, an issue of the heart, as you were speaking of in the rest of your post. The key to legalism is not obeying God out of a heart of loving obedience. It is the motive & attitude behind the obedience to his commands. In that light, I am not a legalist when I tell someone of my conviction regarding divorce & remarriage. Others I know who hold the same stance are also very loving in their convictions, yet they are often accused with harsh words of “condemning people to a life of celibacy.” We are treated as if we are looking to place a burden on other believers, and taking pleasure in “sentencing” them & their children to follow man-made laws. And it’s so convenient for us to do so because we haven’t found ourselves in such a trying circumstance. (Which is not true for our circle of believers!)

    While you may disagree with those of us who do believe this stance to be biblical, please consider how we are portrayed in your posts by the words you choose. You may view us as the brother with the weaker conscience, but then please forbear with us in love the same as you would with someone who has a weaker conscience in another area (maybe one that doesn’t strike such a strong chord in your heart).


  11. Stacy McDonald says:

    Dear Christine,

    I am sorry if I hurt your feelings by mentioning the form of legalism that you hold to. Just as you were not calling me a perpetual adulterer (I hope), I was not calling you a “legalist.” Instead, I was exemplifying one form of legalism that devastates lives and harms godly seed. Read my Grace Widows series to see what I mean. If you choose to hold to this form of legalism yourself, I am more than willing to forebear with you and your personal belief; however, I will not pretend they are biblical, and I will not stop telling people the truth of Scripture on the matter.

    Whether or not you are “looking” to purposely place a burden on other believers, and whether or not you “take pleasure” in sentencing them and their children to a life of celibacy and father-less-ness, that is exactly what you are doing if you teach these doctrines. Again, I don’t doubt that you think this is biblical and right, and that you genuinely believe these things; but, I believe you are genuinely wrong. And, if you are teaching these things to others you must consider the precious lives you may be harming.

    Like you, I do not “believe in breaking up marriages that began in error” In fact, that was not even the point. The point was that because of this particular form of legalism, many women, victims of adultery, are left alone to raise their children without a father, with no hope of remarriage, while adulterous Dad has remarried and gone on with his life. Just like adultery, abortion, birth control, porn, domestic violence etc. – it is an attack against marriage and the fulfillment of godly seed. If mom doesn’t remarry, she can’t bear anymore children, and the children that already exist may be weakened by not having a father or because mom was forced off to work and children off to day care and public school.

    Should a rape victim be punished for the crime of her rapist? Why should the victim of adultery and abandonment be punished for the crimes of her adulterous husband? Like the Pharisees, you are missing the point of Jesus’ words.

    “Some Christians, with the good motive of wanting to halt the social ills of divorce, would prefer to ignore or explain away the exception clause and insist that divorce is never permissible, period. But we can’t outthink Jesus and must not make the Law more rigid than He did. We need to deal honestly with everything He taught, and not add to or subtract from his Word. Let’s explore further to see exactly what He said about divorce and why.”

    – John MacArthur

    “But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality…”

    You may be interested in checking out John MacArthur’s book The Divorce Dilemma. I reviewed it HERE

  12. Jennifer says:

    “The point was that because of this particular form of legalism, many women, victims of adultery, are left alone to raise their children without a father, with no hope of remarriage, while adulterous Dad has remarried and gone on with his life”

    That is precisely right. Exceptional explanations, Stacy.

  13. Donna Godfrey says:

    I appreciate this post very much. I was raised in a Mennonite community and there are many things I treasure in that faith but the legalism there was a form of pride in following church rules especially in the dress ares. They were man made rules that could be a test of membership and we were made to believe they were from the Bible.
    So I understand where you are coming from and I so appreciate this!
    May God Bless You!
    Donna G

  14. Mrs. Zwieg says:

    For anyone struggling with Christianity in general (including but not limited to legalism) I would suggest reading, “Boundary Stones,” by Aarom Eby. This really started helping me understand what is going on out there. “Contantine’s Sword” is really good too, just to give you an interesting perspective on the roots of the division of the Body of Christ.

  15. sinmantyx says:

    There is no biblical condemnation of abortion, domestic violence, birth control or pornography; or slavery for that matter. You can infer a couple of those, but there is a much harsher condemnation of eating shrimp than beating your wife. You could also make a good argument for cutting off your hand if you do something bad with it. Just recently, the concept of beating your children as a godly act got in the news. Snake handling is not less biblical than not snake handling.

    Your argument against socially imposing celibacy on divorced women, has some biblical basis, but much of your argument involved what any empathetic human being with a conscience would argue in this time and place. Where once a man could rape a woman in order for that woman to be forced to marry him, we have collectively proclaimed that the practice is simply horrible – and no biblical textual discussion in needed. The bible has changed little in the last 2000 years, but how Christians choose to interpret it has.

    You have laid out your ideas concerning what is “legalistic” and what it means in a Christian context – however, the term also lends itself simply to this. Being “legalistic” means to adhere to the assumed or interpreted “letter of the law” with no deference to the spirit of that law. Being legalistic is using the bible as a weapon against others – to oppress slaves, to oppress women, to oppress sexual minorities. Does it REALLY matter if parts of the bible can be interpreted to justify stoning witches or executing homosexuals? We know those things are wrong, not because of what the legalese of the bible says – as we struggle to interpret passages to support what we think is right and then call it “biblical” in the legalistic sense. Isn’t it enough to say – to do such things is against the “whole of the law” the spirit of the law which is simple and really doesn’t need to be debated with biblical passages as if we are quoting case law or legal precedent? Isn’t it enough to say that condemning a rape victim is wrong – just as you have?

  16. Stacy McDonald says:

    Hi sinman,

    The Bible clearly condemns abortion when it condemns murder. Domestic violence and pornography is condemned also (Matthew 5:22, 28). I could go on, but you get the picture. It’s all wrapped up in failing to love our neighbor and love our God – failing to obey the royal law.

    I am curious – you say that the Bible is used as a weapon to “oppress sexual minorities.” If you are trying to justify the sin of homosexuality, you are dead wrong (Romans 1:27–31). The Bible is clear. If you are condemning sinful violence against them, then I agree with you.

  17. sinmantyx says:

    Actually, according to the bible an unborn fetus has the same value as a goat – and a great number of people justify all sorts of killing by simply saying that the bible says not to “murder” which apparently (to them) is not the same as killing.

    Yes, I know the bible is clear about condemning homosexuality and eating shrimp, men having long hair and anyone having their head uncovered, and women speaking in church – I just don’t care. An attempt to follow the bible in it’s entirety and literally inevitably either leads to hypocrisy or suffering.

    Although, I do agree with you that adding stuff to the bible and pretending it is there, in order to simply to raise up your own “human” views as sacred is wrong on many levels – a criticism that can be raised against prosperity doctrine and other bizarre constructs; allowing the bible itself to be worshiped as if it were lowered straight from heaven – to not just be a powerful guide, but a means of forming and justifying every decision one makes – is unreasonable to me.

    Homosexuality is a great example. I’m not going to fight over translations of the actual text, because I’m not equip to, but I find that Christians use the English word “homosexuality” in a much different way than the modern usage. The reason? – because they can’t stomach the idea that God would condemn and see a human as being an abomination. So, instead of using the word to refer to someone’s sexual orientation, many Christians use the word to refer to homosexual acts or advances – a willful sin. Regardless of any evidence to the contrary – it remains a willful act in their eyes – not just a descriptor of a natural variant akin to height or skin color. Even when Christian gay teens are easily convinced that God must hate them for making them the way they are, inflicting aversion therapy, marathon praying sessions and electro-shock treatment on themselves as an attempt to change WHO they are – the Christian will look in their bible as the ultimate authority, see that homosexuality is a sin and therefor a willful act, and continue perpetuating that delusion regardless of the suffering of others, and pointing out the few “successes” and ignoring all the consequences.

    This is exactly the same scenario as interpreting the scriptures to justify counseling a spouse to stay with their abuser – that she should simply turn the other cheek and obey because that is what God demands of her. As pastors a generation ago would point to marriages that improved or at least stayed together despite the problems, and ignore the cost of their stanch adherence to what they perceive as God’s Law, which trumps their own sense of right and wrong.

  18. Mr. sinmantyx,

    There are so many things to address here. I’ll just mention one – the Bible certainly does place value on a child in the womb. Here is just one instance:

    Exodus 21:22–25 “If men fight, and hurt a woman with child, so that she gives birth prematurely, yet no harm follows, he shall surely be punished accordingly as the woman’s husband imposes on him; and he shall pay as the judges determine. But if any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.”

    Note – it refers to a woman with CHILD, not a woman with fetus. And, should the unborn child die, the man would be guilty of murder.

    The real issue here is not the parsing of texts, but what seems to be your confusion on the Word of God, its rule over our lives, and the beauty of the Cross. I pray God gives you eyes to see the glory of salvation found only in the work of Jesus.

    Grace and peace,

    James McDonald

  19. sinmantyx says:

    In that passage, if you look at various translations, it is clear that “yet no harm follows” refers to no other harm to the woman. If the woman dies, then “life for life” etc. If the woman loses her pregnancy (regardless of how far along she is, btw) but she does not die, the person who caused the abortion or miscarriage must give the husband a FINE (you know, money or a goat or something).

    I’m not debating whether or not elective abortion is good or bad or horrible, a right or a murder, that’s not the issue. The issue is that the bible says nothing about it, unless you WANT it to. The popularity of being so incredibly strongly anti-abortion, is not motivated by the bible. It may well be motivated by GOD – I don’t claim to know whether or not it is – but it is NOT biblical. Claiming that because the phrase “with child” is used in many biblical translations, that mean that GOD necessarily believes that not only LIFE begins at conception (or implantation or whatever) but that a zygote or a fetus should have the same legal rights as a biologically autonomous, fully developed person – is just not honest. That argument would only make even the smallest sense, if the bible were originally written in English sometime in this decade.

    Regardless, the passage right before that one reads:

    ““If a man beats his male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies as a direct result, he must be punished, 21but he is not to be punished if the slave gets up after a day or two, since the slave is his property.”

    So, as long as your slave that you beat the crap out of doesn’t die immediately – it’s O.K. to beat them to death because the slave was your property.

    You know very well that is HORRIBLE. It’s not the only horrible, intensely dehumanizing painfully evil example of “Law” explained in the Old Testament. You have to know that – I mean – you’ve READ the whole thing haven’t you?

    My point is that it’s simply hypocritical to assert that a biblical passage, creatively interpreted by you, means that God agrees with your opinion, while completely ignoring or attempting to explain away passages that you do not agree with (from the same chapter no less).

    Of course, I’m assuming you don’t think beating your slaves to death is fine, just as long as they linger a day or two. If you do think that’s reasonable – you obviously have a pathological lack of empathy.

    Unfortunately, some people DO have a pathological lack of empathy and/or sense of right and wrong – and pick and choose different passages of the bible to dwell on and interpret creatively – you know, like the kind of people who let their children die of diabetes because they REALLY DO believe in the power of prayer to heal and think of going to a doctor as an insult to God.

    It’s all very biblical.

    What I would love is that Christians and people of other faiths that rely on a sacred text (such as Muslims), would be honest enough to admit that they interpret their text based on their OWN concepts of right and wrong.

    Ironically, this approach is very biblical as well. The entirety of the bible is never referred to as the Word of God – frankly it wouldn’t even make sense if it did since the bible was compiled after it was written. (Right?) Instead, it instructs Christians to read scripture with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

    This injects a subjective and personal aspect to scriptural use and interpretation, that I think some people are SO uncomfortable with, that they would rather suffer the cognitive dissonance of treating the bible as an objective ultimate authority on the mind of God while at the same time willfully ignoring a large amount of it because they don’t need the bible to know that treating other people with dignity and worth is good, that causing others suffering is bad, and that nobody cares how long your hair is.


  20. Dear Synmantyx,

    You are incorrect on your Hebrew. The “no harm follows” refers to harm of either the mother or the child. There is no restriction to either victim in this case. Isn’t it wonderful how God protects the defenseless, whether they are born or preborn?

    With regard to your concern about Genesis 21:20, I encourage you to not take one text and build a doctrine. It is important to let Scripture interpret Scripture. Many scholars have seen this Scripture as one that provides for an autopsy to see if a slave died from natural causes or by nefarious means. And there are many texts that dictate appropriate treatment for slaves, Even in the one you cite, there is punishment in store for the man who would kill a slave. In addition, a slave who was permanently injured was to be set free (Ex 21:26-27. Likewise, slaves who ran away from harsh masters were likewise freed (Deut 23:15-16). Hebrew slaves were to be treated as employees (Lev 25:39-43), and, note this, the laws for Hebrews applied to foreigners as well (Num 15:15-16). The OT actually taught that foreigners were to be treated with respect and love (Lev 19:33-34).

    I hope you see that it seems you might be creatively interpreting Scripture.

    You might be able to glean some helpful points from my article Stop Singing Solo (

    James M McDonald

  21. sinmantyx says:

    Before I read your last post, I asked one of my friends who studies literature about the issue. She was quite convinced that a fetus was considered the property of the father, not considered a human being, and that the Jews at the time most likely practiced a form of induced abortion by using “bitter herbs” administered by priests. This is mentioned in the Talmud, but it’s not completely clear.

    The idea that losing a pregnancy because you were battered by someone, by accident, while they were fighting – is equivalent to elective abortion is bizarre anyway.

    Elective abortion is NOT mentioned explicitly in the bible, yet a great number of Christians, as a matter of their faith, see elective abortion as wrong.

    If a biblical scholar were to gain more information (either through an anthropological discovery, or a new avenue in textual criticism) and uncovered evidence that, indeed, Jews of the time not only did not see a fetus as a person, but as property of the father, and that they did, indeed, practice elective abortion – would it change your mind on the issue?

    Honestly – would you care?

    Also, I’ll conceded that the Jews had a kinder and gentler slave economy than, say American slavery. That doesn’t change the fact that the bible was used by Americans to justify the continuation of slavery or that slavery is wrong. I mean, I’m so glad that if my boss were to crack me in the eye so hard that I became blind in that eye, that I’d be allowed to quit – but really, is that your standard of morality?

    It isn’t. You know it isn’t.

  22. Stacy McDonald says:

    We know that abortion is sinful because God commands us in Scripture not to murder. Murder is the taking of an innocent life. Abortion is murder. I could care less what some Jews “practiced” in ancient times. The Bible is clear that murder is a sin – regardless of the age, sex, or race of the victim.

  23. Jennifer says:

    The Talmud, ick. Most definitely not the Bible; known for spiritually hurting women, so not too surprising that it harmed their babies too since they were considered “property”.

  24. sinmantyx says:

    Sorry I didn’t have this at my finger tips when I originally posted here.

    The story describing abortion is in Numbers 5 (not just the Talmud). In that passage, God himself aborts pregnancies if they are illegitimate; after a priest administers the abortifacient “bitter herbs”. If the pregnant person got pregnant by her husband, nothing happens and she is cleared of all wrong-doing. If the pregnancy is not by her husband, she loses the pregnancy, her abdomen swells, and she lives the rest of her life in shame.

    I would not consider this an elective abortion either, since it is essentially God forcing an abortion on a woman as punishment for a man other than her husband having sex with her.

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