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March 21, 2005



Both very good examples in support of your answer. How abstract is "I will return before this generation ends?" I don't suppose that Jesus lied, only that there is some truth that we aren't equipped to get...unless your Dan Brown ;)

Before I go on, I have to go back to something I was reading some time ago, such that I don't even remember who or where. Isn't it interesting that we put qualifiers on truth at all: abstract truth, relative truth, absolute truth? Is truth not truth? It seems like our qualifiers tend to make superfluous comments on top of it sometimes. Absolute Truth: I don't want to argue about it, I'm just right! Relative truth: We're both right, now let's go grab a beer. Abstract truth: I don't really have anything for this one...

Thanks for this timely discussion as I write a Sem paper on Bridging Christ and Culture.


Abstract-farther along we'll understand

If God knows all then what is my effort for? Surely there is a limit to human rationale that only God can explain if He decides we need or warrant the explanation.

In the garden, at the tree, Eve lied "so much as touch and die", and Satan, though misleading, "surely you will not die" was truthful, for Jesus said "I am come that you might have life". Too much time between the garden and the empty tomb? But look backwards--either was only yesterday compared to what lies ahead.

Thanks for the post, I try not to be too abstract in my thought what providence to find you today!


There is also the example from 1 Kings 22 where God sends a lying spirit to confound Ahab's plans and entice him to his death...


Hey Bill, I'm not sure the Bible considers not disclosing truth as lying. For instance, Samuel did go to sacrifice. He didn't say it and then not do it, but there was a greater reason why God sent him there. Is God then being deceptive because he tells Samuel to disclose only half of the truth? I think this is more of the ANE concept of the crafty God that outwits men, and even the best of men like kings, in order to show His sovereignty over them (i.e., that He is the real King/Ruler which is part of the theology of Samuel).

Scott, I think the Kings example belongs under the idea of providence which displays that God rules over all things including evil--i.e., that evil does not move without His direction and permission. Job is another example of this as well as Satan asking God if he can sift Peter like wheat, etc.

So I'm not sure if this fits into what your asking about "abstract" truth or not, since I'm still not clear in what you mean by it.



What I'm basically trying to point out is that language is malleable. There is a subjectivity to it. What is a lie? What I'm pointing out is that given the assumption that God doesn't lie (which I think scripture supports), we can look at that context and discover that there was no lie involved.

Now, does that mean we can do the same thing in the same situation? That might depend on what we're talking about because there are some things that are permissible for God that are not permissible for me, right?

Abstract truth is truth that stays the same regardless of context. My point with the lying is example is that even the definition of what a lie is might change somewhat from situation to situation or from culture to culture.

Bonhoeffer, for example, went to some extent to reason that lying to the Nazis was actually the righteous thing to do.

But I don't want to get sidetracked by the example. The point is that I don't know that we are supposed to understand truth (or morals, ethics, etc.) outside of any context. "No man is an [interpretive] island" kind of a thing.

That fourth definition for abstract was "thought of or stated without reference to a specific instance." So what is justice without any context? Do WE decide what is just? Or does God? Could the same action that was just in one instance be unjust in another instance?


Bill, I'm not sure how you would avoid relativistic subjectivism then. Because even if truth is truth, but understood differently in different contexts, it would lead one to "define" the application without boundaries. For instance, if you said, "Lying is wrong." Another could say, "Absolutely, but in this case lying is right." Isn't that situational ethics? My point earlier is that neither of the examples (yours or Scott's) were God lying. One in the cultural context is language adopted to describe the position of God over the King. The second is God in control over a spirit that lies, but does not lie Himself. Maybe a better example would be warranted? By the way, lying in Scripture is testifying falsely about a person or thing (not disclosing truth or leading one to believe something false without stating a falsehood explicitly doesn't seem to be under that category in Scripture). A good example might be God telling the Israelites to fake out the Caananites at Ai in the Book of Joshua. I think maybe one of the problems is that you got the definition from the Dictionary instead of from the Scripture itself; but either way, I'm not sure how to avoid someone simply doing whatever they wanted to do and then blame the justification for that on contextualization. Do you disagree?



I think what I am reading you to say is that things, for example, such as how the world was created fall into an abstract truth because I am unable to see the truth other than as a statement that God spoke it into being. On the other hand, how and that God provided for my realization of His supremacy and love is an absolute and singularly detailed for me. But it was a personal encounter such that as many thousands upon millions have experienced the Epiphany in their own personal ways, then as a corporate understanding it, God's revelation, becomes abstract truth. So that when I say an elephant looks and feels like a tree trunk and you may say a shower, we both are true and wrong.

Jacob/Esau/Rebekka/Isaac, on the other hand demonstrate that God will make good on His promises whatever deceitful deal we have worked.


To be honest, I'm not particularly convinced that there is a great difference between lying yourself and commanding another to lie for you. It feels like a technicality, and a poor one at that.

I do think there is a danger of subjectivism. However, I think the danger has always been present - it's fine to say that truth is truth, but if my understanding of truth and your understanding of truth are different, then I'm not sure we've solved anything. That's why the whole concern for "absolute truth" is such a myth. The true question is whose version of truth will you believe? This is the case even for Christians - as I think we've aptly demonstrated over the past few days, interpretation varies by person. Is there one right way to read a passage? Sometimes - but sometimes there are tensions and ambiguities. However, there are certainly wrong ways to read them, so I don't think that opens the door to rampant speculation, but rather a plurality of interpretations. For example, I think that you can read the significance of the cross and atonement in a number of ways, and that more than one are true (penal substitution, moral example, Christus Victor, etc.). But there's no way you can make it say that Christ was not crucified.


I should have finished my first thought on lying. Bill, I think you're right when you say, "I'm trying to demonstrate that we have to look at what constitutes deceit from within the context of scripture." It goes to the malleability of language that you mention - we need to start with the understanding that the contexts of the biblical authors were different than ours, and look at how concepts are used in that context rather than importing our own. Wright's example of authority I thought was a great example of this.


Robefre, thanks for helping to clarify the "relational" nature of truth.

Scott, thanks for clarifying that it IS the original context that matters. My whole point is that we should make our decisions about what is moral, righteous, etc., based on the context of the Bible. This is not an easy job, however, because as I'm sure you'd all agree, we can't just assume that what people do in a given Bible story is the correct action. Also, even if that action was the correct one in that context, we have to be able to figure out if the same "correct" action applies to OUR context. Am I making any sense?


Most definitely! Without passing judgment on the content of the issue, I think that the ongoing discussion of gender roles and leadership is a great example of what you're saying - what is "correct" now, given what we know about what was "correct" then?

I think that what makes this a bit more complicated is that sometimes we are given the "what" behind an action, but not the "why" - we have to infer that. And I'd argue that the "why" is perhaps the more important question to answer. I suppose that brings us back to the question of "abstract" truth - I really think that another dimension of this is "timeless". What does it mean for truth to be "timeless"?



It's not that "THE TRUTH" changes. The problem is that we try to absolutize the truth when it isn't actually absolute--i.e. timeless, subject-less, disregarding of the relational aspects involved.

You asked: "Isn't that situational ethics?" as if that's a bad a thing. I would like to suggest that ethics HAVE to be situational.

I agree with your statements that God was not lying. That was my point. Who is the final arbiter of what constitutes a lie, God or the dictionary? I think our tendency is to start of with presuppositions about what we "know" to be true and then try to make them fit into the text of scripture. As I've said before, sometimes the world around us, our experiences, etc. can help push us to re-evaluate what we've assumed to be the correct interpretation of scripture. I would attribute this, as I attribute all good things, to the work of the Holy Spirit.


Scott, I think you are right in saying the Bible sometimes gives us the what and not the why. But how, then, do we deal with a passage like 1 Timothy 2:11-15, where Paul is apparently telling us specifically WHY women should not teach or have authority over men?



I'd suggest we also need to understand the context of first-century rhetoric to determine if that's what Paul is actually doing. Is this a "why" in the sense of "here is the reason behind these things" or is it more of "here is an example of how these things work"? I'm not advocating a specific perspective here (in the interests of not derailing the conversation again ;) but just trying to present the options on the table as I see them. (And this is sort of off the top of my head, working from memory.)

But again, I think the language issue pops up here - how is Paul using the argument, and does it mean the same thing in the first century that it would mean if he were a twenty-first century North American church leader who is male? Context, context, context....


Scott, if giving permission to someone to do evil, because God wants them to accomplish a goal for Him through it, is no different than doing evil, then you are saying God is evil. Otherwise, you seem to be unaware of the doctrine of Providence, which has God move and direct all things to His purposes. How can all things work for good for those who love God if He has no control over evil? And if that makes Him evil, how can it be that Scripture says He's good (eg. God cannot lie, etc.)?

I think the woman issue is a good one Scott, because it is another example of presupposing Modern ideas of worth, human dignity and rights when one goes to a text like 1 Tim 2:11-15. We then LOOK for a reason to blame such a different view than ours on Paul's culture, instead of seeing that it is OUR culture that is bending the text. (By the way, I agree that Paul argues the way HIS culture would argue, but for a universal principle that may be argued for differently in ours. That does not change the practice however. He uses what I call a "priority argument" that is commonly used in the NT and Intertestamental literature---frankly we may use it a lot ourselves as well).

Bill, I think when people say truth is timeless they are referring to the fact that it stems from God's nature, which is timeless. I don't think it is being used in the sense of having no subject (since God is the subject) and having no relational aspects (since God is a Trinity). I think what you need to say is that finite communication of the truth is not timeless. Is this what you mean?


Scott, I forgot to mention, you're example that there can be many interpretations to a passage I think wasn't effective. You used the doctrine of the cross as an example (that's not a passage). A passage may only be speaking of one aspect (penal atonement) and therefore the correct interpretation of that passage would only be the penal interpretation. Whereas, you may have a passage that speaks of both penal and example and then have someone view one aspect or another, but I think the passages themselves limit our options and should therefore be handled in a way that we don't just accept numerous opinions on it.

Secondly, you spoke of one viewing the cross from different sides, but notice that none of those aspects you mentioned are contradictory to one another. I think the problem comes when you have people interpreting things which contradict one another.


Few things here - first, on providence, I think there's a difference between permitting and commanding an action. Don't hear me saying that I'm questioning God's goodnes - I'm simply pointing out what seems to me an ambiguity in the text. I'm looking more at how the story functions than I am at a particular view of God.

On the gender issue, I think you've done a fair job of summing up one side of the argument. Perhaps that would have been a better example on a passage where there are a plurality of interpretations. I don't particularly care to hash out the content of the discussion, so much as to say that I think there are legitimate interpretations on both sides of the conversation from those seeking to do justice to the biblical text. I don't agree with all of them, certainly, but I'm not going to call an interpretation unbiblical simply because I don't agree with it. You're right about my original example - it was a poor one for the reasons you stated.

Also, if anyone's interested, I'm picking up our earlier discussion on justice and mercy issues at my site (www.theopraxis.net) and invite you all to join.


I'll have to check that out, Scott.

Sorry, people, I was purposely being a pain in the neck with my 1 Timothy 2 comment!

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