Arguments from silence are generally recognized as being weak, proceeding as they do from a lack of evidence rather than an abundance. But the most pathetic form of this argument–the weakling among weaklings–is when you actually have to create the silence first by hiding, dismissing, or otherwise disqualifying all the evidence contrary to your position.
But weak or not, many Christians today are particularly vulnerable to such arguments. Many of us have been taught a hideously disfigured version of Christian freedom that says, “Do whatever you want as long as the Bible doesn’t forbid it.” Not only does such false teaching deprive us of God’s positive laws–the things He has commanded us to do–and replace His will with our own desire, it also provides us with a perverse incentive to find as little in the Bible as possible.
Satan, of course, does not neglect to take advantage of our idle hands. He has given us a surfeit of false teachers who try to silence Holy Scripture. If they can inject just enough uncertainty or just enough confusion, then the Bible no longer applies. To our poorly catechized minds, those troublesome verses just float away into the ether, leaving us “free.” From there, “do as thou wilt” becomes the whole of our law.
One of the most common methods the Devil and his thralls use is to create a mythology and place it alongside Scripture. They then use this mythology to determine what the Bible is “allowed” to say. And the most obvious way to recognize this tactic is when you notice that actually reading the Bible is irrelevant to their conclusions.
I ran into one example of this in the wild recently. According to this old saw, what we know as “homosexuality” today was unheard of when the Bible was written. They allege that it is therefore impossible for the Bible to directly address something which was so completely outside of its context. And since the Bible says nothing at all, dilapidated “Christian freedom” demands our silence as people simply do what they feel like.
This argument appears compelling to many because we have been so well-trained in shallow thinking. But once you take a closer look, it’s a very different story.
To be sure, the modern mythology we’ve constructed around homosexuality was not present in the ancient world. After all, “homosexuality” is a relatively new word. It was invented by psychologists in the late 19th century first to clinicalize and then to destigmatize sodomy. Antiquity did not consider “sexual orientation” to be cast in stone the way we (erroneously) believe today, nor did they consider it an identity. Neither did the ancient world have the kind of rigorous advertising campaign homosexuality now enjoys. Here, it’s advocated by activists, endorsed by law, celebrated in parades, normalized in mass media, and even taught in schools with truly obscene levels of detail.
But to assert that this mythology makes a difference is to perform a Biblical bait-and-switch. It presumes without warrant that when the Bible condemns sodomy, it is only condemning specific cultural incarnations thereof rather than the thing itself. “But sodomy has received a facelift since then! Today, sodomy is romantic! Today, it leads to lasting relationships!” Great. But your idea that serial monogamy and romance legitimize sex is wholly modern; it’s not Biblical. You might as well say that you can have sex with your dog because Moses couldn’t have been writing about Labradoodles. They weren’t bred until the 20th century, after all! “Missing the point” is an entirely inadequate phrase to describe desperately running away from Scripture’s point in such an obvious fashion.
The fact that this argument is pure presumption that deliberately disregards the Bible is made even more apparent when you realize that it makes its conclusion without ever cracking open the Good Book. It asserts that it is “impossible” for it to condemn sodomy based entirely on historical context. So no matter what the Bible actually says, it cannot say what they don’t want it to say. If your hermeneutic determines what the Bible says without having to actually read it, then it’s not a good hermeneutic. And yet, they actually think their wordplay has silenced God–and many Christians are foolish enough to agree with them.
Now, if I wrote for the sake of conservative applause, this would be a great place to stop. Most of the more conservative Christians would be completely on board with it. After all, they were never taken in by this deception.
Conservative Christians may still be loud and proud about opposing sodomy. They are, after all, traditionalists at heart, and sodomy has not yet become Western tradition. But other sins have, and many who consider themselves staunch, faithful conservatives have fallen for this same kind of deception hook, line, and sinker. Feminism has been embedded in our culture long enough to become a tradition, and many conservative men are quite eager to carry water on its behalf. This can be easily seen when it comes to the issue of women teaching men in the Church.
Here too, we have invented a modern mythology. As the story goes, there are many women today who have been called by God to teach men in the Church. They have been given exceptional gifts to this end–indeed, we are told that they are far superior in skill to any available male teachers. We are told that lazy and evil men have abandoned their posts, and so women must now pick up their slack. We are told that evil misogynists have been keeping these brave women down for so long that no Christian had even realized this sad state of affairs in the past 2000 years. If you should even open your mouth to stand in the way of their “divine” call, you must be a goblin, a Pharisee, or the like. So sayeth our modern mythology.
As with sodomy, this mythology is used to wipe away the clear Biblical prohibitions. When Paul wrote “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet” he could not possibly have been referring to modern women called by God to teach! No, he must have been referring to something else. Women in antiquity were uneducated, so maybe he meant that women should remain silent only until they’re educated. Or maybe he was referring to one specific woman who was a troublemaker for Timothy, and that’s why it’s singular. Or maybe he was referring only to the very specific and narrow title of pastor and not to any pastoral responsibilities. Or maybe he only meant that wives shouldn’t be in authority over their husbands–unless absolutely necessary, of course. Or maybe it’s something else altogether. All of these different interpretations are deemed acceptable because it doesn’t even matter what the verse really means so long as it doesn’t mean what it actually says. All we know for sure is that it couldn’t be referring to modern, educated women because this is an entirely new situation which the Bible could not possibly address.
This is just as much a bait-and-switch as our mythology of homosexuality. Instead of the plain meaning of the text, the words must be so culturally conditioned as to become a secret code for something else altogether. It is true that our culture is different than Rome’s. Nevertheless, it is only modern convention which demands that skill is the only legitimate qualification for anything, that women be leaders, that they be counted as equal to men in every way, and that we must be offended at any suggestion to the contrary. The Bible demands nothing of the sort from us. If we take off our feminist glasses for a moment, we see that the “calling” they speak of is merely what these women feel like doing and their supreme qualifications generally amount to them doing well in school–a matter that is hardly surprising given how feminized schools have become.
And as with Sodomy, it is a conclusion which precedes anything they might read in Scripture. Many advocates of women teachers make this quite obvious:
I cannot support a theology that limits God’s calling for women simply because they are women.
I cannot support a theology that centers men simply because they are men.
I cannot support a theology that ordains women to subordination simply because they are women.
— Beth Allison Barr, PhD (@bethallisonbarr) December 6, 2022
Make no mistake, this is not a statement about what God says. This is a statement about what God is allowed to say. Jesus must measure up to the feminist standard, or he is simply unacceptable as a deity.
And it really should be no surprise that conservatives fall for this as well. We have imbibed the disfigured version of Christian freedom as deeply as anyone. Lutherans in particular seem perpetually terrified of actually teaching us the things God has told us to do. We’ve made it easy for Satan to take advantage of us.
But we need not simply lie back and accept this state of affairs. We have Scripture. We have theologians from outside of our time & culture who were far wiser than us. And any one of us can take a good long look at our own lives and aspirations and consider whether we are pursuing God’s priorities or our own.
So you have a dilemma on your hands, conservative Christians. Do you continue to follow the world–just 10 steps behind due to your traditionalism? Or do you instead recognize the world’s deception and repent of your having fallen for it?
Accepting the false Pericope Adulterae led to this. Churches taught women that Jesus exempted them from consequences. Now pastors will be out of jobs as women replace them. What they get for not preaching the fact that this passage is a forgery. Who needs male pastors when they preach like women anyway? “Only the sinless can punish women” is feminism. You guys preached yourselves out of a job because you didn’t have the balls to say publicly that this story is a forgery despite that it was debated heavily in early times and there is manuscript evidence showing its a forgery and common sense shows its an evil doctrine from Satan calculated to make women into whores. If I ever go to church again it will be because a pastor rises up to preach against this passage. But I’m not holding my breath. Pastors just preach what their wives tell them to so we might as well cut out the middle man and let the wives get up to preach how Jesus says women cannot be held accountable. If you’re not a mangina or completely whipped then take your balls put of your wife’s purse and preach against the lying Satanic passage that Catholics allowed women to add to the Bible. Otherwise your balls remain in your wife’s purse as the little chiwawa she takes to beauty salon.
John 8 does not exempt women from consequences; only poor understandings of it do. Jesus did not say one must be sinless to punish sin; He said one must not punish one sin by committing another sin. Specifically, the crowd that wanted to stone the adulteress had no intention of stoning the adulterer, despite the fact that God’s Law requires both adulterer and adulteress to be put to death. Additionally, the crowd was acting without legal authority. In other words, the crowd’s plan to stone the adulteress violated God’s Law in at least two ways.
> In other words, the crowd’s plan to stone the adulteress violated God’s Law in at least two ways.
The Pharisee’s plan to use this to discredit Jesus adds a whole set.
They weren’t concerned about protecting the spiritual health of their flock. They wanted to make Jesus look unreasonable by holding to the Law, the Law they themselves had authority and responsibility to uphold.
They themselves already knew what the Law said. Stone her. They didn’t need any information from Jesus. But they wanted an answer they could use against Him. They wanted to use God’s Law as a weapon for their own political purposes, instead of serving God’s actual purpose.
Countless pastors preach against what you are describing. Go back to church.
It’s true that this passage is very unlikely to be part of John’s gospel originally. However, the fact that early churches went so far as to include it in John and/or Luke in their manuscripts makes me suspect it was a true story added as an addendum later on. It’s definitely an easy passage to abuse, and considering the question of its authenticity, we should certainly be letting the rest of Scripture determine how we interpret it–not vice versa.
Nevertheless, the Bible has a lot of easy-to-abuse passages for determined abusers. And as the other commenters have pointed out, more careful readings of John 8 avoid the obviously erroneous conclusion. I’ve heard “judge not lest ye be judged yourself” used as a “get out of judgement free card” far more often than “let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” But the solution isn’t for Christians to discard those passages. It’s to learn to understand them and continue to rebuke the unbelievers who refuse to learn.
This is excellent, Matthew.
I think there is a similar mythology around multiculturalism, ethnic distinctiveness, and natural affections.
Thank you, Chris. And yes, these two are by no means the only modern mythologies we use in this way.