What did Jesus write in the sand?

When I was in high school, my buddy Steven and I went to a concert a couple of hours out of town. We skipped school to do it. I don’t remember if we had had permission from our parents or not. We must have, because we got home at like 2 am. Either way, the band Denison Marrs played there and this song had me entranced:

Around 3:13-3:16 in the song, the singer asks of Jesus, “what was it that you wrote in the sand?”

I’ve wondered that off and on for years. The Biblical passage in question, of course, is this:

[[They went each to his own house, but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”]]
(John 7:53-8:11 ESV)

Of course, it is disputed whether this passage belongs in John’s gospel and whether the events described therein occurred. But either way, the author meant for the event to be understood. So what could an early Christian author with an understanding of the Torah and a desire to portray Jesus as a Torah expert have meant hearers and readers to understand by this cryptic event? My thought is that Jesus would have been understood to be writing this excerpt from Deuteronomy 19:

“A single witness shall not suffice against a person for any crime or for any wrong in connection with any offense that he has committed. Only on the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses shall a charge be established. If a malicious witness arises to accuse a person of wrongdoing, then both parties to the dispute shall appear before the LORD, before the priests and the judges who are in office in those days. The judges shall inquire diligently, and if the witness is a false witness and has accused his brother falsely, then you shall do to him as he had meant to do to his brother. So you shall purge the evil from your midst. And the rest shall hear and fear, and shall never again commit any such evil among you. Your eye shall not pity. It shall be life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.
(Deuteronomy 19:15-21 ESV)

Deuteronomy would indicate that perhaps every single person present, if they were witnesses of the adultery, would deserve the death penalty because they maliciously brought the woman and not the man. Or every one of them perhaps committed adultery with her (shades of the woman at the well?) and therefore were malicious witnesses. Or only one of them witnessed the crime and were therefore bringing her before Jesus. Incidentally, the entire scene is a miscarriage of justice because nobody was brought before judges or priests. Incidentally, the tabernacle, which would be the necessary ingredient for such a dispute, was missing. So to bring the dispute before the Lord was impossible, but the men did bring the dispute before the Lord unknowingly. This, with John’s theology of Jesus’ presence might work as an argument for the story’s inclusion in John’s gospel. But the story does completely interrupt the narrative where it stands and so it’s hard to imagine where it belongs other than as an appendix.

Are you good enough to be Jesus’ disciple?

When asked why he associated with tax collectors and sinners, Jesus answered:

And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” The healthy do not need the doctor, the sick do. Go and learn about this, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:11-13)

There is a hidden logic behind what Jesus was asked/accused of:

  1. The kingdom of God is about purity.
  2. Any messenger of God’s kingdom would be sure to maintain purity by not associating with evil or unclean people.
  3. Therefore, Jesus is not a messenger of God’s kingdom.

Jesus’ response reframes the issue:

  1. The kingdom and purity are now about mercy.
  2. To be a messenger of God’s kingdom is to extend God’s mercy to others.
  3. Therefore, everybody Jesus calls into his kingdom is a sinner (because those whom he calls are sinners to whom he extends God’s mercy).

Are you good enough to be Jesus’ disciple?

The answer is the same as the answer to this question: Do you do bad things?

Jesus, Rhetoric, and Dialectic

In the past I’ve written pretty extensively about the difference between rhetoric and dialectic. The distinction between the two, I think, can be quite important for understanding Scripture. Here’s a short review:

  1. Dialectic is the art of using logic and facts in order to find what is true. In reference to discourse (written or spoken) it is essentially the posture of either science or exposition. It’s purpose is chiefly truth.
  2. Rhetoric is the art of determining what is persuasive use well as using it. It’s purpose is chiefly feeling.

Dialectic can be used rhetorically and rhetoric can be made to sound like dialectic to put on an air of intelligence. In one sense, dialectic is a form of rhetoric, as it invites careful attention, dispute, and acceptance of its claims once they are determined to be based on true evidence and valid argumentation. The combinations are as variable as are human motivations.

When reading the gospels (themselves a form of rhetoric) one of the places where Jesus is pretty clear about what makes for a morally whole and upright existence is his endorsement of honoring your parents by caring for them financially:

Mar 7:9-13 ESV  And he [Jesus] said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! (10)  For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ (11)  But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban”‘ (that is, given to God)– (12)  then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, (13)  thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.”

Elsewhere, Jesus is fundamentally opposed to hating even enemies. Yet, when trying to snap people out of an insensibility of what is required of his disciples he says:

Luk 14:26 ESV  “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.

Yet, one of the prime assumptions of Jesus’ ministry is that you will follow the ten commandments (Luke 18:20), love your neighbor, and that you desire to avoid eternal death by seeking eternal life. So when Jesus tells us to hate even our lives, is he telling us to have no joy, no pleasure, and no sense of self-preservation or self-love? Or is he proposing an outrageous overstatement to get us to consider the facts of the case, that you might not be up to the task of going to preach with him?

By the way, right after Jesus says this, he says that to be his disciple (at least to be his disciple in the sense of travelling with him) requires a careful consideration of the costs just as any war or building project requires.

One of the things I always hate (literally) about election season is the predilection of pundits to pile up a series of claims meant to arouse anger, love, or sympathy with how bad said pundit feels about this or that candidate and therefore you should vote and believe accordingly with no support other than appeal to emotions. The problem is that the rhetoric is not based on a solid foundation. “I feel really bad about [insert politician here], therefore s/he is unacceptable!” People mistake rhetoric (arousing emotions) for fact and argument (dialectic).

A similar mistake can be made with Jesus. Because we use sarcasm and “snark” so frequently, we often or maybe always seem to mistake it for argument. Not only are we handicapped because of our own sense of humor, but it’s not always easy to distinguish Jesus’ cues, because we aren’t with him and cannot hear his tone. To add to those two problems, it also feels unusual to think of the Bible as a book of humor.

It would seem that the best  practice is to compare Jesus’ apparently outrageous statements with his apparently literal ones as in the case mentioned above. Similar tactics could be used to understand Jesus’ apparent disdain for the syrophonecian woman. Jesus has taught that God would call people from east and west while the Israelites would miss out on the kingdom. So his apparently harsh attitude is rhetoric, suited for a purpose which was apparently achieved (the woman’s daughter was healed).

Can you think of other examples of the rhetoric dialectic distinction being helpful for understanding the gospels?



Don’t resist by means of evil


38 Ἠκούσατε ὅτι ἐρρέθη· ὀφθαλμὸν ἀντὶ ὀφθαλμοῦ °καὶ ὀδόντα ἀντὶ ὀδόντος. 39 * ἐγὼ δὲ λέγω ὑμῖν μὴ ἀντιστῆναι τῷ πονηρῷ· ἀλλʼ ὅστις σε ῥαπίζει εἰς τὴν δεξιὰν σιαγόνα [σου], στρέψον αὐτῷ καὶ τὴν ἄλλην· 40 καὶ τῷ θέλοντί σοι κριθῆναι καὶ τὸν χιτῶνά σου λαβεῖν,* ἄφες αὐτῷ καὶ τὸ ἱμάτιον· 41 * καὶ ὅστις σε ἀγγαρεύσει μίλιον ἕν,* ὕπαγε μετʼ αὐτοῦ δύο. 42 τῷ αἰτοῦντί σε δός, καὶ τὸν θέλοντα ἀπὸ σοῦ δανίσασθαι μὴ ἀποστραφῇς. [1]


38 You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. 39 But I am telling you to not resist by means of evil, but whoever strikes you upon the right cheek, turn to him also the left; 40 and to whomever desires to sue you and to take your tunic, give to him him also the cloak. 41 And whoever obligates you to go a mile, go with him two. 42 To whomever asks of you, give, and to him who desires to borrow from you, do not turn away.


  1. Eye for an eye was an Old Testament legal precedent applicable to situations in which an unborn baby or neighbor is injured by violence. The law was also a precedent for cases concerning false witnesses.
  2. Jesus does not seem to be claiming that courtroom judgments should be abrogated. He uses court circumstances and assumes their enduring relevance in two previous triads. Instead, he seems to be correcting the use of these passages as justifications for using evils suffered as justification for evils done.
  3. The way out of the cycle of returning evil for evil is illustrated in four ways, but I think it’s important not to limit the process to these specifics and indeed, Jesus himself does not treat these commands as absolute rules for all times but as wise ways to avoid resisting evil with evil. So turn the cheek, go the mile, give the garment, and so-on are illustrations.
  4. For instance, Jesus tells people, “No” when they ask him for a sign (Matthew 16). He also criticizes a man for striking him (John 18:23).
  5. So, if there are exceptions, it is perhaps best to think of this teaching as recommending that one do the shocking or disarming thing to create peace in the face of institutional oppression and personal honor challenges.
  6. Jerome Neyrey sees this particular passage as a way out of the tit for tat honor/shame game played in the ancient world. I think that is part of the idea, though probably not the whole idea as Jesus and the apostles in Acts participate in that game verbally.


[1] Kurt Aland et al., Novum Testamentum Graece, 28th Edition (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 2012), Mt 5:38–42.

Jesus the Good Shepherd

Mark’s Jesus

A common claim in New Testament studies is that Mark’s gospel must be first because it apparently contains the least developed understanding of Jesus, but John’s gospel was last because it clearly refers to Jesus’ divinity.

The problem with this is that Mark’s gospel alludes to and presupposes Jesus’ divinity by what it makes plain throughout its pages. The problem is that these assumptions only surface by means of certain allusions. In other words, Mark believes in Jesus’ divinity, but he only expresses this by “telling it slant.”[1]

Mark 6 and Psalm 23

In Mark 6, the story of the feeding of the five thousand has some wonderful allusions to the twenty-third Psalm. I recommend that you read the Psalm and the section of Mark in the ESV below:

Psalms 23:1-6 ESV A Psalm of David. The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. (2)   He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. (3) He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.   (4) Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.   (5) You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. (6) Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.




















Mark 6:34-52 ESV When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things. (35) And when it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the hour is now late. (36) Send them away to go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” (37)   But he answered them, “You give them something to eat.” And they said to him, “Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give it to them to eat?”   (38) And he said to them, “How many loaves do you have? Go and see.” And when they had found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.” (39)   Then he commanded them all to sit down in groups on the green grass. (40) So they sat down in groups, by hundreds and by fifties. (41) And taking the five loaves and the two fish he looked up to heaven and said a blessing and broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the people. And he divided the two fish among them all. (42) And they all ate and were satisfied. (43)   And they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. (44) And those who ate the loaves were five thousand men. (45) Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. (46) And after he had taken leave of them, he went up on the mountain to pray.   (47) And when evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and he was alone on the land. (48)   And he saw that they were making headway painfully, for the wind was against them. And about the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. He meant to pass by them,   (49) but when they saw him walking on the sea they thought it was a ghost, and cried out, (50)   for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” (51) And he got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, (52) for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.

If you compared the above texts you may have noted that Jesus:

  1. Has compassion for people who were as a sheep without a shepherd
  2. That he teaches them (presumably about repentance/righteousness and God’s kingdom as in the rest of Mark)
  3. Has people sit in green grass beside the water
  4. Feeds them
  5. Calms (stills) the waters of the sea
  6. Tells them not to fear sinking (the sea symbolizes chaos and death, see Jonah)

Mark adds the “green grass” bit where it is missing in the other gospels. Also, his is the only gospel that connects the description of the people as sheep without a shepherd to the story of feeding of the five thousand. This is significant for two reasons:

  1. It shows us Mark’s rhetorical point: Jesus is a shepherd like the Lord.
  2. It shows us that, despite claims to the contrary, the gospel writers were not literarily unsophisticated.

The point I wish to focus on is the first. Mark’s gospel, in my estimation, is an expanded statement of the Christian gospel and a manual for repentance (Mark 1:1 and Mark 1:14-17).

In Mark 6, Jesus is presented as having characteristics that make him utterly trustworthy. He is portrayed as utterly competent to guide humanity into life in the house of God. Therefore, part of the Christian gospel is the competence of Jesus. Jesus, according to Mark, is at minimally a human being who is supremely capable of being a broker bringing humanity to God. Maximally, Jesus is presented as the divine Shepherd incarnate.

Concluding Devotional Postscript

For the Christian who accepts the truth of the gospel, this section in Mark is especially valuable. For one, Mark 6 depicts Jesus beyond just a man to know about. He is presented as the most trustworthy figure on the scene of human history. This means that all of his teachings can be relied upon as a foundation for a life of eternal safety.

Second, Mark 6 helps us look back to Psalm 23 as a wonderful summary of the type of life Jesus offers to those who place their confidence in him and faithfully base their lives upon his teachings (see Matthew 7:24-27 and John 8:31-32).

While Psalm 23 not thematically central to the New Testament, over time it has emerged as one of the most significant portions of the Old Testament for Christian living. Learning to read it as a picture of our life with Christ can be a powerful motivating myth for our daily lives. A challenging spiritual exercise might be spending a week looking for ways that God provides each element of the Psalm for you as you attempt to follow Christ.


[1] This is a reference to a poem by Emily Dickinson:

Tell all the truth but tell it slant —

Success in Circuit lies

Too bright for our infirm Delight

The Truth’s superb surprise

As Lightning to the Children eased

With explanation kind

The Truth must dazzle gradually

Or every man be blind —



Rhetorical Assumptions in the Sermons on the Mount and Plain

In Matthew 5-7 and Luke 6 are the sermons on the Mount/Plain. There is a lot of debate about the relationship between these two sermons, but what interested me the other day when I was sitting in a waiting room (thankfully I took a legal pad) was what Matthew and Luke assumed would be interesting and would be known to the readers/listeners.*

Now I cannot have certainty about those things. But if we assume that like any piece of written rhetoric, the author had an audience who knew certain things in mind, then we can make some inferences. In all of this it’s important to remember that when we construct a speech, we appeal to what we think will interest people in order to help them find interest in what we think will benefit them (or get them to buy our product). But in an extended speech there might be several subaudiences to which we appeal.

Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount Assumptions

  1. The readers/hearers were interested in being happy in the sense of flourishing human life. The beatitudes start with the word “blessed” which probably means something more like “in an honored state” or “possessing the best/most desirable life.” In the Greek Old Testament that word seems to function like Aristotle’s word for happiness.
  2. They cared about putting the law of God into practice. Jesus tells the audience not to be afraid of the possibility of him doing away with Moses’ law.
  3. They at least know an oral version of the Old Testament, “You have heard…,” never “it is written.”
  4. They are in contact with the Pharisees (see chapter 6:1-13 especially) or have pharisaical tendencies.
  5. They want honor and rewards.
  6. They find it valuable to “see God.”
  7. They  want to be wise.
  8. They want to be part of God’s kingdom.
  9. Some of them felt spiritually destitute (poor in spirit).

Luke’s Sermon on the Mount Assumptions

  1. Luke’s audience similarly desired “blessedness” or “happiness.”
  2. They may have been more financially successful and willing to infer that they were living the blessed life with God as a consequence of their good fortune.
  3. They knew Jesus was a teacher, but were not themselves as familiar with the law of Moses.
  4. They really wanted to be good people whose lives bore good fruit.
  5. Strangely, in Luke, being like a ‘wise man’ is not a motivation. But the same simile of the builder who uses a firm foundation is used. In this case, the idea is simply of having a life that is not susceptible to the trials of the world. These people wanted unwavering or everlasting life.

I would be willing to say more about Luke’s audience over all, but I wanted to go simply by what we could find in the respective versions of the Sermon on the Mount.

What did I miss?

*I’m of the opinion that by and large these sermons, regardless of the process that lead to it happening, preserve a common public sermon Jesus preached about the kingdom of God before he shifted to primarily using parables before the public. So of course there will naturally be overlap between Matthew, Luke, and Jesus’ audiences desires, interests, and knowledge.

What is Love?

Edward Feser wrote an excellent article about what love is. In it he quoted Thomas Aquinas:

As the Philosopher says (Rhet. ii, 4), “to love is to wish good to someone.”  Hence the movement of love has a twofold tendency: towards the good which a man wishes to someone (to himself or to another) and towards that to which he wishes some good.  Accordingly, man has love of concupiscence towards the good that he wishes to another, and love of friendship towards him to whom he wishes good.

Love, in the sense which Christian doctrine typically means, is exactly what Aquinas quoted from Aristotle, “to wish good to someone.” For Aquinas and Aristotle, “wish” is better understood as “intend.” Love is a movement of the will, not a passion nor a feeling. In the case of loving other people as a Christian this makes sense. To love your neighbor is to intend to give him the goods he needs to flourish (to have success and happiness now and in eternity): companionship, knowledge, assistance, mercy, protection, prayer, etc.

But what does it mean to love God in this sense? Some people, like John Piper, would say that to love God means to have certain feelings about God. But on the analogy of love for human beings, we can love our enemies even if our feelings toward them are quite hateful. Acts of love would be much harder, as positive emotions are a great aid to positive action, but they would nevertheless be possible. And the Bible has several psalms, clearly written as actions of love toward God, but which express intensely negative emotions toward God.

So how do we “wish good to someone” with regard to God? Here is my most basic answer: to love God is to act to further God’s purposes in creation. While God is goodness itself and therefore cannot increase/decrease in goodness, God’s purposes in creation are meant to have progressive fulfillment. For instance, God commanded humanity to tend the garden. God made the garden, but there was further work to be done.

There is Biblical evidence in favor of what I’ve inferred from Aristotle’s definition of love: Jesus said, “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.(Joh 14:21)” For Jesus the categories of “those who love me” and “those who have and keep my commandments” are convertable. And elsewhere in John’s gospel Jesus says that he glorified God by doing the deeds he was sent to do (17:4) and that he sends his disciples as the Father sent him (20:21). So, to love God is to act in line with his purposes or to obey his commands. This, of course, will include positive feelings. A significant consideration is this: Is it superior to obey a command of Jesus in the face of severe temptation and emotional resistance or in a state of deep and motivating affection for Jesus?*

Here is where things become interesting. Can our love for God be unrequited? We all know that our love for other people can. But in the case of God, the answer is no. Why? Because Jesus tells his disciples that “You are my friends if you do what I tell you. (John 15:14)” While our love for peers, children, parents, enemies, and so-on can be unrequited. There is no such thing as unrequited love for friends, for if the love is unreturned there is no friendship. In our relationship with God, our acts to further his purposes, include simultaneous action by the Holy Spirit on our behalf.

Finally, it is important to note that for the Christian, God’s purposes are primarily contained in the teaching of Jesus. To love God is to put the teachings of Jesus, rightly understood, into practice.

A corollary is that one might say that the highest form of self-love is to obey Jesus, as this would obtain the highest benefit for ourselfs if the gospel message is true.

To simplify the explanation above:

  1. To love is to wish to benefit another.
  2. To benefit God is to wish to further his purposes.
  3. To further God’s purposes is to obey Jesus’ teachings.
  4. To obey Jesus’ teachings is to live in friendship with God.

A final thought

I think that correctly understanding love as a matter of the will can help people who struggle with depression to realize that they do, in fact, love God. Also, as Feser mentions in his post, “…if love is thought to be essentially about having certain pleasant feelings, then the quest for love naturally comes to be understood as essentially a matter of finding someone who will generate in oneself pleasant feelings of the sort in question, and showing love to others comes to be understood as essentially a matter of generating in them pleasant feelings of the sort in question. [author’s italics]” Thus, in the case of loving God two errors can occur: to love God is to give myself good feelings about God or upon realizing how impossible this is to do consistently, to give up on the idea of positive emotions in relation to doing God’s will. Also, understanding love as intending the good of others assumes that there is such a thing a objective good that reliably benefits other people. The modern obsession with feelings (which are obviously good, important, and natural) leads of a sort of nihilism with regard to love. If it’s always loving to generate positive feelings in ourselves and in others, then because our quite plastic grey matter can learn to find positive emotions from all sorts of disordered events, can lead us to consider the most dastardly things loving.

*I think that it’s a trick question. If one has love as a virtue (good habit), then it will ‘come easy’ but individual deeds do not lose their value for being done in a state of temptation, depression, melancholy, or even momentary resentment.

Body of Christ

Nick posted about the Body of Christ. His chief insight, which is true, is that Jesus himself, though head of the church, is a member of the church. This is because the head is a member of the body. It reminded me of how a man I work with prays. He prays, “In the name of our older brother, Jesus.” Sometimes people mention to me that that find this unusual. So I point them to these passages (ESV today, didn’t feel like translating this morning):

Mat 12:48-50  He asked the man who told him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?”  (49)  Then pointing with his hand at his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers,  (50)  because whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”

Rom 8:29  For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that the Son might be the firstborn among many brothers.

Heb 2:10-18  It was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through suffering as part of his plan to glorify many children,  (11)  because both the one who sanctifies and those who are being sanctified all have the same Father. That is why Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers  (12)  when he says, “I will announce your name to my brothers. I will praise you within the congregation.”  (13)  And again, “I will trust him.” And again, “I am here with the children God has given me.”  (14)  Therefore, since the children have flesh and blood, he himself also shared the same things, so that by his death he might destroy the one who has the power of death (that is, the devil)  (15)  and might free those who were slaves all their lives because they were terrified by death.  (16)  For it is clear that he did not come to help angels. No, he came to help Abraham’s descendants,  (17)  thereby becoming like his brothers in every way, so that he could be a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God and could atone for the people’s sins.  (18)  Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

Without any in depth exegesis, it can be seen that from the point of view of the gospel writers, of Paul, and of the author of Hebrews (Paul according to Dave Black) that Jesus is our brother and we are his. He is not less our Lord for this, but he does look after us as an old steward who ensures that those within the family of God remain in good graces with the Father of the house. In other words, if we wish to know how to be the beneficiaries of the house, is should look to Jesus. If we want to know what the beneficiaries receive, we should look to Jesus. If we want to know how to deal with sufferings and persecutions, we should look to Jesus. If we wish to know what to do when our household memberships are in conflict, we should look to Jesus. Jesus is the head of the church, but not merely in the authoritarian sense. He is the head of the church in the sense of being its first member, of being the older brother of those who are members, and in the sense of being the paradigm for membership. 

Logic, Error, Judgmentalism, and Love

Being able to think is a disadvantage with which most people are not burdened. Being able to think merely makes you aware of the outrages around you. – Arthur Jones

You should not be over much righteous nor should you seek overmuch to be clever. Why destroy yourself? Ecclesiastes 7:16 (author’s translation)

When I was in high school my senior English teacher taught us basic logic and recommended to us that we read Aristotle. He was pretty sure that Aristotle was the smartest man who had ever lived. I did that. I also read several books on logic and how to use it. In this process I was still trying to learn to be a disciple of Jesus. The skills acquired from studying basic logic helped me tremendously in my efforts to understand Scripture and theological debates throughout church history. I remember during my seminary certain students would get frustrated that I could read the books so quickly, like I had some sort of unfair super power. It really wasn’t that. It was nothing other than an application of logic that allowed me to move beyond difficult paragraph arrangements and enthymemes (arguments that skip steps) quickly.

In the mean time, I tried to stay out of any debates involving politics with other people simply because I saw how divisive and ugly they could get. I was certain that there was some moral flaw in the very nature of modern political discourse that required people to be so harsh and illogical. I simply tried to stay out of it. Fast forward to a few years later and (I’ll leave my stances of political issues out of this) I started getting into political thinking because I realized how many poor decisions seemed to be made by politicians with a non-understanding of statistics. I started reading pundit pieces from various sides of numerous debates, reading actual books about economics from various perspectives (even the books on probability and human nature by certain famous economists), I started looking at (insofar as it is possible) the progress of various civilizations and the narratives that purportedly led to their demise, and then something interesting started to happen.

I found myself looking at people, individuals, in terms of their participation in ideologies (which is certainly a part of their lives) and not in terms of their need for grace. I’d look at people and think, “dude, that kind of behavior and thinking has obvious deleterious effects upon yourself and the culture upon which you parasite (if I can use that as a verb).” Now, it certainly is important to think of our actions in terms of personal/subjective as well as civilizational impact, but that does not change the fact that people are still intrinsically valuable (especially if Christianity is true).


  1. I love making fun of the city in which I live and its denizens. It is, in terms of markers of social health (road quality, obesity rate, literacy rate, teen pregnancy, civil participation, etc), one of the silliest places on the planet. But that does not make the people less created in God’s image.
  2. I love making fun of people at the gym. I affectionately call them gymbeciles. But once again, these people are in the gym because they don’t want to contribute to my city’s health crisis!
  3. I love making fun of people who make basic factual errors.
  4. I love making fun of scientists who try to be historians and fail to get simple timelines correct. My favorite is the claim that the medieval church persecuted Galileo (who was a contemporary of Descartes).
  5. I sometimes use the phrase “maliciously stupid” to talk about the things people do.

Now, making fun of stupid things is an important inoculation against them. But, making fun of people as though they are objects of contempt can really dehumanize them outside of the rhetorical context of debate (in debate, if you’re correct you might have the moral obligation to not only prove your opponent wrong but if the opposition’s idea is dangerous, to make the idea look positively stupid). This habit can very easily lead you (at least it leads me) to treat them with contempt. It is so very easy to go from the ability to point out simple reasoning errors, then to finding those errors funny, and finally to finding human misery caused by bad ideas funny.

The quip from Qoheleth and the note from the inventor of Nautilus equipment are both important to take in to account. Not because thinking is intrinsically wrong, but because logic divorced from ethics tends to produce judgmental attitudes toward people rather than compassion. Thus, Paul notes that “knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.”

Anyhow, Jesus said, “Whatever you want others to do to you, you should do to them (Matthew 7:12).”

This tells me three things:

  1. I do not want to be written off because of my intellectual errors, therefore I should not do the same.
  2. I do not want my individuals actions to be judged solely on the basis of my ideological commitments (even if there is a connection between them), therefore I should not do the same.
  3. I do not want my actions done on the basis of mistaken logic to be treated as though they reveal my intent, therefore I should not do the same.