So run that you may obtain

Brethren, know you not that they that run in the race, all run indeed, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that you may obtain. And every one that striveth for the mastery, refraineth himself from all things: and they indeed that they may receive a corruptible crown, but we an incorruptible one. I therefore so run, not as at an uncertainty; I so fight, not as one beating the air: but I chastise my body, and bring it into subjection: lest perhaps, when I have preached to others, I myself should become a castaway. For I would not have you ignorant, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; and all in Moses were baptized; in the cloud and in the sea; and all did eat the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink; (and they drank of the same spiritual rock that followed them; and the rock was Christ). But with the most of them God was not well pleased.

Epistle for Septuagesima Sunday, 1 Cor. 9:24-27; 10:1-5; quoted from The Roman Missal (Fr. Lasance).

I have heard this reading a hundred times but its meaning finally became clear to me today at Mass. In short, St. Paul is saying that although we’re all members of Christ’s Church, that’s not enough. All of the Israelites walked through the Red Sea when it parted, nevertheless most of them were not pleasing to God. They were grumblers and complainers and turned to idolatry at the first opportunity. Most of us Catholics do not please God. We need to be not merely “in the race,” but run as if to win it. Not merely be in the Church, but be among the few in the Church with whom God is well pleased.

And how do we run as if to win the race? By chastising our bodies and bringing them into submission, just as an athlete disciplines his body by training hard and restricting his diet.

Jesus accepts us as we are — but does he leave us that way?

Not long ago I came across a blogger who wrote that he didn’t agree with the Church’s moral teachings, but he was going to stick with the Church anyway. He was raised in the Church, and why should he be the one to leave, just because others in the Church have hateful attitudes? Besides, Jesus accepted people as they were. I commented that Jesus accepted people as they were, but for the purpose of bringing them to repentance.

I was reminded of this exchange this past Sunday, when the Epistle for the traditional Latin Mass was Romans 6:3-11:

“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the sinful body might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For he who has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him. For we know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”

Does this not preclude the notion that Jesus accepts us as we are? Maybe he accepts us as we are initially. As he said, he came to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance. It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. (Mk. 2:17.) But once we sinners are called, what then? Will he not heal us of our sickness?

According to this reading, baptism, the very sacrament of initiation into the Church, entails leaving our sinful past behind. Indeed it’s even more than that: Our old self is crucified, the sinful body is destroyed, that we may no longer be enslaved to sin. Strong language! Becoming a Christian means no less than dying to sin once for all, that we might live to God in Christ Jesus. This “newness of life” is what saves us and enables us to live eternally.

Can one call himself a follower of Jesus, who has not died to sin that he might live to God in Christ Jesus? Is this not essential to being a Christian? Is there a Plan B for those who don’t wish to take their Christianity so far as all that?

A scriptural apologetic for the Mass

The following was written in response to a question posed to me privately. It covers things I’ve posted about before, but I like going over the same ground multiple times in case something turns up that I missed before. I welcome any comments or corrections.

St. Paul writes, “Christ our Passover has been sacrificed, therefore let us celebrate the feast ….” 1 Cor. 5:7.

There is a lot of meaning in this verse. First, Paul refers to Christ as “our Passover”. This evidently means that the original Passover lamb was a foreshadowing of Christ. The original Passover sacrifice, then, was a foreshadowing of Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross.

At the original Passover, the children of Israel were told that if they sacrificed a lamb and put its blood on the lintels of their houses, they would be saved from the Angel of Death. But those were not the only instructions: They also had to consume the Passover lamb. It had to be completely gone by morning; that which they couldn’t eat had to be burned. (Ex. 12:10.)

Why did the lamb have to be eaten? What’s the point?

St. Paul in another place writes, ‘Consider the people of Israel: are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar?’ (1 Cor. 10:18.)

It would seem, then, that eating of the sacrifice makes you a participant in the sacrifice. Not everyone could literally take part in the sacrifice: It only took one man to kill the lamb and smear the blood on the lintel. But by eating the lamb, everyone else was also enabled to participate in the sacrifice which saved them.

This clarifies Paul’s meaning when he said (a couple verses earlier), ‘The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?’ (1 Cor. 10:16.) In other words, when we eat the bread and drink the cup, are we not participating in Christ’s sacrifice?

In support of this, we may look to Jesus’ words at the Last Supper. He didn’t merely say “this is my body, this is my blood.” Rather, he said “This is my body which will be given up for you,” and “This is my blood which will be shed for you.” Giving up his body, and shedding his blood, obviously refers to his sacrifice on the Cross. Therefore, “Take this and eat it” means “Eat my body given in sacrifice,” and likewise as to the blood.

So clearly, when Paul says the bread is a participation in Christ’s body, he means that eating the bread and drinking the cup makes us participants in Christ’s sacrifice. I think this is virtually beyond doubt.

He further drives the point home when he says, ‘You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. Or shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy?’ (1 Cor. 10:21.) This is in the context of admonishing people not to eat meat sacrificed to idols. Why? Because that makes us participants in sacrifices to idols; which makes us idolators. Whereas God, being a Jealous God, won’t stand for us partaking of the “table [altar] of the Lord and the table [altar] of demons”.

All this being so clear, serves to clarify the traditional, obvious and correct interpretation of John 6: ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink.’ (Jn. 6:53-54.)

Christ’s sacrifice saves us. But how, exactly, does it save us? It saves us through the Mass: You must eat Christ’s body given in sacrifice, and drink his blood shed in sacrifice, in order to have life in you. Christ’s sacrifice saves us by uniting us to himself, thereby enabling us to offer his sacrifice in our own behalf.

We’re saved by faith, certainly. What else but faith could enable us to believe that we must eat his flesh and drink his blood, and that doing so saves us? Looking at this claim from the perspective of the flesh, it sounds absurd. Jesus is standing right there. You can see that his flesh is not bread. Eating bread is not the same as eating flesh. This is judging by our natural faculties, in other words our flesh. But it’s the spirit that has faith and accepts Jesus’ words, no matter how impossible they may sound to us, knowing that he is God and incapable of deceiving us, and that nothing is impossible to him. If he says “You must eat my flesh”, it must be true in some sense; likewise if he says “Eating my flesh saves you”. The only thing left is to figure out how we can do such a thing.

When I think of Christ’s sacrifice being perpetually offered, I don’t think of him suffering and dying over and over, but as perpetually offering his one sacrifice. It doesn’t seem that this would be any great trick, both he and the Father being eternal, and therefore all things being present to them. I think of “a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain”, as referred to in Rev. 5:6 (which, by the way, seems to be a scene of worship), standing perpetually before the Father’s throne, constantly interceding for us (Heb. 7:24-25). “Intercede” means literally to “go between”. In other words, Jesus stands between us and the Father, looking as though he had been slain — slain and yet alive, that is, the risen Jesus.

It’s those who participate in his sacrifice — via the Mass — who are being interceded for. As Jesus offers himself, and the Father is pleased with his offering, the Father is pleased with our offering as well — since it’s the same offering. We ourselves are offering the best offering we could possibly offer: The perfectly spotless Lamb of God.

I don’t know of any other theory of how Christ’s sacrifice saves us, that is half as coherent as the Mass.

St. Thomas on Scripture and science, part 2

Continuing the discussion on the “waters above the firmament,” St. Thomas writes,

“Some have attempted to solve this difficulty by supposing that in spite of the natural gravity of water, it is kept in its place above the firmament by the Divine power. Augustine, however will not admit this solution, but says ‘It is our business here to inquire how God has constituted the natures of His creatures, not how far it may have pleased Him to work on them by way of miracle.'”

Summa theologica I.I., A. 68, Q. 2.

Evidently he was clear on the distinction between the natural and the supernatural and, even in the 13th Century, didn’t feel the need to invoke miracles when the natural causes of something were unknown.

St. Thomas on Scripture and science

In the context of discussing “Whether there are waters above the firmament?”, St. Thomas writes,

“In discussing questions of this kind two rules are to observed, as Augustine teaches. The first is, to hold the truth of Scripture without wavering. The second is that since Holy Scripture can be explained in a multiplicity of senses, one should adhere to a particular explanation, only in such measure as to be ready to abandon it, if it be proved with certainty to be false; lest Holy Scripture be exposed to the ridicule of unbelievers, and obstacles be placed to their believing.”

Summa theologica I.I., A. 68, Q. 1.

He seems to be anticipating that a time would come when we would be able to discover the exact structure and composition of “the firmament.”

What does it mean to judge a tree by its fruits?

This is in response to Bruce Charlton’s post, “The problem of Mormonism (for mainstream Christians)” at Junior Ganymede, and is adapted from my comment thereto. The “problem” Bruce discusses is how non-Mormon Christians can account for Mormons as a group bearing “good fruit”, while adhering to what they consider to be false doctrine. Bruce’s opinion apparently is that Mormons bear good fruit because of their doctrine; whereas non-Mormon Christians believe the good fruits come in spite of their doctrine, or have no relation to it.

But my focus is on the scriptural passages underlying the discussion, mainly Mt. 7:15ff.

The post and some of the comments seem to be proceeding on the assumption that Jesus intends “fruits” as a criterion for judging the truth or falsity of a religion. If so, then obviously it can’t mean that there will be entirely good fruits and no bad fruits whatsoever; under that criterion, no religion on earth could qualify. It’s also doubtful whether it’s a relative standard, as in, that religion with more good fruits than any other must be the true[est] one.

However, Jesus doesn’t say that you should judge a prophet by the fruits of the doctrine he preaches. Rather, he says that “you will recognize them” – false prophets – “by their fruits”. He continues, “Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’” Now, prophesying and casting out demons and doing mighty works are good fruits, are they not? At least the casting out of demons, surely. And yet Jesus may still say to such people, “I never knew you.” Why? Beause they worked lawlessness: “And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”

So, being a “worker of lawlessness” seems to be what he means by bearing bad fruit. Other translations are “you evildoers”, “ye that work iniquity” and “you lawbreakers”. The word for “lawlessness” is anomia, defined by Strong’s as “illegality, i.e. violation of law or (genitive case) wickedness:—iniquity, × transgress(-ion of) the law, unrighteousness”.

Another place where a tree failing to bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire, is in Mt. 3:

“But when [John the Baptist] saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

Here again it doesn’t appear that doctrine is the issue, because it’s individual Pharisees and Sadducees who are being condemned, based on their failing to “bear fruit in keeping with repentance”. So it seems to me that what is being said is, “Don’t follow people whose lives don’t bear fruit in keeping with repentance”, or, “Don’t follow people who transgress the laws of righteousness”.

In Mt. 12:33-37, Jesus seems to be equating good and bad fruits with the words that people speak, as when he says “How can you speak good, when you are evil?” — a clear parallel with the statement, “a bad tree can’t bear good fruit”. “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil.” And we will be judged by this “fruit”:  “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

And in many other places the New Testament scriptures speak of bearing the fruits of righteousness unto salvation. This is always in the context of individual exhortations to forsake sin and do good. For example, Romans 6:19ff:

“[J]ust as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification. For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.”

So it seems to me that Jesus is saying that a prophet should be judged by his personal righteousness: Is he living a sinful life? If so then he is a false prophet, for he is a worker of lawlessness.

As far as I can see, the New Testament doesn’t discuss testing the truth or falsity of doctrine in terms of whether it bears good or bad fruit. Probably because doctrine is simply true or false, and not all doctrine bears directly on behavior. Also because people are perfectly capable of receiving good doctrine and yet still bearing bad fruit or no fruit, as in the Parable of the Sower (Mt. 13:3-23).

How do we know the Church and the scriptures are infallible?

I was recently grilling a Protestant on his blog regarding the basis of the doctrine of sola scriptura (see the post titled “Sola Scriptura and Tradition” on the blog Theo-Drama). He responded by drawing a comparison between sola scriptura and the Catholic doctrine of the infallibility of the Church.

To him sola scriptura means that “scripture is the only source of authority that is both infallible and unchangeable (emphasis in original). A nice, clear definition.

My question to him was whether we can know infallibly that the scriptures are infallible; or in other words, do we have it from an infallible source? Since sola scriptura means that the scriptures are the only infallible source, then obviously the infallible source for sola scriptura can only be the scriptures themselves. But isn’t it circular to argue that we believe the scriptures are infallible because they say they’re infallible?

Even granting that that can be a valid argument for sola scriptura, there is also the question of whether any scripture passage can be said to teach the infallibility of the Bible – that is, the 66 books of the Protestant Bible in particular. I grant that verses may be found which refer to “the scriptures” as God’s word, and God’s word is, of course, infallible. But none which state which books are, in fact, scripture.

So in the end it seems clear, on the premise that no other infallible source exists, that sola scriptura does not come from an infallible source.

Note that that is my only conclusion thus far:  That we have no infallible source which defines the only infallible source. I’m not arguing that we have no way of knowing what the canon consists of. Perhaps it can be figured out in other ways. But by the terms of sola scriptura, those ways can’t be infallible.

He counter-argued that in terms of circularity, the Catholic is in the same position as the Protestant, since both believe a source to be infallible, based solely on the word of that source itself. By this he means that the Catholic believes in the infalliblity of the Church, based on the word of the Church. He stopped short of admitting outright that the Protestant is reasoning circularly, but implied that if the Protestant’s reasoning is circular, then so is the Catholic’s.

But even granting the premise that the Catholic believes in the infallibility of the Church based solely on the Church’s own word, the Catholic is not, in fact, in the same position as the Protestant. The difference is that the Church, in naming itself infallible, identifies that which is infallible. The Church leaves no doubt what the infallible Church consists of. Whereas the Protestant Bible leaves the contents of the scriptures to be assumed or guessed at, or arrived at by human reasoning, or what have you.

But in any event, I do not concede that the Catholic reasons circularly. The reasoning process is not: I assume the Church to be infallible; the Church, being an infallible source, states that it is infallible; therefore I know infallibly that the Church is infallible. Rather, it’s something along these lines:

The Gospels are reliable historical documents. Based on the accounts they contain, it is reasonable to conclude that Jesus is God: He claimed to be God, and backed up his claim with miracles. The Gospels portray Jesus founding a Church. He promised to remain with that Church until the end of time, and to send the Holy Spirit to lead it into all truth. He gave the Church authority to teach and to act in his name. The Church has existed continuously from that time until our own. If that Church has authority to teach in Jesus’ name, and his promise that the Holy Spirit would guide it into all truth, then whatever that Church teaches in his name must be infallible. It’s impossible that Jesus would authorize it to teach in his name if it could teach error; otherwise he would be authorizing the teaching of falsehood, which is impossible.

It is based on this same authority that the Church declares which books constitute the scriptures and are therefore infallible. Thus, we are informed of the infallibility of the scriptures, and of their contents, by a source which is itself infallible.

Now obviously, none of us as individuals is infallible, therefore it’s theoretically possible that Jesus is not God, or even that there is no God. In other words, we could be wrong about those things. We could be deluded or simply misinterpreting the Gospels. Nevertheless it’s a reasonable inference from the available evidence that the Gospels are true; and from there it’s a reasonable inference that the Church is the one founded by Christ and is therefore infallible. From that point it’s a matter of listening to the Church, whom we trust based on our faith in Christ.

I see no similar direct chain of reasoning from the truth of the Gospels as historical documents, to the exclusive infallibility of the 66 books contained in the Protestant canon, when the Church is omitted from the chain.

Would Jesus approve of gay marriage?

I don’t like to argue politics on this blog. For one thing, I don’t know enough about politics to pull that off. But also, it’s nearly impossible to discuss it without people getting heated and uptight, or alternatively, deleting the comments of everyone who can’t keep a civil tongue, neither of which I like to do. I prefer the serene vibe.

The purpose of this post, then, is not to argue whether or not gay marriage should be legal, but only to rebut some pro-gay-marriage arguments that appear to misunderstand or misrepresent the teachings of Jesus in the scriptures.

The arguments are basically these:

1. Jesus never mentions homosexuality in the Gospels, therefore either (a) he didn’t think it was wrong, or (b) if it’s wrong, it’s such a trivial sin that it wasn’t worth his while to mention it.

2. Jesus made compassion more important than adherence and obedience to religious dogma or morals, therefore he would approve of gay marriage rather than let gay people suffer the pain of being forbidden to marry.

As to the first, as mentioned in a prior post, Jesus never made any changes to the moral law except when he made it stricter. Therefore it’s unlikely that he would loosen or eliminate a moral requirement. But even if he did, it’s highly unlikely that he would do so merely by being silent about it. He had no fear of confronting the religious authorities of his day, and when he disapproved of them he let them know in no uncertain terms.

Regarding Jesus mentioning homosexuality, I would argue that he didn’t waste time teaching things that people already knew, but rather taught those things which they either didn’t know, or which they seemed to need a reminder of based on their behavior. Thus, he loathed hypocrisy, and confronted and condemned it whenever it crossed his path. The number of times he condemns hypocrisy (a lot) is a reflection of the number of times he encounters it.

By contrast, he only addresses adultery once because, well, he only encounters it once. When he does address it, he doesn’t teach that it’s a sin because everyone already knew that. And while he rescues the woman caught in adultery from stoning (the penalty prescribed under the Law), he doesn’t change the moral doctrine on adultery, by teaching that adultery is fine. He simply points out the hypocrisy of those who would presume to carry out the prescribed penalty; and then tells the woman to “go and sin no more”.

From these examples it seems to follow that he never mentions the sinfulness of homosexual sex because (1) he never encounters it, and (2) it’s something, like the immorality of adultery, which the people were clear on and therefore didn’t need to be taught.

As to the second argument above, I would agree that Jesus considered compassion more important than observance of the Law – that is, the Law of Moses or the Mosaic Law – but not more important than righteousness.

His specific criticism of the religious authorities was that they would bend over backwards to make sure the letter of the law was fulfilled in every particular, while acting in a manner exhibiting indifference to the demands of righteousness and compassion. Thus, the scribes and Pharisees would neglect the care of their aged parents by claiming that their money was “corban”, or consecrated to God, and therefore not available to them. In this way they put on a show of obeying the Law, while disobeying the direct commandment to honor their fathers and mothers. (Mk. 7:1-13.)

The way the subject arose was that the scribes and Pharisees were criticizing Jesus’ disciples for not washing their hands before eating. This really ticks Jesus off and he lets them have it for honoring God with their lips while their hearts are far from him, and “teaching as doctrines the precepts of men” (Mk. 7:7).

Jesus never condemns obedience to the Law, but he hates it when people obey the Law while neglecting moral righteousness. The Law is not about righteousness per se, but about ritual cleanness and uncleanness. It’s about what you have to do in order to participate in the sacrificial and other religious rituals prescribed under the Law. It’s wrong to disobey these things because God commanded the Israelites to carry them out. But it’s wrong for that reason alone, and not because of any unrighteousness inherent in, for example, eating the meat of animals with cloven hoofs, or touching a dead body.

Jesus’ message is that he’s more concerned about things that are inherently righteous or unrighteous, than about ritual cleanness or uncleanness. Thus, it’s far more important to feed the hungry and care for widows and orphans than to wash your hands before eating. A good Jew should do both, but to do the latter while neglecting the former is, for him, the height of hypocrisy.

The story of the woman caught in adultery (Jn. 8:1-11) again provides a point of illustration:

“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. What do you say about her?'”

Jesus, of course, says that the one who is without sin should cast the first stone. Do we not, then, have it straight from Jesus’ mouth: Sexual sins don’t matter since we’re all sinners anyway? Doesn’t this show that the real sin is persecuting those who commit sexual sins?

But look at how the story ends:

“Jesus looked 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 do not sin again.'”

Jesus’ command “do not sin again” has two implications: First, that her sin was really a sin; and second, that she must stop it.

What, then, is the lesson of the story? I would suggest that one lesson is that, again, righteousness is more important than adherence to the Law.

Note that the scribes and Pharisees say to Jesus, “[I]n the law Moses commanded us to stone such.” They’re eager to comply with the letter of the Law, like good Jews. But do they care about righteousness? Jesus thinks not. Therefore he tests them: “Oh, you care about righteousness, do you? In that case, let whoever is righteous among you cast the first stone.” When he puts it that way, they fail the test. If they really cared about righteousness, wouldn’t at least one of them be righteous himself, and therefore worthy of casting a stone? They were all eager to stone someone for a violation of the Law, but all admitted that they were no more righteous than she was.

Whereas Jesus’ actions do serve the cause of righteousness. In what way? By telling the woman, “Sin no more. I don’t condemn you [to death], but you must repent of your sins. You cannot keep behaving unrighteously.” He has compassion towards her by sparing her from stoning, but only so that he can bring her to repentance. Thus, both his compassion and his reproof serve the cause of righteousness. If she had died, the cause of righteousness would not have been advanced; but by saving her life, he is able to encourage her not to continue in unrighteousness, but to act righteously thenceforth.

Note, therefore, that adherence to the Mosaic Law is the thing above which Jesus is elevating compassion. And it’s not compassion per se that he is elevating, but righteousness generally. Jesus hates it when people are sticklers for complying with the letter of the Law, while being indifferent to righteousness. How much more horrified would he be at the idea of jettisoning righteousness altogether for the sake of compassion?

Indeed, it’s a mistake to believe that Jesus would consider it compassionate to leave sin uncorrected. Sins are what he has come to save us from. What is compassionate about abandoning someone to his sins without trying to correct him?

“I tell you, … unless you repent you will all likewise perish.” Lk. 13:5. Why would he want us to perish?

“[After healing a lame man], Jesus found him in the temple, and said to him, ‘See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse befall you.'” Jn. 5:14. Why would he want something worse to befall us?

“Jesus answered them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, every one who commits sin is a slave to sin.'” Jn. 8:34. Why would he want us to be slaves to sin?

“Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” Lk. 13:3.

Did Jesus put compassion ahead of righteousness?

Someone argued recently that Jesus would have approved of gay marriage because he put “compassion for people ahead of adherence to religious dogma.” This is just a quick rebuttal to that argument, which I plan to elaborate on in a subsequent post.

When people say things like that, I can’t help wondering whether they’ve read the whole New Testament or only certain parts. Jesus may have put compassion ahead of religious dogma, but not ahead of righteousness:

“For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” Mt. 5:20

He lists adultery and other sexual immorality along with murder and theft as things that make a man unrighteous:

“And he said, ‘What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.'” Mk. 7:20-23

He ate and drank with sinners, but for the sake of bringing them to repentance:

“And the Pharisees and their scribes murmured against his disciples, saying, ‘Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?’ And Jesus answered them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.’” Lk. 5:30-32

He taught that it’s better to pluck your eye out than to let it cause you to sin, since sin sends you to hell:

“’And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, “where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.”’” Mk. 9:43-48

Of course Jesus was compassionate and merciful. Otherwise he would not have been incarnated, healed the sick and the lame, and suffered and died on the Cross. But all of this was for the purpose of calling sinners to repentance, as he makes abundantly and repeatedly clear.

Jesus’ silence on homosexuality

A couple of times in the past week I have come across the argument that since Jesus doesn’t mention homosexuality in the Gospels, he must have thought there was nothing wrong with homosexual sex. This is just a quick rebuttal to that argument. I will have more to say about it in a subsequent post.

Jesus also didn’t mention kidnapping, child abuse or racism. Should we conclude that those things are fine with him? He also didn’t talk about murder, except when he said that being angry at your brother, and insulting him, and calling him a fool, is the same as murder and makes you liable to hell. (Mt. 5:21-26)

Jesus didn’t make any changes to the moral law as the Jews already understood it. The exceptions are when he makes the moral law even stricter, for example when he says that Moses allowed divorce but that “it was not that way in the beginning” (Mt. 19:8) and that “he who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery” (Lk. 16:18); or when he says that not only is adultery a sin, but that when you even look on a woman with lust you’re committing adultery in your heart (Mt. 5:27-28), and that if your eye causes you to stumble in this way then you should pluck it out rather than burn in hell (Mt. 5:29).

There is a Latin proverb to the effect that silence implies consent. My interlocutors take this to mean that since Jesus didn’t condemn homosexual sexual activity, he must have approved of it. This is to project modern sensibilities on the people of Jesus’ time; to assume that what we take for granted is what Jesus takes for granted, so long as he doesn’t state otherwise. But if Jesus’ silence implies consent, it would imply consent to the prevailing morality of the time — unless he states otherwise. He has no fear of speaking out against the prevailing paradigm when he disapproves of it. In the case of Jewish sexual morality, he does no such thing.

In light of this, it would not be warranted to conclude that because Jesus didn’t mention homosexuality, his intention was to overturn the traditional Jewish prohibition of homosexual sex.