Proverbs 21:3 – False Dichotomies

Proverbs 21:3 – False Dichotomies

Some great stuff from Dan Phillips on trying to twist what the Bible is actually saying.

To expand on that a little, I have heard this same idea expressed by Christians in many false dichotomies. For instance:

  • It is more important to be loving than to be orthodox
  • It is more important to be loving than to be truthful
  • It is more important to care about people than to care about ideas
  • It is better to walk with Christ than to attend church
  • It better to be kind than to be right
  • It is better to live the Gospel than to tell it
  • Etc. ad infinitum et ad taedium

On the surface, who could argue with any of these statements? The problem is that, unfortunately, they are usually used to evil ends, and they’re diabolically clever. Disagree with any of them, and you seem to be arguing against love, practical Christian living, caring, kindness, Gospel living, Mom, puppies and everything wonderful. Who wants to do (or be accused of) any of that?

However, what all of these statements have in common is that, if pressed, they form false dichotomies.

Going back to Proverbs 21:3, liberals in years past have taken such statements in Proverbs and in the prophets as indicating an anti-Temple faction. One can only get there, however, if one rejects the canonical ascriptions of authorship, which requires (at least de facto) rejection of the inerrancy and authority of the text.

Accept the authority of the text, and we go in another direction: the intent is to help readers/hearers evaluate and identify what most matters to God. One knows at the outset that God cannot be saying “Don’t do sacrifice,” because it was He who enjoined sacrifice in the first place. Likewise, no Bible-believer can imagine that God wants us to reject the teaching of His word in doctrine and theology, or to disdain wrestling intensely for the faith or casting down ideas that oppose themselves to the knowledge of Christ, or refuse to attend church — because it is God Himself who commands that we do such things; and, if we believe Him, we do them, to the best of our ability.

Perhaps we can understand Solomon’s wording and thought better if we can get a better idea of the soil from which this proverb was brought, by God’s Spirit. What lay behind the composition of this particular proverb? Did Solomon have in mind the narrative of Saul, who disobeyed God, then tried to smear the whole over with a gaudy religious act of sacrifice (1 Samuel 15)? Very possibly.
If so, then Solomon is saying to us what God told Saul through Samuel (1 Sam. 15:22-23):

And Samuel said, “Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.  For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, he has also rejected you from being king.”

…only he said it in a single, pointed, pithy proverb.

Wisdom, and its balances, is hard.

Guess that’s why there’s a whole book in the Canon devoted to it, and to grounding it in the fear of Yahweh.

Almost three years ago I wrote something on a similar vein.

Now in context we see that the Golden Rule is relegated to second place in relationship to another rule which is “the great and first commandment” – to love the Lord your God with everything that you are. Suddenly we are presented with a higher regard than simply the effect of our actions on our neighbours. Jesus only presents such considerations as secondary to the primary concern that your life should be handed over to God in all that you think and say and do.

So the real issue is, what does it mean to love the Lord your God with all your heart etc? Well, Jesus very clearly says “If you love me you will obey my commandments” (John 14:15). A love of God is a life that lets itself be lived the way God intends it – it is a life that sells its wants and desires and follows Jesus and his path (Matthew 19:16-22). It is a life that realises that simply doing something that doesn’t harm other human beings isn’t enough – the prior question is whether it is something that God would want us to do in the first place. Our ethical decisions aren’t just to be based in anthropomorphic concerns – they have as much to do with God as they do with our fellow human.

What say you? Is there more to following Christ then just “love”?

31 Comments on “Proverbs 21:3 – False Dichotomies

  1. Nobody is truly orthodox because nobody lives their life totally in accordance with Biblical principles.

    Do you have a bank account that accrues interest? Do you wear clothing made from mixed fibre? Do you insist that your wife say nothing in church but take theology lessons afterwards and only from you? Are you a member of a schismatic church? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you are not orthodox.

    We’re all cafeteria Christians picking and choosing which scriptural commandments we obey. To criticise others for doing exactly the same is therefore the worst kind of hypocrisy. And I don’t think that hypocrisy can ever be loving.

    Those who place the Great Commandment before all else and try to live by their understanding of God’s plan for us without criticising their fellows for not doing exactly the same are, I believe, on the right track. Those who call themselves orthodox and use it as a platform to launch attack after attack on other people have, in my opinion, gone completely off the rails.



      • @peterould Of course I could quote Deuteronomy 23:19, Leviticus 19:19 and 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, but of course you’ll have thought of workarounds, excuses and entirely unorthodox justifications for not following these Biblical instructions.

        No matter. My point is amply illustrated. As are your arrogance and disdain for those who don’t share your point of view. I wonder if you’ll insult your future parishioners by labeling them ignorant when they don’t agree with you. I’ll pray for them. They’re going to need all the help they can get once the Church lets you loose on them…

        Moins cordialement qu’auparavant


        • @saekker Codswallop. You asked a deliberately snarkey question which either (i) You think is really clever when it fact it demonstrates your utter ignorance of NT theology OR (ii) you knew was about the Law which was completed in Christ, but you couldn’t resist anyway? Either way, you had no real interest in proper answers because if it was (i) then you really aren’t bothered to do basic theological homework OR if it was (ii) you already know you’re arguing a dead case.

          If of course you want to have a serious discussion about how Christ completes the Law, let me know.

        • @peterould@saekker

          “Yahweh, who has the right to enter your tent, or to live on your holy mountain? The man whose way of life is blameless, who always does what is right … does not ask interest on loans …”

          – Psalm 15:1-2, 5 (I remember being told as a boy that this was known as “the Christian gentleman’s psalm”.)

          It seems that Christ has fulfilled only the bits of the Law that you don’t want to be bound by. The bits that you don’t mind keeping, or which only affect other people anyway, apparently remain unfulfilled.

        • @marenariello@saekker Usury is not strictly just charging interest on loans. Usury is where you lend to those in need and then charge interest. It has nothing to do with commercial lending practice and everything to do with turning charity into profit.

          So, that settled, let’s look at the whole Psalm.

          <i>[15:1] O LORD, who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall dwell on your holy hill? [2] He who walks blamelessly and does what is right and speaks truth in his heart; [3] who does not slander with his tongue and does no evil to his neighbor, nor takes up a reproach against his friend; [4] in whose eyes a vile person is despised, but who honors those who fear the LORD; who swears to his own hurt and does not change; [5] who does not put out his money at interest and does not take a bribe against the innocent. He who does these things shall never be moved.(Psalm 15 ESV)</i>

          Great. No problem with that. God expects righteousness. Problem is, once we read that psalm you and I realise that there is no way we can always live up to that standard.

          Got the solution to that little sticky wicket?

        • @peterould Oh dear, well if that last response is an example of the fundamentals of orthodoxy then I think I now understand what orthodoxy means. And I never saw anything quite so repellent before.



        • @saekker Adieu indeed!

          It’s interesting though, because your reply reveals that at heart you don’t want to talk about the Bible seriously. You’re happy to quite bits of it to support your prejudices, but when anybody raises the issue as to what it *actually* means and what the implications for you are, you hurl ad hominems.

        • @peterould@saekker Oh miaow – saucers of milk for the pair of you! The Bible is a problematic book and anyone who says its meaning is plain is usually grinding some axe or other.

          I’ve just sent for the DVD God On Trial. The Jews (whose God it was in the first place so perhaps they know a thing or two) aren’t afraid to say God was hanged at Auschwitz. Here’s an original review of the production:

        • @peterould@saekker

          Well, yes, you can always put a bit of spin on it. The fact remains that for centuries the Church took the scriptural prohibitions on charging interest on a loan au pied de la lettre, and regarded it as a sin to reclaim more than the exact amount of a loan.

          It is by its very nature unlawful to take payment for the use of money lent, which payment is known as usury. – THOMAS AQUINAS

          This was also taught by Luther, but not by Calvin:

          …asking interest on a loan seemed to him – in contrast to Luther – to be reasonable, although it was forbidden by God.” – H.M. KUITERT, I Have My Doubts (1993)

          Dante places usurers in the same circle of the Inferno as the “sodomites”, since lending money at interest is “contrary to nature”; it makes fruitful that which is not naturally so. (Inferno, Canto XVII)

        • @peterould@saekker

          This kind of thing always make me think of the scene in Philippa Pearce’s children’s novel, “A Dog So Small”, where Ben is reading the Bible to his grandmother, Mrs Fitch, whose eyesight is now too poor for her to read herself:

          Ben thought for a moment and then said that perhaps the psalmist hadn’t meant –

          “Don’t say it!” snapped Granny. “That’s what they used to say at chapel. If there was something in a Bible reading that seemed to them foolish or downright wicked, they’d say, ‘Oh, but of course, Sister Fitch, it doesn’t really mean that at all!’ But if it was something they fancied anyway, they’d say, ‘Oh, but of course, Sister Fitch, it means just what it says.’ I know ’em!”

        • @peterould@marenariello Yes, they’ll twist whatever they want to mean whatever they think it should. It all comes down to what benefits them and their image of themselves.

          I actually would like to have a serious discussion about scripture, but this is not a serious discussion. It’s agenda-driven nonsense. It’s the Daily Mail for Anglicans. All liberals are evil and anything that doesn’t agree with the narrow interpretation of scripture devised by a few hundred pale, overweight and emotionally stunted Englishmen is heresy.

          Quite honestly the only thing I’m learning here is how people justify themselves and condemn others. All you’re capable of saying is “I’m right, you’re wrong and if you disagree with me then I’ll shout you down”.

          Way to be a pastor, I don’t think.


        • @saekker@marenariello All liberals are evil and anything that doesn’t agree with the narrow interpretation of scripture devised by a few hundred pale, overweight and emotionally stunted Englishmen is heresy.

          Gosh, don’t let me stop you demonstrating how you’re NOT like those evil fundamentalists who just stereo-type and condemn. Really, don’t let me stop you.

        • @peterould@marenariello Ah, well I thought you’d be able to comprehend my point better if I couched it in terms you could understand. As most of your writing is indistinguishable from a Daily Mail rant, it seemed appropriate to adopt a similar style of communication.

          Oh and by the way “pale” and “overweight” are hardly condemnatory. They’re neutral descriptors of the reality of conservative Anglicanism. I’ve been to Evangelical services in England before. Add the total mass of the congregation divided by the number of individuals and you’re well into triple figures. Kilos or pounds. That’s not condemnation. It’s a simple statement of fact. As is my comment about the pallid nature of the English complexion. You live on an island that rarely sees the sun and is paved over with fast food outlets and ale fountains. Of course you’re pale and overweight. What else could you be?

          On the other hand, perhaps “emotionally stunted” was slightly unfair. An excess I blame on my attempt to match the slightly hysterical pitch of your anti-liberal tirades. I guess I shouldn’t try to play this kind of ball with the big boys just yet though. I don’t quite have your practiced arrogance and disdain off pat. I’m getting there though. And to think, I learned it all on a “Christian” website!


        • “…anything that doesn’t agree with the narrow interpretation of scripture devised by a few hundred pale, overweight and emotionally stunted Englishmen is heresy.”

          Nothing Peter+ has said is in disagreement with pretty much all Christians – fat or lean, pale or tanned, English or not.

          Anyone who brings up the shellfish argument – or in this case, the equivalent “mixed fiber” argument – is not interested in honest discussion. Jesus did away with the purity laws. His existence made them moot. “It is not what goes into your mouth that makes you unclean…” This is obvious. So why bring up shellfish or mixed fibers? Simply to deceive.

        • @Conned Much that Mr Ould says is in complete disagreement with the brand of Christianity I’m most familiar with. The Episcopal Church would take exception to a lot of his theology as well as his dismissive and disdainful attitude towards those who don’t share his narrow beliefs.

          Of course many, possibly even most in the Anglican Communion would support him. But since when was faith a democracy? Does Christ tot up votes for and against a particular issue and then decide on the morality of it according to human opinion? That’s the argument used by the last poster: “pretty much all Christians” basically means “shut up and submit to the wishes of the majority”. So are you addressing those words to me or to Christ himself?

          What bothers me about this site and the attitudes of its author is the blanket dismissal of all opinion that doesn’t coincide with his own narrow set of exclusive beliefs. Anyone who doesn’t agree with Mr Ould is on a fast track to hell apparently. Because Christ’s full revelation has only been gifted to him and the narrow circle of conservative Anglicans who (rather snugly) fill the pews of his church. And yet how is it that a group of people whose very bodies are a visible expression of continuing and unrepentant sin (gluttony) have somehow been gifted with the ultimate truth?

          Sorry, but they’re just not credible. Logs and motes spring to mind.



        • @saekker “Because Christ’s full revelation has only been gifted to him and the narrow circle of conservative Anglicans who (rather snugly) fill the pews of his church.”

          The narrow circle is the one you are in and it is getting narrower by the minute. Your continuing attempt to blanket characterize non-liberals as over-weight and even gluttonous is simply bizarre.

          You seem to suffer from extreme degrees of projection. Narrowness of thought, disdain, and smugness are appropriate descriptors of the liberal elitist crowd you seem to ride with. Pride is pretty much a necessity to say that our little crowd is right and the 99% of other Christians in the world and 100% of those who have come before us are wrong.

          But your point about faith not being a democracy is absolutely true. The liberal denominations have abandoned theological questions up to “democracy” and process has been anything but democratic. The liberal factions in these demonitions have manipulated the system and taken advantage of the altogether naivete of conservative members. But as they abandon century old values, members abandon them.



        • @Conned I don’t ride with any Christian crowd, be they “liberal elitist”, conservative or whatever. Nor do I say that my position is right. How can I possibly know that? I don’t have a direct line to God. Only he knows what’s right and what’s wrong. All I can do is follow my conscience.

          If you want to accuse someone of pride, how about starting right at home? You seem inordinately proud of belonging the to the “99% majority”, although quite why being a lemming should make you proud, I’m not sure. I’m also not sure you’ve got your figures quite right. Only 1% of Christians espouse a liberal point of view? I wonder how they manage to get anything done? Are conservatives so dull and stupid that a single, solitary liberal can run rings around 99 of them? Lemmings indeed. Or sheep maybe.

          In any case, please don’t accuse me of promoting any kind of agenda here. All I ask is for my right to my beliefs to be respected and given room within the Church. If I want to marry someone of the same gender, I should be able to marry someone of the same gender. I won’t make you marry someone of the same gender, so respecting my beliefs will have no impact on you whatsoever. All you’ll have to do is relinquish the right to control how I live my life. And that’s what you really don’t want to do, isn’t it? You don’t want to lose control. That’s the one thing all conservatives have in common. Control freaks to a man and his subservient wife.

          And if you dispute my claim that conservative Christians tend to be on the well-padded side, take a look around you in church next Sunday. Of course my evidence is completely anecdotal and really only consists of my own observations in the UK, the US and, to a limited degree, here in France. I’m not aware of any studies that compare the relative weights of conservative and liberal believers, but simply sweeping your gaze over the wide expanses of a typical Evangelical congregation will tell you all you need to know. Sigh … so much sin being so shamelessly flaunted in public while it shivers and shakes and accuses everyone else of the worst kind of iniquity. It would almost be humorous if it weren’t so sad.

          Bien cordialement


        • @saekker@Conned woah, a thread where I can be a comparative moderate! Miracles exist ;-)

          The overweight-evangelical stereotype is news to me. The most common stereotype is that , rather, they consist of weatlhy, attractive, trendy types – part of their general (purported!) ideology that has no place for the poor, or old, or sick. There is a lot of amusement in the homophobia of many evangelical guys, as most of them tend far more towards the limp-wristed weepy f**got end of the (stereotypical!) spectrum than they do the stuff of Real Men. Am sure that more than a few of them are rocking cockdusters whilst observing Movember, which is amusing to contemplate. Similarly, although it could be argued that most single evangelical women are total bunny-boilers, many of them are very posh and very attractive, in a way that reminds one of a young Samantha “Queen of the MILFs” Cameron. Indeed, I imagine that if you took a normal straight guy to an evangelical church (which would be a novelty of sorts ;)) they would, rather than being repelled by fugly fatties, have a “what a waste!” response to the smoking hot MILFy hordes!

        • @saekker@Conned More generally, Peter, I would say that disagreeing with evangelical understandings of the OT is not the same thing as not understanding them (I think if someone accused you of not “understanding” liberal theology you would, politely or otherwise, tell them way to go!). For example, Philip Yancey is a popular evangelical author, and he roped in the (even more popular!) evangelical posterboy C.S. Lewis to claim “Grace” as Christianity’s USP. That might be an attractive idea, but claiming, as Yancey and Lewis do, that Judaism has no concept of grace is quite simply ahistorical bollocks. On top of which the “Christ analogy bingo” approach that evangelicals apply to the OT is the sort of methodology that, if used for a novel, would get you laughed out of first year English Literature at any halfway decent University. It is hardly therefore suggestive of a Reading Strategy most apt for the Word of God. When compared to the Blood Libel and general antisemitism that enabled the Holocaust, the pop-evangelical “understandings” of Judaism may seem small beer, but they are reductive, stupid and – ultimately – immoral all the same. And if one’s brand of Christianity requires one believing things that are clearly untrue (c.f. also : creationism) then perhaps the brand is not The One, True, Orthodox version that one thinks it is?

        • @saekker@Conned for example, St.Silas Glasgow had a Women on Women service, one of which involved Jelly – which a crude unredeemed man would surely describe as “one for the wank bank” ;-)

          More seriously, I think that a genuine, serious Catholic thinker – forced to engage in some sociological analysis – would say that, for all the casual misogyny one finds in evangelical services – a bigger problem is the over-promotion of incompetent women. It’s hard to take churches that are opposed to gay priests seriously when, as with St.Silas, they appoint bunnyboiler-enabling eating disorder-addled soppy incompetents over the men of god. And of course, said people usually have a nasty dose of arrogant paranoia, assuming that they wouldn’t stand a chance of ordination in the Scottish Episcopal Church because they’re evangelicals. The reality of course is that, as evidenced by their generalised incompetence and insanity, is that they’re just not up to the job of being proper clergy. It’s good that such zoomers will never be proper “Revs” of course, but the fact that any old nutter (if heterosexual, married, and ideally middle-class or up )can become an evangelical “Pastor” is hardly a situation that does the ol’ evangelical ideology many favours.

        • @Conned Alternatively, O Conned, they might note that slippery devision of Leviticus into separate “just ritual” etc categories is a later “understanding” of/imposition on the text, rather than being inate within it (those useful pop-bible chapter divisions ain’t exactly a feature of Rabbinical tradition…)

          That said, if it’s not what one puts into one’s mouth that makes one unclean, then presumably passive gays are good to go! ;)

        • @cerebusboy@saekker@Conned So, and I’m just trying to cut through the fog, you think there’s a woman on staff at St Silas’ who isn’t up to the job? Told Dave (‘cos essentially you have now already)?

        • @peterould@saekker@Conned And I would say that any points I seek to make on evangelical culture per se are exactly that – you may disagree with their accuracy, but that doesn’t mean I’m merely (or even at all) objecting to SS. As a human being, Dave is (or should have been! ;-)) Dr. Cox to my J.D. and I think that an argument could be mounted that, in some aspects, St.Silas is ,by evangelical standards, actually not too bigoted, insane or aesthetically appalling.

          You know and i know that some of the markers I note of evangelical culture/churches – e.g. electric guitar, Mark Driscoll, creationism, heterosexism, wealth – are the sort of things that fans of evangelical Christianity could site as strengths (example : “in contrast to the worldiness of many liberal churches, evangelical cutlures feature creationists who are not ready to abandon the plain meaning of scripture in the face of secular science. Similarly, they proclaim the primacy of heterosexual marriage in contrast to the capitulation to the gay agenda that other churches have succumbed to. And whilst many a liberal church is low in numbers, evangelical churches attract thousands of young professionals and raise literal millions for good causes” etc )

  2. This kind of thing always make me think of the scene in Philippa Pearce’s children’s novel, “A Dog So Small”, where Ben is reading the Bible to his grandmother, Mrs Fitch, whose eyesight is now too poor for her to read herself:

    Ben thought for a moment and then said that perhaps the psalmist hadn’t meant –

    “Don’t say it!” snapped Granny. “That’s what they used to say at chapel. If there was something in a Bible reading that seemed to them foolish or downright wicked, they’d say, ‘Oh, but of course, Sister Fitch, it doesn’t really mean that at all!’ But if it was something they fancied anyway, they’d say, ‘Oh, but of course, Sister Fitch, it means just what it says.’ I know ’em!”

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