Archive for the ‘Jesus’ Category

“Abortion” Article from the Dictionary of Scripture and Ethics

Thursday, May 30th, 2019

Given the recent renewed attention to abortion, this might be a significant moment to look for an approach that is different from the standard fare. My own views, expressed in two books and several articles, represent what is sometimes called the “consistent life ethic.” The following brief article focuses specifically on a way to look at abortion through the lens of Scripture. I am grateful to Baker Academic for permission to reprint this article online.

Abortion

From Joel B. Green, Jacqueline E. Lapsley, Rebekah Miles, and Allen Verhey, eds., Dictionary of Scripture and Ethics, Baker Academic, a division of Baker Publishing Group, 2011, 35­–37. Used by permission. (http://www.bakerpublishinggroup.com)

 

Induced abortion (as opposed to spontaneous abortion, or miscarriage) is the deliberate termination of a pregnancy through the destruction and/or removal of the embryo or fetus.

Because recent discussion of abortion, even in the church, has almost universally considered it a political issue addressed within the framework of rights, the first task of Christian ethics is to make the question a truly theological and ecclesial one (Bauerschmidt; Hauerwas), reframing it within the fundamental scriptural framework of covenant faithfulness, or discipleship. How should being a baptized community of faith, hope, and love in Christ shape the way Christians approach abortion?

Recent theological approaches to abortion are parallel to the three traditional theological perspectives on war, though they are major areas on a spectrum, not precisely fixed points. (1) The position that sometimes designates itself “pro-life” or “right-to-life” is similar to the pacifist position, arguing that abortion is (perhaps with rare exceptions) unethical. Unlike pacifism, however, this position sometimes depends on asserting the innocence of the embryo/fetus. (2) The “justifiable abortion” position, existing in various forms (e.g., Steffen), resembles the just-war tradition: abortion is tragic but justified in certain circumstances. The criteria can relate to the status of the fetus/embryo (e.g., deformity, nonviability, threat to the woman’s health) or to the situation of the pregnant woman (e.g. forced pregnancy; economic, emotional, or physical distress). Unlike just-war theory, the just-abortion argument usually recognizes the satisfaction of one criterion as sufficient rather than requiring the satisfaction of multiple criteria. (3) A third position—“pro-choice,” “procreative choice,” or “abortion rights” (e.g., Harrison)—is similar to the holy-war tradition in seeing the agent as sacred and capable of making a free, responsible decision without providing formal justification.

One cause of these various views is Scripture’s apparent silence on the issue. This can lead to certain erroneous or misguided claims: that abortion was unknown in antiquity; that Scripture should have no role in the abortion debate; that Jews and Christians cannot formulate a robust position on the issue; or that Scripture’s silence necessarily implies divine neutrality or approval, and that the faith community should follow suit.

The silence also leads people to look for texts to support their position. Abortion opponents often quote “choose life” (Deut. 30:19). They also appeal to texts about God’s creation and call in the womb (Ps. 139:13–14a; Isa. 44:1–2; Jer. 1:5) and about fetal activity (Luke 1:41, 44) to argue that Scripture considers the embryo/fetus to be God’s direct creation and indeed a human being. Those who disagree respond that, biblically, the embryo/fetus is akin to property that can be damaged (Exod. 21:22–23) and that human life does not begin until the first breath (Gen. 2:7). Each side accuses the other of prooftexting.

Some interpreters, recognizing the impasse created by appeals to such texts, have looked to broader scriptural themes for an implicit position on abortion or a framework for considering it. Abortion opponents have argued that scriptural themes such as creation as divine gift, the summons to welcome children, and the vision of shalom (part of a “consistent ethic of life”) validate their position. Supporters of abortion/choice have argued for the voluntary and relational character of covenants in the Bible and stressed divine grace and forgiveness for poor decisions. They have also appealed to stewardship of creation and to choice (“choose life”), the former accenting human responsibility, the latter human freedom and liberation.

Critics of stewardship as justification for abortion have argued, however, that biblical stewardship does not include the deliberate destruction of creation, especially of human, or even potentially human, life. And critics of human freedom as justification for abortion point out that scriptural freedom is not absolute, that what is chosen is crucial. Moreover, they contend, liberation in Scripture is freedom from false deities, ideologies, and values, and freedom for joyful, bonded, covenantal service to God and others.

One significant aspect of the discussion is the witness of early Judaism (e.g., Sibylline Oracles, Philo, Josephus) and early Christianity against abortion, despite its absence from the Scriptures that have come down to us. (Rabbinic literature would permit abortion to save the woman’s life.) Certain scriptural images and themes, including some noted above, shaped the symbolic world of Jews and then Christians; opposition to abortion, exposure, and infanticide became an ethical boundary marker for both groups in their pagan cultures. In explaining the biblical summons to love of neighbor, both Did. 2.2 and Barn. 19.5 (ca. 95–135) say, ““Thou shalt not murder a child by abortion.” Subsequent Christian writers echo the prohibition and treat the unborn as “the object of God’s care” (Athenagoras, Plea 35) (See Bonner; Gorman, Abortion.)

This historical witness demonstrates that Scripture can have a key role in the abortion debate even if exegesis alone, still less prooftexting, is insufficient. A hermeneutic is needed that recognizes the difficulty of the issue, expresses pastoral sensitivity, and preserves the basic requirements of covenant faithfulness. Recent work on metathemes in the Bible’s moral vision, individual and corporate baptismal identity, virtue ethics, narrative, and analogy may provide a way forward.

Richard Hays suggests that the NT’s central themes of cross, community, and new creation compel us to reframe abortion so that a problem pregnancy is not merely about an individual’s decision. Rather, it is an occasion for the church to act together in generous, Christlike, sacrificial love to embrace the pregnant woman and her child in utero with spiritual and tangible support. Believers constitute one body (1 Cor. 12)—indeed, a family—and are called to bear one another’s burdens (Rom. 12:5; Gal. 6:2). Such a view does not, however, eliminate personal responsibility, for the believer’s body is not his or her own but God’s, the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19–20). It is the locus and means of self-giving love for God and others (Rom. 6; 12:1–2).

Related to the communal and familial images is the overarching biblical motif of care for the needy (e.g. Matt. 25), including the widow and the orphan (Ps. 82:3–4; Jas. 1:27). The call to protect and provide for the vulnerable may be applied, by analogy, to the situation of both the woman and the developing child. Thus a text that numerous ethicists (e.g., Bauerschmidt; O’Donovan; Hays) have seen as significant for the church’s response to abortion is the parable of the good Samaritan. The attempt to identify the status of the other (“Who is my neighbor?”) may imply that the inquirer desires to define certain others in such a way that they are incapable of placing a moral demand on the inquirer. Jesus transforms the question about the identity of the neighbor into a summons to actually be a neighbor. Analogously, the contemporary question of the personhood (“neighbor-hood”) of the embryo/fetus should perhaps be reconstituted first of all as a question about the meaning of being a neighbor to the other(s) in need, both those already born and those not yet born. Furthermore, the parable suggests that when the question of identity or status is transformed, the summons to “go and do likewise” requires Jesus’ disciples to be engaged in creative and potentially costly forms of community and ministry, and thus to recognize the neighbor by being a neighbor.

The result is an ethic of cruciform hospitality practiced by those baptized into the master story of Christ (Bauerschmidt; Hays; Stallsworth). Although this approach may not resolve every difficult case, it suggests that the relationship between Scripture and abortion is fundamentally about what kind of community of faith, hope, and love is needed for women and children, seen and unseen, to be welcomed into that community and into the world.

See also Adoption; Birth Control; Body; Children; Family Planning; Infanticide; Procreation; Sanctity of Human Life

 

Bauerschmidt, F.  “Being Baptized:  Bodies and Abortion.”  Pages 250–62 in The Blackwell Companion to Christian Ethics, ed. S. Hauerwas and S. Wells. Blackwell, 2004; Bonner, G. “Abortion and Early Christian Thought.” Pages 93–122 in Abortion and the Sanctity of Human Life, ed. J. Channer. Paternoster, 1985; Channer, J., ed. Abortion and the Sanctity of Human Life. Paternoster, 1985; Gorman, M. Abortion and the Early Church. Wipf and Stock, 1998; idem, “Scripture, History, and Authority in a Christian View of Abortion: A Response to Paul Simmons.” ChrBio 2 (1996): 83–96; Gorman, M., and A. Brooks. Holy Abortion? A Theological Critique of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. Wipf & Stock, 2003; Harrison, B. Our Right to Choose: Toward a New Ethic of Abortion. Beacon Press, 1983; Hauerwas, S. “Abortion: Why the Arguments Fail.” Pages 295–318 in Abortion: A Reader, ed. L. Steffen. Pilgrim Press, 1996; Hays, R. The Moral Vision of the New Testament: Community, Cross and New Creation; A Contemporary Introduction to New Testament Ethics. HarperSanFrancisco, 1996, 444–61; John Paul II. The Gospel of Life. Random House, 1995; Johnston, G. Abortion from the Religious and Moral Perspective: An Annotated Bibliography. Prager, 2003; O’Donovan, O. “Again: Who Is a Person?” Pages 125–37 in Abortion and the Sanctity of Human Life, ed. J. Channer. Paternoster, 1985; Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. “Prayerfully Pro-Choice: Resources for Worship.” http://www.rcrc.org/pdf/Prayerfully.pdf; Schlossberg, T. and E. Achtemeier. Not My Own: Abortion and the Marks of the Church. Eerdmans, 1995; Simmons, P. “Biblical Authority and the Not-So Strange Silence of Scripture.” ChrBio 2 (1996): 66–82; Stallsworth, P., ed. The Church and Abortion. Abingdon, 1993; Steffen, L. Life/Choice: The Theory of Just Abortion. Wipf and Stock, 2000.

 

Michael J. Gorman

Did Jesus ever Exist?

Wednesday, December 24th, 2014

The latest so-called scholarship arguing against the existence of Jesus has appeared from a University of Sydney graduate student and part-time lecturer. It started on the University web site and was picked up by the Washington Post, at least it’s online edition. (I’ve not yet seen it in the print version.)

I sent a letter to the editor despite the fact that the Post does not print letters responding to online articles. So here is the text of my letter:

Ralph Lataster’s “Did historical Jesus really exist? The evidence just doesn’t add up” (Dec. 20) is so full of factual error and sloppy argumentation that it is not worthy of publication by a scholar—or by a newspaper—no matter what one thinks about the issue.

First of all, Lataster misrepresents the debate. Discussions about the existence of Jesus are debates among historians, not disagreements among atheists. Furthermore, even if Christians believe in “the Christ of faith” (though this is a problematic term in many ways) and also affirm the existence of the historical Jesus, that does not disqualify academically trained Christians from rightfully participating in the debate about Jesus’ existence. Many historians who are Christians are able to believe, in part, because they are convinced that historical study supports the existence of Jesus.

Second, Lataster misrepresents the text of the New Testament. There are plenty of passages in the gospels that narrate a teaching, healing, law-abiding, and law-breaking first-century Jewish teacher that do not even begin to fit the description of a “fictional Christ of faith”—though there are certainly texts that do portray Jesus as more than such a teacher. Moreover, in considering Paul’s letters, Lataster ignores Paul’s allusions to Jesus’ teaching, as well as Paul’s reliance on oral tradition like that found in the gospels when he describes Jesus’ Last Supper. Furthermore, Lataster mischaracterizes Paul’s apocalyptic language as indicating belief in a “celestial” rather than a human” Jesus. He also conveniently fails to mention Paul’s statement that Jesus was born of a woman (Galatians 4:4).

Third, Lataster misrepresents the nature of oral tradition and of the sources for our gospels, and either he is ignorant of current debate about each of these or else he fails to mention them. Yet he draws conclusions about the existence of Jesus based on such misrepresentation and ignorance (or suppression) of contemporary gospel scholarship.

The word “atrocious” that he applies to biblical scholarship does indeed characterize certain forms of published work. (Let the reader understand.) Another word comes to mind, too—“insulting”—both to people’s intelligence and, this week, to their spiritual and historical sensibilities.

Michael J. Gorman
Raymond Brown Professor of Biblical Studies and Theology
St. Mary’s Seminary & University
Baltimore, MD

Good Friday Reflections 2013

Friday, March 29th, 2013

Following is my annual set of brief statements about Good Friday, with some additions for this year:

What makes Good Friday “good”? Or, what is the meaning of Good Friday?

The first thing to say is that it is good only in light of Easter. Given the reality of Easter, it is good because it reveals the depth of God’s love and communicates that love to us in order to liberate us from Sin and Death and to give us life in abundance and life eternal.

Volumes have been written on this, including some by yours truly. Here are just a few reflections summarizing some of what I have written elsewhere at greater length:

1. The main purpose of Jesus’ death was to create the people of the new covenant, who would be empowered by the Spirit of God to resemble Jesus himself: faithful to God and loving toward their neighbors and enemies.

2. The cross is not only the source but also the shape of our salvation. This is the essential meaning of “cruciformity”–daily likeness to the self-giving, life-giving divine love manifested on the cross.

3. The cross reveals the love, power, wisdom, and justice of God, and it does so, paradoxically but powerfully, in weakness.

4. The cross is not only the signature of the Risen One (so Kaesemann), but also of the Holy One of Israel; that is, the cross is not only a christophany but ultimately a theophany–the ultimate divine self-revelation.

5. Thus cruciformity is ultimately theoformity; Christlikeness is Godlikeness; through participation in the cross of Christ, we are transformed most fully into the image of God. This is sometimes called theosis or deification.

6. The fact that Jesus died as the Jewish Messiah on a Roman cross means that his death contains within it a political theology and spirituality.

7. When the cross is used for anything that contradicts its character as divine love, power, wisdom, and justice displayed in weakness, it is being used blasphemously.

Finally: When I survey the wondrous cross, love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.

Daniel Kirk talks about his new Jesus-Paul Book

Wednesday, December 21st, 2011

Daniel Kirk of Fuller Seminary talks about his new book, Jesus Have I Loved, but Paul…?, a book I endorsed and called a page-turner. Have a listen and buy the book at your nearest independent Christian/theological bookstore, such as Hearts and Minds in Dallastown, PA.

Update: part 2, part 3, part 4.

Tom Wright on Three Recent Jesus Books

Monday, December 19th, 2011

Tom Wright reviews recent books by the Pope, Maurice Casey, and Bruce Fisk on Jesus, which (he suggests) represent premodern, modern, and postmodern approaches, respectively. He lauds their interest in Jesus’ rootedness in the Scriptures and Second Temple Judaism but decries their inability to see the centrality and meaning of the kingdom of God for Jesus. His own recent book Simply Jesus attempts to do both. (HT Dan Reid on FB)

N.T. Wright Video on his new book “Simply Jesus”

Friday, December 2nd, 2011

Look here (sorry it’s Fox News) for a fine interview with Tom Wright on his new book Simply Jesus.

Review: A Hitchhiker’s Guide to Jesus

Friday, October 7th, 2011

Like a few other NT scholars, I am participating in a blog tour of Bruce Fisk’s new book, A Hitchhiker’s Guide to Jesus: Reading the Gospels on the Ground (Baker Academic, 2011). There’s even a “hub” site for the tour. I’m grateful to Baker for the copy of the book and the invitation to participate.

So here are some thoughts about the book.

First of all, Fisk has produced a fun book; it feels real, alive, current without being over the top. It’s written in the form of a journal about “Norm’s” trip to the Holy Land to find Jesus and keep his faith intact.

Second, there is serious scholarship here. The extended journal entries are interspersed with email correspondence with the professor who first challenged Norm’s simplistic understandings, attractive sidebars with significant quotes from key scholars and others, and tables–many tables–showing the similarities and/or differences between this account of Jesus and another or between some aspect of Jesus and a parallel scriptural or extra-scriptural source. The correspondence is often like the outline of a lecture, and the tables like classroom handouts. All of this works for the serious reader/student, even though it’s probably too much for someone who thought they were getting a fun and friendly overview of Jesus and the “Holy Land.” It is more like an intro to Jesus and the Gospels text–deceivingly simple in its format, quite thorough in its treatment of the key issues. From John the Baptist to the resurrection of Jesus, most every topic of significance is addressed.

Third, although Fisk has a leaning, even a sub-textual agenda, there are no easy answers here. “Norm” is not naive, and he is open to hearing even the most radical Gospel criticism, but he can also offer his own come-backs. Under and in the voice, and experience, of Norm we hear a voice that says, “Inquiry is ultimately good for faith, and yet historical investigation has its limits, both in what it can tell us and in how it ‘improves’ our understanding of the narrated Jesus of the Gospels.”

At the end of the book, Norm seems content to have better understood the issues, the dissimilarities and tensions, and is able to rest in the splendor of a many-faceted Jesus who cannot be fully understood or pinned down, yet whose presence in the world continues in people and communities that have been shaped by his story.

So how might one use this book? I suppose it would work well in a course on Jesus, or the Gospels, or NT intro, if not as the main book on Jesus and the Gospels, certainly as a good supplemental text. It makes the key issues come to life, both because they are addressed honestly and because they are addressed “on the ground.” (As a frequent leader of study tours, I am all for on-the-groundness in biblical studies.) The book would also be good reading for anyone seriously struggling with critical questions about Jesus and the Gospels, and it might be a good antidote for those who have had a radical introduction to the subject that seems to leave no place for faith.

Finally, a word about and to Bruce Fisk (whom I do not know personally): as others have said, you make many of us wish we had written this kind of book, yet it seems to me that only someone who had had such a journey could actually do it. Well done!

Mark Goodacre on Crucifixion and Passion Narratives

Thursday, April 21st, 2011

My friend Mark Goodacre of Duke has two very fine podcasts, one on crucifixion itself and one on the nature of the passion narratives; highly recommended.

War is a Red Horse

Tuesday, May 4th, 2010

The absence from blogging is due to my intense efforts to conclude the semester while also finishing some articles and my book on Revelation. Most posts in the immediate future will likely be related to those projects, especially the book.

One of my very favorite interpreters of Revelation is Eugene Peterson in his book Reversed Thunder: The Revelation of John and the Praying Imagination. If you have not read it, do so immediately. Commenting on the second horse in Revelation 6, the red horse, Peterson writes (p. 77):

For a time, writ large in the headlines, war is perceived as an evil, and there are prayers for peace. But not for long, for it is quickly glamorized as patriotic or rationalized as just. But war is a red horse, bloody and cruel, making life miserable and horrid…. The perennial ruse is to glorify war so that we accept it as a proper means of achieving goals. But it is evil. It is opposed by Christ. Christ does not sit on the red horse, ever.

N.T. Wright Wheaton Conference Report (3)

Tuesday, April 20th, 2010

The afternoon sessions on Friday continued the focus on Jesus with the following papers:

“‘Outside of a Small Circle of Friends’: Jesus and the Justice of God,” Brian Walsh and Sylvia Keesmaat (Toronto)

“Jesus’ Eschatology and Kingdom Ethics: Ever the Twain Shall Meet,” Nicholas Perrin (Wheaton)

I don’t have too much to say about these papers, not because they were uninteresting, but because my energy level was not real high after lunch following, essentially, three papers (Hays, Thompson, and NTW’s chapel address—an overview of Ephesians).

Always creative, husband-and-wife team Sylvia and Brian, who have been NTW’s students and friends for a long time, gave an impassioned address on the importance of taking Jesus’ teaching on wealth and injustice/justice even more seriously than does Bishop Tom. They argued for moving from a “crucifixion economy” where the non-elite are sacrificed on the altar of the “god of unlimited economic growth” to a “resurrection economy” that embodies the “prophetic critique and prophetic hope” of Jesus that is given validity and divine approval in the resurrection. They asked if we find that prophetic critique and hope of Jesus on the subject of wealth and justice in Jesus and the Victory of God. The basic answer—yes, but not as much as we should.

Former NTW research assistant Nick Perrin argued for seeing a close connection between eschatology and ethics in Jesus and in NTW, especially suggesting that NTW’s identification of Jesus with Israel yields an integrative biblical theology. In NTW’s work on Jesus we find a counter to docetism, a synthesis of soteriology and ecclesiology, and a basis for social ethics in its combination of Christology, praxis, and community.

Both papers, in other words, interpreted Jesus and the Victory of God as providing the foundation of a Christian social ethic grounded in Jesus, though the concrete implications of this (at least according to Sylvia and Brian) need to be explored more vigorously.

One small comment: Bishop Tom has grown increasingly aware of, and committed to addressing, social injustices, whether in his backyard or in Africa, since becoming bishop and a member of the British House of Lords. He grounds this in his meta-narrative and in his interpretation of Jesus and Paul. Jesus and the Victory of God might look a bit different now… That said, I will raise some questions in my next post, about NTW and Paul at the conference, about the direction he may be going.


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