Archive for the ‘Scripture’ 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

Romans 13 and Nonconformity: The Christian Community’s Obligation to Oppose Inhumane Laws and Practices

Sunday, June 17th, 2018

[This is the text of a Facebook post from June 14, 2018.]

Thanks to Attorney General Jeff Sessions (explicitly) and Sarah Sanders (implicitly), Romans 13 (actually, only 13:1-7—and this point is important; see below) is in the news. This part of Paul’s letter to Roman Christians is being cited as justification for calling those who take the Bible as a moral guide to support and follow all U.S. immigration laws, policies, and practices. This text is especially being cited in support of separating parents and children at the U.S. border.

It would take a lot of space to fully critique their argument. But here, in a nutshell (ten short points), is why what is happening at the border is not only instinctively morally repelling, but also a misreading of Romans 13:

1. Various aspects of the meaning of Romans 13:1-7 are debated, but its main original intent was to say to the Roman Christians, “Pay your taxes” (Romans 13:7). The text is not a call to blind obedience to all authorities and laws.

2. Whatever Romans 13:1-7 means, it can only mean what it means in light of its context. That is, it cannot be ripped from its context in the letter to the Romans. But this is what Sessions and Sanders have done.

3. Whatever Romans 13:1-7 means, it cannot be understood in a way that contradicts its context.

4. The immediate context of Romans 13:1-7 is the entirety of Romans 12 and 13. In Romans 12 and 13, Paul sets out basic guidelines for the Christian communities in Rome, and for us.

5. Those guidelines begin with a call for *nonconformity to this age,* a radical transformation of attitudes and practices that is appropriate to those who have benefited from God’s mercy in Christ. This spirit of nonconformity and transformation is the prerequisite for knowing and doing God’s will. And it is the fundamental framework for everything that follows. See Romans 12:1-2.

6. After a discussion of various gifts in the body of Christ, Paul calls on the Christian community to practice a radical, genuine form of love that corresponds to the love they have received from God in Christ. This includes hating what is evil and practicing the good; showing hospitality to strangers; loving enemies; weeping with those who weep; associating with the lowly; blessing persecutors; not repaying evil for evil; practicing peace toward all; not seeking vengeance for harm done; and overcoming evil with good. See Romans 12:9-21. The call to this lifestyle is what immediately precedes Romans 13:1-7.

7. Immediately after Romans 13:1-7 is “the rest of the story”: what Romans 13 says as a whole. Here we find another radical call to neighbor-love and a call to avoid the works of darkness by putting on Christ. See Romans 13:8-14.

8. This context for Romans 13:1-7 means that the Christian community must not follow any authority or law that calls them to violate these basic Christian principles. Rather than being a blanket call to obedience, Romans 13:1-7—when read in context—actually supports Christian opposition to many laws and practices.

9. Sessions and Sanders have missed the point of “Romans 13.” If the practices and laws they are defending manifest the opposite of the basic Christian ethic described in Romans 12-13, it is the duty of Christians to oppose those inhumane practices and laws that they are justifying, in part, by their misuse of Scripture.

10. Christians must also be prepared to try to offer humane alternatives to the practices and laws they oppose.

Some Early Reviews of the 2nd Edition of Apostle of the Crucified Lord

Friday, May 5th, 2017

Some early reviews of the new edition have appeared online, by Nijay Gupta, Philip Long, and William Hemsworth. I am grateful for their appreciative words.

The blurbs for the book are also quite encouraging, though they are not new:

N. T. Wright
—University of St. Andrews
“Michael Gorman enviably combines simplicity of presentation with profound originality. The present work, enhanced in this new edition, is simultaneously an accessible textbook and an exposition of challenging new ideas which all Pauline scholars must take seriously. A book to draw in the beginner and to compel the expert into fresh reflection.”

Douglas A. Campbell
—Duke Divinity School
“Gorman’s learned, sustained, inclusive advocacy of participation as the center of Paul’s gospel is one of the key features of the modern scholarly landscape. This second edition of his balanced yet probing introduction to Paul’s thought is therefore profoundly welcome.”

Michael F. Bird
—Ridley College, Melbourne
“The best introduction to Paul and his letters just got better!”

Frank J. Matera
—Catholic University of America
“I have used Michael Gorman’s introduction to Paul with both undergraduate and graduate students. In my experience it is the best available introduction to Paul and his letters. Theological as well as historical and literary in its approach, it introduces students to what they need to know about Paul and his letters. The appearance of this revised and updated edition is good news for all who love and teach Paul.”

Susan Eastman
—Duke Divinity School
“In this accessible book written for a wide audience, Gorman charts a journey to the transformative heart of Paul’s gospel: the crucified and resurrected Messiah.”

“Becoming the Gospel” is Out

Wednesday, April 29th, 2015

For all who may be interested, you may now order my newest book, Becoming the Gospel: Paul, Participation, and Mission, from Eerdmans (the publisher), Amazon, or your good theological bookstore, such as Hearts and Minds Books in Dallastown, PA.

The “thesis” of the book is pretty straightforward:

The central claim, found in the title — Becoming the Gospel: Paul, Participation, and Mission — is that already in the first Christian century the apostle Paul wanted the communities he addressed not merely to believe the gospel but to become the gospel and thereby to advance the gospel.

I will let Chris Tilling of St. Mellitus College and author of Paul’s Divine Christology say something about the book:

Combining exegesis of Paul’s letters with hermeneutics and missiology, Gorman throws new light on old debates such as those involving the language of God’s righteousness and various participatory themes. . . . Gorman writes in ways that resonate with the missional concerns of the gospel itself.

Cover-Becoming the Gospel

When asked who should read this book, I have responded “Everyone!” :-) Everyone!
First of all pastors, seminary students, and lay leaders in the churches. This is challenging but readable material. I want to spark conversations in the church. Secondly, biblical scholars, missiologists, theologians, and others who teach in and influence the various fields of study that come together in this book.

Today’s Event

Sunday, February 15th, 2015

OK–we are definitely on. Be careful on side streets and any places that have not completely melted. Pls arrive by 4 or after 4:30 and don’t park in front of the house or adjacent if possible.

Free Excerpt of “Death of the Messiah and Birth of the New Covenant”

Monday, August 11th, 2014

If anyone is interested, I have a free excerpt of my new book (Introduction and first chapter) to send out. (I would like to post it here but have failed in my attempts.) Send an email to mjg [at] michaeljgorman.net.

“The Death of the Messiah” is Out

Friday, July 11th, 2014

My newest book is now in print:

You can get it at Wipf and Stock, Hearts and Minds Books in Pennsylvania, or Amazon.

More from “The Death of the Messiah…”

Wednesday, June 11th, 2014

As previously noted, my new book, The Death of the Messiah and the Birth of the New Covenant: A (Not So) New Model of the Atonement, should be available by the end of the month (by June 30) from Cascade/Wipf and Stock. Here is another excerpt, this time from chapter 1, “The Promise of the New Covenant”:

The Need for a New, More Comprehensive Model
There are at least four major problems with the traditional models of the atonement as a group. We will consider each of these problems briefly.

• The first problem is the isolationist, or sectarian, character of the models. Each one is constructed as a kind of stand-alone theory that supposedly tells the whole (or at least the most important) story and requires the exclusion (or at least the marginalization) of other versions of the story. In sympathy with certain postmodern complaints about the very idea of a doctrine of the atonement, Kevin Vanhoozer says [in “Atonement in Postmodernity], “The problem is that theologies of the atonement seem unable to articulate a theory that explains the saving significance of Jesus’ death without betraying the rich testimonies to the event of his death.” Only rarely, as in the case of Colin Gunton (The Actuality of the Atonement), does a theologian try to appropriate and integrate various traditional models.

• The second problem derives from the first: the atomistic, or nonintegrative, character of the traditional models. They do not naturally pull other aspects of theology into their orbit. “Atonement,” however interpreted, often stands apart, separated from ethics, spirituality, ecclesiology, pneumatology, and missiology. In some cases atonement becomes a narrow branch of theology that is almost irrelevant to the actual life of Christian individuals and communities.

• The third problem is individualism. The traditional models have a nearly exclusive focus on the individual, rather than on both the individual and the community, as the beneficiary of the atonement. Scot McKnight (in A Community Called Atonement) and others have, of course, also recognized and begun addressing this problem.

• The fourth problem we might call “under-achievement.” That is, the models do not do enough. We may summarize a model of the atonement in terms of its understanding of the fundamental effect of the cross on a person (or on humanity). In the satisfaction-substitution-penal model(s) the effect is propitiation, expiation, and/or forgiveness; in the Christus Victor model the effect is victory and liberation; and in the “moral influence” model the effect is inspiration. As I suggested in the Introduction to this book, the under-achieving character of these models means that, on the whole, they focus on the penultimate rather than the ultimate purpose(s) of Jesus’ death. In the new-covenant model I am proposing, the purpose (and actual effect) of Jesus’ death is all of the above and more, but that effect is best expressed, not in the rather narrow terms of the traditional models, but in more comprehensive and integrative terms like transformation, participation, and renewal or re-creation. The inclusion of terms like these in a discussion of atonement will seem odd to some readers, but I will introduce them because they capture the spirit of the new covenant promised by the prophets and inaugurated by Jesus’ death. It is precisely certain elements of the promised new covenant (which we will consider in the next two chapters), such as the coming of the Spirit and empowerment to fulfill the law, that are generally not considered to be aspects of atonement per se in traditional theories. This is, in part at least, why the traditional theories fall short of a fully biblical interpretation of the atonement.

My Spring Course on N.T. Wright

Friday, November 30th, 2012

If you are anywhere in the Baltimore–DC–Wilimington–York, PA–Northern Virginia area and you appreciate the work of N.T. Wright, you may wish to consider my spring course at the Ecumenical Institute of Theology at St. Mary’s Seminary & University. This is a graduate course, but there are no prerequisites other than having a bacherlor’s degree with a decent GPA. The course is available for credit or audit.

BS/ST509/709 The Writings of N.T. Wright

Thursday, 6-9 p.m., January 14-March 21 (3 graduate credits)

[This is a combination biblical and systematic theology course offered at beginner, intermediate, and advanced levels.]

Course Description:

An exploration of some of the biblical, theological, and pastoral writings of the contemporary British Anglican scholar N.T. Wright, with attention to the significance of his work for the life of the church.

Course Requirements for all students:

1. Regular attendance and prepared participation in class discussion.

2. Five 100-word reaction posts online (not due when doing discussion-starter paper).

3. Two one-page discussion-starter papers, with summary and discussion questions.

4. One book review of 2,000 words.

5. Class presentation and final, synthetic paper of 2,000 words on some aspect of N. T. Wright’s writings.

Additional Requirement for 700-level students (matriculated degree and certificate candidates):

Same as above plus one additional book review on an additional book by N.T. Wright.

For C.A.S. (Certificate of Advanced Studies) students, the additional book must be a major work approved by the instructor.

Required Texts:

Kurt, Stephen. Tom Wright for Everyone: Putting the Theology of N.T. Wright into Practice in the Local Church. 978-0281063932.

Wright, N.T. (Tom). For All God’s Worth: The Worship and Calling of the Church. 978-0802843197.

Wright, N.T. (Tom). Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense. 978-0061920622.

Wright, N.T. (Tom). Simply Jesus: A New Vision of Who He Was, What He Did, and Why He Matters. 978-0062084392.

Wright, N.T. (Tom). Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church. 978-0061551826.

Wright, N.T. (Tom). What Saint Paul Really Said: Was Paul of Tarsus the Real Founder of Christianity? 978-0802844453.

Some additional online reading and video viewing.

Recommended:

Perrin, Nicholas and Richard B. Hays, eds. Jesus, Paul, and the People of God. 978-0830838974.

Applications for the Ecumenical Institute’s 2013 spring term are due by Monday, December 3, though late applications will be considered. For admission requirements, go to http://www.stmarys.edu/ei/ei_adm_overview.htm, or contact Zenaida Bench at zbench@stmarys.edu or 410/864-4202. Registration continues until spring-term classes begin. See the course brochure at http://www.stmarys.edu/ei/ei_semester.htm for an overview of all of next term’s course offerings.

We believe there is no better way to begin study at the Ecumenical Institute than walking and talking with a friend (see Luke 24:13-14). To encourage that, we offer a one-time tuition incentive for new students who begin together: a tuition remission of 50% for both of you on your first “E.I.” course.

If you and someone you know are considering theological study, this is your opportunity to encourage one another to explore and discern together. You can take the same class or try different courses and compare notes.

Your walk begins with just one course… and may lead to…

  • more courses…
  • or perhaps a certificate in Biblical Studies, Faith Community/Parish Nursing, Religious Education, Spirituality, Urban Ministry, or Youth and Family Ministry…
  • or even a Master of Arts Degree in Theology or Church Ministries.

For more information, please contact the Ecumenical Institute office at ei@stmarys.edu or 410/864-4200.

Theses on Reading and Preaching from the Gospel of John

Thursday, November 29th, 2012

Following is the outline of my final lecture on the Gospel of John for my seminary course on Johannine Literature:

  • The best way to read and preach John is to enter its narrative, symbolic, and theological world, and to invite your hearers to do the same.
  • The jury is still out, and perhaps always will be out, on certain so-called “introductory issues”—the author(s), the precise historical situation of the community (if there was one), etc. Do not build your preaching and teaching on these matters.
  • There is an increasing scholarly acceptance of the historical basis in the life of Jesus of many of the events and sayings in John. Again, the jury is still out on many issues and details, but there are two mistakes to avoid:
    • Don’t say, “This is a spiritual gospel that is not intended to depict the real, historical Jesus as the Synoptic Gospels do, but only the Christ of faith.”
    • Don’t say, “This is an exact word-for-word account of precisely what Jesus said and did without interpretation.” This claim is not true of any canonical gospel because in antiquity oral transmission lent itself to both faithful transmission and appropriate interpretation.
    • The main purposes of the Gospel of John are christological and soteriological: to proclaim Jesus as the Son of God, Messiah/King of Israel, and Savior of the World who was sent by God the Father to give the world eternal life (life in intimate knowledge of Father, Son, and Paraclete/Spirit) now and forever.
    • This joy-filled and peace-filled life is offered as a gift that must be believed and received; nurtured by word and sacrament; and embodied in such concrete practices as love, unity, forgiveness, evangelization, and pastoral care.
    • The spirituality of John is rich, deep, and multifaceted; it may perhaps be summarized as the mutual indwelling (abiding) of believers and the Triune God that creates a community of disciples, the people of the new covenant, that worships God and participates in the divine mission of bringing abundant life to the world through witness in word and deed to the self-giving love of the crucified and glorified Jesus.
    • The gospel of John is both an invitation to life in the Father/Son/Paraclete and a word of reassurance that, in the physical absence of Jesus, believers can rely on the Paraclete as their teacher, guide, inspiration, and aide, even in times of persecution. It is a gospel for non-believers, but also for new believers, doubting and fence-sitting believers, missional believers, persecuted believers—in other words, a gospel for all people.

    google