A reader posted an anonymous question in the Contact form. (Which is fine, but I’d really prefer that comments on posts be posted in the comments to that post — even if you think your comment will make me look stupid. It wouldn’t be the first time. And it would probably be good for me.)
The reader wrote (his words are in italics and indented) —
I came across an article by you entitled “Is CENI a Hermeneutic?” 12-12-13. In your comment regarding your wife buying bananas, you stated,
Ponder this long and hard, and you’ll find that the answer depends on the nature of my relationship with my wife and the nature of my own character. What kind of person would I have to be and what relationship would my wife and I have for “Diet Coke” to deny authority to buy bananas?
What you seem to be ignoring is the relationship between you and God is one of Master and servant. In your statement above where it says “wife” replace wife with “God” and read it again.
[JFG: Okay. Let’s rephrase this in God-Christian terms, quoting my earlier post but changing the characters have you’ve suggested:
I just left to go to the grocery store. God told me, “Please bring me some Diet Cokes.” If I bring back something in addition to Diet Cokes, have I acted in rebellion against God my Master? Or does the answer depend on something else? If so, what else?
Under a CENI approach, silence is a prohibition. God was silent on bananas. Do I have to have authority to buy bananas? Or are bananas necessarily inferred by “Diet Coke”? I don’t see how. So what’s the answer?]
Do you desire to be faithful to, obedient to your God?
[JFG: Of course.]
It would seem that you have placed yourself on the same level as God.
[Because I had the audacity to buy bananas without authority? But God IS my Master. Right now. And I just bought bananas from the grocery store. So where is my CENI authority? Where does God command me to buy bananas? I can’t think of any example of bananas being bought in the NT. Nor is there an obvious necessary inference. After all, “necessary” means that the scriptures necessarily authorize bananas.
Aren’t there cases when it would be wrong to buy bananas? Such as if it were illegal. Or if I was going to give them to a person I know to be allergic to bananas. Or if the bananas are being sold to support human sex trafficking. Or if my potassium is elevated and eating them could damage my health. So the inference is hardly necessary.
It seems to me that authority is irrelevant to the question. Sometimes it’s okay. Sometimes it’s not. And the tipping point isn’t authority but broader principles, such as “Love your neighbor” and the fact that my body is a temple for the Holy Spirit. And those principles will suffice to find the right answer without ever getting to the question of authority at all.]
That you can decide for yourself what God wants.
[You assume, as we lawyers say, a fact not in evidence. Why assume that anything I buy is necessarily for God? Why can’t I buy bananas for me? or a friend? Is that forbidden for lack of authority? And maybe God doesn’t care either way. Maybe he gave me a brain and a heart so I could make some decisions on my own? Obviously, those decisions have to be guided by his will for me (“love your neighbor”; body is a temple for the Spirit), but who says his will may only be communicated by granting or withdrawing authority? I don’t see that in the Bible.]
Is that not “will” worship?
[Not remotely. You’re referencing Col 2:23 —
(Col. 2:23 KJV) 23 Which things have indeed a shew of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body; not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh.
Let’s try that in modern English and in context —
(Col. 2:18-23 ESV) 18 Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, 19 and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God. 20 If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations — 21 “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” 22 (referring to things that all perish as they are used) — according to human precepts and teachings? 23 These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.
Notice that Paul was condemning certain ascetics who insisted on the commands “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch.” They were imposing restrictions on Christians that God didn’t impose. They were adding commands to the Bible. This is what the KJV calls “will worship.”
Without divine “instruction” we wouldn’t know anything.
[Obviously God communicates to us in many forms. Some of those communications are indeed commands. Some are metaphors, poetry, apocalypse, parables, proverbs, stories … indeed, nearly every form of written communication known to man. The Bible contains far more poetry than law. And it’s all important. So, no, we have much, much more than instruction. And only a small piece of the foregoing addresses authority as such. Indeed, if you read the Bible looking for authority and nothing else, you’ll skip some of the very best parts. I mean, how much time will you spend in Isaiah or Jonah or the Revelation if you’re only interested in what is authorized?]
Was it not Jesus Himself who said, “If you love Me, keep my commandments?”
[Of course. Do you really think I doubt this? Remember, in my story I bought the Diet Cokes. That was never questioned. I kept his commandment. Really and truly. The question is whether I can buy bananas — about which God said nothing. Hence, there was no command to violate.
You are assuming — utterly without proof — that his silence as to bananas carries the same weight as an outright command, which defies good sense and logic. A silence is not a command.
To call a silence a command is to add to God’s word. If you have nothing else to base your rule on, it’s looking a lot like will worship or self-made religion. After all, the rule didn’t come from God but from your assumption about how to interpret God’s silence.]
Who are those who are going to heaven? Is it not those who “do” the will of God? How can we do it if we are not told?
[He told me to buy Diet Cokes and I bought them. He said nothing about bananas, my doctor wants me to increase my potassium intake, and so I bought the bananas. How is that disobedience? How can I disobey a silence?]
The Old Testament was written for our learning, we can learn how not to treat God, to listen to His “commands” and follow them. And we will hear, “Well done thy good and faithful servant, enter in to the joy of heaven. “
[Again, I obeyed the only command given in the example story. I bought the Diet Cokes. (How is this hard?) Where on earth do you get the notion that a command to buy Diet Cokes equals a command forbidding bananas?]
So, yes, your answers in your article does indeed show your relationship with God almighty.
[Correct. I don’t add to his word because he is clear that I should not do so. And that really is a command (not a silence). In addition to the passage you alluded to, there is–
(Mk. 7:1-8 ESV) Now when the Pharisees gathered to him, with some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem, 2 they saw that some of his disciples ate with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. 3 (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands properly, holding to the tradition of the elders, 4 and when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches.) 5 And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” 6 And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; 7 in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ 8 You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”
Notice that the Pharisees required their followers to wash their hands before eating, for fear that some dirt or dust from someone or something unclean might be consumed by accident. (My mother would approve of washing before eating!) But they bound it as a command, and Jesus rebukes them for adding a command not made by God. Indeed, Jesus very plainly condemns binding a human tradition not made by God.
I would add that the Jewish synagogue was a manmade tradition, utterly without OT authority. The cups taken at the Passover are not found in the OT. Both are additions by man, and both were approved by Jesus. In fact, he adopted the Passover cup as part of our Lord’s Supper — a human addition. Silence does not always imply a prohibition.
Now, it’s easy to overstate a case. There are, of course, grammatical constructions and situations in which silence implies a prohibition. But not all silences do. And sometimes the inference is not found in grammar but in relationship.
If my employee goes to the store and I ask her to bring some Diet Cokes, she may well have authority to buy whatever my office needs. I have staff members who’ve been with me for 30 years. They know what the office needs better than I do. They have discretion to take the business credit card and buy what we need to do business. Even if I ask for Diet Cokes and am otherwise silent. Yes, if we need bananas, she may buy bananas, and I thank her for not bothering me to ask. I trust her.
She’s a valued employee for that very reason: because I don’t have to instruct her on every detail. And if she makes an occasional error, I overlook it, because that’s the nature of our relationship. I judge her heart. And because her heart is to be the best employee she can be, most of the time, she gets things right. And I don’t sweat the small stuff, because nothing would make me a bad employer more quickly than nitpicking her judgments when she’s trying her best to please me.
But if order Diet Cokes on Amazon.com, I don’t expect the fine people at Amazon to know what else I need and charge it to my card. We don’t have that kind of relationship.
So … am I to God a good and faithful servant who can be trusted to make wise decisions based on the years we’ve spent together? Or am I like Amazon, a total stranger with a purely commercial relationship?
Both relationships are commercial. But one is also personal and based on faith and a life of commitment and service — time spent together to learn the other’s needs and wants. The other has none of those things. It’s purely economic and not personal at all.
And the relationship answers the question about authority.