Friday, October 10, 2008

Afterthoughts on yesterday's post: on moral reasoning, and word-studies

Today, a two-item smorgasbord for your edification.

In Bad love, bad end - and the Cross, we looked at Solomon's apostasy, through the grim narrative of 1 Kings 11. Recall the first two verses, which will spark two further observations:
Now King Solomon loved many foreign women, along with the daughter of Pharaoh: Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women, 2 from the nations concerning which the LORD had said to the people of Israel, "You shall not enter into marriage with them, neither shall they with you, for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods." Solomon clung to these in love.
First, love is not self-justifying. We're told twice that Solomon had love for these women. The same Hebrew word is used in both verses. Isn't love a good thing? In this case, clearly not.

Why not? Because Yahweh had forbidden these unions. Things are not moral nor immoral in themselves, as if by some inherent quality — like one action has lots of "midi-chloreans," the other doesn't. No, acts and choices are moral or immoral as judged by God. After all, there are no such things as brute nor neutral facts. There are only created facts, facts created, defined, and categorized by God the Creator.

So I can imagine Solomon "reasoning" exactly as I've heard sinning, apostatizing "Christians" "reason." Solomon could have said,
"Is not love a good thing? Has not Yahweh Himself commanded that we love our neighbor? Are these not lost women who need the light and word of Yahweh? Is it not to the greater glory of Yahweh that we expand our reach, that we reach out in love to these benighted souls? Think of the new opportunities I will have to bear witness! And who better than I, the servant of Yahweh, who has seen visions of Yahweh and heard His voice? Surely it pleases God for me to hold my arms out wide, to love broadly in His name! Hallelujah! Isn't Yahweh wonderful?"
Plausible, isn't it? And isn't this precisely the sort of "reasoning" we hear in rationalizing various sins — heresies, homosexuality, women pastors, rebellion against authority, refusal to involve oneself in a local assembly, and perversions of the Gospel?

Just one problem: all is dashed to shards by the command of Yahweh.

This love was not beautiful and glorious. It was ugly and destructive. Under no circumstances could it have been otherwise for Solomon. It stood condemned a-borning.

I think you can see many modern applications.

And so, I pass to you this principle, not for the last time:

Never try to use a concept
to cancel a commandment.

Second, leave Greek to people who know Greek. How many times have you heard people — even preachers! — say, "Now, agapē means God's sacrificial, self-giving, unselfish love of commitment to the good of others." Whenever I hear that statement... well, I wince. I cringe.

Now, it may be true that the love to which God calls us is just that: selfless commitment to others' good. That's fine. But don't say that that is what agapē means, as if this were a special word, as if all those ideas were inherently wrapped up in that term. Because they aren't!

For instance, in the Greek translation of this passage, verse two says εἰς αὐτοὺς ἐκολλήθη Σαλωμων τοῦ ἀγαπῆσαι. That is, "Solomon was joined to them to love them." The translator(s) used the verb agapaō. Can you plug in the notion, "joined to them in God's kind of sacrificial, selfless, self-giving commitment to their good"?

No. His love for them was sinful, and therefore selfish.

So the meaning we find in agapē is not inherent in the word itself. It comes from the ways the Lord and the apostles use, demonstrate, and describe it.

Best not to comment on Greek, unless you know Greek. And knowing Greek involves much more than using concordances to do "word-studies."


donsands said...

Good thoughts.

I have heard agape is the true divine love, and phileo is a human love, or something close to that. Especially in the passage where Jesus says to Peter, "Do you love Me?"

It's always context isn't it?

I thought of Brian McLaren where you wrote what Solomon could have said. It's so true in our day that the church simply cuts and pastes the Scriptures that feel good, and then applies them, and disregards the rest of God's truth, and so the truth becomes partial-truth, which is untruth really.

Staci at Writing and Living said...

Thanks for this post. I needed bolstering today.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Grand Slam!!

Post season baseball playoffs and get treated to a walk-off grandslam early in the morning!

Thanks DJP!!

I'll leave the Greek to you! But I'll pick out my own baklava, thank you very much!

Michelle said...

Thanks for the important reminder.

Reminds me of a Baptist church in our area currently holding meetings to "find God's heart" on the issue of women solo/senior pastors. I say His heart is clear and it is in His Word, but I think all the reasoning and rationalizing simply comes down to a rejection of the authority of Scripture. Will we subject ourselves to its authority, or will we subject it to our authority?

DJP said...

Yep. Jump up, wave your Bible, say "Cancel the meeting! I found God's heart!"

Michelle said...

... and a rejection of the authority of His Word is ultimately a rejection of the authority of Yahweh himself. That is no small thing.

Trinian said...

WOW! I hadn't even thought... NICE! I hope you don't mind, I'm going to have to steal that. This is a passage that's dear to me, and I hadn't even considered that implication. Thank you!

"Now, agapē means God's sacrificial, self-giving, unselfish love of commitment to the good of others."

... cringe. My wife says that it's really disrespectful to facepalm during a lesson, so I try to control myself.

I have heard agape is the true divine love, and phileo is a human love, or something close to that.

Aw man... there I go again...

Michelle said...

We left this particular church eight years ago when they "reasoned" that it was ok to have a woman as assistant pastor, because she was still under the authority of a male senior pastor. We knew that the rejection of Scripture there would be a slippery slope. This is the same church that is holding a "study" around the book "The Shack". *Sigh*

Trinian said...

Here's another good LLX quote to go along with Solomon:
2 Samuel 13:4b -
και ειπεν αυτω Αμνων Θημαρ την αδελφην Αβεσsαλωμ του αδελφου μου εγω αγαπω

And Amnon said to him, "I myself love (agapao, verb form of agape) Tamar, the sister of Absalom my brother."
Agape - lusty, violent, unjustified, immoral, ungodly love.

donsands said...

"This is the same church that is holding a "study" around the book "The Shack"."

That's not Michael W. Smith's church, or Eugene Peterson's church is it?

It is amazing to me, how these kinds of men of the Lord can endorse such a wacky book.

I know this is a rabbit trail, but i just had to go down it a bit.

Terry Rayburn said...


I'm intrigued by the concept of not using Greek unless you know Greek. Seems sort of akin to not using Scripture until you know [all about] it.

Better to wisely use what one knows about it than to not use it at all.

Or to put it another way -- learn what you can from those who are relative experts, and pass it on, humbly and cautiously, as opposed to withholding the truth that one already knows.

Using your example, we non-Greek-geeks now know that agape doesn't necessarily mean the selfless God-like love that C.S. Lewis told us it does (actually I first learned your point from D.A. Carson in his terrific book, Exegetical Fallacies, I believe).

Since we now know that, would it not be wise to pass it along, as the subject comes up -- with an appropriate hat-tip to Dan, one of our favorite Greek guys :) -- instead of keeping it to ourselves?

I delight, for example, in expounding a little on what I've learned about the Gk. word logos, when I hear someone say that it merely means "word". Rich stuff that I can't keep to myself. Makes me want to read John 1:1 as "In the beginning was the logos...", so that I don't hinder the fullness of the meaning.

Or the importance of the present tense of "sins" in 1 John, when John says that if anyone sins, he is not a Christian -- useful when running into a Darwin Fish type.

Anyway, thanks for the good lesson, Dan. Hope you'll do more on your Greek blog from time to time.

--who knows just enough Greek to be dangerous, as the saying goes, so watch out :)

Stefan said...


Not to be a pest, but do you have any thoughts on the question I asked yesterday on the first Solomon post?

It seems like Solomon seriously backslid, and there's no record that he repented for his sins before he died. Yet we have 3 books of inspired Scripture penned by him, and the Lord did chastise him severely for his transgressions.

Perhaps this question is unanswerable by any except God, but was he one of the elect?

DJP said...

I have a lot of Biblically-astute readers, Stefan - including you. I just thought I'd let others reply for awhile.

Of course I don't know; I just know what's in the Bible. It doesn't say. Many hope that Ecclesiastes reflects the repentant reflections of a still-older Solomon. That's my hope, too.

Rabbit said...

I was in a sorority, so I can sing the Greek alphabet. Now about that word agape... :o) I do enjoy puzzling out the Greek using Vine's and Zodhiates. I keep it to myself, though, rather than risk proving myself foolish!

Dan, these two posts on Solomon have spoken loudly to me. It would take too long to comment on all the ways, so I'll just say thank you, and link everyone I know back here.

Stefan said...

Dan: Thanks for your thoughtful reply.

If Solomon wrote Ecclesiastes (and applying Occam's rasor, I have no reason to think otherwise), then that might indeed shed some light on the matter.

Even So... said...

Demas loved the present world...

Malchymist said...

Is there not a difference in the way we must weigh the words in the lxx - a translation :
and the NT where we are bound to consider each of the words (in the original autographs) as both Greek and God-breathed>

DJP said...

In short, yes, there's a difference.

NT writers/speakers quoting the LXX no more necessarily validates the whole (which, at times, is pretty wildly off-target) than Paul's quotations of pagan Greek writers. But once they have quoted it, their own words become part of Scripture. Not because of the authority of the LXX, but because of the Spirit's inspiration of the speaker/writer.