Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Challenge-Riposte Game and Insult Rhetoric (Cussing & Insulting Christian Leaders?)

First of all, if you had told me I would be writing about why it is wrong for Christians and Christian leaders to use insults such as stupid, idiot, and moron just a couple of weeks ago, I would not have believed you. What do I know?

This post is devoted to the following questions: “Is it ever moral to intentionally insult your opponents because they disagree with your view on an issue?” “Is it always immoral to insult your opponents by calling them denigrating names?” “Was personal insult a necessary component in the challenge-riposte game played in Jesus’ culture?” “Can we make a distinction between personal insult and insult in general?” “Does the Bible have anything to say about insulting behavior?” I am going to explore a few of these questions and more in this post. My proposition is simple: It is always unethical for a Christian to engage in behavior designed specifically to inflict personal insult. The opposing proposition contends: It is perfectly ethical for Christians to insult anyone who disagrees with them on any subject whenever they choose.

To begin, does the NT have an equivalent word for the English “insult?” As it turns out, it does. The Greek language has several words translated insult in the NT. One of them is, ubrizw and it means “to treat in an insolent or spiteful manner, mistreat, scoff at.” Louw-Nida says, “to speak against someone in an insolent and arrogant manner.” It appears in Luke 11:45. Another one appears in Matt. 5:11, oneidizw and it means, “to find fault in a way that demeans the other, reproach, revile, mock, heap insults upon as a way of shaming.” Louw-Nida says, “to speak disparagingly of a person in a manner which is not justified.” Lastly is the word, loidoria which means, “to reproach, insult, revile, even blaspheme.”

The lawyers accused Jesus of insulting them in Luke 11:45. This is an interesting story because it demonstrates that Jesus did not consistently follow the patterns of His own culture. One of the Pharisees invited Jesus in for lunch and He accepted. However, Jesus neglected to wash his hands before the meal. This was something you simply did not do. The Pharisees has established this ceremonial cleansing for a reason and they expected Jesus to honor it. It had become an established cultural practice. Jesus did not oblige and controversy ensued. What was Jesus dealing with here? Was this merely a matter of following a cultural practice? The problem was the hypocrisy of the Pharisee. They paid close attention to matters like this, and even went beyond the law, all the while leaving the more important aspects of God’s teachings fully unattended. The question that one of the Lawyers asked is interesting when we think about the context of this post, especially in terms of how insult rhetoric relates to the challenge-riposte game. If insult was part of the culture and always a component of this game, why was this lawyer protesting something that Jesus would have been fully expected to do? As Bell would say, good question. The gist of this question indicates the Lawyer was displeased that his group had been insulted and this was not only surprising, it seemed unacceptable to him. One has to wonder what the basis of such a psychological protest was given that Jesus was only doing what everyone done all the time in this honor-shame culture. At a minimum, the lawyer’s response is puzzling to say the least.

Another fine example of insult or offense appears in Matthew 15. The Pharisees issue the challenge to Jesus over His disciples not washing their hands. Jesus directs his riposte at their violation of the command of God to honor one’s father and mother. This was seriously upping the ante. Then Jesus issued a stern rebuke, calling them hypocrites because they expertly circumvented the command of God and gave more weight to their tradition. Jesus did not call them hypocrites merely to win the game. Jesus was calling them to repentance. While it seems true that Jesus used the cultural method of challenge-riposte in his ministry, he did so for very different reasons. Moreover, once again, it seems that the resulting condition of offense was a surprise. Jesus’ disciples came to him and said, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended by what you said?” If offense is a naturally recurring result in the challenge-riposte game, why do the disciples seem concerned that it resulted here? The element of offense feels out of place if we accept the assumption that it is a natural result of challenge-riposte. This casts significant doubt on that assumption. At a minimum, this result should cause us to wonder if in fact offense was part of the game or not. Jesus was not just a man attempting to win honor in His Culture. He was God in the flesh, on the most inimitable mission in all of redemptive history. It seems reasonable to conclude that one should avoid uncritically comparing Jesus’ words and methods to those of his contemporaries. It is one thing to acknowledge how understanding the challenge-riposte game aids in hermeneutics, but quite another to imply that ancient cultural practices should be adopted in our own culture so that we can “do it” like Jesus did. After all, Christian ethics transcends all cultures and serves as the standard by which cultural practices must transform to the acceptable standards revealed in the law of God. It is illegitimate praxis to deem one culture above another as if it is morally superior on the sole basis that it is the culture that Christ inhabited. That is a baseless assumption if ever there was one. In fact, one could argue that there was never a more hypocritical culture in the history of man than the one into which Christ was born. In fact, historians acknowledge that Jesus entered humanity in an extremely immoral culture to be sure. It is unwise and foolish to imply that we should adopt practices from that culture for any reason other than that Scripture commands us to do so. In this case, Scripture makes no such demands.

I know of one internet apologist who attempts to justify his use of words like “stupid,” “idiot,” and “moron,” by leaning on the cultural practice of the challenge-riposte game of Christ’s day. He even contends that Jesus Himself engaged in personal insults in the very same way when he dealt with the religious leaders of his time. In fact, one particular apologist authored a paper on the subject that I intend to review in light of the Christian ethic revealed in Scripture. While this individual decries modern, western cultural projections on the text, he seems to be guilty of his own projections onto the challenge-riposte game by insisting they were always insulting and that Christ MUST have had the same goals and exactly the same methods as His challengers. Those presuppositions are baseless. The purpose of this review is to set the matter aright according to Scripture with the hope that some of those reading will repent of this behavior and abandon, what I believe is behavior incongruent with the Christian ethic.

Peter penned I Peter 3:9 in the context of providing believers with specific relational instructions for a number of relationships. In 2:1, he begins by telling us to put aside all malice. He continues by informing us we are to abstain from fleshly lusts. He then instructs us on how to relate to human institutions, such as governments. He then tells slaves how to relate to their masters, wives how to relate to their husbands, and husbands how to relate to their wives. Then he says, “to sum up, all of you…” and here he issues a number of commands. As he comes to verse 9 he says, “not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead.” I treated the meaning for the Greek word for insult above. Peter issues us a command not to return insults with insults.

I Cor. 5:11 and 6:10 both list this word among the vices of the flesh. The English word is reviler. This describes a person that is constantly throwing out malicious insults against others. Paul unambiguously condemns such behavior.

In summary, what can we learn from the inclusion of the challenge-riposte game by the gospel writers? It seems to me that the gospel writers included these stories for a number of reasons. For purposes of this discussion, I would contend that one major reason for their inclusion was to testify that Jesus is indeed the Christ. They wanted to demonstrate that our Lord always retained God’s honor when confronted by his detractors. No one was ever able to impugn our Lord’s honor or put Him to shame in the challenge-riposte game. Moreover, when it appeared that such was the case, the writers of the gospels demonstrated that God had a greater purpose even for that. Moreover, the prophetic evidence of the Hebrew Scriptures always supported God’s purpose for those occasions.

No one is saying that Christ did not engage in challenge-riposte on occasion. What I am saying that is he did so for very different reasons and even his riposte had a very different form. He was not interested in selfish honor like his godless enemies were. Nor was it His goal merely to inflict shame. He had an interest in exalting God, preserving truth, and bringing to repentance. While the typical riposte in some forms may have contained personal insults for immoral reasons, we can be sure that this was not the case with our Lord. The entire NT warns against such practices and provides no exceptions for private or public exchanges. Moreover, we are dealing with a matter that is in the distant past about which our understanding is quite imperfect. After all, we were not there. To adopt a dogmatic position on a subject such as this one may be more the result of prejudice than scholarship.

Based on the lexical and biblical evidence, it seems to me that it is never ethical for a Christian to engage in personal insult either, publically or in private. Everywhere we read about this behavior in the NT, it is strictly prohibited. The opposite conclusion draws upon ambiguous evidence and makes numerous faulty assumptions, not to mention engages in special pleading to prop up its conclusion. Moreover, the idea that we should do what Christ did, (even if He had done this) is carried out in a most inconsistent fashion by those who assert we should adopt insults in our method. I conclude it is safer for the conscience to avoid insulting, slanderous remarks until it can be clearly shown from Scripture alone that it is acceptable to do otherwise.

This post is not intended to be a thorough-going treatment of the challenge-riposte game of Christ’s culture or of the appropriateness of insult rhetoric in the Christian community. I am preparing a response to J.P. Holding’s paper on this subject in the near future. As it stands, I have other pressing demands that require my attention.


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  2. "Interestingly, "come get some" is a phrase from a rather bawdy song by the rock group TLC, and implies that the hearer ought to "come get some" sexual activity. There are other associations as well, some less harmful than that. However, if Dingess professes to be an ambassador of Christ he ought to avoid such expressions. (In this, I am of course being facetious -- giving Dingess the same charity he is showing others.)"

    Uh... What?


    If you want to read something frightening about this apologist, read this. It denies the exclusive claims of Christianity. Read it for yourself. It is linked from Tektonics.

  4. What is going on here? These comments have nothing to do with the subject that is posted. I am confused why someone would enter these comments on this subject. What is the motivation here? It feels like retaliation which is strange behavior for Christians to say the least. I'm confused.

  5. For what its worth, it sounds like someone may be drinking a little kool-aid from the deconstructionist himself, Mr. Derrida. All one has to do is read some of the insults and recognize that the "fundamentalist" adjective is used repeatedly in a pejorative sense to realize we may be stepping outside evangelical theology on that site.

  6. In response to post above regarding the article by Glenn Miller.

    The "frightening" article is on the subject of what happens to those who die without hearing about Jesus. Miller takes an inclusivist view, i.e. it is possible for people who have never heard of Jesus to respond to the light they have received through general revelation etc and come into a saving relationship with God. This happens to be a viewpoint I personally disagree with but I think it is ridiculous to say that Miller is denying the exclusive claims of Christianity since Miller states:

    "Notice that Jesus is somehow necessary for ANYONE's salvation--even those BEFORE His time on earth. God the Father accepted that future sacrifice (ahead of time) of the historical Jesus Christ as the basis of forgiveness in the OT. (Also, please remember that the pre-incarnate Son of God was active in creation and revelation BEFORE assuming a human body in history.)"

    So Miller is still saying that Jesus is the only saviour and Christianity is the only religion which is fully true. The exclusive claims of Christianity are in tact.

  7. Seems as though G. Miller is taking literal beyond Scripture and including all tribes and nations from the beginning of time.
    I have always understood that passage as those who are around at Christ's return. Context, Context, Context. That is what a conservative Bible teacher would say rules...

  8. That is how I have always understood it as well and as I said inclusivism is not my position either. What I was objecting to was the idea that Miller is denying the exclusive truth claims of Christianity. He is not.

  9. Everyone who enters heaven must go through the door.
    Jesus is the door.
    One must go through Jesus! All the others are thieves and robbers.

    Or, if one prefers
    Without faith it is impossible to please God
    Faith comes by hearing the word of God (gospel)
    Never heard the word of God = no faith
    No faith = no heaven

    Whoever calles on Christ and believes will be saved! Conversely, those who have not called on Christ and believed ARE lost. Saved from what?

    ALl men are lost
    Men who call on Christ will be saved
    In order to be saved, you must call on Christ

    How can you call on someone you have never heard of?

    Denying that men MUST know Jesus in order to enter heaven absolutely denies the exclusive truth claims of Christian which teach that you MUST know Jesus in order to enter heaven!

  10. Christianity claims that one must exclusively be a Christian to go to heaven. Glen Miller denies this, saying, "Notice that we are accountable for HOW WE LIVE OUR LIVES--what thoughts, actions, and the consequences of who we are that MAKE IT OUT INTO HISTORY. We are NOT judged by whether we heard the gospel or not." I read that article and there is no way that he preserves the exclusive truth claims of Christianity. Don't talk anyone's word for it. Go read it for yourself. It is pretty clear.

  11. I agree that Bible doesindicate that someone needs to explicitly believe in Jesus in order to be saved and that those who have not heard about Him cannot do that. It's not a problem for a Calvinist like me to affirm that. However, in Miller's article we read this:

    "NO ONE ever is restored to a healthy relationship with God APART FROM the work of Jesus Christ on the Cross.

    "Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me""(John 14.6).

    "All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him" (Matt 11.27).

    "God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished -- 26 he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus"(Romans 3.25ff).

    So Miller still believes Jesus is the only saviour and apart from Him there can be no salvation. He just believes it is possible that God could save some sinners through Christ without them hearing about Him. I don't agree with Miller on this but it's not fair to say that he is denying the exclusive claims of Christianity.

  12. What then is Miller denying exactly if he is not denying the MOST fundamental truth claim of Jesus Christ? Did not Christ Himself say that all that Father gives HIM WILL come to HIM?

    Men and brethren, what must we do to be saved? Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgivenes of your sins."

    Jesus told the religious leaders of His day, "Unless you believe I am He, you WILL die in your sins."

    Miller is claiming that peope outside the Church CAN be saved! Ludicrous! Outrageous! Heresy! Biblical Christianity asserts that ONLY Christians will enter heaven. If you are NOT a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ, you will die lost. That is the exclusive claim of the Christian faith and it ALWAYS has been. Miller wants to have his cake and eat it too. He wants to say, that heaven isn't just exclusive for Christians today, and say that he upholds the exclusive claims of Christianity."Contradictio Incessus"

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  15. Minimind

    It really does seem that Ed attracts believers to his blog who have what someone on Theologyweb calls "Norman Geisler Panic Syndrome" "As soon as they receive a stimulus that even hints at being different from their wooden beliefs, their emotions surge into overdrive."

    I guess you didn't read nor comprehend the part where Miller says that people are only ever saved through the atoning death of Christ on the cross. The atoning death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ are what are the most fundamental and Miller is denying none of those doctrines. I believe Miller's view is wrong, but the way you are carrying on anyone would think he is denying the Trinity or teaching that Jesus never existed as an historical figure. It's exactly the same irrational overreaction we have seen with Mike Licona's take on the risen saints in Matt 27. Just calm down.

    If you to insist on going nuts though, how about coming to Theologyweb?

  16. I get completely what you are saying Jason. My contention is that you simply either don't understand historical Christian orthodoxy or you choose to ignore plain logic. Historic Christian Orthodoxy has always required appropriation of the gospel of Christ for salvation. That is the exclusive path into heaven. Furthermore, orthodoxy would deny that anyone could ever be IN CHRIST without knowing Him. All those in Christ will be saved. You cannot be in Christ without hearing the gospel and knowing who Christ is. To deny this is to deny the orthodox Christian claim of exclusivity. To deny that claim is heretical. Miller denies that men must know personally know Christ in order to be saved. Salvation only comes through intimate knowledge of Christ.
    "I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me, even as my Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep (John 10:14-15)(who know me). If you do not know Jesus, you are not one of his sheep.
    "But you do not believe because you are not of My sheep. My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish." (John 10:26-27)

    I visited Theology Web and I have to say that it looks like a place to just fight ALL THE TIME. Not only this, the kind of uncharitable speech I see in there is not at all something I desire to be involved with. Quite frankly, I can't why anyone would want to waste their time in a site that spends so much time being just plain rude. I guess the reason people get excited over stuff like Licona is because of the manner in which evangelicalism has slipped from taking God's word as self-attesting and authoritative now to finding all sorts of ways to justify everything from outrageous conduct, to rude speech, to universalism. Just me thinking out loud.

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  18. Minmind

    Could you please show me where in the history of the Church inclusivism has been ruled out as unorthodox or heretical? It hasn't as far as I know and in fact it is very well represented throughout Church history. It was held to by Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, Desiderius Erasmus, Zwingli, John Wesley, John Milton, William Shedd, C.S Lewis, Billy Graham and William Lane Craig.

    I don't agree with inclusivism but to call it unorthodox is ridiculous.

    Also, Inclusivism is not universalism and inclusivists believe that conscious" faith in Christ is the only sure way to find salvation.

    As for Theologyweb, how many threads have you been on? Would you say this thread fits your description?:

  19. Jesus said, "Unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." (John 3:3)

    Peter said, "for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God." (1 Peter 1:23)

    Men are not born again through natural revelation.

    Paul said, "For by grace you HAVE BEEN saved through faith; and that NOT of yourselves, it is the gift of God." (Eph. 2:8)

    To contend that men who naturally seek the unknown being who created all things are saved because they are sincerely seeking to worship the one true God requires a pelagian view of man and original sin. Parade as many names out as you like.

    If being born again is required to enter heaven and the word of God is what brings this about in the individual, then no man has ever been born again apart from hearing the gospel.

    Your link did not work. I am at the end of this discussion. This is more than I like to argue with someone over something so clearly against Scripture as it stands. You disagree with Miller and inclusivism, why?

    People who hold this view hold it because of the incongruency in Arminian theology. They charge Calvinism with being cold and cruel. The Calvinist answers that the Arminian God isn't any different because all those people God couldn't even get the gospel to perish. What kind of God is that. The Arminian is stuck! So they come up with open theism, process theology and inclusivistic non-sense to get around their own incoherent system of belief. That is the cause of inclusivistic thinking.

  20. It sounds like we are just going to have to get back to the basics of the gospel. Remarkable to say the least.

  21. I reject inclusivism for some of the same reasons why you reject it. I agree that Jesus does emphasise coming to Him or believing on Him and it is something of a stretch to claim that that means unevangelised people only responding to the light they have received.

    I also think that Miller makes a category error by comparing "unevangelised converts" people with Old Testament saints. Old Testament saints were not the "unevangelised". The true God had revealed Himself to them and they trusted in the future promises of God including the coming Messiah and the salvation He would bring. An unevangelised pagan could never trust in such promises, and their false religion would probably lead them away from the true God, not towards Him.

    I would agree that in many cases people hold to inclusivism as a way of reconciling Arminian theology with the fact that not everyone has heard about Jesus. This is not always the case however. Some Calvinists have held to Inclusivism as well.

    So I can certainly be critical of the inclusivist view, but the problem I have with you and some others on here is your extremist reaction to it whereby you label people like Glenn Miller and J.P Holding as being unorthodox or heretical for holding to it. As far as I know what one believes about such matters has never been a test of someone's orthodoxy and inclusivism is well represented throughout Christian history as I showed. Miller and Holding have produced very useful material on a number of subjects so writing them off as unorthodox heretics over an issue like this is just lunacy.

    It also greatly concerns me that some people misunderstand and misrepresent the Inclusivist position, which is very unhelpful. Take this statement by you for example:

    "To contend that men who naturally seek the unknown being who created all things are saved because they are sincerely seeking to worship the one true God requires a pelagian view of man and original sin."

    No it doesn't! Inclusivists like Miller don't hold that a sinner has the natural ability to seek and find God. They hold that the work of the Holy Spirit is needed just as much to bring an unevangelised person to a point where they respond to the light they have received as it is to bring an evangelised person to the point where they consciously trust in Christ for salvation. What you wrote there is a complete strawman. It shows a serious disregard for truth not to try to properly understand opposing viewpoints before opening your mouth about them. Such ignorance is what is killing the Church today.

    That link works just fine for me. I suggest trying again and if it doesn't work go to Theologyweb and search for "ukchristian's skeptic". Tell me if you think that discussion was not civil.

  22. The Holy Spirit does not work apart from the gospel! The Father elects, the Son redeems those the Father elected before the beginning, and the Spirit regenerates those whom the Son redeems. God is powerful enough and smart enough to get HIS elect the gospel! In fact, it was part of His plan before He created the first blade of grass. Otherwise, we have a frustrated deity, and that is impossible.

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