A Model or a Lesson?

I can’t decide whether it is sad or laughable that public figures cite Scriptural examples for their ideas, saying that they “take the Bible as a model”. For example:

In an interview with FOX Business Network’s Stuart Varney, Dr. Ben Carson laid out his tax plan that is based on tithing.It’s a model that I’m looking at. The proportionality model — what could be fairer than that,” he said.


Tithing? Really? 10% of everything; your paycheck, the sunflower seeds from your garden, your stock gains, and one loaf out of ten from your oven? Jesus wasn’t much impressed with that idea. (Matthew 23) Does this “model” include the commandment in Deuteronomy14:27-29 to store up the tithes every third year for the religious leaders, the poor and the widows? Does it include the Jubilee Year in Leviticus 25 where fields lie fallow, all debts are remitted and all slaves set free? The problem with models is that they require all the parts in order to work. You can’t just set the tax rate at 10%, (and in fairness, Carson has said that it would have to be higher) you would have to implement all the parts of the model for it to work. And if the current tax code seems arcane, I would compare the book of Leviticus; faithful scholars have spent whole careers trying to interpret it. Or we could follow what Luke tells us is the New Testament model:

Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. Acts 4:32.

Somehow I don’t think that is a model that would make it into any party’s platform.

Years ago, Howard Dean waded into similarly murky waters comparing himself with Job, and incorrectly identifying that saga as being from the New Testament. Leaving aside the details, it’s still not a great way to describe yourself if you are entitled and relatively wealthy in a world where so many really suffer as the character of Job did : http://www.nytimes.com/2004/01/05/opinion/job-and-dean.html

Much of social divide over same-sex marriage is focused on the claim that there is a “Biblical model” for marriage. This is usually based on Genesis 2:24 “a man shall leave his mother and cleave to his wife” or Ephesians 5:31 “love your wives as Christ loved the church “. But neither of these are really models; they are commandments. If these passages were models, the tradition would be for a groom to move in with his wife’s family, rather than the other way around. The Ephesian “model” would require that husbands die for their wives; that might be occasionally necessary, but hardly a model to pursue.

The actual “models” of marriage we find in the Scriptures would barely make it into the family hour on television; Abram passes his wife off as his sister, David stalks Bathsheba and kills her husband, and even Ananias and Sapphira conspire to defraud the community.

But that doesn’t mean that Scripture is irrelevant. Far from it. There is much to learn from the Bible, especially the cautionary tales about what happens when we think we can do harm to others and get away with it.

Read from this perspective, we can learn from Scripture and apply those learnings to real world situations.

  • Buried within the minutiae of the Levitical law is a deep concern for those who have no power; the immigrant (alien), the widow and the orphan. The detail of those laws is a reminder to us that we need to consider the effects of all human activity on the poorest among us. If we truly set aside a little something for our needy neighbors every time we spent money on our own needs, we could make a real difference. If every government program contained a “set aside” to level the playing field for those who have already suffered hardship, their advancement would be part of our culture.
  • The integration of faith and practice is a metric of maturity in every religious tradition. If we apply what we say we believe to our business life, our personal life, our community life and our family life, we might well have some different outcomes. What would 70 x 7 forgiveness look like at work or with our teenagers or in our neighborhood?
  • What do we learn from the family patterns we see in the Bible? Favoring one child over another leads to tragedy. Adultery breaks up families. Secrets are very dangerous. Love is found in unexpected places. What is shocking is how these families, so different in social setting from our own, face the same challenges that we do every day. We can learn from them, but “modeling” ourselves on them would be disastrous.

So let’s scuttle talk of “going back to the Biblical models”, and get to work reading the Bible thoughtfully and prayerfully so that we can learn from it and grow in grace. If we are honest with ourselves and in viewing the world in which we live, there are many areas where the learnings from Scripture might lead us to change our ways. May we have the courage to act on what we learn!


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