In Your Anger Do Not Sin

There’s a teaching in some circles that Christians should never get angry. The Bible instructs us to rid ourselves of anger and fits of rage, and if we do get angry, some would tell us that it’s because we felt like we were entitled to something and didn’t get it. The solution is to “surrender our rights” to God, thus removing the cause for anger, and remain calm and cheerful with a good Christian smile on our face no matter what. If we’re angry, it obviously means we’re doing it wrong.

I first came across this idea as a teen. There was a news report back then about a Jehovah’s Witness family that were refusing to allow their child to get a life-saving medical treatment because it involved getting a blood transfusion, and JWs have a weird perspective on Acts 15:29 that makes them opposed to blood transfusions.

The thought that a mother and father could be so callous as to refuse life-saving treatment for their own child angered me, and I mentioned this to an older Christian in my church.

Their reaction surprised me. Rather than agree that this was indeed an injustice, they rebuked me for getting upset about it and told me “Don’t be angry”.

I was particularly not good at talking to people as a child, even into my teens, and to this day I don’t react quickly when surprised. I couldn’t put the words together to say what I was actually thinking, and didn’t even fully grasp what their objection to how I was reacting really was, but even then I felt like this whole train of thought was heading in the wrong direction.

Since then I’ve encountered the same idea in other spheres of life. Christians shouldn’t get angry.

Quite what these people make of the cleansing of the Temple I don’t know. Apparently even then, Jesus can’t really have been angry, because we know anger is sinful, right?

Ok, what if they’re right, and Jesus wasn’t really angry even then? Picture the scene: the Son of Man kicking over tables and chasing out the money changers with a whip, and all with a serene, beatific smile on His face. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I find that image actively scary. The natural reaction is that either He’s buzzed on something potent and illegal, or there’s something seriously psychotic in His makeup. Either way, He’s hardly the merciful Saviour we know and love.

Anger is a natural human reaction. Because we are told in the Bible on occasion that God Himself gets angry, we do not have a leg to stand on if we insist that anger is always sinful or that Christians should not get angry. For example, in Numbers 11 we read that “the Lord became exceedingly angry” at the ungrateful, complaining attitude of His people when they grumbled about the manna He provided for them and wanted meat instead.

We read also of other occasions on which God gets angry; it’s a mistake to try to paint this as His normal emotional state, but He does, on occasion, get angry. Even in His self-declaration to Moses, He proclaims that He is slow to anger, not incapable of it.

The human capacity for anger, then, is not a result of the Fall but an intrinsic part of the Divine image in us. Had the Fall not happened, there might not have been reason for anger, but there would still have been the capacity for it.

This is because anger is a response to a situation which says “I feel that a wrong has been done”.

The problem we have with anger is not the intrinsic capacity for it, but the appropriateness of when and how we express it.

Because of both His character and His omniscience, God’s anger is always appropriate. He always has all of the facts, He loves everyone, and He is completely righteous and incorruptible even by His own desires. When He gets angry, it is in fact because a wrong has been done, not merely because He feels that to be the case.

Moreover, He is completely righteous in His expression of anger, neither punishing more severely than the situation calls for, and straying into injustice on that side, nor being more lenient than is warranted and straying into injustice on the other side.

Human anger is a bit more fallen in nature. As fallen descendents of Adam and Eve, we no longer instinctively align ourselves with God’s view of things. We get angry about the wrong things, fail to get angry about the right things and express our anger in fallen, destructive ways. That we get angry is not the problem. If you can be grievously wronged – like being raped or beaten – without getting angry about it, it’s a sign that you’re not dealing with the situation. Anger in this sort of situation is healthy and good, because it shows that your moral compass is working. A wrong has indeed been done, and anger is the correct response to that. It is, to coin a phrase, What Jesus Would Do. As Christians, we are called not to remain in anger but to rise above it and forgive, but if a wrong has been done to you or someone you love, getting angry about it can be a good thing.

This, after all, is why God gets angry about sin: it hurts people He loves. He is so incensed about it that He was prepared to die in order to make an end of it once and for all. He can feel wrath – destructive anger – in perfect love. He’s the only One who can, because He alone has all the facts and is not a slave to His anger but Master of it.

This is why the Bible instructs us to get rid of wrath. In our fallenness, wrath is a state we cannot safely enter, because we don’t automatically track with God’s view of the situation and we don’t express our anger with perfect justice and perfect love.

Mostly, though, what the Bible tells us to be rid of is destructive, fallen anger of the kind that enables sin. Fits of rage – flying off the handle over minor infractions, especially the consuming anger that just wants to destroy. Bitterness, which is anger turned inward rather than given vent in any healthy way. Anger directed at the wrong object.

But anger itself is not the problem. We’re in a fallen world, which means that injustices happen. As Christians, we ought to be angry about that, angry not at God because we apparently can do a better job than He and would never have allowed this to happen, but angry at the injustice itself. We should be galvanised by God’s anger at injustice, enough to do something to put a stop to it. Not one of the great reformers of the past – Shaftesbury, Wilberforce, Martin Luther King Jr, or any of the others – ever did anything to fix the abuses of this broken world without getting angry about them, I guarantee it.


Blog, son of Blog

I’ve been toying with the idea of a second blog for several months now, ever since I downloaded a free Lego CAD-type program and started building with it. Obviously, I’m going to keep building stuff with my digital Lego, as well as any actual bricks I can get my hands on, and equally obviously, this blog isn’t really set up as an appropriate place to showcase what I build.

But do I really want to get into having multiple blogs?

As it happens, yes.

It’s a new year. Time for new things. I don’t expect to be posting at anything like my normal rate over here on The Word Forge, but as a personal showcase for my Lego building, far better to give it its own forum than to try to do two vastly different things from a single platform. The Word Forge would lose its focus if I tried, and anyone actually interested in my Lego building would have to wade through all of my other content looking for it.

So enter Square Feet, the Lego adventures of a construction worker.

It’s a brand-new blog at the moment, so there’s not much on it as yet. That will change.

Go on, take a look. You know you want to.

So Long As Christ Is Preached

Philippians 1:12-18

Apparently the idea of big-name Christian ministries is not a new one. The Apostle Paul himself seems to have struggled with some of the same sorts of problems all the way back in the First Century.

Paul himself was, of course, a big name ministry himself; probably one of the biggest. And reading between the lines of this passage in Philippians chapter 1 a little, it seems like some of the other contemporary big names were trying to take advantage of the fact that he was in a Roman jail to build up their own ministries.

The tendency towards personal empire-building does not magically vanish just because you are serving the Lord. In fact, it might be that it’s an even greater temptation, because we can justify building our own little kingdoms as “building up God’s kingdom”: God has given us certain gifts, and He expects us to use them to His glory. We’re not trying to magnify ourselves, we’re just trying to be faithful with what He’s given us.

It’s a fine line, and I’m deliberately naming no names because I’m not in the place to make that judgment about any individual. God knows.

But it’s something to watch for.

As a blogger, I see the empire-building tendency in my own desire to increase the number of views and likes my posts get. That’s not a bad thing in and of itself; far from it. But what are my motives for doing so?

Without kidding myself, is it an honest desire to be faithful with what I’ve been given, or a desire to make a name for myself (even a small one)?

Or to take an alternate example, there are some very visibly successful “ministries” out there with, let’s be honest, dubious theological underpinnings. Prosperity teachers, populist authors with 18 books all saying much the same thing, Gospels of human effort and a hyper-focus on Me And My Bit rather than God And His, “church growth experts” with the apparent Bible teaching ability of lard. Not that every big name falls into that category, but am I jealous of their successes? Why should they be so apparently blessed with huge crowds and vast numbers reached by their ministry, when I’ve got such a better handle on the Scripture?

Oh dear.

The short version of the lesson here is watch your motives. So I think this or that big-name preacher is courting personal fame? Building their own little empire? To a certain extent, so what? Christ is being preached.

However, this does not negate the need to watch your theology. Paul was rather less hands-off with those he considered to be bringing false doctrines into the church. He says that such have “lost connection with the Head” (Col 2:19), that they “want to be teachers of the law but… do not know what they are taking about” (I Ti 1:7), even saying at one point that if anyone, even himself or an angel of God, should preach a different Gospel, let them be accursed (Gal 1:9).

This is not a light accusation to throw around. This is the theological equivalent of nuclear weapons; that’s how seriously Paul took his responsibility to make sure those in the church heard sound doctrine.

We who are mature in the faith have a responsibility both to call out error when we see it, particularly in those claiming to be teachers, and to not throw this theological nuke around without cause. The one damages the work of Christ as surely as the other.

We need to keep a close scrutiny on our motives, taking care that our motivation is at all times and as much as possible love for God and love for other people. Sometimes the loving thing to do is indeed to speak out. If you see someone running headlong over a cliff, it’s negligent to do nothing about it. Sometimes the loving thing to do is to recognise that this might be an issue of personal envy and that we need to come back to the cross. Sometimes the loving thing to do is to realise that we are just nitpicking in an unloving way, and keep our mouths shut. Jesus was full of truth, yes, but He was full of grace first.

But we all ought to be growing in our knowledge of God and of His Word, so that we will all become fully mature in Christ, conformed into His image. We none of us are there yet, but if we aren’t making at least some progress in that direction, then our faith is worthless.

The Rights of the Christian

“Yet to all who received in Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God”    (John 1:12)

Much of the church in the Western world holds a teaching of “surrendering your rights” or “yielding your rights to God”.

This teaching seems to have come about at least in part as a reaction against the increasing demands in Western society by unbelievers for the “right” to do things we regarded as sin without facing the penalty of law. Rightly-regarded and not taken to an extreme place, the teaching can be a beneficial correction to the prideful and individualistic Western notion that I can do whatever the crap I want and no-one gets to tell me I can’t.

However, the more I actually look at what the Scripture says, the more convinced I become that this is far from the whole story.

The Bible doesn’t talk about rights very much; certainly not in the way we conceive of them. The idea of rights in that sense presupposes a far more individualistic mindset than existed at the time the Bible was written.

Nevertheless, the concept is there. The commandment “Do not murder” presupposes that you have a right to your own physical person; that is, another person does not have the right to take your life from you or violate your personhood. The commandment “do not commit adultery” presupposes that you have a right to expect faithfulness from your spouse. The commandment “Do not steal” presupposes the right to personal property. The commandment “Do not bear false witness” presupposes that you have the right to the reputation you deserve; that is, that another person does not have the right to slander you or bring false accusations against you, and furthermore, that you have a right to expect not to be deceived.

“Laying down” or “surrendering” any of these rights leads us into a very weird place indeed. It sets us up for victimhood, remaking God into the image of a tinpot dictator, a Ba’al (or “Master”) of worthless slaves rather than a loving Father of redeemed and beloved children.

Very few people go that far, though there have been those that do. Believing that is obviously taking things too far.

But what of other rights? What exactly do we mean by “laying down our rights” anyway? And does the Scripture actually teach the idea at all?

What most Christians seem to mean by “rights” is the sense of entitlement that so often goes with being a sinner. The idea that I don’t have to bend for anyone else; the idea that I am the sole authority in my life and no-one can tell me what to do. The idea that everyone else has to conform to what I think. The idea that I deserve preferential treatment because I’m so wonderful.

I have no problem with the surrender of this attitude. Indeed, it’s rooted in arrogance and needs to be brought to the cross. But this isn’t the “surrender of rights” but the confession and forgiveness of a self-centred attitude of pride.

The “rights” that are being surrendered here are ones that we arrogate to ourselves, not ones that actually objectively exist. I don’t, in fact, have any “right” to preferential treatment or to expect everyone else to fall into lockstep with what I believe.

The other way the word “rights” tends to get used in this teaching is to mean “privileges”. The special treatment you might get because of the position you hold. The way kings and queens have a right to be called “Your Majesty” and the President gets to be called “Sir” out of respect for their position. Or “Ma’am”, when in the course of time we eventually get a female one. The expected treatment that we feel we ought to receive.

This is a thornier issue. On the one hand, Jesus did not come as a son of privilege. He gave up His visible glory and was born as the son of a poor carpenter, the subject of rumours and one with no majesty by which we might be attracted to Him. Paul at times did not make use of his rights as an apostle to be supported by the church, to take a believing wife and so on.

But at other times he exercised his rights as a Roman citizen. He demanded the privileges due to him on account of his position, requiring that the city magistrates of Philippi personally come and escort him out of the city after they beat him without trial.

The idea of “surrendering rights” is that to be truly like Jesus we must never make use of any of our privileges. We must always lay them down, always taking the lowest possible place, letting other people walk over us. We must allow ourselves to be wronged rather than make any unChristlike demand to be treated properly.

And yet this may be a misreading of what the Bible says, and a confusion as to what rights actually are.

It’s not prideful or unChristlike to insist on fair pay for an honest day’s work; it’s God’s attribute of justice. It’s not a failure to yield rights to insist on being treated as a human being; it’s God’s valuing of the human person. It’s not a false entitlement to refuse to let other people take advantage of you and abuse your generosity with time and resources; it’s wisdom in the use of resources and refusing to be an enabler.

Undoubtedly there are all sorts of bogus “rights” that people claim in the name of human selfishness, and we do need to watch that we aren’t straying into an attitude of entitlement.

But there are also real, legitimate rights, and those are not up for surrender.

Resolution, part 2

You know how I said that my New Year’s resolution was resolution?

Well, it seems I’m getting thrown into the growth process a little earlier than I anticipated.

For years now I’ve had a tendency to put relationship before theology. This is far better than the alternative, but the personal effect on me is that often, even when someone I know well has an opinion that I think is completely wrong-headed, I can tend to just keep my mouth shut and let them think I agree.

There’s a reason that I keep my mouth shut if I can. Once I choose to wade into a dispute, I’m probably going to jump on what I see as stupidity with less graciousness as I should. I argue like my Dad’s family; I’m a Horswood with all that goes with it. It truly is nothing personal; I’m going after your ideas, not you personally. But I’ve noticed that very few people are able to cope with Horswood-style “take no prisoners” debating without taking it personally, so I’ve tended to shut my mouth when dealing with face-to-face differences of opinion on important issues. In the relative anonymity of the blogosphere I’m a lot more vociferous.

There is, too, certainly a time and a place for just keeping your mouth shut. It does not help anyone to get into arguments with people with whom you have limited relationship. Some heavy freight is too much for as-yet fragile, formative relational bridges to bear.

However, there are people in my life that I’ve known for a long time, yet I have always refrained from saying what I really think around them. They are people of strong and rigid opinions, and I do not relish a fight. I tell myself that I don’t want to damage the relationship. I love these people, even if they are blissfully unaware of just how little we agree in practice.

But I’ve become convicted that bending myself into pretzel shapes to suit other people’s strong opinions is not something I need to be doing, especially when it crosses my own conviction lines.

So I’ve reached a decision that I’m not going to do that any more. I’m going to be polite, I’m going to keep on listening, I’m going to keep on loving. But I am not going to compromise and ignore my own core beliefs in order to pretend that I agree with someone I love and know well when I don’t.

I’d appreciate your prayers, dear blogosphere. This has the potential to be one of the most difficult things I have ever done.

Oh, and I should probably also say that I’m not talking about my wife 🙂

An Aggressive Purity

There’s a certain school of thought in parts of the church that not only should we avoid obvious and evident sins, but that we should also avoid anything that might lead to sin, anything that might have the appearance of sin, anything that might be tangentially associated with (someone else’s) practice of sin.

My own personal first encounter with this was as a teenager listening to youth evangelists talk about sex and Christian purity.

As a Christian teen, there’s a certain amount of vested interest in knowing what you can and can’t do with a girl. We know that the Bible says that sex outside of a marriage relationship is wrong, but what about groping? What about full-body hugs? What about necking? Can I kiss her, even? I wanted to know which precise behaviours were sin and which were ok.

There was a tendency among the youth evangelists I remember hearing to respond to this sort of thought process by asking things like “If the line is ‘no sex before marriage’, is it more pleasing to God to see how close to the line you can come, or to stay as far away from the line as you can?”

Though I didn’t recognise it at the time, I can see now how this unconsciously validates the whole notion of defining sin in purely behavioural terms. If you don’t have one, don’t play with someone else’s. You can be alone in a room with her, but only if you have the door open and there’s someone else in the house. You can kiss for a maximum of six seconds at a time. Looking back on it, a lot of it seems vaguely Pharisee-like. Sin and righteousness are purely a matter of what you can and can’t do.

Some of this is no doubt fairly wise among teens who are, if I remember my teenage years right, a rampaging mass of hormones and hungers. I’m particularly fond of “if you don’t have one, don’t play with someone else’s” as a guiding rule for physical touch between teen couples.

But the truth is a bit more complicated. Really, the idea that sin is just a matter of what you do is actually more like Islam than Christianity. Jesus took the command to not commit adultery and said that if anyone looks at a woman with lust in his heart, he’s already committed adultery.

The point is not that even looking is as bad as the act itself, otherwise you might as well go on and sleep with the woman once you’ve looked. Might as well be hung for a sheep as for a lamb, and all that. The point is that sin resides in the heart, not the actions. I could rigorously hold to a precise standard of outward behaviour toward another man’s wife, but if I’m lusting after her while I’m doing it, I have sin in my heart. The idea that you can set a line between “actions that are sinful” and “actions that are righteous” is what Jesus condemned the Pharisees for.

I’ve noticed in recent years that it’s not just youth evangelists and hormonal teenagers who have this sort of thinking, though. And I’m not saying that I think those youth evangelists were Pharisees; they were just trying to keep unruly teens from doing something irrevocable and were a little fuzzy on the implications.

There are sections of the church whose primary driving focus seems to be on avoiding contamination. Hollywood is evil and if you go to movies you are probably subjecting yourself to demonic influence. TV is likewise evil. Drinking wine is at the very least worldly and probably an outright sin. Having gay friends is inviting the spirit of the antichrist. Reading the Qur’an will inevitably make you a Muslim.

The whole idea seems to revolve around a set of rigidly-defined behaviours that are “righteous” and the avoidance of everything else as “worldliness”, which then becomes equivalent to, if not worse than, actual sin.

Certainly there are actions that the Bible always talks about as sinful. I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m prepared to take God’s word for it when He says that adultery is always sinful, because I cannot think of a circumstance in which sleeping with someone else’s wife is a loving thing to do to either my own wife or the other couple. I’m going to trust that He knows what He’s talking about when He says that humans can’t do these things and not sin.

But sin resides in the heart, not in our behaviour. Behaviour is just the symptoms; sin itself is the disease. The urge to say “this action is ok, that is wrong” sets us up for a Pharisaical judgmentalism because we don’t do this particular set of “sins”, ie behaviours.

It’s been around a long time, ever since the Pharisees called Jesus a sinner because He healed people on the Sabbath. And probably before that.

And into this context of the behavioural view of sin comes the New Testament account of Jesus and the woman with the issue of blood.

By the Levitical law, the woman who had the flow of blood was ritually unclean. Levitical law was strong on the subject: anyone who had a bodily discharge was unclean, and anyone touching someone who was unclean became themselves unclean. Even the cloth that an unclean person had sat on became unclean and could make you unclean if you touched it.

And here comes this woman with a neverending flow of blood, determined to touch even the hem of Jesus’ robe because she knows He has the power to heal her.

The crowd is jostling around, but somehow she manages it.

And Jesus stops and says “who touched Me?”

The disciples are incredulous. The crowd is touching You. Everyone is pushing everyone else. How can You ask “who touched Me?” The whole world touched you!

He keeps asking, until trembling, the woman comes forward.

I can just see the crowd of men drawing back as she announces what her problem was. Hard faces recoiling from the presence of contamination. Hard eyes calculating the steps they would have to go through to restore their own ritual purity, desperately trying to remember if she’d brushed up against them. This is a bit like coming out as gay in front of the Islamic Council of Iran.

By any normal rules, uncleanness was contagious. If something pure touched something unclean, the pure became contaminated. But this is the other way around. Shockingly, Jesus’ purity reaches out and contagiously purifies the woman, using her faith as its agent and catalyst. Similarly, when Jesus touches lepers, they don’t contaminate Him; He decontaminates them.

If this same Jesus lives in us, I don’t think we need to worry quite as much about being “contaminated” by “worldliness” as we sometimes do.

Yes, of course we need to avoid actual sin. But we sometimes get the idea that if the line past which we are in sin is over here, we really ought to be way to crap over there five miles away or else we’re “compromising with the world” or “in danger of worldliness”.

This is Pharisaism. God said to honour the sabbath day and keep it holy. The Pharisees said that in order to make sure you were doing that, you could only walk a certain number of steps, you couldn’t pick an ear of corn and eat it because that was reaping, you couldn’t cook your breakfast even if you found cooking relaxing, you couldn’t even heal someone if you went about healing by the power of God during the week. Hedging about the commands of God with your own “clarifying” ideas and “so that we stay as far away from sin as possible” extra rules. Specifying in ever-narrower circles exactly what we can get away with and what we can’t.  Sin purely as a matter of actions, not a heart issue.

Maybe one day we can perhaps all agree to let sin be sin. Nothing more, nothing less. Maybe if we all see clearly, we might be able to act a little more like the Saviour.  Less afraid of being contaminated and more convinced of the power of God.

You Are Wrong Because I Disagree

When I started this blog, one of my very early posts was on the subject “One Interpretation, Many Applications“. I’ve modified my perspective quite a lot since then (or rather, decided that my initial read on the subject was correct after all), and as I’ve been having some discussions with my wife in which the subject came up, I thought I might revisit it.

Some of what I have to say is going to rehash that earlier post, but I’d like to do it anyway because the conclusions are different.

Some time in the past I was having a disagreement with a fellow-believer in which he (naturally) turned to Scripture to support his position. I still forget what the issue was; it’s irrelevant. This is about process.

I said that I didn’t interpret that Bible passage in that way. In my world, this is a fair comment. We can’t always be as sure as we’d like to be of precisely what the Bible means in particular controversial passages; that, after all, is why they are controversial to begin with. Different commentators have different opinions, and that’s ok.

To my surprise, he responded in a way that I found shockingly alien. He said, as if it were an established and incontrovertible truth, that “there’s only one interpretation of Scripture”. Later discussions with him revealed this to be the first half of what in his head is a paired couplet: “there’s one interpretation, but many applications”.

Note that the effect of this is to shut down discussion. There’s no give-and-take here; no debate over historical context and how we can be reasonably certain that we’re reading the author’s probable meaning correctly. No; in essence this was you are wrong because you disagree with me.

I was unprepared for this line of attack and it flummoxed me into giving up the argument. But I fretted over it for years. I got to know him well enough to know that he’s as honest as they come. If he says something, usually you can take it to the bank. In addition, he’s had at least part of a seminary education and been a follower of Jesus for longer than I’ve been alive. He ought to know what he’s talking about, right?

But it didn’t sit well with me. For a start, I didn’t think his way of shutting down the discussion was a valid or helpful way of arguing a point, and in addition the idea itself just seemed wrong.

So some time last spring I actually looked up the phrase “one interpretation, many applications” to see what some more knowledgeable commentators online had to say about it.

Imagine my surprise when I found almost without exception that those who mentioned the phrase defended it to a man as a principle of sound Bible interpretation.

This was basically where I had got to when I posted last time. But then I began to think some more.

Wait a minute. I may not have a seminary education, but I’ve been around theology and Bible study long enough that I’m not exactly Mr. Ignorance here. If it’s such a big, important hermeneutical principle, how come I’d never heard of it until this person trotted it out as his personal Ultimate Debating Weapon?

As far as I can tell from reading around online, the main thrust of “one interpretation, many applications” is that it is not permissible to interpret Scripture however the heck you like. The words in the original languages may have several distinct, overlapping meanings, but it’s usually fairly straightforward to tell which meaning is correct in the sentence. It’s like the English sentence “he polished off his Polish sausage”. In addition, there is a real historical context which affects the meaning of the text, and you can get yourself into trouble it you don’t pay attention to the difference between First Century Jewish culture and Twenty-First Century America. As a silly example, when Jesus tells the disciples “you are my friends” it has nothing to do with Facebook.

Every cult or sect in existence that actually uses the Bible at all almost invariably uses strange, unorthodox interpretations of key passages to bolster their doctrine. This is what “one interpretation, many applications” addresses.

I get this, and up to a point I agree.

But I’ve decided that, just as I originally thought after I first ran into the phrase, there is a substantive difference between “you can’t make the Bible say something it doesn’t” and there only ever being one single permissible interpretation of a given passage.

As my brother-in-law rightly challenged me, what about prophecy? More to the point, what about the interpretations that the Apostles made of key Old Testament passages that they saw as being fulfilled in the life of Christ?

If there is only one interpretation of “the virgin shall be with child”, then according to standard usage of “one interpretation”, it ought to be referring to a child born in Isaiah’s day, in whose infancy the land of the two kings dreaded by Judah (ie Aram and the northern apostate kingdom of Israel) would be laid waste by the Assyrians.

And yet the Apostles clearly interpreted the passage as a prophecy of Jesus’ birth. Evidently there is more to it than just “there’s only one interpretation”.

Certainly there are unorthodox doctrines that you can only get to by twisting of the meaning of the Scriptures. There is such a thing as a poor hermeneutical system, such a thing as a deviant interpretation. If the consensus among respected Bible scholars is that this verse probably means X, it takes a courageous (in the British political sense of “suicidally stupid”) person to insist that it means Q. There are reasons why it probably means X, and those same reasons also mean that it categorically cannot mean Q unless we remove or radically re-interpret passages 1-12 of Scripture.

If your interpretation of a passage relies on secondary meanings of a word that are at odds with its plain meaning, or pays no attention to the historic cultural context, you probably have the wrong end of the stick, and we can show you why.

And here is the crux of my problem with “one interpretation”. There’s no reasoning beyond this point. No “the cultural context being like this doesn’t really lend weight to that interpretation”, just, as I said, you are wrong because you disagree with me. At best, “one interpretation” seems overly simplistic, or perhaps reliant on very narrow technical definitions of what constitutes an “application” as opposed to an “interpretation”. At worst it becomes a way to say “you are wrong” without backing up your claim with anything substantial.

Perhaps my response should have been something along the lines of “Ok, but how do you know that yours is the “one interpretation” that is valid?”