In my New Testament class we are in the midst of going through the gospels. As a result, I assign my students the task of reading each gospel in its entirety in one sitting before we begin covering it in class. This is a beneficial exercise because it helps us get past those pesky chapter and verse divisions that were not original and allows us to get a better sense of a gospel as a whole. In doing this again myself I was struck by two verses in Luke that appear to be directly contradictory.
. . . to those who have, more will be given; and from those who do not have, even what they seem to have will be taken away (Luke 8.18)
My first thought was, why don’t the Republicans run on this verse since it does a decent job of summing up their economic philosophy. It’s election season, what can I say? This is, of course, in jest. I do know that Republicans are not advocating the message of this verse precisely, though as far as crude comparisons go “to those who have, more will be given” does seem to sum up quite well the”trickle down economics” through tax cuts for the rich that Democrats have been accusing Republicans of. In my view, a Republican could fully appropriate this verse into her monetary policy and say that their monetary policy is “biblical.” But then we come to Luke 12.48:
From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.
This is a verse that I have heard more than a few “liberal” political analysts invoke as a rebuke to Republican monetary policy and in favor of asking the richest among us to pay a little more. Just as a Republican would not be lying when claiming Luke 8.18 as a “biblical” basis for monetary policy, so too would a Democrat be telling the truth when claiming Luke 12.48 as the basis for their monetary policy.
So, who is right? Who has the “biblical” monetary policy?
I imagine that if we were to each answer this question that we would find a way to justify the opinions we already hold about monetary policy and our beliefs about what the Bible says about monetary policy would hardly be challenged. But at the end of the day, both the Republican and the Democrat in my hypothetical situation are correct. They are both citing a Bible verse, so doesn’t that make their policies “biblical”?
This is just one example of why I think it is more than a little problematic when politicians and/or ministers begin talking about some policy as “biblical” or “non-biblical.” We are all quite adept at cherry picking the verses that support our cause and conveniently leaving out those that don’t (think of the fight to define “biblical marriage” in a way that leaves out polygamy, levirate marriages, a soldier taking a prisoner of war as his wife, and the command that a virgin who is raped must marry her rapist).
I think that Christians should be active in our political system, but I think that we should be more careful about adding the qualifier “biblical” to every policy we support and can find a proof text for and we should be more careful about attaching the qualifier “non-biblical” to every policy we oppose and that doesn’t fit neatly in our version of Christianity. So, make an informed and passionate argument for the monetary policy you support, but don’t label it as “biblical” simply because you found one verse that appears to agree with your position. And to slightly alter a favorite saying of a theology professor of mine in divinity school: one verse does not a policy make.