I love the Babylon Bee. In an age that seems almost bereft of humor, the Bee bravely engages in religious and political satire. And while the site leans conservative, it pokes fun at everyone.
This particular article (if you click on it you’ll be taken to it) pokes fun at the “Jesus never said…” argument. While this ‘argument’ is probably most connected with the homosexuality argument, I have heard it used in other places (e.g. capital punishment). The gist of the argument and how it is used is that since Jesus never said anything about ~topic~, then He must have been in favor of it.
This argument is fatally flawed in three different ways: 1) It’s illogical, 2) It’s inaccurate, and 3) It’s theologically wrong. Let’s walk through these.
1) It’s Illogical
Quick! Do I like asparagus or not? What? You don’t know because I’ve never voiced my opinion to you? Exactly! You can not logically deduce anything from an absence of information. This is called an argument from silence. While some scholars still attempt to use it, the argument has a fatal flaw in that we simply do not have any information in order to validate or invalidate the argument being made. An argument from silence is a hollow argument and tells us nothing about the subject.
Let me give you a particular example to show the fallacy and potential danger in assuming anything from Jesus’ ‘silence’. If one proposes that “Jesus never said anything about…” is indicative of Jesus’ tacit approval, then you must agree that Jesus approves rape. That’s attention getting, isn’t it? Yes, a search on ‘rape’ in the New Testament shows us that Jesus never addressed the subject (at least, not that was recorded, but that’s the next point). The idea that Jesus approves of rape is, of course, beyond ridiculous. But if we eliminate everything but His words, we have nothing. So let me say it again, arguments from silence are illogical and can not produce anything definitive.
2. It’s inaccurate
I’ve been noticing lately not just a lack of caring about careful, detailed thought/argument, but an increasingly angry push-back against it. I really don’t understand this. I get that we want to be right and, maybe more importantly, to FEEL right, but God gave us this great thinking device called a brain and we should use it. The devil, as they say, is in the details. So what’s inaccurate about the ‘Jesus never said…’ argument? Simply put, the statement presupposes that we know every word that Jesus ever spoke. And we don’t have that.
In Scripture there are 41,522 Red Letter words (words ascribed to Jesus). That’s not really a lot considering the length of time that Jesus lived and taught. Let me put it in another perspective.
I looked up the average words per minute speaking rate and got results like an average of 173 for TED talks to someone’s opinion that public speakers should be around 130. Keeping in mind that many of those Red Letter words are the same quotes repeated in different places, let’s still use that number and the 130 wpm rate. That would give us 319 minutes worth of speaking time by Jesus in the Bible. Divide that by 60 minutes in an hour and we have a little over 5 hours. Jesus lived to be about 33, His teaching time was around 3 years and we only have 5 hours of His speech recorded. Obviously there is a whole lot of things Jesus said that weren’t recorded. Or, as John 21:25 says, “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written. ”
What would make the argument accurate would be to say that ‘Scriptures don’t record Jesus ever saying…’, but that dilutes the argument.
3. It’s theologically wrong
This one is a bit deeper, but still very important to understand. It draws on two fundamental teachings of our faith – that God is a Triune God and that all of scripture is God breathed.
First, we believe in the Trinity, meaning that in unity of this one God there are three distinct persons – classically referred to as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In his book “Christian Doctrine”, Shirley Guthrie put it this way: “one personal God who lives and works in three different ways at the same time.” In this Trinity there is unity and agreement. Each part of the Trinity is involved in everything that God does. So while we can differentiate and categorize certain works to differing parts of the Trinity (e.g. the Father creates, the Son redeems and the Holy Spirit sustains), every part works with the other parts in unity and love. If one part of the Trinity ‘says’ something, then it’s the same as if each and all parts say it.
Second, as Paul states in 2 Timothy 3:16, the church has always believed and proclaimed that “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” Our Book of Discipline states that the Bible is “..the words of human beings inspired by the Holy Spirit”. Avoiding the debate of inerrant vs. infallible, let’s simply state that the Bible is the inspired Word of God. God speaks to and through the author through the Holy Spirit.
If we combine the two, we understand that every word of the Bible is thus also Jesus’ word. So, to reduce Jesus’ word simply to the red letter words is a misunderstanding of the Trinity and the Bible. To put it simply, the ‘Jesus never said…’ argument attempts to separate what God said and what Jesus said. We can not separate, we can not quarantine certain words from others.
While this blog was written after the Special General Conference, it is not written in response to it. I’ve been teaching this for years and have been wanting to write it all down for quite a while. I have always found the ‘Jesus never said…’ argument to be one of the worst arguments for anything I’ve ever heard. It’s like a soap bubble – it looks good, it can even make us feel good, but it’s an illusion that pops at the simplest touch.