Sunday, February 19, 2017

Principles of Conduct by John Murray - The Preface

Does the Bible have a different ethic for humanity in the Old Testament vs. the New Testament? Was there a different ethic at work in the Garden of Eden before sin entered our world? Has the Lord modified and adjusted His ethical demands over the years so that what was good and proper in one era might no longer be good now?

The question we are asking is fundamentally this:  Have the rules changed over time? And, if so, might we rightly conclude that the rules are continuing to change.  Maybe the ethic with which we were brought up isn't in operation now. Could it be maintained that something was evil for one generation, but could be good for another generation? 

Though the specific questions above are not asked in Murray's preface, it is clear that this is what he is trying to address. He puts his cards on the table in his opening words:  "One of the main purposes of the lectures and of this volume is to seek to show the basic unity and continuity of the biblical ethic [p. 7]."  Unity and continuity. In other words, fundamentally the same throughout history.

He explains that, while the Bible unfolds God's revelation in an historical, linear fashion; that does not mean that the underlying ethic is changing or developing. He argues for, what he calls, "the organic unity and continuity of divine revelation [p. 7]."

A case in point are the 10 commandments. He calls them the "core of the biblical ethic." But he points out that these commandments did not pop into existence at Sinai with Moses.  Rather, they were "relevant from the beginning." And as such, "do not cease to have relevance" today. 

For some this may be considered a radical thought. The concept that the 10 commandments have any relevance today is not frequently taught in our churches. Murray will deal with this throughout the volume, but especially later in the book in a chapter about The Law and the Gospel.

Murray also points out the fact that in studying the ethics of the Bible, we are not talking about studying how people lived in response to God's declared ethic.  The Bible does expose us to much history and biography. But we are not specifically concerned with the individual responses to God's revelation, but rather with the revelation itself. He says "we must not gauge the content or intent of revelation by the measure of the response given by men [p. 8]."

I would point out that this fact is one that skeptics of the Bible often miss. They allude to various behaviors of the characters of the Bible and thus argue that God is not good. But they are missing the point. In fact, one of the strongest arguments for the inspiration of Scripture is that the Bible does not seek to cover up the unethical behavior of its heroes. Rather, their failings prove the pronouncements of God's Word that "all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God."

Finally, in his preface, Murray addressed what some have called the "mythological character" of the opening chapters of Genesis (the creation story). Liberal scholars have asserted that Genesis 2-3 do not tell us true history. They say it is allegory, or myth, or just illustration - but not to be believed as a true historical account. Murray makes it clear that this perspective "the present writer does not believe." 

In fact, Murray states boldly that "it is the conviction of the present writer that a mythological interpretation is not compatible with the total perspective which the biblical witness furnishes. To state the case positively, the concreteness of Genesis 2 and 3, as historically interpreted, is thoroughly consonant with the concreteness which characterizes the subsequent history of Old Testament revelation." 

In other words, Murray believes in a literal "Garden of Eden."  He believes in a historical man and woman named "Adam" and "Eve." He believes the information they were given in the garden to be true. If we throw out Genesis 2 and 3 as historical, then we may equally dismiss the rest of Bible history as allegory, story or fiction as well. 

This conviction is one upon which Murray will build in the following chapter.  He believes, and I think he is right, that within the Creation account we can discover certain "Creation Ordinances" which God revealed right at the beginning about how man is to live in this world. The whole question of how we ought to live can be traced back to the Creation account. 

Thus Murray lays the groundwork for his study. Those who wish to argue with some of his positions on ethics in subsequent chapters will need to start here. He is following a logical line of thought. He tells us where he is starting. 

This is a refreshing change from the "meme" argument culture we live in.  By that I mean that we think by posting a random quote, opinion or idea...that we are arguing for our cause.  I would suggest this is a mistake. This is nothing but short-cut philosophy, an easy escape from real thinking and merely a way to avoid the hard work of intelligent discussion.  

Henry Ford once said that "thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason why so few engage in it."

Ethics requires thinking. And Murray seems prepared at the outset to help us do this work. 

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