Sometimes, we are challenged when we work to apply biblical texts to contemporary ethical dilemmas. What, for example, should one think about the decline of the bee population in the United States? Researchers seem to point the finger at pesticide use as the cause of the bee decline with increasing regularity. But, the Bible doesn’t really mention pesticides. What is a Christian to do in a case like this? Is the use of pesticide a religious issue?
Some years ago I read a good book by Charles H. Cosgrove entitled Appealing to Scripture in Moral Debate. It’s a book I keep handy because it never fails to provide me with some helpful tools as I consider the ethical dilemmas I am faced with and how to use the Bible to assist me as I formulate and structure my own thinking. It’s a book that I often share with students who have similar concerns.
Cosgrove offers some simple rules that one can apply to such situations.
When the Bible seems to give a rule or suggest a position, the reader should think about the purpose of the rule. For example, if I tell my children not to eat cookies before dinner, it’s not because I don’t like cookies. My rule may be not to eat dessert before the meal, but the purpose behind my rule is my concern for my children’s health. I want them to eat food that will help their growing bodies before they eat something that simply tastes good.
Look for analogies. I may not find the word pesticide written in any Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek as I search through the text, but I do find useful information within the biblical texts. If the New Testament relates to the reader God’s care and concern for the birds of the air, then maybe bees are worthy of my consideration. Maybe, I am even required to do more than consider them. Analogies, drawn from the biblical texts to our own contexts, are helpful as we formulate our positions on issues.
Note the concern that the biblical texts show for the powerless and the marginalized. According to Cosgrove, this tendency of the biblical texts to give a voice to the voiceless (to give even greater weight to the voice of those without power) indicates we should do the same today. We should pay attention to and identify both the dominant voices and the voices of the marginalized and oppressed. And, following the biblical text means giving greater weight to those who offer a countercultural witness.
Use all of your faculties. Other sources of knowledge, like empirical or scientific understanding, are gifts.
You may come up with more than one option. We know this is plausible because Christians have different ethical positions on issues all of the time. It is important then, to realize why you choose to interpret a text as you do, and acknowledge that there are other possible interpretations. This is not to say that all possible interpretations are of equal value and Cosgrove recognizes that the process is a messy one.
If you are thinking about some ethical dilemmas and you are looking for some summer reading, I would recommend taking a look at Appealing to Scripture in Moral Debate. I hope you’ll find it useful, and don’t forget to think about the bees!
My name is Thawng Hnin Zam. I come from Chin State in the most western part of Myanmar, near the border with India. Presently, I am serving as the Principal of the Union Theological College, a member of the Association for Theological Education in South East Asia. I received a B.Th. degree in Madras, India, as well as a B.D. (Bachelors of Divinity) from Serampore University, also in India.