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I have heard, seen, and been in religious debates in the past where one of the participants eventually falls back on a line something akin to "it's a sin because the Bible says not to do it" or "it's a sin because God said so". Understandably, this sounds and feels like a cop-out to many people, especially people who have not acknowledged the sovereignty and authority of God. It is not surprising that they want to know the reasoning, to understand the why and not just the what of an imposition.

I am far from an expert on the Bible, having only read it in its entirety the once. However, it is my instinctual estimation that most, if not all, of the sins (and requirements) that the Bible enumerates are given at least some degree of justification, either inline with the admonition or elsewhere in scripture.

I know, however, that this is just an instinct, which is why I'm bringing the topic up here, in hopes of finding either support or reasoned contradiction of the theory. This leaves a few questions:

  • Can you cite any examples of commands, admonitions, prohibitions, etc. in the Bible where there seems to be no explicit justification?
  • Is there any scripture that talks about whether God explains His commands or not? For (slightly comical) example, does God ever say "I will not give you commands you do not understand" or conversely "I'm the boss, deal with it"?
  • If there is a command without scriptural justification, what is the right course of action in defending the command? (I realize this last question is more about apologetics, but I am curious about this, too)
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I think this question would be better if you provided an example. –  Andrew May 17 '12 at 13:58
    
"Can you cite any examples of commandments in the Bible where there seems to be no explicit justification elsewhere in the Bible?" - Do you mean before the 10 commandments? Such as, "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor." and the justification for it is BEFORE the ten commandments? Or just anywhere else in the bible? –  user1054 May 17 '12 at 14:29
    
@DanAndrews Maybe I should edit the post to clarify this, but when I say commandments I don't just mean the 10 Commandments (with a capital C), I mean any command, instruction, prohibition, etc. And I am asking about whether the reasoning behind the command is present in the Bible at all. –  asfallows May 17 '12 at 14:38
    
I think this should be three separate questions. –  Flimzy May 17 '12 at 20:32
    
@Flimzy - I did consider breaking it into three questions. However, the first two questions are very closely related, and the third is actually a bit off topic for this site (as I understand it), so I felt it better to keep them together. –  asfallows May 18 '12 at 0:46

5 Answers 5

up vote 5 down vote accepted

It's like when your kid asks questions.

Kid: "Why do you work?"
Me: "To earn money."
Kid: "Why do you want to earn money?"
Me: "So that I can support you and mommy."
Kid: "Why do you want to support me and mommy?"
Me: "Because I love you and mommy."
Kid: "Why do you love me and mommy?"
Me: "I love you and mommy because Jesus told me to love you and mommy."
Kid: "Why did Jesus tell you to do that?"
Me: "Because he loved us first."
Kid: "Why does he love you?"
Me: "Ummm....."

Ultimately, every question we ask about anything in scripture will ultimately come down to an "Ummm..." at the end of it. In other words, at some point, we have to accept that some things are true and good, simply because they're true and good, and are based in the character of who God is. Why he is who he is will always be a matter of "Ummm...".

The issue comes, of course, when a person's own instincts about right and wrong don't agree with the scriptural, Biblical concept of right and wrong. Of course, this comes down to the person's understanding of who God is. Our own depravity is our handicap when it comes to determining right from wrong, and also our handicap when it comes to having the humility under God to admit that we might be wrong. Combine that with our educated society, and you have a culture of people who won't believe anything they can't understand.

Mark Driscoll puts it this way: Our education has surpassed our intelligence.

The problem with your first question, is that any explicit justification that would be given anyways would ultimately come back to the fact that God gave us the command, which would ultimately be based in his character. Love is defined by God (because God is love), not by us, and the great problem in dealing with explanations of sin, is that these conversations usually have two people who start with different presuppositions. Given that, we can't properly defend a command, without both parties understanding the nature of God. Without God as anchor, we're all lost at sea.

So what's the answer, if there's a command without scriptural justification? Don't try to defend the command, try to change the presupposition.

The only way to change presuppositions is to point people towards Jesus. Those who don't believe in Jesus have nothing to gain from "cleaning up their act". They're still fallen, and without Christ. The best they could hope for is a nice, sanitized, relatively nonviolent life that would still end with their soul in hell. Pointing the unbeliever to Jesus, and explaining his unconditional love, and his death on the cross is the best way to bring about a realization of what is right and what is wrong in that person's life. Just as a child doesn't want to disappoint a good father, one who is in Christ will ultimately grow to grieve disappointing his heavenly father.

In short:

  1. Every commandment ultimately, when put up to a depraved mind demanding answers about why, will ultimately fail when presented with any justification regarding any sin. It's only when we stop demanding justifications that we begin to accept the command as right. Some people stop when the justification is "so that it doesn't offend someone else", and some people stop when the justification is "so that it doesn't offend God."

  2. I don't know of any scripture that talks about whether God explains his commands or not. Some he does, some he doesn't. Sometimes, the best explanation is "For I am your God."

  3. The right course of action is to not defend the command, but to present Christ, and allow the introduction of the Holy Spirit into a person's life defend the command for you. Those who do not have the Holy Spirit don't need to obey a command, they need Christ. If the person's refusal to acknowledge the command as right is preventing the person from admitting their own need for Christ, switch to a different command, then use the fact that it is broken to point them again to Christ. On the other hand, for those who are believers, you should hopefully be able to point towards the Bible, and hopefully that will be enough.

On a practical note, I once knew a guy who believed that some of the Bible was true, and some of it wasn't. I told him to get a magic marker, find 2 Timothy 3:16, and mark it out, then proceed through reading the Bible, marking out all the parts he disagreed with.

He gave up pretty quickly. The Bible is meant to be accepted as a whole, and not in part.

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Jesus loves you because that's his nature. He IS love. –  LoveTheFaith May 18 '12 at 1:08
    
@LoveTheFaith: Why is Jesus Love? ;) –  El'endia Starman May 18 '12 at 3:59
    
@El'endiaStarman I said already, that's his nature. –  LoveTheFaith May 19 '12 at 14:07
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Why is Love the nature of Jesus? –  El'endia Starman May 19 '12 at 14:26

The professor of russian Orthodox Church Osipov defines sin not as law given by God to human, but as advice. Human, don't do this, this will cause you to bleed. Do not harm yourself. So your question is actually about why this or that thing is harmful.

So if you think about love to enemies, holding off your own wishes and other words of Christ, you definitely will see that fulfilling them brings joy for human and disobeying them causes him to suffer.

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Why Sin is Sin

Sin is not sin because the Bible says so. Sin is sin because it is contrary to the nature of God, it separates mankind from God, and it is self-destructive. Indeed, the thief comes to steal, kill, and destroy.

So, sin is not sin just because the Bible says so. Sin is sin because of what it is. The role of the Bible is to identify for mankind what sin is and what it is not.

The Moral Compass

It seems that most all of us accept the idea of right and wrong, good and evil. In many cases, there is widespread agreement, but there certainly is disagreement in significant areas as well. However, while most everyone would agree that murder is wrong, many in Germany in the 1940's believed it was not wrong to murder Jews. In fact, there are many today who still believe it is morally right to murder people of other faiths or those who convert to other faiths.

The question, then, is how can humanity discern who is right and who is wrong about what is right and what is wrong? We can't vote on it, because a majority who believe genocide is alright are still wrong. That leaves us with really only one solution, and that is to allow the Moral Lawgiver to define morality. If He says it's wrong, it's wrong--despite what we believe.

If He says adultery is wrong, then there is no valid excuse an adulterer can give. If He says it's wrong to blaspheme His Name, then the blasphemer has no excuse. If He says it's wrong to lie, then politicians are all in trouble.

So, the Word of God is the moral compass, and we must allow God to be the final word to moral issues.

Two Responses

That being said, most "sins" are pretty self-evident. Most people know inherently that lying, cheating, stealing, rape and murder are all wrong.

The problem comes with things that are disputed. For this, we have the option of either accepting or rejecting God's input on the matter. If we read the Bible and we disagree with its position, there are two responses we can have.

One person sees the disagreement and concludes that God is wrong. This person believes that he himself knows better than God or discounts the relevance, accuracy, or authority of the Word of God. Such a person, by definition, is a follower his own way.

Another person sees the disagreement in the Bible with his life or ideas and concludes that he himself must be wrong. Such a person, by definition, is a follower of the Bible and of the God of the Bible.

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"That leaves us with really only one solution" is a false statement; you could also use reason, evidence and rationality (calling in subject experts as needed) to deduce an option based on harm, benefit, the individual and the society. Aka, exactly what most legal authorities are meant to do. This is not the same as majority rule. –  Marc Gravell May 17 '12 at 17:18
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@MarcGravell That would suffer from the same problems as voting democratically. It's just limiting voter eligibility. What would be the criteria or qualifications for an expert? This would, undoubtedly, lead to wrong conclusions as well. –  Narnian May 17 '12 at 18:01
    
so... you're against the rule of law as applied in most governments? –  Marc Gravell May 17 '12 at 18:59
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@MarcGravell That is absolutely ridiculous. The question is not "how do we decide what is and is not a crime". That is completely different. The question regards sin. –  Narnian May 17 '12 at 19:10
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@MarcGravell Even for things that are evidently morally wrong..there are some people that would truly feel like they not morally wrong; no matter how much reason, evidence, and rationality you show or explain to them. This has nothing to do with authorities or governments. –  Shredder May 18 '12 at 0:45

What is Sin?

Before we ask, "why is something sin?", we must ask "what is sin?". The Bible doesn't give an explicit and all encompassing definition of sin. Based on what has been revealed to us about sin, the Catholic church defines sin as follows -

"Sin is an offense against reason, truth, and right conscience; it is failure in genuine love for God and neighbor caused by a perverse attachment to certain goods. It wounds the nature of man and injures human solidarity. It has been defined as "an utterance, a deed, or a desire contrary to the eternal law. Sin is an offense against God: "Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done that which is evil in your sight... (Psalm 51:4)" (CCC 1849-1850)

Why is something evil in God's eyes? (i.e. why is something sin?)

God is the objective standard of morality. Without God, there is simply no objective morality as Ravi Zacharias explains in this short video.

Before going to God, let's ask, "why is something evil in my eyes?" I answer, "It is evil because I KNOW it is evil. It is evil because it contradicts what I know is good and right." I don't need God to tell me that murder is evil. I know within my heart and mind that it is evil, because my conscience (Romans 2:14-15) tells me so." Where does my conscience come from? My conscience comes from God because God created me and gave me a conscience. However, because of the fall of man, my conscience is distorted and therefore, my conscience cannot always tell me whether something is objectively evil or not. See Romans 14:14 for an example of this.

In the same way, something is evil in God's eyes because God KNOWS what is good and evil (Gen 3:5). And he knows it perfectly. Since God, by definition, is the Supreme Good itself, anything that goes against God's will or against his nature is evil and God knows it. So, for eg. sexual relations between a man and an animal is evil, because God didn't intend it to be so. God knows it is not good for man. But man may not always know this, because of his fallen nature.

In the ultimate analysis, as David Morton said, we have to trust God, because he is the objective standard of morality. If God says it is evil, then it must be evil, because he is the only standard of objective good and evil. He knows what is good and evil; we may not always know.

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There are several related topics here. I'll address each one separately.

"I want to understand!"

let me know Your ways that I may know You - Exodus 33:13

First, I want to emphasize that it is good to seek understanding. It is also good to help others understand His ways. Seeking to know the reason behind a command is not sin.

Philip ran up and heard [the Ethiopian] reading Isaiah the prophet, and said, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said, “Well, how could I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him... Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning from this Scripture he preached Jesus to him. - Acts 8:30-35

Knowledge of scripture will only take you so far; at some point you need to understand what you are reading - and often times you need someone to be there to help you understand. If Philip had not explained the Scriptures to the Ethiopian, he would not have understood and would not have been converted. We should be careful how we respond to a person who is seeking to understand God's ways.

General Justification

Your hunch is correct - all sin in Scripture does indeed have some degree of justification, although it may not be specific or explicit. I tell my kids not to eat batteries... because if they do they will die. Similarly, God tells us not to sin... because if we do we will die.

God is love. Believe it or not, all of His commandments were given to teach us love - and to show us our inherent inability to love - so we would return to God through Christ! His commandments are an elaborate attempt at urging us to return to Him! The law was given to teach us about God's very nature - that which is good and right.

Sin is a rejection of what is good and right; a rejection of God's law; a rejection of His ways; a rejection of Him. Sin separates us from God. If we choose sin, we choose separation from God - He cannot "embrace separation", "accept rejection", "fellowship with those who flee Him"... If we die in this state, we experience eternal separation from Him, also referred to as "torment" and "death".

The general justification of every command is the same. It is good to follow God. It is bad to reject God. Sin creates a separation between you and God. This is really bad for you, so you should forsake sin and return to Him.

No Explicit Justification

There are examples of commands in the Bible which have no explicit justification. Here's one random example:

They shall construct an ark of acacia wood two and a half cubits long, and one and a half cubits wide, and one and a half cubits high. You shall overlay it with pure gold, inside and out you shall overlay it, and you shall make a gold molding around it. - Exodus 25:10-11

Why those specific dimensions? Why acacia wood? I don't know. I am sure there was a good reason - and perhaps there is a Bible scholar out there who can explain it using Scripture. But to my knowledge no explicit justification is given in Scripture.

Does God Explain Himself?

Proper Handling

Your question here was, "If there is a command without scriptural justification, what is the right course of action in defending the command?" First - be cautious about entering into the activity of teaching others about the Word of God.

Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment. - James 3:1

If you are called to teach, make sure you know what you're talking about before you begin making confident assertions about things...

For some men, straying from these things, have turned aside to fruitless discussion, wanting to be teachers of the Law, even though they do not understand either what they are saying or the matters about which they make confident assertions. - 1 Timothy 1:6-8

If God has gifted you to teach, and given you understanding about the topic you are discussing, the proper method of teaching is summed up pretty well here:

The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will. - 2 Timothy 2:24-26

The teacher must also be led by the Spirit and should function within the context of the other members of the body of Christ.

This is the most formulaic approach I can concisely offer for how to properly defend a command from scripture. I hope that helps!

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