“What does Jesus say about people who engage in same-sex relationships? Or about people who identify with as something other than heterosexual, who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual, queer, pansexual or any other ‘orientation’? Nothing. Absolutely nothing.” —Bart Ehrman1
“The early church, as we see her in Acts, expected and endured persecution without armed resistance, but rather with joyful suffering, prayer, and the word of God.” —John Piper2
What has silence told you? When have you heard silence speak? Can a man learn from silence or is it the inner workings of his own heart that he will hear when all others have vanished? Both quotes above are cited from two very different individuals—I’m talking differing ends of the spectrum here; one a respected believer and the other a respected antagonist of the Christian faith—who appeal to silence in order to buttress the conclusion they want their readers to reach. However, arguments from silence lack substance. As Joel McDurmon aptly puts it,
I hope that by the end of this post the reader will see this as well.
Polar Opposites Agree (in principle)…
Ehrman wants his readers to believe that Christians shouldn’t be against certain cultural taboos like baby-killing (aka. Abortion), strong-armed thievery (aka., socialism, communism, and the welfare state), and the overarching theme of his article, sodomy (aka., homosexuality, or if you prefer, the alphabet soup group). Because as Ehrman opines,
“I start with Jesus. And here the conversation is quite easy. In our surviving records Jesus says nothing about same-sex acts or sexual orientation. Nothing. Nada.”4
Piper, as you can see, argues similarly. Albeit he is a bit more subtle. He emphasizes the records provided in the book of Acts on the early church, and then, a bit more specific with the life of Paul. He concludes,
“In all the dangers Paul faced in the book of Acts, there is not a hint that he ever planned to carry or use a weapon for his defense against his adversaries. He was willing to appeal to the authorities in Philippi (Acts 16:37) and Jerusalem (Acts 22:25). But he never used a weapon to defend himself against persecution.”5
The first look…
At first glance arguments of this type seem very powerful. They convince a lot of people. A lot. But what have the arguments above really proved?
Let us take seriously the charge of Ehrman and Piper. How can Christians take a positional stance on either issue; sodomy or armed defense, if the author of their faith (cf. Heb 12.2) and His apostles as testified about in God’s Word are silent? Jesus didn’t say anything against “same-sex acts or orientation” (Ehrman), and the recorded record of our chief apostle says nothing about “bearing arms in the defense of life” (Piper), so how can Christians take a stand against the former and support the latter of these two issues?
Did Jesus say anything about kidnapping? What about bestiality? Or, what about cross-dressing (what our culture wants to define as a “transgender”)? Nope? So, I guess that settles it. Such practices are okay in the Lord’s book.
Ahhh…but wait a minute. What else did Jesus say? That God’s word cannot be broken (John 5.35). That mankind (the human race) is to see God’s Word as necessary sustenance for life/living (Matt 4.4). That He did not come to abolish any aspect of the Law-Word6 of God, not the smallest jot or tittle; rather, He came to uphold—i.e., establish—it all (Matt 5.17-19). To Jesus, all of God’s Word was of absolute value. And God in His Word condemned kidnapping (Deut 24.7), bestiality (Exod 22.19), and yes, even cross-dressing (Deut 22.5).
If we embrace the argument of men like Ehrman, then we must reject that Jesus believed all that Moses and the prophets spoke about. We must conclude that Jesus was a liar and a fraud who didn’t uphold the truth of God’s Word, nor did He mean for His disciples to do likewise (cf. John 17.17). Or, if that makes us uncomfortable, then perhaps we would prefer to assume that Jesus was either ignorant of what the Scriptures truly taught (cf. Luke 4.32; Matt 7.29), or He was authoring a faith-system distinct from the one revealed in the OT.
Now a man like Piper would not acquiesce to the reasoning presented by Ehrman. Piper would readily acknowledge that Jesus didn’t need to speak about issues like sodomy or any of its derivatives for it was common knowledge based upon God’s Word that such behaviors were sinful; an abomination to what God had deemed good from the beginning. In an interview with the Christian Post, he said,
“His [Jesus’] will is that a man might leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife, and that the two become one flesh (Mark 10:6-9). In this union, sexuality finds its God-appointed meaning, whether in personal-physical unification, symbolic representation, sensual jubilation, or fruitful procreation.”7
However, Piper expects his readers to acquiesce to his reasoning regarding bearing arms, and yet the two are the same in principle.
Ehrman claims Jesus never said anything about the issue he is writing about, so Christians shouldn’t attempt to lean on Jesus as grounds for their refusal to accept what our surrounding culture has “pride” in. Piper claims that there is no evidence in the book of Acts that Christians armed themselves, none whatsoever that the chief apostle of our faith, Paul, ever did either. Therefore, we are expected to conclude that arming ourselves with guns or teaching others to do so, is out of accord with what God’s Word teaches.
There are a few caveats that we might consider before adopting Piper’s reasoning. The first comes into consideration of the New Testament record; particularly, the history of the early Christian movement in the book of Acts. Why was it written? What was it seeking to promote? Who was the intended audience? What sort of message was this retelling supposed to convey to them?
The book of Acts reveals what happened to the disciples of Christ Jesus after His ascension into heaven. His disciples were blessed from on high being anointed by the Holy Spirit. With the end goal of sharing the gospel to all who had ears to hear. First to the Jews spread throughout the Roman Empire and then to the Gentiles (i.e., other ethnicities, tribes, and/or nations). What is recorded, stands as a lasting testament to the truthfulness of Christ’s prophetic declarations (e.g., Matt 16.18; 28.18-20; comp. Acts 10-11.18 & Acts 17.6-7), and the faithfulness of those who experience firsthand the power of the gospel (Rom 1.18; cf. Rom 1.8; comp. Acts 9). Of the Holy Spirit’s anointing on God’s people and the witness, those children gave to an unbelieving world.
Beyond that little else is recorded in the book of Acts. The theme and focus of Luke’s second volume was not on every aspect of their Christian walk. We don’t know much about the everyday activity of the early Church. How many fishing trips did Peter and John go on during that time? Or did they quit fishing since nothing more is said of their former trade? How many alcoholic beverages did Paul consume? What does this silence reveal? Nothing. We don’t know the number of Paul’s construction projects. Nothing is recorded of his pay. What about houses and property purchased by early Christians? What about the number of baptisms by sprinkling? No information is given on those issues either… the Scriptures are silent on those matters.
Are we to conclude that since the biblical record says little of these things they didn’t take place? How then can we possibly conclude how many apostles carried swords? How many times did they fight for their lives or the lives of others? Perhaps they didn’t carry any swords. Perhaps they didn’t defend any lives, let alone their own. But the fact that there is silence on so many day-to-day matters of the early Church doesn’t prove that those things “never” occurred. Context matters. Witnessing and being persecuted is not the same as being attacked or robbed.
Oh yes, I am familiar with the passage in the New Testament where Paul recites all the trials he has faced as an apostle of Jesus Christ. He experienced “…dangers from robbers” (2 Cor 11.25). But the fact that nothing is said about the use of a sword does not mean that Paul never defended himself from thieves. And to couch the argument the way that Piper does, “…[Paul] never used a weapon to defend himself against persecution” is misleading. Persecution is one category of action, but being attacked by a thief is another. Persecution is the result of bearing witness to Christ and His Word, but an attack from a criminal doesn’t fit within that category of thought.
I’m not going to go long in the tooth on this issue. As I’ve noted before I’ve already addressed Jesus’ command for the disciples to get swords (see Luke 22.36)—if you want to read my thoughts you can go here and here. But I just want to point out that Piper is guilty of cherry-picking here. He says the Christians in the book of Acts experienced persecution without being armed. He says that nothing is recorded about Paul using a weapon to defend himself… “never.” However, when it comes to Jesus telling His disciples to buy a sword if they don’t have one by selling their cloak if necessary, Piper becomes Neo from the Matrix dodging linguistic bullets!
“If that is the correct interpretation of this text, my question is, ‘Why did none of the disciples in the New Testament ever do that –or commend that?’ The probable answer is that Jesus did not mean for them to think in terms of armed defense for the rest of their ministry.”8
If Piper’s response is correct then Jesus didn’t mean for them to take a moneybag or knapsack either. If metaphorical/figurative are the proper grounds for interpretation and application when it comes to purchasing swords and selling cloaks, then it would apply to money and food as well! If we are going to be consistent, then that is what we are left with. Spiritualizing the text to support our pacifistic ideals. Rather than accept he might be wrong, he’d argue with Christ, deny His word, and reinforce his presuppositions on the matter. I know that might sound harsh but I am just calling it as I see it. Confronted with the truth, an inconvenient truth that demolishes his privately held beliefs on what proper Christianity looks like, Piper reaches for a rescuing device to save his worldview perspective on this issue. Oh yeah, and he argues from silence once again. But I’ve beaten that horse dead already.
I suppose it might seem a bit unfair or unnecessary for my bringing in Bart Ehrman’s argument against Christians standing against sodomy as it is popularized today in the LGBTQ+ dogma when Jesus said nothing on the matter. My intention was not to call Piper an Ehrman, but to identify how eerily close Piper’s argument against armed defense resembles Ehrman.
Piper’s errors on this issue are many. I’ve attempted to address them each in turn. Sometimes, I’ve been a bit lengthier in my commentary than was probably necessary, but I’ll give the excuse that I was just trying to be thorough. Here is a review of Piper’s errors regarding Christians arming themselves in the world in which we live.
First, he appeals to a New Testament ethic versus a biblical ethic (OT & NT). Second, he fails to properly define government and commits the error that the only government is the civil government when it’s not. Third, he fails to distinguish proper categories of thought muddying the waters a bit between what it means to trust in God and the difference between witnessing under persecution, and experiencing violence from a criminal, as well as, what it means to love one’s neighbor including our enemies. Fourth, he champions the Either/Or Fallacy (Bifurcation) by stating that we either trust in God or we trust in our arms (weapons)—a false dichotomy that would have had Samson, Joshua, Jonathan, or David raising their eyebrows. Within this, he attempts to stress that our concern should be towards our heavenly citizenship while denying our earthly one. Fifth, he attempts to buttress his claims by stating that the New Testament record of the early Church and the apostles never mentioned them using armed resistance of any kind (i.e., using weapons to protect themselves)—the argument from silence. He even went so far as to deny what Jesus taught (commanded) His disciples in Luke 22:35-38.
I hope that my reasoning did not come across as muddled. I tried to be fair with Piper as I see him as a brother in the Lord. Perhaps, I could have better articulated my position and reasoning, but I stand by what I’ve stated. If another comes along and sees something I’ve missed or what appears to be an error, then I welcome such an interchange. I have one last post regarding this issue, though I am finished critiquing Piper’s thoughts on the matter. In that post, I will lay out my theological reasoning that justifies armed Christian defense in the pursuit of protecting life. Until then, I wish you well.
2 John Piper, “Should Christians Be Encouraged to Arm Themselves?” Desiring God, December 22, 2015. https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/should-christians-be-encouraged-to-arm-themselves. Emphasis mine.
Piper on: Pt.6—Historic Church (Acts)/Argument from Silence—Acts 4:29-31; 5:40-41; 8:1-3; 16:37; 22:25. This is my personal heading attributed to what I call Piper’s Pillars of Thought. The heading (here) is not a choice that is reflective of how Piper may see his own explanatory points in his article.
3 Joel McDurmon, Biblical Logic: In Theory and Practice (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision, 2011), 220, PDF E-book.
4 Ehrman, “Jesus and Homosexuality,” par. 3.
5 Piper on: Pt. 6, final par. Emphasis mine.
6 Readers may wonder why I use the phrase “Law-Word of God” rather than just law as seen in Matthew 5. My reasoning is quite simple. Law (Torah; Nomos) means more than just prohibitive practice but pertains to prescribed practice (i.e., instruction). God’s Law-Word serves as instruction for all of mankind. Jesus did not come to abolish any aspect of God’s Law. Either the prohibitive sections: “Thou shall not…” ; Or, the prescriptive sections “Love the Lord God with all your heart….” It is true that certain aspects of the Law-Word of God changed after Christ’s crucifixion and ascension, but these changes did not nullify the Law-Word of God. Some found their fulfillment in the sense of Christ in terms of ceremonial practices: no longer do we shed the blood of animals as a temporary substitute for atonement, for Christ’s sacrifice is eternal in nature (cf. Heb 10.1-25). Whereas others are seen as continuing dictates of our righteous King, who is the head over all things (cf. Eph 1.22; Rev. 1.5). We do not murder for the King is against any who take the life of another without provocation within His realm. We do not steal for the King has granted the temporary right of possession to all within His domain, for them and their children; until the fullness of time has come and the children of God inherit all things.
7 Audrey Barrick, “John Piper Laments Normalization of Homosexuality as ‘the New Calamity,’” Christian Post, July 1, 2011. https://www.christianpost.com/news/john-piper-laments-normalization-of-homosexuality-as-the-new-calamity.html.
8 Piper on: Figurative/Metaphorical Argument—Luke 22:35-38. Pt. 7, par. 5.