Biblical / Ethical Reflections on the Enspirited Life

[1] I begin these reflections by turning to selected passages in the Gospels, the book of Acts, and the Pauline letters, arguing the centrality of the Spirit to any consideration of Christian faith and life, or to biblical and Christian ethics. Then I address several hermeneutical issues in relating what I call “spirit ethics” to Scripture or specifically the New Testament. The third and final part of the paper makes a brief application of this spirit ethic perspective to the current issue of homosexuality.

Spirit in the New Testament
[2] There is hardly a word that carries more wide-ranging meanings and connotations than the word, “spirit.” It is used in many different contexts, capturing dimensions of human life and experience that stretch in many different directions. The word is indispensable to descriptions of the religious life, of the realms of theology, philosophy, the humanities, and all kinds of human interaction and relationships. When we connect spirit (pneuma) to Scripture, as we are doing here, we gain a more focused context for our use and understanding of the word, even as it still carries a rich variety in meaning. Every dimension of the life of faith in Scripture is expressed in the concept of spirit. The Holy Spirit is both giver and gift, expressing the presence and mystery of God, implanting faith, empowering the faithful life, creating the community of faith, enabling true worship and witness, transforming one’s life with new birth, inspiring prayer, generating personal and ethical qualities called “fruit of the Spirit,” and providing counsel, comfort and guidance.

[3] James Dunn, in his work on pneumatology, notes, “As in earlier Jewish thought, pneuma [spirit] denotes that power which humanity experiences as relating it to the spiritual realm, the realm of reality which lies beyond ordinary observation and human control. Within this broad definition, pneuma has a fairly wide range of meaning. But by far the most frequent use of pneuma in the New Testament (more than 250 times) is as a reference to the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit, that power which is most immediately of God as to source and nature.”1 At the opposite end of the spectrum, the New Testament speaks of the human spirit as though it were something possessed by the individual, but Dunn makes the salient point that it is not envisaged as a divine spark, or the real “I” that is incarcerated in the physical body. This “ghost in the machine” dualism is found more typically in Greek philosophy. In the New Testament the word is simply a natural way of expressing the fact that humanity belongs to the spiritual realm, experiencing the power that relates us to “the dimension of the beyond in our midst.”2

[4] The Gospels portray Jesus himself as a “Man of the Spirit,” manifested at his birth (Matt. 1:18), baptism (Matt. 3:16–17), his inauguration of his ministry in Nazareth (Luke 4:18ff.) where he claims for himself the words of Isaiah 61:1–2 (“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me”), his Spirit-led journey into the wilderness (Matt. 4:1), his Spirit-empowered exorcising of demons as a sign of the coming Kingdom (Mark 3:22–29, Matt. 12:24–29, Luke 11:15–23), and the inspired nature of his teaching and his astonishing claims to authority during the course of his prophetic ministry (Matt. 5:21–22, etc.). With his ascension he becomes “Lord of the Spirit,” the source of empowerment for his followers (Acts 2:33). John expresses this same view by identifying the Spirit as “the second Paraclete” (Jn. 14:16), a word coined by John which the RSV translates as “counselor,” where Jesus by implication is the first Paraclete (Jn. 14:16–28, 1 Jn. 4:1–3, 5:6–8). This ongoing work of the Spirit can be understood in terms of teaching, revealing, interpreting, and leading believers into new truth and understanding (Jn. 14:26, 15:26, 16:14).3

[5] The writings of Luke are particularly rich in conveying the Spirit as a divine power, leading David Ford to observe, “Hermeneutically, the Spirit is the embracing reality in Luke’s gospel and in Acts.”4 In Acts the Spirit is poured out with dramatic results in the life of the early church, inspiring bold proclamation and healing that was seen as ushering in the last times foreseen in the prophet Joel (Acts 2:17–21; cf. Joel 2:28–32). However we might understand these events from the early chapters of Acts, rich as they are in symbolism and ecstatic experiences, there is no doubt that the early followers were moved by vivid experiences of the Spirit in their midst, creating the ecclesia, a people “called out” with a divine mission and destiny. James Dunn sees this power of the Spirit in Acts expressed in three main areas: 1) The Spirit as a transforming power in conversion, ushering one into the messianic, eschatological community; 2) the Spirit active in the prophetic ministry of the church, inspiring a bold proclamation of the Word; and 3) the Spirit as directing and enlivening the whole mission of the church.5

[6] From Acts 2 and on it is the Spirit of God that inaugurates the new age, the new covenant, becoming a believer, embarking on the way of the Cross. The divine-human interaction in this narrative prompts language of the spirit in describing and interpreting human experience in its encounter with God, involving both the intimacy and mystery of the divine presence. A defining aspect of this encounter and of the Spirit’s presence in the believer’s life is lifted up by Saint Paul in his letter to the Romans: “When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Rom. 8:15–16). The intimate relation of child to parent as the model for our relation to God is a gift of the Spirit. It is the realm of the spirit where we encounter God most immediately (Gal. 6:18, Phil. 4:23, James 4:5), and where we are open and responsive to God (Matt. 5:3, Luke 1:47, Rom. 1:9). Thus to speak of our relation to God in experiential terms, the New Testament speaks of the Spirit in one’s life. The Spirit is the source of conviction, of faith and faithfulness, moving the believer to a committed discipleship. My conclusion is that we cannot speak of the Christian life without reference to the Spirit, nor reflect on the nature of that life as in the discipline of Christian ethics, without espousing what I have called “spirit ethics.”6 If we intend to be faithful to the biblical witness and recognize the distinctiveness of the Christian life, our consideration of Christian ethics will be indelibly stamped by language of the spirit.

[7] In light of the inherent ambiguity of the spirit concept and its use in the intellectual currents of Paul’s day, he offers several criteria for recognizing and defining the work of the Spirit: 1) It brings recognition of Jesus as Lord (1 Cor. 12:3); indeed, Paul often substitutes the risen Christ for the Spirit of God (Rom. 8:9, 2 Cor. 3:17), identifying the Spirit-led life with life “in Christ” and knowing “the mind of Christ” (Phil. 2:5–7, 1 Cor. 2:12–16). 2) It lifts up the love commandment, the “more excellent way” that Paul puts forth in 1 Corinthians 13 following his discussion of the gifts of the Spirit. 3) It leads one to serve and build up the community of believers, reflecting the consistent message we find in Paul that we do not live for ourselves alone but for the community, the “common good” (1 Cor. 12:4ff., Gal. 6:10).

[8] A particular emphasis in Paul, particularly in Galatians, is the contrasting of life in the Spirit with life under the law. This reflects his background in Judaism and the fact that his ministry, while embracing the Gentile world, was carried out largely in a Jewish context. Among Jews who were becoming followers of Jesus, there were those who insisted that a life acceptable to God was one that remained faithful to the written law. Paul points out to the Galatians that conversion to Jesus Christ was the turning point in which the Spirit entered their lives, where life under the law is changed to life “in Christ” where the Spirit becomes one’s guide (Gal. 5:16–18). The law for Paul represents the “way of the flesh” if by it one expects to become acceptable to God through one’s obedience. The flesh is also understood as sinful tendencies — passions and desires of the flesh — that now challenge the Christian who would walk by the Spirit. Paul celebrates the new freedom bestowed by the Spirit, not a freedom that forsakes responsibility but a freedom now governed by love of God and neighbor.

[9] There are obvious hazards associated with spirit language. In the history of the church, those hazards have contributed to the marginalizing of the spirit concept, where those emphasizing gifts of the Spirit are identified with sectarianism or a misguided enthusiasm. And yet, today Pentecostalism has assumed a major role in the spread of the Gospel throughout the world.7 The intense emotional response identified with Pentecostal Christianity fulfills a natural expectation that becoming a follower of Christ will make a difference in one’s life, and the more dramatic that difference, the more vital and authentic one’s faith will be. This experience of the Spirit, seen as self-authenticating, can assume an authority that may lead to overruling Scripture, claiming special revelations that run contrary to the Gospel.8 Two convictions are essential to counteracting this hazard. The first, following Paul, is a Christocentric understanding of the Spirit which should shape and govern the content of one’s life in the Spirit. The second conviction or recognition is that the individual believer does not stand alone, but always within the faith community on which one is dependent for nurture and direction. This last point should also provide some measure of defense against those whose claim to “gifts of the Spirit” leads to a spiritual elitism that divides the congregation, such as Paul encountered in Corinth (1 Cor. 12).

[10] Finally, it has been suggested that if we adhere to language of the spirit we may not be able to abandon the New Testament language of demons or evil spirits as well, a cultural feature that is far removed from a Western worldview.9 Needless to say, we cannot return to a New Testament worldview where demons are entities lurking in forests, inhabiting people, and intruding directly in human affairs. I find direction on all of these issues or hazards that I’ve raised here in the writings of the Apostle Paul. Demons, for example, become the realm of the demonic, expressed in the language of principalities and powers, rulers and authorities, spiritual forces of evil (Eph. 6:12). He clearly respects the Pentecostal experience, sharing in it himself (1 Cor. 14:18); he consequently deals seriously with “gifts of the Spirit” (charismata), from healing to prophecy to speaking in tongues. He brings a remarkable balance to his assessments of these gifts, expressing appreciation for them at the same time as exercising critique.10 It is fair to say that the thrust of his interpretation of “life in the Spirit” moves us away from the ecstatic realm of unusual experiences and phenomena, focusing instead on the moral life. The Spirit for Paul is at the core life of faith – issues of faithfulness, obedience, and service. Thus he sees evidence of the Spirit in the moral transformation of the believer (1 Cor. 6:9–11), living a life now marked by the “fruit of the Spirit” that he powerfully contrasts to “works of the flesh” (Gal. 5). I believe a serious recognition of the Spirit, or the presence of God in our lives today, would see that presence in movements of will, intellect, emotion and action that express the believer’s faithfulness as a follower of Christ. Where Pentecostal Christians are intent on distinguishing the Spirit as divine action entering into religious experience as a singular, eruptive power, I see the need of integrating the Spirit with the dynamics of religious experience, moving the believer to faith and a faithful life. Morally speaking, the Spirit’s presence impels a life deeply committed to living out the love commandment as embodied in Christ, the way of agape.

[11] The concept of power is particularly helpful in uniting the Spirit of God with the human spirit. In the context of Christian ethics, this divinely rooted power is appropriately understood as a motivating power – constraining, persuading, encouraging – that moves one to responsible action in light of the Gospel and one’s self-consciousness as a child of God. Paul relates the Spirit to the “inner person,” calling and empowering the believer who is now “rooted and grounded in love” (Eph. 3:14ff.). We speak here of a wondrous, transformative gift, the significance of which we can fail to appreciate. Perhaps that is because the gift of the Spirit and the “life direction” that it brings does not take place in a vacuum; its emergence in a believer’s life will reflect one’s character and personality, one’s understanding or grasp of the Christian calling, the particular tradition within the ecumenical household that has nurtured one’s faith, the strengths and weaknesses of that faith, and how all of this meshes with the cultural norms that would govern our behavior. In any event, the Spirit in the believer’s life is no signal that one has arrived at the goal of one’s life; there always remains a “not yet” character to Paul’s depiction of that life, a tension between present experience and future consummation that is reflected in his reference to the Spirit as an arrabon, a “pledge” or “guarantee” of salvation that puts us on a path toward an ultimate transformation and redemption (2 Cor. 1:22, 5:5) that we cannot now claim for ourselves. Given the ever-present temptation toward moral hubris, claiming more for ourselves as Spirit-led people than our actions would justify (perhaps the ultimate hazard for understanding the Spirit-led life), it is essential to recognize that life in the Spirit is an open-ended journey, being “on the way,” in process, in continuing need of repentance and forgiveness.

Spirit Ethics and Scriptural Authority
[12] The blossoming of historical criticism in the nineteenth century as a tool in understanding the contents of the Bible often led to views that ran contrary to traditional understandings within the church, creating a crisis of confidence in the veracity of the Bible and consequently in its authority as the Word of God. A notable response on the part of some churches has been the effort to guarantee the literal truth or factuality of everything the Bible says by summoning the Spirit of God as the source of its every word. This view of divine inspiration, rooted already in Protestant Orthodoxy of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and promulgated today under the banner of Christian fundamentalism, would avoid the possibility of human errors in Scripture by removing any meaningful human involvement in transmitting its content. We see here the use of the Spirit as a basis for a rational argument that seeks to establish the indubitable truth of a written document. In repudiating this view, I would maintain that to speak of divine inspiration necessarily brings together the Spirit of God and the human spirit, engaging our humanity in faithful response whether it is the prophet or evangelist who is moved to write or the believer who faces any situation that challenges a faithful response.

[13] This means that the Spirit of God must engage the human spirit before any reference to the truth or authority of Scripture comes into play. That engagement takes place in many ways, but decisively for Christians in the person of Jesus Christ. His life, death, and resurrection, his message and ministry of healing, embody for the believer the Word of God, God’s Truth that addresses, engages, and brings new life to the believer. This is to say that the essential content of Scripture rather than any formal characteristics we might ascribe to it constitutes its authority as the Word of God. We see in that content, and in the continuing dialogue between the church and its Scripture, the renewing presence of the Spirit. Divine inspiration embraces this whole dimension of the church’s life, from inspired writers to the receiving community of believers.

[14] In bringing spirit ethics and Scripture together, we need to ask just how Scripture functions as an authority for believers in their concrete, moral decision making. This is a much disputed subject, with viewpoints that stretch from considerable skepticism that Scripture can function at all as a meaningful authority for believers in their moral decision making, to absolute confidence that Scripture provides clear answers to every moral issue we encounter.11 On this subject I believe Luke Johnson gives us some helpful insights in his book, Scripture and Discernment.12 He sees the New Testament functioning in a threefold manner, as Author, Authorizer, and as Auctoritates (using the Latin term). As Author he refers to the ability of the New Testament to author or “to create a certain identity in its readers, to bring a Christian community into existence or renew it.” This “identity-formative function” reflects the primary purpose of the NT, centering on Jesus Christ and the life-giving power of the Spirit. As Authorizer, the New Testament “provides its readers with examples of ways in which authoritative texts can freely be reread in light of new experiences and the working of the Spirit – without thereby ceasing to be normative.” This authorizing function of the New Testament recognizes the dynamic, changing character of the church’s life, reflected already in the New Testament itself where we see the development of interpretation among various writers. A notable example would be divorce, in which we see modifications and changes as we move from the rigorist stance of Jesus in Mark’s gospel (Mk. 10:9–12) to the judgments of Matthew (Matt. 19:8–9) and Paul (1 Cor. 7:15–16), reflecting the circumstances being faced by the church.

[15] The third category, Auctoritates, refers to specific moral judgments on issues of concern to the church, and here Johnson sees a wide diversity in viewpoint that makes it “simply impossible to reconcile what New Testament writers have to say on the same subject.” There is, for example, considerable contrast on the Christian attitude toward the state between Paul in Romans 13 and the book of Revelation. Again, one sees a significant difference in the stance taken toward the world between the Johannine literature that tends to demonize the world and Luke-Acts with its confident affirmation of the world. Johnson suggests that if the New Testament writings agree on the shape of Christian identity but disagree on any number of moral judgments to be made by those sharing that identity, then two conclusions might be drawn: “The first is that identity is more important than ritual consistency; the second is that the New Testament actually legitimates a healthy pluralism of practice within the same basic identity.”13

[16] Elaborating on this basic Christian identity, we can say that the authority of Scripture for the moral life centers in Jesus Christ as Lord who summons the believer to a life of repentance and faith, taking up one’s cross and following him (Matt. 16:24). Focusing on this theological center of the Christian’s moral life avoids the notion that Scripture is intended to provide a comprehensive list of prescriptions that would govern the faithful life. Loyalty to Christ rather than a particular moral casuistry is at the center here, even as one takes seriously any number of imperatives found in Scripture because they are seen as a means toward being faithful. This faithfulness to the spirit of Christ’s life and teachings is a stance that appropriately relies not only on Scripture but on the guidance and nurture that one receives from the Spirit through others in the contemporary Christian community who are facing the same moral issues.

[17] This last point is a reminder that appealing to the Bible as authority for one’s moral decision making is not a simple matter. One’s church tradition functions as a lens through which Scripture is understood. A Christian nurtured by the Mennonite tradition will assess issues of war and violence differently from one reared in the Catholic or a mainline Protestant tradition. Then too, an often troubling aspect of reaching a responsible moral judgment is determining the “facts of the matter” in regard to the moral situation one is facing; the more controversial the issue, the more difficult it is to find consensus on the relevant data that would define the issue. This obviously demands considerable analysis and careful discernment. Indeed, a single-minded attention to Scripture in reaching a moral judgment can result in a “tunnel vision” that prevents responsible decision making. The notion, too, that we must “return” to Scripture in order to receive a timeless, final judgment on every current issue turns the Bible into a heteronomous authority that ignores or even denies the ongoing experience of the church. That kind of authority is imposed rather than received, which means that the Bible’s authority assumes an authoritarian and legalistic character because it puts aside the wisdom and discernment of the believing community.14

[18] In concluding this discussion of what I would call a hermeneutics of engagement, I should emphasize that for a spirit ethic the ethical authority of Scripture is understood within an ongoing process of dialogue and conversation by the community of believers among themselves and with their Scripture and tradition, as well as with the larger society. The cultural distance between the contemporary church and its Scripture is significant enough to raise serious hermeneutical issues, as we well know. But this cultural distance becomes a major issue when it comes to ethics, where we encounter significant differences in ethos created by change in both place and time. This is not to say that the love commandment is irrelevant to the contemporary scene, but it challenges the church in every age to wisely relate it to the complexities of individual and corporate life. Nor does it mean that we cannot glean any number of ethical insights from Scripture that have continuing relevance to Christian behavior and to social issues of our time. It is, rather, to recognize the inappropriateness of the all-too-common practice of citing chapter and verse as a way of bringing closure to our consideration of any given moral issue. A primary concern of the faith community should be the nurture of personal character and virtue, and then, because we live in a web of social relationships, to lift up those moral insights and perspectives from the Christian heritage and experience that can help the larger society in addressing the issues of our time.

Spirit Ethics and Homosexuality15
[19] From what I have said thus far it should be clear that the church in any given period is not simply the recipient of a tradition but participates in it, making in turn its own contribution to that tradition for times to come. Led by the Spirit, the church is always in the middle, listening to its Scripture and tradition and seeking an informed and wise assessment of every moral issue that compels its attention. Brevard Childs has identified the “central problem” of biblical ethics as “the question to what extent God’s will has been made clear and unequivocal for his people.”16 A spirit ethic would say that determining the “clear and unequivocal” will of God is by necessity a continuing task for the church, in which the changing and emerging moral issues of the day stimulate new perspectives in understanding what Scripture has to say about those issues. We see this quite dramatically in our own time wherever churches have seriously come to grips with the subject of homosexuality.

[20] I believe this subject presents a twofold task for the Spirit-led church: we need to educate ourselves on what we are learning about the nature of homosexuality through scientific research, and to discern what implications that research has for our moral judgments; and secondly, we need to understand the significance of what is happening within the church itself, where gays and lesbians are now visible participants in the life of the church. Looking briefly at the first task, it is fair to say that research in both the natural and social sciences has substantially reconstituted the homosexual issue (admittedly, there will always be those who dispute scientific findings when the subject is as controversial and emotion laden as this one). The focus of this research has been on the gay person, leading to the language of “sexual orientation.” We know now that one discovers that one is gay rather than willfully choosing one’s sexual orientation (thus making quite inappropriate the common expression, “sexual preference”). Just how this condition is arrived at is still debated, but the consensus seems to be that there is at least a genetic predisposition toward gayness, though it is not likely that one can point to one universal cause. Most experts in the field would say that both biological and psychosocial factors are involved.

[21] What does this knowledge have to do with our moral judgments on the subject? It should be obvious that we can hardly judge people for their having discovered something about themselves. Moral culpability implies a choice has been made for which one is responsible. Those who dispute this conclusion argue that there are likely biological predispositions to all of what we would call sinful behavior, but this does not remove our responsibility to refrain from engaging in that behavior. This view sees homosexuality as an addiction or a habit that one can reject or refrain from if one summons the necessary discipline or will power. I believe this view is based on a misunderstanding. Human sexuality, whether homosexual or heterosexual, is not a piece of baggage that can be dispensed with at will; it is, rather, an integral part of one’s self-identity, an intimate dimension of who one is. Whatever one’s conclusion on this matter, these kinds of considerations are pertinent for a spirit ethic, recognizing that a responsible moral judgment requires accurate knowledge of what it is that we are judging.

[22] In regard to the second task, relating to what is happening within the church, the gay or lesbian person is no longer simply “the other,” someone who can be kept at a safe distance as a kind of leper whom it is easy to reject or ignore. Now, in many if not most congregations, members are aware that gays and straights are sitting in the same pew, hearing the same Word proclaimed, kneeling together at the altar, working together as responsible members of the congregation. This is another fundamental game-changer in the church’s consideration of this issue. But again, there are those who say that this change of status of the gay person within the church is irrelevant in light of what they regard as a clear scriptural judgment of the homosexual person. For them, the increasing acceptance of gay persons in the church today cannot be reconciled with Scripture.

[23] It is precisely here that the issue is joined for Christians. A spirit ethic is attentive to what the contemporary church is experiencing as it grapples with serious moral issues. It affirms that the Spirit of God is at work in church and world, and that changes reflecting greater understanding of an issue and, in this case, the restoration to the church of gay people who have been so tragically alienated from the church, are powerful realities of the Spirit’s presence. It naturally follows that we must reassess traditional understandings of what Scripture is saying on this subject, and indeed that reassessment has been going on in recent decades. An ongoing task and responsibility of the church today is to maintain strong educational programs at the congregational level, helping members toward greater understanding and insight into this and other issues that raise significant moral concerns for both church and society. A spirit ethic is confident that the believing community can bring the needed resources to bear in arriving at an informed, compassionate, and wise assessment of each challenging social issue it faces. This involves an appreciative, but also critical use of its Scripture on the part of a people who have been formed and identified by its message centering in Jesus Christ and his presence among us.


1. James D.G. Dunn, The Christ & the Spirit, vol. 2, “Pneumatology” (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998) 3.

2. Ibid., 4.

3. Ibid., 18. Dunn notes that the Spirit’s role “is never simply that of repeating the original teaching … but that of reinterpreting the old to give it contemporary significance and that of revealing the new in a way consistent with the old.”

4. David F. Ford, Christian Wisdom: Desiring God and Learning in Love (New York: Cambridge U. Press, 2007) 65.

5. Dunn, 10ff.

6. Paul Jersild, Spirit Ethics: Scripture and the Moral Life (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2000).

7. Stephen Prothero observes that just as evangelicalism “owned” nineteenth-century Christianity, Pentecostalism has done the same in the twentieth century, helping to move the center of gravity among Christians in a southerly direction. Though originating in the United States, Pentecostalism “is now equally at home in Africa, Latin America, and Asia.” See Stephen Prothero, God Is Not One (New York: Harper-Collins Publishers, 2010) 87ff.

8. My own Lutheran tradition would counter this hazard by identifying the Spirit’s work with the “external means” of Word and Sacrament. God’s action in Christ is extra nos, and as such is both the source of our salvation and of our certainty of salvation rather than an inner experience of the Spirit. My focus here is what has been traditionally described as sanctification rather than salvation, a Third Article realm where Christians universally recognize the Spirit-led character of the faithful life. Lutheran ethics is often accused of centering too exclusively on repentance and forgiveness as the substance of the Christian life; a spirit ethic is more focused on the journey itself, bringing the spirit-led life into engagement with the pressing issues of the day. See Cheryl M. Peterson, “Pneumatology and the Cross: The Challenge of Neo-Pentecostalism to Lutheran Theology,” DIALOG: A Journal of Theology , v.50, nr. 2 (Summer 2011) 133–142.

9. Dunn, 68. The biblical account of a personal God standing in relationship with humans is appropriate language for Christian faith, but it does encourage the inference that reduces God to a person in space and time and invites the notion of personal demons as well. The result is a trivializing of both the divine and the demonic, seen quite graphically in images of God as a bearded old man and a devil with horns and clad in red tights. Spirit language recognizes and affirms the divine-human encounter but would emphasize the utter magnitude and mystery of God. This means that our relation to God is more aptly expressed in terms of the nurturing, directing, and loving power of the Spirit rather than to dwell on features of a personal relationship with God.

10. Ibid., 39–40.

11. Among scholars who take a skeptical view on this issue are Jack T. Sanders, Ethics in the New Testament: Change and Development (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1975), Wayne A. Meeks, The Origins of Christian Morality: The First Two Centuries (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993), and Robin Scroggs, “The Bible as Foundational Document,” Interpretation, vol. 49, no. 1 (January 1995) 19.

12. Luke T. Johnson, Scripture and Discernment: Decision Making in the Church (Nashville: Abingdon, 1996) 40–44.

13. Ibid., 42.

14. Old Testament scholar, Terence Fretheim, argues that a relational view of God with humanity, and understanding the law as rooted in a continually changing creation, lead to the conclusion that even the law of God, which we regard as unchanging (“written in stone”), does change in meeting the evolving character of human life. Analogous to the argument cited above by Luke Johnson concerning Scripture, Fretheim concludes that “God is both constant and changing … constant in terms of, say, promises made, yet changing as the relationship develops over time.” See Terence E. Fretheim, “What Biblical Scholars Wish Pastors Would Start or Stop Doing about Ethical Issues in the Old Testament,” Word & World, Summer, 2011 (v.31, no. 3) 297–306.

15.For a fuller treatment of this topic, see Jersild, chapter 7.

16. Brevard S. Childs, Biblical Theology in Crisis (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1970) 126.

Paul T. Jersild

The Rev. Dr. Paul T. Jersild is Emeritus Professor of Theology and Ethics at Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary, Columbia, South Carolina