Category Archives: Blog

Wives and Canoes…

This thread of comments from over at Deadspin is absolutely fantastic!  It was posted in response to Bill Murray’s speech at some random guy’s bachelor party in Charleston, SC.  …enjoy
Yesterday 9:13am
Drew Magary

He’s correct about the traveling together bit- totally revealing. Paddling a two person canoe is a cheaper way to stress test a budding romance, though.



There’s a reason why residents of Kauai, Hawaii refer to two-person kayaks as “divorce canoes”



Wouldn’t that be something- if there was less divorce amongst Hawaiians because of outriggers.


I was in a two person kayak down in Turks & Caicos with my wife for about 27 seconds before I turned to her and asked her politely to get the f*** out.


I did a two-person kayak with my wife once. Once.

Ten years later we did a kayak tour with our young sons, so she took a double with one son and I took a double with the other. Her boat was a constant catastrophe; our boat ride was smooth, easy, and painless. But even I was not stupid enough to point out the clear common factor between the two nightmare kayak rides…


Mok, the Magic Man>Woodhouse

There’s also a joke about tandem bicycles coming with divorce papers. Last week I saw a three-person tandem. Could you imagine having to divorce your partner and disown your child?

Corroded Sterling, Kareem Nails it…

Six-Time NBA Champion Kareem Abdul-Jabbar speaks-out on the finger-wagging being done by the media and asks the exact question everyone else SHOULD be asking:  This was a surprise to you?  Donald Sterling is truly a despicable human being, but this isn’t news.  Why the moral outrage now?

Do not get caught-up in Kareem’s politics here, you’ll miss the greater point.

Time Magazine

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Moral outrage is exhausting. And dangerous. The whole country has gotten a severe case of carpal tunnel syndrome from the newest popular sport of Extreme Finger Wagging. Not to mention the neck strain from Olympic tryouts for Morally Superior Head Shaking. All over the latest in a long line of rich white celebrities to come out of the racist closet.

Yes, I’m angry, too, but not just about the sins of Donald Sterling. I’ve got a list. But let’s start with Sterling. I used to work for him, back in 2000 when I coached for the Clippers for three months. He was congenial, even inviting me to his daughter’s wedding. Nothing happened or was said to indicate he suffered from IPMS (Irritable Plantation Master Syndrome). Since then, a lot has been revealed about Sterling’s business practices:

  • 2006: U.S. Dept. of Justice sued Sterling for housing Donald Sterlingdiscrimination. Allegedly, he said, “Black tenants smell and attract vermin.”
  • 2009: He reportedly paid $2.73 million in a Justice Dept. suit alleging he discriminated against blacks, Hispanics, and families with children in his rentals. (He also had to pay an additional nearly $5 million in attorneys fees and costs due to his counsel’s “sometimes outrageous conduct.”)
  • 2009: Clippers executive (and one of the greatest NBA players in history) sued for employment discrimination based on age and race.

Rape @ State…

The New York Times…

A Star Player Accused, and a Flawed Rape Investigation


Tallahassee, Fla. — Early on the morning of Dec. 7, 2012, a freshman at Florida State University reported that she had been raped by a stranger somewhere off campus after a night of drinking at a popular Tallahassee bar called Potbelly’s.

As she gave her account to the police, several bruises began to appear, indicating recent trauma. Tests would later find semen on her underwear.

For nearly a year, the events of that evening remained a well-kept secret until the woman’s allegations burst into the open, roiling the university and threatening a prized asset: Jameis Winston, one of the marquee names of college football.

Three weeks after Mr. Winston was publicly identified as the suspect, the storm had passed. The local prosecutor announced that he lacked the evidence to charge Mr. Winston with rape. The quarterback would go on to win the Heisman Trophy and lead Florida State to the national championship.

After a Florida State student accused quarterback Jameis Winston of rape, the police did not interview him or obtain his DNA. Phil Sears/Associated Press

In his announcement, the prosecutor, William N. Meggs,

State Attorney Willie Meggs
State Attorney Willie Meggs

acknowledged a number of shortcomings in the police investigation. In fact, an examination by The New York Times has found that there was virtually no investigation at all, either by the police or the university.

The police did not follow the obvious leads that would have quickly identified the suspect as well as witnesses, one of whom videotaped part of the sexual encounter. After the accuser identified Mr. Winston as her assailant, the police did not even attempt to interview him for nearly two weeks and never obtained his DNA.

Continue at…

Figure it out…

The NCAA needs to figure this out if it hopes to have a future.  Its athletes (in major sports) are not amateurs, they are semi-employed fund-raisers for the school, the conference and the national associations to which the school belongs.  Let’s be clear here, we are talking specifically about revenue-generating sports.  For schools like Texas, Ohio State and Alabama, that major sport is Football.  For Duke, North Carolina and UCLA, that sport is Basketball.  At Tennessee it is football and Women’s basketball.

The reality is that the athletes (especially in football) have no choice but to serve their three years before entering the NFL draft.  That’s not an NCAA rule, that’s an NFL one.  The NBA has a similar rule, but it is only for one year.  The athletes don’t necessarily have to play, but they can’t go to the professional league for a specific number of years.  One could say to the prospective football player “go to Canada” but even then you are actually going to a different game and possibly lesser competition than say the SEC or BigXII.

Yes, the athletes get a “free” education…but even then it isn’t truly free.  They get their tuition, books and boarding paid.  No stipend, no off-campus housing allowances, no technology budget.  The NCAA’s rule book for what can be given to an athlete make War and Peace look like a little light reading.  Additionally, the NCAA regulates how and when an athlete can work…and how much they can be paid for that work.  It isn’t much.  You wonder why players get paid by boosters when they clearly aren’t supposed to?  It’s because they are BROKE.

This, however, is the worst part of what the NCAA is doing to student-athletes…selling their name for profit.  Yep, the NCAA, which is a dot-org (meaning not-for-profit) is profiting off of the very players they classify as amateurs…who are not permitted to profit off their own names.  Go back and read that again…

In the off-season prior to the 2013 football season, Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel  was investigated on allegations he signed autographs for memorabilia dealers, which is a violation of NCAA rules.  The NCAA couldn’t fully prove that Manziel profited off the signings, but common-sense would indicate that he did.  The player signed thousands of items.  Meanwhile, at the NCAA store, you could have purchased a Texas A&M jersey with a big number 2 on the back (Manziel’s number).  Texas A&M and the NCAA are both making money off the player…who can’t make money off himself.

I know, my head hurts too…

Here’s GRB’s solution:  Sell jerseys with three options for numbers…

  1. You can sell #1 on your jersey.  Everybody likes to be #1, everybody wants to be #1, so that’s logical.
  2. You can sell a number that is significant to your school’s history.  Alabama claims to have 15 national championships, great…go sell a bunch of #15’s.  Miami has 5, FSU has 3…you get the idea.  If there is another one, great…Justify it with the NCAA a year in advance.
  3. You can sell a number that is of a player who previously played for the school, but you must also share proceeds of the sales with said player.  No more cheesing off the backs of the student-athletes.  The NCAA can standardize this.  You can have up to three of these retro-jerseys.

No selling of any memorabilia with numbers, nicknames, images or anything else linking to players currently on scholarship with the school/program.

Even if the NCAA never agrees to pay players or give them a stipend, the least it can do is agree to stop using their likenesses for profit.



Murphy Was Right, Francesa/Esiason…not so much

This week it was announced that the New York Mets’ second baseman, Daniel Murphy would be taking a “few days off” in Paternity Leave.  Murphy’s wife, Victoria, gave birth to their first child on March 31st.  This time off coincided with the Mets’ opening day, and predictably the knucklehead fans took to Twitter to voice their displeasure.

Yes, we get it, you think “Paternity Leave” is a joke.  Mike Francesa, FrancesaWFAN sports radio talk show host took to the airwaves to fan the flames and called-out Murphy:

I don’t know why you need three days off, I’m going to be honest. You see the birth and you get back. What do you do in the first couple days? Maybe you take care of the other kids. Well, you gotta have someone to do that if you’re a Major League Baseball player. I’m sorry, but you do. Your wife doesn’t need your help the first couple days, you know that.

Francesa continued…

What are you going to do? I mean you are going to sit there and look at your wife in a hospital bed for two days? Your wife doesn’t need your help the first couple of days; you know that you’re not doing much the first couple days with the baby that was just born.

Boomer Esiason got in on the action as well inferring that Murphy’s Esiasonwife should have had a c-section before the season so that Murphy could have been present for opening day.  Esiason has since back-tracked from those comments, but the former Jets quarterback never backed away from his opinion that players should not miss games after a child is born.

The testosterone-charged machismo world of the American male puts pressure on the husband/father to abandon his family and get back to work.  Francesa framed his criticism around the “you’re a Major League Baseball player” status of Murphy and that it was more important for the player to be in New York with his team than in Jacksonville with his family.

Maybe Francesa is a good husband/father, I don’t know the man, but his comments indicate that he is of the “the wife raises the children and I bring home a paycheck” crowd.  Well good for Mr. Francesa, but that’s not how healthy marriages work.  The husband is there to serve his family, in whatever way is necessary.  If that means taking a couple days off work to care for the family, then that’s what you do.

Child birth is traumatic for a woman’s body, frankly, I don’t know how they do it.  It has been often said that if men bore the burden of childbirth, the human race would be extinct…and I COMPLETELY AGREE.  I watched it, twice, it ain’t pretty.  As a husband and father, your entire world changes at the very moment the child emerges from its mother.  You are now responsible for more than just yourself.  You now have a family to provide for, to protect, and now to serve.

In the moments after birth, your wife is going to be a wreck.  YOU have to run interference.  You have to make sure the hospital room door is closed until your wife is ready for people to see her.  You have to tell people “no.”  …yes, even your wife’s mother.  No easy task, but it is yours.

So what does the husband/father do in that first week when the baby is born?  Whatever the mother/wife needs, that’s what.  If that means fending off the in-laws/neighbors/friends from coming over, so be it.  If that means cooking/cleaning/laundry/etc…then so be it.

What Daniel Murphy did was the honorable thing to do.  Take a couple of days to care for your family and then get back to work.  Certainly the job of a baseball player is less important than that of a husband.  It is a very long season, Mets fans.  Murphy missed two games.  He is modeling what being a good husband and father should be, and for that he should be celebrated, not denigrated.

Old Testament Law…What did that say?

Within the context of the Old Testament covenants and New Testament understandings, there comes a conflict when Gentiles and Christian Jews attempt to discern whether the Levitical and Deuteronical laws apply in the new faith and new covenant through Jesus Christ.  It is this conflict that J. Daniel Hays attempts to resolve in his essay “Applying the Old Testament Law Today.”  Hays points out (correctly) that the inter-weaving of ceremonial, civil, and moral laws prohibit an outright categorization based on locale of the scripture.  Hays puts forth a suggested new approach, which he calls “principlism” to help Christians ascertain which elements of the Law pertain to modern life.

The Traditional Approach & Principlism

In his essay, Hays summarizes what he refers to as a “traditional approach” as a categorization of the 613 laws based on whether or not the law falls into one of the three areas listed above.  The problem herein lies with some laws that might bridge that gap.  Hays references Exodus 20:8 in which the Lord declares to “Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy.” (NIV)  The question is whether or not this law is ceremonial or moral.  As a part of the Ten Commandments, many believe this to be a universal, moral law.  If that is the case then, most Christians are in violation of this law.

In addition to verses that bridge gaps in the Old Testament law, Hayes argues that when using a traditional approach to interpreting the law and applying it to our modern world, we omit several factors that include the Law’s place within the narrative of the Old Testament and the theological context of the Law.  When we interpret the law for our purposes, we must remember that these legal, ceremonial and moral laws were given to a nation that was to be a theocracy.  Secular governmental laws override many of the edicts given by God within the text of the Pentateuch.

Hays’ “principlism” then is a point of view that, while intriguing, has its own strengths and weaknesses.  In strength, it places much more emphasis on the intent of the law (principle), than on the letter of the law.  Whereby one might traditionally say that most of the Law would not have application today, through “principlism” we can find meaning in the Law and apply it to our lives.  In weakness, what Hays has done is open the text up to a myriad of interpretations by various theologians who could potentially have a myriad of views on these topics.  Hays does put forth a five-step approach to accomplishing this task; even still there may be too wide an opening for liberal interpretation when it comes to concrete teachings from God.

New Understanding

I have always had a love-hate relationship with the Mosaic Law as a Christian; not knowing how to interpret the verses in the New Testament that pertain to whether or not the Law should be obeyed.  It is possible, however, that given the context of the time in which the New Testament writers were authoring scripture one might offer forbearance to the vague approach to the Law.  Seeing that the Jewish leadership had been segmented into multiple groups (Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, etc.) who all interpreted their own law very differently, it is easy to understand that the writers of the New Testament didn’t address the Law in specificity but rather in more vague terms.

In one particular instance, Peter is given a vision from Heaven in which all kinds of unclean animals were offered to him.  Peter, being the good Jew that he is resists, but the voice tells him that God has made all things clean:

11He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners.  12 It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles and birds.  13 Then a voice told him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.”  14 “Surely not, Lord!” Peter replied. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.”  15 The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”  16 This happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven.

Acts 10:11-16 (NIV)

What is interesting here is that Peter protests initially, then is rebuked by the voice from heaven, but the does NOT partake of the animals of which were offered.  Some theologians have argued this is absolutely a permission by God to eat any kind of animal and that the Levitical dietary laws no longer apply.  Others have argued that the animals on the sheet actually represent Gentiles, and that Peter should not be afraid to go to them (as Cornelius’ men are at the door).

Applying Principlism

In one text in Deuteronomy, we can see “principlism” at work in our application of the first part of this law (verse 10), but we can also see a traditional approach as appropriate.

9 When you enter the land the LORD your God is giving you, do not learn to imitate the detestable ways of the nations there. 10 Let no one be found among you who sacrifices their son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, 11 or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. 12 Anyone who does these things is detestable to the LORD; because of these same detestable practices the LORD your God will drive out those nations before you. 13 You must be blameless before the LORD your God.

Deuteronomy 18:9-13

In the first half of the 10th verse, we see a command from God to not allow people to live among you who would sacrifice their children. Using Hayes’ “principlism” approach further, we can also determine the following things; that there were going to be (and there were) people living in Canaan who did these practices, and that the Israelites were going to have to “kick them out.” In a “principlism” context, this part of the law might be interpreted differently than the absolute text given in the following verses.  While you would have a very difficult time finding parents in this modern world who burn their children as sacrifices, we do see rampant abortion, child pornography, molestation, and prostitution.  In the context of “principlism,” we absolutely could apply this text from Deuteronomy to the modern world.

What Hayes might call the “Universal Principle” of this text is that we should not sacrifice our children’s well being for any purpose.  In America today we can see this very behavior; that parents will work an inordinate amount of hours to make a comfortable living all the while neglecting the children who have been given them for blessing.  Jesus taught in Luke chapter 19 that children should not be hindered from coming to him; He says flatly “do not forbid them.” (KJV)  This is the emphasis Jesus puts on the children, that they are valuable and to be valued.  What we, as Christians must do is endeavor to value children highly, and do not turn them away.

In looking at the remainder of this law in a more traditional way, we as Christians learn to abstain and keep distance from those who practice the occult.  This pertains to fortune telling, astrological fortunes or signs, palm-readings, Ouija Boards, etc.  What God (through Moses) told the Israelites on the banks of the Jordan River was this, “keep away from the stuff, it is bad and will cause you harm.”  In our modern society, we can see the affects of these occult practices on a daily basis.  Canadian Pastor Jim Reimer wrote in 2009:

“Whether it is innocent exploration or appealing fascination, delving into spiritualism can be dangerous and destructive. Seeking the advice of a fortuneteller, psychics, horoscopes or Ouija boards can bring confusion, fear, and guilt to the seeker as they try to make sense out of cryptic messages. The knowledge presented is only partial and can be easily misunderstood by the presenter or by the one seeking guidance.”

Pastor Reimer is absolutely correct; the knowledge is only partial and furthermore is the same lie that Satan has been telling since his encounter with Eve in the Garden of Eden.  This is Satan’s first lie; “…your eyes will be opened…” (Genesis 3:5) or as some have called it, secret knowledge.


While Hays’ essay is solid and his reasoning is sound on the idea of applying “principlism” to the Old Testament law, the approach does have weaknesses, especially when given to those who do not have a firm grasp on theology, or the context of the scriptures themselves.  In Hays’ defense however, his approach does lay out a framework for interpretation that stringently holds to the idea that we can still apply he laws of the Pentateuch in today’s world and that it certainly has not passed from relevancy.


Whalen, Clinton. “Peter’s Vision and Conflicting Definitions of Purity.” New Testament Studies 51, no. 04 (2005): 505-518.

Hays, J. Daniel. “Applying the Old Testament Law Today.” Bibliotheca Sacra 158, no. 629 (2001): 21-35.

Reimer, Jim. “What Spirit Is It.” Nelson Daily News, October 30, 2009, Final ed.

Hays Article

Applying the Old Testament Law Today

J. Daniel Hays

Bibliotheca Sacra 158: 629 (2001): 21-35.

 How should Christians apply the Old Testament Law? Obviously commands in the Mosaic Law are important, for they make up a substantial portion of God’s written revelation. Yet the Old Testament contains many laws that seem strange to modern readers (e.g., “Do not cook a young goat in its mother’s milk,” Exod. 34:26; “Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material,” Lev. 19:19; “Make tassels on the four corners of the cloak you wear,” Deut. 22:12).1

Christians violate a number of Old Testament laws with some regularity (e.g., “A woman must not wear men’s clothing, nor a man wear women’s clothing,” Deut. 22:5; “Rise in the presence of the aged,” Lev. 19:32; “The pig is also unclean; although it has a split hoof, it does not chew the cud. You are not to eat their meat or touch their carcasses,” Deut. 14:8).

Furthermore, while believers tend to ignore many Old Testament laws, they embrace others, especially the Ten Commandments, as the moral underpinnings of Christian behavior (e.g., “Love your neighbor as yourself,” Lev. 19:18; “You shall not commit murder,” Exod. 20:13; “You shall not commit adultery,” Deut. 5:18).

Why do Christians adhere to some laws and ignore others? Which ones are valid and which are not? Many Christians today make this decision based merely on whether a law seems to be relevant. Surely this haphazard and existential approach to interpreting the Old Testament Law is inadequate. How then should Christians interpret the Law?

Traditional Approach

Many evangelical scholars interpret the Mosaic Law by emphasizing the distinction between moral, civil, and ceremonial laws. They define moral laws as those that deal with timeless truths regarding God’s intention for human ethical behavior. “Love your neighbor as yourself” is a good example of a moral law. Civil laws are those that deal with Israel’s legal system, including the issues of land, economics, and criminal justice. An example of a civil law is Deuteronomy 15:1, “At the end of every seven years you must cancel debts.” Ceremonial laws deal with sacrifices, festivals, and priestly activities. An example is in Deuteronomy 16:13, which instructed the Israelites to “celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles for seven days after you have gathered the produce of your threshing floor and your winepress.”2

In this traditional approach the distinctions between moral, civil, and ceremonial laws are critically important because this identification allows believers to know whether a particular law applies to them. Moral laws, according to this system of interpretation, are universal and timeless. They still apply as law to Christian believers today. Civil and ceremonial laws, on the other hand, applied only to ancient Israel. They do not apply at all to believers today.3

However, the traditional approach has numerous critical weaknesses, and does not reflect sound hermeneutical methodology.4 This approach is inadequate for the following reasons.

The Distinctions Are Arbitrary

The distinctions between the moral, civil, and ceremonial laws are arbitrary, imposed on the text from outside the text. The Old Testament itself gives no hint of any such distinctions. For example “love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18) is followed in the very next verse by the law “do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material” (19:19).5 Should verse 18 be applied as binding, while verse 19 is dismissed as non-applicable altogether? The text gives no indication that any kind of hermeneutical shift has taken place between the two verses. On what basis can one decide that one verse is universal and timeless even for believers in the Christian era, while the commandment in the very next verse is rejected? Many of the so-called moral, civil, and ceremonial laws occur together like this without any textual indicators that there are differences between them.

In addition it is often difficult to determine into which category a particular law falls.6 Because the Mosaic Law defined the covenant relationship between God and Israel, it was by nature theological. All of the Law had theological content. Can a law be a theological law but not a moral law? For example Leviticus 19:19 commands, “Do not plant your field with two kinds of seed. Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material.” One of the central themes running throughout Leviticus is the holiness of God. The discourse by God in Leviticus 19 is prefaced by the commandment, “Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy.” Part of this theme is the teaching that holy things must be kept separate from profane things. While the significance of these commands against mixing seed or mixing cloth material may not be fully understood, it is clear that they relate back to the holiness of God. In fact all of the Levitical laws regarding separation seem to relate to the overarching principle of God’s holiness and the separation required because of that holiness. How then can this law not be moral?7

Even the Ten Commandments, the clearest examples of so-called moral laws, present problems for the moral, civil, and ceremonial distinctions. For example is the Sabbath law moral or ceremonial? If content is the criterion, then the Sabbath law, which was clearly part of Israel’s worship system, is a ceremonial law and not a moral one. But if content is not the criterion for distinctions, then what is? If location within the Ten Commandments becomes the litmus test for moral law, then there exists a simple system with only two categories: (a) the Ten Commandments, which are universal and timeless and which apply to Christians as moral law, and (b) all the rest of the Law, which is not applicable today. Of course this is likewise unacceptable for it does not allow believers to claim Leviticus 19:18, “love your neighbor as yourself,” which Jesus identified as the second greatest commandment. To pull Leviticus 19:18 away from the verses that surround it and to identify it as a moral law requires that content play the major role in the distinction. If content becomes the criterion, then the Sabbath law ought to be classified as ceremonial.

Furthermore, although many Christians claim that the Sabbath law is a moral law, practically none of them obey it. Going to church on Sunday, the first day of the week, can hardly be called obedience to the Sabbath law. Moses would not have accepted the first day of the week as a substitute for the seventh day. Also obeying the Sabbath regulations was much more involved than mere church attendance. In the Book of Numbers a man was executed for gathering wood on the Sabbath (Num. 15:32–36). So the distinctions between civil, ceremonial, and moral laws appear to be arbitrary and not textually based. Should Christians use these arbitrary distinctions to determine such a critical applicational issue?

The Legal Material Is Embedded In Narrative Texts And Must Be Interpreted Accordingly

The Old Testament legal material does not appear in isolation. Instead, the Mosaic Law is firmly embedded in Israel’s theological history. It is an integral part of the story that runs from Genesis 12 through 2 Kings 25. The Law is not presented by itself, as some sort of disconnected but timeless universal code of behavior. Rather it is presented as part of the theological narrative that describes how God delivered Israel from Egypt and then established them in the Promised Land as His people.

For example the main legal material in Exodus is recorded in chapters 20–23. This section also contains the Ten Commandments. However, the narrative context of these chapters must be noted. The first nineteen chapters tell the story of the Israelites’ bondage in Egypt and their deliverance by the mighty works of God. This section describes the call of Moses and his powerful encounters with Pharaoh. It presents the story of the plagues on Egypt, culminating in the death of the Egyptian firstborn. Next Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt and through the Sea. The narrative describes their journey in the desert until, in the third month after the Exodus, the Israelites arrived at Mount Sinai, where God called them into covenant relationship (Exod. 19). The Ten Commandments in Exodus 20 and the laws that follow in Exodus 21–23 are part of this big story.8

The Book of Leviticus is also painted on a narrative canvas against the backdrop of the encounter with God at Mount Sinai (Lev. 26:46; 27:34). The Law in Leviticus is presented as part of a dialogue between God and Moses. Such use of dialogue is a standard feature of narrative. The book begins, “The Lord called to Moses and spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting.” The phrase “The Lord said to Moses” occurs repeatedly throughout the book. In addition Leviticus includes numerous time sequence phrases,9 an indication of storyline time movement, another characteristic of narrative.

The Book of Numbers picks up the story in the second year after the Exodus (Num. 1:1) and describes the Israelites’ journeys and wanderings for the next four decades (33:38). Central to the book is Israel’s rejection of the Lord’s promise in chapters 13 and 14. This disobedience resulted in the years of wandering recorded in the book. At various points during the story God presented Israel with additional laws. As in Exodus and Leviticus the laws in Numbers are firmly tied into the narrative material.

The narrative setting for the Book of Deuteronomy is the eleventh month of the fortieth year of the Exodus (Deut. 1:3), just before Israel entered Canaan. The place is specified—just east of the Jordan River (1:1, 5). Israel had completed the forty years of wandering as a punishment for refusing to enter the land. Now a new generation had grown up and God gave them a restatement of the covenant that He had made with their parents forty years earlier. Most of Deuteronomy consists of a series of speeches that Moses delivered to the Israelites on God’s behalf. These speeches are connected to the narrative because they refer to the same time, place, and main characters as the narrative does. Also the end of the book contains some nonlegal, narrative material: the appointment of Joshua as leader (31:1–8), the song of Moses (32:1–47), a blessing of Moses on the tribes (33:1–29), and the death of Moses (34:1–12). Furthermore the events of Deuteronomy flow into the Book of Joshua, where the story continues without interruption.

The Law, therefore, is clearly part of the Pentateuchal narrative and is firmly embedded into the story of Israel’s exodus, wandering, and conquest. One’s interpretive approach to the Law should take this into account. Connecting texts to their contexts is a basic tenet of proper interpretive method. The Law is part of a story, and this story thus provides a critical context for interpreting the Law. The method for interpreting Old Testament Law should be similar to the method used in interpreting Old Testament narrative, for the Law is contextually part of the narrative.

Does this diminish the force and power of the text? Do Christians have to put themselves under the Law before they feel called to obey the Scriptures? Is not narrative in the Scripture as authoritative as Law? To give the Mosaic Law a greater authority over the Christian’s moral behavior than that of the other parts of the Old Testament narratives is to create a canon within a canon. Likewise to say that the legal material should be interpreted in the same manner as the narrative material certainly does not diminish the divine imperative of Scripture. When the disciples picked grain on the Sabbath, the Pharisees accused them of violating the Sabbath Law (Mark 2:23–28), for reaping on the Sabbath was prohibited in Exodus 34:21. However, Jesus justified this apparent Sabbath violation by citing a narrative passage in 1 Samuel 21:1–9. In essence the Pharisees criticized Him with the details of the Law, but Jesus answered them with principles drawn from narrative.

The Traditional Approach Overlooks The Law’s Theological Context

God clearly introduced the Law in a covenant context, saying, “Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession” (Exod. 19:5). The people agreed to keep the terms of the covenant (24:3), and Moses sealed the agreement in blood (24:8).

A critical part of this covenant was God’s promise to dwell in Israel’s midst. This is stressed several times in the latter half of Exodus (25:8; 29:45; 33:14–17; 40:34–38). Associated with God’s presence are the instructions for constructing the ark and the tabernacle, the place where God would dwell (Exod. 25–31, 35–40). Leviticus is thus the natural sequence to the latter half of Exodus, for it addresses how Israel was to live with God in their midst. How should they approach Him? How should they deal with personal and national sin before a holy God who dwelt among them? How should they worship and fellowship with this holy, awesome God in their midst? Leviticus provides the answers to these questions, giving practical guidelines for living with God under the terms of the Mosaic Covenant.

After Israel refused to enter the Promised Land (Num. 13–14), God allowed that disobedient generation to die. He then led the people back toward Canaan. Before they entered, however, He called them to a covenant renewal. Deuteronomy describes this renewed call to covenant that God made with Israel just before they entered the Promised Land. Deuteronomy describes in detail the terms by which Israel would be able to live in the Promised Land successfully and be blessed by God.

Obviously, then, the Law is tightly intertwined as part of the Mosaic Covenant. Several important observations about the Mosaic Covenant, therefore, merit discussion.

First, the Mosaic Covenant is closely associated with Israel’s conquest and occupation of the Promised Land. The Mosaic Covenant is neither geographically neutral nor universal. It provided the framework by which Israel was to occupy and live prosperously with God in the Promised Land. The close connection between the covenant and the land is stressed repeatedly in the Book of Deuteronomy.10 This connection between Law and land cuts across the distinction between so-called civil, ceremonial, and moral laws. Furthermore the loss of the land in 587 B.C. has profound implications for the way the Law is to be viewed, precisely because the Law defined the terms for blessing in the land. In addition, when Israel was taken captive to Babylon, the Israelites lost the presence of the Lord in the temple (Ezek. 10). Possession of the land and the presence of the Lord in the tabernacle and temple are two critical aspects of the Mosaic Covenant. When the exiles returned to their land, they did not return to the way things had been. The blessings described in Deuteronomy 28 were never again realized in any significant fashion – political independence, regional economic domination, regional military domination, and so forth—nor is there any statement about God’s returning to the temple, in contrast to earlier passages that focused on His presence in the tabernacle (Exod. 40:34–38) and the temple (1 Kings 8:9–10; 2 Chron. 7:1–2). Things were certainly not the same as they were before the Exile.

Second, the blessings from the Mosaic Covenant were conditional. In Deuteronomy God informed Israel that obedience to the covenant would bring blessing, but that disobedience to the covenant would bring punishment and curses. Deuteronomy 28 is particularly explicit regarding the conditional nature of the Law. Verses 1–14 list the blessings for Israel if they obeyed the terms of the covenant (the Mosaic Law), and verses 15–68 spell out the terrible consequences for them if they did not obey the terms of the covenant. Also the association of the covenant with the land and the conditional aspect of the covenant blessings are often linked in Deuteronomy (30:15–18).

Third, the Mosaic Covenant is no longer a functional covenant. The New Testament affirms the fact that the Mosaic Covenant has ceased to function as a valid covenant. Hebrews 8–9 makes it clear that Jesus came as the Mediator of a covenant that replaced the old one. “By calling this covenant ‘new,’ he has made the first one obsolete” (Heb. 8:13). Thus the Mosaic Covenant is no longer functional or valid as a covenant. This has important implications for one’s understanding of the Law. The Old Testament Law specified the terms by which Israel could receive blessings in the land under the Old (Mosaic) Covenant. If the Old Covenant is no longer valid, how can the laws that make up that covenant still be valid? If the Old Covenant is obsolete, should not also the laws in that Old Covenant be seen as obsolete?

Paul stated repeatedly that Christians are not under the Old Testament Law. For example in Galatians 2:15–16 he wrote, “A man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ.” In Romans 7:4 Paul stated, “You also died to the law through the body of Christ.” In Galatians 3:25 he declared, “Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law.” Paul argued vigorously against Christians returning to the Old Testament Law. If there was a distinction between civil, ceremonial, and moral laws, it was unusual that Paul ignored it. Furthermore, if the moral laws were to be understood as universally applicable, one would expect Paul at least to use them as the basis for Christian moral behavior. However, as Goldingay points out, Paul “does not generally base his moral teaching on this foundation but on the nature of the gospel, the guidance of the Spirit, and the practice of the churches.”11

How, then, should Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:17 be understood? He said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” Did Jesus and Paul contradict each other? Not at all. First, the phrase “the Law and the Prophets” refers to the entire Old Testament. So in this verse Jesus was not speaking of only the Mosaic Law. Also the antithesis is not between “abolish” and “observe,” but between “abolish” and “fulfill.” Jesus did not claim that He came to observe the Law or to keep the Law; rather He came to fulfill it. The word “” (“to fulfill”) occurs numerous times in Matthew, and it normally means, “to bring to its intended meaning.” Jesus was not stating that the Law is eternally binding on New Testament believers. If that were the case, Christians today would be required to keep the sacrificial and ceremonial laws as well as the moral ones, and that would clearly violate other portions of the New Testament.

Jesus was saying that He did not come to sweep away the righteous demands of the Law, but that He came to fulfill its righteous demands. As the climax of this aspect of salvation history, Jesus fulfilled all the righteous demands and all the prophetic foreshadowing of the Law and of the Prophets. In addition Jesus was the final Interpreter of and Authority over the Law and its meaning, as other passages in Mathew indicate. Jesus restated some of the Old Testament laws (19:18–19), but some He modified (5:31–32). Some He intensified (5:21–22, 27–28 ), and others He changed significantly (5:33–37, 38–42, 43–47). Some laws He abrogated entirely (Mark 7:15–19). Jesus was not advocating the continuation of the traditional Jewish approach of adherence to the Law. Nor was He advocating that the Law be dismissed altogether. He was proclaiming that the meaning of the Law must be interpreted in light of His coming and in light of the profound changes introduced by the New Covenant.12


The Law is tied to the Mosaic Covenant, which is integrally connected to Israel’s life in the land and the conditional promises of blessing related to their living obediently in the land. Christians are not related to that land, nor are they related to the conditions for being blessed in the land. Also the Mosaic Covenant is obsolete, having been replaced by the New Covenant. Therefore the Mosaic Law, a critical component of the Old Covenant, is not valid as law over believers in the church age.

So the traditional approach to the Mosaic Law, which divides it into moral, civil, and ceremonial categories, suffers from three major weaknesses: It is arbitrary and without any textual support, it ignores the narrative context, and it fails to reflect the significant implications of the change from Old Covenant to New Covenant. This approach, therefore, is inadequate as a hermeneutic method for interpreting and applying the Law.

 A Suggested Approach

What approach should believers follow in interpreting the Old Testament Law? In accord with sound hermeneutical method, it should be an approach that (a) is consistent, treating all Old Testament Scripture as God’s Word, (b) does not depend on arbitrary nontextual categories, (c) reflects the literary and historical context of the Law, placing it firmly into the narrative story of the Pentateuch, (d) reflects the theological context of the Law, and (e) corresponds to New Testament teaching.

The approach that best incorporates these criteria is referred to as principlism. A number of evangelicals have employed this approach on a regular basis as the method of choice in interpreting the Old Testament.13 The advantage of this approach is that it enables Bible students to be consistent when interpreting Old Testament passages. There is no need to classify the laws arbitrarily into applicable and nonapplicable categories.

This is not a theoretical approach, but rather a practical method that can be used by scholars, lay people, and students alike. Its strength is that it is fairly simple and consistent. As for a weakness it may tend to oversimplify some complex issues. Is there room to refine and improve this approach? Absolutely. Nonetheless it is a step forward from the traditional division of Law into arbitrary moral, civil, and ceremonial categories.

Principlism, an alternative approach to applying the Law, involves five steps.

Identify What The Particular Law Meant To The Initial Audience

Identify the historical and literary context of the specific law in question. Were the Israelites on the bank of the Jordan preparing to enter the land (Deuteronomy) when the law was given, or were they at Mount Sinai soon after the Exodus (Exodus, Leviticus)? Was the law given in response to a specific situation that had arisen, or was the command describing requirements for Israel after they moved into the Promised Land? What other laws are in the immediate context? Is there a connection between them? How did this particular law relate to the Old Covenant? Did it govern how people were to approach God? Did it govern how they were to relate to each other? Did it relate to agriculture or commerce? Was it specifically related to life in the Promised Land? What did this specific law mean for the Old Testament audience?

Determine The Differences Between The Initial Audience And Believers Today

Delineate the theological and situational differences between Christians today and the initial audience. For example believers in the present church age are under the New Covenant, not the Old Covenant. Thus they are not under the laws of the Old Covenant. They are not Israelites preparing to dwell in the Promised Land, nor do they approach God through the sacrifice of animals. Also Christians live under secular governments and not under a theocracy, as did ancient Israel. In addition Christians face pressures not from Canaanite religions but from different non-Christian worldviews and philosophies.

Develop Universal Principles From The Text

Behind the Mosaic commands for the original audience lie universal, timeless principles. Each of the Old Testament laws had a meaning for its first audience, a meaning that is related to the Old Covenant. But that meaning is usually based on a broader, universal truth, a truth that is applicable to all God’s people, regardless of when they live and under which covenant they live. In this step one asks, “What universal principle is reflected in this specific law? What broad principle may be applied today?”

The principle should be developed in accord with several guidelines: (a) It should be reflected in the text, (b) it should be timeless, (c) it should correspond to the theology of the rest of Scripture, (d) it should not be culturally bound, and (e) it should be relevant to both Old Testament and current New Testament believers. These universal principles will often be related directly to the character of God and His holiness, the nature of sin, the issue of obedience, or concern for other people.

Correlate The Principle With New Testament Teaching

Filter the universal principle through the New Testament teaching regarding that principle or regarding the specific law being studied.

Some of the Old Testament laws, for example, are restated in the New Testament as commandments for New Testament believers. When the Old Covenant was abrogated, the Old Testament Law ceased to be a Law for Christians. However, when the New Testament repeats a law it thus becomes a commandment for believers, to be obeyed as a commandment of Christ. But this validity and authority as a command comes from the New Testament and not the Old Testament. In addition occasionally the New Testament qualifies an Old Testament law, either modifying it or expanding on it. For example for the command in Exodus 20:14, “You shall not commit adultery,” the universal principle relates to the sanctity of marriage and the need for faithfulness in marriage. As this principle is filtered through the New Testament, Jesus’ teaching on the subject must be incorporated into the principle. Jesus said, “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt. 5:28), thereby expanding the range of this law. He applied it not only to acts of adultery but also to thoughts of adultery. Therefore the commandment for Christians today becomes “You shall not commit adultery in act or in thought.” But Christians should seek to obey this command because it reflects a universal biblical principle reinforced by the New Testament, and not simply because it is an Old Testament law.

Apply The Modified Universal Principle To Life Today

In this step the universal principle developed in the previous step is applied to specific situations in believers’ lives today. Evidence of principlism can be found in the New Testament. As noted earlier, Jesus’ citation of 1 Samuel 21 to rebut the Pharisees follows a similar pattern. In 1 Corinthians 9:9 Paul cited Deuteronomy 25:4 (“Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain”) in defending his right to receive material support from the Corinthians (1 Cor. 9:4, 11–12). In the traditional approach this deuteronomic law would probably not be classified as a “moral” command, yet Paul cited it as applicable. Since Paul clearly emphasized elsewhere that Christians are not under the Old Testament Law (Rom. 6:14–15; 7:1–6; 1 Cor. 9:20; Gal. 2:15–16; 5:18; Eph. 2:15), he was not citing Deuteronomy 25:4 as a law that was binding on the Corinthian church. Instead he used this law paradigmatically or analogically. The apostle cited a command whose principle can be applied to situations other than that of the initial, historical incident.

Leviticus 5:2 provides an example of how the method of principlizing can be used by believers today to apply legal passages without being under the Law. The verse reads, “Or if a person touches anything ceremonially unclean—whether the carcasses of unclean wild animals or of unclean livestock or of unclean creatures that move along the ground—even though he is unaware of it, he has become unclean and is guilty.” The action required to correct one’s ceremonially unclean status in this verse is described a few verses later. So verses 5–6 should also be included: “When anyone is guilty in any of these ways, he must confess in what way he has sinned and, as a penalty for the sin he has committed, he must bring to the Lord a female lamb or goat from the flock as a sin offering; and the priest shall make atonement for him for his sin.” The traditional approach simply classifies these verses as a ceremonial law that no longer applies to believers today. However, using the principlizing approach, one can interpret and apply this text in the same manner as one would narrative.

What did the text mean to the initial audience? The context of Leviticus discusses how the Israelites were to live with the holy, awesome God who was dwelling in their midst. How were they to approach God? How should they deal with sin and unclean things in light of God’s presence among them? These verses are part of the literary context of 4:1–5:13 that deals with offerings necessary after unintentional sin. Leviticus 4 deals primarily with the leaders; Leviticus 5 focuses on regular people. Leviticus 5:2 informed the Israelites that if they touched any unclean thing (dead animals or unclean animals), they were defiled ceremonially. This was true even if they touched an unclean thing accidentally. Being unclean, they were unable to approach God and worship Him. To be purified (made clean), they were to confess their sin and bring the priest a lamb or a goat for a sacrifice (5:5–6). The priest would sacrifice the animal on their behalf and they would be clean again, able to approach and worship God.

What are the differences between the initial audience and believers today? Christians are not under the Old Covenant, and their sins are covered by the death of Christ. Also because they have direct access to God through Jesus Christ, they no longer need human priests as mediators.

What is the universal principle in this text? The central universal principle in these verses relates to the concept that God is holy. When He dwells among His people, His holiness demands that they keep separate from sin and unclean things. If they become unclean, they must be purified by a blood sacrifice. This principle takes into account the overall theology of Leviticus and the rest of Scripture. It is expressed in a form that is universally applicable to God’s people in both the Old Testament and the New Testament eras.

How does the New Testament teaching modify or qualify this principle? According to the New Testament, God no longer dwells among believers by residing in the tabernacle or temple; He now dwells within believers by the indwelling Holy Spirit. His presence, however, still calls for holiness on their part. He demands that they not sin and that they stay separate from unclean things. However, the New Testament redefines the terms “clean” and “unclean.” “Nothing outside a man can make him ‘unclean’ by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him ‘unclean.’ … What comes out of a man is what makes him ‘unclean.’ For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man ‘unclean’ ” (Mark 7:15, 20–23). Believers under the New Covenant are not made unclean by touching dead animals. They become unclean by impure thoughts or by sinful actions.

The New Covenant also changed the way God’s people are to deal with sin and uncleanness. Rather than bringing a lamb or goat to atone for sin, a believer’s sins are covered at the moment of salvation by the sacrifice of Christ. The death of Christ washes away sin and changes the believer’s status from unclean to clean. Confession of sin, however, is still important under the New Covenant (1 John 1:9), as it was under the Old Covenant.  So an expression of the universal principle for today’s New Testament audience would be, “Stay away from sinful actions and impure thoughts because the holy God lives within you. If you do commit unclean acts or think unclean thoughts, then confess that sin and experience forgiveness through the death of Christ.”

How should Christians today apply this modified universal principle in their lives? There are many possibilities, but one specific application relates to Internet pornography. Many Christians now have easy access to pornographic material in the privacy of their homes or dormitory rooms. This text teaches that the holiness of God, who dwells within believers, demands that they lead clean lives. Viewing pornography clearly falls into the category that the New Testament says is unclean. Such action is a violation of God’s holiness and it hinders one’s ability to worship or fellowship with God. Therefore believers are to stay away from Internet pornography, realizing that it makes them spiritually unclean, offends the holiness of God, and disrupts fellowship with God. However, if one does fall into this sin, he must confess it, and through the death of Christ he will be forgiven and fellowship with God will be restored.


The traditional approach of dividing the Mosaic Law into civil, ceremonial, and moral laws violates proper hermeneutical method, for it is inconsistent and arbitrary, and the Old Testament gives no hint of such distinctions. This approach errs in two ways. On the one hand it dismisses the civil and ceremonial laws as inapplicable. On the other hand it applies the so-called moral laws as direct law. In addition the traditional approach tends to ignore the narrative context and the covenant context of the Old Testament legal material.

Principlism, an alternative approach, seeks to find universal principles in the Old Testament legal material and to apply these principles to believers today. This approach is more consistent than the traditional one, and it is more reflective of sound hermeneutical method. It also allows believers to see that all Scripture is “useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16).


  1. Christopher J. H. Wright suggests five categories: criminal, civil, family, cultic, and charitable (An Eye for an Eye: The Place of Old Testament Ethics Today [Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1983], 15259). Wright does not consider any of these as a universal, moral category.
  2. Using this distinction as a guide to moral behavior dates back to John Calvin, distinguished between moral and ceremonial laws, arguing that while the gospel has nullified the ceremonial laws, the moral laws, on the other hand, continue as law for the Christian (Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. Henry Beveridge [reprint, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975], 2.7-8). For a current defense of this approach see Willem A. VanGemeren, The Law Is the Perfection of Righteousness in Jesus Christ: A Reformed Perspective, in The Law, the Gospel, and the Modern Christian, ed. Wayne C. Strickland (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1993), 1358.
  3. Other evangelicals have become uncomfortable with the traditional approach as well. For example see David Dorsey, The Law of Moses and the Christian: A Compromise, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 34 (1991): 321-34.
  4. The arbitrariness of the distinction between moral and civil law is reinforced by the arrangement of the material in Leviticus. Love of neighbor immediately precedes a prohibition on mixed breeding; the holiness motto comes just before the law on executing unruly children (19:18-19; 20:79) (Gordon J. Wenham, The Book of Leviticus, New International Commentary on the Old Testament [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979], 34).
  5. Ibid., 32.
  6. Another good example of a law that is difficult to classify with this system is in Numbers 5:11-31. This passage describes how a woman suspected of adultery is to be tried by the priest. Surely adultery is a moral issue. Is this law then a timeless universal law for today? Should suspected adulterers in America be tried by the method described in this passage? To determine her guilt or innocence, the priest was to make her drink some bitter water. If she became sick, then she was guilty. If she did not become sick, then she was innocent. Should this be practiced today? Obviously not. On the other hand, if it is not practiced, does this mean it is not a moral law, that adultery is not a moral issue?
  7. For example the Ten Commandments are listed inExodus 20:1-17 , but the text flows immediately back into narrative in verse 18, which reads, When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. Likewise God presented numerous laws to Israel in Exodus 21-23, but these too are part of the narrative, for they are part of the dialogue between God and Israel. The people responded to Gods presentation of the Law by saying, Everything the Lord has said we will do (24:3).
  8. “Then Moses took” (Lev. 8:10), “He then presented” (8:14), “Moses then said” (8:31), “On the eighth day Moses summoned” (9:1), “So Aaron came to the altar” (9:8), “So fire came out from the presence of the LORD and consumed them” (10:2), “The Lord spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron” (16:1).
  9. The Hebrew word for “land” occurs almost two hundred times in Deuteronomy. A representative selection of passages that directly connect the terms of the covenant with life in the land include 4:1, 5, 14, 40; 5:16; 6:1, 18, 20-25; 8:1; 11:8; 12:1; 15:4-5; 26:1-2; 27:1-3; 30:5, 17-18; and 31:13.
  10. John Goldingay, Models for Interpretation of Scripture (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), 103.
  11. For similar views on Matthew 5:17-47 see D. A. Carson, “Matthew,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984), 8:142-44; R. T. France, Matthew: Evangelist and Teacher (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1989), 194?95; and Donald Hagner, Matthew 1-13, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, 1993), 104-6.
  12.  See Roy B. Zuck, Basic Biblical Interpretation (Wheaton, IL: Victor, 1991), 28689; Goldingay, Models for Interpretation of Scripture, 92; and Robert Chisholm, From Exegesis to Exposition: A Practical Guide to Using Biblical Hebrew (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998), 22324, 255. Wright uses the term paradigmatic instead of principlism, but he describes the same basic approach (An Eye for an Eye, 16263). William Klein, Craig Blomberg, and Robert Hubbard Jr. cite Wright and state that the Law serves as a paradigm of timeless ethical, moral, and theological principles, and that the interpreter therefore must strive to discover the timeless truth beneath its cultural husk (Introduction to Biblical Interpretation [Dallas: Word, 1993], 279). A similar view is taken by Wenham, The Book of Leviticus, 3335; and John E. Hartley, Leviticus, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, 1992), lxxiii.
  13. Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987), 408. See also the discussion on this verse by Zuck, Basic Bible Interpretation, 263-65.

Provo…The New Geneva

Forum paper from Church History on John Calvin’s Geneva and the rules by which the city was run…

Describe Calvin’s Geneva. Could you conceive of such a society today? Why or why not?

Upon his return to Geneva (1541) until his death in 1563, John Calvin sought to institute social and moral reforms within the city. Calvin worked with city officials to pass a series of laws called the Ecclesiastical Ordinances, which established the Consistory, a court of sorts that would oversee these moral and social reforms. Some forms of punishment for breaking the moral code included a public repentance, attending religious services, receiving additional religious education, and even excommunication (if only for a short period).

The Consistory was comprised of Calvin himself, the pastors, and twelve “lay” elders. According to Gonzalez, Calvin held sway with his personal authority over most matters even though he and the pastors would be out-numbered 2-1. (González 1984, 82-83)
The Consistory heard a broad range of cases and summoned many citizens from both the city and rural areas to appear before the group. Such issues as domestic quarrels, fornication, public drunkenness, fraud, gambling, and superstition (among many others) were brought before the Consistory. In the first two years of the Consistory, half of the 800 people who were summoned to appear were questioned about their church attendance and knowledge of their prayers.

Nearly that same percentage of people who were called for reasons other than orthodoxy was asked the same questions. (Watt 1993, 430) In 1542, one official mandated that all women, children and servants in his district would attend catechism so that they could be well instructed in religion and orthodoxy. (Ibid, 432)

Interestingly, in the first fifteen years of the Consistory, the primary focus was on religious orthodoxy, but following those years the Consistory moved more toward strictly enforcing the moral codes of the Ordinances. (Monter 1976, 479) Of the total number of urban excommunications between 1564 and 1569 (the years following Calvin’s death), a full 47.3% of them were for one of three offences, over 75% deal with the top seven offences none of which were religion-based. (Ibid) It is not until you get to number eight on the list do you see the entry of “superstition,” which deals with orthodoxy, etc.

Rural excommunications in Geneva 1564-1569
Rank Offnece Excommunications Percentage of Total
1 ”Scandals” 347 18%
2 Domestic quarrels 302 15.8%
3 Quarrels with others 258 13.5%
4 Fornication 160 8.4%
5 Rebellion to elders 151 7.9%
6 Quarrels with kin 126 6.6%
7 Drunkenness 102 5.3%
8 ”Superstition” 69

Source: Monter 1976

In addition to moral codes, the Consistory also seemed intent to make marriages work. In some cases to force the wedding ceremony of betrothed couples, other times to slow down the process. Mostly, however, the Consistory was called upon to resolve domestic quarrelling and stave-off divorce or separation. The occasional divorce was granted though, as in the following cases from Monter’s article:

“…to a peasant woman whose husband had deserted her to fight in Flanders; to a city woman whose husband finally admitted he was impotent; and to a peasant whose wife had run off with a mule-driver.” (Ibid, 473)

It would seem that Calvin’s Geneva is not a place where the modern person would want to live, but we do see places with similar practices even in the United States today.
On 3 March 2011, the sporting world was rocked with the announcement that BYU basketball player Brandon Davies had been suspended from the team for violating the school’s Honor Code, a week before the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. Brandon Davies had premarital sex with his girlfriend. Part of BYU’s Honor Code states:

“Students must abstain from the use of alcohol, tobacco, and illegal substances and from the intentional misuse or abuse of any substance. Sexual misconduct; obscene or indecent conduct or expressions; disorderly or disruptive conduct; participation in gambling activities; involvement with pornographic, erotic, indecent, or offensive material; and any other conduct or action inconsistent with the principles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Honor Code is not permitted.” (BYU 2011)

The BYU Honor Code governs how students must conduct themselves both on campus and off. BYU’s Honor Code is meant to be an advertisement of counter-cultural piety with which other institutions struggle as well. (Cosh 2011) This is a very similar situation to the moral and social ordinances of Calvin’s Geneva. BYU’s Honor Code goes further than just conduct, it governs how students must dress, groom, keep their apartment/dorm, and speak (polite, please). Keeping in good standing with the Honor Code is a requirement for enrollment and graduation from BYU. Furthermore, students attending BYU do so voluntarily. In Calvin’s Geneva,
excommunications were given primarily for limited periods of time, so too with Honor Code suspensions. Many other religious universities and colleges have similar codes of conduct to which students must submit, again, voluntarily. Could Calvin’s Geneva exist in today’s world? Yes, it already does.


BYU. 2011. Cosh, Colby. 2011. “WHERE SEX IS A FLAGRANT FOUL.” Maclean’s no. 124 (10):28-28.

González, Justo L. 1984. The Reformation to the present day. 1st ed, The Story of Christianity. San Francisco: Harper & Row.

Monter, E. William. 1976. “THE CONSISTORY OF GENEVA, 1559-1569.” Biblioth®que d’Humanisme et Renaissance no. 38 (3):467-484.

Watt, Jeffrey R. 1993. “Women and the Consistory in Calvin’s Geneva.” The Sixteenth Century Journal no. 24 (2):429-439.

Whitlock on Eagles and Jackson

Whitlock: Eagles had other issues with DeSean Jackson

By: Jason Whitlock (

It’s my belief Chip Kelly and the Philadelphia Eagles wanted to trade DeSean Jackson because the diminutive receiver is — and always has been — a massive headache for a coaching staff.

DeSean JacksonDeSean Jackson received criticism for being a high-maintenance player for coaches to handle.


It’s my belief Chip Kelly and the Philadelphia Eagles cut DeSean Jackson because they realized a sensationalized media report tying together the diminutive receiver’s “gang ties” would eviscerate Jackson’s trade value.

The people, including two-mouths-and-one-ear All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman, screaming that Kelly and the Eagles have acted in a racist manner have chosen the wrong target.

Keep reading at…

Thoughts from the side