Monday, August 31, 2020

Respecting the Unrespectable

My previous post about David Wood eating a portion of the Quran brought up some good discussion in the comments, and I wanted to bring out some of the key points here since I know there are some people who don’t read comments, and because this will help focus comments made on this post.  Thus far, the main Biblical passage being used against Wood’s tactics has been 1 Peter 3:15, with the focus being on the word “respect.”  So let’s examine the verse.

The first thing that should be noted is that 1 Peter 3:15 isn’t even a complete sentence.  It’s a portion of a sentence that, in the ESV, begins in the middle of verse 14 and goes to the end of verse 16.  The immediate context of the passage is Peter’s argument that if we are to suffer we should suffer for doing good, not for doing evil.  In establishing that context, Peter first asks: “Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good?” (1 Peter 3:13).  I have to take this as a rhetorical question since Peter knew Jesus suffered harm for being zealous for what is good, and he had suffered plenty at the hands of evil men.  That is why in the next verse he says, “But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed” (1 Peter 3:14a).  So Peter basically begins by showing that it is less likely for us to suffer if we are doing good than if we are doing evil, but if we do suffer for doing good then we are blessed.

It is in this context that he then says, “Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.” (1 Peter 3:14b-16).  We will look at this sentence in more detail shortly below, but to confirm the context, immediately after this Peter writes: “For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.” (1 Peter 3:17).

So the context of the passage is the same throughout.  The sentence we are interested in is sandwiched between two statements about being persecuted for doing good.  Thus, 1 Peter 3:15, far from being a text telling you how you should approach every apologetic encounter, is actually focused on what a Christian should do when he is being persecuted.  In addition to the context being related to persecution, the exact wording of the text is saying only that we should always be “prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.”  This verse is not prescribing the way that you introduce the Gospel to another person, nor is it telling you how you should behave in your day to day life. It is telling you how to behave when someone asks you for the reason why you have hope, in the context of persecution.  And that makes sense, since without persecution, most people wouldn’t be curious as to why you have hope.  Hope in the face of persecution, on the other hand, is powerful.

Does this mean that we cannot expand from the immediate context and apply this to other contexts?  No, but it does mean that if you wish to apply this to other contexts then the onus is on you to provide a reason why the verse would apply to other arenas that it does not talk about in its own context.  In other words, 1 Peter 3:15 only says that we are to answer questioners—questioners who, in context, are persecuting us—with “gentleness and respect”.  The verse itself does not say that we are to treat every single person we come into contact with gentleness and respect—that needs to be argued for, not assumed.

Since people tend to miss things on controversial topics, let me be clear. I am not saying that this verse doesn’t apply to other contexts—I’m saying that if you wish to show that it applies to other contexts, you need to supply a reasonable argument making that case.  Simply saying, “1 Peter 3:15!” isn’t an argument.

Now let us look at the key word of the verse that is being used: “respect.”  The first question about the word “respect” is to what does it refer?  We can see the clause: “yet do it with gentleness and respect.”  So “respect” points us back to the “it” in that clause, and what does “it” refer to?  It refers to the “always being prepared to make a defense.”  So our defense is what contains “gentleness and respect.”

Is this a command that we respect the person we are talking to?  No, it is a command that our defense be one that contains respect.  Maybe that means that we also respect the person we are talking to, sure, but is that a necessary condition of having a defense that is respectful?  That is, can you have a respectful defense that does not respect a specific person or persons?  Do I need to respect all people in my defense, or is it possible to present a respectful defense that treats, say, Josef Stalin with contempt?  Or is it just the person I’m talking to who I need to respect?  And if so, does that mean we have to respect what that person also respects?  If we are presenting a defense of our hope to someone who wants to murder infants for pleasure, do we have to respect the concept of murdering infants for pleasure in order to obey 1 Peter 3:15?  That seems absurd on its face.

You may not think all these questions apply, but they need to at least be addressed.  As it applies here, supposing that we are to respect all Muslims, does that in any way imply that we must respect the Quran, which is a satanic book full of lies that leads Muslims to do evil things, simply because a Muslim respects the Quran?  In fact, is our apologetic really respectful if we do not treat with disdain the very things that God treats with disdain?

Thus far, I have left these all as questions.  We can argue either way on the matter, but what is better for us is to see if we already have examples from the Scripture.  Does the Bible give us examples of people giving a defense for the hope that is within them?  And if so, does the Bible show us whether or not we are to respect the person we talk to, and if so do we need to respect what they respect in order for 1 Peter 3:15 to be satisfied?

Well, we do have examples of how Jesus handled Himself when He was questioned. In John 8, for example, the Pharisees questioned Jesus about who He was, and by the end of the exchange, Jesus says, “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires.  He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him.  When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.  But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me.” (John 8:44-45).  If one of us were to say that to someone, would we not be accused of being disrespectful?  Yet Christ, the pattern of our behavior, did say those very words.

Still, Christ was able to do many things as the Son of God that we are not able to.  Even though He is the one we emulate, we cannot be divine.  So let’s look through other Scriptures where saints offer apologetic defenses for their position.

In 1 Kings 18, we read about how Elijah says to the people, “How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” (1 Kings 18:21).  He then prepares two bulls, telling the people “And you call upon the name of your god, and I will call upon the name of the LORD, and the God who answers by fire, he is God” (verse 24). Thus Elijah sets up his apologetic argument: we will have a contest, the real God is the one who will respond.

The prophets of Baal went first, and of course nothing happened.  And we read: “And at noon Elijah mocked them, saying, ‘Cry aloud, for he is a god. Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened’” (1 Kings 18:27).  We know the rest of the story, how God answered Elijah, but for my argument here we’ve seen all we need to of this story. Notice that Elijah mocked the prophets of Baal.  Is mockery respect?  Did Elijah treat Baal with respect when he asked if perhaps Baal was relieving himself?

Now it is true, Elijah was a prophet and we are not. But surely being a prophet would not give Elijah license to violate a moral command from God.  If we morally are required to give our defense with respect, and yet Elijah was permitted to mock the prophets of Baal, then we are either to conclude that Elijah was sinning here (despite the fact that 1 Kings 18 never says he was sinning, and God did, in fact, show Himself as being on the side of Elijah), or that interpretation of 1 Peter 3:15 is probably wrong.

Nor is Elijah the only place where an apologetic argument is given.  Indeed, it can be argued that most of Paul’s letters are apologetics, arguments given to defend his position against those who were attacking it.  The book of Galatians, for example, was written because of the party of circumcision presenting a false gospel.  Indeed, Paul says of them, “If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:9).  In chapter two, he describes how he had to confront Peter to his face.  Doing so would not have been respectful, for the respectful thing would have been to pull Peter to the side and confront him in private.  Yet, Paul made his confrontation public, because he “saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel” (Galatians 2:14).  Furthermore, Paul continues to lambast the circumcision crowd, up to the point of Galatians 5:12, where he says he wishes they would emasculate themselves.

Now it is true that these are primarily dealing with people inside the covenant.  As some have pointed out, there may be a different standard when dealing with non-believers.  So we can examine one such moment where Paul dealt with unbelievers who, being Greek, were clearly not in the covenant.  When Paul spoke in Athens, he was taken to the Areopagus.  Did Paul respect the idols he saw there?  No, for he says, “The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything” (Acts 17:25).  And later on, he continues: “We ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man” (Acts 17:29). These statements are certainly attacks on idolatry, and indeed upon the very temple into which he had been brought.  Paul very clearly said, “God isn’t in this place, and He isn’t those idols you have fashioned.”  And he finishes it by saying, “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent” (verse 30).

Did Paul respect the idols by what he said?  Not at all.  Did he respect the people he spoke to?  It depends on what is meant by that, but if you were told that your religious views were because you were ignorant, would you feel respected by that?  And if you were told you need to repent, would that not feel like an attack on your religious beliefs?

Paul said many such things which could be construed as insensitive and disrespectful.  But I know there’s a difference between saying someone is wrong and if Paul had destroyed the idols, just as there’s a difference between condemning the Quran and eating pages out of it.  But is the action of damaging a perceived sacred text more disrespectful than condemning the perceived sacred text verbally?  I can think about it in the terms of the Bible, and I ask is it worse for an atheist to mock the Bible or to burn the Bible?  To me, they are equally disrespectful.

With all that in mind, let me bring up the final point before this post gets too long.  Who, ultimately, is the target of evangelism when someone like Dr. Wood eats a portion of the Quran?  Because it is true that you might very well conclude that his actions offends Muslims and makes it far more difficult for Wood to evangelize a Muslim.  But what makes anyone assume that Wood is attempting to evangelize Muslims by his actions here?

Who was with Wood in the video linked in my previous post?  It was Apostate Prophet and Abdullah Sameer, both of whom are ex-Muslims and currently atheists.  In Wood’s follow up video, where he literally ate Surah 9:29, Apostate Prophet was there with him too.  Apostate Prophet then tore up an entire Quran and spoke about how much better he felt having done so.

And indeed I can imagine it would be a great relief for him.  The Quran is held in such esteem by Muslims that it basically imprisons Muslims.  They are psychologically and spiritually bound to that book.  In leaving Islam, it may very well be psychologically necessary for a former Muslim to destroy fully the chains that used to bind him to that false religion.  When Wood attacked the Quran and began to eat pages out of it, it freed Apostate Prophet.  You can see his reaction in the various videos—he was liberated.

I imagine this is the case for many ex-Muslims.  So let me just ask, what if instead of trying to evangelize Muslims, David Wood was trying to evangelize Apostate Prophet?  To show him that the threats the Muslims were making against Apostate Prophet and his wife were not something Wood would overlook.  That Wood was going to defend Apostate Prophet and show him Christian love by drawing fire away from Apostate Prophet and onto himself instead?

If Wood’s goal was to save ex-Muslims, and part of the most effective way to do so was to destroy the spiritual hold that the Quran had held on them by showing ex-Muslims that the Quran is just a book, and like any other book it can be torn up, and its pages eaten—if that was the case, would that change your view on whether or not Wood was being disrespectful to the people he was evangelizing?  Even if we say it was disrespectful to Muslims, if that was not his apologetic audience, then does it change the morality of what was done?

Now I don’t know if that was Wood’s goal.  In fact, he has made statements that would indicate it wasn’t.  But regardless, I would argue that one of the best things for Apostate Prophet to have seen was what David Wood did, and I think it may very well lead him to Christ. 

Suppose it does.  Are we sacrificing Muslims in order to save Apostate Prophet?  Shouldn’t we cast a wider net?  Well, it would be nice if all of us could evangelize every single person on Earth, but the reality is that our time and resources are limited, and it may not be possible to evangelize one group if you are targeting a different group.  If I evangelize college students, does that mean I don’t want the homeless saved?  If I evangelize in Spain, does that mean I don’t want Africans saved?  If I evangelize to former Mormons, does that mean I don’t want Hindus saved?

What if, beyond that, helping one group of people necessarily must result in a different group of people being offended?  What if the fact that I want to evangelize a Hindu makes the liberal college student hate me for proselytizing and not respecting the beliefs of an oppressed minority group?  If me evangelizing a Hindu makes it more difficult for someone to evangelize the liberal college student, does that mean we don’t evangelize the Hindu?  If your focus is on liberal college students, you may very well say yes. But if your focus is on Hindus, you’re not going to let the liberal college student’s hardening heart dissuade you.

The truth is, the Quran is just paper and ink.  The ink in that book forms letters which convey an evil message that harms people worldwide.  The Quran deserves no respect from anyone.  It is, in fact, a contemptible monstrosity that ought to be destroyed. But Muslims revere it.

Is it moral for us to pretend the Quran isn’t an evil book because stating that truth offends a Muslim?  I don’t think so.  I think treating the Quran as it deserves to be treated is a good thing.  I believe it will help even die hard Muslims if they see their cherished book desecrated, because they will not see Allah extracting “justice.”  That’s the thing about non-existent deities. They don’t do anything.   And if Allah doesn’t care what we do to his book, why should any Muslim? 

But even if I’m wrong about whether such an example will help or hurt Muslims, it will still certainly help the millions of ex-Muslims to see that they can be completely free of the bonds from that satanic screed.  And if those ex-Muslims saw that it was Christians who had their backs on this, maybe instead of choosing to be atheists, some of them would become Christians.

So that brings us to the final question.  Suppose that it isn’t respectful, in the 1 Peter 3:15 sense of the word “respect”, to tear a Quran apart and eat some of its pages.  Is it worth offending the Jihadis in order for some ex-Muslims to lose the grip the Quran had on them and possibly turn to Christ?  I say yes.


  1. Good exegesis, Peter.

    It's ironic to me that the most vocal proponent of the "respect and gentleness" cadre in your OP when he was confronted about his lack of argumentation and cocksure attitude of the absolute rightness of his own personal moral intuitions responded with what some might construe as a mocking and non-gentle sign-off saying: "I guess we can never really know anything for sure. What a shame. So long kid."

    Funny how the gentleness and respect is "for thee but not for me". Do as I say, not as I do. Pretty typical of the sneering morality police types.

    1. Coram Deo, I was going to make a similar observation, but I'll just echo yours here by noting that someone needs to show the same respect they demand of someone else in the criticism of their apparent lack of respect.

    2. Sadly, such attitude is common. I know even I do so from time to time. But yes, it seems most common in the "morality police."

  2. David Wood can be provocative, but sometimes provocation is the gentlest warning warranted. If the house is on fire and I'm asleep, I would hope that someone doesn't come and gently nudge me and say soothing things to get me to wake up. I hope they have the sense to yell, "FIRE!! WAKE UP!!!" and come drag me out of bed if they can. The fires of hell are no less real.

    1. That is correct as well. And not only that, but what is provocative today may be normative in a decade. One of the things I cut from my post due to the length and also due to not really having an ideal place to put it was one of the points Wood made about how when people first drew cartoons of Mohammed in the early 2000s, they ended up getting murdered. After the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attack in Paris, Everybody Draw Mohammed Day popped up in retaliation, and now so many cartoons of Mohammed are out there that there no longer is a reaction from the Muslim jihadis. In fact, you can use a cartoon of Mohammed as a thumbnail pic in YouTube and zero riots happen.

      Even though drawing pictures of Mohammed definitely offended Muslims in the early 2000s, one would be hard pressed to argue that the word is not objectively better today now that no one gets killed for doing so. It could be than in another decade, people can publicly destroy Qurans with impunity. The Muslim community will care as much as the Christian community cares about Bibles being burned--yes, it's offensive; no, we're not going to kill anyone over it. And the world will objectively be better.

  3. BTW, I noticed I had a couple of typos in some references, so I cleaned them up. The verses I quoted were correctly quoted, though, so nothing of substance changed.