Now in my last post (which is here), I wrote about the sufficiency of scripture and explored that topic a bit, taking a look at what Isaiah 65:8-16 teaches us about gambling/playing the lottery. Now even though I tossed out the “please don’t ask me every sort of hypothetical question” line, they still came. I understand that, honestly. It’s only natural for people who are thinking about things to toss out questions and attempt to feel out the boundaries of an answer.
What about gambling for fun?
What about supporting the local hospital by buying a lottery ticket with no expectation of winning?
What about this?
What about that?
Now believe me, I am headed towards delivering some principles to address all those questions…but not quite yet.
Please be patient with me as this is a Cripplegate original mini-series, and I’m making the posts more concise in order to maintain an expected standard of quality.
That being said, let’s get on with the show.
So last time we talked about gambling and looked at a passage that many of you may not have known applied to gambling. The whole point there was to point to the idea that the scripture often addresses matters more clearly than we may think. Now, I’m going to point out a similar idea: the Bible directly speaks about far more issues than we often expect. Today I’ll illustrate that by giving an issue that has come up for me several times, but initially caught me wildly off guard. What is it? Well, let me keep you hanging for a second or two.
When I was single, I had a sister and many female friends and I thought I was fairly well aware of the issues that women faced. I was horribly mistaken, and once I got married I learned just how many mysteries of femininity are systematically hidden from guys. As if to ad insult to injury, my wife regularly asked me questions that were so unexpected that they left me somewhat stunned.
But then, my wife started talking about having children and the unexpected question quotient went to an all time high and those unexpected questions got out there. Questions about water retention, birth control, nutrition, emotions, whether we should homeschool, etc. (you know, the types of questions that guys talk about while their chatting around a barbeque). I was searching desperately through the Bible for help on those questions, and many times I was tossed a question that I was utterly unprepared for. One night, after she had been reading a tsunami of stuff, she gave me the look and the “honey, can we talk?”. The look told me it was time to sit down, so I sat down and she shared that she had been reading about a new practice that was somewhat growing in popularity and I simply couldn’t believe; eating one’s placenta.
That’s right. Eating the other thing that emerges with a baby.
Not only had I never heard of that, but I couldn’t even imagine why in the world someone would want to eat their placenta. How in the world would that even work?
I apologize if this is somewhat gross but I don’t mean to be disgusting. In truth, this question has come up for me several times after my wife and I initially discussed it. At the time, apparently women at church were talking about it and it was becoming the thing to do. Apparently there were amazing health benefits (and 1 Cor. 6:19-20 was getting tossed around with all the standard guilt-inducing metaphors). Apparently it increased the milk supply in nursing mothers (and Heb. 5:12-13 and 1 Pet. 2:2 obviously command all mothers to breastfeed their children until they’re functionally literate, right?). Apparently, it was a preventative cure for postpartum depression (and Matt. 6:25 clearly suggests that postpartum depression is a sin, right?). Apparently, it’s a rather old practice that is found all over history (and if we’ve been doing it for centuries or millennia, what’s the worry, right?). Apparently, all the other mammals are doing it (and we don’t want to be the nerds of the animal world, right?).
Now none of those arguments are terribly convincing, even on a surface level, but tearing down weak arguments doesn’t establish a positive strong argument (i.e. proving that you’re wrong doesn’t make me right). What’s more is that I couldn’t really find any help in building up a positive case short of some mediocre articles written by Christians who were well meaning but not exactly Bible scholars (if I had a dime for every good idea defended badly on the internet…). I also couldn’t think of a scripture that directly addressed the issue of placenta eating (off the top of my head) so this appeared to be a bit of a conundrum.
So, we had a conversation that continued on for an hour or so, and covered the popular reasoning for why someone would even think about eating their placenta (apparently you dried it and made it into pills, not a PLT like I was thinking) and we talked about whether or not eating any part of a human being was synonymous with cannibalism. I also sat down, prayed like a frantic man, and started desperately doing some research . Allow me to show my steps of sorting through what I (secretly) thought was an issue that scripture did not mention:
Step One: Try to find the appropriate and relevant biblical terminology.
This means that the English term(s) used to describe something might not be the Biblical term(s), but this is sometimes difficult as finding technical terms can be frustrating if you don’t even know what to look for. I knew that the term “placenta” probably didn’t appear in the Bible, so I hopped on Google and BibleGateway and attempted to search a bunch of somewhat related terms in an effort to find a relevant direct reference in scripture. You always want to go with direct references to an issue or topic if you can, and only move on to the second tier of “applying relevant principles” if you cannot find a direct reference.
On that particular day, the Lord was wonderfully gracious. I found one relevant term; “afterbirth” in one verse. Finding one term and one passage made my work quite quick and easy (and that is amazingly rare).
If I had not found any relevant terms, I would have moved on to searching for relevant principles. Let’s take the related example of “cannibalism”.
The Bible doesn’t include the term “cannibalism” but it does talk about the concept. A quick Google search gives me some scriptures to jump off from, and I can grab relevant terminology (i.e. “eat” + “sons” or “eat” + “child”) from the verses I find and search BibleGateway (i.e. Lev. 26:29; Deut. 28:53-57, 2 Ki. 6:28-29; Ps. 27:2; Ecc. 4:5; Is. 9:20, 49:26; Jer. 19:9; Lam. 2:20, 4:10; Ez. 5:10, 24:10-12; Mic. 3:3; Zech. 11:9).
Step Two: Make a list of the passages with the relevant terms/principles.
This means looking up all the passages with the term/principle in it and making two lists: one of direct references and one of passing/indirect reference. A direct reference is basically when the term/principle is the topic of the passage, and an indirect reference is when the term appears but is not the focus/topic of the passage. Here’s an example if you’re looking for a biblical understanding of the concept of “forgiveness”.
Indirect reference = “And he went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” – Luke 3:3. The verse is not teaching on the topic of forgiveness.
Direct Reference = “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” – John 20:23. The verse is teaching on the topic of forgiveness.
I found one passage that included an indirect reference – Deut. 28:57.
Step three: Examine the scriptures you’ve listed and analyze your data.
This is the part where biblical interpretation comes into play, but the interpretive task here was relatively easy since I only had one verse: Deut. 28:57. What do we see there? Deut. 28:52-57 is part of a curse for disobedience to the law that they’ve received. The whole thrust of the passage is that if Israel disobeys God’s commands, God will bring a curse on Israel so utterly horrid that women will violate every natural inhibition they have and behave in ways that are absolutely unthinkable to them. God promises Israel that he would curse them to the point that they would engage in actions that, even under siege and suffering to the point of being near death, they would still find shameful.
The eating of both the children and the afterbirth will be done in secret because it’s absolutely shameful.
Think about that for a second.
Deut. 28:56-57 speaks of a woman who, before the curse of the siege, was so refined and well mannered that she wouldn’t step barefoot on the ground. During the curse of the siege, that same women will eat both her afterbirth and children in hiding (in an effort to hide the fact that Miss Manners has become Miss Mongrel) and not even share her food with her own family. The eating of her children and her afterbirth is the bottom of the barrel for her; it’s the unthinkable action that demonstrates the shameful depths to which she has plunged.
Given that is the only mention of the afterbirth in the OT (including the Hebrew term), there’s not a whole lot of question about what God thinks about eating the afterbirth.
So if you’re thinking about eating your placenta, you simply need to ask yourself one question: Why would I willfully choose to participate in an action that is the mark of being on the receiving end of a divine curse?
With our hypothetical example of cannibalism, we would extract some helpful principles and patterns from the list of scriptures we found previously; a rather obvious one is that every instance of cannibalism is a result of divine judgment. That’s gives us a good enough trajectory to get that God’s not a fan of cannibalism at all. There are more principles one could pull out (like in order to eat someone, you’d have to kill them…and Ex. 20:13 makes it clear that all cannibalism outside of some form of “morgue raid” is automatically sin), but we probably don’t really need to dig too deep into the scriptures to get the general gist of God’s opinion on the matter:
Do NOT do it.
Now this isn’t any sort of comprehensive guide to biblical study or sorting through biblical issues, but it’s a very simple set of steps for getting a general impression of the biblical teaching on a topic. Of course, on many research projects you’ll run into difficult passages and where more serious problems of biblical interpretation come into play, but that’s far beyond the scope of this post.
In this example, God was gracious and I found a direct reference to the topic at hand that was helpful enough to formulate a fairly solid opinion on the matter. When my wife asked me about whether or not she should eat her placenta, I thought we would be struggling through the issue and weighing various biblical principles against each other to see which ones best applied to the issue at hand… but it’s often amazing to me just how much the scripture directly or straightforwardly addresses. That’s definitely a good reason to never give up studying the scripture; you’ll never fully exhaust the “Wait a minute! That’s in here?!” moments that the Lord will bring to you. The scripture truly is a storehouse of endless treasure.
Also, at many other times when I’m digging to find mention of a specific topic in the scripture, I don’t find direct references to the topic at hand. In the next post, we’ll look at another question that came up where I definitely didn’t find any direct reference in the scripture, but still found more than sufficient enough to come to a general position on the issue because, well, the Bible offers sufficient divine guidance, either in prescription or principle, for the man of God to be equipped for every good work.