I’ve been at the Ecclesia National Gathering in DC. It’s a network of moderate evangelicals who use the word “missional” a lot and plant churches and stuff like that. We just had a presentation from Bill Webb about the nature of the Bible’s authority. One of his points was that the Bible’s authority is always “accommodated” to its particular cultural context. He shared two very awkward Biblical commands, Proverbs 31:6-7 and Deuteronomy 25:11-12, that I’m pretty confident no Christian would ever obey.
First, there is Proverbs 31:6-7: “Give strong drink to one who is perishing, and wine to those in bitter distress;let them drink and forget their poverty, and remember their misery no more.” So in other words, for those of you say you don’t want to give homeless people money because they’ll spend it on booze, the Bible is telling you to save them the trip to the liquor store by going ahead and buying the booze for them. How did this strange command end up in the Bible? Why are you supposed to give poor people alcohol?
There’s a context, of course. Immediately preceding, the proverb says: “It is not for kings to drink wine, or for rulers to desirestrong drink;or else they will drink and forget what has been decreed, and will pervert the rights of all the afflicted” (vv. 4-5). The problem that the proverb refers to is that the kings are spending their wealth on getting drunk and are being terrible rulers, so the proverb exhorts them to give away their booze to those who are in poverty and misery. That way the kings can focus on doing what God wants them to do with their power: “Speak out for those who cannot speak, for the rights of all the destitute. Speak out, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy” (vv. 8-9).
But does this mean that alcohol is supposed to be God’s gift to those who are suffering? Does God approve of people with troubles drinking until they forgot their poverty and misery? Sure it has a context, but it’s still a command. All the other commands in the Bible occur within contexts, even those that are given by the apostle Paul who probably smacks his head in heaven every time the Christians try to make a new Torah out of his pastorally contextual exhortations. How is Proverbs 31:6-7 categorically different than anything Paul told his churches to do?
Storing away this little nugget….