Studies in the Epistle to the Colossians Part IX: Human Taboos and Divine Redemption -- By: S. Lewis Johnson, Jr.

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 120:479 (Jul 1963)
Article: Studies in the Epistle to the Colossians Part IX: Human Taboos and Divine Redemption
Author: S. Lewis Johnson, Jr.


Studies in the Epistle to the Colossians
Part IX:
Human Taboos and Divine Redemption

S. Lewis Johnson, Jr.

Nowhere is the contrast between contemporary Christianity and the Biblical standard seen more clearly than in Christian ethics. The present-day Christian society is regulated by principles and standards which often, to be blunt, are almost entirely anthropocentric. To that which society approves are added a number of Christian taboos, sanctioned by the authority of a youthful tradition. The number of the taboos is legion, and their variety is wide, often strongly influenced by geographical and cultural considerations. They range all the way from “thou shalt not wear lipstick” to “thou shalt not wear two-tone shoes in the morning service in San Francisco!”

I do not want to be misunderstood here. That certain practices must be avoided in certain places and under certain circumstances cannot be denied in the light of 1 Corinthians 8–10 and Romans 14.1 And furthermore, the New Testament itself contains a number of moral and ethical commands and exhortations. With the latter commands and exhortations we must have no quarrel, and with the former principles, found in 1 Corinthians and Romans, we must be satisfied. On the other hand, we must beware of adding specific taboos, not sanctioned directly by Scripture, to the New Testament statements. The conversion of New Testament principles into

specific universal taboos is dangerously wrong. It inevitably leads to the establishment of rules, almost always of a negative character, as the approved standards of the godly life. The tendency to pride and offensiveness is obvious and, in fact, this self-satisfaction is seen throughout the Christian world.

Not only do the taboos in the realm of morally indifferent things provoke an emphasis on the negative. They also tend to turn our attention away from the positive—the earnest study of the Word and the development of our union with Christ into a vital, moment-by-moment communion with Him through the Spirit.

Theocentricity must be the essence of ethics as well as of doctrine. It is sometimes overlooked that the Mosaic commandments, too, have this emphasis. F. D. Coggan said some fine words on the subject of moral theology in his Tyndale New Testament Lecture for 1948, “Any discussion of the subject must begin by taking seriously the first commandment. This commandment does not begin with the words ‘Thou shalt not’ do this, that or the other, but with the words: ‘I am the Lord thy God...

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