Accommodation Ethics -- By: Peter Richardson

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 29:1 (NA 1978)
Article: Accommodation Ethics
Author: Peter Richardson


Accommodation Ethics

Peter Richardson

Paul W. Gooch

The two papers that follow attempt to describe and account for Paul’s ethic of accommodation as presented in 1 Corinthians 9:19–23 and 10:32–11:1. The two, though closely related, are independent; but they share a common conviction that an important Pauline idea has been neglected or mis-stated.

Some justification may be needed for the use of “accommodation” in these papers, for the word has fallen into disfavour in the last several generations. It is indicative of this unpopularity that no entries on accommodation are to be found in a number of recent encyclopedias.1 A curious article discussing the genetic and psychological uses of the term can be found in the Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics (1907);2 articles can also be found in the New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge and the Catholic Encyclopedia, both of 1907.

Perhaps some small revival in the use of the term is under way, for not only does the New Catholic Encyclopedia (1967) have an entry, but so also does the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (19742) and Die Religion in Geschichte and Gegenwart (19573).

The article in the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church adequately summarizes the main lines of definition of the word “accommodation” as it has been used in theology: it is “the adoption of a text or teaching to altered circumstances”. Three uses are distinguished: (1) the giving to a text of Scripture a meaning not intended by the writer; (2) the use of the word by liberal 18th century theologians in Germany to expound the mode of Divine communication through the Bible; (3) the teaching by Christians of only a part of the truth for the sake of prudence or modification of the form of Christian teaching to secure its more ready acceptance. This latter usage was defined to a large extent in terms of the well-known disputes between the Dominicans and the Jesuits in the seventeenth century, as a result of the practice of the Jesuits, particularly in China, of clothing their presentation of Christianity in a particular Chinese vocabulary, with the result that the Christian doctrine of God was confused with ancestor worship. The practice was forbidden in 1715 by Clement XI and again in 1742 by Benedict XIV.3

The question of Divine accommodation figures largely in some...

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