Do the Ends Justify the Means?

The apostle Paul may have something to tell us about the ethics of evangelism. If eternal souls are at stake, is the "lesser evil" of deception not worth comitting in order to prevent the "greater evil" of an eternal suffering?
1 Cor. 9:19-24 (NIV)
19Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law), so as to win those not having the law. 22To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. 23I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings. 24Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.

Is Paul saying here to misrepresent ones heritage and beliefs, if necessary, so that under false pretenses, more trust would be garnered, and more souls "won"? How much clearer does it get than "by all possible means"? A little clearer:

Phil 1:15-18 (NIV)
15It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. 16The latter do so in love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. 18But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice. (emphasis mine)

Whether from pretense or transparency, the important thing is the Gospel. Pretty clear. The ends justify the means...at least, according to Paul here.

12 comments:

evanmay said...

Apparently, you think the ends of casting Christianity into the negative light justify the means of destroying the text of Scripture.

You ask, "How much clearer does it get than 'by all possible means'?"

But this doesn't support your thesis that Paul is advocating deception in the gospel presentation. Paul, rather, is stating "Do X by all possible means." Just because the adverbial clause of "by all possible means" is present doesn't give anyone the right to substitute whatever for X.

You must make your case exegetically that being a Jew to a Jew involves deception.

Yet this has never been how centuries of exegetes have understood this passage. Rather, we see a glimpse of the practice of "becoming all things to all men" in the record of Acts:

Acts 16:3 Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him, and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those places, for they all knew that his father was a Greek.

And remember, this is right after Acts 15 where the Apostles concluded from the Scriptures that circumcision was not necessary for salvation. And yet Paul, not wanting anything as insignificant as circumcision to be a hindrance to the gospel presentation, had Timothy circumcised. This wasn’t at all deception, for, as the text states, “they all knew that his father was a Greek.” Paul wasn’t attempting to give a false impression. Rather, he was removing the barriers set forth by the Old Covenant, even though the New Covenant had eliminated those barriers.

A Biblical missiology affirms that as long as the objective truth of the Gospel is not affected, we are free to present the Gospel in a way which the particular culture would receive. That is, we don’t change the message from culture to culture. But we do approach the culture on its own grounds. Download Al Mohler’s T4G message “Preaching With the Culture in View.” He exposits this text, I believe.

CalvinDude said...

The answer to the question "Do the ends justify the means?" depends on two things: what is the end, and what are the means?

The fact of the matter is that sometimes the end does justify the means (but only in the end is justifiable in the first place). Not all means are justified by the end, of course--but some means are.

That general principal aside, you do butchery to the text of Scripture when you attempt to make it look like Paul was advocating lying. He was not. Rather, he was saying that whatever was in your power to do ethically, do it for the salvation of some.

When Paul says he became a "Jew to the Jews" he simply means that he behaved in a manner that would not offend them any more than necessary. The Jewish customs were not evil, therefore Paul doing them would not have been sinning. But they were a mere copy and shadow of Christ, and thus it was not necessary that Paul act like a "Jew."

One would not read this passage and argue that Paul is saying "When with adulterers, I became an adulterer. When with murderers, I became a murderer." No, he's not talking about moral distinctions at all in the passage, but instead physical and ceremonial things.

Secondly, the passage in Philipians that you quote is also butchered by your comments. Paul is not arguing that the false motives are good. Rather he is simply saying that Christ is being preached, even by those who have evil means. The Gospel truth is not tarnished by evil people who present it; it remains true. In fact, you would do well to read 2 Timothy 2:13, "If we are faithless, he remains faithful--for he cannot deny himself." The truth of Christ remains objectively true, even if people use subjectively evil means to try to exploit that truth. That is all that Paul means by his statement. Paul is not commending the evil people, he is pointing out the eternal truth value of Christ.

Daniel said...

First, this post is largely a thought experiment. I laid out no complex argument. I sparsely commented on the passages. I want to hear what people think about "the end(s) justifies the means", in the context of religion.

evanmay,

What is pretense? A sin? I am not saying so. Paul obviously acted under false pretenses at times, but I'm not accusing him of a direct lie. My major point is better taken by CalvinDude below than you took it. Sometimes the end does justify the means (or ends).

Paul wasn’t attempting to give a false impression.

Let's see: (Acts 16, NIV)
1He came to Derbe and then to Lystra, where a disciple named Timothy lived, whose mother was a Jewess and a believer, but whose father was a Greek. 2The brothers at Lystra and Iconium spoke well of him. 3Paul wanted to take him along on the journey, so he circumcised him because of the Jews who lived in that area, for they all knew that his father was a Greek.

Read into it what you will. Paul clearly did this to Timothy in order to make Christianity "easier" or "more palatable" to others and for others, and to garner more trust and respect for Timothy. Furthermore, Paul's action with Timothy is hardly excusable, given his excoriation of Peter in Gal 2:

11When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong. 12Before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. 13The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray.
14When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter in front of them all, "You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?


This is the same Paul who did a lot worse to give people a better impression of himself (and his friends) in Acts 21:
18The next day Paul and the rest of us went to see James, and all the elders were present. 19Paul greeted them and reported in detail what God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry.

20When they heard this, they praised God. Then they said to Paul: "You see, brother, how many thousands of Jews have believed, and all of them are zealous for the law. 21They have been informed that you teach all the Jews who live among the Gentiles to turn away from Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or live according to our customs. 22What shall we do? They will certainly hear that you have come, 23so do what we tell you. There are four men with us who have made a vow. 24Take these men, join in their purification rites and pay their expenses, so that they can have their heads shaved. Then everybody will know there is no truth in these reports about you, but that you yourself are living in obedience to the law. 25As for the Gentile believers, we have written to them our decision that they should abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality."
26The next day Paul took the men and purified himself along with them. Then he went to the temple to give notice of the date when the days of purification would end and the offering would be made for each of them.


Paul participated in a Nazarite ceremony to please the Jews after railing against Peter for doing the same thing.

CalvinDude,
The fact of the matter is that sometimes the end does justify the means (but only in the end is justifiable in the first place). Not all means are justified by the end, of course--but some means are.
I agree.

I didn't make Paul "look" anything. I pasted the words and gave sparse commentary.

When Paul says he became a "Jew to the Jews" he simply means that he behaved in a manner that would not offend them any more than necessary. The Jewish customs were not evil, therefore Paul doing them would not have been sinning.

And even if Paul were sinning, he's a man. I don't care about his "sins". I care about the attitude that is pervasive and powerful that some ends justify some means (which I agree with) in the context of religious faith (which is of course about "ends" which are quite questionable to begin with). I basically wanted to pose a thought experiment, and see how atheists and theists reacted to it.

You guys defend Paul as thought he is infallible. You think he didn't cave under pressure, like every human does, at times?

Both of you fall into the trap of making my post harsher than it need be. Consider my language, "paul may have something to tell us...", and then I ask a few soft rhetorical questions.

Let's be honest: if you think your wife is going to hell, and a lie told to her will save her (say, like, "I saw Jesus chillin' on our porch today, hon, and he said to tell you, 'Hi!'"), would you not tell it?

And, I am not implying here that your sinfulness indicates a lack of God, or some such fallacious argument.

Anyway, let's continue the thought experiment: how far can we go? What means are justified, when it comes to sparing someone eternal torture? Would you argue that no sinful means could ever produce a good end?

God obviously needs our help to spread the gospel*. Some of the spreading of the gospel was from people with bad motives, but, that was good, since the gospel is true, right? How far can we take this?

*It wasn't important enough for Jesus to write down, apparently. ;)

evanmay said...

First, this post is largely a thought experiment. I laid out no complex argument. I sparsely commented on the passages.

Ok, fine. But you still misused the passages in your "experiment."

Paul obviously acted under false pretenses at times

Really? When?

Paul clearly did this to Timothy in order to make Christianity "easier" or "more palatable" to others and for others, and to garner more trust and respect for Timothy.

Yes, Paul removed an external barrier that might hinder the gospel. But how was this false pretense?

Paul participated in a Nazarite ceremony to please the Jews after railing against Peter for doing the same thing.

It certainly was not "the same thing." Peter separated himself from the Gentiles when the Jews were present. This isn't at all what Paul did.

Daniel said...

Yes, Paul removed an external barrier that might hinder the gospel. But how was this false pretense?

Paul took a Gentile boy and had him circumcised to make him appear of Jewish heritage to increase Timothy's perceived validity.

It certainly was not "the same thing." Peter separated himself from the Gentiles when the Jews were present. This isn't at all what Paul did.

No, you're right, it isn't what Paul did. Paul went through motions to appease the fears of the Jews that the Law of Moses was invalid, thus insinuating that the Law was still valid, when it is obvious from Paul's other writings that he considered only the "Law of Christ" valid [somewhat undefined and ambiguous mixture of Judaism and the New Covenant].

Funny thing is, both exemplified the "fear of man" in that they both did things they knew they shouldn't have out of fear of perception by the Jews. Paul, unlike Peter, betrayed his own theology in so doing [Peter appears to be not quite yet sure that the entire law has been invalidated insofar as the Gentiles go -- even though he was the one who had the vision in Acts 10 and all that happy crappy].

Anyway, what are your thoughts on the means at our disposal to justify ends, evanmay? This is a sort of moral quandary -- if you know that your wife is going to hell, and that if you sinned a bit, there is a 20% chance she wouldn't go, would you do it? 50%? 95%?

evanmay said...

Paul took a Gentile boy and had him circumcised to make him appear of Jewish heritage to increase Timothy's perceived validity.

Again, you are missing what the text itself states: "they all knew that his father was a Greek." Paul wasn't attempting to pull a fast one on the Jews, as if they would be stupid enough to mistake a Greek for a Jew.

Rather, he had him circumcised so as to remove the barriers which the covenant of circumcision posed. It had nothing to do with giving a false impression, and you must defend such an assertion exegetically.

Funny thing is, both exemplified the "fear of man" in that they both did things they knew they shouldn't have out of fear of perception by the Jews.

The text does not indicate that Paul performed his actions out of fear of man, while the Galatians 2 text explicitly indicts Peter for doing so.

Anyway, what are your thoughts on the means at our disposal to justify ends, evanmay?

This is a generic question. There are some circumstances where pragmatism might be permitted--when Scripture has not given an explicit command.

But, Scripturally speaking, the ends never justify the means when the means involve disobedience to God's commandments. Negative commands (the "do not"s) must be obeyed all the time, while positive commands must be prioritized (I must prioritize when and how I obey the commands to evangelize, pray, and meet the needs of the poor).

If my means involve the breaking of a negative command (such as "Do not murder") then they are obviously sinful means. I don't have the freedom to prioritize negative commands.

Daniel said...

evanmay,

Again, you are missing what the text itself states: "they all knew that his father was a Greek." Paul wasn't attempting to pull a fast one on the Jews, as if they would be stupid enough to mistake a Greek for a Jew.

You're right. Sorry. I was watching last night's Colbert Report on Tivo and not paying enough attention to what I was writing. I'll address this more later.

evanmay said...

Ah. Thanks for the humility. :-)

So how about that Stephen Colbert? The dude is a genius.

paul said...

"Do the ends justify the means..."

So it would seem. Why stop at Paul, why not go all the way to the top? After all, Paul did advocate being an imitator of God.

"When the Lord your God brings you into the land...and when the Lord your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally, make no treaty with them and show them no mercy..." "...for they will turn your sons away from following me..." Deut. 7. (i.e. "utterly destroy", that includes babies which one might think could be raised in such a way as to not "turn" the chosen ones from God) So, killing is okeedokee to save a people from going astray from following God.

God sent out a "lying spirit" in order to bring down a bad king, Ahab:
"Who will entice Ahab into attacking Ramoth Gilead and going to his death there?" "...finally a spirit came forward , stood before the Lord and said 'I will entice him,' I will go out and be a lying spirit in the mouths of all his prophets,' he said. You will succeed in enticing him, said the Lord. 'Go and do it'" I Kings 22
So, lying is okay when it furthers Gods plan.
Adultery is okay when God is making a point. Hosea 1. Or when God is creating a chosen people (I believe Israel came from two wives and two concubines).
The list is pretty big, but there's a few.

Indigo Black said...

Again, you are missing what the text itself states: "they all knew that his father was a Greek." Paul wasn't attempting to pull a fast one on the Jews, as if they would be stupid enough to mistake a Greek for a Jew.

I don't have time to compose a complete thought on this post but I did want to point out that Jewishness is passed down through the mother. So it does not matter if his father was Greek, Hindu or other. He was Jewish because his mother was. Paul circumcised him to make it appear that he was an observant Orthodox Jew, which we all know he was not. So yes, Paul was trying to pull a fast one on the Jewish community.

Daniel said...

Nice name, Indigo. It appears that Indigo is correct.
source:
Judaism introduced matrilineal descent somewhere in the period of the Second Temple and the Roman occupation according to Prof. Shaye Cohen, now at Harvard, and he wrote an historical review of the change in "Conservative Judaism" among other journals. His presentation was historical and not intended to effect changes in Jewish law as it affects us today.

source:
There are those who see Judaism uniquely as maternal in descent, "matriarchal descent" as you noted. This follows Jewish law of the past 2000 years. It does seem that before then it was "patriarchal descent" and we don't really know why there was a change.

My own feeling, based on historical material of several specialist, is that the Rabbis of the first 200 years of the Common Era (0-200 CE or AD) saw how many children were being born of rape, slavery and all forms of sexual abuse of Jewish women. In an act of compassion, and working within the Roman concept of citizenship, they made the law accept the child of a Jewish mother as a Jew by birth. So, what began as compassion and inclusiveness and leniency "then" has made a situation today that they could never contemplate - an open society in which Jews could marry non-Jews - a complicated situation if not a crisis for the family.


There may be some controversy about when this was enacted, with reference to the date of Acts 16 (the date of the events it tells us about, I should say). I can say this for certain -- it is claimed that Paul did know that Timothy's mother [and grandmother] was a Jew (Acts 16:1, 2 Tim 1:5)

It appears pretty clear that Paul did it to operate under false pretenses, as I said in the first place:
Acts 16:3 (NIV) --
1He came to Derbe and then to Lystra, where a disciple named Timothy lived, whose mother was a Jewess and a believer, but whose father was a Greek. 2The brothers at Lystra and Iconium spoke well of him. 3Paul wanted to take him along on the journey, so he circumcised him because of the Jews who lived in that area, for they all knew that his father was a Greek.


Notice that Paul is going on a journey, taking a boy to places they won't know him, but in order to "qualify" the boy [in the eyes of the Jews] to go on the journey in the first place, Paul has him circumcised, although the boy was obviously older than 8 days, and so his mother wasn't even an apparent orthodox Jew. This seems true, but then Paul tells us in 2 Tim 1:5 (NIV) --
5I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also. 6For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands

Odd. Sincere faith, but the boy wasn't circumcised?

Nonetheless, did Paul do it for the sake of getting the boy "qualified" in the eyes of the place he was leaving, or the place he was going? As you pointed out, he wasn't fooling anyone who knew the boy. It seems reasonable to conclude that he was doing it so that Timothy would not be perceived as a Gentile [and thus be a "stumbling block"] to the Jews of the land he was traveling to. I'm just not sure.

This may be more complicated than I thought, but the matriarchal descent would have to be clarified as to when it went into effect [versus Patriarchal] and whether or not Paul knew about it. And, if the circumcision made Timothy a "valid" Jew, then I suppose it isn't complete pretense.

Does anyone know the answers to these questions?

paul said...

Daniel,
would have to do some digging to verify this, but, went to a syagogue for a number of years and have heard the question discussed. My understanding is that the orthodox believe the practice of tracing Jewish ancestry through the mother goes back 3500 years, non orthodox place the method at 2000 years.