In 2006, twenty seven years after my father got his MBA, he went back to school to study law. Discussions with him along this new line of study are always quite interesting when they occur. But there’s something with lawyers, lawyers can read the same book of law and come out with conflicting views. When this happens, the general resolve is “Let’s meet in court and let the judge decide who is right”. Each lawyer has his own legal opinion about any issue which may vary from what the next lawyer’s legal opinion is.
I watched with amazement a show named “Face-Off” on Channels TV. The issue of the day was the “Legality of the suspension of the Governor Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) by the president”. Two lawyers were invited, one speaking for and the other spoke against. The amazing thing is that they were making reference to the same law-The CBN act-in order to prove their point. The host of the show was not a judge, so he couldn’t decide a winner; he just kindly thanked us for watching and ended the program. The court will decide.
A lawyer may defend a legal opinion no matter how illogical it may seem to their colleagues for various reasons. He/she may be sincere and convinced about being right or he/she may be doing the bidding of a moneybag. Some do so for arguments sake while carving a niche for themselves and some do it to satisfy their personal sentiments, whether ethnic, cultural, religious, political or a combination of two or more of this.
Even people who are unlearned in terms of the legal discipline have legal opinions which they defend passionately even though they may not have a chance to defend their points as a lawyer before a judge. In all cases however, the judge has the final say. And he delivers the judgement after having weighed the evidences and arguments presented before him by the lawyers in defence of their legal opinions.
Just as lawyers read the same book and form different legal opinions while referencing that same book, it is the case today that preachers read the bible and come up with conflicting legal opinions. Each claiming authority for the conflicting things they do and teach from the Bible, and if one tries convince the other that he’s right and that they’re wrong, Matthew chapter seven verse one comes in handy, “Don’t judge”. Don’t judge, let God be the Judge. Or some may say everyone is right, depending on your way of seeing things, it is sincerity that matters; forgetting that when one is travelling in the wrong direction, no matter how sincere one is, he’ll end up in the wrong destination.
People come up with their legal opinions about the Bible for various reasons interestingly similar to why lawyers come up with theirs. Money, sentiments and sometimes genuine ignorance is why people come up with their own legal opinions about the Bible. This is done by reading into the bible what isn’t there or taking what is read out of it’s original context while also neglecting a wholistic view through the whole Bible.
Having a legal opinion about the word of God can lead one to say and believe anything. It could make a girl who goes nude in her music video say “I’m a born again Christian, no matter what anyone thinks”. It leads preachers to teach about an era of lawless grace where “another level of grace” will permit any kind of sin. If you are charismatic enough while teaching the Bible, you might be able to conclude by teaching your legal opinion that masturbation and abortion are not necessarily sinful. With a legal view of scripture, you may use it to support any lifestyle you want to practice. You may legally propagate Sunday as the Sabbath. “These persons bring certain Scriptures together, and interpret passages of the Bible, so as to give coloring to their views; but they are wresting the Scriptures to make them appear to say that which they do not say.”[i]
It is termed “Legal opinion” here because it is borne out of an effort to prove that I’m right and justified to do what I do based on the evidences I can garner from the Bible regardless of what the Bible says elsewhere which I refuse to pay attention to. It is borne out of legalism and not of faith, therefore, it is a legal opinion not a faith opinion.
When one begins a statement by saying “Even the Bible says” it may be an exercise starting on the wrong footing. Such connotes a bid to use the bible to support an already concluded opinion made up by sources outside of the Bible. Ellen White counsels that “In searching the Scriptures you are not to endeavor to interpret their utterances so as to agree with your preconceived ideas, but come as a learner to understand the foundation principles of the faith of Christ. With eager interest, with fervent prayer, come to the word of God, that you may know what is truth, manifesting the same spirit as did Nathanael when he earnestly besought the Lord that he might know the truth.”[ii]
Of the bible, one’s opinion must be a faith opinion. An opinion based totally on faith in God’s omniscience and the revelation of that attribute through His word. The bible presents God as an all-knowing, all-powerful, all-present and most importantly, a loving God. For one’s interpretation of the Bible to be a faith opinion and not one which seeks to justify or indulge self, all these attributes of God must be put into cognizance; because “without faith it is impossible to please God.” (Heb. 11:6). A faith opinion is not one that seeks to justify the lifestyle of the bearer or carve a niche for the bearer; rather it is one that seeks to please God no matter how uncomfortable.
The reason many in this age of the world make no greater advancement in the divine life is because they interpret the will of God to be just what they will to do. While following their own desires, they flatter themselves that they are conforming to God’s will. These have no conflicts with self. There are others who for a time are successful in the struggle against their selfish desire for pleasure and ease. They are sincere and earnest, but grow weary of protracted effort, of daily death, of ceaseless turmoil. Indolence seems inviting, death to self repulsive; and they close their drowsy eyes and fall under the power of temptation instead of resisting it.[iii]
It is never beneficial to approach the Word of God with a legal mindset because the word of God is not a piece of legislation it is a spiritual literature and the “natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.” (1 Cor. 2:14). They are spiritually discerned, not legally discerned.
God the judge of all things cannot be compared with the judges of this world who only work with the evidences presented by the lawyers; no, “the eyes of the Lord move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His.” (2 Chron. 16:9). God sees all things, He “will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil.” (Ecc. 12:14). God doesn’t need anyone to show evidence or quote a book of the law in order to defend their beliefs or actions. His eyes run to and fro throughout the earth and he sees every hidden thing. No matter how logical to the human eye one’s legal opinion is, God knows what he said, he also knows why anyone is holding on to his/her legal opinion and He, the righteous Judge will be the Judge.
[i] Ellen G. White, Counsels to Writers and Editors, p. 153
[ii] Ellen, G. White, Counsels on Sabbath School Work, p. 25
[iii] Ellen. G. White, The Acts of the Apostles p. 565