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Applying the Bible

Some wonder how can a Bible written 2,000 years ago speak to the ethical situations we face in the late 20th century, but because the Bible is God's Word, and God doesn't change (Mal 3:6) he has prepared for situations not envisaged by the original authors. The Bible was written to a preindustrial middle-eastern culture and primarily addresses preindustrial middle-eastern issues: cars rather than cows, vineyards but not ventilators, stone tablets rather than silicon chips.

However the principles apply across the generations. So we need to take on the hermeneutical task - sorting out how God's unchanging principles apply to contemporary situations which were anticipated in the mind of God. This can be hard work, but if we are to live in obedience to God in today's society (and we have no choice because this is exactly what knowing and loving him involve), then we have a responsibility to use our minds to work out contemporary codes of conduct based on the revealed principles we find in Scripture.

It would of course be easy if we could simply look up contemporary issues in a concordance, but God hasn't arranged it that way. He expects us to think!

Genetic engineering is not mentioned in the Bible but there are principles about stewardship (Gn 1:26-28; Mt 25:14-30) and cross-mating of different species (Lv 19:19). Abortion is not specifically dealt with but there is much about intentional killing (Ex 21:12-14), prenatal life (Ps 139:13-16) and child sacrifice (Dt 18:10; 12:31). AIDS was not known but there is a lot about sexual morality (1 Cor 6:18) and compassion for sinners. We'll be looking at some of these issues in more depth in the role plays but to give you a foretaste let's consider some we won't be covering.


Under Old Testament Law you were obliged to build a parapet around the roof of your house so that people wouldn't fall off and get injured (Dt 22:8). If you dug a pit and someone else's animal fell into it, you were criminally responsible to pay for the loss incurred (Ex 21:33,34).

Similarly if your bull gored the bull of another man, then you were liable; if it killed a human being, and was in the habit of goring, you paid with your life (Ex 21:35-36). In like manner, the prophet who failed to speak (Ezk 3:18), and the people who ignored need they had the ability to meet (Ezk 16:49; Mt 25:45) were answerable to God.

While we may not live in a society with parapets, holes in the ground and goring bulls, the parallels are clear. If we fail to do the good we ought to do, then that is sin. Negligence is a big issue in medicine.

Fee for service

What about payment for healthcare? On the one hand we are told that the labourer is worth his hire, and that the worker deserves his wages (Lk 10:7). On the other hand, the fact that others are unable to pay for our help doesn't mean that we are not obliged to give it (Lk 10:25-27) If your neighbour needs money you lend it to him (Dt 15:7,8) at no interest (Dt 23:19) If he comes upon hard times you are to tide him over (Dt 15:11) If you have the world's goods and don't respond to his need, then how can you say you love God (1 Jn 3:17). A good case, for instance, can be made for those who can afford it paying, while free treatment is given to those who can't.

Resource Allocation

How should we allocate limited resources? For a start you must do what you can with what you've got (Mt 25:21) Not being able to meet the need fully ourselves is no excuse for not doing what we can and demonstrating how the need could be met (Mk 12:41-44) God works miracles when we do what little we can do (Mt 15:29-39) On the other hand getting a big task done involves time and prayer. It also requires vision, planning, delegation and the involvement of others (Ne 2&3)

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