Dictionary of Scripture and Ethics

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Posts 1751
Nathan Parker | Forum Activity | Posted: Sat, Nov 28 2015 4:49 PM

Since my academic interests are mostly Theology/Systematic Theology, would the Dictionary of Scripture and Ethics seen on the Black Friday promotion benefit me extensively?


Nathan Parker

Visit my blog at http://focusingonthemarkministries.com

Posts 1203
Sean | Forum Activity | Replied: Sat, Nov 28 2015 5:09 PM

Bump! I have the same question/perspective. I did look inside over at Amazon [it's a shame we have to go there to get a good look] and thought mostly "not", but I'd be interested in the opinions of those who had bought it already.

Posts 5315
Dan Francis | Forum Activity | Replied: Sat, Nov 28 2015 5:13 PM

I bought it read a few articles and of the ones I read they seemed very balanced offering current ideas form various sides. It felt like an ideal resource to me.


Posts 5315
Dan Francis | Forum Activity | Replied: Sat, Nov 28 2015 5:23 PM

Here is an example:


The word euthanasia is composed from the Greek words eu (“good”) and thanatos (“death”). For centuries, it referred to a “good death” in general—that is, a death free from agony or suffering and for which one was well prepared. From the early nineteenth century, however, it came to refer more specifically to medically assisted dying in the case of severe suffering with or without a patient’s request. In the first half of the twentieth century, the term frequently was used in the context of eugenics. Hitler’s infamous euthanasia program led to the killing of tens of thousands of handicapped and elderly people. In some discussions the term still carries this connotation.
The term is most commonly used in the context of a terminal disease and hardly ever refers to the voluntary killing of people without a medically classifiable disease. In the Netherlands, in 1995 the first country in the world to legalize euthanasia, the requirements include not only severe suffering but also a patient’s request. About 90 percent of all euthanasia cases in the Netherlands are performed on patients suffering from cancer with a prospect of six weeks or less to live.
The difference between euthanasia and assisted suicide lies in the identity of the actor initiating the death: the doctor in the former, the patient in the latter.
Of all forms of killing a human being, euthanasia is considered by many as the least controversial. From an ethical point of view, it is important to observe that the Bible does not imply “vitalism”—that is, the view that life should be prolonged at all costs. “Dying well” may imply a recognition that an illness has won, and that time and resources should be spent on spiritual and palliative care rather than on intensive medical treatment with little chance of success. There is reason to assume that the suffering underlying a euthanasia request may sometimes even be caused by aggravating medical interventions. Insofar as a “right to die” refers to a right to refuse invasive and futile medical treatment, this right is relatively uncontroversial.
Despite the fact that the Bible rejects vitalism, despite the seriousness of human suffering, and even though a euthanasia request may be well informed and sincere, euthanasia remains problematic from an ethical point of view. A society allowing the intentional and direct killing of some of its citizens may have difficulty in drawing a line between use and abuse, between those who are eligible and those who are not. The availability of euthanasia may hamper attempts to develop efficient and accessible palliative care. The last stretch of a human life may not only be tragic and burdensome but also may provide opportunities for spiritual growth, valuable social encounters, and reconciliation. Even for many of the physicians who are willing to perform euthanasia, the act remains emotionally burdensome. In a sense, euthanasia can be seen as an act that destroys one’s autonomy altogether rather than as an expression of an autonomous wish. The Bible does speak highly of the capacity of humans to actively engage in their own destinies, but this autonomy has its proper place within the context of respect for life. The Bible contains several accounts of people yearning for death (e.g., Elijah, Paul), but not a single passage justifies a decision to actively kill oneself or to ask others to do so. Although occasional acts of suicide in the Bible are not explicitly condemned, descriptions of their context reveal the utterly tragic character of such decisions.
Discussion continues concerning the appropriateness of the distinction between “active” and “passive” euthanasia. Although refraining from life-support treatment may in some cases be as problematic as active euthanasia, most sources in the Christian tradition agree that the active killing of a person, other things being equal, is more problematic than a decision to let “nature take its course.” Another point of debate is whether a death that is the side effect of painkillers and sedatives can be called “euthanasia.” The tradition of natural law, through the “principle of double effect,” stresses the difference between death through active and intentional means, and death that is the side effect of another action. If a medication necessary to provide relief for pain and anxiety causes death, and if the intention is merely to make comfortable rather than to kill, such a decision may be justified.
In the past two decades, new medications against pain, anxiety, itch, extreme fatigue, and nausea have helped healthcare workers to provide more efficient palliative care. Experience from the Netherlands shows that palliative sedation—that is, inducing a deep sleep until the moment of a patient’s natural death—has become increasingly acceptable as an alternative to euthanasia. There is reason to believe that new developments in palliative care will cause a further decrease in the demand for euthanasia. At the same time, the quest for assisted suicide in cases in which there is no physical and terminal disease is not likely to decrease.

See also Death and Dying; Healthcare Ethics; Hospice; Suffering; Suicide


Biggar, N. Aiming to Kill: The Ethics of Suicide and Euthanasia. Darton, Longman & Todd, 2004; Boer, T. “Recurring Themes in the Debate about Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide.” JRE 35 (2007): 529–55; Gorsuch, N. The Future of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia. Princeton University Press, 2006; Keown, J. Euthanasia, Ethics, and Public Policy: An Argument against Legalisation. Cambridge University Press, 2002.

Theo A. Boer

Theo A. Boer, “Euthanasia,” ed. Joel B. Green, Dictionary of Scripture and Ethics (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2011), 283–284.


Posts 832
Lew Worthington | Forum Activity | Replied: Sat, Nov 28 2015 5:42 PM

I agree with Dan regarding balance.

And to address Nathan's original question, this is an area that I've frankly not studied much from an academic point of view. So I find the articles interesting and enlightening. For me, it's beneficial to broaden my knowledge in an area peripheral to my primary academic interests.

I wouldn't complain if the articles were generally longer, but it IS a "dictionary" and not an encyclopedia and so it gives a good fundamental understanding of the topics it covers.

Posts 72
Timothy Jang | Forum Activity | Replied: Sat, Nov 28 2015 7:16 PM

Refer to this book review of the Dictionary carried in Journal for CBMW

A Review of Joel B. Green, ed., Dictionary of Scripture and Ethics. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2011. 912 pp. $59.99.

Ray Van Neste
Professor of Biblical Studies
Director of the R. C. Ryan Center for Biblical Studies
Union University
Jackson, Tennessee

A comprehensive reference work on Christian ethics and the role of Scripture in ethics is a great idea. Regrettably, however, Dictionary of Scripture and Ethics is problematic at certain critical points. While granting that biblical interpretation isn’t always easy, this volume seems to go out of its way to stress that Scripture doesn’t speak directly to our ethical behavior and when it does speak it is not very clear. The book begins with three essays that frame the way the Bible should be and has been used to form ethical opinions. These essays stress that Scripture alone isn’t sufficient for doing ethics. Granted, ethical questions do arise which are not directly addressed in Scripture, but Christians have historically affirmed that the Bible stands at the authoritative center of our ethics. By contrast, these essays undercut the idea that Scripture provides binding ethical norms, suggesting instead that it is a varied collection of witnesses which churches today must sift in order to determine what continues to be binding.
While still appealing to biblical authority in a vague way, it is clear that Scripture is not seen as norma normans non normata (“the norm of norms which cannot be normed)” that is, the authority to which everything else must concede. Rather, this reference work, which will likely inhabit numerous pastors’ studies and seminary libraries, addresses the ethical issues of our day from the perspective that Scripture is so culturally bound that we must decide which portions “continue to manifest the redeeming power of God” and which do not (32). A few quotes from one of the guiding essays will make its approach clear:

A proper understanding of canon emphasizes that canon is not a definitive collection of timeless, divinely revealed truths. Canon is a collection of witnesses to an ongoing encounter with the presence of God in the lives of persons and communities.… The canon functions not as a static deposit of timeless truth, but rather as a partner in conversation with our own experience of God’s presence in our lives.… The end result toward which we should strive is a deabsolutized canon which allows for the honoring of ancient witness to the degree that it reveals to us the basic truths of our faith while at the same time honoring the power and authority of our own experience of God.1 (28)

It would be helpful if anyone purchasing this book also obtained a copy of Greg Thornbury’s recent Recovering Classic Evangelicalism so that he might hear a well-articulated rebuttal of this diminished view of Scripture.2
To be sure, the dictionary’s ensuing entries vary significantly in outlook, as might be expected. The entry on “Sanctity of Human Life” offers a robust affirmation, though the entry on “Abortion” is less clear. The immorality of prostitution, pedophilia, and abuse of various sorts is also explicitly affirmed, though less clarity exists on topics like euthanasia and assisted suicide. There appears to be a general reticence to stand on clear biblical mandates (see, for instance, the entry on “Evangelical Ethics”)—a tendency particularly observable in the volume’s entries on sexual ethics.
For example, associate editor Allen Verhey’s “Marriage and Divorce” entry demonstrates the outworking of the principles of the volume’s guiding essays. He states:

Scripture is not a timeless code for marriage and divorce, but in Christian community it is somehow the rule of our individual lives and of our common life. We set the stories of our lives, including the stories of our singleness and of our marriages, alongside the story of Scripture to be judged, challenged, formed, re-formed, and sanctified. Fidelity to this text and to its story does not require (or permit) us to read Mark (or any other particular text) like a timeless moral code. We do not live in Mark’s community (or in Matthew’s or Paul’s), but we do live in memory of Jesus, and we test our lives and our readings for fidelity. Fidelity requires creativity. And creativity licenses the formation of rules and judgments concerning divorce that need not be identical to Matthew’s concession or Paul’s, but that respect both the vows of marriage and the partners of a marriage, safeguard both the delight and vulnerability of sexuality, protect vulnerable partners, and honor God’s creative and redemptive intentions. (512, emphasis added)

This isn’t scriptural authority as the church has historically meant it. If we’re left saying Scripture is “somehow the rule of our individual lives and of our common life,” then it’s not the rule for our lives. According to this entry, we are free to reset the boundaries in ways entirely different from what is seen in Scripture—and yet still call that consistent with Scripture.
Not surprisingly, Verhey goes even further, stating:

We need not regard divorce as good or homosexual acts as good in order to acknowledge fidelity and mutuality between divorced and homosexual persons as good. If we allow divorce in a world such as this for the sake of protecting marriage and marriage partners, and remarriage after divorce, then perhaps we should also consider blessing homosexual unions for the sake of nurturing fidelity and mutuality and protecting the homosexual partners. (511–12, emphasis added)

Having jettisoned Scripture as the supreme authoritative norm, a dictionary of ethics from a publisher purporting to “represent historic Christianity and serve … evangelical readers” now encourages us to consider blessing homosexual unions.3 Jeffrey Siker’s discussion of “Homosexuality” continues in this vein. His entry concludes:

The Bible serves as a key touchstone for this conversation within the church, though its interpretation, relevance, and application in relation to homosexuality remain points of significant contention, especially as interpreters seek to correlate and integrate the biblical witness with other sources of authority—tradition, reason, and experience. (374)

Since the apostle Paul may have only known of negative or abusive “forms of homoerotic activity,” Siker argues, we cannot be certain his condemnation of homosexuality fits all expressions of it. “Like most Jews of his day,” he writes, “[Paul] seems to presume heterosexual expression as the norm, though his own preference is for celibacy (1 Cor. 7:7)” (372). And with that, Paul’s apostolic teaching to the church is reduced to first-century Jewish presumption and personal preference!
The central issue, as Siker rightly notes, is the role and authority of Scripture. However, his entry elevates “tradition, reason, and experience” as “other sources of authority” on par with Scripture, allowing us to therefore overturn its plain statements. And what “tradition” does Siker have in mind? We can only wonder, for the church’s tradition of teaching on this issue has been very clear through the centuries. And what about reason? It certainly isn’t clear to everyone that reason would support the affirmation of homosexuality. It seems to me the spirit of the age is posing as “tradition and reason” while Scripture is demoted. Indeed, it sounds like simply another echo of “Did God really say?”
Even though there are better entries, the volume as a whole is alarming and disappointing. I’ve focused primarily on entries concerning sexual ethics since they illustrate the dictionary’s general approach to Scripture and since these issues are some of the most significant ethical issues facing the church today. The value of a tool is seen in how it works at the point of greatest pressure. At such points, the Dictionary of Scripture and Ethics fails.
When I asked an employee of Baker how this volume fits the mission of an evangelical publisher, he made it clear that Baker did not claim to be an evangelical publisher, that they were much broader than that. He pointed to their new Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture as an example and said their parameters were publishing books in keeping with Nicene Christianity. This was news to me, though it is still hard to see how the endorsement of homosexuality fits Nicene Christianity since the Nicene fathers are patently clear about the sinfulness of homosexuality.
Reading other reviews of this volume, one might think the affirmation of homosexuality was an interesting academic trifle—“Huh! Baker’s new dictionary of ethics affirms homosexuality. How interesting?” However, the nominalization of Scripture and the normalization of homosexuality isn’t a mere academic curiosity; it’s a pastoral tragedy undercutting the work of faithful ministers and blunting the reception of the biblical witness. It may be chic to dismiss the normative clarity of the Scripture, but let us be clear that in this we are meddling with the claims of King Jesus over his church. This is no light step regardless of how common it may be. Furthermore Jesus promised judgment for those in Thyatira who were “teaching … my servants to practice sexual immorality” and strongly rebuked the church who tolerated such teaching (Rev. 2:20). As cultural pressure increases on the church to accommodate the spirit of the age rather than hold fast the truths of Scripture, we must decide where we stand. This volume has made its choice. Let us make ours.

Ray Van Neste, “Review of Dictionary of Scripture and Ethics Edited by Joel B. Green,” The Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, Spring and Fall 2013 18, no. 2 (2013): 32–34.

Posts 1751
Nathan Parker | Forum Activity | Replied: Sat, Nov 28 2015 7:16 PM

Lew Worthington:

I agree with Dan regarding balance.

And to address Nathan's original question, this is an area that I've frankly not studied much from an academic point of view. So I find the articles interesting and enlightening. For me, it's beneficial to broaden my knowledge in an area peripheral to my primary academic interests.

I wouldn't complain if the articles were generally longer, but it IS a "dictionary" and not an encyclopedia and so it gives a good fundamental understanding of the topics it covers.

Thanks for the info! I'll ponder it over the weekend and if I want to go for it, I'll go for it before the sale ends. It's an area I've studied a little bit academically but definitely not an area I'm majoring in, so it might be good to broaden my knowledge in this area as well. Plus I think I still have one or two Ethics type classes I may need to take in seminary before I complete my M Div, so having a resource in my library to help get through those classes might be beneficial!

Nathan Parker

Visit my blog at http://focusingonthemarkministries.com

Posts 570
Schumitinu | Forum Activity | Replied: Sun, Nov 29 2015 2:24 AM

I took the time to compare the entries to the Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics. I find the Encyclopedia much more helpful and thorough. The dictionary of Scripture and Ethics is more up to date though. I also like that the Dictionary of Scripture and Ethics covers every book of the Bible. So I'd say that the Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics and the Dictionary of Scripture and Ethics complement each other very well. 

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