Sunday, November 18, 2012

Provoking Thought

Pictured above: Elijah, Ahab and Jezebel

The Virtue of Name-Calling
written by John W. Robbins

Two of the most shocking things for a twentieth-century American Christian to read are the works of Martin Luther and John Calvin, for these men-who were valiant for the truth-did not hesitate to call people names...

Unfortunately, most professed Christians today seem never to have gotten past Matthew 7. That’s too bad, for they should proceed to read Matthew 23. In that chapter alone, Christ calls the scribes and Pharisees names 16 times. The names are “hypocrites” (7 times), “son of Hell” (once),”blind guides” (twice), “fools and blind” (3 times), “whited sepulchers  (once), “serpents” (once), and “offspring of vipers” (once). Since Christ was without sin, we may deduce by good and necessary consequence that name-calling as such is not a sin. Since everything Christ did was righteous and virtuous, we may deduce by good and necessary consequence that accurate name-calling is a virtue.

But Christ is not the only example. John, who some professed Christians love to quote because they misunderstand and misrepresent what he says about love, calls certain persons known to his readers “liars” and “antichrists.” Those sensitive souls who flinch when they read chapter 25 of the Westminster Confession identifying the pope as Antichrist should read 1 John 2 and 2 John. John was not talking about someone far off in Rome; he was referring to persons known to his readers.

Then there is Paul, who in 1 Corinthians corrected those at Corinth who denied the resurrection. In chapter 15, verse 36, he refers to one objector as a fool. And can we not conclude from Psalms 14:1 and 53:1 that Madelyn O’Hair, for example, is a fool? Further, in 1 Timothy 4:2 Paul refers to “hypocritical liars” and in 5:13 he writes of “gossips and busybodies.” Those who object to name-calling must object to the practice of Jesus, Paul, and John, among many others.

The obvious question, which the perceptive reader has already asked, is, what shall we do with Matthew 5:22:”Whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be liable to the Sanhedrin; but whoever shall say, Fool, shall be liable to the fire of Hell.” Does not this verse, just as Matthew 7:1 does with judging and Matthew 5:34-37 do with swearing, prohibit all name-calling? The answer, equally obvious, is no. Such an interpretation would create irreconcilable contradictions in the Bible. Just as Matthew 7:1 does not prohibit accurate judging and Matthew 5:34-37 do not prohibit legitimate swearing, neither does Matthew 5:22 prohibit accurate name-calling. It is not name-calling per se that is proscribed, but inaccurate name-calling. Jesus, John, and Paul used names accurately and achieved a specific purpose: telling the truth.

Name-calling, accurately done, is not only not a sin, it is a virtue. It is identifying a person for what he is, and this cannot be done except by doing it. Anyone who studies the examples quoted here or any of the many other examples in the Bible will find that the name is used in conjunction with stated reasons for using it. The reasons constitute an argument, and the name is a conclusion. Those who deny that Jesus came in the flesh are antichrists and liars. Those who deny the resurrection are fools, and so on. The reluctance to call names is a type of reluctance to draw valid conclusions from the evidence; it is an attempt to “curb logic,” to use the neo-orthodox phrase. As such, it is but another example of the anti rationalism of our age.


  1. Jesus told the religious folks of his day that only the ones without sin should be casting stones in judgment of the woman. John and others quoted in the post were apostles and prophets who purportedly spoke for God.

    I think that it is possible to rebuke someone in error by speaking the truth in love as one is led by the Holy Spirit. Not sure that calling people heretics (as Rome did to Luther) or other names ever amounts to anything good. It is not like anyone really pays attention to name callers.

  2. Calling people who think differently, "heretics" or "wolves in sheep's clothing" should not be used by pastors, authors or Christians who love mankind. It's a little like "hate speech" don't you think?

  3. I have a feeling that those who say the post promotes 'hate speech' really just hate 'speech'. Great post Eddie.

  4. John Robbins and Gordon H. Clark were falsely accused of "rationalism" by the followers of Cornelius Van Til. As recently as 2011, Mike Horton, repeated that charge against Robbins and Clark and even leveled the same charge against Carl F.H. Henry and Harold Lindsell because all these men dared to say that the Bible is propositional truth and univocally the very words and thoughts of God in written form, not just an "analogy" of God's revelation. Van Til and his followers have sided with neo-orthodoxy, not the traditional Reformed view that the Bible is the verbal, plenary and inspired Word of God.

    If some Baptists wish to falsely accuse these men of "hyper-Calvinism" and other such nonsense, so be it:)

  5. Seen recently: "I don't insult people. I describe them." ...kind of like the Bible. You can't help but to be harsh when people find the truth about themselves insulting. Frankly, I think we've gotten too thin-skinned in the past few decades. There's a place for working with someone. There's a place for calling them out. It's not loving to treat someone nicely by not addressing the truth about them where not knowing that truth keeps them from God. I'd rather a fellow Christian be direct with me and give me the chance to repent or answer for myself where the sickeningly fake niceness they exude otherwise prevents a healthier godly relationship that should define the Body of Christ.

    1. I agree with you Jim as long as the calling out is done in the context of a loving relationship. I tend to simply ignore or blow off people who I think do not love or care for me.

  6. If a skunk is spreading odorous doctrine and leading people astray, if a wolf is after the sheep, I refuse to call it anything but what it is. I may love all animals, but I will not allow one to kill the sheep. I would rather offend a wolf than not warn a Church of it's identity.

    "It is identifying a person for what he is, and this cannot be done except by doing it. Anyone who studies the examples quoted here or any of the many other examples in the Bible will find that the name is used in conjunction with stated reasons for using it. The reasons constitute an argument, and the name is a conclusion."


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