Tag Archives: Bible

Jesus with a wink and a glint in his eye

21 Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. 22 A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.”
23 Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”
24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”
25 The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.
26 He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”
27 “Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”
28 Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment.

Matthew 15:21-28, NIV

Not long ago I had a conversation with my oldest daughter about the above passage. In the course of our conversation I realized once again that interpretation of scripture does not begin after we’ve read a passage, but the reading of the passage is itself part of the act of interpretation. I touched on this a little bit in a previous post, but with this passage it became that much more clear to me.

My daughter’s concern with this passage was that Jesus seems to be indifferent to the plight of this woman’s daughter and then appears to speak downright insultingly to her. This is a common common response to this passage, I think. I have had those concerns myself.

My daughter and I talked about how Jesus’ mission really was first and foremost to the Jews, that ministry to the Gentiles (i.e., everyone else) was left to the apostles after Pentecost, though Jesus also alludes to this expansion of the kingdom. Still, Jesus nevertheless seems unreasonably rude to this woman.

So then we talked about why this passage troubles people: it’s mainly because it seems so inconsistent with how Jesus tends to speak to and deal with people. I can think of at least a couple of places in the Gospels where Jesus happily grants Gentile requests for healing without bringing up his mission to the Jews or making seemingly insulting comments. I suggested that because of this inconsistency in Jesus’ behaviour, perhaps we should consider that maybe we’re missing something in this passage or misreading it.

It’s interesting, for instance, that this Canaanite woman goes along with Jesus’ “insult” and has a comeback. That’s when it started dawning on me: what if this story is not about this woman or Jesus’ mission at all? What if this story is about the disciples and how they perceive things that are “unclean” or defile (which is what the passage before this is about)? What if it’s simply about faith?

In other words, what if Jesus isn’t insulting the woman? What if as he’s saying these things, he winks and smiles at the woman with a glint in his eye, but is really saying it to or for the benefit of his disciples? It might be that “dogs” was a Jewish insult and Jesus was challenging his disciples in their attitudes and the woman’s appearance simply presented an opportunity for Jesus to teach his disciples something. The woman, seeing Jesus’ wink and smile, would have been in on the “joke”—Jesus has invited her into this teaching moment.

This is conjecture, of course. We can’t be sure what Jesus’ tone or facial expression was. But my point is simply this: we tend to read scripture in a certain way; we assume a certain tone in the voices of the speakers. Jesus tends to be heard as a dead serious speaker, rarely, if ever, joking around. So our tendency when we read a passage like this is to imagine Jesus frowning, crossing his arms, and turning away from this woman. But that, too, is conjecture. We simply don’t know. And we simply shouldn’t assume—either way.

Adding tone and using our imagination is virtually unavoidable when reading scripture. But as we do so, we are already interpreting the passage without realizing it. So it is good to at least be aware of this, and beyond that, to try out different tones and inflection as we read and hear scripture. This is a good reason for the public reading of scripture or audio Bibles, to hear different voices speak scripture in different ways.

From Acts to the Prophets

This week I read through Acts and I noticed a couple of things. First, I noticed that not once in all the apostles’ presentation of the gospel did they mention heaven or hell (or the afterlife or eternity or what have you). They mention Jesus’ unjust death, his resurrection, his ascension to sit at the right hand of the Father; they mention repentance and forgiveness of sins; but they do not mention heaven or hell. This really has no bearing on the question of whether either one of those (particularly hell) exists. But it does have a bearing on the question of what is essential to the gospel. These days the gospel is couched in some form of the question, “Do you know where you will go when you die?”–sometimes more nuanced, sometimes more crassly. In one way or another, modern gospel presentations eventually come around to the question of heaven and hell. Not so for the apostles. Is it therefore essential to our presentation of the gospel? (As I recall, this is what McKnight touches on in The King Jesus Gospel and I imagine Wright goes there in How God Became King.)

I also noticed the continuing (from some of the Gospels) emphasis on promises and prophecies fulfilled in Jesus. Part of the apostles’ presentation of the gospel to at least the Jews was an argument of prophecy fulfilled in Jesus: the sense that he is the one they had been waiting for all these years, he is the promised one.

Which makes me wonder: how much background is assumed in their presentation of the gospel? We rarely bring the prophets into it these days (except maybe at Advent and on Good Friday) and I’m sure most of us don’t have a solid grasp of what the prophets have to say about Jesus. A few weeks ago in church I mentioned that if I had a chance to go back to any moment in history, Jesus’ post-resurrection encounter with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus would be high on my list. It is with them that Jesus “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets… explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” I’d love to have been there, because I suspect that Jesus’ exposition of Moses, the Prophets and all the scriptures regarding himself would have been much deeper and more nuanced than the ragbag of proof-texts most of us would present.

So I’ve decided to spend some time in the Prophets. I’m not sure where I’ll begin yet. Isaiah has some of the most beautiful passages of scripture in it, but it’s also pretty intimidating. I’ve read (or attempted to read) it before and it’s easy to get lost. Many of the Major Prophets are intimidating, actually. And yet they seem so essential. But I want to go to the Prophets with a particular eye and ear for what they say about the Messiah and the “age to come” and how that sheds light on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, on heaven/the age to come/eternal life.

What happened to Judas?

I’m not sure where her question originated (since it wasn’t discussed in class), but after Sunday school on Sunday one of my jr. highers asked me how Judas actually died. The question is arises out of the apparently inconsistent scriptural details surrounding Judas’ demise. Matthew 27:3-8 says this:

 When Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he repented and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. He said, ‘I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.’ But they said, ‘What is that to us? See to it yourself.’ Throwing down the pieces of silver in the temple, he departed; and he went and hanged himself. But the chief priests, taking the pieces of silver, said, ‘It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, since they are blood money.’ After conferring together, they used them to buy the potter’s field as a place to bury foreigners. For this reason that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day.

Acts 1:18 says,

Now this man acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness; and falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out.

So did Judas hang himself or fall to his death? And who bought the field–Judas or the priests?

Let’s break this down. The details on which both passages agree:

  • The field was bought with blood money.
  • Judas died (suicide is suggested by both passages, but that might be Matthew influencing our reading of Acts).
  • The field was known as The Field of Blood.

Details on which both passages may or may not agree:

  • How Judas died–did he hang himself? or did he fall to his death? Or was it both? This, I think, is only an apparent contradiction, not a real one, because Acts doesn’t necessarily contradict Matthew on Judas’ death.

Details on which the passages disagree:

  • Who bought the field.
  • The reason for the field’s naming.

There are a number of ways we could deal with these discrepancies. With a little help from the ol’ noodle as well as commentaries on Acts by F.F. Bruce and I. Howard Marshall, here are three possibilities:

1. Who bought the field? Perhaps the priests, wanting to distance themselves from Judas’ blood money, purchased the field in Judas’ name. In this way, the story Luke (or Peter) had heard around Jerusalem had Judas’ name associated with the purchase. Matthew’s source perhaps knew who was actually behind the purchase. (As an interesting aside, the Greek does not specifically name Judas as the purchaser, but context makes it pretty clear that the writer had Judas in mind.)

2. Did he hang himself or fall to his death? It could be both. It does not say in Acts that he threw himself down, but simply that he fell. Actually, it’s not even clear that it says that. The word that is usually translated “head first” or “headlong” could also mean “swelled up”, as a footnote in most modern Bibles indicates (though, to be fair, “headlong” is the more likely meaning, at least as a standalone word). Additionally, the verb “falling” does not appear, but is an interpretive addition by the translators, presumably to makes sense of the noun “headlong.”

So here’s a proposal: Judas hanged himself, his body bloated in decomposition, and then the rope broke or his decomposing body broke apart and it fell to the ground, splitting open his stomach and spilling his guts. Gruesome!

It’s difficult to decipher much from the context. The passage in Acts is only one sentence and really seems to be glossing over the details anyway. I’m no expert, but it seems to me that falling in a field doesn’t generally cause one’s stomach to split open. Pertinent details are clearly missing from both accounts, and the writer of Acts doesn’t seem all that concerned about it–he really tells us very little. He’s just interested in telling us that Judas is dead and needs to be replaced in the Twelve.

Which leads me to the third and probably best approach:

3. Don’t reconcile the two accounts at all. It’s certainly fun to surmise, but it’s not an exercise necessary to understanding these passages or trusting scripture in general. The writers of Matthew and Acts don’t seem too worried about those particular details, so why should we be? Scripture is a divinely inspired text, but it was nevertheless written by humans with all their limitations in perspective and knowledge. And it was written in a time when the kind of detail modern, “enlightened” westerners expect was not necessary. And this: even a divinely inspired text need not have every detail spelled out to their minutea.

So, there are theoretical ways to deal with discrepancies between the two accounts of Judas’ death, but they remain theoretical. And they are in the end unnecessary, particularly for a minor point of history like this one. So, in the end I have no firm resolution to the problem presented!

The Lion and the lectionary

Chapel on Friday mornings is an abbreviated version of the morning office–we pray, read scripture, recite the Apostle’s Creed and are silent together.  It’s a good time.

In the last couple of weeks, the scripture readings in particular have been quite jarring, but not in the way you might expect. A couple of weeks ago I read from Acts 19:21-41. The bulk of the text is about a riot at Ephesus and the material is largely political in nature.  I kept checking the readings for the day to make sure I wasn’t reading the wrong passage. What a bizarre passage to include as part of the lectionary readings, I thought to myself. What does this tell us about anything? I saw my homiletics professor afterwards and asked him how someone would preach a sermon on that passage.  What’s the big idea in that text?

The lesson, I suppose, is that even if the Bible is inspired and the word of God, it cannot be picked apart willy-nilly. There are some parts of scripture that are unpreachable outside of a wider context.  And even if such a passage functions within a wider context, the passage itself may not have anything to present to use other than information driving the story.

Today in chapel I read from Revelation 9:11-21. It’s a dark passage about plagues and the death of one-third of the earth’s inhabitants. Symbolism and metaphor or not, it was a difficult passage to read and then end with “The word of the Lord” to which the rest of the people replying, “Thanks be to God.”

This is the beauty of the lectionary: it takes us places in scripture we would otherwise not go. To run with C.S. Lewis’ imagery a bit, the lectionary teaches us that the Lion’s word is no tamer than the Lion himself.  Don’t think we know it all, that we have it in our grasp.  It can slip away from us easily, mystify us, frustrate us–maybe even offend us.

And perhaps that’s as it should be.

Scribal culture and translation

Interesting Old Testament Text and Interpretation Class today.  There was an element of what we discussed which was valuable in relation to how we evaluate the worth of various translations.

First, the oldest Old Testament manuscripts we have (up to 250B.C.) reflect diversity and suggest that the scribes at the time were not only transmitting, but in some way creating something new. They weren’t recreating the stories, but what they were apparently doing was making the text they were transmitting more current.  We didn’t go in to great detail about this, but, for instance, things like place names would be changed to reflect changes in actual place names. Or perhaps certain words that were not understood or were illegible would be interpreted by the scribes and made understandable. So, while the scribes were concerned with fidelity to the text (why else would they be scribes?), they were also concerned with making the text understandable.

This was quite a revelation to me and has a bearing on how one feels about “thought for thought” translations (such as the New Living Translation). Making the text understandable and readable is not a 20th century innovation, but has a history going back to our earliest manuscripts.

The second interesting fact was the diversity of manuscripts during this period.  I knew something about this already, but the reading and class discussion we’ve had so far has added significantly. After the destruction of the temple in 70A.D. all manuscript diversity more or less disappeared, but before that time there were not only manuscripts, but manuscript traditions (in the plural).  What difference does this make?

Well, for one, we do not have an “original” Biblical text, in the sense of a complete and perfect manuscript of the Old Testament. It does not exist and has never existed. Any notion we might have of God dictating the scriptures to the prophets ignores the fact that the Bible is a human book.  The professor referred to this as the “second incarnation” issue.  Just as in the 4th century the church fathers were dealing with the question of how Jesus could be both divine and human, so we must wrestle with the notion of how scripture can be both divinely inspired and written by humans.  Did Jesus ever get sick growing up? If he was human, then he likely did.  Do the Biblical manuscripts have errors, even going way back to the first writings?  If they were human writings, then yes they did.

It is of further interest in terms of translations in that it makes the marketing behind so-called “literal word-for-word” translations essentially meaningless.  A word-for-word translation is not a “better” translation than a translation that leans more towards thought-for-thought translation.  Each has a particular function or value.  A translation like the NASB or ESV gives you the advantage of somewhat knowing what the Hebrew text behind the English translation looked like, but this does not make it a “better” translation nor does it necessarily lead to a better understanding of the meaning of the text.

Moreover, a translation like the ESV sticks to only one particular manuscript tradition, and not a particularly old one (though the age of manuscripts isn’t everything that counts, but we’ll get to that later). So how valuable in the end is their “literal” translation policy, at least in terms of how it is marketed?

This leads to interesting questions about inspiration and authority. We will cover these issues later in the semester. (So this will be an open-ended post.)

The Psalms

A couple of weeks ago Madeline walked into our room at 7:00 a.m. and came to my side of the bed. She said, “Dad, have you read Psalm 91? It’s really good.”  She had woken us up, so I mumbled something about “Probably” and “I’ll read it when I got up.” I wish now I had just sat up and paid attention, because she was so excited. It was as if she’d made amazing discovery.  I have no idea how she landed on that particular Psalm.  Probably a random choice.  She had read it on her own in the wee hours of the morning and was thrilled by it.

After we got up I read the Psalm and she told me how much she loves the Psalms.  I was thrilled by her excitement. Still am.  What’s remarkable is that we did not directly influence her to do this; we did not suggest that, “Hey, why don’t you try reading something from the Bible some time.” And if we had, we most likely wouldn’t have suggested a 6-year-old start with the Psalms. Her grandma gave her a Bible a couple of years ago and she just decided one morning recently that she would read it.

The other day I decided that it was time that I give Bible reading after supper another go. I tried a couple of years ago, but it was chaos: the kids didn’t listen and I just got frustrated and angry.  But it seems to be going well now–Madeline, at any rate, has the spark of scriptural interest in her (again, through shamefully little direct influence from us), Luke can be convinced to at least sit quietly, and Olivia just copies Luke. There are varying degrees of comprehension happening at the table, but comprehension isn’t really the point. I think it’s good for them to just hear the stories.

For whatever reason, I chose the story of Joseph. I had forgotten that it goes on for a number of chapters, but that’ s just as well. Maybe I can stretch it out until the Advent season. I wasn’t sure what to do with the bit about Potiphar’s wife looking at Joseph “lustfully” and trying to seduce him, not knowing what sort of questions would arise out of that episode. Luke and Olivia were oblivious and Madeline just took it in stride.  I explained and editorialized the text more than I probably should have. It’s easy to worry too much about what our children hear, but if I believe these words are somehow divine, should I censor them or should I just let them go? Did the Isrealites censor their stories for their children? Who knows.

I have a very low-church upbringing, but the other day I taught the kids about concluding the reading of a passage of scripture with “The word of the Lord” and the appropriate response. That night Madeline suggested that she could read a Psalm every night with the Bible story.  So tonight I read about Joseph’s interpretation of Pharaoh’s dreams and then Madeline read Psalm 1.  She did very well.

When she finished reading, I said, “The word of the Lord.”

And Madeline said, “Ummm…Thanks be to God!”

And that just warms the cockles of my heart.

Defending Genre in the Bible

Does [the Bible] match up with scientific evidence? Who cares? … I do not believe science, history or archaeology of any kind establishes the truthfulness of the scripture in any way. Scripture is true by virtue of God speaking it. If God spoke poetry, or parable, or fiction or a prescientific description of creation, it is true without any verification by any human measurement whatsoever. The freedom of God in inspiration is not restricted to texts that can be interpreted “literally” by historical or scientific judges of other ages and cultures beyond the time the scriptures were written.

In my view, both the scientific establishment’s claims to debunk Genesis and the creationists claims to have established Genesis by way of relating the text to science are worthless.

…Does the Bible need to be authorized by scientists or current events to be true? What view of inspiration is it that puts the Bible on trial before the current scientific and historical models? Has anyone noticed what this obsession with literality does to the Bible itself? – iMonk

iMonk’s idea might make some of us uncomfortable.  And, to be sure, archeological and historical research at the very least provides some affirmation of the Bible.

However, I think iMonk’s point is very important: we tend to argue for the authority of the Bible based on imported categories–categories set in a field which fundamentally has no place for such a thing as “inspired” scripture or anything supernatural in the first place–or by meeting some kind of external standard of acceptance.  But when we do that we are essentially handing the Church’s text to those who already reject it as anything but an ordinary book and saying, “Here: you decide.” This is a mistake.  The Bible is the Church’s text and need not be handed to those outside the church to be vetted by their external categories.

And this is true of other issues as well.  From what I’ve read of Stanley Hauerwas, for example, his MO is to refuse to debate ethical issues based on non-theological categories.  So in Abortion Theologically Understood, he suggests that for Christians the question of the rights of the mother or the rights of the fetus are the wrong basis on which to look at this subject.

It’s an interesting and refreshing way of looking at things: we are not required to think about ethics or theology or the Bible on someone else’s terms.  For most things these days those terms are what you might call “Enlightenment terms”, in which reason is, essentially, God. While I would never suggest that we should not use our reasonable faculties, I am beginning to wonder if sometimes the term “irrational”, a term with negative connotations, should be embraced a little more.

“Faith seeking understanding” (was that Augustine or Aquinas?) or “I believe so that I may understand” seem like irrational statements in our society.  But somehow those phrases carry a lot of weight and power.

McKnight on translation tribalism

Scot McKnight has started a series of posts on “Translation Tribalism”: 1 and 2 (so far).

From the second post:

the authority is the original text, not the translation. The original texts are in Hebrew and Aramaic (Old Testament) and Greek (New Testament). The authoritative text is not in English, regardless of how accurate the translation. No matter which translation you prefer, it is not the authoritative text for determining which translation is best.

unless you can read the original languages, you should avoid making public pronouncements about which translation is best. Instead, here’s my suggestion: if you don’t know the languages and can’t read them well enough to translate accurately on your own but you want to tell your congregation or your listeners which translate is best, you need to admit it by saying something like this: “On the basis of people I trust to make this decision, the ESV or the TNIV or the NRSV or the NLT is a reliable translation.” [Emphasis McKnight’s]

As an example, he mentions the translation of the Greek word adelphos in James 3:1, which is variously translated “brothers” and “brothers and sisters”.  Says McKnight:

which one best represents the intent of the original Greek, which has the Greek word adelphos? Unless you know what adelphos means in Greek, in the broad swath of the New Testament’s use of adelphos and how it is used in the Greek-speaking (not to mention Hebrew-reading world) and about how James uses the word adelphos, any judgment is rooted in theology or theory but not in evidence. If you don’t know the Greek, avoid standing in judgment. I’m not trying to be a hard-guy or an elitist, but let’s be honest: only those who know Latin should be talking about which is the “best” translation of Virgil or only those who know Middle High German should be weighing in on the “best” translation of The Nibelungenlied. This isn’t elitist; it’s common sense.

Well said and a good reminder, particularly his argument that any opinion of a translation not based on an understanding of the original languages is based on an alreadygiven theology which requires a particular translation.

Goodbye, TNIV.

Well, how’s this for a kick in the pants: Zondervan will “discontinue putting out new products with the TNIV” (Today’s New International Version.  via Brad Boydston).  It’s kind of a vague phrase: does it mean simply that they’ll continue to publish what they’re already publishing, but nothing new?  Or do they mean that they are ceasing publication altogether?  Either way, it’s bad news for the TNIV.

It’s a kick in the pants for a number of reasons: 1) it’s a fine translation embraced by a number of scholars and denominations (including my own–the Evangelical Covenant Church), 2) our church just purchased a good number of TNIV pew bibles, 3) it is my current translation of choice.

I guess it’s not that big a deal for those of us who already have a copy of the translation and are happy with it.  But if we ever need to repace it…I guess by that time the new revision of the NIV will be out.

Since its release, the TNIV has received a great deal of flack.  Inexplicably, the concern was mostly with with its gender-accurate language ethos, which the older NLT has gotten away with (and which all translations, to some degree, employ).  It was in a battle with the ESV (English Standard Version) as the new translation of choice and it appears that from a marketing standpoint (which is likely what this is all about), the TNIV lost that battle.  I find it odd that the translating committee would publish and promote a translation and then, four or five years down the road, decide that it was a mistake.  The mistake appears to be the way they handled marketing, not the translation itself.  Strange.  Why not just rename the translation?  The Good News people did it, why can’t these folks?

What bugs me is that I get the sense that this is a point for James Dobson, who led the campaign against the TNIV.  The NIV, it seems, has been enshrined by his ilk, much like the KJV was and is, as a “if it was good enough for Paul…” translation.  It appears as if the TNIV has been bullied out of the market.


I’ll continue to use my TNIV, with reference to the NRSV and any number of other translations I have at hand.  I suspect, as do the chairman of the translation committee and other commenters on the Christianity Today article, that the 2011 revision of the NIV won’t look much different than the TNIV (which, ultimately, wasn’t all that different from the NIV).

UPDATE: It looks like the initial Christianity Today piece was a bit sensationalist.  As Scot McKnight reads it, the 2011 NIV will be a revision of the TNIV.  I don’t get that from the CT article, but this interview with Douglas Moo, chairman of the translating committee, the 2011 NIV is next in a series of revisions 1970s NIV -> 1984 NIV -> early 2000’s NIVi (UK only–this was apparently the “mistake”) -> TNIV -> NIV (2011).  So that cools things a bit.  It looks like what they’re trying to do is set things up with a bit more transparency to try and avoid the backlash the TNIV experienced.  That’s still, as far as I can tell, a marketing thing, rather than a translation issue.

I do find it a bit odd that they appear to be soliciting opinions from not only scholars but also the public.  I’m not an elitist, but it seems to me that lay-suggestions (as they would be from me) would only be aesthetic suggestions.  But I guess that’s fair enough: as one commenter on Jesus Creed suggested, how about issuing the new revision in normal binding.  It was impossible to find the TNIV that wasn’t duo-tone or textured or be-flowered.  Another suggestion: make a non-red-letter edition available.  I think I’ll backtrack on my opinion of public opinion and email them right now.

As far as the bullying goes, here’s Brad Boydston’s take:

…I’m afraid that such a move is going to be perceived as a recognition of the primacy of the neo-reformed tribe, which is vying for dominance of the evangelical movement. In a nutshell, they oppose the TNIV because it uses gender inclusive language. Gender inclusive language tends to undermine the theological system they’ve established — a system which sees gender roles as a reflection of Trinitarian complementarianism.

Some of us resist such thinking on two levels. First, the system they’ve constructed involves a lot of unnatural gymnasitcs — and is internally inconsistent. Second, given the changes in American English over the past 25 years it is imperative that scripture be allowed to speak with a voice that resonates with contemporary readers. So, in areas where it is consistent with the clear intent of the biblical authors gender inclusive language is preferable.

That said, I will say that it’s quite something to stand up and say that a decade’s worth of work which you have recently completed wasn’t quite up to snuff.

Everything in life is fraught with potential disaster

The whole alcohol debate is old news for me, as most of you know, but when I see a view from a different angle, I like to collect it here for future reference.  From The Search, via Jesus Creed:

. . . [W]hat about alcohol is so inherently bad? The obvious answer is that it leads people to lose their faculties and do dumb things. It causes car accidents and drunk texting. It gives you liver cancer. But all of these negative things happen only when alcohol is consumed in excess. Similar negative outcomes are associated with anything consumed in excess. Eating McDonald’s in excess, for example: makes you obese. Drinking soda in excess: gives you diabetes. Playing Halo in excess: numbs your brain and inhibits you socially. Obsessing aboutTwilight: crowds out more enriching life pursuits.

But all of these things are good in moderation, even (MAYBE) Twilight.
These are good things—the fruits of this beautiful planet that God created and let us live in. Why should we abstain just because these things might lead to sin?

. . . [E]verything in life is fraught with potential disaster. Our nature infuses everything neutral with the potential to become complicit in evil. The world is beautiful and good, but it can quickly become a playground for licentiousness and depravity. Does that mean we should hide away in a cave somewhere, free of all temptation or potential vice? Should the fact that a juicy hamburger is full of cholesterol and other heart-killing ingredients scare me away from Red Robin forever? Does the potential for lusting after a member of the opposite sex mean that we should never go to the beach? Does the risk of death associated with rock climbing mean we should never attempt to scale a rock face? I don’t think so.

There is a thing called self-control. It’s one of the fruits of the Spirit. Christians have it. It’s a virtue that God gives us so that we can enjoy good things without enjoying them too much. It’s the ability to know when things have gone too far, and the ability to stop at that point. It’s a gift of the Holy Spirit.

And so is a pint of Guinness. (link)