You might have seen that Whoopi Goldberg, that eminent divine of daytime television, recently offered her insights into the Bible’s teaching on abortion. Apparently she felt it necessary to do this in light of the Pope’s visit to the U.S. this week and his anticipated comments about the sanctity of life. As it turns out, according to The View’s resident theologian, Scripture is conveniently silent about the subject.
“Well, there’s nothing in the Book that says anything about abortion. Let’s make sure of that. The Ten Commandments are the Ten Commandments. There’s only ten.”
She knows this, of course, because she once played a nun in a movie (or rather, played a lounge singer in a witness protection program pretending to be a nun. But why quibble?) Predictably, the host was cheered by her adoring fans as if she had said something meaningful.
We might be tempted to simply shake our heads in disbelief at Whoopi’s whopper and pass it off as something to be expected in today’s celebrity-as-expert culture, but similar inanities are uttered by people who ought to know better. In fact, her comments reminded me of a 2013 pastoral letter penned by the Priests of Baal…excuse me, I mean the Clergy Advocacy Board of Planned Parenthood. Say the clerics,
“The truth is that abortion is not even mentioned in the Scriptures—Jewish or Christian—and there are clergy and people of faith from all denominations who support women making this complex decision.”
To be fair, Whoopi was a bit more modest in her claim. She limited herself to the Ten Commandments. CAB makes the same claim about all of Scripture. Both are wrong, of course, but when you’re preaching to the choir there’s no need to justify your claim.
Let’s deal first with Goldberg’s assertion about the Ten Commandments. She says, “The Ten Commandments are the Ten Commandments.” And then, for the mathematically challenged, she helpfully explains, “There are only ten.” Thank you Sister Obvious. Why she should feel it necessary to point out that the Ten Commandments contains precisely ten commandments and no more, is a mystery, unless she wishes to imply that the Ten Commandments are the only commandments in the entire Bible. If so, she is not only wrong, but spectacularly wrong. Anyone who has ever read the Bible (which is, by the way, a helpful exercise for someone wishing to comment on what the Bible teaches) would know that there are far more than ten. The traditional number is 613.
Regarding her statement that “there’s nothing in the Book that says anything about abortion,” there is that pesky little sixth commandment that prohibits murder she might want to take into account. It might have some relevance to snuffing out the life of an unborn child. But like a good little Pharisee looking for ways to nullify the commandments of God, she finds a loophole. What loophole? The text doesn’t specifically use the word “abortion.” Let’s call this the first principle of “Whoopi Hermeneutics”: If it’s not specifically prohibited by name in Scripture, it’s permitted. The members of CAB engage in the same kind of exegetical shenanigans: “The truth is that abortion is not even mentioned in the Scriptures.” In this hermeneutic, reasoning from general principles to specific cases is a no-no. This would be far too taxing, not to mention inhibiting.
With this liberating hermeneutic, one may push granny out in front of a bus in order to make an earlier claim on her inheritance. To quote CAB, “This is not even mentioned in the Scriptures.” One may also embezzle from his employer because…you guessed it, “it’s not even mentioned in the Scriptures.” See how easy this is?
Now I know what some of you are thinking, to push granny out in front of a bus would break the sixth commandment; and embezzling from your employer would break the eighth. But you’re not understanding the principle. Does the sixth commandment say anything about a bus? Does the eighth commandment use the word “embezzle”? Remember, if it’s not specifically prohibited by name, it’s permitted. Yea verily.
We should observe that the second basic principle is equally liberating: If it’s specifically prohibited by name, but I want to do it anyway, it’s permitted. But that’s a subject for another post.
 As does Exodus 21:22-25
 People often think that Jesus’ chief criticism of the Pharisees was that they were sticklers for God’s law. In fact, one of his chief criticism was that they weren’t (see Matt. 15:3; Mk. 7:8).
 Hermeneutics has to do with the principles Biblical exegesis or interpretation