QUESTION #2 Can God’s sanctioning of violence throughout the OT (wrestling with Jacob, David battling and killing Goliath, the Israelite army killing 1,000s, etc.) be used to justify more violent sports such as MMA, boxing, etc.?
By Dr. Greg Linville
Overview This question makes an assumption that typifies one of the classic mistakes made by beginning Biblical interpreters. It also violates a foundational principle of logic. The error in Biblical interpretation is made when a person offers a sweeping general application based upon a very specific and limited command of God. It is true, God commanded very specific and limited uses of violence for His unique purposes. He issued a specific command to institute Capital Punishment, but that directive is a specific command which is designed to govern one specific aspect of human interaction. God’s command to carefully but forcefully incorporate Capital Punishment is not to be misinterpreted as license to commit violent acts beyond the set of parameters outlined in Scripture.
The logical fallacy of this inquiry is technically categorized as the overall fallacy of Ambiguity with a specific sub-section of ambiguity termed: Division. The fallacy of division makes a general proposition false by stating the whole is to be considered the same as a part. In this case, it is fallacious logic to state because the Bible condones one specific act of violence it thus condones every act of violence.
Furthermore, it is helpful to address the question about violence and sport by evaluating it through overarching theological principles. In particular, it should be evaluated through the theological lenses of the “Template for Determining Biblically Defensible Sport” and the “Honor Code for Participating in Biblically Defensible Sport.” The question also needs further defined and clarified.
a. Definitions Violence can be defined as intentionally inflicting harm or death on a person. Thus, a “sport” which mandates intentionally hurting an opponent as its intended goal or is needed to accomplish its intended goal, is by definition a violent activity.
b. Clarification Again, violence can be defined as an act of force committed against a person with the intent to harm, maim or kill. In contrast, the overwhelming majority of the Christian Scriptures prohibit such intentional violence. In general, verbal, mental and physical acts of violence are all condemned.1 A few Biblical mandates however, do mandate intentional violent acts. God mandates Capital Punishment in a few specific and limited cases. Similarly, for His own purposes, God occasionally commands His followers to wage war.2 It must be noted however, these Biblical mandates are very narrowly prescribed for very specific situations and thus cannot be applied to sport nor can they be used to justify intentional violence within sport.
A proper interpretation of the Bible3 reveals overarching Biblical truths that are supported throughout the Bible which are called a prioris. For example, honesty is a Biblical a priori. However, there are a couple of very specific times in which dishonesty is temporarily allowed. The specific mandate of honesty is not done away, only superseded by another Biblical a priori for a specific time and place. In the case of Rahab, she was honored by God for protecting the lives of Joshua and the other spies, even though she had to lie to protect them. This principle of one law temporarily superseding another can best be illustrated by Natural Revelation. The natural law of gravity is always in effect. However, for short periods of time it is superseded by the law of aerodynamics. Normally everything is pulled to earth via gravity but airplanes via aerodynamics can temporarily “rise above” the normal law of gravity. Any pilot, who enjoys the temporariness of aerodynamics and seeks to make it permanent, denies the law of gravity to his own (and to all others on the plane) peril. A good pilot knows how and when to deny the law of gravity but also knows to keep an eye on the “gas tank.”
So, a proper clarification of the theological question - can MMA and Prize Fighting be Biblically justified on the basis of God-prescribed military actions and/or Capital Punishment - becomes clear. The overall Biblical a priori is to love and not intentionally hurt, maim, wound or kill any other human being. The specific mandates of war and Capital Punishment are limited to very prescripted times and purposes. They are not overarching Biblical a prioris but rather temporary, specifically proscribed mandates designed to rule specific situations and times.
c. The Template of Biblically Defensible Sport The Template of Biblically Defensible Sport has been developed as an aid and guide for all athletes and coaches who desire to be Biblically-based and Christ-honoring in all their sporting pursuits. In order for a specific sport to be Biblically defensible, it must meet each level of the template.
Most sports that fail to meet the criteria do so at the very first level: Redemptive Purpose. This is true for sports such as Prize-fighting and MMA. One is hard pressed to claim MMA has a redemptive purpose when the ultimate goal is to physically disable and harm your opponent. At least Prize Fighting could muster one possible redemptive purpose: earning a living through winning the “prize” money awarded from being victorious in the arena. Even this stretches credulity to the breaking point. Prostitution and drug dealing could be justified by this same logic. So unless the rules of engagement within Prize Fighting and MMA can be changed, they do not get past the first step on the Biblically Based Template.
In addition, any sport which has the intentional harming of an opponent as its goal and intended purpose fails to meet standards set in the “Honor Code for Participating in Biblically Based Sport. To honor the “Temple of the Holy Spirit” is a key component of this Honor Code; so obviously, any sport which intentionally harms or maims a human body is problematic and does not meet the “Honor Code” criteria.
The key word for this discussion is: intentionality. Intentional violence is what differentiates Prize Fighting from Rugby, American Football, Lacrosse or many other sports. Most sports have the potential for unintentionally harming a human body. This raises the possibility for Boxing or MMA to be adapted in ways which could meet the standards of both the Template of Determining Biblical Based Sport and the Honor Code for Participating in Biblically Based Sport.
For example, there is a clear difference between Olympic styled boxing and Prize Fighting. The purpose of Olympic Boxing is not to pummel an opponent into unconsciousness but rather to score points by landing certain punches on an opponent’s torso. Notice how the Olympic rules of not punching above the neck or below the waist are designed to protect the human body (temple of the Holy Spirit). Thus, Olympic Styled Boxing could be considered Biblically Defensible. Could MMA’s goals be changed? Could its rules be adapted to come into compliance with the Honor Code? If so, then it too could be considered as legitimately meeting the criteria for Biblically based Sport.
d. Summary Ultimate Fighting Sports have been clearly defined as athletic contests which intentionally inflict bodily harm to an opponent. It has also been clarified that specifically prescribed violent activities such as Capital Punishment and War have been mandated but limited by God for specific purposes and cannot be used to justify wanton violence. Specific mandates are not Biblical a prioris and thus only apply to the specific time and situations they are referenced to.
In addition, the Template and Honor Code for Determining and Participating in Biblically Defensible Sports condemn any sport which has intentionally harming an opponent as its ultimate goal and purpose. Such sports must not be conducted or participated in. These two sets of guidelines do however, suggest ways in which such pursuits could be changed and adapted which would make them Biblically-defensible and Christ-honoring.
1 The last six of the Ten Commandments all mandate love towards others and prohibits evil and violence to the person and his/her possessions. The “Sermon on the Mount” is also full of admonitions to love and not hate as are many of the New Testament teachings of Christ, Paul, Peter and others. 2 I realize there is some debate about both of these issues. A few Christian Theological communities are total pacifists (any act of violence or restraint is condemned). Some decry war only and support Capital Punishment while others believe war is Biblical but not Capital Punishment. These intramural debates have no bearing on the discussion of sport and violence because anyone holding a total or partial pacifistic view will agree with the thesis proposed here because it claims any act of intentional violence within sport is antithetical to Biblical theology. 3 The official term for Biblical Interpretation is Hermeneutics. The discipline of Biblical Hermeneutics has been developed and utilized by the Christian Church over thousands of years. It is a trustworthy guide to determining Christ-honoring, Biblically-based ethics. For more on this consult Dr. Greg Linville’s “Christmanship – Theology of Competition and Sport.”