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 Vol. 5, No. 11 

November 2003


~ Page 2 ~

Tail Swallowing Religion

By Louis Rushmore

Image An article by Richard Kelley on the front page of the December 2003 issue of Therefore Stand made a very interesting (and telling) observation. Brother Kelley borrowed a practice from me where both he and I record information in computer databases about articles in religious journals we read, respectively. He is just getting started, whereas I have recorded this type of information regarding over 17,000 articles in several journals over the past three decades. He noticed that very few articles appearing in our journals either have references to Jesus Christ in the title of the article or are about our Lord. Brother Kelley rightly concluded that we need to preach Jesus more than we sometimes do, especially in our printed journals. "…Sir, we would see Jesus" (John 12:21).

In addition to brother Kelley's valid observation, I have observed that most of the articles appearing in our religious journals fall in a category in my database labeled "Church Problems." Granted, it is imperative that false teachers be "belled" (Romans 16:17-18), and teachers and preachers need to be screened by Scripture because there are false teachers  in and out of the Lord's church (1 John 4:1). However, even were one to suppose, for instance, that 2 Timothy 4:2 portrays preaching as two parts negative and one part positive, still, preaching "all the counsel of God" (Acts 20:27) requires much of what we preach to be positive and uplifting. Preaching that invariably relapses "to find fault with, correct" (Strong's, "reprove" in 2 Timothy 4:2) and "to admonish or charge sharply" (Strong's, "rebuke") is not balanced preaching. This kind of preaching is not 'declaring all the counsel of God.'

The apostle Paul cautioned that brethren in Christ establish and maintain a special relationship with each other. "For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another" (Galatians 5:14-15). The following observations from various commentators make some well-founded points respecting this passage, especially verse 15. David Lipscomb noted: "The Galatians were of a warm temperament, quick to resent wrong and prone to imagine it" (Lipscomb and Shepherd 264).  J.W. Shepherd added: "Biting describes the wounding…devour warns them of its destructiveness…an angry, vindictive spirit" (Lipscomb and Shepherd 264).

J.W. McGarvey said of Galatians 5:15: "…animated with the spirit of wild beasts, which, in their hasty rancor, bite each other, and in their settled, inveterate malice, gnaw at and devour each other…" (282). J. Noel Merideth observed:

This language describes the opposite attitude of loving one's neighbor as one loves himself. The words "bite" and "devour" are words used to describe the action of animals. …The first two verbs are durative: "if you go on biting and devouring"…the last is an aorist…and states what the end will be: "you will be consumed." (195)

James MacKnight correctly deduced the result of what Galatians 5:15 describes: "…destroying the church of Christ; because it would prevent the progress of the gospel…" (303). Besides hurting the body of Christ, unnecessary internal division disconnects the Lord's church from its God-assigned mission: edification, evangelism and benevolence. The churches of Christ cannot be very effective in any of these areas when they are always fussing with themselves, much of it unwarranted and ungodly. We need to refocus, as the following illustration depicts.

The story is told of a man who had some valuable fox hounds. One day they got into a fight and were chewing one another to pieces. He saw his investment destroying itself and tried to separate them. Time after time he took a dog by his leg and threw him as far as he could but each dog returned to the fight. He recognized the futility of his efforts. It was then that he remembered that he had a fox in a cage. Hurriedly taking the fox he turned it loose near the dogs. Seeing the fox running away, the dogs lost their difference in their common interest in the fox. They stopped fighting and chased the fox. Leaders of the church need to realize that Christians need to direct their struggle against the common enemy, Satan, and not against each other. (emphasis added, Merideth 195-196)

Vincent's Word Studies says of Galatians 5:15: "Strong expressions of partisan hatred exerting itself for mutual injury." Albert Barnes adds:

As wild beasts contend sometimes until both are slain. Thus, the idea is, in their contentions they would destroy the spirituality and happiness of each other; their characters would be ruined; and the church be overthrown. The readiest way to destroy the spirituality of a church, and to annihilate the influence of religion, is to excite a spirit of contention.

One is compelled to agree with the candid statement of Adam Clarke: "Nothing is so destructive to the peace of man, and to the peace of the soul, as religious disputes; where they prevail, religion in general has little place." The stakes are high for party warfare within the body of Christ. "Consumed…Strength of soul, health, character, and resources, are all consumed by broils" (Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary).

Robertson's Word Pictures in the New Testament paints a colorful illustration of Galatians 5:15: "There is a famous story of two snakes that grabbed each other by the tail and each swallowed the other." The children of God must come to realize that not every disagreement is a test of fellowship (Acts 15:36-41; 2 Timothy 4:11), for which cause we, as one preacher boasted to me once, "go for the jugular!"

The Greek word for each occurrence of the word "another" in Galatians 5:15 means "another of the same kind" as opposed to "another of a different kind." We are brethren; "Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous" (1 Peter 3:8). Yes, let us be "set for the defence of the gospel" (Philippians 1:17), but let us also refrain from practicing "Tail Swallowing Religion."Image

Works Cited

Barnes, Albert. Barnes' Notes. CD-ROM. Seattle: Biblesoft, 1997.

Clarke, Adam. Adam Clarke's Commentary. CD-ROM. Seattle: Biblesoft, 1996.

Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary. CD-ROM. Seattle: Biblesoft, 1997.

Kelley, Richard. "'Sir, We Would See Jesus.'" Therefore Stand. 19 (2003): 89.

Lipscomb, David and J.W. Shepherd. Second Corinthians and Galatians. Nashville: Gospel Advocate.

MacKnight, James. MacKnight on the Epistles. Grand Rapids: Baker.

McGarvey, J.W. and Philip Y. Pendleton. Thessalonians, Corinthians, Galatians and Romans. Cincinnati: Standard Publishing.

Merideth, J. Noel. A Commentary on Galatians. Lawrenceburg, TN: Merideth Publishing Co., 1981.

Robertson, Archibald Thomas. Robertson's Word Pictures in the New Testament. CD-ROM. Seattle: Biblesoft, 1997.

Strong, John. Enhanced Strong's Lexicon. CD-ROM. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos, 1995.

Vincent, Marvin R. Vincent's Word Studies in the New Testament. CD-ROM. Seattle: Biblesoft, 1997.

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