I do not claim expertise in any of the martial arts. But one that has long intrigued me (at least insofar as I understand it) is jujutsu (or jiu jitsu), first developed as an actual means of combat in samurai-era Japan. The aspect that I find most interesting is that among its fundamental principles is the application not so much of brute, offensive force, but rather the diversion of the opponent’s force of attack to his (or I suppose her) own disadvantage.

This principle came to me as I was reflecting on Paul’s argument in 1 Corinthians 8 regarding the eating of meat sacrificed to idols (see also Romans 15 and 1 Corinthians 10). As almost any commentary on 1 Corinthians notes, ancient meat markets were full of the surplus from sacrifices that had been offered at local temples of Greek (or Roman) gods to “images” (or in Greek eidōla, idols) of those gods. Paul states at the outset of his remarks that, since idols represent nothings (or no-god “gods”), there is nothing intrinsically wrong with consuming meat that may have come to market by way of such sacrifices. But he adds immediately, there may be other Christian believers who lack this knowledge, as their worldviews may still reflect a belief in the existence of the old gods. These believers Paul calls the “weak,” and their faith might be undermined to the point of loss, if they were to witness fellow Christians eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols (thereby effectively participating in idol worship in their minds). So, the only thing to do is (adapting an old burger ad slogan) to let them have it their way. Paul’s ultimate point is that love must trump knowledge for the sake of the other.

But exactly here is where the argument gets interesting for me. Given Paul’s fundamental principle (love of others must trump knowledge—truth!—that one possesses), then a corollary is that to insist on one’s own way is to place oneself among the “weak.” Who wants to do that? Here enters Paul as jujutsu sensei.

Of course, we cannot simply absolutize Paul’s argument to every disagreement. Paul is speaking here of actions that can either be done or not be done without sin (which is not to be simply conflated with error). But when we think about it, how many issues in today’s church and world do not fit this pattern?

To give a religious example, I’ll say plainly that I am not a fan of individual cups in communion. Rather, I favor a single, wiped-off common cup. Lutheran Christians believe that when we celebrate the sacrament, we should do so in as like a manner as possible to what Jesus did when he said, “Do this.” Furthermore, every biblical reference to the “cup” involved in the Supper is singular. (There are also studies regarding hygiene, but I’ll stop.) I think I’ve got “knowledge” on my side here.

My preferred compromise (at least absent a pandemic that makes the preparation and sharing of the wine in any mode problematic) is to employ a “pouring chalice”: a single cup with a pouring lip that the minister uses to pour into individual cups as people come forward. But would I insist on a common cup or even on my compromise, if it would keep people away from God’s altar? Unless I had good reason to think that the validity of the sacrament was at stake (and I do not), No. To insist on my perspective, I would have to be, in Paul’s words, “weak” or else, conversely, willing to sacrifice those who lack my “knowledge.” But love trumps knowledge.

Or how about in the secular sphere? Since Paul was addressing himself specifically to behavior among Christians, let’s start there. Take, for example, a Supreme Court case from a few years ago, Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC. I’ve written more fully on the case elsewhere: http://tif.ssrc.org/2011/10/27/the-supreme-question-in-hosanna-tabor-v-eeoc/. The long and the short of it is that I think that the justices’ 8-0 vote in favor of the church’s right to choose its ministers, even at the expense of the fair employment rights of a teacher at its school, was correct as a matter of law. But I feel equally strongly that the church in question probably (i.e., based on what I know) wronged the teacher. I remain troubled that, as I see it, knowledge trumped love in her case.

There are surely a host of issues on which reasonable people, including non-Christians, may differ civilly. So, what do you think: is Pauline jujutsu more widely applicable in our nation and world?

3 thoughts on “Practicing Pauline Jujutsu

  1. Another fine essay, George. I do not, however, follow the logic of your corollary. Why are those who insist on their own way “weak?” It seems to me from verse 12, the these folks are sinful, not weak, while the “weak,” it appears, are believers who might be described as immature in their faith. Help me out here.


  2. Fair question, Doug. Verse 12 does, indeed, say that those who violate the consciences of the “weak” are sinning against them. My argument is that, in addition, Paul is saying that by making their position non-negotiable, those who consider themselves “strong” in the faith are anything but: they are as badly off or even worse than the “weak,” whose position may be non-negotiable, but at least by no fault of their own. (I have some personal experience that I’m working from here that I’d be willing to share with you privately, if you wish.)


  3. Thanks, George. That clears it up. And yes, I would like to hear of your experience with this when are new normal is more like the old normal.


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