Don’t get me wrong. I love the English Standard Version (ESV). Both my wife and I use the ESV translation (we each have the Reformation Study Bible). However, I was disappointed when I noticed the title that the editors of this translation put above chapter 9 of 1 Corinthians. In this chapter, Paul discusses his relationship to his rights as an apostle and as a saved individual. Paul asks “Am I not free?” Does he not have rights?
To summarize this chapter, the editors title it as “Paul Surrenders His Rights.” This is blatantly misleading and frustrating. Why? Because nowhere in the entire chapter does Paul indicate that he somehow surrenders or gives up his rights. That is to say, there is no indication that Paul separates himself from his God-given rights. This makes perfect sense. What God gives, no man can take away. How can Paul surrender what God had instilled within his very nature? Rights are God-given. Paul cannot just decide to leave them behind. The editors of the ESV have completely mislabeled this chapter.
What Paul really says is this: “Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right…” (verse 12) and “I have made no use of any of these rights…” (verse 15) and also “though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all…” (verse 19). The difference between Paul’s actual words and the words that the ESV tries to put on him are worlds apart. Paul has always had his rights and, for the sake of the gospel, has chosen not to exercise them. But this is, in a very important way, a demonstration of those very rights! The ability to either make use or not to make use of one’s rights stem from the presupposition of those very rights! Nowhere is there any indication that Paul surrenders them (nor is there a demonstration that such a feat is even possible).
This is important because many today have attempted to appear pious in political issues by claiming that they are going to give up their rights. This is absurd. They can indeed, like Paul did, choose not to exercise them; but they cannot separate themselves from the God-given rights. This is a claim about sovereignty. If God imputed these rights to mankind, then only God can take them away. An example, of course, is the “Christian” Left on the gun issue. I see many who self-righteously boast that they would “give up” their second amendment rights in order to save the victims of mass shootings. There are many problems with this.
First, these rights are not “second amendment rights,” rather, they are divinely given rights that the second amendment protects, but does not create.
Second, one cannot give up these rights, but rather, can only choose not to practice them.
Third, whether “giving up” or “not utilizing” rights personally, has no effect on the safety of children (unless of course that individual was going to use the gun to murder people) and is more likely an example of political posturing.
Fourth, the only effective meaning that could be taken out of such a claim is that they really mean they want to deny everybody in society the ability to exercise their rights to gun ownership. When a person claims that they will surrender their gun-rights, they are (often times) making a personal decision into a collectivist effort. The dishonesty is saddening.
If, for conscience sake, or for any other reason, one decides God has not called him to own a gun or weapon, so be it. There is nothing the matter with such a position. In fact, if God has convicted a person to lay down all weapons, it is right to obey that conviction. But to say from such a decision that one is also separating himself from his rights is not only a logical leap, but it is also a denial of God-given nature. Be as Paul and do not “make use” of your rights.
The Christian libertarian faces the piety issue often, especially when dealing with the so-called Christian left (but I am noticing it on the right more and more). There is a standard (and haughty) air of “other people are more important than MY rights” mentality. But this is a blatant false dichotomy and when used together with political action, is also contradictory. For instance, if this mentality is going to be used to explain why we who have jobs should pay more in taxes to help the poor, what they are really saying is that “certain people should be denied the right to their own income because another group of people say so.” In other words, the subjective preferences of the pious Christian leftist are more important than the rights of some other people groups, usually those who have incomes. Compare this entire scenario to the Biblical message of feeding the poor and caring for the weak. There is no government there, rather, the Bible calls individuals to give voluntarily based on what the Lord calls them to give.
The editors of various translations of Scripture ought to be as careful as possible about their titles and chapter headings. They can lead some to intellectual laziness and dangerous conclusions. As Protestant Christians, we must remember, the titles of the chapters that were put in place by editors and scholars are in themselves not the divinely inspired word of God and adhering to them is not a binding directive.
I am thankful to God for the ESV and those hard-working men who brought the translation to the English speaking world. But it is vital that all men submit themselves to the authority of Scripture.