Saturday, July 30, 2022

Is Jaywalking a Sin against God?

Jaywalking is the act of pedestrians walking in or crossing a roadway that has traffic, other than at a suitable crossing point, or otherwise in disregard of traffic rules.1

In 2015 I published a blog entitled “What is sin?”2 In the essay I surveyed acts and attitudes in the Bible that were specifically described by Greek and Hebrew words that Bible translators rendered by the English word “sin.” What I discovered was surprising to me. There are very few acts and attitudes in the Bible specifically designated as sin. That made me wonder at the arrogance of contemporary religious leaders who impose on their flocks an expanded and rather modern list of sins. How does anyone know what offends God?

            Some of the early writers of the New Testament encouraged those who shared their faith to present themselves to the Graeco-Roman religious pubic and the civil authorities as positively as possible (1 Thess 4:10-12; 1 Tim 2:2-3; Tit 3:1-2; 1 Pet 2:12-14), so that there would be no cause for criticism of the faith. Paul shared this view, except that he raised the significance of public image by incorporating it into his theological system as a religious obligation. Whether he did or not depends on whether you think Paul wrote Romans 13:1-7, which sets forth theological reasons for the Christian’s obedience to the civil authority and the state.3

            The author of Romans 13:1-7 argues that Christians should be subject to the authority of the state, apparently any state, that is the governing authority under which the Christian lives.4 With respect to civil laws (which would include jaywalking) this passage asserts three things.

  1. All governing authority is instituted by God (Rom 13:1-2).
  2. Civil servants are God’s servants and instituted by God for the purpose of governing the state (Rom 13:4, 6).
  3. If one rebels against civil authority, one will incur God’s judgment (13:2), for God punishes the law breaker though the civil authority (Rom 13:4).

In other words, civil laws are God’s laws. Therefore, one would have to conclude that the author of Romans 13:1-7 might have understood jaywalking to be a sin against God, for jaywalking defies laws instituted by the civil authorities, who are God’s servants for the good of the state.

            Such reasoning seems patently absurd to me. While it is plausible that God may have endorsed the concept of governing authority in general, it is absurd to think that God endorses every government. For that would make God responsible for approving repressive, incompetent, and inhumane regimes. Further, it is rather obvious that civil servants are not God’s servants but are appointed to their positions by flawed leaders, who (at bottom) have their own or party interests at heart. Consider only our democratic system of government. How many elected officials in congress think of themselves as “servants of God” and consider themselves “appointed by God” to the task of governing?

            But, perhaps, I am simply too disillusioned from following the news closely these past ten years or so. I find it difficult to think of jaywalking as a sin that offends God. If God “thinks” about jaywalking at all, God would likely consider it as most of us do, foolhardy and an unnecessary risk (unless the streets were empty of traffic and the jaywalker had looked both ways to determine their emptiness). Would this hold true, do you suppose, about all minor infractions of the civil code?

Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University



3Romans 13:1-7 is likely an interpolation into the letter and not by Paul: for the argument, see Dewey, et al., The Authentic Letters of Paul (Polebridge, 2010), 253-54.

4The major governing authority in the first century CE Mediterranean area was the Roman State.


Anonymous said...

Hi Charlie,

Your comments about "sin" prompted my curiosity about whether or not the word "sin" (Greek: hamartia) occurs anywhere on Jesus' lips among the teachings that the Jesus Seminar voted as authentic. I found three possibilities:

Matthew 6:12 Forgive our debts to the extent that we have forgiven those in debt to us. (authentic)
Luke 11:4 Forgive our sins (hamartias), since we too forgive everyone in debt to us. (not authentic)

Luke 15:18 On the lips of the prodigal son.
'Father, I have sinned (hamarto) against heaven and against you.'

Luke 18:13 Pharisee and Tax Collector. On the lips of the tax collector.
'God, have mercy on me, sinner (hamartolos) that I am.'

Technically, the word "sin" or its derivatives appears no- where on Jesus' lips in the JS authentic votes. The one time that it is purely on Jesus lips the saying is voted inauthentic. The other two times he places it on the lips of characters in his stories.

Does this phenomenon represent JS prejudice, historical Jesus uniqueness, or some other dynamic?

Gene Stecher
Chambersburg, Pa.

Charles Hedrick said...

A very good question, Gene. I cannot answer it. I suppose its answer depends on personal opinion. Here is what I think about JS prejudice. A JS Fellow's reason for voting as s/he did was not revealed except in the discussion provided the Fellow spoke. the voting clearly preferred the originality of Matt over Luke (weighted average (0.58 to 0.35). I do not affirm the categories red pink gray black for particular sayings unless I work through them again. The primary thing I affirm is the process of weighing sayings. If the seminar had a prejudice it was critical thinking.

Charles Hedrick said...

Historical Jesus uniqueness? We know so little about Jesus. If everything attributed to Jesus in literature were original, it would represent only a minimum of things he said in his life. What we have in the gospels is merely a residue selected first by those nameless persons who remembered what he said and passed it on. Then the gospel writers selected from what accidentally came down to them. Any uniqueness would be due to these two levels of the tradition and not to Jesus.

Anonymous said...

When I read Tanakh, the notion of “sin” seems a way to protect a culture from threats to its stability. It lists moral impurities as idolatry, sexual transgression and bloodshed. Idolatry threatens the stability of the worship of a common god (which threatens cohesiveness of the “nation”), sexual transgression the stability of family and bloodshed the stability of the whole tribe. Ritual impurity isn’t a sin, but more analogous to a generally unavoidable disease.

The Pauline lists sound more like the categories Stoics (Dio Chrysostom in this example) used: luxurious & self-indulgent behaviors, avaricious behaviors, and love of glory/honor (Oration 4.83ff). A few years ago, I placed Pauline “sins” into these categories (in an essay) and they fit fairly well:
Examples of luxurious and self-indulgent: fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, drunks, licentiousness, jealousness, carousing, self-lovers, money-lovers, profligate.
Examples of acquisitive and avaricious: gossips, slanderers, inventors of evil, thieves, greedy, ruthless, heartless, enmity, strife, sinful, envy, unholy, abusive, slanderers.
Examples of delusions of grandeur (glory/honor seeking): haughty, boastful, sorcery, dissension, godless, arrogant, implacable, treacherous, conceited.

I’m of course not suggesting dependence of the Pauline lists of unacceptable behaviors on Dio, but these were themes of Cynic tradition of the general timeframe. (For instance, Dio’s teacher, as well as Epictetus’s, was Musonius Rufus.)

Dennis Dean Carpenter
Dahlonega, Ga.