“Is there a favorite Bible verse or Bible story that has informed your thinking or your character through life, sir?” radio host Bob Lonsberry asked Donald Trump earlier this week. Mr. Trump responded
Well, I think many. I mean, when we get into the Bible, I think many, so many. And some people, look, an eye for an eye, you can almost say that. That’s not a particularly nice thing. But you know, if you look at what’s happening to our country, I mean, when you see what’s going on with our country, how people are taking advantage of us, and how they scoff at us and laugh at us. And they laugh at our face, and they’re taking our jobs, they’re taking our money, they’re taking the health of our country. And we have to be firm and have to be very strong. And we can learn a lot from the Bible, that I can tell you.
Mr. Trump seems to fumble around whenever he’s asked about his faith and the Bible. For example, while claiming to be a Christian, he has said he has never asked God for forgiveness. “I think if I do something wrong, I think, I just try and make it right. I don’t bring God into that picture. I don’t,” according to Trump. Yet repentance and asking for the Lord’s forgiveness — bringing God into it, if you will — are central to the Christian faith.
Then, last August, Trump was asked his favorite verses, but declined to share them. “I wouldn’t want to get into it. Because to me, that’s very personal,” he said. “The Bible means a lot to me, but I don’t want to get into specifics.”
Apparently Mr. Trump has overcome his reticence and is now ready to get into specifics – and we’re told by him that his favorite verse is in Exodus 21. (The verse appears in Deuteronomy 19:21 as well.) It’s a verse calling for violent retribution to acts of violence — only acts of violence against women, as it happens, and something Trump (and Corey Lewandowski) were almost surely unaware of.
This verse is known as lex talionis, the law of retaliation, and according to Biblical scholars, this verse was not always to be interpreted strictly and literally — and the execution of this verse was not put into the hands of private persons for purposes of private revenge but instead were rules to regulate a magistrate’s decision. It’s also the most prominent example of a verse from the Hebrew Bible that Jesus specifically reinterprets (in Matthew 5:38). Commentators point out that the verse from Exodus had been extended from magistrates to private conduct in order to justify private revenge, something for which Jesus reproaches them. It was “made the sanction of the vindictive temper that forgives nothing.” Private conduct, Jesus goes on to point out, was to be governed by different principles.
It is revealing that Mr. Trump would cite this verse as his favorite. There are 66 separate books comprising the Hebrew Bible and New Testament, with countless verses dealing with righteousness, faithfulness, peace, praise, gratitude, grace, mercy, forgiveness, reconciliation, kindness, forbearance, gentleness, joy, self-control, selflessness and self-denial, and “the greatest of these,” love. Yet Trump is drawn to “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.”
This strikes me as an example of proof-texting and confirmation bias; of Mr. Trump invoking a Biblical verse not as a guide to American foreign policy but to justify his own personal, unregenerate ways.
Donald Trump practices politics in a way that in my estimation is antithetical to many Christian precepts. He is cruel, vindictive, vulgar and obsessive – and he constantly justifies his actions by saying he is merely “counterpunching.”
“He started it” is a frequent Trump refrain. Mr. Trump is often wrong about that, and, even when he is right, he loves to escalate the attacks. He relishes the brutal side of politics. His brass-knuckles style troubles even his own family. It’s clear that Trump has no intention of changing. That he appears willing to invoke Scripture to validate his crude words and ways is worse still.
Mr. Trump says “we can learn a lot from the Bible.” Yes, we can. A good place to start is to allow the Bible to transform our hearts rather than to use it to reinforce our worst instincts.