Either-or, Neither-nor, Both-and

Robbie Williams & Gary Barlow

Just Two?

Two options are presented: truth or lies, life or death, good or evil, black or white.

Traditional Christian teaching reflects this choice: heaven or hell, accept or reject, wise or foolish, lost or found…

Many questions do only have two possible answers. It is ‘either-or’.

‘Do you take this woman to be your lawfully wedded wife?’ A third option is not helpful.

Yesterday musing on third options… ‘Does my bum look big in this?’ ‘Yes’ or ‘No’? A third answer may be required?

Two more ‘third option’ stories from the Christian tradition:

Bow or burn – Neither-nor

King Nebuchadnezzar requires that everyone must bow down before a huge gold statue. The alternative is to be thrown into a blazing furnace. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego have two options – bow or burn. They cannot deny their faith in their god. They do not bow and are thrown in the furnace. A fourth man is seen with them. They walk out unscathed. They neither bow nor burn.

Justice or mercy – Both-and

Jesus is confronted by Pharisees bringing a woman caught in the act of adultery. They quote the law: ‘She should be stoned’. The law requires justice and death; Jesus has presented second chances, compassion, forgiveness and mercy.  

Jesus opts for a third option: ‘If you are without sin you can throw the first stone’. The woman needs both justice and mercy.


I return to Robbie Williams and Gary Barlow. Following their fame with ‘Take That’ there was an acrimonious split in 1995. Both men told their version of the story publicly, confrontationally. Two versions of a story to choose between.

Getting back together in 2010 they wrote and sung a song called ‘Shame’. The first line:

‘Well there’s three versions of this story: mine, yours and then the truth.’

The truth was not either-or. It was a third option.

References: Daniel 3, John 8: 1-11

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