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Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Scripture on Marriage (Part 4)

Like Jesus, Scripture informs us that the Apostle Paul was a bachelor (I Corinthians 7:7-8). However, Paul's views on gender, human sexuality, marriage, and divorce were complicated, and sometimes reflected the perspective of First Century Jewish society. Fortunately, Paul was heavily influenced by Christ's teachings and life, and his exposure to other followers of Jesus Christ. Among the latter, it would be hard to overestimate the impact of a Christian couple who had recently had to leave Italy when the Emperor Claudius had expelled the Jews from Rome (Acts 18:2).

He met them at Corinth and their names were Aquila and Priscilla (Acts 18:1-2). Like Paul, they were "tent makers" by trade (verse 3). Indeed, Paul grew to be so fond of the couple that they accompanied him to Ephesus when he left there (verses 18-19). Later, after Paul left Ephesus, we read that Priscilla and Aquila had an opportunity to hear Apollos speak at the local synagogue, and that they took him aside afterwards "and explained to him the way of God more accurately." (Verses 24-26) In his epistle to the Romans, Paul called the couple his "co-workers in the ministry of Christ Jesus" (16:3). Likewise, in his first epistle to the saints at Corinth, Paul revealed that a church met in the couple's home (16:19). Thus, we see that this married couple had a profound impact on both Paul and the early Church.

Even so, from Paul's writings, it is also clear that he personally believed that marriage was an unnecessary distraction. To the saints at Corinth, he wrote: "Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: 'It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.' But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. Now as a concession, not a command, I say this. I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another. To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single, as I am. But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion. To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does, she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and the husband should not divorce his wife. To the rest I say (I, not the Lord) that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her. If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace. For how do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?" (I Corinthians 7:1-16, ESV)

In this epistle, Paul gives the impression that the chief purpose of marriage is to avoid sexual immorality, and he implies that he would prefer that everyone was able to exert the same self-control which he had exercised in his life and remain single. He then went on to make clear that sexual intercourse was an obligation of both husbands and wives. According to Paul, a wife should remain with her husband, but she should also remain single if she did decide to leave him. For Christians who were married to unbelievers, Paul wrote that they should remain with their unbelieving spouse if he/she was willing to stay. However, he went on to say that the Christian would not be bound to an unbelieving spouse who abandoned them (some folks see this as contradicting Christ's statement that the only valid reason for divorce is infidelity - but wouldn't most of the spouses who leave move on to another relationship?). Moreover, the apostle made it clear that he believed that Christians in such marriages were in a unique position to witness to their unbelieving spouse and children.

Later, in the same epistle, Paul continued: "Now concerning the betrothed, I have no command from the Lord, but I give my judgment as one who by the Lord's mercy is trustworthy. I think that in view of the present distress it is good for a person to remain as he is. Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife. But if you do marry, you have not sinned, and if a betrothed woman marries, she has not sinned. Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you that. This is what I mean, brothers: the appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away. I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband. I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord. If anyone thinks that he is not behaving properly toward his betrothed, if his passions are strong, and it has to be, let him do as he wishes: let them marry—it is no sin. But whoever is firmly established in his heart, being under no necessity but having his desire under control, and has determined this in his heart, to keep her as his betrothed, he will do well. So then he who marries his betrothed does well, and he who refrains from marriage will do even better. A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord. Yet in my judgment she is happier if she remains as she is. And I think that I too have the Spirit of God." (I Corinthians 7:25-40, ESV)

First, please note that, both at the beginning and close of this passage, Paul is careful to point out that he is giving his opinion on these matters - that none of his advice should be regarded as a "command from the Lord." First, when he wrote this letter, Paul clearly believed that the end of the age was near, and that Christ's return was imminent. Thus, from his perspective, it made sense to advise people to remain in their present circumstances - to NOT take on any new responsibilities. As a consequence, he advised those who were betrothed to not consummate their marriages. Nevertheless, he did go on to admit a betrothed person would certainly NOT be sinning if they followed through with their marriage and actually consummated it. Once again, he also made clear that he viewed marriage as the best option for those who lacked self-control - better to marry than to burn with desire!

As we can see from these passages from his letter to the Corinthians, Paul's attitudes regarding gender, human sexuality, marriage, and divorce were complex and influenced by a number of factors (including the customs of the society around him). Even so, his attitude towards gender has probably caused more consternation and confusion than any of his statements on those other subjects.

For instance, Paul told the saints of Galatia that "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." (Galatians 3:28, ESV) However, he also wrote the saints of Corinth: "As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church." (I Corinthians 14:33-35, ESV) Likewise, in his first epistle to Timothy, he wrote: "Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet." (2:11-12, ESV) This, in spite of his experiences with Priscilla and Timothy's mother and grandmother (in his second epistle to Timothy, he acknowledged that his young apprentice had gotten his faith through those women).

In this connection, however, we must not forget that Jewish society of the First Century was very Paternalistic in outlook and practice. In other words, Paul had been immersed in these attitudes and was a product of the people, time, and place where he grew to adulthood! Hence, it is rather naive and illogical to suppose that these forces didn't exert any influence over some of Paul's statements and advice to his "children in the Lord."

To the saints at Ephesus, Paul wrote: "Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. 'Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.' This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband." (Ephesians 5:22-33, ESV)

Now, while it was certainly traditional for wives to submit themselves to their husbands in that society, Paul compared that to Christ's relationship to his Church! This was new! Likewise, Paul admonished husbands to love their wives in the same way that Christ had loved the Church! Hence, we see a continuity between Christ's parables, what Paul said in this letter, and what John wrote toward the end of the book of Revelation which we referenced earlier. Moreover, Paul went on to quote that passage from Genesis which we cited in the first post in this series (Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh). According to Paul, this didn't just apply to a man and a woman in marriage - He said that it also applied to Christ and the Church!

Paul gave similar familial advice to the saints at Colosse. He wrote: "Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them. Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged." (Colossians 3:18-21, ESV)

Before we leave Paul's contributions on the subject of marriage, we would be remiss if we didn't mention what he had to say about the conduct of the Church's human leadership in this regard. In his letter to Timothy, Paul addressed what he considered to be the appropriate qualifications for an overseer (episkopos) and a deacon. He wrote: "The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. , He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil. Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain. They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless. Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things. Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well. For those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus." (I Timothy 3:1-13, ESV)

Notice, in enumerating the qualifications needed by the men who would occupy those roles, Paul stressed reputation inside and outside of the community. He was also very clear that church leaders should be "the husband of ONE wife." Unfortunately, this stipulation has been disregarded by many Christian churches and their pastors. Indeed, my own father was pulled into the ministry when he was on his third marriage (his wives from the first two marriages still living at the time). How do people make something that so clearly contradicts a scriptural principle right? I think that there are many different ways that individuals can and do justify such things. Some tell themselves that those previous marriages don't count, because they happened prior to their conversion or before they came into the Chruch. Others tell themselves that their divorced spouse(s) weren't their true soulmate - the one special person whom God had chosen for them. Others tell themselves that the prior marriage wasn't binding because of infidelity or their mate's abandonment of their faith or church group. In fact, there are probably as many justifications as there are pastors who have been married to more than one wife!

Paul also made clear that he wanted men in these positions who were managing their own families/households well. In other words, the pastor's wife and children should be respectable too and capable of setting a good example for their husband's/father's flock.

While some scholars have focused on the differences between Peter and Paul, the two apostles were on the same page regarding the respective roles of husbands and wives. After admonishing Christians to submit to those in authority over them (I Peter 2:13-25), Peter wrote: "Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct. Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very precious. For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening. Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered." (I Peter 3:1-7, ESV).

Finally, in the anonymous epistle to the Hebrews, we read: "Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous." (13:4) In other words, Christians should hold the institution of marriage in high esteem and be very careful NOT to do anything that might interfere with or violate the bond between a husband and wife. Notice too, that this respect for marriage was to be universal - that everyone in the Church was expected to have this attitude towards marriage!

Now, while some of the passages referenced in this post have been employed in Christian wedding ceremonies down through the centuries, notice that (as in the Old Testament) there is NO ceremonial or ritualistic formula associated with weddings mentioned anywhere in the New Testament! Sure, Paul's definition of love (found in the thirteenth chapter of his first letter to the saints at Corinth) has been widely quoted in the context of various ceremonies. Even so, there is no scriptural command to do so!

As promised, in the next and final post in this series, we will look at the Song of Solomon and its relevance to marriage and provide a wider discussion of human sexuality. We will also attempt to summarize what Scripture reveals about the institution of marriage and talk about how those revelations square with some of the statements which Christian Churches have issued on the subject over the last twenty years or so. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Scripture on Marriage (Part 3)

In the last post in this series, we saw that the Hebrew Bible's take on the institution of marriage is NOT consistent with some of the statements which various churches have published on the subject. Moreover, our modern experience of that institution is often very much at odds with the one described in what we call the Old Testament. In this post, we will see that this disparity between what Scripture has to say about marriage and our understanding and practice of that institution also applies to the New Testament. In the United States, marriages are licensed by the state, one in two new marriages now ends in divorce (for second and third marriages that rate is even higher), multiple marriages is the norm, a large number of families are single-parent households, and there are a large number of couples who are living together without the formality of marriage.

As was related in Part 2, the Jewish custom relative to marriage in the First Century required a betrothal and a period of betrothment (usually about a year). Although the woman was considered "married" to her husband, the marriage was not considered to have been consummated until the husband and wife had engaged in sexual intercourse. According to the Gospel of Matthew, "Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, 'Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit." (1:18-20, ESV) So, we see that Joseph's and Mary's marital status at the time of her pregnancy and Christ's birth were consistent with Jewish practices of that day. Notice too, that Joseph would have had to formally divorce her if he had decided not to go forward with the marriage.

Interestingly, in the first great sermon recorded in this same Gospel (Matthew), among the many things which Jesus focused on in this message, the subject of marriage and divorce was prominently featured. After delivering what most Christians now refer to as "The Beatitudes," he began to talk about different provisions of the Torah (Matthew 5:1-26). In this context, we read: "You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart." (Verses 27-28, ESV) For Jesus, it wasn't enough to refrain from having intercourse with someone who wasn't your wife. He said that anyone who even looked at a woman "with lustful intent" had "already committed adultery with her in his heart."

Unfortunately, this remark has often been taken out of context by Christian pastors and has been incorrectly applied to ALL sexual attraction outside of the institution of marriage. Remember, Jesus was clearly talking about a married man - a husband. He was NOT talking about single men or single women! Of course, this misinterpretation of Christ's remarks has had a profound impact on Christian attitudes toward human sexuality. Just like in the Garden of Eden, men (influenced by the Serpent) have misappropriated Christ's remarks to make sexual attraction shameful and sinful! In a subsequent post, we'll take a closer look at the Old Testament book, "Song of Solomon" in this connection and give the Biblical perspective on the wholesomeness of human sexual attraction.

For now, however, we will continue with Christ's message in the Gospel of Matthew. Jesus said: "It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.'" (Verses 31-32, ESV) Remember, Torah had provided for divorce if the husband was dissatisfied with his wife. So, we see that Jesus made it very clear that he considered Torah's provisions for addressing infidelity in marriage and the dissolution of problematic marriages to be inadequate. In other words, once again, Jesus was advocating a much stricter standard than that which had been espoused in Torah! 

Later, in the same Gospel account, Jesus was confronted by the religious leaders of that time about the Torah's teaching on divorce. In the nineteenth chapter of Matthew, we read: "And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, 'Is it lawful to divorce one's wife for any cause?' He answered, 'Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.' They said to him, 'Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?' He said to them, 'Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.'" (Verses 3-9, ESV)

Thus, in his response to the Pharisees' question, we see that Jesus elaborated on the problems he discerned with Torah's instructions about divorce. First, he referenced that passage from Genesis which we cited in the first post in this series. As a consequence of that union, he said that the two had become "one flesh." Therefore, Jesus warned any person away from attempting to separate them into two again! "Why did Moses do it then?" they asked. Christ answered that Moses had sought to indulge their hard heartedness, and then he went on to say that God had never intended for marriages to end like that! He finished his thought by declaring that anyone who divorces their wife for any reason other than adultery is causing sin!

Before leaving the Gospel of Matthew, we should also note that Christ told two parables related to marriage and addressed a question related to how levirate marriages would be handled in the resurrection. In the "Parable of the Wedding Feast" (Matthew 22:1-14), Jesus said that the Kingdom of Heaven could be likened to what was then a widespread custom among the Jews - the wedding feast or banquet. He said that a king had planned a wedding feast for his son and invited a large number of guests to the event. Unfortunately, his invitations were ignored. As a consequence, the king sent his servants out into the roadways and invited everyone whom they came across to the feast. Moreover, one of the guests wasn't dressed for the occasion and had to be removed from the event. Christ concluded his story with the statement that "many are called, but few are chosen."

In the "Parable of the Ten Virgins" (Matthew 25:1-13), Christ compared the Kingdom of Heaven to ten virgins who took ten lamps/lanterns out to meet a "bridegroom." Christ said that five of them were "wise" and carried some oil to fuel their lamps, but the other five were "foolish" and forgot to bring any oil. Christ went on to say that the bridegroom was delayed and didn't arrive until late into the night. As a consequence, only the five "wise" virgins were prepared to go out and meet him. They were admitted to the marriage feast, but the door was closed to the other five. Jesus concluded with this warning: "Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour" <when he would return>.

In both of these parables, Christ compared the Kingdom to the institution of marriage. Moreover, of particular interest to our discussion of traditions/rituals surrounding that institution, the focus of both stories is wedding/marriage feast/banquet (the custom of that day). These things are made even more significant when we consider them in the context of a passage from the book of Revelation where Christ is portrayed as marrying his Church upon his return. In the nineteenth chapter of that book, we read: "Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, 'Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure'—for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. And the angel said to me, 'Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.' And he said to me, 'These are the true words of God.'" (Verses 6-9, ESV) Notice the rich symbolism contained in these verses.

Returning to the twenty-second chapter of Matthew, we read: "The same day Sadducees came to him, who say that there is no resurrection, and they asked him a question, saying, 'Teacher, Moses said, ‘If a man dies having no children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother.’ Now there were seven brothers among us. The first married and died, and having no offspring left his wife to his brother. So too the second and third, down to the seventh. After them all, the woman died. In the resurrection, therefore, of the seven, whose wife will she be? For they all had her.' But Jesus answered them, 'You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God: ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living.' And when the crowd heard it, they were astonished at his teaching." (Verses 23-33, ESV) Clearly, Christ taught that levirate marriage would not be a factor in the resurrection, because the institution of marriage would NOT be a part of that reality!

In the Gospel of Luke, we find another occasion where Christ used a wedding feast to teach a lesson (14:7-11). In this one, we read that Christ had been invited to dine with a leading Pharisee, and that he noticed that the other guests were jockeying for the best seats at the table. He said: "When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted." This was followed by the "Parable of the Great Banquet" (14:12-14) - which was very much like the story in Matthew about the guests who refused to attend the king's wedding feast for his son.

Finally, in the Gospel of John, we are informed that Christ's first public miracle was changing water into wine for a marriage festival at Cana in Galilee (2:1-11). In addition to the significance of this miracle being the opening salvo of Christ's ministry, the story also demonstrates that wine was an important component in the celebration of those First Century wedding feasts/banquets. Hence, although Christ didn't personally marry anyone during his visit to this earth, we can see that he did have a fair amount to say about the institution.

In the next post in this series, we will look at what Paul and the other leaders of the early Church had to say about the institution of marriage and the role of children in the families created when two people come together. Also, as indicated earlier in this post, we will take a look at the "Song of Solomon" and a few other passages relating to human sexuality. Stay tuned.


Monday, May 29, 2023

Scripture on Marriage (Part 2)

According to Blue Letter Bible, the word "marriage" occurs 19 times in the King James Version of the Bible. Likewise, the same source indicates that the word "marry" occurs 22 times in that translation of Scripture. Moreover, although most Christian wedding ceremonies employ or quote from Scripture, there is no wedding ceremony or formula for marriage outlined ANYWHERE in the Judeo-Christian Bible! Even so, both Jews and Christians have developed elaborate rituals associated with the binding of a man and a woman together in marriage, and many of those rituals are loosely based on passages found in the Old and New Testaments.

As we noted in the previous post, the origin story in Genesis assumed that 1) a man would leave his parents' household, 2) hold fast to his wife, and 3) have sexual intercourse with her. This was the basis of marriage in Torah (and, as we will eventually demonstrate, also in the New Testament). The Torah also imposed limitations on who an Israelite could marry (Leviticus 18 and Deuteronomy 23). There was also a provision where a brother was obligated to marry the widow of a deceased, childless brother - known today as a levirate marriage (Genesis 38 and Deuteronomy 25). The Torah and other writings of the Hebrew Bible also make clear that polygamy was accepted, permitted and/or tolerated among the Israelites (Genesis 20, 30, Leviticus 18:18, Deuteronomy 17:17, 21:15, I Samuel 18:27, 25:42-43, II Samuel 3:3-5, 12:24, I Kings 11:1-3, etc.). Finally, those same writings make clear that distinctions were made between primary/principal wives and concubines/secondary wives (Genesis 22:24, 35:22, Judges 8:31, 19, II Samuel 6:13, I Chronicles 3:9, etc.). In this connection, we should also note that the Hebrew Scriptures are based on a very paternalistic outlook on society - which consequently influenced their customs associated with marriage. In other words, a woman was looked upon as the property of her father until she was transferred by marriage to her husband. This is reflected in the "bride-price" referenced in the Torah (Genesis 34:11-12, Exodus 22:16-17, etc.).

As for the actual marriage ceremony, Chabad.ORG posted an article titled "The Jewish Marriage Ceremony: According to the Laws of Moses and Israel" which informs us that "Jewish marriage law consists not only of ishut, the determination of prohibited and permitted partners, but of kiddushin, the legal process of establishing the marriage bond. The Bible has no single word for marriage, as it has none for religion. But the codes define it by these two categories: ishut and kiddushin, persons and process." Continuing in the same article, we read: "Before the revelation (at Sinai), a man would meet a woman on the street and if both desired marriage, he would bring her into his home and have intercourse privately [without the testimony of witnesses] and she would become his wife. When the Torah was given, the Jews were instructed that in order to marry a woman, the man should "acquire her" in the presence of witnesses and then she would become his wife. As the Torah says, "when a man takes a woman and has intercourse with her." This taking is a positive commandment and is performed in one of three ways—with money, by contract, or by cohabitiation... and it is everywhere called kiddushin or erusin. And a woman who is 'acquired' in one of these three ways is called mc'kudeshet or arusah [a betrothed woman]. And as soon as she is 'acquired' and becomes betrothed, even though she has not cohabited and did not even enter the groom's home, she is a married woman." The article goes on to inform us that a Jewish marriage originally consisted of a betrothal and the actual nuptials, but that it eventually evolved into a single ceremony (this helps us to understand the situation between Joseph and Mary in the New Testament).

This view is further reinforced by an article posted at my Jewish Learning titled "Ancient Jewish Marriage." They say that "Marriage in ancient times was a negotiated match involving an agreement on conditions and payment of a bridal price." The article goes on to inform us that "As a rule, the fathers arranged the match. The girl was consulted, but the 'calling of the damsel and inquiring at her mouth' after the conclusion of all negotiations was merely a formality." Continuing, we read: "The mohar was originally the purchase price of the bride, and it is therefore understandable why it was paid by the father of the groom to the father of the bride. In ancient days, marriage was not an agreement between two individuals, but between two families." Moreover, as we have already seen from the previous article this one reinforces both the notion of patriarchy and a period of betrothal. The author further informs us that: "Until late in the Middle Ages, marriage consisted of two ceremonies that were marked by celebrations at two separate times, with an interval between. First came the betrothal [erusin]; and later, the wedding [nissuin]. At the betrothal the woman was legally married, although she still remained in her father’s house. She could not belong to another man unless she was divorced from her betrothed. The wedding meant only that the betrothed woman, accompanied by a colorful procession, was brought from her father’s house to the house of her groom, and the legal tie with him was consummated. - This division of marriage into two separate events originated in very ancient times when marriage was a purchase, both in its outward form and in its inner meaning. Woman was not recognized as a person but was bought in marriage, like chattel."

Now, although we have already mentioned that the Torah prohibited the children of Israel from intermarrying with certain individuals, we should also take a look at how this was interpreted and applied by Jewish religious leaders before we leave this topic to explore others related to marriage in the Hebrew Bible. In JewishEncyclopedia.com's article "Marriage Laws," we read: "Prohibitions of marriage on grounds other than those of consanguinity refer to the following: (1) Mamzers, persons born of incest or of adultery; they are not permitted to marry Israelites (see Bastard; Foundling; Illegitimacy; Incest). (2) Ammonites or Moabites; they may not marry Israelitish women. (3) Egyptians or Idumeans to the third generation. (4) Nethinim or Gibeonites. The Rabbis declare: 'Now all proselytes are permitted to marry Israelites; and we do not suspect that they are descendants of any of the nations forbidden in the Bible' ('Yad,' Issure Biah, xii. 25; Tosef., Ḳid. v. 6; Yad. iv. 4; Ber. 28a; see Intermarriage; Proselytes). (5) Slaves. (6) Spadones, i.e., persons forcibly emasculated, but not those that are born so. When the defect is the result of a disease, there is a difference of opinion among the authorities (Eben ha-'Ezer, 5)."

Similarly, Chabad.ORG's article "Prohibited Marriages" informs us that: "A Man May Not Marry: 1. Anyone not Jewish. 2. The daughter of an adulterous or incestuous union (mamzeret). 3. A married woman, until the civil and Jewish divorces have been completed. 4. His own divorced wife after her remarriage to another man and the latter’s death or divorce. 5. A widow of a childless husband who is survived by a brother, until after the chalitzah ceremony has been performed. 6. A married woman with whom he committed adultery, but now divorced or widowed. 7. A kohen may not marry a divorced woman, a chalutzah-widow, a convert, a zonah, or a chalalah (see Kohen Marriages). 8. Relatives (primary and secondary incest)..." Hence, we see that the proscription against marrying certain individuals was taken very seriously by the Jews. We also see evidence of this in Scripture itself. The canonical books of Ezra and Nehemiah make very clear that marriages to people who weren't Jewish were NOT tolerated by the religious/political leadership of the community.

In many ways, the Torah is a very practical document. It anticipates the many ways that humans can screw things up and seeks to forestall failure by prohibiting a number of behaviors, and then designating both penalties and remedies for disobedience. The institution of marriage is not exempt from this construct. To begin with, the Ten Commandments clearly prohibit a married person from having sexual intercourse with anyone who isn't his/her spouse (Exodus 20:14 and Deuteronomy 5:18, see also Leviticus 18:20). Moreover, the sin of adultery was to be considered a capital offense in Israel (Leviticus 20:10 and Deuteronomy 22:22). Additionally, the Israelite was forbidden to even covet his neighbor's wife (Exodus 20:17 and Deuteronomy 5:21). Moreover, the book of Proverbs warns against the allure and consequences of marital infidelity (5, 6:23-35 and 30:20).

As we just noted, the Torah also made provision for ending a troubled marriage. In the twenty-fourth chapter of Deuteronomy, we read: "When a man takes a wife and marries her, if then she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, and she departs out of his house, and if she goes and becomes another man's wife, and the latter man hates her and writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, or if the latter man dies, who took her to be his wife, then her former husband, who sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife, after she has been defiled, for that is an abomination before the Lord. And you shall not bring sin upon the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance." (Verses 1-4, ESV) Notice that this provision is focused on a dissatisfied husband - no mention is made of the wife having this same ability. Moreover, in the next post in this series, we will see that Jesus Christ singled out this provision for divorce as being inconsistent with God's original intent for marriage! 

In this connection, we would be remiss if we didn't note that the notion of marriage as a contract, the prohibition against adultery, and the provisions for ending a marriage are consistent with the characterization of God's covenant with Israel as a marriage. Indeed, God as a husband to Israel is a prominent feature throughout the writings of the prophets. In the book of Isaiah, Israel is told that their Maker is their husband (54:5). Jeremiah recorded the fact that God had played the role of husband to Israel (31:32). Likewise, Ezekiel wrote that God had made Israel his and showered "her" with gifts (16:8-14). In numerous passages, Israel's idolatry and abandonment of the Lord and his covenant is referred to as adultery (Jeremiah 3:8-9, 20, 5:7, Ezekiel 16:32-34, 23:37, etc.) Finally, God implied that he had given Israel a certificate of divorce in the book of Isaiah (50:1). Likewise, in Jeremiah, we read that God had sent Israel away with a certificate of divorce (3:8). Interestingly, in the next post, we will see how God's relationship with his people was once again compared to a marriage.

In closing, we have seen that marriage was viewed through an extremely paternalistic lens in the Hebrew Bible. We have also seen that the institution of marriage was regulated in both its terms and performance. We have also seen that there was NO formal ceremony outlined in those scriptures, and that the institution was originally regarded as a contract between a woman's father and her husband, and that the woman effectively became the property of her husband. Moreover, although the original marriage was between one man and one woman (Adam and Eve), we have seen that polygamy was accepted/permitted/tolerated among the Israelites. Finally, we have seen that the Torah prohibited marital infidelity and provided for the formal dissolution of a problematic marriage. In other words, marriage in the Hebrew Bible does NOT mesh with the way that institution has been portrayed by many Christian churches. Stay tuned!

Sunday, May 28, 2023

Scripture on Marriage (Part 1)

In their article A Biblical View of Marriage, The Gospel Coalition provided this definition of marriage: "The biblical view of marriage is of a God-given, voluntary, sexual and public social union of one man and one woman, from different families, for the purpose of serving God." They went on to say that "Marriage exists so that through it humanity can serve God through children, through faithful intimacy, and through properly ordered sexual relationships." Among both traditional and non-traditional Christian churches, this represents a fairly common perspective on what Scripture has to say about marriage.

For example, the Anglican Church in North America, Lutheran Church-Canada, North American Lutheran Church and The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod issued An Affirmation of Marriage. In that document, they state: "The Sacred Scriptures teach that in the beginning the blessed Trinity instituted marriage to be the life-long union of one man and one woman (Gen 2:24; Matt 19:4-6), to be held in honor by all and kept pure (Heb 13:4; 1 Thess 4:2-5). God’s Word assures us that each time one man and one woman join themselves together in the union of the marriage commitment and relationship, God himself has joined them as one. It is important to see that marriage is not only a grace-filled institution of the church, but part of the very fabric of God’s creation which extends to every time and place on earth and includes every man and woman who are joined together in this 'one flesh' commitment and bond. Marriage is created by God and is not simply a social contract or convenience." The "Affirmation" goes on to focus on the care and nurture which that institution provides for children.

However, although this is a common view among many Christians, does it truly square with what Scripture has to say on the subject of marriage? Are these views a reaction to the growing acceptance of the notion of same-sex marriages in our society, or do they truly reflect what the Bible reveals about marriage? In short, what does the institution of marriage look like in Scripture?

In the book of Genesis, we are informed that God created humankind in his own image and likeness as both male and female (1:26-27). We also read there that God blessed them and told them to "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth" (verse 28). In other words, God designed the human anatomy (including its reproductive systems) and brain and imbued them with some of his characteristics. Moreover, in the very last verse, we are informed that "God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good." This strongly implies that the Creator was more than satisfied - that he was pleased with the total human - with its sexual organs, instincts, hormones, female menstrual cycle, etc.

In the following chapter, it is revealed to us that the male was created first and placed in a garden which God had planted and designed for his habitation (Genesis 2:7-17). In God's assessment of the man's situation, we read: "Then the Lord God said, 'It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.'" (Verse 18) Next, we are informed that God brought all of the different animals which he had created to the man to see what he would name them (verse 19). Scripture, however, informs us that this did not correct the man's loneliness. Continuing the account, we read: "The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him." (Verse 20)

As a consequence, we are informed that "the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, 'This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.'" (Verses 21-23) This introduces the notion of companionship into the equation of a relationship between the man and his wife. In other words, procreation wasn't the only purpose/goal of marriage.

What happened next was a very profound summation of the meaning of this origin story - a reason for the account which preceded it. We read: "Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh." (Verse 24) Interestingly, we will see later that Jesus quoted this passage when he was asked about divorce (the dissolution of a marriage). Moreover, in this definition of marriage, we see three elements mentioned: 1) a man leaving his parent's home, 2) making a commitment to his wife, and 3) sexual intercourse between them. Finally, the thought is concluded with a passage that is rarely mentioned in most discussions of marriage or human sexuality. We are informed that "the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed." (Verse 25) Once again, the clear implication being that there was NOTHING wrong with the way that God had designed the human body or its functions!

Saturday, May 27, 2023

The Real Work of God

In the August 1971 edition of The Good News of Tomorrow's World, Herbert Armstrong wrote: "No SUBJECT pertaining to Christian salvation is more generally misunderstood than that of saving FAITH! Just 'BELIEVE on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved,' is the popular teaching today. And that statement is absolutely true - if you understand what kind of BELIEVING is required!" (What Kind of Faith Is Required for Salvation?) Mr. Armstrong then proceeded to quote two passages from Paul's epistle to the Romans (3:20 and 2:13). He asked: "Is there contradiction here? If the one scripture is intended to reveal that we do not have to make an effort to obey God‘s Law to be justified and then saved - but that we are saved by faith without obedience to God’s Law - then, indeed, God contradicts Himself in His Word!" Next, he quoted from Paul's epistle to the Ephesians: "By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast." (2:8-9) This was followed with a passage from James (2:14-20) which states that "faith without works is dead." Armstrong then proceeded to answer his question about whether or not these passages were contradictory. He wrote: "There is no contradiction here! Rather, by putting all the scriptures on the subject of 'Saving Faith' together, we learn that there are TWO KINDS of faith. And the kind so blindly trusted in by the majority of this day is nothing but a DEAD faith - and a DEAD faith never will save one soul!"

This is a prime example of a technique which Armstrong used to convince people of the correctness of his interpretations of Scripture. He would set up a dilemma (in this case, an apparent contradiction), and then present his interpretation as the ONLY viable conclusion which one could reach (that there had to be works behind that belief in Christ). Of course, just as Mr. Armstrong suggested about that original statement about believing on Christ and being saved, there is some truth in what he stated. That truth, however, was twisted in such a way as to almost make Paul's and James' statements incomprehensible! This underscores the danger of lifting passages of Scripture out of context and employing them as "proof" of your interpretation/viewpoint.

However, when we look at the full context of Paul's remarks in the third chapter of his letter to the saints at Rome, we see that his meaning was clear. He wrote: "Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus." (Verses 19-26, ESV) Paul stated very clearly that NO ONE would be justified by the works of the law - PERIOD! That includes everything in Torah - the Ten Commandments - "moral" laws - EVERYTHING!

So, what about that other passage: "For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified" (Romans 2:13)? Paul was talking about our tendency to judge each other, and he pointed out just how ridiculous this is when we consider the fact that we are all sinners (Romans 2:1-3, which is also consistent with Christ's statements and actions in Matthew 7 and John 8). This is also consistent with Paul's own statement in the next chapter (quoted above) that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." Paul went on to point out that God wants everyone to repent of their sins (Romans 2:4). Then, Paul wrote: "He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality. For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law." (Romans 2:6-11, ESV) Hence, we see from what preceded the passage which Armstrong quoted (and by those that follow it, see verses 14-29) that Paul was pointing out that both Jews and Gentiles would be held responsible for the sins which they had committed (unless, of course, they accepted Christ's sacrifice for those sins).

Likewise, the full context of the passage from Paul's letter to the Ephesians also supports this principle and hints at another explanation for reconciling Paul's remarks with that passage from James' epistle. He wrote: "And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." (Ephesians 2:1-10, ESV) If we're truly saved by our faith in Christ and his sacrifice, then what kind of "works" were Paul and James referring to in their letters?

If we put all of these passages together and rightly divide the word of truth, we see that both James and Paul were saying that if we truly believe in Jesus Christ and what he has done for us, our lives - our works - will reflect that faith going forward! In other words, the works are the evidence of our faith/belief in Christ! In that same epistle to the saints at Rome, Paul wrote: "What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin." (Romans 6:1-6, ESV) Likewise, in his letter to the saints at Ephesus, Paul instructed them to "put on the new man" (Ephesians 4:24). Clearly, our works do NOT save us. For those who have faith/belief in Jesus of Nazareth, our works after baptism reflect our belief that Jesus Christ has freed us from sin and death!

In the light of our discussion about works, it is also interesting to note that Herbert Armstrong liked to refer to his ministry as "God's Work" or the "Work of God." Indeed, he taught that it was the responsibility of all of the lay members of the Worldwide Church of God to support him in doing "God's Work" with their tithes, offerings, and prayers. Was he right about that? What is the work of God? What work(s) does God expect from each of us?

After Jesus fed five thousand people with five loaves of bread and two fish (John 6:1-14), the crowd followed him and his disciples across the sea and confronted him about the miracle (verses 15-25). Next, we read: "Jesus answered them, 'Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.' Then they said to him, 'What must we do, to be doing the works of God?' Jesus answered them, 'This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.' So they said to him, 'Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'' Jesus then said to them, 'Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.' They said to him, 'Sir, give us this bread always.' Jesus said to them, 'I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.'" (John 6:26-40, ESV)

When the jailer asked Paul and Silas what he needed to do to be saved, they replied "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved" (Acts 16:25-31). Paul said: "For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes." (Romans 10:4, ESV) He went on to note that Scripture says: "'The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart' (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, 'Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.' For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For 'everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.'" (Romans 10:8-13, ESV) So, we see that BELIEF in Christ is essential - THAT is the work that God expects from each of us! Moreover, our subsequent behavior will reflect the fact that we really do believe that Christ has freed us from sin (which does NOT mean that we won't still occasionally sin - see I John 1:8-10).

Monday, May 22, 2023

How Satan has deceived humankind!

When conversing with the Jews on one occasion, Jesus told them: "You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies." (John 8:44, ESV) Isn't that interesting? Christ said that Satan was a murderer because of the way that he had deceived Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, and that he was both a liar and the progenitor of lies! In the book of Revelation, we read that Satan has deceived the whole world (Revelation 12:9). How did Satan accomplish that? And, more importantly, how will God counteract that deception?

In the first three chapters of Genesis, we find an account of how Satan's deception of humankind began. In that account, we are informed that God created a world that would be hospitable for humankind to inhabit, and then created humankind (male and female) in his own likeness (Genesis 1:1-30). Moreover, when everything was finished, we read: " And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good." (Genesis 1:31) Please note that the human body, including its reproductive functions, were included in that assessment of God's handiwork - It was ALL "VERY GOOD!" In the second chapter, we are informed that God planted a garden for our ancestors to inhabit and planted two symbolic trees in its midst (verses 8-17). Interestingly, the fruit of the "Tree of Life" was made accessible to the humans, but the fruit of the "Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil" was forbidden to them. Indeed, we read that God told them "in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die." Also, the second chapter ends with another very interesting observation: " the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed." (Verse 25) Thus, the stage was set for Satan's appearance in the third chapter of the book.

Indeed, that chapter opens with the statement: "Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made." (Verse 1) Interestingly, in his conversation with the woman (which immediately follows that statement), the serpent misquotes God. "Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?" he asked. The woman then corrects the serpent: "We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’" (Verses 2-3) Which the serpent promptly contradicts with a bold-faced lie: "You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." (Verses 4-5) Notice, that the lie was twofold: 1) that they wouldn't surely die, and 2) that they would be able to discern between good and evil themselves - without any aid or input from God! Interestingly, these two lies continue to animate and be accepted by the vast majority of humankind. Think about it, the majority of humankind believes that they have the ability to differentiate between what is moral and what is immoral and to make laws to enforce those notions. Likewise, the majority of humans believe that humankind is inherently immortal - that our existence continues beyond our physical death without God's intervention.

Notice too, that after the pair ate the fruit of the forbidden tree: "the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths." (Verse 7) Remember, prior to this event, we read that "the man and his wife were both naked and were NOT ashamed." Now, however, the two have clearly attached shame to their naked bodies and made some kind of rudimentary clothing to cover their nakedness. Indeed, in the account which follows, we read that they hid themselves from God's presence because of their nakedness (verses 8-11)! Notice too, that this lie has also permeated human attitudes about their bodies and its sexual functions ever since. Indeed, even Christians have traditionally attached a great deal of shamefulness and sinfulness to the human body, the sexual attraction which God instilled in humans, and anything associated with human sexual behavior. In other words, what God created and pronounced good has been made shameful and sinful by Satan and humans!

So, we see that Satan actually murdered humankind in the Garden of Eden. He lied to them and encouraged them to do the very thing which would result in their death - disobey God and decide what was moral/immoral for themselves. And, the very first thing that they decided for themselves was that their own bodies and their natural functions were shameful and evil! Moreover, as we have already noted, these lies have been faithfully passed down from one generation to another ever since! In other words, those foundational lies continue to be believed/embraced by humankind.

Unfortunately, Scripture informs us that Satan's deceptive work continued. In the book of Job, we read how Satan afflicted Job in a deliberate effort to cause him to reject God (Chapters 1-2). Notice in this account, that Satan sought to separate Job from God by causing God to doubt Job's loyalty and encouraging Job to doubt God's justice/fairness/compassion and curse God. Moreover, it is implied that Satan used Job's wife and friends to influence him to believe the lie!

In the New Testament accounts of Satan's temptation of Christ (Matthew 4:1-11, Mark 1:12-13, and Luke 4:1-3), we see Satan using isolation, physical hunger, twisting Scripture, and appealing to vanity and ambition in his attempt to deceive and defeat Jesus. Interestingly, in both Matthew's and Luke's account of the temptation, Christ used Scripture to defeat Satan and his lies.

This, of course, is consistent with what Paul wrote to the saints at Ephesus about triumphing over Satan and his lies. He said: "Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me..." (Ephesians 6:10-19) Notice, that this "armor of God" will enable them "to stand against the schemes of the devil." What constitutes that armor? Paul tells them that truth, righteousness, a knowledge of the gospel, faith, salvation, and the "word of God" are God's armor against Satan and his lies. Moreover, Paul follows this up by telling them to be continually praying to God for help and strength.

There are two other epistles which seek to advise the saints on how to stand up to Satan's wiles. In Peter's first epistle, we read: "Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world." (5:8-9) Likewise, James wrote: "Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded." (4:7-8)

In the final analysis, however, Christ has already defeated Satan and his lies. In fact, Christ came to this earth as a human to do just that! In the epistle to the Hebrews, we read: "Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery." (2:14-15) Satan stands condemned. Jesus Christ has already defeated him, and "because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted." (2:18)

Hence, if we protect ourselves with God's armor and steadfastly resist Satan, God has promised us the victory over him and his lies! Satan's lies have caused untold heartache and suffering down through the ages and have alienated us from God and the good things which He has given to us, but Jesus Christ has already given us the victory over them (and him). Hence, if you haven't already accepted Christ's victory over Satan and his lies, won't you do so today? After all, Jesus said: "If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." (John 8:31-32) 

Thursday, May 18, 2023

The Greatest Sins of Christianity

I have written a number of posts which take Herbert Armstrong and his followers to task for their criticisms of - and departures from - traditional Christian orthodoxy. Nevertheless, there is plenty of room for legitimate criticism of the history of Christianity. Indeed, in my humble opinion, the Christian Church has been responsible for some horrendous sins down through the centuries since its founding in the First Century.

Just as the Romans were responsible for persecuting early Christians, Christians were also responsible for persecuting pagans and/or folks who adhered to what the community regarded as heretical beliefs. Historically, pagan temples were destroyed, pagan priests were put to death, and witches and heretics were tortured and executed.

Unfortunately, Christians also inaugurated the Crusades to forcibly take possession of the Holy Land and cast out the Muslims who controlled that region. Along the same lines, Christians inaugurated a number of religious wars down through the centuries in Europe.

Christians encouraged and actively participated in the persecution of European Jews. Over the centuries, Jews were expelled, oppressed, restricted, slain, and forced to "convert" to Christianity.

The Christian Church was also responsible for the mistreatment/persecution of Native Americans in the New World and sanctioned and justified the enslavement of their African brethren. Moreover, once again, Christians sought to destroy Native/African culture and force Natives/Africans to convert to Christianity. Christians also condoned and facilitated the theft of Native lands.

The Christian Church adopted Satan's lies about human sexuality and was directly responsible for a great deal of mental anguish and sexual frustration down through the centuries. Moreover, the perpetuation of a shame-based view of the human body and its functions related to sexual behaviors often encouraged aberrant behaviors and mental illness. Likewise, the Christian Church must also bear a great deal of responsibility for the alienation and persecution of LGBTQ people down through the centuries.

Christians also encouraged and perpetuated paternalism and misogynistic attitudes towards females. These attitudes led to a great deal of domestic abuse, mental anguish and lost potential down through the centuries. Hence, instead of loving and nurturing women and children, Christian fathers and priests/pastors were often responsible for condoning and perpetuating their mistreatment and exploitation.

Unfortunately, Christianity has often stood in the way of scientific exploration and advancement. Too often, Christians have ridiculed and resisted the efforts of the scientific community to advance our knowledge of the world/universe and improve the human condition. Indeed, the Church has often censored, discouraged, and/or actively suppressed the dissemination of information which contradicted or threatened their views or power.

Finally, the Christian Church also made significant contributions to the destruction of our natural environment. Their emphasis on man's dominion over the earth and its creatures at the expense of their God-given responsibility to beautify and protect the earth caused untold damage to the planet down through the centuries.

In my opinion, these are the greatest sins of the Christian community - the most egregious departures from God's will and original intention. Moreover, they are all clear violations of the commandments to love God with our whole hearts and to love each other as ourselves. What do you think?

Monday, May 8, 2023

Christianity and Guns Do NOT Go Together!

In Biblical times, the implements of war and killing were swords, spears, and arrows. In modern times, humans prefer guns and rifles. The implements are still used for war and killing, but human technological advances have made modern weaponry more lethal and efficient. Christians, however, are NOT supposed to need either the offensive or defensive capabilities afforded to humans by these weapons. Hence, it is more than a little strange and ironic that so many folks within the American Church are so fascinated with these weapons and own so many of them! Don't see anything strange or ironic about that?

In the Torah, we read that the Israelites were commanded NOT to murder each other (Exodus 20:13). In the Gospel of Matthew, we read that Jesus transformed this commandment by making it a sin for anyone to even be angry with their brother/sister (Matthew 5:21-22). Just prior to saying that, Jesus had told his disciples that those who are meek and play the role of peacemaker would be blessed (Matthew 5:5, 9). Christ also instructed his disciples NOT to resist evil people and offer them the other cheek if they slap you (Matthew 5:38-39). He also told them to love their enemies and pray for those who were persecuting them (Matthew 5:43-44). Moreover, when Christ was arrested and one of his disciples used his sword to try to defend him, we read that Jesus said: "Put your sword back in its place, for all who draw the sword will die by the sword." (Matthew 26:51-52) Clearly, Jesus Christ did NOT intend for his disciples to need or use any kinds of weapons!

In this connection, it should also be noted that such weapons will NOT exist in God's Kingdom! In two passages in the Old Testament, we read that the nations will "beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks - nation shall not lift up a sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore." (Isaiah 2:4 and Micah 4:3) Weapons are for killing. In the Messiah's Kingdom, Isaiah wrote that "They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea." (Isaiah 11:9) Clearly, weapons will have NO place in God's Kingdom (not even for hunting)!

Tuesday, May 2, 2023

Moral and Ceremonial? Obedient or Antinomian?

In our quest to better understand and explain things, we like to organize or sort things according to the similarities or differences which we observe among them. Hence, it's not surprising that we have employed this same technique in trying to understand and explain Scripture. One of the oldest manifestations of this phenomenon is the way that the Jews have divided what Christians refer to as the Old Testament. What they call the Tanach is divided into Torah (Instructions/Law), Nevi'im (Prophets), and Ketuvim (Writings). What is Torah? Indeed, those categorizations are so ancient that they are referenced in several places in the New Testament - thus becoming a part of the Christian Scriptures. In similar fashion, Christians have divided the various letters which make up the New Testament into Prison, Pastoral, and General Epistles. Hence, it's no wonder that Bible students would do the same thing with something as complex as the Law of Moses (especially when trying to figure out its relevance to Christians).

In an article posted by Ligonier Ministries, R.C. Sproul wrote: "We make distinctions among the ceremonial law, the dietary law, the civil law, and the moral law. To the Jew, every law commanded by God in the Old Testament was moral in the sense that it had moral significance to it." Notice that it is "we" who make these distinctions - they are not made by God or Scripture! Indeed, throughout both the Old and New Testaments, Torah is treated as a unitary whole. Torah itself is very explicit in its expectation that the Israelites would observe ALL of its provisions (Exodus 23:22, Deuteronomy 8:1, 12:14, 28, 13:18, 28:1, 15, 30:2, 8) In fact, we are informed by Torah that the Israelites were told: "Everything that I command you, you shall be careful to do. You shall not add to it or take from it." (Deuteronomy 12:32) Moreover, this view is also reinforced in the New Testament. Jesus spoke of himself as having come to this earth to fulfill the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 5:17-18). Paul told the Galatians that anyone who was circumcised was obligated to keep "the whole law" (5:3). Likewise, James wrote " For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it." (James 2:10)

Sproul continued: "It is a useful distinction to distinguish the moral law from the ceremonial law, because we know that the ceremonial law has been fulfilled in the perfect work of Christ. And we know that the dietary laws have been set apart. They had a historical significance that differs from the moral law of the Old Testament." It may be useful for us to distinguish the moral law from the ceremonial law, but I think that it is dangerous for us to use such distinctions to formulate doctrine - especially when Scripture itself makes a point of talking about Torah as a comprehensive whole! Moreover, are Sproul and his allies suggesting that Christ didn't fulfill what they consider to be the "moral" parts of the law? In other words, didn't Christ fulfill the entire law?

Dr. Sproul continued: "The distinction in view here is there are laws that God gives in the Old Testament (and in the New) that are an expression of His own character that is immutable. So that if He set them aside, He would be doing violence to His own character." Jesus Christ said that the law was comprehended in two great commandments: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind," and "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." (Matthew 22:37-38) He said, " On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets." (Verse 40) Paul wrote to the saints at Rome: "Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, 'You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,' and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law." (13:8-10) Indeed, John said that God IS love (I John 4:8, 16) Hence, in so far as love is the epitome of God's character and the basis for Torah (ALL of it), this statement has some merit. The problem arises only when we attempt to exempt some of the laws from this general characterization. Indeed, even what many of us would consider to be the basis of all moral law and the entire Torah, the Ten Commandments, are comprehended in the two great commandments which Jesus alluded to in his answer to the Torah scholar.

"I remember making a statement years ago that to say that the moral law of the Old Testament has no relevance to the New Testament Christian is antinomianism." First, we are NOT saying that Torah has no relevance to the New Testament Christian. In many posts here, I have outlined precisely how the Torah pointed to Jesus of Nazareth. Also, I have talked at great length about how those two commandments which Christ used to summarize Torah are applicable to ANY circumstance we might face in this life - that they truly present a universal and eternal moral standard for humankind! Hence, I am perplexed by his charge of antinomianism - perhaps he didn't fully understand that heresy? OR He has wrongly assumed that we are advocating the abandonment of ANY moral standard?

- excerpted from What parts of the law are still relevant to us today?

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia's article on the subject, Antinomianism is "The heretical doctrine that Christians are exempt from the obligations of moral law. The term first came into use at the Protestant Reformation, when it was employed by Martin Luther to designate the teachings of Johannes Agricola and his secretaries, who, pushing a mistaken and perverted interpretation of the Reformer's doctrine of justification by faith alone to a far-reaching but logical conclusion, asserted that, as good works do not promote salvation, so neither do evil works hinder it; and, as all Christians are necessarily sanctified by their very vocation and profession, so as justified Christians, they are incapable of losing their spiritual holiness, justification, and final salvation by any act of disobedience to, or even by any direct violation of the law of God . This theory — for it was not, and is not necessarily, anything more than a purely theoretical doctrine, and many professors of Antinomianism, as a matter of fact, led, and lead, lives quite as moral as those of their opponents — was not only a more or less natural outgrowth from the distinctively Protestant principle of justification by faith, but probably also the result of an erroneous view taken with regard to the relation between the Jewish and Christian dispensations and the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments . Doubtless a confused understanding of the Mosaic ceremonial precepts and the fundamental moral law embodied in the Mosaic code was to no small extent operative in allowing the conception of true Christian liberty to grow beyond all reasonable bounds, and to take the form of a theoretical doctrine of unlimited licentiousness." -Antinomianism - Catholic Encyclopedia Online

The fact that Christ has left in place the basis for the entire law (love for God and each other) makes us immune to the charge of antinomianism. Hence, if we retain these, we have done NO violence to God's character. In fact, Christ and we have preserved this expression of his "immutable" character. In other words, like God's nature and character, the underlying premise of the Law in both Testaments is the same - it is UNCHANGED! Moreover, in doing this, Christ rendered these distinctions between moral and ceremonial laws completely unnecessary. In other words, we don't have to decide which laws are moral or which individual laws still have relevance to Christians! God expects Christians to be faithful to their spouses, but not because God told the Israelites not to commit adultery. Instead, Christians are expected to be faithful because not doing so would hurt or harm another human - it would violate the command to love each other. Likewise, it is NOT permissible for Christians to engage in prostitution, or any other behavior which intentionally exploits another human for some personal advantage/benefit. The foundation is unchanged, but the legislation is different.

In a 2020 article for The Gospel Coalition, Pastor Matt Smethurst wrote: "This is the central message of the New Testament: God gives in the gospel what he demands in the law. At bottom, Christians aren’t bound by the Jewish law because our Lord Jesus kept it for us. He fulfilled its ceremonies, its festivals, its sacrifices, its moral demands. The law’s ultimate purpose was always to point to our need for a Savior—one who would forgive us and change us from the inside out, rather than leaving us to reform and redeem ourselves."

Why Don't Christians Keep the Jewish Law?

I like that. Jesus filled Torah to the full in EVERY way! He did that for us. In doing so, however, he did NOT give us a license to sin. No, he imposed on us the very same foundation on which Torah was constructed, and he did so in a way that is morally much more rigorous than the 613 commandments of Torah which the Israelites were expected to obey!