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Thursday, June 29, 2023

Noah as a type of Jesus Christ

A little over a year ago, I did a series of posts here on Jesus in the Torah. Looking back, although I certainly mentioned Noah in my treatment of Genesis, I feel that I did not give the story of Noah and the flood the attention it deserved. This post is meant to rectify that unintended slight. Unfortunately, when we approach such characters and stories from the literalist perspective (taking for granted the historicity of the people and events), we often miss the profound spiritual significance which is hiding in plain sight. Indeed, from my present perspective, it seems overwhelmingly obvious that God intended for the story of Noah and the flood to point to the reality of Jesus Christ.

To begin, the name "Noah" suggests a rest (Genesis 5:29). And we all know that Jesus represented rest to his followers. In the Gospel of Matthew, we read that he said: "Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls." (Verses 28-29, NLT) Likewise, in the epistle to the Hebrews, we are informed that Christians can rest in what Christ has done for us (Hebrews 4).

Noah was a righteous man (Genesis 6:9) among a people filled with wickedness/sin (Genesis 6:5, 11-12). Like Noah, Jesus was righteous - a man without sin (I Peter 2:22, II Corinthians 5:21, Hebrews 4:15). And, just like the world of Noah's day, Paul told the saints at Rome that both Jews and Gentiles were all under the power of sin (3:9). He went on to write: "As the Scriptures say, 'No one is righteous— not even one. No one is truly wise; no one is seeking God. All have turned away; all have become useless. No one does good, not a single one." (Verses 10-12)

Nevertheless, in the midst of a wicked/sinful world, we read that Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord (Genesis 6:8). Likewise, when Christ was baptized, we read in Matthew's Gospel that "a voice from heaven said, 'This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.'" (3:17)

In the Genesis account, we are informed that Noah did everything that God commanded him to do (6:22, 7:5). Isaiah prophesied about Christ that the Lord’s plan would "prosper in his hands." (53:10) In the fifth chapter of the Gospel of John, we are informed that Christ said that he came here to do God's will. Later, in the same account, we are told that Jesus prayed to God that "I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do." (17:4) 

In the sixth, seventh and eighth chapters of Genesis, we read about how God saved humankind through Noah.  In the Gospel of John, we read that "God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him." (3:17) A little later in the same account, we read that Christ told the crowd who had gathered to hear him speak: "If you trust me, you are trusting not only me, but also God who sent me. For when you see me, you are seeing the one who sent me. I have come as a light to shine in this dark world, so that all who put their trust in me will no longer remain in the dark. I will not judge those who hear me but don’t obey me, for I have come to save the world and not to judge it." (12:44-47)

Noah labored to save life. We are informed by Scripture that he built a great wooden ark to shelter the lives that were to be saved (Genesis 6). In similar fashion, Christ worked to save humankind, and he built a Church to shelter the lives that he was saving.

In the Genesis account, we read that it rained for forty days and nights, and that the resulting flood destroyed all life (7:12). In the New Testament, we are told that Jesus spent forty days and nights in the wilderness preparing to be tempted by Satan the Devil (Matthew 4:1-2, Mark 1:12-13, Luke 4:1-2).

In the Genesis account, we also read that God remembered Noah (8:1). In other words, God didn't forget about Noah and leave him to drift on the flood. Likewise, when the Apostle Peter spoke on the first Pentecost following Christ's ascension into heaven, we are informed that he said that David had predicted that God would not abandon Jesus to the grave (Acts 2:25-31)!

Noah released a bird three times and it returned to him in the ark (8:6-11). According to the narrative, on the third try, the bird returned to Noah with an olive branch in its beak (it had found dry land and plant life). Interestingly, at the end of three days, the Gospels inform us that Christ emerged from the tomb alive (Matthew 27-28, Mark 15-16, Luke 24-25, John 19-20). And, just as Noah emerged from the Ark after the flood waters receded, Christ emerged from the tomb at the time designated by God.

In that Genesis account, we are informed that Noah offered a sacrifice to God (8:20). Likewise, Christ offered himself as a sacrifice to God for our sins (Hebrews 9:14)

Because of his sacrifice, Noah was the source of a new covenant between God and humans (8:21-22). In similar fashion, Christ inaugurated a New Covenant between God and humankind (Hebrews 8, 12:24).

Hence, we can see that there are many parallels between the story of Noah and the story of Jesus. And, from the perspective of one of Christ's disciples, there is simply too much here to call these things a coincidence. No, for me at least, it is crystal clear that Noah served as a forerunner, "type," or shadow of Jesus Christ. What do you think?

Wednesday, June 28, 2023

God, Israel and the Sabbath

Herbert Armstrong chafed at the characterization of the Sabbath as a Jewish institution. However, Scripture makes very clear that the Sabbath was a prominent part of God's covenant with the children of Israel. In the Torah, the Sabbath enjoys a prominent place and is portrayed there as playing a central role in God's covenant with His chosen people. Indeed, we find the Sabbath woven into the very story of creation recorded in the first book of the Pentateuch (Genesis 2:1-3)! Even so, of particular interest to us in this connection, the Sabbath is not mentioned again until after Moses had delivered the children of Israel from slavery in the land of Egypt.

Thus, we see that the Sabbath is reintroduced in the telling of the story about God supplying manna (the bread of Heaven) to the children of Israel to sustain them in the wilderness. In the book of Exodus, we read: "Then the Lord said to Moses, 'Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day's portion every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in my law or not. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather daily." (16:4-5, ESV here and throughout this post) Notice, that God used the concept of the Sabbath rest to test the susceptibility of the Israelites to obeying His commandments. Later, we read: "On the sixth day they gathered twice as much bread, two omers each. And when all the leaders of the congregation came and told Moses, he said to them, 'This is what the Lord has commanded: 'Tomorrow is a day of solemn rest, a holy Sabbath to the Lord; bake what you will bake and boil what you will boil, and all that is left over lay aside to be kept till the morning.' So they laid it aside till the morning, as Moses commanded them, and it did not stink, and there were no worms in it. Moses said, 'Eat it today, for today is a Sabbath to the Lord; today you will not find it in the field. Six days you shall gather it, but on the seventh day, which is a Sabbath, there will be none.' On the seventh day some of the people went out to gather, but they found none. And the Lord said to Moses, 'How long will you refuse to keep my commandments and my laws? See! The Lord has given you the Sabbath; therefore on the sixth day he gives you bread for two days. Remain each of you in his place; let no one go out of his place on the seventh day.' So the people rested on the seventh day." (16:22-30) This test, of course, anticipated God incorporating the Sabbath into the terms of His covenant with Israel at Mount Sinai.

At Sinai, we read that God included the Sabbath in the Ten Commandments which He gave to Moses. We read: "Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy." (Exodus 20:8-11) Thus, we see that the Sabbath was incorporated into the fundamental law of God's covenant with Israel.

Indeed, this commandment is reiterated and reinforced throughout the Book of the Covenant. In that same book of Exodus, the Sabbath is identified as a sign between God and the children of Israel (31:13, 17). In the book of Leviticus, we read: "The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 'Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, These are the appointed feasts of the Lord that you shall proclaim as holy convocations; they are my appointed feasts. Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, a holy convocation. You shall do no work. It is a Sabbath to the Lord in all your dwelling places." (23:1-3) Likewise, in the book of Deuteronomy, we read: "And Moses summoned all Israel and said to them, 'Hear, O Israel, the statutes and the rules that I speak in your hearing today, and you shall learn them and be careful to do them. The Lord our God made a covenant with us in Horeb. Not with our fathers did the Lord make this covenant, but with us, who are all of us here alive today." (5:1-3) Continuing, we read: "Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter or your male servant or your female servant, or your ox or your donkey or any of your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates, that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day." (5:12-15) Interestingly, in this incarnation of the Sabbath command, it isn't referenced as a memorial of creation. Instead, it is specifically tied to the children of Israel's experience as slaves in the land of Egypt.

There are also a number of prohibitions in Torah regarding certain kinds of work as related to the Sabbath. In the book of Exodus, we read: "Six days you shall work, but on the seventh day you shall rest. In plowing time and in harvest you shall rest." (34:21) This reminds us that Israelites were a primitive people whose livelihood was based on agricultural pursuits like crop farming and livestock husbandry. In short, these agricultural pursuits are understood by any serious student of the Hebrew Scriptures to be an integral part of God's covenant with Israel. Indeed, the Jews have identified some thirty-nine categories of work forbidden to be performed on the Sabbath. Among these, we find things like plowing, sowing, reaping, making sheaves, winnowing, threshing, grinding, shearing, slaughtering, skinning, tanning etc. Anyway, you get the picture. The primitive nature of Israelite society is further underscored by several injunctions to refrain from starting a fire or gathering firewood on the Sabbath (Exodus 35:3 and Numbers 15:32-36).

Finally, there were sacrifices and rituals attached to the Sabbath in Torah. Aaron was commanded to arrange the sacred bread before the Lord's altar in the Tabernacle (later, the high priest in the Temple) every Sabbath (Leviticus 24:5-8). The priest was also required to sacrifice two male lambs and a grain offering to the Lord each and every Sabbath (Numbers28:9-10). Moreover, these practices apparently continued into the kingdom period (I Chronicles 9:32, 23:31, II Chronicles 8:12-13, 31:3).  Hence, we see that the Sabbath was also intimately connected to the framework of the Levitical priesthood and its practices as outlined in the terms of God's covenant with Israel.

In terms of the prophetic writings of the Hebrew Bible, along with idolatry, desecration of the Sabbath is identified as one of the primary ways in which the people of Israel and Judah had violated the terms of God's covenant with them. In the book of Isaiah, the proper observance of the Sabbath by the Israelites is singled out as a sure way to the gain the Lord's favor and blessing. We read: "If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the Lord honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly; then you shall take delight in the Lord, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken." (58:13-14)

In the book of Jeremiah, the prophet made clear that failure to properly observe the Sabbath was one of the primary sins of the Kingdom of Judah. We read there: "Thus said the Lord to me: 'Go and stand in the People's Gate, by which the kings of Judah enter and by which they go out, and in all the gates of Jerusalem, and say: Hear the word of the Lord, you kings of Judah, and all Judah, and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, who enter by these gates. Thus says the Lord: Take care for the sake of your lives, and do not bear a burden on the Sabbath day or bring it in by the gates of Jerusalem. And do not carry a burden out of your houses on the Sabbath or do any work, but keep the Sabbath day holy, as I commanded your fathers. Yet they did not listen or incline their ear, but stiffened their neck, that they might not hear and receive instruction. But if you listen to me, declares the Lord, and bring in no burden by the gates of this city on the Sabbath day, but keep the Sabbath day holy and do no work on it, then there shall enter by the gates of this city kings and princes who sit on the throne of David, riding in chariots and on horses, they and their officials, the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And this city shall be inhabited forever. And people shall come from the cities of Judah and the places around Jerusalem, from the land of Benjamin, from the Shephelah, from the hill country, and from the Negeb, bringing burnt offerings and sacrifices, grain offerings and frankincense, and bringing thank offerings to the house of the Lord. But if you do not listen to me, to keep the Sabbath day holy, and not to bear a burden and enter by the gates of Jerusalem on the Sabbath day, then I will kindle a fire in its gates, and it shall devour the palaces of Jerusalem and shall not be quenched.'" (17:19-27)

In the book of Ezekiel, the prophet shared God's perspective on the Sabbath's role in Israel's sins. We read: "I gave them my statutes and made known to them my rules, by which, if a person does them, he shall live. Moreover, I gave them my Sabbaths, as a sign between me and them, that they might know that I am the Lord who sanctifies them. But the house of Israel rebelled against me in the wilderness. They did not walk in my statutes but rejected my rules, by which, if a person does them, he shall live; and my Sabbaths they greatly profaned." (20:11-13) Hence, in all of these references to the Sabbath within the prophetic writings, the Sabbath's role as one of the things which distinguished the Israelites as God's people is strongly affirmed.

Indeed, when some of the exiled Israelites were later allowed to return to the land of Israel, Sabbath observance was one of the primary things which was attended to by the leaders of the community. Looking at their present circumstances through the lens of their past, we read in the book of Nehemiah: "In those days I saw in Judah people treading winepresses on the Sabbath, and bringing in heaps of grain and loading them on donkeys, and also wine, grapes, figs, and all kinds of loads, which they brought into Jerusalem on the Sabbath day. And I warned them on the day when they sold food. Tyrians also, who lived in the city, brought in fish and all kinds of goods and sold them on the Sabbath to the people of Judah, in Jerusalem itself! Then I confronted the nobles of Judah and said to them, 'What is this evil thing that you are doing, profaning the Sabbath day? Did not your fathers act in this way, and did not our God bring all this disaster on us and on this city? Now you are bringing more wrath on Israel by profaning the Sabbath.' As soon as it began to grow dark at the gates of Jerusalem before the Sabbath, I commanded that the doors should be shut and gave orders that they should not be opened until after the Sabbath. And I stationed some of my servants at the gates, that no load might be brought in on the Sabbath day. Then the merchants and sellers of all kinds of wares lodged outside Jerusalem once or twice. But I warned them and said to them, 'Why do you lodge outside the wall? If you do so again, I will lay hands on you.' From that time on they did not come on the Sabbath. Then I commanded the Levites that they should purify themselves and come and guard the gates, to keep the Sabbath day holy. Remember this also in my favor, O my God, and spare me according to the greatness of your steadfast love." (13:15-22) Clearly, the Sabbath was still regarded as one of the principal hallmarks of God's covenant with the Jews.

Thus, in spite of Mr. Armstrong's misgivings about associating the Sabbath with the Jews, it is clear that Scripture makes the Sabbath an integral part of His covenant with His people. In short, the Sabbath was a Jewish/Israelite institution, NOT a Gentile one. The Gentile world's only awareness and/or experience of the Sabbath was through the Jews/Israelites. Hence, as observant Jews, it is no wonder that we would find Jesus, his disciples, and the early Jewish Christian Church observing it! There is, however, NO Scriptural evidence that Gentiles were EVER required to observe the Sabbath!* And, any appeal to the Hebrew Scriptures (or what Christians refer to as the Old Testament) to impose the Sabbath on Christians falls flat. Once again, as we have seen, those Scriptures clearly portray the Sabbath as a wholly Jewish/Israelite institution!

* Unless, of course, they were living or trading among the Israelites. Also, in this connection, we should note that someone will inevitably mention a prophecy in Isaiah (66:18-23) which seems to suggest future Gentile observance of the Sabbath. However, if we take a closer look at this passage, the sense is that Gentiles will one day worship God continuously - "From new moon to new moon, and from Sabbath to Sabbath, all flesh shall come to worship before me, declares the Lord." At any rate, I hope that everyone would at least be willing to acknowledge that this passage does NOT, in ANY WAY, suggest that Gentiles were/are obligated to observe the Sabbath then/now.

My sources for this post:

The English Standard Version of the Holy Bible

EliYah Ministries' Strong's Concordance (KJV)

my Jewish Learning's Shabbat in the Bible

torah.org's The Sabbath

Monday, June 26, 2023

You would do/say anything to avoid keeping God's Law

Anyone who dares to criticize Armstrongite theology is usually met with this accusation. In their worldview, most of the folks who profess to be Christians simply don't want to obey God. Of course, this is rooted in their belief that Christians are obligated to obey what they characterize as the eternal spiritual principles outlined in Torah. From their perspective, this also insulates them against the obvious criticism that they are cherry picking among the various dos and don'ts outlined therein. For the critics of their theology, however, it seems like the Armstrongite would do just about anything to justify their obsession with obeying the provisions of Torah which they cherish.

For the Armstrongite, those Catholics and Protestants are willfully disobedient to God. They don't want to keep the Sabbath. They don't want to keep God's Holy Days. They'd rather observe those pagan holidays. They'd rather have their ham and bacon than obey God's dietary laws. Likewise, the LGBTQ community simply doesn't want to obey Leviticus 18:22. They'd rather wallow in their perversity than obey God. For the Armstrongite, these folks are the latest rendition of what happened in the Garden of Eden. "They just want to decide for themselves what constitutes good and evil!"

They simply cannot fathom that those "so-called Christians" could be motivated by the same desire to obey God - to be within His will - which motivates them! They insist that their critics are trying to negate God's laws - to justify ignoring them. The notion that those folks might actually love God and want to be part of His Kingdom is completely foreign to them. And, although they insist that they too believe that their salvation is entirely dependent on Jesus Christ, they are not bashful about quickly following that up with an assertion that God will NOT accept anyone into His Kingdom who doesn't obey those "eternal spiritual principles" of Torah! "If they really loved God, they'd obey His commandments!"

For most Christians (including those of us who have successfully emerged from the delusion of Armstrongism), however, it is clear that God inaugurated a New Covenant through Jesus Christ - one with better terms and promises than were included in the OLD one. For us, Torah pointed to Jesus of Nazareth and was FULFILLED by him. For us, Jesus summarized Torah into two great principles: Love for God, and love for neighbor - eliminating the need to cherry pick among those dos and don'ts. Like Jesus, James and Paul, we see the Law as a comprehensive whole - which is NOT severable). We believe that if you commit to obeying even one of its provisions, you are obligated to observe the whole. Hence, for us, Christians are obligated to obey the intent or "spirit" of the Law as Christ summarized it. Moreover, we ONLY do that as a way of demonstrating our love for God and as a manifestation of the new entity which Christ's work has created in us - NOT as something which is necessary to gain entrance in God's Kingdom! In this way, we believe that we are among those who "keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ."

Hence, for those of you who insist on obligating yourselves to observe some or all of the provisions of Torah and claim to be disciples of Christ, you may want to take a closer look at these issues! If not, I sincerely hope your Torah observance works out for you. Even so, please don't worry about those of us who have decided to rest in what Jesus Christ has accomplished for us - we'll be fine! 

Saturday, June 24, 2023

LCG’s Wallace Smith: Business as usual in the LGBTQ Community!

In a co-worker letter dated June 16, 2023, Wallace Smith took those nasty LGBTQ folks to task for flaunting their “Pride Month” in everybody’s face. He wrote: “While this observance celebrating LGBTQ culture and ‘values’ has its origin in the United States, it has spread to many corners of the world—probably including yours. Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom each have their own incarnations of Pride Month. Even Israel has Tel Aviv Gay Pride Week in June—a celebration so popular that the website TouristIsrael.com highlights it as Tel Aviv’s attempt to prove it is ‘the Gay Capital of the Middle East.’” Leave it to those Israelites to pave the way to sin for the rest of the world! And it’s not just Manasseh and Ephraim that are rolling around in the muck, the Jews are doing it too! Also, did you notice that not too subtle jab at the notion that LGBTQ folks could have anything akin to “values”?

Bless his heart, Wallace does go on to acknowledge that “Advocates for these celebrations argue that they represent tolerance, acceptance, and love.” Nevertheless, according to Mr. Smith, that argument is quickly dispensed with when we consider what these folks are actually parading before the public. He went on to say that “Each year ‘Pride Parades’ turn the streets of our major cities into public stages for some of the most sexually explicit and provocative behavior imaginable, normally kept behind closed doors: public nudity, simulated sex acts, and strange fetishes—all in full view of families and children. In fact, many organizers encourage young children to attend and witness for themselves!” And please don’t bother Wallace with those assertions that gay folks are merely demonstrating that it is acceptable to live life as “one’s authentic self.” No, sir! Mr. Smith believes that LGBTQ folks should resist and change their natures.

Unfortunately, as with too many other ACOG leaders, Wallace sees anything sexual outside of a marriage between “one man and one woman” as SIN. For Wallace (and many of his associates in LCG), all other sexual acts are perverse/deviant/nasty/wicked/evil/abominable. The notion that an LGBTQ person could: love God, accept Jesus Christ, truly love someone and be faithful to that person, be kind, compassionate, truthful, etc. is anathema! In other words, for him and his allies, it is inconceivable that someone who is gay or transgender could be a moral person - a Christian!

They ignore the fact that Jesus NEVER condemned sinners or sought to publicly shame them, and that he always seemed to place himself among the folks whom everyone else regarded as the dregs of society. For instance, in the Gospel of John, we read a story about an adulterous woman who was surrounded by an angry mob who was ready to stone her. What did Jesus do? We are told that he knelt down and began to write something in the dirt (probably a list of sins), and then said that “the one who is without sin should cast the first stone.” Please notice that he did NOT say, “You dirty, adulterous, nasty, little slut! I should let this crowd take you out and throw you off of the cliff!” Notice too, that although Jesus WAS sinless, he didn’t pick up a stone and throw it at the woman. However, Jesus did say on one occasion that it was the sick who needed a doctor, not those who are healthy! Hence, even if one regards these folks as sick or “sinners,” the appropriate response is NOT derision or condemnation!

No, what Mr. Smith and his allies fail to recognize is that gay “pride” is not a manifestation of arrogance – it is a reaction to being shamed for being who they are. LGBTQ folks do NOT choose to be the way they are – it is, simply, their NATURE! Take just a moment to think about this – just a moment, that’s all that I’m asking of you. Did you have to decide at some point in the past to be attracted to the opposite sex? OR Did that attraction just come naturally to you? Did you ever have to make a decision about whether breasts or pecs were more attractive to you? Did you ever have to decide to exhibit masculine or feminine traits? Haven’t you always felt like a male or a female? And, if you all answered those questions the way that I think that you did, doesn’t that suggest something to you about the NATURE of LGBTQ folks? After all, isn’t it illogical to assume that anyone would ever make a conscious decision to be different, shamed or ostracized from society?

Not surprisingly, Mr. Smith went on to chastise President Biden for having the audacity to recognize Pride Month. He wrote: “Just days ago, on June 10, U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration held what it described as the largest ‘Pride event’ ever hosted by the White House, which included a giant, so-called ‘Progress Pride’ flag hanging from the balcony of the White House—flanked on right and left (that is, in the lesser positions) by two American flags.” In other words, how dare the POTUS acknowledge the contributions of this disgusting minority to American society!

Wallace and his allies believe that they have a special commission by Almighty God to castigate these people (and those who support and love them) for their sins! In the end, for them, it all comes back to their conviction that the English-speaking peoples of the earth are the modern descendants of God’s chosen people, Israel. He wrote: “Speaking out against sexual sins, fornication, and adultery—and speaking up for the eternal laws of God—is not popular with many, and it attracts enemies who seek to silence you. As many of you know, our stand for the truth has caused us to be kicked off many a television station. But God’s command leaves no room for cowardice! ‘Cry aloud, spare not; lift up your voice like a trumpet; tell My people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins’ (Isaiah 58:1).” Sorry, Mr. Smith, Britain and the United States are NOT Ephraim and Manasseh, and you are NOT Isaiah! Since you claim to be a “True Christian,” maybe you should be proclaiming the GOOD news which Christ commissioned HIS disciples to preach!

In other words, if you really want to be “an unapologetic source of truth,” you should be proclaiming the source and personification of truth, Jesus Christ. Moreover, like him, instead of actively condemning and excluding people, you should be actively seeking that which was lost and seeking to make whole those whom you believe are sick! That is the work of a TRUE Christian, and the TRUE Church of God!

What do Catholics and Protestants really teach about the Sabbath?

In his booklet Which Day is the Christian Sabbath?, Herbert Armstrong asserted that human religious leaders influenced by paganism had done away with God's Sabbath and replaced it with Sunday observance. Likewise, in a 1984 article in The Plain Truth magazine (Why Churches Observe Sunday), Armstrong claimed that Catholic and Protestant Christians acknowledged that Scripture taught Sabbath observance, and that men had taken it upon themselves to change the Christian observance to Sunday. Was Herbert Armstrong right? Is that really what Catholics and Protestants teach about Sabbath vs Sunday observance?

In the online Catholic Encyclopedia's very detailed article on the "Sabbath," we find the following statements:

"The Sabbath was a day of rest 'sanctified to the Lord' (Exodus 16:23; 31:15; Deuteronomy 5:14). All work was forbidden, the prohibition including strangers as well as Israelites, beasts as well as men (Exodus 20:8-10; 31:13-17; Deuteronomy 5:12-14)."

"The Sabbath was the consecration of one day of the weekly period to God as the Author of the universe and of time. The day thus being the Lord's, it required that man should abstain from working for his own ends and interests, since by working he would appropriate the day to himself, and that he should devote his activity to God by special acts of positive worship. After the Sinaitic covenant God stood to Israel in the relation of Lord of that covenant. The Sabbath thereby also became a sign, and its observance an acknowledgment of the pact: 'See that thou keep my sabbath; because it is a sign between me and you in your generations; that you may know that I am the Lord, who sanctify you' (Exodus 31:13)."

"Under the influence of pharasaic rigorism a system of minute and burdensome regulations was elaborated, while the higher purpose of the Sabbath was lost sight of. The Mishna treatise Shabbath enumerates thirty-nine main heads of forbidden actions, each with subdivisions. Among the main heads are such trifling actions as weaving two threads, sewing two stitches, writing two letters, etc. To pluck two ears of wheat was considered as reaping, while to rub them was a species of threshing (cf. Matthew 12:1-2; Mark 2:23-24; Luke 6:1-2). To carry an object of the weight of a fig was carrying a burden; hence to carry a bed (John 5:10) was a gross breach of the Sabbath. It was unlawful to cure on the Sabbath, or to apply a remedy unless life was endangered (cf. Matthew 12:10 sqq.; Mark 3:2 sqq.; Luke 6:7 sqq.). This explains why the sick were brought to Christ after sundown (Mark, I, 32)."

"Christ, while observing the Sabbath, set himself in word and act against this absurd rigorism which made man a slave of the day. He reproved the scribes and Pharisees for putting an intolerable burden on men's shoulders (Matthew 23:4), and proclaimed the principle that 'the sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath' (Mark 2:27). He cured on the Sabbath, and defended His disciples for plucking ears of corn on that day. In His arguments with the Pharisees on this account He showed that the Sabbath is not broken in cases of necessity or by acts of charity (Matthew 12:3 sqq.; Mark 2:25 sqq.; Luke 6:3 sqq.; 14:5). St. Paul enumerates the Sabbath among the Jewish observances which are not obligatory on Christians (Colossians 2:16; Galatians 4:9-10; Romans 14:5). The gentile converts held their religious meetings on Sunday (Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:2) and with the disappearance of the Jewish Christian churches this day was exclusively observed as the Lord's Day. (See SUNDAY.)"

Likewise, from the Protestant Got Questions online ministry, in their article How is Jesus our Sabbath Rest?, we read:

"The key to understanding how Jesus is our Sabbath rest is the Hebrew word sabat, which means 'to rest or stop or cease from work.' The origin of the Sabbath goes back to Creation. After creating the heavens and the earth in six days, God 'rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had made' (Genesis 2:2). This doesn’t mean that God was tired and needed a rest. We know that God is omnipotent, literally 'all-powerful.' He has all the power in the universe, He never tires, and His most arduous expenditure of energy does not diminish His power one bit. So, what does it mean that God rested on the seventh day? Simply that He stopped what He was doing. He ceased from His labors. This is important in understanding the establishment of the Sabbath day and the role of Christ as our Sabbath rest."

"The various elements of the Sabbath symbolized the coming of the Messiah, who would provide a permanent rest for His people. Once again the example of resting from our labors comes into play. With the establishment of the Old Testament Law, the Jews were constantly 'laboring' to make themselves acceptable to God. Their labors included trying to obey a myriad of do’s and don’ts of the ceremonial law, the Temple law, the civil law, etc. Of course they couldn’t possibly keep all those laws, so God provided an array of sin offerings and sacrifices so they could come to Him for forgiveness and restore fellowship with Him, but only temporarily. Just as they began their physical labors after a one-day rest, so, too, did they have to continue to offer sacrifices. Hebrews 10:1 tells us that the law 'can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship.' But these sacrifices were offered in anticipation of the ultimate sacrifice of Christ on the cross, who 'after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down on the right of God' (Hebrews 10:12). Just as He rested after performing the ultimate sacrifice, He sat down and rested—ceased from His labor of atonement because there was nothing more to be done, ever. Because of what He did, we no longer have to 'labor' in law-keeping in order to be justified in the sight of God. Jesus was sent so that we might rest in God and in what He has provided."

"Another element of the Sabbath day rest which God instituted as a foreshadowing of our complete rest in Christ is that He blessed it, sanctified it, and made it holy. Here again we see the symbol of Christ as our Sabbath rest—the holy, perfect Son of God who sanctifies and makes holy all who believe in Him. God sanctified Christ, just as He sanctified the Sabbath day, and sent Him into the world (John 10:36) to be our sacrifice for sin. In Him we find complete rest from the labors of our self-effort, because He alone is holy and righteous. 'God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God' (2 Corinthians 5:21). We can now cease from our spiritual labors and rest in Him, not just one day a week, but always."

"Jesus can be our Sabbath rest in part because He is 'Lord of the Sabbath' (Matthew 12:8). As God incarnate, He decides the true meaning of the Sabbath because He created it, and He is our Sabbath rest in the flesh. When the Pharisees criticized Him for healing on the Sabbath, Jesus reminded them that even they, sinful as they were, would not hesitate to pull a sheep out of a pit on the Sabbath. Because He came to seek and save His sheep who would hear His voice (John 10:3,27) and enter into the Sabbath rest He provided by paying for their sins, He could break the Sabbath rules. He told the Pharisees that people are more important than sheep and the salvation He provided was more important than rules. By saying, 'The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath' (Mark 2:27), Jesus was restating the principle that the Sabbath rest was instituted to relieve man of his labors, just as He came to relieve us of our attempting to achieve salvation by our works. We no longer rest for only one day, but forever cease our laboring to attain God’s favor."

"There is no other Sabbath rest besides Jesus. He alone satisfies the requirements of the Law, and He alone provides the sacrifice that atones for sin. He is God’s plan for us to cease from the labor of our own works. We dare not reject this one-and-only Way of salvation (John 14:6)."

And, from their article What does it mean that Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath?, we find the following excerpts:

"The phrase 'the Lord of the Sabbath' is found in Matthew 12:8, Mark 2:28, and Luke 6:5. In all three instances Jesus is referring to Himself as the Lord of the Sabbath or, as Mark records it, 'The Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath' (Mark 2:28). In these verses, Jesus is proclaiming that He is the One who exercises authority even over the rules and regulations that govern the Sabbath day."

"As such, Jesus was proclaiming to the world, especially to the legalistic Pharisees, that He was greater than the Law and above the laws of the Mosaic Covenant because, as God in flesh, He is the Author of those laws."

"As Creator, Christ was the original Lord of the Sabbath (John 1:3; Hebrews 1:10). He had the authority to overrule the Pharisees’ traditions and regulations because He had created the Sabbath—and the Creator is always greater than the creation. Furthermore, Jesus claimed the authority to correctly interpret the meaning of the Sabbath and all the laws pertaining to it. Because Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath, He is free to do on it and with it whatever He pleases."

"The Lord of the Sabbath had come, and with His death and resurrection He became the fulfillment of our 'Sabbath rest.' The salvation we have in Christ has made the old law of the Sabbath no longer needed or binding. When Jesus said, 'The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath' (Mark 2:27), Jesus was attesting to the fact that, just as the Sabbath day was originally instituted to give man rest from his labors, so did He come to provide us rest from laboring to achieve our own salvation by our works. Because of His sacrifice on the cross, we can now forever cease laboring to attain God’s favor and rest in His mercy and grace."

Hence, from these excerpts, we see that Herbert Armstrong's characterization of Catholic and Protestant attitudes toward God's Sabbath were simplistic and inaccurate. Indeed, the above statements make very clear that Traditional Christianity has a great reverence for the concept of the Sabbath rest, and see Christ as the embodiment and fulfillment of that rest! For these Christians, the Sabbath is clearly viewed through the text of the fourth chapter of the epistle to the Hebrews. In other words, they look to both Christ and Scripture as the standard for their beliefs about the Sabbath - NOT to pagans or the traditions of men!

Wednesday, June 21, 2023

Matthew 23: The Case Against Religious Leaders

In the twenty-third chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, we have a summary of Jesus Christ's issues with the religious leaders of his day. Interestingly, when we look at Christ's enumeration of those issues, many of us have noted that the same observations could be made about religious leaders in our own time. Don't think so? Let's take a closer look.

Talking about the scribes and Pharisees, Jesus said:

1. They don't set a good example. They don't practice what they preach.

2. They impose burdensome moral standards on others which they don't follow themselves.

3. They do what they do for an audience of humans, NOT for God. They crave public acclaim/recognition.

4. They actively exclude people from the Kingdom of Heaven.

5. They solicit converts to their belief system and make them even more obnoxious than themselves.

6. They prioritize the material over the spiritual.

7. They major in the minors. They focus their energy and attention on unimportant things.

8. They focus on appearances rather than substance. How something looks to others is more important to them than satisfying God or their own consciences.

9. They praise biblical prophets and righteousness while actively working to pervert our understanding of them. Moreover, they simultaneously condemn the way that others have treated those subjects.

(See Matthew 23:1-35)

Does any of that sound familiar? For those who have eyes to see and ears to hear, it should!

Sunday, June 18, 2023

On Father's Day

The focus of this day, of course, is on our physical/earthly fathers, and most of them certainly deserve our thanks and respect for all of the things which they have done for us. Nevertheless, many of us cannot help to also think about our Heavenly Father, Almighty God, and the love and gratitude that we feel for Him. We remember what Christ said to Nicodemus: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him." (John 3:16-17, ESV) Our Father loved us enough to sacrifice His Son so that we could be saved - that's a lot of love! Indeed, John later wrote that God IS love (I John 4:8, 16)!

And, just as the Father loved us, Christ said that the greatest - most important - commandment in the Torah was to love God "with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind." (Matthew 22:37-38, ESV). Also, in the same epistle in which he had said that "God is love," John said that the best way to demonstrate that love was to love each other and obey Him (I John 4:20, 5:2) Moreover, in the Gospel of John, we read that Christ told the Jews of his day that "If God were your Father, you would love me" (8:42, ESV).

Jesus also gave us a number of admonitions about how we should regard and interact with our Heavenly Father. He said that we should strive to be like him - forgiving and loving those who are opposed to us and striving for the perfection which is Him (Matthew 5:43-48). He went on to say that we should do our charitable works and say our prayers privately, for Him to see and hear - NOT to receive accolades from the public (Matthew 6:1-6). Christ also said that we should address our prayers to the Father, and that we should always remember that he is already aware of our needs before we even get started (Matthew 6:8-13, 32)! Jesus said that God wants to give us extraordinary gifts, but that we must strive to do His will (Matthew 7:11, 21). Jesus also said that God wanted His children to worship Him in Spirit and in TRUTH (John 4:23).

Finally, Jesus made very clear that the Father had sent him to this earth, and that he alone represented Him (John 3:35, 5:26, 30, 36, 8:42, 12:49-50). Christ went on to assert that he was the one who had revealed the Father to humankind, and that no one would be able to come to the Father except through him (John 1:18, 5:37, 6:46, 14:6). Christ then went on to promise his followers that those who loved him and kept his commandments would experience both Jesus and the Father living within him/her, and that the Father would give him/her a Comforter to help that person through the remainder of this life (John 14:23, 26).

I lost my own father at the end of 2021. However, like him, I continue to have a Heavenly Father who loves and cares for me. I also cannot forget that I too am a father to my two daughters and a grandfather to six grandchildren. In this connection, I am reminded that God instructed the Israelites to honor their fathers and mothers (Exodus 20:12), but Paul also wrote to the saints at Ephesus and Colossians that fathers also had certain obligations to their children. He said that fathers shouldn't provoke their children, and that they should teach them how to love their Heavenly Father (Ephesians 6:4 and Colossians 3:21). Hence, for me at least, honoring my father on this day encompasses so much more than a nod to the man who was physically responsible for me. On this day, I think about God, my forefathers, and my responsibilities to them and my own children and grandchildren. This is what Father's Day means to me. What about you?

Wednesday, June 14, 2023

Herbert Armstrong WAS an ANTICHRIST!

"The Gospel of Jesus Christ is NOT man's gospel ABOUT THE PERSON of Christ." What is the True Gospel? (1972) by Herbert W Armstrong

"It seems that today all churches have lost the gospel of Jesus Christ. They preach primarily their gospel ABOUT Jesus Christ." Mystery of the Ages (1985) by Herbert W Armstrong

Fun Fact: In the index to Mystery of the Ages "Jesus Christ" occupies the same space as the entry for "Humanity" (12 and 11 references, respectively)!!!!!!!!

Fun Fact: In the Herbert W. Armstrong Searchable Library "Combined Article Index" of Herbert's three main magazines, The Plain Truth, The Good News, and Tomorrow's World, there are more articles on "Christians" and the "Church" than there are on "Christ"!!!!!!!

Over the years, regular readers of my posts are aware that I have emphasized the fact that the message of the Christian Church should be centered on Jesus Christ and salvation through him. Indeed, many of those posts have criticized the leadership of the Armstrong Churches of God (ACOGs) for being focused on anything but Christ! The focus on current events, the modern identity of Israel, the Law, a message of warning, and even the Kingdom of God has absorbed so much of their attention and energy that Jesus is rarely mentioned! Moreover, as you can see from some of the quotations and fun facts from the era of Herbert Armstrong, this de-emphasis of Jesus and salvation through him was quite purposeful and had its origins in his teachings.

Often, when I write one of my posts critiquing the messaging of Armstrong and his successors, I am faced with the question: Who decides what can be said from the pulpit? OR Who are you to say that Herbert Armstrong was wrong about the message of God's Church? For myself, I believe that the definitive and last word on messaging goes to Christ and his apostles as revealed in the New Testament.

The New Testament canon is focused on Jesus Christ. Don't think so? In the King James Version, Jesus is mentioned 942 times! (See Jesus) Indeed, the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) are devoted to telling Christ's story and talking about his teachings. In fact, from the perspective of the authors of the New Testament, the writings of the Hebrew Bible ALL pointed to Jesus Christ. Moreover, the Apostle Paul was very clear about what he preached to the Gentile churches which he founded.

In his first epistle to the saints at Corinth, we read: "Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.  For it is written, 'I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.' Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God." (1:17-25, ESV) So, we see that Paul's message was clearly about Jesus Christ and what his crucifixion has accomplished for those who have accepted him and his work on their behalf. 

Paul also wrote: "To the churches of Galatia: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen. I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed." (Galatians 1:2-9, ESV) He went on to say: "O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified." (3:1, ESV) Paul continued: "For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love." (5:1-6, ESV)

Paul clearly felt that the Galatians were abandoning his message about Jesus and salvation through him - that they were turning to a different message! Notice too that Paul pronounced a DOUBLE curse on anyone who would preach a different message! For Paul, the message was ALL about Jesus, and what HE had done for them! Indeed, he went on to suggest that anyone who was focused on keeping the Law to find favor with God had effectively cut him/herself off from Christ!

Finally, in his first general epistle, John wrote: "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error." (4:1-6, ESV) In John's view, everyone who focused on Jesus and his ministry demonstrated that their message was inspired by the Holy Spirit. Moreover, he went on to say that any messaging which had any other focus reflected "the spirit of antichrist"!!!!!!! He said that this other messaging was based on a worldly perspective and would, consequently, be appealing to the folks of this world! For John, the message's focus (or lack of focus) on Jesus Christ was the measure of whether it reflected truth or error!

Herbert Armstrong clearly taught that the Christ-centric messaging of the traditional Christian Church was wrong. He believed that those "so-called" Christians had preached a message about the messenger instead of preaching his message. Armstrong was preoccupied with how current events related to Old Testament prophecies about a promised Messianic kingdom. His message appealed to a world focused on itself and its problems. As a consequence, unfortunately, there wasn't much room left for a message about a Savior and salvation. Hence, according to Scripture, Armstrong's messaging identified him as an ANTICHRIST (antichristos - an opponent of the Messiah)!!!!!!!


Thursday, June 8, 2023

Accuser OR Advocate?

In God's role as Chief Adjudicator, Scripture makes a sharp distinction between those who accuse others and those who advocate on their behalf. Of course, those same scriptures present Satan as the principal accuser, and Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit as the principal advocates. Get the message? Accuser = bad, and Advocate = good! Indeed, this theme runs throughout the Bible - Don't think so?

In Genesis, we are informed that Satan accused God of lying. In the book of Job, we read that Satan accused God of protecting the title character and suggested that Job would turn on God if He withdrew His protection of him. Finally, in the book of Revelation, Satan is referred to as "the accuser of our brethren...which accused them before our God day and night." (12:10)

In the Gospel of John, the Holy Spirit is referred to by Christ as a "Comforter/Helper/Advocate" or "parakletos" in the original Greek (14:16, 26,15:26, and 16:7).  According to Strong's and Blue Letter Bible, this word means "1) one who pleads another's cause before a judge, a pleader, counsel for defense, legal assistant; an advocate" and "2) universally, one who pleads another's cause with one, an intercessor." Interestingly, in the First Epistle of John, this same word is translated into English as "advocate." We read there: "My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous." (2:1, ESV) Also, in Paul's Epistle to the Romans, we read: "Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God." (8:26-27, ESV) And, a little later, "Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us." (Verse 34) Moreover, in the Epistle to the Hebrews we are informed that Christ lives to make intercession for those who are his (7:25).

Now, obviously, there is a difference between accusing someone of wrongdoing and pointing out behaviors and/or teachings which inflict hurt or harm on others. For instance, Christ confronted hypocrisy and superficiality among the religious leaders of his day. In similar fashion, Paul and the other apostles were quick to point out behaviors and heretical teachings which threatened the wider community of believers. Even so, Christ and his apostles were about teaching others about God's Kingdom, and how to be a part of that through him - NOT accusing people of wrongdoing!

Hence, since Satan was preoccupied with accusation, and Christ and the Holy Spirit were focused on advocacy, should Christian's want to be accusers or advocates? Indeed, doesn't Scripture suggest that we should be interceding/praying to God for each other? (See Matthew 5:44, James 5:16, Ephesians 6:18, I Thessalonians 5:25, I Timothy 2:1) What about you? Are you an accuser of others or an advocate for them?

Tuesday, June 6, 2023

Same-sex Marriage?

Now that we have made a comprehensive study of what Scripture actually has to say about the institution of marriage, we are ready to tackle the highly controversial and emotionally charged issue of same-sex marriage. Indeed, a foray into this topic would not be possible without a solid grounding in what Scripture reveals about that institution more generally speaking. Unfortunately, even with this background, the prejudices that many folks bring to this topic will prevent some from even entertaining the possibility! For them, homosexuality is a sin - case closed before the discussion is even started!

Hence, although this post is meant to deal with the issue of same-sex marriage, I feel like we must not ignore the elephant in the room - the morality/sinfulness of homosexuality. In this connection, before proceeding with the main topic of this post, I would like to encourage my readers to do a little homework of their own on this topic. First, I would like to recommend to my readers the article "Understanding sexual orientation and homosexuality" by the American Psychological Association. Also, from the Online Etymology Dictionary, I think that it is critical for us to understand the origins of the words "sodomite" and "homosexual." In terms of the inappropriateness of "traditional" Christian views of what Scripture has to say on this topic, I am happy to recommend two brief articles to my readers: "Original Greek Definition of Arsenokoitai" and "The Clobber Passages: Reexamined" by Bruce L. Gerig.

Finally, in the light of what we have said about how women were treated in patriarchal Israel, I would also like to encourage my readers to consider the following language from those two famous passages from the Torah (Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13). In both of those passages, the phrases "as with womankind" and "as he lieth with a woman" are employed. Could these passages be suggesting that a man should not be subjected to the same kind of humiliation/subjugation that women often experienced within the context of sexual intercourse in those days?

While I think we can all agree that things like gang rape, male shrine prostitution and pederasty are immoral behaviors, I hope that we can also acknowledge that the actual language employed in both the Old and New Testaments does NOT constitute a condemnation of loving and consensual relationships between two people of the same sex. If we can admit that homosexuals are also people made in the image and likeness of God, we should be able to acknowledge that they should be subjected to the same moral standards which apply to the rest of humankind!

If God assessed the human body, its functions and sexual attraction as being VERY GOOD, how can we make them shameful and sinful? If it isn't good for a man to be alone, how can we make it acceptable for a homosexual to be alone? If marriage was intended to be held in high esteem by ALL - as an honorable estate for ALL, then how can we make it dishonorable or improper for some? Although the first marriage was between one man and one woman, how do we get around the fact that polygamy and divorce were tolerated in Old Testament times? Does that suggest that there might be other exceptions to the original intent which might be tolerated by God? And, if a person is attracted to someone who shares his/her gender, would it be appropriate to force that person to go against his/her own nature and marry someone who he/she wasn't attracted to?

More importantly, can the same moral principles be applied to homosexuals which have been applied to heterosexuals? Are two people of the same gender capable of nurturing and caring for children and raising them in the fear and admonition of the Lord? Are two people of the same gender capable of providing companionship and comfort to each other? Are two people of the same gender capable of loving each other and being faithful to each other? Are homosexuals capable of expressing love through sexual intercourse? And, if we answer "yes" to those questions, how can we justify excluding homosexuals from the moral and psychological benefits of marriage?

Think about that basic definition of marriage that we find in the book of Genesis. Remember? "Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh." (Genesis 2:24) Are homosexuals capable of leaving their parents, cleaving to their partner, and having sexual intercourse with him/her (becoming one flesh)? And, if they are, doesn't that mean that they are married in the eyes of God? And, if we say NO, aren't we effectively mandating an immoral life for them and excluding them from the moral laws which bind the rest of us? What do you think?

Thursday, June 1, 2023

Scripture on Marriage (Part 5)

In this series, we have talked about (and compared) what Torah, Christ, and Paul had to say about divorce. In modern times, many Christians have ignored all three and have instead practiced a kind of serial monogamy. However, the Gospel of John informs us that Christ once met a Samaritan woman at a well and offered her some "living water" (4:1-15). Continuing with the narrative about the encounter, we read: "Jesus said to her, 'Go, call your husband, and come here.' The woman answered him, 'I have no husband.' Jesus said to her, 'You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.'" (Verses 16-18) In other words, both Christ and the woman knew that serial monogamy is a human fiction - that it does NOT represent God's intention for marriage!

Why would we include this story? In addition to trying to write a comprehensive treatment of what Scripture has to say about marriage, this story underscores the extent to which many of us have completely ignored what the Bible has to say on the subject and have manufactured our own narrative about marriage (consistent with our own views about what is right or wrong in that regard). Does that sound familiar? It should - remember what we read back in the first post in this series about the first man and woman and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil?

In that first post, we also discussed how that first man and woman were deceived by Satan. We read about how God had assessed EVERYTHING which He had created as being VERY GOOD (Genesis 1:31), and how that assessment included human male and female bodies and how they were designed to function sexually. We noted in that post that, prior to the fall, "the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed." (Genesis 2:25, ESV) However, after they ate the fruit of that tree, we also read that the man and the woman developed an awareness of their nakedness and a shame about their bodies (Genesis 3:1-13). Moreover, as this entire series has demonstrated, that sense of shame about our bodies and how they function has permeated humankind's consciousness ever since! Like our ancestors in the Garden of Eden, we have continued to decide for ourselves what constitutes good and evil - rejecting God's revelation of what is moral and what is not!

And this phenomenon is nowhere more apparent than in the realm of sexual attraction. Indeed, for many Christians, sexual attraction is synonymous with LUST! Moreover, this twisted and perverted human reasoning influenced by that old Serpent has informed our views on dating, premarital sex, marriage, and divorce. In other words, the foundation is rotten - which calls into question most of the stuff which we have constructed on that foundation! Indeed, this gives new meaning to that passage from Revelation which identifies Satan as "the deceiver of the whole world" (12:9)!

In this connection, more than any other single book in the Judeo-Christian canon, the "Song of Solomon" or "Song of Songs" underscores just how wrongheaded and unscriptural traditional Christian views about sexual attraction really are! In fact, for many Christians, this book is an embarrassment - something to be ignored. Indeed, if we could somehow elicit complete honesty from folks, I imagine that we would find a great many Christians who wish that this book had never been included in Scripture!

Now, ideally, everyone would read the entire book, "Song of Solomon." Nevertheless, for our purposes, I will supply a few excerpts to give my readers a sense of the book:

"My beloved is to me a sachet of myrrh that lies between my breasts. My beloved is to me a cluster of henna blossoms in the vineyards of Engedi." (1:13-14, ESV)

"As an apple tree among the trees of the forest, so is my beloved among the young men. With great delight I sat in his shadow, and his fruit was sweet to my taste. He brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love. Sustain me with raisins; refresh me with apples, for I am sick with love. His left hand is under my head, and his right hand embraces me!" (2:3-6)

"The voice of my beloved! Behold, he comes, leaping over the mountains, bounding over the hills. My beloved is like a gazelle or a young stag. Behold, there he stands behind our wall, gazing through the windows, looking through the lattice." (2:8-9)

"My beloved is mine, and I am his; he grazes among the lilies. Until the day breathes and the shadows flee, turn, my beloved, be like a gazelle or a young stag on cleft mountains" (2:16-17)

"On my bed by night, I sought him whom my soul loves; I sought him, but found him not. I will rise now and go about the city, in the streets and in the squares; I will seek him whom my soul loves. I sought him, but found him not. The watchmen found me as they went about in the city. 'Have you seen him whom my soul loves?' Scarcely had I passed them when I found him whom my soul loves. I held him, and would not let him go until I had brought him into my mother's house, and into the chamber of her who conceived me." (3:1-4)

"Behold, you are beautiful, my love, behold, you are beautiful! Your eyes are doves behind your veil. Your hair is like a flock of goats leaping down the slopes of Gilead. Your teeth are like a flock of shorn ewes that have come up from the washing, all of which bear twins, and not one among them has lost its young. Your lips are like a scarlet thread, and your mouth is lovely. Your cheeks are like halves of a pomegranate behind your veil. Your neck is like the tower of David, built in rows of stone; on it hang a thousand shields, all of them shields of warriors. Your two breasts are like two fawns, twins of a gazelle, that graze among the lilies." (4:1-5)

"You have captivated my heart, my sister, my bride; you have captivated my heart with one glance of your eyes, with one jewel of your necklace. How beautiful is your love, my sister, my bride! How much better is your love than wine, and the fragrance of your oils than any spice! Your lips drip nectar, my bride; honey and milk are under your tongue; the fragrance of your garments is like the fragrance of Lebanon." (4:9-11)

"A garden locked is my sister, my bride, a spring locked, a fountain sealed. Your shoots are an orchard of pomegranates with all choicest fruits, henna with nard, nard and saffron, calamus and cinnamon, with all trees of frankincense, myrrh and aloes, with all choice spices— a garden fountain, a well of living water, and flowing streams from Lebanon. Awake, O north wind, and come, O south wind! Blow upon my garden, let its spices flow. Let my beloved come to his garden and eat its choicest fruits." (4:12-16)

"I came to my garden, my sister, my bride, I gathered my myrrh with my spice, I ate my honeycomb with my honey, I drank my wine with my milk." (5:1)

"I slept, but my heart was awake. A sound! My beloved is knocking. 'Open to me, my sister, my love, my dove, my perfect one, for my head is wet with dew, my locks with the drops of the night.' I had put off my garment; how could I put it on? I had bathed my feet; how could I soil them? My beloved put his hand to the latch, and my heart was thrilled within me. I arose to open to my beloved, and my hands dripped with myrrh, my fingers with liquid myrrh, on the handles of the bolt." (5:2-5)

"My beloved is radiant and ruddy, distinguished among ten thousand. His head is the finest gold; his locks are wavy, black as a raven. His eyes are like doves beside streams of water, bathed in milk, sitting beside a full pool. His cheeks are like beds of spices, mounds of sweet-smelling herbs. His lips are lilies, dripping liquid myrrh. His arms are rods of gold, set with jewels. His body is polished ivory, bedecked with sapphires. His legs are alabaster columns, set on bases of gold. His appearance is like Lebanon, choice as the cedars. His mouth is most sweet, and he is altogether desirable. This is my beloved and this is my friend, O daughters of Jerusalem." (5:10-16)

"My beloved has gone down to his garden to the beds of spices, to graze in the gardens and to gather lilies. I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine; he grazes among the lilies." (6:2-3)

"There are sixty queens and eighty concubines, and virgins without number. My dove, my perfect one, is the only one, the only one of her mother, pure to her who bore her. The young women saw her and called her blessed; the queens and concubines also, and they praised her." (6:8-9) - there's that polygamy thing again!

"How beautiful are your feet in sandals, O noble daughter! Your rounded thighs are like jewels, the work of a master hand. Your navel is a rounded bowl that never lacks mixed wine. Your belly is a heap of wheat, encircled with lilies. Your two breasts are like two fawns, twins of a gazelle." (7:1-3)

"How beautiful and pleasant you are, O loved one, with all your delights! Your stature is like a palm tree, and your breasts are like its clusters. I say I will climb the palm tree and lay hold of its fruit. Oh, may your breasts be like clusters of the vine, and the scent of your breath like apples, and your mouth like the best wine." (7:6-9)

Is it getting warm in here? Somebody turn on the fan! "That stuff is in the Bible?" YES, yes it is!

The Enduring Word Bible Commentary's article on Song of Solomon informs us that Biblical scholars have offered a number of perspectives on how to interpret this book. We can summarize these approaches as: 1) Avoidance - Indeed, the article quotes Origen as having said: "I advise and counsel everyone who is not yet rid of vexations of the flesh and blood, and has not ceased to feel the passions of this bodily nature, to refrain from reading the book and the things that will be said about it." 2)  "an allegory describing the love relationship between God and His people, not between a husband and wife." 3) A dramatic story about Solomon, a simple shepherd, and a young maiden. 4) "a literal, powerful description of the romantic and sensual love between a man and a woman, observing both their courtship and their marriage." 5) An illustration of "the love, the intensity, and the beauty of relationship that should exist between God and the believer." (this one requires some reading between the lines) and 6) A "song of human love" or a writing of "mystical suggestiveness."

For the purposes of this post, I don't think that it is necessary to make a choice among these different interpretations. Whether the characters were married or not is irrelevant to the fact that the book clearly exalts human sexual attraction as something that is healthy, wholesome, and good (and, yes, this book is focused on heterosexual attraction). Thus, however we decide to interpret this book, it clearly supports the thesis of this series that human attitudes towards our bodies and their sexual functions were perverted in the Garden of Eden, and our attitudes towards sex, dating, marriage, and divorce have reflected those distortions ever since that event (including Christian attitudes in the present)! In short, marriage would NEVER happen in the first place if men and women weren't sexually attracted to each other!

So, we come, at long last, to the conclusion of the matter. In this study of what Scripture reveals about the institution of marriage, we have demonstrated that some of the statements of various churches on this subject are NOT consistent with what the Scriptures have to say about it! In summary, we have seen that: 1) biblical marriages were NOT always between one man and one woman, 2) marriage was viewed as a property transaction between a father and the prospective husband in the Hebrew Bible, 3) ALL of the commandments in Torah were focused on the male gender (with the female playing an ancillary role in fulfilling their demands), 4) marriage was originally intended to be a lifelong commitment between a man and a woman, 5) marriage was NOT just for purposes of procreation - that it was also intended by God to provide companionship and love throughout this life's journey, 6) marriage was a natural and wholesome expression of sexual desire between two people, and 7) there is NO formal marriage ceremony or ritual outlined ANYWHERE in Scripture! Hence, although many Christians claim to hold the Bible up as their sole standard for doctrine and life, it is clear that many of them have ignored and/or intentionally twisted what the Bible has to say about human sexuality, marriage, and divorce! Hopefully, this series has served to undo some of that misinformation and reveal what Scripture really has to say about these issues. What do you think?