A Few Thoughts on the Election 2012

Going to bed last night, and even waking up this morning, I was struck by the variety of responses to the election results. Fear. Anger. Hopelessness. Vengeance. Sorrow. Frustration. Pride. In trying to process my own emotions and thoughts on the matter as well as put what transpired into focus, my mind turned once again to T. S. Eliot’s “The Hollow Men.” The poem is somewhat vague, filled with symbolism and metaphors that don’t go entirely explained within the poem itself. It’s the fifth section that I was most drawn to. I’ve included a portion of the poem below (it’s set up as Eliot intended, so don’t blast me for how unconventional it is):

Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow
                                For Thine is the Kingdom

Between the conception
And the creation
Between the emotion
And the response
Falls the Shadow
                                Life is very long

Between the desire
And the spasm
Between the potency
And the existence
Between the essence
And the descent
Falls the Shadow
                                For Thine is the Kingdom

For Thine is
Life is
For Thine is the

This is the way the world ends...
Not with a bang, but a whimper.

Tragic, depressing stuff, but that’s where my mind goes thanks to my time teaching language arts. For whatever reason, things come into focus for me in this way. So, after dabbling in the melancholy, I decided to list, point-by-point, my thoughts on the election.

  • God is still on the throne, no matter who won last night. That is not a consolation, but it is instead a glory to wonder at as well as a blessed assurance. God’s purposes will still be accomplished regardless of man’s struggle for power. He has raised up kings and kingdoms, and He has overthrown them according to His purposes. The heart of our “king” is in His hand, and the entire universe is under His control. God is not dead, nor does He sleep. He can bring about justice, mercy, and provision for His glory no matter who is in the Oval Office or has a seat in Congress.
  • When it comes to the presidential election, we had two choices: a moderate with a questionable voting record on moral issues OR a liberal with a definite bias against moral issues. A two-party system is going to drive everyone to appear moderate during election time. People appear to have preferred the devil they knew.
  • Elections are snapshots of a society. Given the victories for those who champion immoral, anti-religious causes, the snapshots reveal that we are a sick, sick people. The ruling party at the moment supports the murder of unborn infants. Greed has infested our society to the point that the rich invest in politics to protect their wealth, and the poor and middle class vote to take from the wealthy by sheer force. Stories of racially-motivated hatred (white folks and New Black Panthers alike) and unsympathetic comments from a certain Chris Matthews regarding the political effects of Hurricane Sandy flooded the news media. We are a divided and self-destructive society, but I’m not going to dwell here. My point is all too easily made.
  • Between a quick read of Scripture and thumbing through the history books, we discover that the two points above bring us to a logical conclusion: America is at a very important crossroads. God’s purposes will always come to pass, but whole kingdoms may be removed if they don’t follow His commands. This isn’t about theocracy, folks. This is about sovereignty. America does not equal Israel, nor is there such a thing as a truly “Christian” nation. However, God does have demands for all nations. Egypt’s sins were many, so God used the plagues to chasten them. Canaanite cultures were wiped out because their sin was so wretched that God states that the land itself was ready to expel them. Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome were mighty nations which were given power by God providentially, and they all had their power removed by that same Providence when their national sins were too many. They victimized the innocent, the poor, and the faithful alike. They became cruel, prideful, or hateful, so God used nature and nations to move them off the scene. So it may be with America before long. How quickly she rose to greatness, and how quickly she has fallen in power and prosperity within my own lifetime! There may be yet a national rebirth, a renewed conscience in this nation. It has happened before in many other nations, including our own. A single election does not signal our necessary downfall. If not, however, we must trust God to be faithful and good to His people even as He removes America from the world scene at some point in the (hopefully) distant future. He would not be unjust for bringing us far lower than we are at this point or for removing us as a nation entirely. He is “not a tame Lion, but He is good.” The problem is not God’s goodness, but our “badness.” The problem is that we- as a nation- might be weighed in the balance and found wanting.
  • The real issue in America is the Church, not the World. The World is merely doing what it has been doing since the Fall. It forces conformity to pride, lust, and violence. It fuels self-will and seeks to drown out Christ in a sea of brazen rebellion. Nothing has changed since mankind left the Garden. God’s people, on the other hand, have failed miserably. Some Christians are walled gardens of stinkweed and poison ivy. They are content to shut themselves off from the culture in the name of “fundamentalism.” The Salt has refused to leave the Shaker, so the Meal is either bland or rotten. Other Christians have turned Jesus into a political figure, using Him to champion various political causes that have nothing to do with Christ or the Bible. Still others are guilty of idolatry similar to the Statism of our nation as a whole. While not technically replacing God with the Government, they have nonetheless transferred God’s commands to the Church to various government assistance programs. This group has managed to foist a whole new form of legalism upon us, all the while quoting chapter and verse completely out of context. A final group of Christians see fit to just be lazy and ignorant, frankly. They choose to ignore the issues of the day, sit on their hands, and hum a cheesy worship song while posting a single verse from Psalms on Election Day, all the while congratulating themselves that they are concerned with “more important things besides ‘politics’.” Or perhaps they work themselves into a frenzy in the months heading in to the election, but they do nothing the rest of the year to meet the physical and spiritual needs of others. It’s as if they were cramming for a test in college, and the lack of effort shows. If the Church refuses to be salt and light, if we aren’t thinking right and believing right and acting right each and every day of the year, why should we expect to have any influence at all on the direction of the Nation we claim to love so much? What is a nation besides a group of people? If we care nothing for souls and bodies alike, then maybe we are just married to an ideal based on half-learned or biased history lessons.

And so here we are on November 7th, and I am going to bring this post full circle. The Shadow has fallen between idea and reality, motion and act, conception and creation, emotion and response. While we as a Church and a Nation ought to be crying out, “For Thine is the Kingdom!”, we are instead wrapped up in our party, our ideals, our issues, our emotions…..ourselves. And there’s nothing more depressing then ourselves, so instead we find ourselves crying out in our depression and hopelessness (or perhaps unsatisfactory triumph), “Life is very long!” We are wearied and discouraged by life because we are controlled by what we consume. The Shadow falls, paralyzing us, just as T.S. Eliot predicted. The soul of this Nation- and especially the Church- is struggling desperately to shake off the weight of evil and self-delusion. At one moment, she cries out “For Thine is….” but falls silent before ceding authority and kingship. The next she finds herself muttering “Life is…..” while recognizing that there is deeper meaning to be found.

Let us turn our gaze Heavenward. Let us cry out to the only One capable of helping our lips form the words: “For Thine is the Kingdom, Power, and Glory forever.” America desperately needs a revival, an awakening, but this will not come through activism. It will not come through politics. It certainly will not come via the ballot box. It must come when the Church determines that it will glory in Christ and seek only to glorify Him.

Categories: Apologetics, Bible, christianity, Contemporary Issues, Politics | 1 Comment

Paul on Homosexuality

I’d like to briefly deal with the two most often quoted passaged in the New Testament which deal with homosexuality. In listening to various sides on this issue, I realized that there are a lot of folks out there who either don’t understand the truth of what Paul is saying or they have no interest in letting God’s Word transform them. And, Christians, I’m looking at you, here. If an unsaved person entrenched in sin doesn’t at first recognize their sin, that’s completely understandable. A lost person will do what is in their nature. When a blood-washed Christian- someone who has accepted God’s grace- fails to share that grace with others, then something is very wrong. What happened to being fishers of men? To the passages at hand….

Romans 1:26-27

“For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature;  and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.”

These verses are often used by Christians in the context of Romans 1 to identify homosexuals as those with “reprobate minds.” The idea of a reprobate mind is that the person with such a mind has “passed the point of no return” and has utterly rejected God to the point that God will no longer persist in offering them salvation. Not only does this view lack a lot of Scriptural support, but it ignores the reality of what many people who experience same-sex attraction say about themselves. Many, many of them say they experienced this aberrant attraction at a very early age.  I disagree strongly with the interpretation that Romans 1 means that homosexuals are past saving. The overall context of Romans puts Romans 1 as a general description of humanity apart from God. There is a general cause and effect relationship between rejecting God and the sins which God permits humanity to fall into. Humanity as a whole and perhaps specific cultures will spiral downward, away from admitting the authority of Christ…..unless God intervenes. This is the natural tendency of humanity in general, but it is not the experience of everyone who is not a believer, nor is it the path that every person must take to self-identify as a homosexual.

1 Corinthians 6:9-11

“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (ESV)

The ESV takes two terms used to refer to homosexuality in this passage (translated in the KJV as “effeminate” and “abusers of themselves with mankind”) and translates them simply as “men who practice homosexuality.” I can only assume the translators chose to do this to avoid explaining the two terms for some reason. I’ll have to say they wimped out on this one.

There are a few issues in this passage:

  1. Are the people on this list banned from going to Heaven?
  2. Who are the effeminate and the abusers of themselves with mankind?
  3. Does this passage deal primarily with cultic practices, or with all homosexual activity?

I would first point out that “inheriting” and “entering” the Kingdom are two different things in many passages of Scripture. One can enter the Kingdom without inheriting it, but one cannot inherit the Kingdom without entering it first. In other words, I do not think that this passage means that those who commit the sins listed are banned from Heaven. We know from other passages that people who commit sin- even violent or blasphemous sin- can be saved, so clearly Paul’s intent is not to list off reasons why some are banned from ever entering Heaven. So who are these people, anyway?

I am very surprised by the number of writings on this subject which make the Greek language behind this passage so ambiguous. It is true that Paul uses a very unusual word here: “Arsenokoitēs”- literally, “[male] intercourse with a male.” Some would limit the word to only temple prostitution, pedophilia, etc. However, if this is all that Paul meant, there are at least three Greek words that he could have chosen from: paiderastes (“lover of boys”- pedophilia), paidophthoros (“warped by boys [prostitutes]”),  and kinaidos (“effeminate cross-dresser”.) Instead, Paul chooses two very broad terms for homosexuality in general. So what made him choose these two words?

While he was a Jew, Paul would have been well-versed in the Greek language. The Septuagint (a Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament) would have been something he knew well and used frequently when speaking with non-Jews. This unique word in Corinthians comes from the Septuagint’s rendering of Leviticus 18:22: (kai meta arsenos ou koimēthēsē koitēn gunaikos. bdelugma gar estin…. “And you shall not have sexual intercourse with a male as with a female. For it is unclean.”). Paul essentially made up his own Greek word to match the Old Testament commandment. Clearly, Paul believed that commandments against sexual sins were still in effect, regardless of whatever else he believed about the Old Testament Law!

The other word used for a homosexual here is “Malakos”, a term used of male prostitutes in the pagan cults, pederasty (you don’t want to know), and the passive member of a homosexual relationship. Just about every Greek lexicon accepts a broad definition of this term. It is translated as “effeminate” in a more classic sense; as in, a male who assumes the role of a female. This term does not refer to a man whose personality or mannerisms could be taken to be feminine. These are sometimes culturally defined rather than God-given. The bottom line is that Paul chose two unique words with very broad meanings to tell us that all homosexuality- whatever form it takes- is against God’s plan. Whether a lifestyle, a form of prostitution, or pedophilia, it is all wrong.

This brings me to the last verse in this passage: “such were some of you.” Change is possible. There is hope. The Bible does not merely condemn, but offers redemption. However strong the emotions, however ingrained the behavior, healing and change can occur. God offers liberty from sinful lifestyles through the blood of Jesus Christ. The Corinthian church had members of its congregation that were former homosexuals, thieves, and drunks. Christian church, where are your converts from all aspects of society? Perhaps we need to start being fishers of men instead of keepers of the aquarium.

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Jesus on Homosexuality

One of the most frequently-asked questions I got when dealing with issues of human sexuality- including homosexuality- is why I dealt so little with the New Testament. My Christian friends wondered why I barely hinted at Paul’s writings on the subject, and my liberal friends wanted to know why I failed to bring up Jesus. Today I’m going to attempt to answer for myself on both counts.

No doubt my liberal friends perceived a weakness in my logic. Why- if I am a Christian- didn’t I bring up Christ? They suppose that Jesus had nothing to say about homosexuality, and so they believe that they have a good counter-argument. This belief is nonsense, as is the belief held by many Christians that Christianity should have very little interest in the Old Testament. Just a small rant here: but the New Testament is set very firmly in the history and theology of the Old. As I am learning, everything in the Old Testament- while powerful and pertinent in its own context- provided for everything we in the Church believe and know and hold to in the much larger context of the Gospel and God’s unfolding revelation of Himself. In short, you cannot have the Church without Israel first. You cannot have the message of Christ without the Law. “Christ the Savior is born” is of no meaning unless we better understand vicarious atonement, sin, sacrifice, and Law. Grace cannot be divorced from Truth, nor Justice from Mercy, and it is very wrong of us to ignore the larger portion of Scripture. It isn’t just about “Bible stories” in Sunday School, you know…..those narratives are only the beginning of something much, much grander.

So, on to the subject at hand. How exactly does Jesus weigh in on the issue of homosexuality? Consider the following with me for a moment:

  1. Jesus spoke in Matthew 19 of the Genesis account of creation: God created male and female as the model for marriage. That is the only paradigm that Jesus ever uses. He doesn’t even remotely leave the door open on the subject of marriage.
  2. Jesus tells us in John 5:19: “So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Sondoes likewise.” How significant it is, then, that Jesus’ first miracle- His first act as an adult that reveals His true nature-  is at a wedding in Cana. Like the Father, He blesses the wedding. I understand that Jesus helped avoid a serious issue for the bride’s family in performing the miracle, but remember- that was Mary’s concern in running out of wine. Jesus never claimed the miracle occurred to avoid shame and a scandal. I also understand that the water-to-wine miracle had certain theological and Messianic implications. However, we must admit that Jesus’ choice of settings for a first miracle was not insignificant. There were other places and people that would have been just as significant.
  3. In the Matthew 19 passage, Jesus mentions three types of “eunuchs”: born eunuchs, man-made eunuchs, and eunuchs for the Kingdom. There are people who do not marry or at the very least are not fully functional with regard to biological sexuality. There are those who have been made eunuchs for political purposes (the normal sense of the word “eunuch”.) Finally, there are those to whom God has given the gift of celibacy instead of the gift of marriage. Any attempt to make one of these three categories of eunuch inclusive of homosexuals is reading something into the biblical text that simply isn’t there. At the very best case, the third type of eunuch could refer to a person who experiences same-sex attraction but chooses to give up those desires for the purpose of obeying God. This person is forgoing the sexual intimacy they desire for the sake of following Christ. This is an example of taking up the cross for the purpose of discipleship.
  4. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus expands upon the commandment against adultery to include looking on someone to lust after them. Yes, I know it is dealing specifically with a man lusting after a woman, but Jesus is emphasizing the sin of lust, not the gender of the people involved. Reading through the Old Testament Law reveals that this is common practice. So “simple” lust is a sin, not just acting on that desire.
  5. It’s common sense that Points 1 and 4 above create an air-tight case against homosexuality from Jesus’ perspective. IF marriage is to include only male and female and IF lust toward someone outside of marriage is sin, THEN it is impossible for a man or woman to lust after (much less sleep with) someone of the same sex and not sin. Jesus does not have to give special mention to homosexuality because He has emphasized the boundaries for marriage and designated everything outside those boundaries as sinful. Frankly, Jesus doesn’t have to mention pedophilia or bestiality for those same reasons. There is a great wall around marriage, and there is only one door by which we may enter.
  6. My final point is, in many ways, the culmination of the discussion I’ve been having with my readers. We’ve seen the biblical evidence against homosexuality time and time again with respect to the Old Testament. We’ve even demonstrated that the commands against homosexuality have specific implications outside the Mosaic Law. It isn’t just a Jewish theocracy that needed to adhere to a moral code– it’s every person in every nation. Jesus had a few things to say about the Law, though. For starters, His first public message made it very clear that He didn’t intend to destroy it. Jesus didn’t think the Law was wrong or immoral. He is, after all, God in flesh. We call it the “Mosaic Law”- the code of Moses, but it was really God Who had spoken.

Jesus- God in flesh- was the Author and Fulfillment of the Law. Jesus accepted the burden that came with the Law, paid the penalty for atonement demanded by the Law, and offers grace, mercy, and love in many ways because of the Law. He couldn’t do any of that without a proper foundation. The Law is not the enemy of grace; it is its basis. Sin meets its Atoner, Death meets its Conqueror at the Cross only because God had explicitly revealed Death and Life, Sin and Holiness through the Law and the Old Testament narrative. So, yes, Jesus weighed in on homosexuality, but then again He weighed in on a lot of sins. He lifted up the Woman Caught in Adultery and found her free of condemnation, but He was also loving enough to tell her to stop her sin. Believers have redemption through His blood, even the forgiveness of sins…..and reading Paul’s epistles make it very obvious that “believers” can include people who have experienced- and acted upon- same-sex attraction. That’s the whole Gospel, folks- not just the parts we like to hear.

Categories: Apologetics, Bible, Bible Study, christianity, Contemporary Issues, Politics | Tags: , | 1 Comment

Gender Equality: A Sword Between the Sexes

Men are from Mars; women are from Venus. Men are like waffles; women are like spaghetti. Scientists, comedians, poets, musicians, philosophers, doctors, therapists, psychologists, and the religious have spent a lot of time and money trying to tell us what we already instinctively know: men and women are very different from one another. Before the Fall, the differences created wholeness- a blessed duality- that was mutually beneficial to both the Man and the Woman. The Fall changed all of that. As C. S. Lewis observed, “There is a sword, hidden or flaunted, between the sexes until an entire marriage reconciles them.” Of course Lewis was well aware that marriages could destabilize and produce plenty of fighting in their own right.

Lewis also emphasized an additional truth about gender relations: equality is important, but it is not the ideal. One of the most powerful concepts he argues for in his philosophical science fiction novel That Hideous Strength is that no relationship can be founded entirely on equality. There is no focus on equality in a loving, strong relationship, only a focus on pleasing and serving the spouse. The moment any couple begins focusing on their own personal rights, a fight cannot be far behind. This is true in many ways in the broader society. Now, Lewis was not a misogynist. If anything, he had a much higher view of masculinity and femininity than most folks today, but he recognized that both sexes must be seen as inherently valuable in order for relationships and society as a whole to function properly. The moment personal rights and liberties become the whole focus of any group of people, trouble is on the horizon. Lewis reminded us repeatedly: “Equality is medicine, not food.” Food is an inherently good thing; it is the stuff we need to grow and remain strong. Medicine, on the other hand, is not inherently good or necessary. The only time medicine is needful is if there is a problem. Equality, Lewis would say, is like that. The moment rights become an end in themselves, an ideal and the ultimate good, the game is all but lost.

So why do I bring this up now? I’ve discussed the marital ideal in Genesis 1-2 and the sexual distortions of adultery, polygamy, and homosexuality so far this week. I have two reasons for bringing up gender equality at this point. First of all, there are those who believe that Judeo-Christian beliefs and practices are inherently sexist, coming from a strictly patriarchal society in which women are merely property. They use this- propaganda, really, is all it is- to justify atheism, liberal values, and  a host of other silliness with this one seemingly foolproof attack. This leads me to my second point, and that is that Christians think this attack is foolproof because half of them have been led to believe the liberals and the feminists are right. They read the Old Testament (and parts of the New) and take it at face value, not realizing that there’s a host of background and context that sets up this framework. From power-hungry pastors demanding that women be doormats to stay-at-home moms who believe that their opinions don’t matter in the end because they aren’t “the head of the household”, Christians across this nation believe the lie that the biblical perspective somehow favors men. That, dear reader, is the result of bad theology and hundreds of years of warped culture. We will see that a biblical view of human sexuality yields a high value of respect and honor for members of both the sexes.

Wives after the Fall

Genesis 3:16 records God’s proclamation to the woman: “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing;  in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” This verse has been used by some to claim that women’s desires are now subjugated to their husband’s. I believe that this translation in the ESV clarifies the situation for us: the woman’s desire will be for her husband.  She will desire him, but she will not always have him. God has just told the woman that carrying and birthing a child will now be painful, but I do not believe this clause (“your desire shall be for your husband”) is prescribing a judgment. I believe it is instead describing a new situation that has arisen because of the Fall. Rather than a perfect relationship of harmony and romance, there will be discord. Eve will desire her a good relationship with her husband, but all will not necessarily be well. There will be bumps along the way: circumstances, communication issues, and unfulfilled wants and wishes. God is warning Eve that, just as Adam will now have to work much harder to provide, Eve will have to work much harder to make her relationships work. (And, no, I’m not saying that being a stoic, distant husband and father is therefore biblical. Again, this is a description of what happens, not approval of what happens.)

Some also preach strongly in favor of the husband’s rulership because of this verse, or they reject the nuclear family because of what they see as an authoritarian perspective on marriage. I would point out that being a “lord” in this context does not have anything to do with domination or superiority. If anything, the husband is to be a servant-leader of the marriage, the first among equals. At the absolute most, the husband is designated the functional leader of the family. This would make perfect sense in the ancient world, where the family- not the individual- was the basic unit of society. Fathers/husbands assumed legal responsibility for the entire family. In Israel, for instance, the father was responsible for managing property, marriage contracts for children, and voicing his family’s interest in the broader community. However, this does not in any way demean women or remove them from the spheres of business, government, and other areas of leadership. The same is true for the home. As we will find, if the husband is to be the “lord” of his house, then his wife is to be the “lady.” Both positions are well-respected and vital to family and community life. A patriarchal society, after all, is about the governance of father over children, not the husband’s superiority to the wife. That’s what “patriarch” means.

Women in the Old Testament

Behind every great man there’s a great woman. Or, at least, that’s how the saying goes. It turns out that for the Jewish patriarchs, that is absolutely true. The role of matriarch was vital if the family was to be successful. This isn’t Assyria or Athens, folks. This is Israel- or at least its origins. Things work differently here when it comes to family operations. Other nations (such as those I just mentioned) had patriarchies that were “limiting, harsh, enslaving” (Meyers, Discovering Eve), the servant-leadership (while not by any means perfect) of the Jewish Fathers offered the Jewish Mothers unprecedented freedom, even in our day. A close reading of Scripture reveals that 21st-century America denigrates women more than a Jewish Patriarch would ever consider doing.

Chew on this for a second: if Israeli women felt so oppressed by their culture, where is any indication of a cry for freedom? People don’t change much through the ages in how they handle oppression, yet no woman ever appears to concern herself with liberation, even when she has the upper hand in society. (I’m looking at you, Deborah.) In her book Discovering Eve, Carol Meyers concludes that “there was a functional lack of hierarchy in Israelite gender relations” up until the monarchy was established. Tikva Frymer-Kensky writes in her essay titled “Gender and Its Image”: “In their strengths and weaknesses, in their goals and strategies, the women of the Bible do not differ substantially from that of men.” Though different by design, men and women in Scripture are very much equals.

So let’s look at some case studies, beginning with Sarah. While she did address her husband as “lord” (a term of polite respect, not necessarily indicating a hierarchy), consider the following observation by Janice Nunnally-Cox concerning Sarah:

“She appears to say what she wants, when she wants, and Abraham at times responds in almost meek obedience. He does not command her; she commands him, yet there seems to be an affectionate bond between them. Abraham does not abandon Sarah during her barrenness, nor does he gain other wives while she lives….The two have grown up together and grown old together, and when Sarah dies, Abraham can do nothing but weep. Sarah is a matriarch of the first order: respected by rulers and husbands alike, a spirited woman and a bold companion.”

While Sarah’s death and burial are given much attention in Genesis, the narrative of Abraham effectively ends when she is no more. It is as if to say that Abraham’s story is really Sarah’s story. Hagar- the slave girl- is of no less significance, by the way. In Genesis 16, she is called by the narrator and God Himself by name seven times. God appears for the first time in history as the “angel of the Lord” to this rejected, enslaved woman. God does not abandon her, but instead provides for her and her son. She and her son are blessed in much the same way as Sarah and Isaac are blessed, and this covenant-type promise is the only time such a promise is made exclusively to a woman in Scripture. The prophecies concerning Ishmael and his given name is a standard annunciation formula in Scripture, the first of its kind. Hagar is the only woman- no, the only person- in Scripture to give God a name: “You are El-roi,” the God Who Sees. (Genesis 16:13) While most preaching and teaching considers Hagar a throwaway character (if not a villain), God clearly does not. He sees value where few others can.

The next matriarch in line is Rebekah. She is clearly a beautiful woman, but she also displays independence and hospitality comparable to Abraham. Like Abraham, she leaves her family for a new land, and she has a servant’s heart as well. She is listed in Genesis 22:23 as the only child of Bethuel, even though she had a brother who should have been listed first in a patriarchal society. While some have claimed that arranged marriages meant that the wife-to-be, at least, had no choice, Abraham says in Genesis 24:8, “If the woman is not willing to follow you, then you will be free from this oath of mine.” Rebekah’s marriage to Isaac may have been somewhat arranged, but it was her decision ultimately. She was not mere property, and her father is actually silent, deciding nothing in the narrative. Later, while experiencing labor pains, Rebekah “inquires of the Lord” just as great men in the Bible have, and she does this directly rather than through a husband or male spiritual leader. Genesis 25:24 says: “And her days were fulfilled that she should give birth”, a linguistic formula only used of Elizabeth and Mary in the New Testament. If a sexist, strictly patriarchal society is all that the Bible has to offer, why do we know so much about Rebekah and virtually nothing about Isaac her husband?

The time would fail me to emphasize the strength and authority of Rachel and Leah, the resourcefulness, purity, and faith of Tamar, the boldness of the midwives in Exodus, the compassion of the Egyptian princess who rescued Moses, the wisdom of Jochebed, leadership and musical prowess of the prophetess Miriam, and quick-thinking Zipporah. A quote from Exum’s essay titled “You Shall Let Every Daughter Live” sums up Exodus quite well:

“Exodus begins with a focus on women. Their actions determine the outcome. From its highly positive portrayals of women to its testimony that the courage of women is the beginning of liberation, Exodus 1:8-2:10 presents the interpreter with powerful themes to draw on: women as defiers of oppression, women as givers of life, women as wise and resourceful in situations where a discerning mind and keen practical judgment are essential for a propitious outcome….Without Moses there would be no story, but without the initiative of these women, there would be no Moses!”

In Joshua, Rahab is the means of salvation for the spies, and she is in the great “Hall of Faith” in Hebrews because of her courage. In Judges, a change occurs in the treatment of women. At the beginning, Achsah, the daughter of Caleb is married to a warrior. She reveals herself to be a resourceful woman with an eye for financial success. Later, Deborah arises as the only judge who is the perfect leader in religious, military, and judicial matters. Together with Jael, she routs Sisera and his army, yet we also find in her song that she has a beautiful heart and mind as well- she is an accomplished poet. Ruth and Esther provide materially for themselves and others and are presented as loyal and honorable, and Esther’s wisdom and boldness rescues her people from sure destruction.

Women in the Law

At this point, a skeptical reader may be saying, “Well, all good and well for the women in positions of power, but what about the common woman? There’s a lot in the Old Testament that was sexist!” And so, at first blush, it might appear. Many have characterized women in Israel as “legal nonpersons” or outside the covenant community in some way. Yet this cannot be true, because women did participate in the covenant ceremony in Deuteronomy 29:9-12 and therefore were under equal obligation to the Law. (Deuteronomy 31:12) In the Law, both genders were included when the masculine gender was in use, according to Frank Crusemann’s The Torah: Theology and Social History.

But what about the Numbers 5 passage in which a woman suspected of adultery is put through a trial by ordeal? If her husband suspects she has been unfaithful but can’t prove it, she has to drink water that will cause her to become barren if she has indeed committed adultery. Not only does trial by ordeal sound like some sort of kangaroo court scheme from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, there doesn’t seem to be a similar trial for husbands. What is going on here? First of all, it needs to be said that this the water the woman drank wasn’t magical. It was just water and a few ingredients like paper scrapings and dust- things that don’t cause curses. So how did it happen that a guilty woman’s reproductive organs came flying out in the end? Simple: a miracle. That’s right- this trial by ordeal was presided over by the Almighty Himself. Think about that compared to other cultures in which a suspect woman would be tossed in a lake with some weights on her. In every other culture’s trial by ordeal, no matter what it was, it was a miracle if you survived. In Israel’s trial by ordeal, it was a miracle if you became tragically infertile. Strange as this may sound, this is part of ANE culture, and God has guaranteed that He will protect and defend the innocent. A paranoid husband had no recourse to divorce her when she drank the water and- surprise, surprise- nothing happened. Is it not gracious and just- rather than sexist- that the only people who ever had the privilege of going before a Divine Judge were woman? God protected the innocent and potentially vulnerable from an overly jealous husband or the prejudice of a mob.

We move now to the touchy, touchy issue of Leviticus 12:1-8. This passage says that the time it would take for a mother who has just given birth to be made ritually clean is twice as long for a girl as for a boy. I’ll warn you, guys, this part may make you squeamish. What about childbirth makes a woman unclean? The vaginal bleeding does, not necessarily the child being born. So, what’s the deal with girls? During and after childbirth, it is very common for newborn girls to experience vaginal bleeding. WebMD says so. Rather than require that a newborn girl tough it out for her own purification ritual, the mother vicariously takes the purification upon herself. So, let’s do the math, everyone. Twice the vaginal bleeding = twice the number of days for ritual purification. (On an unrelated note, boys are to be circumcised the 8th day, the only day their prothombin levels are above 100%, allowing them to heal faster. God knows an awful lot about the medical world, it seems.)

This last selected example may make members of both genders a little squeamish. In Deuteronomy 25:11-12, if two men are fighting and one of their wives grabs the other man by the testicles to give her husband the advantage in the fight, her hand is- according to the English translation, anyway- to be cut off. If the translation is accurate, then this is the only example in the entire Law of mandatory mutilation (as opposed to other ancient and modern Middle Eastern cultures, in which the removal of a body part is a common penalty for, say, theft). Given the fact that lex talionis (an eye for an eye) is the standard by which ancient laws were adopted, it seems just a little strange that grabbing testicles results in the removal of a hand. How are they at all the same thing? NOW I’ve got you thinking! They aren’t the same thing. Would it help to go back to the Hebrew? I think so. What if I told you that the word translated “cut” can also mean “shave”, and what if I also told you that the word for “hand” is a very generic term for a “palm of the hand”? There’s a different Hebrew word that refers to the whole hand, by the way, and it isn’t used here. In fact this word for “palm” just refers to any curved surface, such as the business end of a spoon, the cupped hand, or a woman’s pubic region. I- and far more intelligent people- would suggest that lex talionis is adhered to perfectly in this example. The man’s testicles have been touched- a public embarrassment given the fact that this is just a neighborly spat that got out of hand- so the woman is to have a just retribution visited upon her. Both parties are made to feel ashamed in this way. I realize that this is very difficult to comprehend, since we’re modern-day Americans here, but this is how ANE law works. The punishment must always fit the crime. Hand mutilations doesn’t fit the crime, but shaving the genitals does, and neither are permanently damaging….mercifully.

Summary and Practical Application

To be sure, there are examples of men who exploit and denigrate women in Scripture, but they did not do so because they were righteous. They did so because they were evil. By the end of Judges, we find that women have become nameless victims of violence rather than powerful leaders like Achsah and Deborah. This is because Israel as a culture slipped into immorality and idolatry, not because a patriarchal society is inherently demeaning to women. For instance, Samson is an example of a man who is so sexually driven that women are no longer his helper but mere traitors, harlots, and tempters. Israeli monarchs fall quickly into polygamy and other sins of immorality, meaning that women were made more vulnerable than in the patriarchy. The government, not the husband, had the rights and the power. Yet the human authors of the Bible maintained the Edenic ideal; they still wrote of the inherent value of women. Even after Israel was conquered completely by invaders, the Elephantine papyri reveal that women were able to buy and sell, inherit property, and rise from slavery to a role in the temple, becoming scribes and musicians in Ezra and Nehemiah’s day. Myers’ Discovering Eve reveals that the position of women in Israel did not truly degrade until Israel was under the control of the Persians, Greeks, and Romans. The Persians completely objectified women, and the Greco-Roman culture foisted a duality onto everything– body and soul, good and evil, and male and female. Women became associated with the body and evil, while men became associated with good and soul.

Jesus and His followers worked greatly to fix what human religion, philosophy, and pride had created. Christ treated women as valuable, praising them for their hard work and their faith. He healed broken hearts and bodies, and His apostles did the same for many years after His Ascension. It remains for the Church today to  teach the world around us the equal value God has placed on men and women both, to continue the work of restoration Christ began 2000 years ago, a work that will be completed one day when He makes all things new, and the sword between sexes can be beaten into ploughshares at last.

Up Next: Returning to Eden

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Extramarital Sex as a Distortion of God’s Plan for Humanity

Well, let’s recap. So far, I’ve described the marital formula given by God in Genesis 1-2, and I’ve identified homosexuality and polygamy as distortions of God’s plan for human marriage and sex. The marital formula was a necessary foundation– a man leaves his family and cleaves unto his wife. Identifying homosexuality as a distortion is important in our culture because there is an attempt by a very vocal segment of the populace to redefine marriage and family. Identifying polygamy as a distortion is necessary because that same group would like very much to prove that there is no biblical foundation for the nuclear family. We now move on to a very obvious distortion: adultery and premarital sex. Or, perhaps it is not so obvious to some.

I believe emphasizing this distortion is important for two reasons. First of all, those external to Christianity need to realize that Judeo-Christian beliefs are consistent and not biased. It is not homosexuality alone that is wrong; it is any sex outside of biblical marriage. Secondly, it would seem that we within Christianity need to remind ourselves of the danger of falling into sin. Not a week goes by that a religious leader doesn’t make the paper because of immorality. We need to guard our hearts from lust, protect our churches and families from temptations, and walk humbly with God. It does not do us well to attack homosexuality politically and not be clean ourselves from the sins that could lead us astray.

Brief Historical Background (It’s all basically the same.)

Adultery was a capital offense is most Ancient Near Eastern cultures. The Laws of Ur-Nammu condemn a man who sleeps with another man’s wife, a wife who initiates sex with another man, or any man that sleeps with a slave girl he is not married to. The Code of Hammurabi condemns both participants in an adulterous affair, but a husband is able to request that his wife be spared. Middle Assyrian laws absolve a man who unknowingly sleeps with another man’s wife, but otherwise both are put to death. Later Assyrian laws leave the wife’s punishment up to her husband. Ancient Hittite laws permit the husband of an adulterous woman to kill his wife and her co-adulterer if he catches them in the act, however, if he does not catch them in the act, he must either absolve both or neither from guilt.

The Pentateuch, Adultery, and Premarital Sex

As far as the Genesis narrative goes, Joseph is accused by Potiphar’s wife of adultery and is jailed for it. Reuben sleeps with Bilhah, his father’s concubine, and loses his birthright because of it. Abraham tried to trick Pharaoh and Abimelech, king of Gerar into believing Sarah was his sister, and Isaac attempted the same deception. It’s obvious from reading each of these accounts that these pagan cultures all saw adultery as a great sin (Genesis 20:9). Strange as it may seem to us, murder is actually a lesser sin than adultery in these cultures. This is interesting, since some see the violence of the Old Testament as evidence that ancient peoples were somewhat barbaric, but they would look on our cultural with utter revulsion. These narratives also record God’s disapproval of adultery. He sends plagues on Egypt and threatens Abimelech with death. Why did God act so severely?

As I hinted at in my post on polygamy, there is a theological and a practical level to every sin. On the practical level- the earthly level- sins are offenses against those around us or against ourselves. We commit these sins due to our own fleshly desires, thoughts, wills, and wishes. On the second level- the upper, theological level- every sin flies in the face of God’s goodness, mercy, love, justice, and holiness. We worship God with our lips, perhaps, but serve another master with our thoughts and actions. “Against Thee- Thee only- have I sinned,” says David in the Psalms. Years before David’s confession, Joseph replied to Potiphar’s wife’s seductive attempts by simply saying: “How then could I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?”

As for the Mosaic Law, the seventh commandment (“You shall not commit adultery”) is very clear and absolute in its terms, but the tenth commandment prohibits even desiring another man’s wife as well. (Remember that the Ten Commandments are written in the masculine gender for linguistic reasons but are for all of Israel to follow.) Deuteronomy’s expansion on this 10th commandment is interesting in light of the temptation to desire what is not yours. In his “The Structure of the Deuteronomic Law”, Stephen Kaufman points out that the expansion on the 10th commandment in Deuteronomy 25 forbids Jews from owning unjust weights, not simply using them (that would fall under “theft” in the 10 Commandments.) The idea is that Israelites were not permitted to knowingly put themselves in a situation which would cause them to break the 10th Commandment, so incorrect weights could not even be owned or made, lest they tempt someone to steal. In Leviticus 18:20 and 20:10, Israelites and foreigners alike are forbidden to commit adultery, and- like homosexuality- extramarital sex will result in the removal of any nation that practices on a massive scale, according to these passages. Adultery and premarital sex are also abominations in the broad sense. In Leviticus 18, Leviticus 20, and Deuteronomy 22, the punishment for adultery is death.

Why was adultery and premarital sex such a big deal to God? Christopher Wright addresses this question in his essay “The Israelite Household and the Decalogue.” Wright suggests that adultery goes beyond mere personal morality and extends to the social, economic, and theological stability of individuals, families, and nations. The idea here is that God takes any threat to the nuclear family seriously because a stable household was the social basis for continued worship of God. A breakdown in family relationships would result in the breakdown in national Israel’s relationship with God. This is especially true in Israel because it began as a theocracy, and the Jews continue to be God’s chosen people. As Wright observes, “Adultery strikes at the very heart of the household by shattering the sexual integrity of the marriage.” Every adulterous act in Israel was of national- not simply private- concern. In light of Wright’s observations, I would further suggest that- while the United States is not identical to or in any way linked with national Israel- the principle remains the same. Our stability, education, economics, military, government, and- yes- religious devotion is intimately associated with the family unit. If the family unit is destroyed or degraded, a nation cannot maintain its stability. In this way, I would suggest that divorce, adultery, and premarital sex are far more deadly to society than homosexuality privately practiced. Redefining marriage is a completely different issue that I will save for another day due to its implications in American law, but I believe that we should make our priority strengthening and stabilizing heterosexual marriages if we wish to see increased stability in our nation. This will only be done by a return to Judeo-Christian values and- most importantly- the power of the Gospel to transform lives and homes.

The Prophets and Poets on Adultery

The verb “na’ap” (to commit adultery) occurs 24 times in the prophets, primarily in Hosea, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. Israel’s turning from the Covenant in sin and idolatry was a case of spiritual adultery, breaking the bonds of a covenant relationship. God compares Israel to Hosea’s own adulterous wife, Jeremiah records God saying, “I have seen your abominations, your adulteries and your neighings after lovers!”, and Ezekiel describes Israel to an “adulterous wife, who receives strangers instead of her husband!” What is Israel’s punishment?

“I will judge you as women who commit adultery and shed blood are judged, and bring upon you the blood of wrath and jealousy.They shall bring up a crowd against you, and they shall stone you and cut you to pieces with their swords.” – Ezekiel 16:38, 40

Psalm 50 condemns those who “keep company with adulterers”, and Psalm 51 reveals David’s understanding of his actions as being ultimately against God. Job makes it a point to emphasize his sexual purity in chapter 31. Proverbs 6:25 warns against lusting after a woman, and it portrays the adultress in chapter 7 as impudent, pretending to be religious- she needs to earn money to pay religious vows. She uses flattery and beauty to seduce a man, who is compared to an ox being taken to a slaughterhouse.

Practical Application and Summary

The bottom line in all of this is that death is the end result of adultery in God’s eyes. Adultery and premarital sex destabilize the marital relationship, which in turn destabilize children, businesses, schools, and- in our case- churches. The nuclear family is the building block of society, and no society can stand for long if too many blocks are moved or tilted. We Christians would do well to heed the call of the 10th commandment as well as the 7th- it is not just adultery, but the lust  for a relationship that is not yours to have, that must be avoided. Jesus would remind us that it is the inner man that gives rise to the outer man, and that we are all subject to sinful passions if we are not controlled by the Spirit. No man or woman, no matter how godly they may be, can be unphased or unaffected by such powerful desires. We must beware and be accountable. We must also be wary of people who use religion as justification for sexual impropriety, as the prostitute in Proverbs 7 did.

Yet extramarital sex and lust are indeed rampant in our society. How then shall we live? For starters, even the Mosaic Law implicitly grants that we must be pitiful and compassionate. For sins such as idolatry (Deuteronomy 7:16, 13:9), premeditated murder (Deut 19:11), and malicious false witness (Deuteronomy 19:21), the Israelites are told “your eye shall not pity” or “you shall not spare them.” There was no redemption price to be paid in lieu of capital punishment, unlike many other sins. In cases of immorality, there is no prohibition against having compassion and pity. The implication is that the death penalty for immorality is not absolute, depending on circumstances. This fact is made certain in Proverbs 6:35, when we are told that a husband would not accept the ransom price from a man who had an affair with his wife. The fact that a ransom price was rejected means that such a price could be offered in the first place. There was room for mercy within the Law. After all, Hosea pardoned his wife Gomer (poor woman), and,  iIn the Gospels, Joseph determined to put Mary away privately rather than have her put on trial. David’s prayer for forgiveness in Psalm 51 is perhaps most telling of all. He admits his sin against the Almighty and asks that a clean heart and a right spirit be put within him. David recognizes that only God can cleanse what has been defiled.

Believers must stand firm on the importance of purity and chastity, and they must be wary of being led astray by temptations from without and within. They must guard their hearts diligently and proactively. For those who have fallen, we must restore those who repent in a spirit of meekness. That is not a New Testament concept alone, though justification and cleansing from sin ultimately occurred in the New Testament at the Cross. No, the Law itself allows pity and compassion on the fallen, and we are better for it if we can forgive with God’s help. We can introduce the lost to the One who paid the ransom price for sin Himself, and we can demonstrate true love in our daily lives. In this, we work to fulfill both Law and Grace in our own way.

This post is part of a continuing series on theology and human sexuality. I plan on writing a few more entries on the role of women in Scripture and- finally- the ideal picture of love and romance in Song of Solomon. Stay tuned!

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Polygamy as a Distortion of God’s Plan for Humanity

We’ve talked already about God’s design for human sexuality, and we’ve addressed homosexuality as a distortion of that design. Now I’d like to address the issue of polygamy. Opponents of traditional marriage will often bring up the subject of polygamy in the Bible, noting that not only are there some famous biblical examples, but there are also specific laws concerning concubines within Scripture itself. The obvious purpose in bringing up these “alternative lifestyles” is to demonstrate that multiple versions of “biblical marriage” exist, leaving room to justify a variety of behaviors and weakening the case against same-sex “marriage.” So what do we do with these accusations? Is it true that God has provided for and blessed more forms of marriage than the Edenic model in Genesis 1-2?

One thing that can be said for sure is that the Edenic model is considered the norm throughout Scripture. Genesis 2 and Jesus in Matthew 19 echo the “husband and wife” formula for marriage. Scattered throughout the centuries in between are countless “one man-one woman” marriages mentioned specifically in the Pentateuch. The Mosaic Law always uses the “husband and wife” formula rather than “wives”, Solomon tells his son to “rejoice in the wife [singular]” of his youth in Proverbs 5:18 and again in Ecclesiastes 9:9, and Malachi 2:15 speaks of a man who is not faithful to the “wife of his youth.” While polygamy does occur, it is clearly outside of the biblical norm.

It is interesting to note that, while polygamy was assumed in Sumer, Babylon, Assyria, Egypt, and a variety of other Ancient Near-Eastern cultures, it is relatively rare in Scripture. When it does occur, modern readers of Scripture are often surprised that there is no explicit condemnation of the practice. However, the Author of Scripture clearly expresses Divine disapproval in more subtle, yet more powerful, ways within the narrative itself- even within the grammar and literary structure. We must remember that the Bible isn’t a book of moralizations or simple lessons, like a Christianized “Aesop’s Fables.” It is the revelation of God and His works to man.

Lamech, Abraham, and Jacob as polygamists

The first polygamist in Scripture is Lamech, a man who bragged to his wives that he had murdered a man, inviting God to judge him worse than Cain was judged. The narrative contains no explicit condemnation of Lamech, but he is portrayed as an evil, rebellious man in just a few verses. Lamech’s polygamy is mentioned three times in this passage, underscoring his sin and removing all possibility that God had approved of polygamy prior to the Flood. In the genealogies in Genesis 4-5, it’s also interesting to note that Lamech is the 7th descendent of Adam through Cain’s line, while Enoch- the man who walked with God- is the seventh descendent of Adam through the godly line of Seth. The parallelism between the two men is clear- there is godliness and monogamy contrasting godlessness and polygamy.

The first case of polygamy committed by a believer is, of course, Abraham. Abraham had come from a land of polytheism and polygamy (worship of multiple gods and multiplying of wives go hand-in-hand throughout history.) Believing that God would make good on His covenant promise to provide land, descendants, and blessing through a son he would have with Sarah, Abraham had journeyed to Canaan. In an infamous period of weakness, Abraham agrees with his barren wife that it would be best to impregnate a slave girl named Hagar in order to provide a son. While this practice seems strange to us, it was actually quite common for wealthy people in Abraham’s day, since that would prevent the wife from experiencing the embarrassment of allowing her husband to marry a second woman. “If the marriage proved to be infertile…the wife was able to present one of her slave girls, sometimes specially purchased, to her husband to produce children for their own marriage…The authority over the children resulting from the union belonged not to the slave girl who bore them but to the chief wife,” according to Martin J. Selman’s essay “Comparative Customs and the Patriarchal Age.”

Humanly speaking, Hagar was viewed as Abraham’s wife, however, God did not see her in this way. Not only was she not the wife of the Covenant with Abraham, but Abraham’s relationship with her had broken the marriage paradigm set forth in Genesis 1-2. When God speaks in the narrative, Sarah is called “your wife” while Hagar is called “the slave girl of Sarah.” When Hagar ran away, it is no accident that God tells her to go back to Sarah, not Abraham. In addition to the obvious evidence, we find there is a more subtle hint that Hagar’s relationship with Abraham was not condoned by God. Ray McAllister and Andre Wenin have both pointed out the similarities between Genesis 3 and Genesis 16. Just as Eve took the forbidden fruit and gave it to her husband, Sarah took her slave girl and gave her to Abraham. As Adam “listened to the voice of” Eve, Abraham “listened to the voice of” Sarah. The similarities between the wording of the narratives are not accidental. If nothing else, the Bible underscores the strife and discord between Hagar and Sarah and between Ishmael and Isaac.

Jacob’s polygamy is a second infamous account, but it is used more often than Abraham’s polygamy because the “Children of Israel” (Jacob) are descended from all four wives/concubines. Is Jacob an example of Divine approval of marriages outside the Edenic account? Jacob clearly intended on only marrying Rachel at the beginning, but he was tricked into marrying Leah instead. Jacob continued to work for Rachel, voluntarily agreeing to follow local customs in marrying both women. Bilhah and Ziplah are called concubines in Genesis 35:22 and wives in Genesis 37:2, they seem to have the same rights as wives, and all four women’s children are given equal standing in the family. However, the entire narrative of Jacob’s family is one filled with jealousy, revenge, strife, and lack of self-control. The children of Jacob are filled with all the same sorts of problems as their parents!

Jacob himself goes through a radical transformation, though. At one point, He encounters God Himself and begins a wrestling match with Him. At the culmination of the match- which God permitted to go on for much, much longer than it should have- God hit “the hand of Jacob’s thigh”, creating a permanent limp. Why did God do this? Stanley Gevirtz’s essay “Of Patriarchs and Puns” suggests that it was a graphic Divine rebuke of Jacob’s polygamy, because He struck Jacob in a region associated with the genitals. (“Hand of Jacob’s thigh” would be the curved region of the inner thigh– near enough to the mark without damaging all chances of further reproduction.) A clear behavioral shift occurs afterwards, suggesting Jacob (I mean Israel) got the message. Prior to this encounter, Jacob has sexual relations with all four women. After the event, however, sexual relations are mentioned exclusively with Rachel, and only Rachel gives birth to a child (35:18). While Jacob called both Rachel and Leah his wives in Genesis 30:26 and 31:50, Rachel is his singular wife by Genesis 44:27, and in the genealogy of Genesis 46, Leah, Zilpah, and Bilhah are referred to women who “bore to Jacob” children, but Rachel is called “Jacob’s wife Rachel.” (Genesis 46:15-25) It is clear in Scripture who the recognized wife was, and who the counterfeits were. Jacob began poorly, but ended righteously.

Wives, Concubines, and the Mosaic Law

In Exodus 21:7-11, we read the following:

“When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she shall not go out as the male slaves do. If she does not please her master, who has designated her for himself, then he shall let her be redeemed. He shall have no right to sell her to a foreign people, since he has broken faith with her. If he designates her for his son, he shall deal with her as with a daughter. If he takes another wife to himself, he shall not diminish her food, her clothing, orher marital rights. And if he does not do these three things for her, she shall go out for nothing, without payment of money.”

Does this law support polygamy and concubinage, as claimed by opponents of traditional marriage? Hardly. This is one of many cases in the Old Testament of “case law.” The purpose of case law in the Ancient Near East is to determine what should happen in a given scenario. Case law does not make the scenario legitimate and legal. It only explains what should happen as a result of the given scenario. If case law in Exodus 21:7-11 legitimizes slavery, concubinage, and polygamy simply because it brings up the scenario, then Exodus 21:37 legitimizes theft by simply beginning with the words: “When someone steals an ox or a sheep…”! I would add as an aside that there are three situations in this passage, none of which deal with polygamy in actuality. If the master rejects the girl as a wife, she is to be freed by being bought back by the father. If the master’s son marries her, she is to be treated as a daughter and not a slave. If the master marries a woman other than the girl, the girl is to be assured of all basic necessities including food, clothing, and shelter. In this third scenario “another wife” has the connotation of “a different wife”, meaning this third scenario doesn’t even deal with polygamy in the first place.

Another similar situation is found in Deuteronomy 21:15-17, in which the rights of the first-born son are dealt with:

“If a man has two wives, the one loved and the other unloved, and both the loved and the unloved have borne him children, and if the firstborn son belongs to the unloved, then on the day when he assigns his possessions as an inheritance to his sons, he may not treat the son of the loved as the firstborn in preference to the son of the unloved, who is the firstborn, but he shall acknowledge the firstborn, the son of the unloved, by giving him a double portion of all that he has, for he is the firstfruits of his strength. The right of the firstborn is his.”

While some would argue that this passage assumes polygamy will occur, that interpretation is only valid if the intended meaning is that the man has two wives at the same time. That is by no means a requirement of the language or the context- even the grammar in the original Hebrew avoids requiring polygamy in this context. If, however, this case law does provide for a child of polygamy (as it’s tempting to read the Jacob narrative into the text), it is again an example of case law, not necessarily a text condoning polygamy.

Polygamy in Judges, Samuel, and the Kings

In the book of Judges, Gideon, Jair, Ibzan, and Abdon are all judges who had multiple wives. In Gideon’s case, polygamy is again paired with idolatry, as the two are frequently connected throughout history. Judges 19-21 reveals that polygamy and concubinage were not unusual by the end of Judges. However, the world of Judges is not a pleasant place. A hedonistic and decadent society, the Israel of Judges features such appalling violence as a Levite (of the priestly tribe) and his host sacrificing the Levite’s concubine to avoid homosexual rape. When the concubine is left for dead in the morning (but not necessarily actually dead yet), the Levite butchers the concubine (who had previously been unfaithful to him) and sends pieces of her body throughout Israel. When combined with the commentary in 21:25 “every man did that which was right in his own eyes”, Judges is a powerful condemnation of immoral sexual activities, not evidence of God’s permissiveness on the matter.

The books of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles also tell a story of further sexual distortion. Elkanah, the father of Samuel, is a polygamist, as are Saul, David, and Solomon. Six of 20 Judean kings have more than one wife, and Ahab of the northern kingdom has multiple wives. This does not mean, however, that God is permissive, approves, or blesses polygamy at this point. Hannah and her rival “sister wife” experience great personal grief and anguish, and polygamous kings dealt with national and personal consequences. With the exception of two incidents, all instances of polygamy are portrayed as disobedience to God. I’d like to take a moment to address these two supposed exceptions to the rule.

David- in spite of polygamy- is called a man after God’s own heart in 1Samuel 13:14. In his book Polygamy in the Bible, Ronald du Preez makes a strong case against this justification of a non-traditional “biblical” marriage. Du Preez points out that David was not called a man after God’s heart while he was married at all- this event takes place while Saul is still on the throne and all the Philistines still look like Philistines underneath their clothing. (Some of you will get that later.) Du Preez further notes a pattern in David’s life: servitude, supplication, salvation, silence, and sin. As this pattern repeats over and over throughout David’s life, his many wives are only brought up while in the “sin” stage, which is also a time of turmoil and judgment in David’s life. This careful placement of references to polygamy are clearly meant to draw the reader’s attention to Divine disapproval- they are not an accident or coincidence.

Besides du Preez’s pattern, we also notice that Nathan’s parable to David after his sin with Bathsheba also expresses disapproval. However, some would have us believe that Nathan’s statements to David constitute a blessing from God on polygamy:

“Nathan said to David, “You are the man! Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you out of the hand of Saul. And I gave you your master’s house and your master’s wives into your arms and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah. And if this were too little, I would add to you as much more.” – 2Samuel 12:7-8

People who favor the Divine blessing view completely ignore God’s judgment in verse 11 of this same passage. Because of his affair with Bathsheba and murder of her husband, God says that he will give his wives, in turn, to another. This person turns out to be Absalom, David’s own son. It is unthinkable that this act of giving meant that adultery and incest were in turn blest by God, as they are abominations in Leviticus 18:8. Absalom is clearly a villain in Scripture, a hedonistic rebel who dies tragically. God is allowing something to occur in spite of the fact that it is sin. In cases of this type of permissiveness, the language says that God does what He is technically only allowing to take place. Furthermore, if giving David the wives of Saul was meant to be a blessing of polygamy, then David, in turn, would be committing incest by sleeping with Ahinoam, the mother of his wife Michal. If this is the case, David should have been put to death for something God had blessed! Instead, saying “I gave you your master’s house and your master’s wives into your armsspeaks of possessions, not marriage. David became the keeper of all that was Saul’s. Besides all this, Nathan’s parable hints at monogamy by pointing out that the righteous Uriah had only one “lamb” as opposed to the wealthy “shepherd-turned-thief” David. It seems quite clear that David returned to a monogamous state in 2Samuel 20:3, after God’s judgment had taken place. In this verse, David has retaken the throne from Absalom, but he puts his wives and concubines in a separate estate, providing for them and protecting them. It is stated that he does not “go in unto” them anymore. This means that David is strictly monogamous with Bathsheba, a correction of his previous mistakes.

The second supposed exception to the rule regarding polygamy comes in the form of a King named Jehoash in 2Kings and Joash in 2 Chronicles. Let’s take a look at the two relevant passages.

2Kings 12:1-3: “In the seventh year of Jehu, Jehoash began to reign, and he reigned forty years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Zibiah of Beersheba. And Jehoash did what was right in the eyes of the Lord all his days, because Jehoiada the priest instructed him. Nevertheless, the high places were not taken away; the people continued to sacrifice and make offerings on the high places.”

2Chronicles 24:1-3: “Joash was seven years old when he began to reign, and he reigned forty years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Zibiah of Beersheba. And Joash did what was right in the eyes of the Lord all the days of Jehoiada the priest. Jehoiada got for him two wives, and he had sons and daughters.”

Obviously, it is this second passage that causes those who wish to undermine traditional marriage to sit up and pay attention. Notice above that the structure is the same in each passage, even if the wording is changed. Joash begins reigning when he was 7, and he reigns for 40 years. He did right in the sight of God thanks to the guidance of the priests. In the Kings passage, Joash sinned through idolatrous polytheism, the worship of multiple gods. In the parallel reference, Jehoiada the priest gave him two wives, which we have already stated is connected with idolatry: two negative events are placed in parallel at the end of the writing concerning Joash. It should also be added that in the Hebrew, there’s a word which does not usually get translated in modern versions: the consecutive waw. This word can be translated “and” (“And Jehoiada got for him two wives….”) or it can be translated “but” or “except” (“Except Jehoiada got for him two wives…”) The use of “except” in this passage parallels perfectly the negative “Nevertheless, the high places were not taken away” in the Kings passage. Idolatry and polygamy are portrayed negatively in parallel to each other, exactly as we have seen in other passages throughout Scripture. Clearly, Joash’s polygamy is not the subject of Divine blessing.

Summary and Application

So we see from this little trip through the Old Testament that God consistently forbids and disapproves of polygamy in all forms. The attempt made by some to question the concept of “biblical marriage” by introducing these false marital forms falls absolutely flat. God does not bless these lifestyles, and He clearly sees them as adulterous. We’ve also seen that there is a relationship between polytheism (worship of multiple gods) and polygamy, even if Yahweh is among the other gods in the pantheon. Today in modern-day America, lifestyles beyond the boundaries of the biblical marriage format are- at the core- the result of worshipping something or someone besides the God of the Bible. It is in casting down the spiritual high places that we can return to a truly biblical understanding of God’s plan for marriage.

However, let’s not forget that God is merciful to nations and individuals who have not chosen rightly in this area. God gave the world before the Flood 120 years during which His Spirit “strove with man.” God did indeed bless Abraham, Jacob, and David in spite of their polygamy because He is good, gracious, and loving, not because their lifestyle choices were always right. Goodness and mercy are in God Himself, not in us, as is evidenced by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross for us. God tends to the needs of the victims of abusive relationships, just as He tended to poor Hagar, the slave. He met people where they were at in life, such as Jacob, and brought them up to places only He could take them.

This post is part of a continuing series on theology and human sexuality. I plan on writing a few more entries on the role of women in Scripture and the ideal picture of love and romance in Song of Solomon. You can read the next post on adultery by clicking this link.

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Homosexuality as a Distortion of God’s Plan for Humanity

I’ll just give you a warning: this post isn’t exactly going to be family-friendly. Oh, I’ll do my best to be as professional as possible about the whole thing, but the Bible is anything but PG-rated when it comes to the facts of life. We live in a fallen world in which all manner of immorality occurs. The Bible is frank without being vulgar, but there are some things that just aren’t pleasant to have to deal with. So…that’s my warning.

Throughout the entire Old Testament, it is very obvious that heterosexual monogamy is considered the norm. Not that homosexuality or polygamy in a variety of forms didn’t exist, but simply that these were distortions of the real thing. Let me first be very clear on something: the Bible does not castigate a person for their temptations. Jesus Himself experienced temptation by an external Tempter. No, it is not the desire to do wrong that is sin. It is meditating on, lusting after, or acting on those temptations. Whether it is nature or nurture that produces homosexual desires is- in a sense- beside the point. The existence of the temptation is not permission to sin. We would say the same thing of a man desiring a woman on a computer screen or in the next cubicle. However, we need not burden someone beyond what they can bear. God didn’t say “stop being tempted”, He reminded us through the Apostle Paul to “walk in the Spirit” so that we could avoid fulfilling the lust of the flesh. We are told to cast cares upon Him, to abide in Him, to meditate on His Word, and to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. It is not the temptation that defines us; it is our true identity- in Christ or apart from Him- that makes us who we are. The Spirit and the Word have the power to transform despite our own innate failings and weaknesses.

Historical Background

To get started, a little history is in order, because it will better help us understand the context of the Old Testament. There is no clear law concerning homosexuality outside of Israel until the 2nd millennium BC. The Assyrian Law (Mesopotamians were known for being a little on the permissive side) states that if a man is accused of being homosexual in public and the accusation cannot be proven, the slanderer must be given “50 blows with rods; he shall perform the king’s service for one full month; they shall cut off his hair; moreover, he shall pay 3600 shekels of lead.” (“The Middle Assyrian Laws,” translated by Martha Roth)  The same set of Assyrian laws requires that a man who rapes another man should be turned into a eunuch. Because the rapist has robbed a man of masculinity, his masculinity would also be taken from him. Near Eastern Law is big on the concept of “lex talionis” (an eye for an eye), therefore Assyrian law shows that homosexuality was not an acceptable thing to be involved in, as the punishment was itself painful and embarrassing. This concept of lex talionis will be very important later when we talk about the treatment of women in Jewish society. Right now, the point to be made is that homosexuality has been seen as unnatural from our earliest available texts. To even accuse someone of homosexual activity was serious business.

Other Middle Assyrians laws completely forbid homosexual activity, except within the religious cults, where cross-dressing prostitutes also functioned as actors, dancers, and musicians. (This is not to say, by the way, that performing in the Arts is inherently effeminate. There are many very masculine men who have been involved in these areas in history.) These cults had male prostitutes who dressed and acted as women, however, they were not respected by the general population and were considered social pariahs, often referred to as man-women or dog-women. Male prostitutes were thought of as a parody of womanhood, being considered a man who has been turned into a woman by the goddess Ishtar. (Jensen, The Relevance of the Old Testament) Beyond the cults, penalties for homosexuality were generally only levied against those that played the role of the male in a homosexual act. This method of punishment is true of most cultures that criminalized homosexuality.

In contrast, early Egyptian myths and royals seem somewhat favorable toward homosexuality. Imagery and religious texts describe this behavior in sometimes great detail. In the 15th Century, however, attitudes changed. The now-famous Book of the Dead linked homosexuality with pedophilia, and the religious attitudes of the time caused a cultural shift away from permissiveness. According to Gagnon’s The Bible and Homosexual Practice, homosexuality in Egypt was completely outlawed about 300 years before Christ.

Noah and Sodom in Genesis

While there is no secular reference to homosexuality in the cultures surrounding Israel (Canaanites and other Semitic peoples), the Bible itself has something to say on this topic. The first incident that is often brought up is Ham’s viewing of a drunken Noah. I believe this to be a poor example of God’s statements toward homosexuality. We are told that Ham saw Noah naked, but we are not told that he “uncovered his father’s nakedness”- a euphemism in Scripture for sleeping with a man’s wife. We are only told that he “saw” his father’s nakedness. Furthermore, Ham’s two brothers remedied the situation by simply covering their father with their backs to him. If that is the remedy, the problem was not one of sexual activity. No, it would rather seem that Ham was extremely disrespectful toward his father, if not somewhat voyeuristic. Ham’s “seeing” in the Hebrew deals with “looking searchingly” and telling his brothers has overtones of delight. Rather than addressing the issue of homosexuality, I believe that this passage warns against making a mockery of what is private and being too interested or curious in things that are inappropriate. This is certainly a pertinent warning in the age of the Internet.

Perhaps the most well-known account of homosexuality in the Bible is the infamous incident at Sodom in which Sodom is destroyed for its evil just after Lot and most of his family escape. Some have argued that Sodom’s great sin was not homosexuality. They claim that the men of Sodom wanted to “know” the angelic visitors in the sense of hospitality. The problem is that the Hebrew word for know here is used of the case of incest between Lot and his daughters just a few paragraphs later, making hospitality completely a moot point. “Being good neighbors” simply doesn’t fit the context. James DeYoung’s book titled Homosexuality: Contemporary Claims Examined reveals that- in context- only sexual sin can be in view here due to the literary structure of the book of Genesis. Just prior to Isaac’s birth, Abraham intercedes for Sodom and Gomorrah, which are subsequently destroyed. Then, Lot’s daughters get their father drunk and essentially rape him. Following this narrative, there is the issue of Abraham claiming that Sarah is his sister which nearly gets Isaac claimed by the wrong father! In each of these three cases, sexual immorality occurs (or is in danger of occurring), divine judgment falls, and- in a sense- Abraham, his family, and his descendants are in danger. There is a literary coherence here- these three accounts are put together on purpose. It is further claimed, however, that the issue of Sodom is its attempted rape- not simply the act of homosexuality. However, to interpret the Hebrew verb (“yada”- to know) as “rape”  rather than “have sex with” forces some incredible words out of Lot’s mouth: “Don’t rape my visitors. Here are my daughters, both virgins- rape them!” It also requires every single instances of “knowing” someone in the biblical sense to possibly indicate rape. This makes absolutely no sense.

The Mosaic Law

We move now to the Mosaic Law. I will say more about the nature of the Mosaic Law within a theocracy, lex talionis, and case law later. For now suffice it to say that the punishment does fit the crime, but not in the way you might suspect. Leviticus 18:22 says: “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.” Unlike other ANE laws, both men were found guilty and penalized. Strange as it may sound, this is virtually unheard of in the ancient world, according to Gagnon’s The Bible and Homosexual Practice. Normally, only the male/aggressor role is penalized. For those concerned with the issue of lesbianism, remember that there is a certain egalitarianism present in the Old Testament. Men were representative in language, but “what’s good for the goose is good for the gander” in practice. All 10 Commandments, for instance, are written as to a male in the original language, however, God clearly intends for both genders to obey His commandments. Additionally, Louis M. Epstein’s Sex Laws and the Customs in Judaism make it clear that lesbianism was also banned by the Mosaic Law, according to nearly every Rabbinic interpretation.

In Leviticus 18:22, the punishment is being cut off from the people (Israel), while in Leviticus 20:13, the punishment is death. It is not an either/or scenario. They are removed from the drama of Israel’s unfolding history- a tremendous privilege- and their life is also forfeit. Homosexuality- among other sins- is an abomination. While all sexual sins in Leviticus 18 are collectively called abominations, homosexual intercourse is the only sin specifically given this distinction from the entire list. While some things are an abomination because they cause ritual impurity, other actions are called abominable in the sense that they are “utterly incompatible with the will of God and … are viewed by Him with repugnance because of its evil.” (P.J. Harland)

There are those that try to connect the type of homosexuality prohibited in the Old Testament with ritual cultic prostitution. The main evidence given for this line of thinking is the commandment forbidding homosexuality in Leviticus 18, which is preceded immediately by the commandment forbidding sacrificing children to Molech. However, the Leviticus 20 passage refers to homosexuality while also prohibiting incest and bestiality without mentioning idolatry specifically. While it is true that Leviticus is largely concerned with not being like the surrounding Canaanites, there is always a reason for not being like them. God never tells Israel to be unique just for the sake of being different.

Another charge often brought up is that these commandments are part of the Mosaic Law and are therefore not applicable today. The role of the Mosaic Law is a complex one that I won’t spend time on at this point, however, I would like to point out the punishment for homosexuality explained in Leviticus 18:26-29:

“But you shall keep my statutes and my rules and do none of these abominations, either thenative or the stranger who sojourns among you  (for the people of the land, who were before you, did all of these abominations, so that the land became unclean),  lest the land vomit you out when you make it unclean, as it vomited out the nation that was before you.  For everyone who does any of these abominations, the persons who do them shall be cut off from among their people.

It is worth noting that, while the commandment against homosexuality was given to the Jews, these same sexual sins brought judgment upon non-Jewish nations prior to Israel’s arrival. When it comes to sexuality, God holds us all to the same standard. Sin is sin, no matter when or where you live. There is a universal moral law, regardless of whatever else may be true of the Mosaic Law.

What about Ruth and Naomi or David and Jonathan?

Homosexuals will often point to two key relationships in the Old Testament as evidence of God blessing homosexual activity. Ruth and Naomi are the first target, primarily because they kiss each other and weep together, and they live together alone. However, both women were previously married to men. Ruth also expresses incredible Abraham-like faith, throwing in her lot with God’s people rather than returning to paganism, and she is loyal to her mother-in-law against all odds. Naomi plays something of a matchmaker, but she is by no means a lover to Ruth. Their relationship is clearly mother-daughter, and any attempt to see it otherwise is reading into the text something that is simply not there. Ruth is, in fact, a beautiful love story which anticipates the arrival of Boaz at the end. Ruth’s inclusion in the line of David and Christ would be impossible if the Leviticus 18 and 20 prohibitions cutting her off from the people of Israel were followed. Speculation such as this is completely unwarranted.

1Samuel 18 says that “the soul of Jonathan was bound to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul….Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul.” 1Samuel 19:1 tells us that Jonathan “took great delight” in David. 1Samuel 20 tells us that they swore by their love for each other, kissed each other, wept with each other, etc. When Jonathan dies, David says in 2Samuel 1:26 that Jonathan’s love was better than the love of women. So was David gay, or possibly bisexual?

In short, no. David was certainly not strictly homosexual, and neither was Jonathan, as both men had wives (several, in David’s case) and children. What about “loving David as his own soul”? Would it surprise you to learn that, in Hebrew, this is not the first time that phrase was used of two males? In Genesis 44:30, Judah tells his brother Joseph that their father Jacob’s “life is bound up in the boys’ life.” The two phrases are of different wording in English, but the Hebrew behind them is identical. David and Jonathan share a bond similar to that of Jacob and his son Benjamin. There is a father-son affection between them; Jonathan was David’s mentor and friend. (We forget that Jonathan was old enough to be David’s father, being at least 20 years older.)

What about Jonathan’s love for David? The word for love here (“ahab”) has a variety of meanings. Just a few verses after we find that David and Jonathan loved one another, we are told in 1Samuel 18:16 that all of Israel loved David– the exact same Hebrew word is used. David may have had multiple wives, but frankly, reading sexual love into this verse is quite a stretch! That Jonathan took great delight in David is not unusual, his father King Saul is said to delight in David as well in 1Samuel 18:22. The word for delight simply means to “find favor.” In context, this seems to indicate political favor or professional interest.

As for two men kissing, we need to stop reading the Bible like 21st-century Americans! Other cultures permit kissing between men without reading sexuality into the action. In our own country, men were much more physically affectionate with each other than they are today. Men kiss throughout the books of Samuel with no sexual intent: Samuel kisses David (1Samuel 10), David kisses Absalom (2Samuel 14:33), Absalom kissed the people visiting him in 2Samuel 15, David kissed his friend Barzillai (2Samuel 19:40), and Joab kissed his enemy Amasa (2Samuel 20:9). As for the exchange of clothing and deep commitment expressed in 1 Samuel 18, this passage details the sealing of a covenant between David and Jonathan.In giving David his cloak and armor, Jonathan was symbolically handing David the throne. The David and Jonathan saga is about God’s will being providentially attended to, the power of extreme selflessness, and the importance of mentorship. It has nothing to do with homosexuality, and any attempt to read homosexuality into the text is simply revisionism.

Summary and Practical Application

So what are we to make of all this? Clearly homosexuality is forbidden, lacking any positive example in the Bible. This is not a strictly religious position, as most cultures are historically in opposition to the practice. Is there any grace to be found in a seemingly-severe textual landscape? In a word- yes. It is true that the Canaanites were driven from the land in part because of homosexual activity (see Leviticus 18 and 20). However, Genesis 15:16 reveals that God did not swiftly and immediately destroy the Canaanites, but graciously gave those committing abominations 400 years of probation. In that time, they were given opportunities to learn of  God through national Israel, and many did join with God’s people before those nations were wiped out.

Sodom, too, saw grace of another sort. Abraham rescued Lot and all of the inhabitants of Sodom from a coalition of city-states that had invaded (Genesis 14) before Sodom’s destruction took place. They knew of Abraham and the God he served, and they knew, too, of Lot’s faith- though his heart quickly changed. Had Sodom held ten righteous people, God would have spared that city a second time (Genesis 18:32).

Under theocracy in Israel, and due to the presence of the Tabernacle/Temple and the indwelling Shekinah, judgment of homosexuality seems to us to be severe. Righteous justice may demand the death of the person, but that does not speak to what must be done with a person’s soul. A repentant sinner- no matter what the sin- can be saved and not lost because of God’s grace, mercy, and love. A person struggling with deep-rooted sin need not feel only God’s wrath, but also Divine grace and love. Consider Ezekiel 16:51, in which God reveals that Judah had multiplied abominations more than Sodom, including homosexuality and possibly bestiality. But what does God say in Ezekiel 18:31-32?

“Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel?   For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn, and live.”

He goes on to promise blessings for His people, and promises to put His spirit within them in Ezekiel 36:27. Where sin abounds, grace much more abounds. Christians, we must express disapproval of homosexual practice, but we must do so with an awareness of our own fallenness. We must distinguish between desires, orientation, and the actual homosexual lusts and acts. Homosexual lusts and actions are sins, but there are many, many more sins out there that we all struggle with every day. And God loves us anyway. Let us therefore love others by blending grace and righteousness until they seem to almost merge into the same thing. There are many with sexual wounds and physical illnesses because of this sin- it degrades and harms like all other sin. We should welcome them in the spirit of Truth and Love, and not blast with hate, even if our favorite chicken sandwich is on the line.

Next Post: Polygamy

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Human Sexuality: A Part of the Created Order

Well, it’s been forever since I’ve written one of these, but the latest cultural clashes have driven me out of the woodwork for a number of reasons. First off, I see lots of angry people. There are Christians who don’t seem to be very good at hating the sin and loving the sinner. There are liberals and homosexuals who have viciously declared (cultural) war on Christians. There are folks who just don’t seem to understand why Chick-fil-A is a big deal. The list just goes on and on. Social media, for all its many virtues, doesn’t really permit a very good discussion, so I’ve turned to the old, dusty blog to flesh out some thoughts. For this first post, I’m going to argue for a very specific view on marriage, based primarily in Genesis 1-2. This is the account not only of the creation, but of the first man and woman. In this account, Adam is made first, and then Eve. While the word “marriage” is never used in these chapters, (as some opponents of the biblical view of marriage have pointed out) it is described in Adam and Eve’s relationship, and the pattern for all future marriage relationships is prescribed by God Himself.

In Scripture, we can glean a few important points very early on. We can know that marriage has a number of characteristics. It is:

  1. Heterosexual- God created humans to be Male and Female, and He commanded that they “be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the earth.” While a heterosexual couple may be physically unable to have biological children due to any number of physical problems, a homosexual pairing is completely incapable of fulfilling this first command, even when both people are in perfect medical condition. Samuel H. Dresner has observed that “heterosexuality is at once proclaimed to be the creation order.” Genesis 1-2 is not merely a descriptive account of the first couple but a prescriptive theology for all time– a man shall leave his father and mother and cleave unto his wife.
  2. Dual- When God saw that it is not “good” for Man to be alone, He created Eve. This was always His intention, not an afterthought. Adam recognized he wasn’t complete without another. By the way, it is very significant that the word “Good” during the period of Creation deals primarily with completion and functionality, not with morality.
  3. Monogamous- A single rib is taken in making a single woman, and man and woman are singular in the first marriage. God has provided only for monogamy within marriage. Though righteous and unrighteous men and women within the Bible narrative have broken this commandment, they are not examples of marriages permitted by God.
  4. Egalitarian- While man and woman are biologically different, there is no indication of a hierarchy. Man is not greater than woman. Eve is not greater than Adam. Both are commanded at the beginning to take up the dominion of the earth. Both are blessed by God. Both are responsible in the act of procreation. The Bible is fundamentally egalitarian with respect to the relationships between the sexes, within marriage and without. Even calling Eve “a help meet for him [Adam]” expresses this equality. Rather than meaning that women take a fundamentally servile role, the word meet means “fit, equal”. The word for help is not one of subjugation. The same Hebrew word describes God as Israel’s helper, and He is by no means subject to them! Of the 21 times the word is used in Hebrew, 16 times it refers to God and 3 times it refers to a military ally. It is a word emphasizing a beneficent power, capable of doing great good. Inferiority is the last thing that the word could possibly mean. If you wanted a wordy translation of the Bible, then you could say that Eve is to be a “counterpart equal to Adam.” This is about being a true soulmate.
  5. Wholistic- It is no mistake that the generic term for humans in Genesis 1-2 is ha adam, and it includes both male and female. You can’t have one without the other, to echo a certain crooner. Both man and woman are made in God’s image, and- this is very significant as well- you cannot have a true view of the image of God in man without both sexes being present. On the marital level, on the communal level, in business and government and churches, God’s image is only expressed by both sexes working in union and communion with each other. The sexes complement each other perfectly. While the sexes are egalitarian in nature- they enjoy equality- that does not mean that they are not functionally and aesthetically different. “Let US create man in OUR own image…male and female created He THEM,” we are told of the Godhead’s creative act. The use of plural- while it may be a hint at the royal Trinity- is also a hint at what makes humans unique: God’s imagine within us corporately.
  6. Exclusive- The male-female marriage relationship is an exclusive one. The sexual relationship within marriage does not permit adultery, additional partners, or any other form of fornication. Jesus’ comments regarding lust, by the way, extend this exclusivity even into the thought life. Leaving and cleaving demands not just the obvious physical exclusivity, but also emotional and mental exclusivity. Priorities, traditions, and influences should be uniquely agreed upon by the couple.
  7. Permanent- Adam’s reference to Eve as “flesh of my flesh and bone of my bones” expresses both exclusivity and permanence. They were uniquely one flesh, and that could not be changed. It was his marriage vow, a formal covenant. It was an expression of “devotion and an unshakeable faith between humans; it connotes a permanent attraction which transcends genital union, to which, nonetheless, it gives union. (Collins, The Bible and Sexuality) Physical sexuality is given meaning by this marriage covenant.
  8. Intimate- Becoming one flesh emphasizes the physical, psychological, emotional, spiritual, and intellectual unity that is unique to the marriage experience. In other words, sexuality and marriage in the Bible is not simply about reproduction, as is so often claimed by some. It is about a oneness and intimacy that- unlike the emotional co-dependency of some heterosexual and all homosexual relationship- unites a couple on every level of human experience. This “become one flesh” scenario is hinted at being a process by the original language, by the way. It is not instantaneous. Transparency may take place slowly in a Fallen world, but Adam and Eve were initially not ashamed before one another.
  9. Procreative- Healthy married couples are commanded to have children. It is an additional blessing not associated with the intimacy of marriage or the communion of being made in God’s image. This is a distinct blessing that does not result from the other gifts of sexuality and marriage.

So we see that from Genesis 1-2, there was a specific requirement behind marriage’s design. It is not that Christians are to hate or fear those who do not follow this template. They should obey the Bible’s command to love those who are in sin or lost. It is not that Christians should deny rights to those who demand them- that is not the intention behind opposing homosexual unions. It is rather that- even if gay marriage is recognized by the government (as it most certainly will be)- it is still not an actual marriage. The command and pattern regarding marriage has already been given, and no individual or government can alter that pattern. “Rights” may be bestowed upon counterfeit marriages, but they are not authentic. Only the genuine article has God’s blessing. A marriage that does not meet these criteria is not a marriage at all. Some marriage- such as one in which there has been an affair- may be mended, but some- such as a homosexual union- cannot be mended because it was never a marriage in the first place. That self-identifying homosexuals are people with genuine, sincere feelings is a fact, but the union cannot be created if the necessary components are not present.

We must love those who do not follow God’s commands, but that is a subject for a different day requiring a whole new post, so I’ll end here for now. In the near future, I will address the Bible’s perspective regarding fornication, the denigration of women, and divorce. I’ll also be addressing the perfect picture of marriage in a fallen world (Song of Solomon) as well as some thoughts on how to address these issues in the culture.

The next post in this series (on homosexuality in the Bible) is now posted, followed by one addressing polygamy as a second biblical form of traditional marriage.

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God, Math, and Existence

Who or what created numbers? The Big Bang? God? I don’t really know that it matters. Now, before my Christian brethren get ready to lynch me as defecting from Theism or creationism, let me explain myself. When I’m talking about numbers, that is not the same as talking about information. There’s really only one explanation for information, and that is intelligence. Numbers themselves are simple abstract concepts. You can have two cars or chicken wings, for instance, but you cannot possess the number two all by itself. You cannot interact with the concept of “two”. We call objects, matter, energy, and so forth concrete objects. (Not to be confused with concretes, which are a very tasty treat found at Ted Drewes.) Anyway, besides being abstract, numbers also happen to be very necessary to our universe. They have to exist as a logical consequence of things (matter, energy, people, objects, etc) simply existing. They are, in a sense, uncreated. No matter how you think the universe got here, neither God nor a cosmic hiccup intentionally produced numbers. Now all of the things that numbers represent- almost- were created at some point in time. Even naturalism’s strongest adherents accept this as fact. Numbers are different, as is the whole of mathematics itself. Numbers exist because they have to.

Now, most people who are Theists believe in the self-existence of God. We believe that God exists in the same way that mathematics exists. I don’t need to explain how He exists or where He came from, really. Like numbers, the God of the Bible is self-existent. Christians do not believe in a contingent god, one that needs an explanation for how he came to be. Christians believe in a God Who is absolutely necessary for existence to even have meaning. Created gods, as John Lennox has pointed out, are a delusion, and I don’t know anybody who believes in a god who needed reason for being. Who needs to worship a being that is dependent on another being for its existence? Ought we not to worship the greater of the two, as that will be who is really in control? If the cosmos spawned God somehow, ought not we to worship the cosmos? In Christianity, God is- by definition- necessary and uncreated. If God exists, my atheist friends, He exists because of Who He is. It is the nature of His being, so to speak. Before atheists, agnostics, and Christians can hope to discuss beliefs, they must agree on the definition of the terms, and atheists and agnostics must understand what a Christian means when he says the word “God.” After proper definitions are provided, I believe we can actually accomplish something.

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Existence is Futile

Every true Trekkie, at least the TNG sort anyway, will tell you that the turning point for Star Trek: TNG came with the introduction of the Borg. Before those cybernetic aliens graced the sci-fi scene, TNG was just….well, blah. We, the viewers, needed a real villain, something to make us feel that the crew of the Enterprise didn’t have to win. And, of course, even non-trekkies can quote the infamous “Resistance is futile” line. That phrase summed up how most story lines when with the Borg. Practically everybody, including  the great Jean-Luc Picard, had felt the sting of defeat before the Borg. It was that line that helped make the series what it was. Resistance is futile.

In last week’s post, I talked about how the absence of God leaves us without ultimate value, morals, or purpose. While I’m writing this week’s ahead of time, I’m guessing that the atheists in my readership might already have a response ready. Namely, they will be very quick to point out that a negative consequence doesn’t make a belief wrong. They’re right about this. Some of us have had to accept the hard facts of a very sad afterlife for those we love, but we do not throw out our entire faith simply because of negative consequences.

What I’d like to challenge atheists to do, though, is to live their lives consistently in light of atheism. Or, actually, let me take that back. Please, atheists, don’t live out your lives in light of the absence of God. The chaos, carnage, and despair would be horrendous. Devorah Hilsenrath, a survivor at Auschwitz said: “”In Auschwitz, the Nazis interpreted the [Ten] Commandments backwards.” In Auschwitz, a swift murder was almost merciful. Starvation and cruelty were commonplace. Dr. Josef Mengele, the so-called “Angel of Death” was especially known for his cruelty, even performing vivisections on pregnant Jewish women.

There isn’t much difference between Nazi Germany and Communist Russia. Consider Richard Wurmbrand‘s experiences at the hands of Russian torturers:

“What the communists have done to Christians surpasses human understanding….I have seen communists whose faces while torturing believers shone with rapturous joy. They cried out while torturing the Christians, ‘We are the devil! There is no God, no hereafter, no punishment for evil. We can do what we wish.’ I heard one torturer say, ‘I thank God in whom I don’t believe, that I have lived to see this hour when I can express all the evil in my heart.’”

In a prison in the USSR, Wurmbrand met men who had seen their children murdered before their eyes, simply for refusing to renounce Christ. Christians were crucified and made to eat and drink excrement and urine in mockery of Communion. But, if atheism is true, none of these snippets of history should really make you cringe. You see, if there is no Divine Lawgiver, there is nothing wrong with what happened to these men and women. This entire planet is Auschwitz. This entire planet is Soviet Russia. Everything is permitted, provided you can get the government to make it legal.

Atheists don’t behave this way, though. In fact, I know plenty of atheists that are very moral people. Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens both have a very strong sense of morality. I once sat in on a talk Hitchens gave about the dangers of Islam in Western countries, and I actually applauded at the end. He recognized the atrocities that come with an Islamic state, and he wants nothing of it for America. The man told of nearly winding up in a concentration camp himself for daring to mark out a Nazi swastika graffiti. He knows right from wrong, but is painfully ignorant of the fact that he has no grounds for condemning the actions of militant Islam. Dawkins is no better, stating that there is no absolute morality, only “pitiless indifference”, only to turn around and condemn religious instruction as child abuse.

This is all rather embarrassing for the thinking atheist. Bertrand Russell was opposed to war and sexual restrictions, but wrote that he could not live as though ethics were a matter of opinion. In light of atheism, he found his moral sense to be incredible, saying “I do not know the solution.” Nietzsche believed in living beyond good and evil, yet he condemned anti-Semitism. In 1991, Dr. L. D. Rue addressed the AAAS on the topic of morality, saying that humanity had only three options. We can turn the world into a madhouse, living only for self. We can turn to benevolent dictators for safety, or we can choose to believe what he called “the Noble Lie.” Rue said that we must believe in respecting human life and rights  in order to trick ourselves into doing good for someone other than ourselves.

In the end, it’s impossible to truly live out atheism in all of its ugliness. While atheists are right in pointing out that a negative result is not proof that a belief or philosophy is wrong, they have a very difficult time living life in light of God’s absence. Christianity is a far superior belief system in terms of morality and rights. It provides us with a God Who reigns and loves us, and a Heaven to belong in when this life is done. I’ll be getting to arguments for Theism a little later, but for now let us at least agree that we’ve identified the implications of either belief system. Existence is either meaningful or futile.

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No God, No Peace

Is there anything more dangerous in the world than bumper sticker theology? Whether it’s the ridiculous “Coexist” bumper stickers or the “God said it, I believe it, that settles it” variety, bumper sticker beliefs just make me want to puke. There’s no context, no reasoning. Just a simple statement that is supposed to speak volumes but really just leaves me wondering what the heck the driver was thinking when he pasted something on the back of his car. Which brings me to the title of this post.

“No God, No Peace”, proclaims the bumper sticker. It’s catchy, sort of. I find this one a little less offensive than some I’ve read, but I really honestly think this bumper sticker stopped too soon. It should’ve kept going. “No God. No Peace. No Purpose. No Meaning. No Values.” Not as trendy or memorable, but it’d make a better point. It’d also make atheists realize the absurdity of what they believe and commit a lemming-esque suicide, so perhaps it’s best if we keep such depressing thoughts off of the road. But I digress….

If there is no God, there isn’t really much to this whole “living” thing. What does it matter if I live one year or one hundred if death is ultimately the end of my very existence? What does it matter what humans achieve as a civilization if all that awaits is ultimately the death of our planet, our galaxy, our universe in fire or ice? If I cease to be when I am dead, does it really matter that I existed in the first place? Oh, I’m sure there are some who will mourn my passing. Every human life certainly has relative significance and value, but if there is no God to say that human beings have inherent worth, then in the end….who really cares how it all turns out? Who cares if we find a cure to AIDS? Who cares about peace in the Middle East? Soon enough, there will be no people to contract HIV or fire a weapon. Give it a while, and there won’t be anyone around to remember what we accomplished. How very, very depressing.

If there is no God, then there are no values whatsoever. Jeffrey Dahmer and Mother Teresa are equally moral, for morality isn’t a real thing. There is no such thing as evil, either. By the way, I think this is interesting, since people often call the “Problem of Evil” a Christian’s dilemma. In reality, we know where evil came from, what it does, and what its ultimate fate is. It is the atheist or agnostic that is left to find an answer to the problem. They’re the ones who are left coming up with a baseless code of ethics. There’s no justice, either. If there is no God, then in the end all of the world’s worst criminals have gotten away with it. As Dostoyevsky has written: “If there is no immortality, then all things are permitted.” It would seem that an atheist such as Richard Dawkins would agree: “We are machines for propagating DNA, and the propagation of DNA is a self-sustaining process. It is every living object’s sole reason for living.” In a universe without God, you and I cannot condemn war, rape, or murder, but we can also not praise self-sacrifice, love, or generosity. They are neither good nor evil in the end. They may have some practical benefits, but they are not good or evil.

If atheism is true, then we are left with Bertrand Russell’s “firm foundation of unyielding despair.” As one man has said, if God is dead, then man is dead too. Dr. William Lane Craig sums it up nicely, I think: “As for man, he’s a freak of nature- a blind product of matter plus time plus chance. If God does not exist, then you are just a miscarriage of nature, thrust into a purposeless universe universe to live a purposeless life.” Sounds great, doesn’t it?

Of course not! But have you ever seen an atheist live like he was really dying? Probably not….

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No Ordinary People

When it comes to evangelism, it seems, everybody has an idea about how to do it. There’s so-called “life-style evangelism” for those who want to be good, do good, and look good without having to share the good news. There’s televangelism, door-to-door soul-winning, missions work, street preaching, evangelistic services, evangelistic meals, tracts, and a host of other things people like to do. We tailor different styles of evangelism to meet the needs of the people around us. I’ve been to Chicago, where street preaching can actually be pretty effective, depending on where you are located. I’ve been to the Florida panhandle, where those same street evangelists are largely ignored. Some folks will listen to you preach on television but never darken the door of a church, and some have to see that you really care before they care at all about what you have to say.

There’s a small- but growing- population of people that I believe apologetics can be an effective witnessing tool towards. I’ve heard people say that the number of folks who could be reached through apologetics is so small, it’s hardly worthwhile. I strongly disagree. “There are no ordinary people,” C. S. Lewis writes. “You have never talked to a mere mortal.” The size of the population most likely influenced by apologetics is small, but influential. These are the people who have retained the ability to think critically, logically, and independently without resorting to skepticism. These are, quite often, doctors, lawyers, and other educated professionals. At the other end of the spectrum, though, there’s a much larger group of people who can be influenced by apologetics: students. Yes, students. If there’s one thing I’ve learned by being a teacher, it’s that students listen when you least expect it. Teenagers and college students the world over often think more deeply than people twice their age. They ask the big questions of life: questions of existence, meaning, and purpose. They are often the amateur philosophers of our day, trying to figure life out in the few brief years before they become just as burdened by life as their parents.

And why should apologetics not be used? Apologetics is largely about facts and logic. It’s about reality! If reality is, as we Christians believe, about a loving, all-powerful Creator Whom we may have a personal relationship with, then apologetics should be welcome to the party! The Bible is filled with facts, and logic is an aspect of the mind of God (John 1:1). When we use apologetics and couple it with Scripture, the Spirit is pleased to move in the life of the lost soul.

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Eat Your Wheaties!

My students will tell you that I’m a huge fan of food illustrations, so here’s one for y’all today. Doing a web search for the phrase “eat your Wheaties” provides a host of advice related to the beloved cereal. It seems there isn’t anything that Wheaties can’t do. Just click the link above to find out what I mean. Of course, Wheaties are usually marketed as a cereal capable of making you stronger or faster, which is probably the only way mothers got their little boys to eat the stuff.

I like to think of apologetics as Wheaties for the Christian mind. Apologetics can give you confidence in sharing your faith with others. I know Muslims and atheists that know more about what the Bible says than most believers. Of course, I also know a number of atheists that wouldn’t know anything about Christianity if it weren’t for the Crusades and a witch hunt or two. Unfortunately, we live in a Christian culture that expects very little mental exertion on the part of believers who are new to the faith or young in years. We need to be explaining to our own what we believe and why (and a simple “God said it, I believe it, that settles it!” doesn’t settle it!) Studying anything is hard work; why would you expect the Christian faith to be any different?

Apologetics can also help a believer with times of doubt and struggle. As I’ve said in other posts, doubt can be a very compelling motivator to bring us deeper into the Christian faith. After all, it really isn’t faith in the end if everything can be totally proved in a scientific sense. We’re human, so we will waver on even the most deeply-held issues. For me personally, doubt was the biggest contributor to my study of the Bible and apologetics. I wanted to know if what I had been taught was true, and so I studied Christianity to see if it made sense to me. I’d be lying if I said that I don’t sometimes still have questions, but happily the instability of youth is behind me. I know how to look for answers, and I know that there are some philosophies and beliefs that simply don’t make sense. If you have struggled with your faith, know that you aren’t alone.

Alarmingly, over 40% of youth today will quit going to church by the time they finish college. If 40% stop attending, how many more experience doubt and remain faithful? Should we not be focused on defending the Truth of Christianity rather than felt needs and entertainment? Believe me, I don’t mean to say that all of church must be serious or that worship is not important, but doesn’t Jesus say that we should worship both in spirit and in truth? Apologetics help us remember that our faith is not based on emotions, but on truth. How wonderful would it be if young people could be taught some reasoned faith to help them through their next bout of loneliness? Heck, how wonderful would it be if we could all have some knowledge of truth the next time God seems distant!

Dr. William Lane Craig also lists a third benefit of studying apologetics. He says that doing so will make you a “deeper and more interesting person”, and I couldn’t agree more! As Dr. Craig observes, our culture is “appallingly superficial, fixated on celebrities, entertainment, sports, and self-indulgence.” Apologetics is part of the cure, as it will lead you to study philosophy, history, and science, among other things. You’ll be able to read, talk, and think about the deeper questions of life such as the existence of God, the “problem” of evil and suffering, and so forth. We in the education realm talk much of developing critical thinking skills, but it is in the realm of Christian apologetics that the Church has the ability to develop these skills apart from worldly philosophies. The world desperately needs thinking believers to answer the shallowness of this age.

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A Room with a View

As I said in a previous post, I’ve been reading a fascinating book by Hugh Ross entitled Why the Universe is the Way it Is. Dr. Ross has a Ph.D. from the University of Toronto and is the president of Reason to Believe ministries. He’s spoken at over 300 colleges and universities. While Ross’ book is by no means exhaustive, it does an excellent job of helping the reader realize how very, very, VERY unlikely it is for us to exist without a Creator. A disclaimer: Ross does seem to believe in some form of theistic evolution, at least to the extent that God allowed the universe to evolve and then stepped in to make humans several billion years later. I prefer to believe that God either created the entire universe with the appearance of age (since He did so with Adam and the rest of life on earth) or that- thanks to general relativity– God’s act of creation actually did some really cool things to the flow of time. I tend to go with the second option, but I’m not going to explain the whole theory in detail at this time. I also see some value in studying whether or not light itself could be slowing down.

Below you’ll see a few reasons why the earth is not only uniquely designed to support life, but also to allow mankind to view the heavens. God wanted us to discover His universe. (Article continues here)

Categories: Apologetics, atheism, Bible, christianity, Contemporary Issues, Philosophical Christianity, science | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Life Support: It’s all about location

Recently I’ve been reading Hugh Ross‘ book Why the Universe is the Way it Is, and it has certainly opened up my eyes to the incredible fine-tuning of our universe. Dr. Ross has a Ph.D. from the University of Toronto and is the president of Reason to Believe ministries. He’s spoken at over 300 colleges and universities. While Ross’ book is by no means exhaustive, it does an excellent job of helping the reader realize how very, very, VERY unlikely it is for us to exist without a Creator. A disclaimer: Ross does seem to believe in some form of theistic evolution, at least to the extent that God allowed the universe to evolve and then stepped in to make humans several billion years later. I prefer to believe that God either created the entire universe with the appearance of age (since He did so with Adam and the rest of life on earth) or that- thanks to general relativity- God’s act of creation actually did some really cool things to the flow of time. I tend to go with the second option, but I’m not going to explain the whole theory in detail at this time. I also see some value in studying whether or not time or light itself could be slowing down. Below you’ll see a list of facts to support the anthropic principle, the belief that the universe exists specifically to support complex life forms:

Click here to read the rest of the article at our new site!

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