Monday, 28 December 2015

Monday quote

Rights and obligations are brother principles, both owing their existence to the God who made us creatures of equal dignity, possessing the logos that makes our self-government possible.

Matthew J. Franck

Monday, 21 December 2015

Monday quote

All is lost when a man’s first vice is a delusion of infallibility. All other vices will then cascade through their lives, and they will be forced by the resultant cacophony to jam their fingers ever more forcefully into their ears. Wise people realize the limits of their own knowledge and accept that new arguments must be confronted or compel a change of opinion. Fools have all the answers and brook no new questions.

DC Sunset

Monday, 14 December 2015

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Some important lessons about faith, life, and work

After working several years at the Acton Think Tank, Jordan J Ballor summarises some important things he has learnt.
Over that time I’ve learned some important lessons about faith, life, and work.
His 5 points are
  1. Treat people like people.
  2. Your work matters to God.
  3. Culture matters.
  4. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
  5. The dirtiest work has already been done.
They are all good points and he briefly expands on them. Item 4 is useful for perfectionists
There’s a saying in graduate school that the only good dissertation is a done dissertation. The truth of this insight applies to other endeavors, too. Let good enough be good enough. If you wait to “go live” with something until it is perfect, it will never see the light of day. Realize that improvement is a never-ending process, and that the only way to achieve anything is to risk failure and even embarrassment. Perfectionism can be a way of withdrawing from the responsibilities of work in this world. So don’t let your high standards be an excuse to wash your hands of genuine engagement.
There are things best done by perfectionists which need significant time devoted to them. But the perfectionist mentality can afflict all their tasks making them unnecessarily inefficient in areas that good enough will do. In other words, the admonishment is addressed to perfectionists, not those of a more sanguine disposition.

Monday, 7 December 2015

Monday quote

For myself, I long ago decided that I would rather know the truth than be happy in ignorance. If I can not have both truth and happiness, give me truth. We’ll have a long time to be happy in heaven.

Aiden Wilson Tozer

Monday, 30 November 2015

Monday quote

At the heart of the story stands the cross of Christ where evil did its worse and met its match.

J.W. Wenham

Monday, 23 November 2015

Monday quote

I’ve often said there are three questions that would destroy most of the arguments on the left. The first is: ‘Compared to what?’ The second is: ‘At what cost?’ And the third is: ‘What hard evidence do you have?’ Now there are very few ideas on the left that can pass all of those.

Thomas Sowell.

Monday, 16 November 2015

Monday quote

Opposition to godliness is Atheism in profession and idolatry in practice. Atheism is so senseless and odious to mankind that it never had many professors.

Isaac Newton

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Do atheists need to believe in God to be moral?

The traditional answer to this is that Christians are not claming that atheists are immoral without God, they are arguing that God must exist for morality to be true. We need an objective source that says that all people have oughts. Without God the oughts are arbitrary. If there is no God then all the oughts come down to reasons like maximising happiness, minimising harm, treating others how you wish to be treated. The problem with this is we are relying on ideas like happiness and altruism are good, and pain is bad. While I generally agree with this, why is this so? If someone else believes that his happiness takes preference over group happiness what can the atheist appeal to? Or who? We are left with people disagreeing.

The moral argument is that if morality is real (not just an arbitrary collection of principles we agree to live by, but can change or abandon) then there is a moral giver. The existence of morality is evidence for God. Consistent atheists realise this and often become nihilists. Though I suspect all men still know that some things are wrong.

Atheists can act morally because they are made in the image of God. Our conscience means that we know there are oughts. This is why the atheist wishes to have a reason for morality: he knows oughts are real, but his worldview denies a deity.

So the Christian argument is that atheism doesn't have an explanation of morality, not that the atheist is immoral. Nevertheless, I think there is reason to suspect that atheists on average are less moral. There are biblical reasons to suspect this, but I wish to raise a more pragmatic one.

Atheist morality frequently reflects the culture (Christians can also be unduly influenced by culture and agree with culture over Scripture). So the atheist call is that they can be just as moral as Christians; moreover, they often argue a superiority because they do not need a deity to tell them not to murder whereas Christians supposedly need God to prevent them killing others.

Of course this is not true. If God gives man his conscience then God is telling the atheist not to murder as much as he tells the Christian. The atheist pretension to superiority backfires as not only does he also require God to tell him right and wrong (by his conscience) he acts immorally by denying his Creator.

But there is a bigger reason the atheist is more immoral? Atheist morality is generally reflective of culture. The Christian thinks that murder and theft and lying are wrong. Atheists will generally agree these things are wrong—we are just as moral as Christians but don't need God! Yet God also condemns many other things. Murder of children is wrong in or out of the womb, sodomy is wrong, government overreach is wrong. Western culture, despite its Christian heritage, by and large has rejected these laws. The atheist who says he is as moral as the Christian because he disapproves of murder and theft is not as moral when it comes to abortion or sodomy. Worse, he condemns the Christian who, despite the culture, recognises these legal actions as sins against God. The Christian is condemned by the atheist as holding to bigoted views that oppress others. Further, the atheist now argues that he is morally superior to the Christian in these areas. But all the atheist has to go on is the spirit of the age. He only has his conscience to bear witness: his conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse him (Rom 2:15).

So atheists can be moral. The atheist has a conscience that is given to him by God, even while he denies the God who made him. His conscience is somewhat reflective of the culture (or sub-culture) he belongs to and so his morality variably lines up with God's law. And because atheists suppress the knowledge of God many eventually abandon God's law.

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Underground Church in China

A short video on some of the difficulties faced by our brothers in China. Yet Jesus continues to grow his church!


Monday, 9 November 2015

Monday quote

Sins are always defined in relation to a God, and the form of worship and life He requires. False sins are, correspondingly, defined in relation to a false god, and the way of life and worship that flows out of that commitment.

Douglas Wilson

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

10 rules for dealing with crazy people

Number 8 is important to remember.

10 rules for dealing with crazy people
  1. If you don't have to deal with a crazy person, don't.
  2. You can't outsmart crazy. You also can't fix crazy. (You could outcrazy it, but that makes you crazy too.)
  3. When you get in a contest of wills with a crazy person, you've already lost.
  4. The crazy person doesn't have as much to lose as you.
  5. Your desired outcome is to get away from the crazy person.
  6. You have no idea what the crazy person's desired outcome is.
  7. The crazy person sees anything you have done as justification for what she's about to do.
  8. Anything nice you do for the crazy person, she will use as ammunition later.
  9. The crazy person sees any outcome as vindication.
  10. When you start caring what the crazy person thinks, you're joining her in her craziness.

Monday, 2 November 2015

Monday quote

On the issue of slavery it was essentially Western civilization against the world. At the time, Western civilization had the power to prevail against all other civilizations. That is how and why slavery was destroyed as an institution in almost the whole world.

Thomas Sowell, Black Rednecks and White Liberals.

Monday, 26 October 2015

Monday quote

Tolerance used to be the attitude that we took toward one another when we disagreed about an important issue; we would agree to treat each other with respect even though we refused to embrace each other’s view on a particular topic. Tolerance is now the act of recognizing and embracing all views as equally valuable and true, even though they often make opposite truth claims.

J. Warner Wallace, Cold Case Christianity.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Was Mary a perpetual virgin?

Catholic doctrine and many church fathers believe in the perpetual virginity of Mary. That Mary was a virgin when she conceived Jesus is explicitly documented in the Bible and is universally believed by Christians. The doctrine of perpetual virginity is early but more contentious. It is defended by appealing to its wide support in the early church and for many years, even believed by some protestants such as Luther, Zwingli, and Wesley.

It is claimed that Mary took a vow of perpetual virginity and that a guardian was appointed her, an old widower who would marry her but not consummate the marriage. Thus Joseph was betrothed to her then married her but never consummated the marriage. Jesus' brothers were either his half brothers through Joseph, or Jesus' cousins.

Biblically the defence is much weaker. The relevant verses are
but [Joseph] knew her not until (ἕως) she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus. (Matthew 1:25)

And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34)

When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home. (John 19:26-27)
Matthew is interpreted to mean Joseph did not know her before the birth and thenceforth. Luke is read as a vow of perpetual virginity. John is read as implying Mary had no other sons therefore Jesus handed his responsibility for his mother to John.

I hold tradition in some regard but hold Scripture higher. I think the verses espoused as proof of Mary's ongoing virginity as weak, and other verses suggest otherwise. Dealing with the above verses first.

Matthew 1:25 is usually translated as until. Most versions do this. Some argue that a translation such as
but [Joseph] knew her not before she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus. (Matthew 1:25)
is allowed. "Until" implying that Joseph abstained from sex prior to but not after the birth, whereas "before" only makes claims of abstinence up until to the birth and doesn't imply anything about their conjugal activity after the birth. The problem with this is even if we accept a translation using a more neutral preposition, the context implies sexual activity after the birth. Coitus is so connected to marriage that it is assumed without any information. For coitus to not be part of marriage requires an explicit denial. For there to be no sex would require the sentence to say
but [Joseph] knew her not before she had given birth to a son; nor did he know her after the birth of her son. And he called his name Jesus. (Matthew 1:25)
Such a situation is so unusual that further clarification may be given along the lines of
and Joseph knew Mary not for their entire marriage, Mary remaining a virgin until her death.
As to the Lukan passage, there is nothing suggesting this is a vow. And the context reads that Mary cannot conceive because she is a virgin, not because she has taken a vow of virginity.

John is an argument against Jesus having brothers, not for Mary being a virgin. That is, if Jesus has brothers (Mary has children) that is evidence against Mary's virginity, but Jesus not having brothers is not evidence for her virginity.

Nevertheless, Jesus likely had brothers. These passages all mention Jesus' brothers:
Matthew 13:55; Mark 3:31; 6:3; John 7:3; Acts 1:14; and 1 Corinthians 9:5. Note especially what the people at Nazareth ask,
Is not this the carpenter's son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all his sisters with us? (Matthew 13:55-56)
These are rhetorical questions from people who grew up in the same town as Jesus. They are accurate, and the terms "brothers" or "sisters" can hardly mean "cousins" here.

This counts against Mary being a perpetual virgin (unless the siblings are Joseph's children from a prior marriage). Jesus being the firstborn and thus eldest would be responsible for his mother. The reason for asking John to take care of his mother may have been because at that stage even Jesus brothers did not believe him. In wasn't until after the resurrection that they had faith in Jesus.

What Scriptural evidence is there that Mary did not remain a virgin?
  1. The evidence given above that Matthew 1:25 is contextually definitive evidence of subsequent coitus however we translate the preposition.
  2. The evidence above that Jesus had siblings.
  3. Paul's command concerning marriage in 1 Corinthians.
Paul commands men and women to give each other their conjugal rights. He specifically tells them not to abstain from sex other than for short periods of time for the sake of prayer. Conjugal rights are normative for marriage since creation and Paul reminds the Corinthians that this remains the case. It has always been important for marriage to have regular sexual expression. The command for Mary to not have sex with Joseph goes against not only the creation mandate, but also the specific command (a reminder) Paul gave to the Corinthians.

Monday, 19 October 2015

Monday quote

If I agreed with you, we'd both be wrong.

Anonymous.

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Hierarchal structures and submission

I was discussing the nature of authority to my daughter several years ago, and who she is to obey when she gets conflicting requests by those in authority over her.

Scripture teaches that people are to submit to authority as is appropriate. There are several examples given in the Bible. Men to God, citizens to the king or the state, children to parents, slaves to masters, church members to elders. And by analogy other situations such as employees to employers.

I think there is a good argument to be made to obey authorities in most situations, even if the authority is not righteous. I will not defend this position here, it is a common position among Christians, though I am aware there are arguments otherwise.
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed. (Romans 13)
The question arises about what someone should do when he is commanded something that conflicts with a higher authority he is answerable to.

While we are answerable to those above us, we may also be answerable to those above them. The basic structure I see is this:
  1. God
  2. Government
  3. Citizens
  4. Children
And there are different structures within this. The church as a whole is not under the government, but individuals within the church are (in this age).

Some structures are voluntary and others compulsory. Compulsory structures may change. All governments are always under God, as are all men. Christians are under their elders, but they are free to leave their local church, or even Christianity. Slaves are not free to leave, but employees are. Children become adults and are no longer answerable to their parents. A voluntary structure does not permit you to disobey your superiors, though you are free to leave the structure if you find their requirements repulsive.

The flow of authority means that people are permitted to disobey an immediate authority if obedience to him means disobedience to a higher authority. However it must result in disobedience to the higher authority, not just inconsistent with his preferences. Further, you must also be under the higher authority.

So if you are a slave to a soldier who is under a commander, but you are not answerable to the commander in any way, then you do not need to take the commander's objection into consideration in your obedience to the soldier. Though it may be prudent to consider the likely consequences.

If you are also answerable to the commander, and the request of the soldier is inconsistent with how the commander would act, but performing such a task would not mean you are disobeying the commander, then the duty to obey remains in effect.

One can transfer authority. When discussing this with my daughter I used the example of school. I transfer my authority over my daughter to the teachers and principal during her time at school. The teachers are not under my authority at all. Still, because I am the primary authority over my daughter, she is allowed to disobey her teachers in deference to me.

It is also important to note that people have authority if they are delegated it, not because they are part of a structure. In a monarchy the king is the ultimate authority (under God), but the king's attendants do not necessarily carry any power. A person working for the state does not have intrinsic authority based on his employment, it is based on his position. So a policeman or a judge has authority delegated by the state, and government teacher does not.

This is how I see God has set up the authority structures on earth. And while it is appropriate to disobey an authority to obey a higher one,
But Peter and the apostles answered, "We must obey God rather than men...." (Acts 5),
it is important that this only be the case when obedience to the lower authority would constitute active disobedience to higher one. There are many situations where authorities abuse their power and request things that are not ideal, things that a better steward would not command of his subjects. But it is these authorities who are answerable to those above them. It is no sin to obey a wicked ruler in some of his poorer rulings, in fact it may be a sin not to obey him.

Saturday, 17 October 2015

Rightly discerning the issue

We frequently need to weigh up actions to be undertaken while considering several competing issues. Different people weight the various considerations differently based on things like the importance they place on the relevant (and sometimes irrelevant) issues, or their depth of knowledge of relevant issues.

Often more information is very helpful. Many people realise this and sometimes seek it. What seems less common is thinking through how an issue is relevant. Recently I heard a conversation concerning how many people to train for the work force and weighing up issues like,
  1. Quality of training
  2. (Future) workforce requirements
  3. Number we can train
  4. Number who want to train
In unrelated reading on unemployment I came across this quote,
People don’t need to be forced to work. People need to be helped to find a job.
This sentence reminded me of the earlier conversation as neither speaker had rightly divided the issue.

Talking the second one, the speaker is (or may be*) falsely contrasting the issue. It is not just that a carrot is more effective (according to the speaker) than a stick, rather both can be true depending on what the problem is. So within a community there exist people who do not wish to work and for them a policy that forces them to earn their income is important. Even if there were jobs, the lack of desire to work prevents them taking one up. Within the same community are people who want to work but are unable to find a job. For them the motivation is there, and forcing them to work is less helpful when there are no jobs to be had. Presumably for many people both factors may be at play: they desire not to work but think they should; and jobs are difficult to find.

The relevant point is that the quote reveals inadequate depth of assessing the problem: thinking something is either/ or when it is both/ and.

The first example was about determining which of the issues is most important in addressing the training problem. Being a free-market type guy I think train who you can and let the market sort out the issues. Nevertheless, let's consider the problem as it was posed. The failure of the speaker here is equating all these variables to the total number of trainees rather than recognising they relate to either maximum or minimum numbers of trainees. Let's say that we could estimate these numbers (which we probably can't as they derive from several factors that we cannot determine; further they are dynamic). Even so, they put different constraints on the trainee number. Taking item #1. Assuming that high quality (or a minimum standard) is what is being sort, this means that the system will have a maximum number of workers it can train. Workforce requirements however is a minimum number: they will want to train at least that many workers. Total capacity to train is a maximum number, and number who wish to train is also a (different) maximum number.

These examples illustrate the common problem of failing to fully analyse an issue. Many a discussion or argument is at cross purposes because of superficial assessment.†


*The author may be saying that people do not need to be forced to work because they all want to work; they just cannot find a job.

†The opposite tendency is to make distinctions when they are irrelevant. This does not necessarily relate to the degree of division but rather whether it is relevant. The question to ask what is being assessed or compared here.

Monday, 12 October 2015

Monday quote

The issues under discussion will seldom be settled primarily by appeal to first person experience. While a court should listen to eye-witnesses, for instance, it does not follow that a court would be better off if it were run by eye-witnesses.

Alastair Roberts

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Uncharitable Bible critics

Critics of the Bible frequently have a wooden approach to reading—they do not understand nuance or context, and frequently do not even understand what the passage is even saying. They often also assume the most uncharitable interpretation: if an ambiguous passage can be interpreted in several ways and all but one of the them make sense, then it is claimed that the nonsensical interpretation is the definitive meaning.

To be sure, the Bible has some difficult passages. Some appear contradictory, some appear harsh (especially to modern sensibilities), some seem impossible to obey. And these should be considered thoughtfully. Yet many "discrepancies" are of little, if any significance.

What are we to do with the man who states that non-issues are mortal contradictions that destroy the Bible's credibility? Or him who insists that all ambiguities be resolved by assuming error? It is to realise that this position is not one of doubt and incertitude, rather it is a response of disdain toward God. The Bible difficulties are not the issue, rebellion is.

Monday, 5 October 2015

Monday quote

An overly sensitive conscience is not the same thing as a properly discerning one.

Jane Dunsworth

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Harris begs the question

Sam Harris posted this on Facebook.
No rational atheist (or “New Atheist”) holds religion accountable for every idiotic or unethical thing religious people do. We blame a religion only for what its adherents do as a direct result of its doctrines, such as opposing gay marriage or killing apostates.

Atheism has no doctrines. It does not demand that a person do anything, or refrain from doing anything, on the basis of his unbelief. Consequently, to know that someone is an atheist is to know almost nothing about him—apart from the fact that he does not accept the unwarranted claims of any religion.

Atheism is simply the condition of not believing in Poseidon, Thor, or any of the thousands of dead gods that lie in the graveyard we call mythology. To that extent, everyone knows exactly what it is to be an atheist—he has simply added the god of Abraham to the list of the dead.

If a belief in astrology were causing people to go berserk—to deny medical care to their children or to murder unbelievers—many of us would speak and write about the dangerous stupidity of astrology. This would not be bigotry or intolerance on our part. It would be a plea for basic human sanity. And that is all that an atheist’s criticism of religious tribalism and superstition ever is.

If you understand this, you will recognize any attempt to blame atheism for specific crimes, great or small, for what it is: A fresh act of religious demagoguery.
Harris is saying that failure to believe in God is a single item of belief that does not have uniform consequences for all people who hold this belief. However this is not true. Certain other beliefs and behaviours are logically consequent for any single belief. While this may not be universally the case for every person, it is the case for groups of people who hold a belief. Do other beliefs and behaviours logically follow from any particular belief? Yes they do. Atheism may have no other doctrines but certain things follow such as the idea that consciousness has a naturalistic explanation.

More importantly is the assumption of atheism here. If atheism happens to be true then atheists who are nasty may be just nasty, but not because of atheism. Consider the alternative assumption though, that theism is true. If theism is true and there is a God, a creator who owns us and we are accountable to. What does this say about those who do not believe in this God. The position of atheism in this scenario is not neutral, it is a position disbelieving the truth. It is also a position of refusing to acknowledge God's authority. Disobedience to God in other areas is also more likely, especially the more vehemently an atheist rejects his creator.

Assuming no God, the atheist is more likely to have a specific set of views and behaviours (based on his atheism) than the person who believes in God. Assuming there is a God, then the atheist is more likely to rebel against God in many ways.

Monday, 28 September 2015

Monday quote

The historical context concerns the circumstances or situation that prompted the text . . . . The literary context, on the other hand, is simply the text around your text

David R. Helm, Expositional Preaching.

Monday, 21 September 2015

Monday quote

Try your best to deal with life without medicating yourself. I mean drugs, food, shopping, money, whatever. I ain't judging anybody, either. I was hooked on heroin for years. But now I've learned that every feeling will pass if you give it time. And if you learn to deal with your feelings, they'll pass by faster each time. So don't rush to cover them up, or you're never gonna learn.

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Answering a fool

This proverb concerning answering fools is often highlighted as a contradiction.
Answer not a fool according to his folly,
lest you be like him yourself.
Answer a fool according to his folly,
lest he be wise in his own eyes. (Proverbs 26:4-5)
So do we answer the fool or not?


There are a couple responses to be made to this. Firstly, it must be remembered that the book of Proverbs contains proverbs: aphorisms that are generally true. Pointing to isolated cases that don't conform to the rule is hardly proof of their error. That being said, if they are generally true, how can opposite claims both be generally true?

For starters they could be suggestions that are both true in different situations. Situations can differ according to the nature of the folly (refute the facts, don't imitate the demeanour); or the foolish claim (refute some claims not others).

But the biggest clue comes in looking at the larger context. The first 12 verses of chapter 26 (save the second verse) discuss the problem of dealing with fools. Fools are not due honour, do not learn from their mistakes, misuse proverbs, and generally cause problems to all those around them. The problem here is not Solomon's proverb, it is the fool. Because he is a fool no matter how you deal with him everything turns to custard.

There is a somewhat similar type of proverb in English: You are damned if you do and damned if you don't. No one thinks this proverb is nonsense, it basically means the issue is intractable: no matter which course you take it will fail or someone will be unhappy. It is the same problem with the fool. He needs to be rebuked for his foolishness yet even doing that risks that we might imitate him.

Monday, 14 September 2015

Monday quote

Feeling good about yourself is not the same as doing good.

Theodore Dalrymple

Monday, 7 September 2015

Monday quote

It is impossible to question authority in general. If we see fit to question specific manifestations of authority-as indeed we must-then we necessarily do so based on some other authority which we accord priority.

David Koyzis

Monday, 31 August 2015

Monday quote

Of the seven deadly sins, only envy is no fun at all.

Joseph Epstein.

Saturday, 29 August 2015

Divorce and the Bible

Understanding what the Bible teaches about divorce has a history that antedates the New Testament as evidenced by the Pharisees questioning Jesus. Then subsequently within the church until now. There is much tradition is associated with various teachings about divorce, especially within, but not confined to, the Roman Catholic church. Opinions run strong and emotions high; is there much to be added?

Divorce is rightly viewed as something that is sub-optimal and to be avoided; it is likely that a lot of divorce within the church is unbiblical. Because divorce is viewed so negatively some Christians allow divorce for minimal reasons, specifically the situations allowed by Jesus. Others try a systematic approach to the question of divorce hoping to establish principles consistent with the relevant scriptural passages. The later seems preferable; taking the larger context of the various passages into account. Any theology of divorce will undoubtedly see divorce as something to be avoided if possible, but we live in a fallen world and must allow for the sins of men. Murder should never occur but we need a theology that rightly deals with murderers. Likewise, there may be situations where divorce is allowed, where one party is predominantly innocent. In such cases a divorcee may believe himself or herself guilty when in fact they are not. The church should not treat all divorce the same as much as the state does not treat all killing the same.

The Jews were not to add or subtract from God's words (Deu 4:2); likewise we should not be more lenient nor more restrictive than God. Having "higher" ideals than God makes one a legalist, especially when he places these expectations on others.

Any good theology of divorce originates from a right theology of marriage. Jesus pointed us to what God's intent for marriage was prior to the Fall (Mar 10:6). Marriage was instituted by God. God made man and it was not good that he was alone. Everything he created was good but man's aloneness was not good. Adam was permitted to know he was alone before God put him to sleep in order to make a woman to help him; compatible with him but different from him. An equal who had come from him in order that Adam may not be alone. Designed so that they could become one in flesh (Gen 2:24); being two in order that they would not be alone, yet becoming one. A type of the Godhead: the Father in the Son and the Son in the Father (Joh 17:21), with the Spirit. And we were given a component of the Spirit in our marriages (Mal 2:15). Why did God create marriage? So that we may raise godly children (Mal 2:15).

This teaches us
  1. that marriage was instituted by God; 
  2. that marriage was between men and women; 
  3. that marriage was to be between one man and one woman; 
  4. that it was permanent (at least in this age); and
  5. that marriage is intended for the conception and raising of godly children.
Why then would God allow divorce? Jesus said what God has joined together let no man destroy.

Jesus said,
Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. (Mat 19:8)
Divorce was a concession because of hard hearts. God regulated a situation because men are sinners.

The passages on divorce in the gospels are
“It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” (Mat 5:31-32)
“Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.” (Luk 16:18)
Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one's wife for any cause?” He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”

The disciples said to him, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” But he said to them, “Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.” (Mat 19:3-12)
Pharisees came up and in order to test him asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.” And Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”

And in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. And he said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” (Mar 10:2-12)
The first passage in Matthew comes from the Sermon on the Mount. The passage in Luke is probably parallel though possibly something that Jesus had said several times during his teaching ministry. The second passage in Matthew parallels Mark. The teaching of Jesus in both these situations is similar though both times Matthew mentions an exception for adultery. It could be argued that the parallel passages in Luke and Mark may be distinct, for example Matthew has the added phrase "for any cause" (this is an appeal to the debate over how to interpret Deuteronomy which I will address shortly). Nevertheless, the most reasonable way to understand Matthew's exception of divorce is to realise that Matthew is including explicitly what Mark and Luke see as implicit. There was no disagreement over whether divorce was allowed in the case of adultery by either party. All agreed that when adultery occurred the innocent party was allowed to obtain a divorce. Marriage is a covenant and adultery breaks that covenant. Divorce doesn't break the covenant in the situation of adultery because the covenant has already been broken. Divorce is this situation is merely a legal acknowledgement that there is no longer any covenant. There was no disagreement between the various schools over divorce in the case of adultery therefore the adultery exception did not need to be specified; nevertheless, Matthew mentions it explicitly for completeness.

Matthew gives us an example with Joseph. Joseph and Mary are betrothed which is not the same as marriage but is more than engagement. The couple are not married and coitus is forbidden. Yet there is an agreement that betrothed couples will marry and dissolution requires a divorce. When Mary was found to be pregnant Joseph sort to divorce her quietly.
Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her [future] husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce (ἀπολῦσαι) her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Mat 1:18-21) 
Joseph (wrongly) thought that Mary had been sexually unfaithful. He seeks to divorce her and is called righteous. This is because Joseph sort to divorce her quietly so that Mary may not be shamed. There is no indication that Joseph's plan to divorce Mary is in anyway wrong given how he had interpreted Mary's pregnancy; that is he is not corrected concerning the wrongness of divorce per se, rather he is made aware of Mary's fidelity thus he has no reason for divorce.

Divorce is allowed in the case of adultery because one party has already broken the marriage. There really should be no dispute about this. Though it is worth mentioning that while divorce is allowed it is not mandatory.

Returning the Pharisees' challenge. The Pharisees were trying to test Jesus here asking,
Is it lawful to divorce one's wife for any cause?
Deuteronomy addresses divorce tangentially.
When a man takes a wife and marries her, if then she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found something indecent (’ervat davar) in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, and she departs out of his house, and if she goes and becomes another man's wife, and the latter man hates her and writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, or if the latter man dies, who took her to be his wife, then her former husband, who sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife, after she has been defiled, for that is an abomination before the Lord. And you shall not bring sin upon the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance. (Deu 24:1-4)
The law is about returning to a former husband which is important when we come to Paul's comments. For the purposes of the divorce debate the question is what does "something indecent" mean?

Some emphasised the "something" and some emphasised the "indecent". If we emphasis the "something" then anything indecent is grounds for divorce. If we emphasis "indecent" then only things indecent are grounds. The later seems preferable, the something is still required to be indecent. The term "indecent" here carries the connotation of nakedness or sexuality.

In actually, however, this passage only assumes that the man might happen to divorce his wife if he finds something indecent in her. It does not clearly say that he is allowed to do this. This may be why Jesus says that Moses allowed divorce because of hardness of heart. The Jews were saying that Moses commands that the man give her a certificate of divorce but this is more than what this passage says. To have a law based on activities that men do perform is not to proscribe such activity. Consider the reasons why both men divorce the woman. The first man finds something indecent in her. The second man hates her. Both divorce her, but nothing in this passage states that either is justified in doing so. Only that the first husband may not take her back.

So Jesus only allows adultery as a reason for divorce here. Note, however, that the Law did not specify divorce for adultery, if specified execution (Lev 20:10). How do we explain this? There seem to be several reasons for the Jews choosing divorce over execution. Firstly, the Mosaic Law usually gave maximum sentences not minimum sentences. Occasionally the law was explicit in stating that a ransom was forbidden (Lev 27:29), that is, the sentence could not be commuted to a lighter sentence. Such a law implies that sentences could be commuted. Thus an adulterer who is divorced by another receives a lighter sentence than one who is executed.

Secondly, proving adultery is difficult. Proof of adultery such that the adulterer be executed needs to reach the high standard of 2 or 3 witnesses. Divorce is a response to probable adultery that lacks adequate evidence for a more severe sentence.

Thirdly, the Jews were not permitted to execute people during the occupation of the Romans. Thus divorce would be the appropriate response to adultery in this situation.

If adultery is the only reason for divorce then why does Paul add another? To understand Paul we need to go back to Jesus' teaching given just prior to when the Pharisees tested him. Jesus is teaching the disciples about humility, sin, forgiveness and the salvation of the lost. In this context Jesus teaches how to win back a sinning brother.
“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” (Mat 18:15-20)
There are 2 common but different ways to understand what Jesus meant by, "let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector." One approach says that Jesus sought to reach tax-collectors and sinners and we should focus our efforts on winning this brother back. The other approach says that we should treat them how the Jews in that culture treated tax-collectors and sinners. While the latter approach is probably more accurate, it seems best to read this as it relates to community. The unrepentant sinner is to be considered outside the community. In modern parlance they are excommunicated. They are refusing to even listen to the church so they must be treated as someone outside the church. This is not to say that they are unsaved (though they may be), rather that the church needs to have a form of discipline. The people inside the church need to be subject to the elders and those that refuse to be subject to the eldership must be removed to protect the rest of the sheep. The passage makes clear we are to do everything to reach such a person, yet if they are recalcitrant, sanctions must be enforced. (Of course a church can be sufficiently dysfunctional and a righteous man might get kicked out of a heretical church).

This covenantial relationship is the context into which Jesus was talking when he discussed the issue of divorce. Adultery is the only reason for divorce for 2 people in God's kingdom. To the Pharisees this meant amongst the Jews. For us it means those within the church.

This does not mean that only people within the church have true marriages. Marriage is defined by God and remains a marriage even if one or both spouses are not part of the kingdom of God. What it does mean is that Jesus is addressing a specific situation: the situation where 2 people in a marriage covenant are within God's larger covenant.

So when the Corinthians asked Paul about divorce Paul advises them according to the teaching that Jesus gave.
To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does, she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and the husband should not divorce his wife. (1Co 7:10-11)
Paraphrasing,
Paul: "To the married I give this command concerning divorce. But this is not my teaching it is Jesus' teaching."

Paul reiterates Jesus' teaching about divorce to those within God's kingdom. When both spouses are within the church they must not divorce.

But what if one spouse is not a believer?
To the rest I say (I, not the Lord) that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her. If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. (1Co 7:12-13)
Paul here is giving a command and he specifies that it is he that gives it, not Jesus. In other words, Jesus did not give any command that addresses the situation where one spouse is a believer and one is an unbeliever. This comment by Paul shows that the situation in the gospels is solely addressing the case where husband and wife are married and both are within God's covenant.

When reiterating Jesus' command for married couples not to divorce Paul mentions that if a wife does separate she is to remain unmarried. Paul does not here mention the exemption for divorce in the case of adultery but we know it is the case from Jesus' teaching which Paul is reiterating. However Paul adds that in the case of two believers, if a woman divorces her husband she is to remain unmarried or be reconciled to him.
To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate (χωρισθῆναι) from her husband; but if she does separate (χωρισθῇ) she should remain unmarried (ἄγαμος) or else be reconciled to her husband; and the husband should not send away (ἀφιέναι) his wife.

To the rest I say (I, not the Lord) that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not send her away (ἀφιέτω). If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not send him away (ἀφιέτω). For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. But if the unbelieving partner separates (χωρίζεται), let them separate (χωριζέσθω). In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved (δεδούλωται). God has called you to peace. For how do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife? (1Co 7:10-16)
By separate (χωρισθῆναι) Paul means what we mean by divorce. In commanding the woman to remain single Paul is referring back to Deuteronomy. In the passage above it states that if a woman is divorced and remarried, then subsequently divorced again or widowed, then she is not to remarry her first husband. Paul applies this to the case of a believing marriage. The woman must not divorce but if she does (and she is wrong to do so) she should reconcile with her believing husband or remain single. The reason she is to remain single is to allow the possibility of reconciliation; for if she remains single and the situation can be resolved then she can remarry her previous husband. But if she were to remarry someone else then there is no possibility of her returning to her previous husband, either through subsequent divorce or through widowhood.

However in the case of marriage to unbelievers, stay married but if the unbeliever wishes to leave then let them do so. The call to the kingdom is greater than the call to one's spouse (Luk 14:26). This appears to be a similar situation to the case of mixed marriages in Ezra. In that circumstance Ezra told the Jews to divorce their unbelieving wives (Ezra 10:3) whereas Paul allows unbelievers to stay if they so wish. Why do Paul and Ezra give different commands?

It is difficult to be completely certain but there are some differences that may be relevant. The first is that in Ezra we are dealing with the Old Covenant. It was important that unbelieving foreigners were kept out of the Jewish covenant. God was bringing the Messiah and external forces sort to thwart that. While we still should not be yoked to unbelievers in the new covenant, there is not the necessity to dispose of them. The Messiah has come and the kingdom of God is not a nation, rather it is within us, and God is expanding it through the earth. Before Christ the unclean made the clean unclean. In Christ the clean cleanses the unclean. As Paul says, "the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband."

Secondly, the foreign wives mentioned in Ezra were idolators. Idolatry was a capital offence in Israel. An idolatrous wife (or husband) was to be executed (Deu 17). As the Jews were (probably) forbidden from instituting the death penalty when ruled by the Persians, divorce was the only alternative option. Of course in Paul's day the unbelievers were also idolaters but many in the church were not Jews and not under the Mosaic Law.

Another question often raised is what is the status of those who get divorced without valid reason? Jesus says that such divorce is adultery. What is a person in this situation to do? This question has also caused some consternation though I think it less tricky than the above questions. In confronting the Pharisees about the sanctity of marriage Jesus says,
What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.
Jesus gives a command here. The fact it is a command suggests it can be obeyed, and disobeyed. We are not to separate what God has joined together but it is feasible to do so. Adam was not to eat of the tree but he did. Divorces can be entered into wrongly but they are divorces. Jesus said,
Whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery. (Mat 19:)
What Jesus is saying is that if you do not have a reason to divorce and yet you get a divorce anyway then you are guilty of breaking the commandment against adultery. Jesus is not saying you are therefore not divorced, or that you have to return to your previous spouse. If there is no adultery already then divorce causes adultery. In Matthew 5 Jesus even says that if you divorce your wife (without reason) then you are making her commit adultery.

So the legitimate reasons for divorce are
  • Adultery by a spouse;
  • Abandonment by an unbeliever.
Further relevant commandments are
  • A believer must only marry a believer;
  • A believing woman who divorces her believing husband should reconcile or stay unmarried.
Illegitimate divorces cause adultery. They are still divorces. Remarriages are marriages.

This exegesis of Scripture is consistent with many Protestant interpretations of marriage and divorce. There seem to be many more possible scenarios than the 2 mentioned above. There are, but they can be addressed by considering church fellowship. Reformulating the reasons for divorce we get.

Legitimate reasons for divorce when both spouses are believers: that is, are in fellowship
  • Adultery by a spouse
Legitimate reasons for divorce when one spouse is a believer: that is, in church fellowship
  • Adultery by the unbeliever
  • Abandonment by the unbeliever
How might this apply to difficult situations like physical abuse, criminal offending, etc? For the case of the unbeliever it seems that we can have a situation of functional abandonment. That is, even if the spouse claims they wish to remain married; if a wife's behaviour is that of serious abuse or neglect, or a husband is convicted and imprisoned for a criminal offence, then the desire to remain married is belied by the behaviour and a divorce can be obtained. A believing wife need not remain married to a murderer just because he consents to stay married to his wife.

In the case where both spouses are believers the approach is one of Matthew 18. The husband or wife is to seek to resolve the problem directly, then with a few others, then with the church. The spouse who is sinning needs to avail himself of the church's council and advice and repent. If he repents then the couple can work on repairing the marriage. If he refuses to repent then the church needs to discipline him appropriately. Ongoing refusal to repent and address sin should eventually be met by excommunication. At that stage the spouse is to be treated as out of fellowship, that is, as an unbeliever. Such the situation becomes the same as that of an unbeliever above. Serious crimes should be reported and capital offences should result in execution. Churches in countries that fail to execute or which prolong the process should allow divorce. Serious sins may result in immediate excommunication (1Co 5:1) and divorce may be obtained.

None of this should mean that if divorce is a legitimate option it must be pursued. God's grace is evident in many situations where offended parties forgave and rebuilt their marriage. This is a wonderful testimony for God. Mercy triumphs over judgment. But neither should churches condemn or allow a spirit of condemnation in cases where divorce is a legitimate option. Innocent men and women should not be censured.

Monday, 24 August 2015

Monday quote

Jesus is not coming back for a lukewarm bride who fornicates with the world. He is coming for a consecrated bride, unspotted by the world.

John Bevere, Enemy access denied.

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Translating phrases

The unit of information is the sentence, or at least the clause. Nevertheless I advocate a translation philosophy that is more formal and less dynamic. The reason for this is that I think a word for word translation tends to carry across more of the sentence meaning than a thought for thought translation.

Translations should primarily be accurate. Advocating for a word (or advocating for a thought) when the resultant text is agreed by all translators to be a less accurate translation is inappropriate.

But if we agree on accuracy, why prefer word level translations over sentence level translations: formal equivalence over dynamic equivalence?

One of the reasons is that I think formal equivalence ends up with an accurate translation at the level of meaning, ie. the clause or sentence and potentially delivers less interpretation. The dynamic approach asks what the passage means, an eminently important question—that all translators should ask of each passage—but one that allows more leeway in interpretation. Therefore the formal translator when asking the same question (which he should) is more constrained in how he can translate. While a dynamic translation may be accurate in many places, it is probable it is inaccurate in more places than a formal translation.

There are several other reasons to prefer a formal translation. One is that it better allows for allusions in reading Scripture. Phrases that use identical words in the original are more likely to do so in a formal translation. The reader recalls other passages more easily, or sees them as more obviously related.

Similar to this is plays on words. Repetitions of words, including the use of related nouns and verbs can modify the readers interpretation.

Some passages are difficult to interpret, reproducing this difficulty in a translation means that an interpretation does not need to be settled on, the ambiguity can remain for the reader who is forced to think though the options. Ambiguity in the original may be intentional, it may be that the passage is supposed to have a double meaning. A word for word translation I think is more likely to retain multiple meanings, especially in the situation where the translator is unaware of more than one meaning.

While I advocate this translational philosophy, I think there is unnecessary, or inappropriate adherence to elements of this by translators who favour formal translation.

The structure of the destination language needs to be considered and respected. I find some phrases in formal translations tortuous. This is not to say every passage should be simple to understand. If it is difficult in the Hebrew or Greek, then the English may be appropriately difficult. But there is no need to make simple phraseology complex. The 2 improvements that many formal translations could make are
  1. not try and preserve word order; and
  2. use extra words.
Word order does not give priority in English, it gives sense. You cannot easily shift the nouns around a verb without changing the meaning in English. You can in other languages by modifying the nouns. Now translators know this simple example, but at times more complex source sentences have a word order that does not resemble the English language. Preserving word order is by and large pointless in English. One may lose elements of the source meaning by changing the word order but this is a limitation of English; the limitation does not disappear by retaining word order, it just makes the passage harder to read. Even adjectives have a defined order in English, size before colour, number before age. Better to use convention than inappropriately emphasise by placing out of order. Exceptions could be made when giving a list perhaps.

The context of a word in the destination language also needs to be considered. Comrade was an useful English term for a friend or helper in a common cause but now the word has communist overtones and these overtones may not exist in the source language.

A word for word translation suggests using a single word in one language for a single word in another. But it is really a word-unit. At times one needs to use several words in the destination language for a single word in the source language. This is not a compromise toward dynamic translation: word → word-unit → clause. A word-unit (in the sense I am using it) is a single concept requiring more than one word. For example ram is a single word for a male adult sheep; ewe for female. There is no single English word for female camel but she-camel is a word-unit that could be used to translate a single source word for a female camel.

Monday, 17 August 2015

Monday quote

A proposition must be plain to be adopted by the understanding of a people. A false notion which is clear and precise will always meet with a greater number of adherents in the world than a true principle which is obscure or involved.

Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America.

Monday, 10 August 2015

Monday quote

Background and circumstances may influence who we are, but we are responsible for who we become.

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

A brief commentary on Romans 1:16-2:5

There are a few aspects I wish to highlight from the beginning of Paul's letter to the Roman Christians. After saying he desires to see them and preach the gospel in Rome he discusses the importance of the gospel to both the Jews and the Gentiles. Romans 1:16-2:5 reads,

Monday, 3 August 2015

Monday quote

Nobody spends somebody else’s money as carefully as he spends his own. Nobody uses somebody else’s resources as carefully as he uses his own. So if you want efficiency and effectiveness, if you want knowledge to be properly utilized, you have to do it through the means of private property.

Milton Friedman (1912–2006).

Friday, 31 July 2015

Foreknowing is knowing previously

Leighton Flowers has written an excellent commentary on Romans 8:28-39. It is difficult to summarise without reproducing the whole article. So here is the passage translated in accordance to what Flowers suggests it says. Basically Flowers is advocating that Paul talks about how the creation was subjected in the past, and thus what the creation will be. Likewise Paul talks about God's activities in the past; and that by observing what God has done in the lives of the saints in times past we can know what God will do for us. This passage is not about God's foreknowledge but God's faithfulness.
And we observe that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.  For those whom He knew previously, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that [Jesus] would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written,

“For Your sake we are being put to death all day long;
We were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Monday, 27 July 2015

Monday quote

If we encounter a man of rare intellect, we should ask him what books he reads.

Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Monday, 20 July 2015

Monday quote

The more I study the history of intellectuals, the more they seem like a wrecking crew, dismantling civilization bit by bit—replacing what works with what sounds good.

Thomas Sowell

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Does Moses force a woman to marry her rapist?

A not infrequent claim of the abhorrence of Scripture is that it commands victims of rape to marry their attacker. Support for this proposition comes from Moses' sermon before the Israelites entered the promise land.
If a man meets a virgin who is not betrothed, and seizes her and lies with her, and they are found, then the man who lay with her shall give to the father of the young woman fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife, because he has violated her. He may not divorce her all his days. (Deu 22:28-29)
Even conceded by some Christians as a difficult passage, or even a harsh one, for those who have read the relevant sections of the Old Testament. The problem is, in part, not due to too much Bible but to too little.

It is worth reading a larger section of Deuteronomy, if not the entire book. Here is a slightly larger section. This comes within laws dealing with sexual crimes and immediately following the issue of sexual fraud.

If a man is found lying with the wife of another man, both of them shall die, the man who lay with the woman, and the woman. So you shall purge the evil from Israel.

If there is a betrothed virgin, and a man meets her in the city and lies with her, then you shall bring them both out to the gate of that city, and you shall stone them to death with stones, the young woman because she did not cry for help though she was in the city, and the man because he violated his neighbor's wife. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.

But if in the open country a man meets a young woman who is betrothed, and the man seizes her and lies with her, then only the man who lay with her shall die. But you shall do nothing to the young woman; she has committed no offense punishable by death. For this case is like that of a man attacking and murdering his neighbor, because he met her in the open country, and though the betrothed young woman cried for help there was no one to rescue her.

If a man meets a virgin who is not betrothed, and seizes her and lies with her, and they are found, then the man who lay with her shall give to the father of the young woman fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife, because he has violated her. He may not divorce her all his days. (Deu 22:22-29)
Adultery is forbidden and both participants are condemned to death.

Betrothal was a covenant to get married but the ceremony had not yet occurred and the marriage was not consummated. Thus coitus between a man and a woman betrothed to another was viewed as a violation of that covenant and a form of adultery. As such bath parties were to be executed. Both these situations describe consensual sex. But what if it is not consensual?

The next command states that if a betrothed woman does not consent but is taken by force then she is innocent. She is free but the rapist shall be executed.

Which brings us to the passage in question. There are several things to say about it because our culture is significantly different when it comes to issues of betrothal, marriage, provision, sexual consent.

The first thing to note is that the command is somewhat parallel to the previous commands. Each case reflecting further consideration. Consensual married, consensual betrothed, non-consensual betrothed, unbetrothed. The problem for the modern reader is that he is concerned about the consent but the law is concerned about the covenant. So sex with a person when they are covenanted to another is punishable by death, unless it turns out that it was non-consensual. The woman can not be punished when she was not breaking the covenant. So the last case is not so much discussing consent as it is discussing a case that does not involve transgressing a covenant. The woman is neither married nor betrothed.

So it is difficult to address the consent aspect in a command that is written for the covenant aspect. In the first 2 cases the man lies (shakab) with the woman. In the 3rd the man overpowers (chazaq) the woman and lies (shakab) with her. In the 4th the man seizes (taphas) the woman and lies (shakab) with her.

Now it may be that the man is doing this against the woman's will. The fact that the country or city is not mentioned in this case as it is in cases 2 and 3 means that this case covers both situations. Even so, if she were in the city she would be expected to call out. This means that the case is covering the situation where there may be consent. The term translated "seize" may cover both the concepts of seduction and subjugation.

The command is that the man in this position must take responsibility for his actions. That is he cannot have sex without responsibility. Such actions make the woman unmarriageable in this culture, or at least much less desirable as a wife. He is commanded to pay the bride-price and take her as a wife; that is provide for her. Further, he is forbidden to divorce her; that is his actions mean that he will be forced to provide for the woman for her entire life.

Note that this is not a command for the woman or her father, it is a command for the man. What if the father does not wish his daughter to be married to this man? In Exodus Moses gives this command for a man who seduces a woman and lies with her. This is parallel to the command in Deuteronomy except that the command in Deuteronomy may possibly be read to include both seduction and subjugation as mentioned. Moses writes,
If a man seduces a virgin who is not betrothed and lies with her, he shall give the bride-price for her and make her his wife. If her father utterly refuses to give her to him, he shall pay money equal to the bride-price for virgins. (Exo 22:16-17)

The Bible allows a father to refuse the marriage of his daughter but still demand the bride-price. The ongoing provision for the woman will be the father's responsibility unless the woman subsequently married. Thus Exodus allows an out for the woman via her father if they so wish. But both passages command the man to provide as a husband. He must marry and provide and is forbidden to divorce but the woman could refuse.

The modern Westerner asks who would marry a rapist but this assumes a much different culture. We have a culture of much greater food and wealth; one in which woman frequently provide for themselves. And people usually marry those that they fall in love with.

This was much less common the past. Although there were some women of means in times past, daughters (and sons) were provided for by their fathers until they cot married and then were provided for by their husbands. Famine an starvation were frequent risks faced by the majority of society. Marriages were often arranged. In a culture where food was scarce at times provision was vital. Being able to provide was important in a husband.

It is the view and expectation in all societies that the married couples will be sexually active. In most societies having children is also highly valued. A girl in such a society is concerned that she is provided for and that she will have a family. It is her expectation that she will be having sex with her husband, and that she may have little say (and sometimes no say) in who her husband will be.

That is not to say that romantic love was unheard of (consider Jacob and Rachel, also Canticles); nor that parents never asked their daughters about prospective grooms. It just means that our thoughts about love and consent were not the significance to them that they are to us.

Consider the example of David's daughter Tamar. When Amnon asked her to have sex with him she said,
“No, my brother, do not violate me, for such a thing is not done in Israel; do not do this outrageous thing. As for me, where could I carry my shame? And as for you, you would be as one of the outrageous fools in Israel. Now therefore, please speak to the king, for he will not withhold me from you.” (2Sa 13:12-13)
She declined sex but was willing to become his wife if Amnon requested this from the king. Nevertheless Amnon overpowered Tamar and raped her. Then he told her to leave. Tamar viewed Amnon's shaming of her by refusing to marry her as worse than him raping her.
But she said to him, “No, my brother, for this wrong in sending me away is greater than the other that you did to me.” But he would not listen to her. He called the young man who served him and said, “Put this woman out of my presence and bolt the door after her.” Now she was wearing a long robe with sleeves, for thus were the virgin daughters of the king dressed. So his servant put her out and bolted the door after her. And Tamar put ashes on her head and tore the long robe that she wore. And she laid her hand on her head and went away, crying aloud as she went. (2Sa 13:16-19)
It is right to see Amnon's behaviour as despicable. Yet moderns struggle to understand why Tamar thought Amnon's rejection of her the greater offence. You cannot assess how her culture viewed the situation from a 21st century Western perspective. In a culture with arranged marriages every women knows that she will have sex with the man who becomes her husband, not a man in the community who she happens to find appealing. This changes how they viewed sexual consent. We struggle because don't grasp the cultural issues. Moderns discuss the concept of marital rape whereas this would have made little sense to the ancients, they thought that married people have sex. Consent had to do with who you were married to, not who you wanted to do it with (though the latter is still a consensual issue). The much bigger issue is, Who is going to provide for me? not, Who am I going to have sex with? because it was assumed you would have sex with the man (husband) who was providing for you.

Monday, 13 July 2015

Monday, 6 July 2015

Monday quote

The post-evangelical Sexuality Gospel has simply replaced the Boomer Prosperity Gospel for a generation that idolises the comfort that experience offers, rather than the comfort that money offers.

Steve McAlpine

Sunday, 5 July 2015

40 answers on same-sex attraction and the Bible

Matthew Vines posted 40 questions to Christians who believe that people of the same sex cannot get married.

Below are the questions; a couple of comments about the them. Some are written from the perspective that homosexual behaviour is a morally acceptable therefore they can be difficult to answer without addressing or rejecting the assumptions behind the question. Further, I don't buy into the concept of gay Christian. The term gay is used to identify those who have sexual desires toward those of the same sex. But we don't say diabetic Christian, or covetous Christian, or vegan Christian, or lusting Christian. Christians who struggle with wrongly-directed sexual attraction should not define themselves by their inappropriate desire.

1. Do you accept that sexual orientation is not a choice?

I think that sexual desire is a complicated situation. Men who desire other men do so to varying degrees. It is hard to know why this is always the case but it seems that sexual abuse by other men and lack of father input can contribute to this. This may mean an absent father or a soft father, especially in the context of a domineering mother. Other actions within the child's life such as a lack of redirecting desire or an encouragement toward same-sex desire can make things worse. Same sexual activity,even experimental in those who do not have much same sex desire, can intensify desire. That is, both actions by the person and actions by others, especially in formative years, can strongly influence later desire. There may also be intrinsic qualities, such as effeminacy, that contribute.

2. Do you accept that sexual orientation is highly resistant to attempts to change it?

I think it can be in some circumstances. It depends on the strength of the underlying desire, the age at which it is addressed, the behaviour already engaged in, and the degree to which the environment encourages and discourages such behaviour. It can also be very difficult when there are significant spiritual issues that are not addressed.

3. How many meaningful relationships with lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) people do you have?

How does one answer this and why is it relevant? And what do you mean by meaningful. For years it was pushed that 10% of the population is gay. This was unlikely to be true and shown to be false. Figures closer to 1% were more likely though I think this may rise as it becomes more culturally acceptable and somewhat trendy. Assuming 1% of the population are gay may suggest that 1% of my meaningful relationships would be with gay people but that's not how it works. I have greater or lesser meaningful relationships with people of various careers and ages and religions depending on my job and age and religion. As it is I don't exactly know because I don't know who is gay. Unless someone is vocal about their sexuality or demonstrates overtly gay stereotypes I do not know that they are gay. I have known people for several years before finding out that they are gay (openly so). On balance of probabilities, most people I know are heterosexual. Of the 10 I work most closely with 1 is gay.

4. How many openly LGBT people would say you are one of their closest friends?

Again, why is this relevant? And why would it be likely that I have close friends that are gay. My closest friends are Christian, yet the number of Christians in society is much lower than the percentage that are my closest friends. Some good friends are highly skewed careerwise. Friendships are not random. Men have more male friends. Policemen have more police friends. If I have say 10 good friends there is no reason to suspect that at least one of them would be gay, especially if my friends are more likely to be Christian.

5. How much time have you spent in one-on-one conversation with LGBT Christians about their faith and sexuality?

Faith? As much as they wish to talk about it. Sexuality, not a lot, but then I don't talk about this a lot with my friends either. And some gays are more than happy to tell me far more about their proclivities than I really wish to listen to.

6. Do you accept that heterosexual marriage is not a realistic option for most gay people?

No I do not accept that, at least for those who wish to follow Christ. While this question requires a post of its own, I think that marriage between a gay man and a woman, or a gay woman and a man can be useful depending on the reasons, and so long both parties are aware of the other's struggles. If the issue is companionship then (heterosexual) marriage may be appropriate as most men can find companions in either men or women. If the issue is sexual desire then many gay men can perform sexually with a woman even if they do not desire a female in a sexual manner.

7. Do you accept that lifelong celibacy is the only valid option for most gay people if all same-sex relationships are sinful?

I think that unmarried gay men should avoid sex just like all unmarried men and women. I also think the term celibacy is unhelpful rhetoric. Chaste is the expectation.

8. How many gay brothers and sisters in Christ have you walked with on the path of mandatory celibacy, and for how long?

I have walked the path (in as much as it is appropriate) with a single woman for many years; she would like to be married and is not and is therefore not sexually active. I have encouraged a Christian who struggles with attraction to men to hold onto God's grace in his struggles. I know of men married to women who struggle with attraction to other men and who struggle with this at times. But again, why is this relevant and why is every Christian expected to both know and walk with multiple Christians who struggle with homosexuality?

9. What is your answer for gay Christians who struggled for years to live out a celibacy mandate but were driven to suicidal despair in the process?

Press into Christ. And address the issues that make suicide seem like an option.

10. Has mandatory celibacy produced good fruit in the lives of most gay Christians you know?

Chaste behaviour leads to less problems than unchaste behaviour in Christians. I don't see why this should be different for those who are gay.

11. How many married same-sex couples do you know?

I deny that same sex couple can ever be married. The concept is oxymoronic. Further the issue is the same as #3 and #4. If it matters, I have worked with a a few females who have longish-term relationships with other women, one of whom would call herself married. Many gay men I meet are highly promiscuous.


12. Do you believe that same-sex couples’ relationships can show the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control?

I believe a relationship could show that. Any relationship between 2 people, married or unmarried, friend or acquaintance, could exhibit patience for example. But this is not really what the fruit of the Spirit means. Rather it means that these (love, joy, etc.) are qualities that the Spirit is developing in those in which he dwells. Unbelievers can exhibit some of these qualities in various measures. I don't believe that the sexual aspect of same-sex couple's relationship is one that is revealing the fruit of the Spirit. Such sexual behaviour is a fruit of abandoning God.

13. Do you believe that it is possible to be a Christian and support same-sex marriage in the church?

Yes and no. My concept of salvation is such that people can believe a range of things including unorthodox ideas. A person may be a Christian and misguided about this. If they have been a Christian for some length of time and this issue has been addressed and they do not come around to understanding that marriage is between men and women they may not be Christian. If they have gone from thinking that marriage is only between men and women to thinking people of the same sex can get married then they may not be Christian or may have abandoned the faith. If they are in a position of leadership in the church and they advocate for same-sex marriage then they are a wolf in the church and should be removed.

14. Do you believe that it is possible to be a Christian and support slavery?

Yes.

15. If not, do you believe that Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Jonathan Edwards were not actually Christians because they supported slavery?

Not applicable, but note also what it means to be saved.

16. Do you think supporting same-sex marriage is a more serious problem than supporting slavery?

Yes. Much worse. One must also distinguish between the institution of slavery and the slave trade.

17. Did you spend any time studying the Bible’s passages about slavery before you felt comfortable believing that slavery is wrong?

I don't believe it is always wrong. The Bible condemns kidnapping (Deu 24:7) and the slave trade (1Ti 1:10). It does not condemn owning slaves, though freedom is better than slavery (1Co 7:21). It seems ironic that you seem to think slavery is wrong and not homosexuality given that both appear in the same vice list: the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers.

18. Does it cause you any concern that Christians throughout most of church history would have disagreed with you?

It concerns me that moderns don't understand these distinctions.

19. Did you know that, for most of church history, Christians believed that the Bible taught the earth stood still at the center of the universe?

While I don't hold to geocentrism for our planet within the solar system, the idea that our planet and solar system is near the centre of the universe is not an unreasonable assumption. It also has some empirical evidence depending on one's interpretation of red-shifts. The church held to the idea of geocentrism as much as the surrounding un-churched culture. It did so partly based on the teachings of Aristotle and Ptolomy. It was Christian scientists who challenged this belief based on their strong Christian convictions. They were opposed by those within the church who were married to the pagan ideas. Kind of opposite to the current situation.

20. Does it cause you any concern that you disagree with their interpretation of the Bible?

No. It delights me that faithful Christians (such as Kepler) thinking God's thoughts after him made such strides in understanding  the natural world.

21. Did you spend any time studying the Bible’s verses on the topic before you felt comfortable believing that the earth revolves around the sun?

I am familiar with verses that some have used to defend geocentrism in times past. The interpretation is poor and unwarranted by context. More importantly, although I think the Bible talks to history and facts that are observable, morality is not the same kind of issue. A book can mention the colours of various plants and a person may observe the same plants, but morality is not observed in the same way. Some morality can be observed in the sense of natural revelation, but more is gained from special revelation. Aristotle was wrong in thinking physics could be entirely deduced by logic. Moderns are wrong in thinking that moral knowledge can be obtained via experiment.

22. Do you know of any Christian writers before the 20th century who acknowledged that gay people must be celibate for life due to the church’s rejection of same-sex relationships?

I don't know enough specific writings but am aware that prior to the 20th century the church taught that sex outside matrimony is sinful as was sodomy was condemned.

23. If not, might it be fair to say that mandating celibacy for gay Christians is not a traditional position?

Chaste behaviour is a very traditional position: no sex for those who are not married and  sex only with one's spouse for those who are married. You are trying to create arbitrary categories to legitimise your claim.

24. Do you believe that the Bible explicitly teaches that all gay Christians must be single and celibate for life?

I believe the Bible teaches that men can only marry women and women can only marry men. I do not believe it bans people who are sexually attracted to someone of the same sex from marrying someone of the opposite sex, and in some situations that may be appropriate.

25. If not, do you feel comfortable affirming something that is not explicitly affirmed in the Bible?

Again, arbitrary categories. If people wish to be sexually active they must be married to someone of the opposite sex.

26. Do you believe that the moral distinction between lust and love matters for LGBT people’s romantic relationships?

No. I believe that wrongly directed sexual desire is lust. Expressed desire: behavioural or willful (covetness) towards anyone you are not married to is lust. Expressed desire: behavioural or willful to someone as the same-sex as you is lust. All sexual activity including kissing, petting and sodomy between 2 men is inappropriate desire, that is lust, regardless of their feelings.

27. Do you think that loving same-sex relationships should be assessed in the same way as the same-sex behavior Paul explicitly describes as lustful in Romans 1?

Yes. Sin between 2 people is forbidden even if they both agree to it. Bondage is sinful between a married man and woman even if they both wish to engage in such behaviour.

28. Do you believe that Paul’s use of the terms “shameful” and “unnatural” in Romans 1:26-27 means that all same-sex relationships are sinful?

I believe that all same-sex sexual relationships are intrinsically sinful. "Shameful" and "unnatural" are descriptors of this. There are sins that are not shameful. There are sins that are not unnatural. Paul uses natural (φυσικα) to highlight that the activity is contrary to nature. He probably uses shameful (ασχημοσυνην) because of its connection to nudity, and because the behaviour should make them ashamed but doesn't.

29. Would you say the same about Paul’s description of long hair in men as “shameful” and against “nature” in 1 Corinthians 11:14, or would you say he was describing cultural norms of his time?

It is not completely certain what Paul means here. Samson certainly had long hair as did any Nazirite; and also Absalom. Although "long hair" is the usual translation for koma (κομα), the context is in comparison to women's hair; it may mean "tresses". The point seems to mean that it is unnatural for a man to grow out his hair in order to look like a woman. Thus this passage speaks against effeminacy. And Paul says that this is more dishonourable (ατιμια) than shameful.

30. Do you believe that the capacity for procreation is essential to marriage?

Yes, in the sense that procreation is a design feature of marriage.

31. If so, what does that mean for infertile heterosexual couples?

It means we should mourn with them that they suffer this way in a fallen world.

32. How much time have you spent engaging with the writings of LGBT-affirming Christians like Justin Lee, James Brownson, and Rachel Murr?

Never heard of them. While I believe that such engagement may be necessary in the current milieu for the sake of the church; the idea that one can affirm sin, aberrant sex, and psychologically disturbed positions is antithetical to the Christian faith.

33. What relationship recognition rights short of marriage do you support for same-sex couples?

In terms of their relationship, as opposed to any contract 2 people enter? None specifically, though I expect the courts to honour property issues that have been agreed to such as shared ownership of a house.

34. What are you doing to advocate for those rights?

These are established and are indifferent to sexuality.

35. Do you know who Tyler Clementi, Leelah Alcorn, and Blake Brockington are, and did your church offer any kind of prayer for them when their deaths made national news?

No.

36. Do you know that LGBT youth whose families reject them are 8.4 times more likely to attempt suicide than LGBT youth whose families support them?

I suspect the case is similar for thieves, murderers, anorexics, alcoholics if we compare families rejecting and accepting them. I wouldn't be surprised to see an increased risk for any youth who are rejected by families even those without any vices.

37. Have you vocally objected when church leaders and other Christians have compared same-sex relationships to things like bestiality, incest, and pedophilia?

No. Nor do I see any reason to. One could say that paedophilia is partially non-analogous because of consent issues, but the others are fitting.

38. How certain are you that God’s will for all gay Christians is lifelong celibacy?

Absolutely certain that it is God's will for all people to be chaste. Fornication and adultery are forbidden.

39. What do you think the result would be if we told all straight teenagers in the church that if they ever dated someone they liked, held someone’s hand, kissed someone, or got married, they would be rebelling against God?

And this means what? So I tell the children who earn their money to spend it wisely. Is it somehow wrong that I tell a child-thief that he is not to spend the money wisely but rather return it. If I tell the young married youth to enjoy sex with each other, is it bad that I tell the unmarried youth to abstain. Your question assumes that homosexual acts are morally acceptable. If such acts are sinful the question is irrelevant.

40. Are you willing to be in fellowship with Christians who disagree with you on this topic?

It all depends. People can be mistaken; see #13. I don't think we should attempt to pull up the weeds before time, we don't want to exclude those within the kingdom who are still mistaken in their acceptance of homosexuality. But we should drive away the wolves.

Monday, 29 June 2015

Monday quote

Our culture tells a lot of lies about sex. Your teacher is one of the liars.

Matt Walsh

Monday, 22 June 2015

Monday quote

Of the seven deadly sins, only envy is no fun at all.

Joseph Epstein

Monday, 15 June 2015

Monday quote

There is no Bible verse that says chocolate cake is tasty, but that should not preclude coming to that conclusion.

Jason A. Staples.

Saturday, 13 June 2015

What is the gift?

In Ephesians we read:
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)
Paul is contrasting a gift which is freely given with works which is what is earned. When mentioning gift, what is Paul referring to? The "gift of God" is referring back to the word "this" which refers back to words in the preceding phrase. The options as I see it are:
  1. Grace
  2. Salvation
  3. Faith
  4. The entire clause
I don't read Greek so can only offer some preliminaries on the language issues, but below I will show parallels to this elsewhere in Paul's writing.

The nouns in Greek are
  • gift: doron (neuter);
  • grace: charis (feminine); and
  • faith: pistis (feminine).
The pronoun "this" is touto (neuter) here. The verb "saved" is sozo.

Options 3 and 4 above are often proposed as the solution. The word "this" and the word "faith" are not in the same gender but I am told that this doesn't necessary exclude option 3.

There are several verses in which Paul uses similar phraseology. Elsewhere in Ephesians he writes:
Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God's grace, which was given me by the working of his power. (Ephesians 3:7)
But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. (Ephesians 4:7)
And in Romans he also mentions:
For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,... (Romans 3:22-24).
The parallels in Ephesians and Romans associate the gift with grace. Comparing these parallels with our passage it would be reasonable to conclude that the gift in Ephesians 2 refers to God's grace.

Earlier is Ephesians Paul writes,
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—
and in our passage he also says,
For by grace you have been saved through faith.
Clearly associating grace with salvation.

Now consider Paul in Romans,
For what does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness." Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works:... (Romans 4:3-6).
Paul says that wages are not a gift, but that faith is counted as righteousness apart from works. As per Paul, faith is often contrasted with works. Works result in wages not a gift. But faith results in a gift. The same contrast is in Ephesians. By grace you have obtained salvation. And this is by faith, not as a result of works. The faith here is contrasted with works as it is elsewhere in Paul. So Paul frequently says that grace is a gift and he frequently contrasts faith with works and here in Ephesians he pulls both these concepts together. Grace is a gift; and it comes by faith not works. But somehow because these words all appear together an argument is made that faith is a gift. However it doesn't fit the contrast of the passage and it doesn't fit with how Paul writes elsewhere.

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