The Lion and His Table

The Lion and His Table
Send forth your light and your truth, let them guide me; let them bring me to your holy mountain, to the place where you dwell.

Sunday, 26 February 2017

1 Timothy 2:8-15: A Problem of Communal Disruption


The present essay focusses on several verses in a paragraph in Paul’s first letter to Timothy:

1 Timothy 2:8-15 I desire, then, that in every place the men should pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or argument;  9 also that the women should dress themselves modestly and decently in suitable clothing, not with their hair braided, or with gold, pearls, or expensive clothes,  10 but with good works, as is proper for women who profess reverence for God.  11 Let a woman1 learn in silence with full submission.  12 I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man;2 she is to keep silent.  13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve;  14 and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.  15 Yet she will be saved through childbearing, provided they continue in faith and love and holiness, with modesty.  (New Revised Standard Version—and throughout)

Much has been written on 1 Timothy 2.8-15 in recent decades because of questions about the role and status of women in ministry, but one point still needs to be made: the significance of the chiasm in vv. 12-14.  Attention to the chiasm highlights two important points for understanding the passage: (1) the main purpose of Paul writing this; and (2) the function of the Old Testament texts in vv. 13-14 in relation to what Paul says in verse 12.

Paul’s Main Purpose in 1 Timothy 2.12-14: Dealing with Communal Disruption

The chiasm is as follows:

A         I permit no woman to teach (v. 12a)

B         or to have authority over a man; (v. 12b)

C         she is to keep silent.  (v. 12c)

B         For Adam was formed first, then Eve; (v. 13)

A         and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. (v.

This chiasm helps the interpreter identify the main purpose of 1 Timothy 2.12-14.  First, the central piece of the chiasm, ‘C,’ is that a woman is to be silent (h─ôsychia).  Paul likely meant this quite literally—the woman should keep silent in the assembly (cf. 1 Cor. 14.33-35).  He says in 1 Timothy 2.11, 'Let a woman learn in silence (h─ôsychia) with full submission.'  This was a regular expectation in the culture.  However, there is a purpose behind this call for silence: the issue is not so much actual silence but not causing discord or disruption.  

Several things may be said to confirm this point.  First, the same term is used a little earlier in 1 Timothy with respect to how Christians should live as a minority group in the larger society.  Paul calls for prayer for persons in high position so that ‘we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way’ (1 Tim. 2.2b).  1 Timothy 2.8-15 is concerned with the same ethic but in the life of the church.  In this chapter, Paul is concerned with matters that can disrupt the 'quiet' of the church in society and within the church.  The central point of the chiasm in vv. 12-14 also emphasises this very point.

Second, within the letter overall, the issue of disunity is a real one for the church because there are false teachers that need to be countered.  Moreover, third, the false teaching includes issues for women in the church.  One issue is that the false teachers are saying that people should not marry (1 Tim. 4.3).  This causes problems for young widows, whom Paul alternatively advises to marry in order to deal with their physical desires (1 Tim. 5.11), becoming idle, gadding about from house to house, and being busybodies instead of devoting themselves to the task of managing their households (vv. 13-14).  The situation is dire: ‘some have already turned away to follow Satan’ (5.15) or, as 2.14 says, become transgressors (as Eve).  No wonder, then, that Paul reminds the congregation of Eve’s salvation through childbirth despite her facing temptation and falling into sin (1 Tim. 2.15a—the subject is singular in the Greek: ‘she [Eve] will be saved through childbirth’).  In 2 Timothy, another word is given about sinful people arising in the last days, including those ‘who make their way into households and captivate silly women, overwhelmed by their sins and swayed by all kinds of desires, who are always being instructed and can never arrive at a knowledge of the truth’ (3.6-7).

Fourth, 1 Timothy 2.8, which begins the paragraph, is a word to men about their need to avoid quarrelling: ‘I desire, then, that in every place the men should pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or argument.’  To this might be added the concern that is addressed after our passage: establishing overseers and deacons in the community.  This, too, is about establishing order in the community and avoiding communal disruption.  (One might make a case for the issue of disruption in what is said about the adornment of women in 2.9-10 as this could involve division between wealthy women and poorer women.  However, the thrust of the verses is on what accounts for the good life--good works.)

Verse 12 and the Old Testament Arguments of Verses 13-14

By observing the chiasm in vv. 12-14, one can also see that the reason Paul gives for women not teaching is the narrative of Eve being deceived by the serpent.  One would certainly not want someone deceived to be placed in the role of teaching others.  In a chiasm, what is said in the first part is related to what is said in reverse order in the second part (line A links with A, B with B).  Thus, the call for women not to teach is not based on a creation argument: women were not created to be easily deceived.  This part of the story of Eve is not about her nature but about her actions.  The story functions as narratives do in moral argument: they illustrate the point.  The women in Ephesus falling into error were repeating Eve's sin.  The 'creation argument' in the text is 'B': a woman should not domineer over a man for she was created after the man (or, one could read 'husband' and 'wife' more specifically--but the point seems more general).

The second point of Paul’s is that women should not have authority over a man.  As is often pointed out, Paul does not use the typical word kyriein to say ‘have authority over’ but the word authenein, a word that appears to carry more of a negative sense, such as ‘domineer over’ (it is, on occasion, used for violent acts).  It is a fitting word in the narrative of Adam and Eve, for God, when delivering His punishment, says to Eve that her submission (literally, ‘turning’) will be to her husband and he will rule (kyriein) over her (Gen. 3.16).  This is a reversal of Eve’s prior action, when she first yielded to the serpent’s false teaching and then gave Adam what had been forbidden from the tree of knowledge of good and evil.  In 1 Timothy, Paul appears to find a word for ‘ruling’ that carries negative connotations when referring to Eve’s action: she lorded or domineered over Adam.  Why the negative term?  Because she stepped into a role that was not hers.  This is where a creation argument is used: Adam was created first, then Eve.  He had authority over Eve by virtue of being created first.  In God's punishment of the couple, God declares that the man would rule over (kyriein) over the woman (Gen. 3.16)--even this milder term used of the male's role seems to be tinged with negative connotations in light of the Fall and punishment. The thrust of Paul's point in 1 Timothy seems to derive from the situation in Ephesus: women had succumbed to the teaching of false teachers, as Eve had to the serpent, and were, like Eve, passing on the false teaching to others, including men.  They were creating disruption in the community and, by doing so, were not living a ‘quiet’ life.  They were creating discord and perpetrating false teaching.

It is important to see that the woman's ‘domineering over’ was a breach of God's intentions in creation, whereas the ‘teaching’ issue was a matter of the Fall—being deceived by the serpent—in this argument.  Paul does not say that women should not teach (A) because Adam was created first (B), and he does not say that women should not domineer over men (B) because Eve was deceived by the serpent (A).  ‘Deception’ (A) goes with ‘not teaching’ (A) and ‘Adam being created first’ (B) goes with ‘a woman not domineering over a man/husband’ (B).  

Having made this distinction, though, one needs to see that Paul equates the two points: women teaching is, in his context, an example of domineering over men, and both are examples of a woman not being 'quiet'--creating disruptions--in the community.  This equation makes sense in certain cultural contexts even today.  We might give a variety of reasons for when this makes sense: when men marry women a number of years younger than themselves, as in Paul’s day; when women were typically not educated, as in Paul’s day; when there is a particular problem with women in the community who are repeating the errors of Eve, as in the case of the Ephesian church receiving this letter; and when culture has certain expectations around gender that are being flouted.

The Contextual Components in Application of the Text

Yet it is this equation that surely is not always the case.  If women receive the same education as males, they will not be more susceptible to false teaching.  If teaching is not viewed as an act of authority but as a service, as often (not always) in our day, then the act of teaching is not going to be construed as lording it over someone else (in a negative sense).  If women are not perpetrating errors, including errors associated with them (teaching not to marry and not to bear children), the problem of their teaching will disappear.  And if culture does not have the same expectations of women regarding public speaking and teaching, then the implications of their doing so are also different.

All this said, there is no question that, when the issue arises, Paul wants to maintain distinctions between men and women and not blur the boundaries.  Gender confusion was a problem in Paul's day even if the issue pales in comparison to the social experiment underway in western society today. This very point is made in 1 Corinthians 11.2-16 in regard to head coverings at worship.  The question for 1 Timothy 2 is, ‘Is teaching a male role just like childbearing is a female role?’  The answer is cultural with respect to teaching in antiquity, but the matter is not like the natural role of childbearing for women.  Rarely did one find a female author or teacher,[1] and therefore a woman in such a role was stepping into a man’s world and thereby creation communal disruption.  Beyond what she might say in such a role, the issue was inevitably raised in such a context whether she was adopting a male’s role.  This fact may cause disquiet, as it did in the church in Ephesus, greatly exacerbated by the false teaching itself.  One must imagine from what Paul says that some women were teaching, forsaking marriage, and not raising children, and that in a society that understood such behaviour as socially disruptive.[2]  In fact, in the context of false teachers, it clearly was disruptive.  Thus, Paul’s statement in 1 Tim. 2.12-14 is not something for us to move beyond by means of a ‘redemptive hermeneutic’ (which is a way to dismiss the text by applying a new and, supposedly, higher value) but something that speaks to a specific situation not only in Paul’s day but also in our own when the conditions are the same.  When similar situations arise, we ought, too, to affirm what Paul himself says.


Following this line of argument, it may be appropriate to argue for women in the role of teaching in the church when the community is not struggling with confusion of gender issues and/or dealing with false teaching involving, in one way or another, women.  When teaching is not an instance of a woman domineering over a man or creating disquiet in the community or teaching falsely about womanhood, marriage, and childbearing, we may well be in a position to affirm women in a teaching role.  When society does not see women stepping into such a role as disruptive or confusing and when women are as educated as men, there is little reason, if any, to forbid women in ministries involving teaching.  An orthodox Christian Church in the west is likely in a position to encourage women in such ministries.  We might appreciate that the orthodox Church did not take this step in previous centuries in the west, when the cultural situation was different--and we might appreciate some cultural contexts outside the west in our day not taking this step at this time as well.

On the other hand, where gender confusion is an issue in a Church dealing with false teaching, as in mainline denominations in the west today, along with opposing the false teaching there may be reason to discourage women from teaching.  Such a situation is somewhat similar to what Paul was addressing in 1 Timothy.  There is some irony here.  The so-called ‘conservative’ (a very unhelpful term) churches are precisely the ones that should encourage women in teaching ministry roles in the west, whereas the ‘liberal’ churches that see themselves as champions of women’s rights are precisely the churches that are in a situation where women teachers should be probably be discouraged.  In the latter context, false teaching abounds, and it is often connected to confusion about gender, sexuality, and the role and status of women—among any number of other false teachings.

[1] Yet Lucian (late 2nd century AD) references three women—Aspasia, Diotima, and Thargelia— whom he lists in the annals of philosophy (The Eunuch 7).
[2] A number of passages could be cited here.  Consider Seneca: ‘I might say with good reason, Serenus, that there is as great a difference between the Stoics and the other schools of philosophy as there is between males and females, since while each set contributes equally to human society, the one class is born to obey, the other to command’ (De Constantia II.1).  Quoted from Seneca, Moral Essays, Vol. 1, trans. John W. Basore (Loeb Classical Library 214; Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1928).

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Immigration and Violence in South Africa, and Contours of a Christian Response

Immigration and Violence in South Africa

In the news today is a story, once again, about violence against immigrants in South Africa.  There has been occasional such violence over the years, with 60 people dying in 2008.  The issue is complex in South Africa for various reasons, but the problems of illegal immigration, the economy, and violence are real.  What is needed, first, is a better understanding of the situation, and that on a regional basis.  Second, the Church is somewhat disadvantaged in offering a significant response to the situation because the 'institutional' churches are in decline.  Third, South Africa's own politics and narrative plays into the situation beyond simply speaking of 'immigration' per se.  Having been received by other countries during Apartheid, there is some sense of responsibility to pay back the debt.

According to Statistics South Africa, 69,216 temporary permits and 4,136 permanent permits were granted in 2014 (see online: Of the permanent permits, 164 were granted to refugees.  The percentage of temporary permits given to Africans was 52.6% and permanent permits given to Africans amounted to 63.8%.  The top 10 countries receiving temporary permits were: Zimbabwe, India, Nigeria, China, Pakistan, Bangladesh, UK, Lesotho, DRC, and Angola.  The top 10 countries receiving permanent permits were: Zimbabwe, India,  China, DRC, Nigeria, UK, Lesotho, Pakistan, Germany, and Zambia.  Part of the story of immigration in Africa is not simply economic; it is also political turmoil and social displacement.

But how many illegal immigrants are in South Africa?  According to the 2011 census, the population in South Africa then numbered 51.77 million.  This marked a nearly 7 million person increase in just 10 years (see online:  As 2.2 million persons on the census listed their birthplace in a foreign country, some have argued that this, rather than an alleged but unsupported figure of 5 million is the true number of illegal immigrants (see online:  The article is aware that foreign birth does not equate to illegal immigration and that the census does not register every person in the country.  It has no further data to offer.  As so often in the case of illegal immigration, we simply do not have a handle on the numbers.

According to the BBC, citizens have now been attacking foreigners in certain regions of the country, and officials have begun deporting undocumented aliens.  Mr. Malusi Gigaba, Minister of Home Affairs, has reported that, in 2015-2016, 33,339 illegal immigrants were deported (see online:  According to the same BBC article, the South African Finance Minister, Mr. Pravin Gordhan, has stated that 35% of the labour force was either unemployed or had given up looking for work.  (The unemployment figures are higher for younger people.)

The situation in South Africa is indicative of a variety of problems around immigration in the world, but each situation is unique.  The ethnic and religious mix, the question of whether immigrants are taking jobs away from others, the birth rate of natural citizens (declining in European countries, rising in African countries), the impact all this has on the labour force, the issue of whether immigrants are contributing to crime (or terrorism), the social and political impact on the country, international relations--the issues play out differently from one context to another.  Naive comparisons and analyses seem to abound.

Contours of a Christian Response

The Church, for its part, however, should look at such situations with different lenses.  The Old Testament, for all its ethnocentricity, nevertheless had foreigners living in its midst.  God's message to Israel was to care for the widows, orphans, and aliens--the most vulnerable, the landless, the poor.  Justice did not mean equality, it meant caring for the needy.  As we read in Isaiah, 'Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?  Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?' (Isaiah 58).  Yet God's message was also that the aliens were expected to live according to the moral standards of Israel (Lev. 17-26), not have their own code of ethics.  If they lived with the Israelites, they were subject to Israel's Law.  This was not some general idea; it rested on the conviction that God's Law was the only right Law and that Israel was God's people.  The Church, as God's people, celebrates its multi-ethnicity not because it values inclusiveness and diversity but because 'the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel' (Ephesians 3.6).  As Israel, the Church has its own moral standards that require conformity if others are to join them (cf. 1 Cor. 5).  It is not a government and should not behave as one (it does not, e.g., mete out corporal and capital punishments), but it s a distinct 'body' that has clear, not porous, boundaries of confession and for holiness.

These two principles, to care for those in need and to accept other ethnic groups equally into the Church when persons come to believe in Christ, should guide Christian responses to the immigration problems in the world today.  The Church should offer uncompromising aide to those in need, on the one hand, and evangelize those who have not yet heard the good news of Jesus Christ.  Third, both Israel and the Church have an historical and narrative perspective that helps them in dealing with immigration issues.  The Israelites told stories of their patriarch, Abraham, being a 'wandering' Aramean (Deut. 26.5) and their nation's origin in abusive slavery in Egypt (Deut. 26.6).  Such stories undergirded an ethic of sharing the firstfruits of the land and tithes together with the Levites, aliens, widows, and orphans (Deut. 26.10-12).  Also, Israel's experience of exile provides another narrative informing their ethic.  As exiles, they are told to 'seek the welfare of the city...and pray to the Lord on its behalf,' getting on with life (Jeremiah 29.4-7).  The Church told the story of Jesus, God's eternal Son, becoming incarnate in the world in order to save it.  Also, the early Christians, facing persecution and suffering from citizens and governing officials where they lived in the Roman Empire, saw themselves as God's people once again living as sojourners in the land (cf. 1 Peter).  They were citizens of a foreign place--heaven.  In this point, the examples of Esther and Daniel (two famous exiles of Israel) are pertinent: the Church, like these Jewish heroes, are to fit in as best they can but without compromising their faith and practices as God's people.

We should be clear: Scripture does not establish a government policy on how to deal with illegal immigration.  But it does indicate ways in which the Church might be involved.  Christians may find ways to seek justice for the vulnerable--not harbouring criminals but making sure that they get justice in a system that may be weighted against them.  They may help the needy whatever their legal status simply because they are in need.  They should have empathy for the immigrant, for they themselves are sojourners.  And they will proclaim the Gospel of Christ that states that God our Saviour 'desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth' (1 Timothy 2.4).  Ours is not a naive universalism, as touted in certain liberal circles even to the point of reading sacred Scriptures of other religions in churches or building cathedrals with the funds of non-Christian, secret societies (as recently witnessed in England).  Among the gifts Christians might offer non-Christian immigrants is the gift of God, Jesus Christ our Saviour.  They proffer an invitation to receive the good news that Christ Jesus died for everyone's sins and that those who come to faith, believing in the salvation offered through Jesus' death on the cross, will be welcomed by him.  The Christian Gospel is good news to the alien: the holy God receives sinners into His kingdom if they repent.  Christians may welcome others and show hospitality to the stranger, but they will also understand this to include an offer to receive God's gift of salvation in Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

A Short Biblical Study on the Causes of Suffering

What does the Bible say about suffering?  Scripture describes creation as good and initially without sin (Gen. 1-2).  When sin entered the world as a result of Eve and Adam yielding to the temptation to act like God determining for themselves what is good and evil, God responded to their explicit disobedience with suffering and punishment (Genesis 3.1-19).  In this sin, all humanity has participated (Rom. 5.17).  Scripture also teaches that suffering will one day come to an end when God brings final judgement to a sin-ridden world and restores a sinless world (Revelation 21.3-4).  This basic narrative undergirds Biblical teaching on suffering.  Suffering is ultimately due to sin, whether as God’s punishment or by experiencing the results of sinful choices, living in a sinful society, or, in general, in a fallen world. 

Yet Scripture gives more reasons for suffering, and a specific individual’s suffering cannot always be related to his or her particular sin.  The following chart intends to show the great variety of reasons that Scripture offers to explain suffering.  All too often some religious person speaks up in the face of a crisis—a hurricane, e.g.—to suggest that the cause of suffering is divine judgement for a specific social practice.  This may or may not be so, but if it is not absolutely clear (as, for example, someone suffering because of drugs), one should not make any such claim.  Moreover, individuals need to be aware of the variety of reasons in Scripture for suffering as they face personal suffering, and they should be comforted in knowing that God is dealing with sin and suffering.  He has already acted decisively through the work of Christ to address the human plight, and we can be assured that we will one day see an end to sin and suffering.  We indwell a narrative of God’s redemption of a sinful world.  Finally, despite the entrance of sin into God’s good creation, this cycle of sin, punishment, and God’s redemption reveals more about God than Adam and Eve would have known before their sin in the Garden of Eden.  We learn of God’s mercy, forgiveness, and love (Exodus 34.6-7).  We learn of his forbearance of sin and of his willingness to send His only Son to die for our sins (John 3.16).  The incarnation and death of Jesus on the cruel cross will restore us from the sin that causes suffering in this world and already reveals to us more of God.  Indeed, it is God’s purpose to reveal Himself, His glory, in the world, and His glory is revealed in the cross of Christ.  We also learn more about love—God’s love—which is not only forgiveness but also suffering, redemptive, and transformative.  In this light, consider the following causes of suffering and some representative Scripture passages for each one.

Cause of Suffering
Scriptural Reflection
Divine Punishment for Sin
Gen. 1-11; 3.14-19; Num. 14.32-35 Deut. 27; Judges 10.15-16; 2 Sam. 12.1-23 and Ps. 51; 2 Chron. 6.22-39; Prophets (e.g., Jer. 30.14-15; Lam. 1.3-5); Psalm 38; 1 Cor. 11.29-30; 2 Cor. 2.10-11; Rom. 1.18-3.20; 12.1-2; 2 Th. 1.6-10
Divine Forbearance with Mercy and Forgiveness Rather than Immediate Judgement
Exodus 34.6-7; Rom. 3.25
Human Punishment for doing Wrong
Gen. 9.5-6; Lev. 20; 24.19-20; Rom. 13.1-5; 1 Peter 4.15
Divine Testing
Exodus; Deuteronomy; Job; Matthew 4.1-11//Luke 4.1-13; Hebrews 2.18; 1 Peter 1.6-7
Divine Lessons
1 Cor. 5.5; 1 Tim. 1.20; 2 Cor. 12.7; Rom. 5.3-5; 12.12; Hebrews 2.10; 5.8
Glory to God through Suffering
John 9.2-3; 2 Cor. 12.9-10
Correction is Painful
2 Cor. 2.1-11; Gal. 4.19-20
Self-Inflicted Suffering
Prov. 22.13 and 27.12; 19.15; 21.17
Temptation by Evil/Satan
Gen. 3.1-19; James 1.12-15; 1 Cor. 7.5; 1 Tim. 5.14-15
Disordered Life (Selfishness, Own Appetites/
Isaiah 58.4-14; Rom. 16.18-20; 2 Thes. 2.9-12
Effects of Sin
Gen. 3.14-19; Rom. 1.18-28
Sinful World
Gen. 3-11; John 16.33; 1 Peter 2.19
Community Practices
Psalm 1; Prov. 1.10-19
Spiritual Warfare
Ph. 6.14-18; 1 Peter 5.8-9; Rev. 2.10
Evil People and Righteous Sufferer
Many lament psalms, such as Psalm 69; Isaiah 53; Phil. 1.17
Systemic Evil, Bad Leaders, and Harmful Community Practices
Exodus 3.7-10; Ezek. 22.6-7; Zech. 10.2; Matthew 16.21
Deut. 29.17-27; 32.21-25; Ezekiel 16.35-63; Rom. 1.18-28
Imperfect World (disasters, injury, death)
Matthew 24.7c; Rom. 8.18-23.
Failure to Pray; Lack of faith
1 Sam. 9.16; James 4.2; 5.13; Matthew 17.14-20
Present and Future
John 16.20-22; James 5.7-11; 1 Peter 5.10; Rev. 6.10; 21.4
Being a Christian; suffering like Christ
Acts 5.41; 9.16; 14.22; Rom. 8.17-18, 35-36; 12.12; 2 Cor. 6.4-10; 7.4-7; Phil. 1.29; 3.8, 10; Col. 1.24; 1 Th. 2.2, 14-15; 3.4; 2 Th. 1.5; 2 Tim. 1.8, 11-12; 2.3, 8-9; 3.12; 4.5; Hebrews 10.32-34; 11.24-26, 35-40; 1 Peter 2.18-25; 3.14-18; 4.1-2, 13-16, 19; Rev. 1.9; 2.9-10; 7.14
Suffering with Others
1 Cor. 12.26; 2 Cor. 1.5-7; Eph. 3.13
Suffering in the End Times
Matthew 24.21, 29; Revelation

Sunday, 12 February 2017

The Ethic of Moral Compromise: What the Pharisees Could Teach the Church of England


Mainline denominations in the west in the twentieth century orchestrated their own demise.  The twenty-first century will only be the denouement.  Their implosion is due to their willful embrace of theological and moral compromise.  Such compromise manifested itself in magisterial reversals of orthodox teaching.  On ethical issues, they entailed the reversal of views on divorce and remarriage, abortion, premarital sex, and homosexuality.  The result was an inability to bear witness to the righteousness of the Kingdom of God in an increasingly secular world--a failure of mission.  The mainline denominations still speak of a ‘Jesus movement’ or evangelism and church growth, but their great compromise with the world was only a matter of paving their own path to irrelevance in a cultural context that increasingly needed a relevant Church witness.  Compromise was something Jesus addressed as well in his ministerial conflict with the Pharisees, and from this engagement we can learn an important lesson.

Jesus’ Kingdom Righteousness and the Pharisees’ Ethic of Compromise

Jesus’ proclamation of the Kingdom of God was a direct attack on the moral compromise of religion in his day.  One cannot compromise the moral demands of God while claiming to live under God’s reign.  Such compromise, however, was the very stuff of Pharisaism.  For this reason, Jesus called them hypocrites--actors.

Jesus says to his disciples,

Matthew 5:20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

The Pharisees are misrepresented if they are presented as unloving legalists.  That may be so in some respects, but their main problem was their crafting of an ethic of compromise.  They used the Law in ways to avoid God’s higher demand of a righteousness of the heart.  In a strange twist, the Law’s letter was used to avoid its intent.  Love is not the undoing of demand but is itself a higher demand.  As Jesus says,

Matthew 22:37-40 … You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.'  38 This is the greatest and first commandment.  39 And a second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'  40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

Thus, when the Law is practiced without love, it is a half-measure of God’s commandments.  It is a compromise.  God’s commandments are expressions of how to love others.  All the commandments remain; they hang on the higher laws of love.

Examples of the moral compromise of the Pharisees and scribes undoubtedly follow Jesus' warning about them in Matthew 5.20.  Jesus' examples have to do with their teaching on murder, adultery, truthfulness, retaliation, and hate of the enemy (Matthew 5.21-48).  Jesus calls, rather, for an ethic of the heart that takes these laws as indicative of a higher demand from God, a righteousness of the heart.  The Pharisees’ teaching about observing the Sabbath could, on occasion, be a way to avoid showing mercy (Matthew 12.1-8).  Their focus on lighter laws could be a way to avoid the weightier laws (Matthew 15.1-20; 23.16-26).    Their attention to outward laws and piety that others could see allow them to hide their breaking of other laws while receiving praise for piety (Matthew 6.1-5; 23.5-7, 26-27).  The permission of certain Pharisees to allow divorce for any cause and remarriage only hides a permissive ethic allowing adultery by means of legal divorce (Matthew 19.1-9).  Jesus, instead, calls for an ethic on divorce with no compromise:

Matthew 19:7-9 They [the Pharisees] said to him, "Why then did Moses command us to give a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her?"  8 He said to them, "It was because you were so hard-hearted that Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.  9 And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another commits adultery."

Thus, Jesus sweeps Moses’ compromise of divorce away in favour of God’s ethic for marriage in creation.  Life in the Kingdom of God brokers no compromise with sin but calls instead for righteousness and holiness.  Anything less is not Kingdom righteousness.

What might have been the causes for the Pharisees’ ethic of compromise?  They believed they had found a comfortable compromise, an ethic whereby sinful people might live adequately—so they presumed to believe—before a holy God.  As such, their ethic may have been considered a practice of pastoral care, yet one that Jesus dismissed summarily:

Matthew 23:15 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cross sea and land to make a single convert, and you make the new convert twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.

Another cause leading the Pharisees to compromise their ethic was self-serving.  Jesus says of them that

Matthew 23:5-8 They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long.  6 They love to have the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues,  7 and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have people call them rabbi.  8 But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students.

Even the lure of money entered into their motives:

Luke 16:14-15 The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all this, and they ridiculed him.  15 So he said to them, "You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of others; but God knows your hearts; for what is prized by human beings is an abomination in the sight of God.

Jesus’ opposition to the Pharisees was an opposition to moral compromise.  He built upon John the Baptist’s call to be baptized with a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins in preparation for the coming of God’s Kingdom.  He called his disciples to live fully under God’s rule without compromise.  And he went to the cross to provide a sacrifice to save his people from their sins.  But of the compromising Pharisees, he said,

Mark 7:6-9 ... Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written, 'This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me;  7 in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.'  8 You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition."  9 Then he said to them, "You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition!

Conclusion—A Contemporary Application

Whereas Jesus’ first coming was both a call to no compromise with the coming of the Kingdom of God and an offer of forgiveness of sins through his own death, his second coming will be a coming in judgement.  For the Church to pray, ‘Maranatha’—‘Lord, come’—is to pray for a final, divine resolution to a sinful world.  When the Son of Man comes, he will come to render God’s judgement on the earth.  But no Church that has compromised Biblical teaching for its own purposes should dare to pray ‘Maranatha’ unless it has greatly deluded itself about what it would mean for Christ to return.  Did Jesus not say, 'Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven ' (Matthew 7.21)?

This week, the Church of England’s Synod meets to consider a House of Bishops' report that is nothing but moral compromise.  While, on the one hand, affirming (bizarrely, at great cost) the obviously Christian and Biblical view that marriage is only a union between a man and a woman, the report, on the other hand, nonetheless affirms homosexual union in every other way.  It is a compromise that might make the Pharisees’ blush.  The report therefore not only affirms homosexual unions but also affirms extra-marital sex.  It does so under the guise of pastoral care, which is, in reality, nothing less that pastoral abuse.  It advocates institutional unity (‘can’t we all just agree to disagree?’) over against orthodoxy (‘truth isn’t worth fighting over’).  Apparently, the Pharisees’ compromise of God’s commandments is paradigmatic--not simply a foil--for certain Churches.  Yet the Pharisees could teach the Church of England a lesson.  They might say, 'Our compromise was in using the Law in ways to avoid actually fulfilling the Law in pursuit of Kingdom righteousness.  Your problem is that you do not even want to begin with God's Law, let alone pursue a higher righteousness.  Whose compromise is worse?'

The Church of England’s Synod faces voting on a report this week from the Bishops that will damn them no matter what they say.  If they reject the report, they open up the way to affirm homosexual marriage.  If they vote to receive the report, they open up the way to affirm homosexual unions in other ways.  The bishops and Synod have come to this Catch-22 point after years of compromise.  By the end of the week, we should know which compromise they have chosen.  Either way, the institutional Church of England has long lost its witness in the world to Kingdom righteousness.  The Titanic has already struck the iceberg; does it really matter which tune the band plays?  The bigger question is, 'Has GAFCON launched a significant enough rescue mission in time?'

Friday, 10 February 2017

A Biblical Catechism on Sex and Marriage: Divorce and Remarriage

[This post concludes a series of posts entitled 'A Biblical Catechism on Sex and Marriage'.  The intention is to provide basic material for further instruction by a trusted teacher of God's Word in a church that is committed to Biblical authority.  The Church’s mission is to invite all people to live under God’s righteous rule.]

Question 10. What does the Bible say about divorce and remarriage?

Answer: God hates divorce (Malachi 2:16).  What God has joined together, no person should separate (Matthew 19:6).

Comment 1: The subject of divorce and remarriage involves various issues, not just a single issue.  As a result, Christians have taken different stances in their interpretation of Biblical texts.  Yet, some things are clear and can be stated.

Comment 2: Divorce was a way of giving a woman legal protection from a former husband in the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 24:1-4).  The Pharisees took the passage to mean that a man could divorce his wife for ‘any cause.’  Jesus replied that sexual immorality (Greek: porneia) was the only acceptable cause for divorce, or, as some argue, for divorce and remarriage.

Deuteronomy 24:1-4 "When a man takes a wife and marries her, if then she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, and she departs out of his house,  2 and if she goes and becomes another man's wife,  3 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,  4 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.

Matthew 19:1-12 Now when Jesus had finished these sayings, he went away from Galilee and entered the region of Judea beyond the Jordan.  2 And large crowds followed him, and he healed them there.  3 And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, "Is it lawful to divorce one's wife for any cause?"  4 He answered, "Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female,  5 and said, 'Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh'?  6 So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate."  7 They said to him, "Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?"  8 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.  9 And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery."  10 The disciples said to him, "If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry."  11 But he said to them, "Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given.  12 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." [For this comment, note especially verses 3, 7-9.  Cf. Matthew 5:31-32; Mark 10:1-12; Luke 16:18.]

Comment 3: In the Old Testament, marriage to a divorcee was forbidden to priests.  In the New Testament, it was forbidden to overseers/elders and deacons.  [See further, Question 9.]

Leviticus 21:7 They shall not marry a prostitute or a woman who has been defiled, neither shall they marry a woman divorced from her husband, for the priest is holy to his God.

Leviticus 21:14-15 A widow, or a divorced woman, or a woman who has been defiled, or a prostitute, these he shall not marry. But he shall take as his wife a virgin of his own people,  15 that he may not profane his offspring among his people, for I am the LORD who sanctifies him."

1 Timothy 3:2 Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife,2 sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach….

1 Timothy 3:12 Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well.

Titus 1:5-6 This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you -  6 if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife,1 and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination.  [‘Elders’ are likely the same group as ‘overseers’ in 1 Timothy 3:2.]

Comment 4: The apostle Paul opposes but will allow separation of either wife or husband from the spouse.  Yet he rejects remarriage.

1 Corinthians 7:10-11 To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband  11 (but if she does, she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and the husband should not divorce his wife. [Note: When he distinguishes what the Lord says from what he says, he is clarifying who said what, not which statement is authoritative and which is just opinion.]

Comment 5: Some have argued that there are other instances in which someone might divorce and remarry than only in the case of sexual immorality, particularly in the cases of abandonment (examples of abandonment are debated and may include: refusal to fulfill conjugal responsibilities in marriage (1 Corinthians 7:3-5), emotional abandonment, and desertion (1 Corinthians 7:13-16)) and abuse.  Abandonment by an unbelieving spouse is discussed in 1 Corinthians: God has called believers in peace, not to enslavement (some take this to mean that they are free to remarry in this case).  Opposition to abuse and violence in marriage is derived from the nature of marriage discussed in Colossians 3:18-19 and Ephesians 5:22-31.

1 Corinthians 7:1-5 Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: "It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman."  2 But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband.  3 The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband.  4 For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.  5 Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. [Note: verse 1 seems to be a sentence from the Corinthian church’s letter to Paul that he responds to in the chapter, not Paul’s own statement.]

1 Corinthians 7:13-16 If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him.  14 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.  15 But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace.  16 Wife, how do you know whether you will save your husband? Husband, how do you know whether you will save your wife?

Colossians 3:18-19 Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.  19 Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them.

Ephesians 5:22-33 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.  23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.  24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.  25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,  26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word,  27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.  28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.  29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church,  30 because we are members of his body.  31 "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh."  32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.  33 However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.

Comment 6: A reason for Jesus’ opposition to divorce is that it rejects God’s intention in creation for marriage to be a permanent ‘one flesh’ union between a male and a female.  Jesus’ ethic of the Kingdom or Reign of God does not accommodate sinfulness but calls for righteousness.  Righteousness is here understood to comply with God’s intentions in creation that a male and a female come together in permanent marriage.

Matthew 19:3-8  [Quoted above.  Reference is made to Genesis 2:24.]

Comment 7: Jesus’ opposition to remarriage after divorce is that, except in the case of sexual immorality, it causes the woman to commit adultery.  Perhaps it causes a woman to commit adultery because society at that time rarely knew independence for women, who needed the support and protection of a male—a father, a husband, a son.  A divorced woman was likely to remarry. One can assume that, in the case of sexual immorality, the innocent party is not the cause of adultery and that, since sexual immorality breaks the one flesh union in a marriage, the person has a cause for divorce.  In the Old Testament, an adulterer would have been executed (and leave the spouse to remarry).  Such a punishment might be mitigated by practicing divorce.

Matthew 1:19 And her [Mary’s] husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.

Matthew 19:9 And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery."

Comment 8: People often become Christians with complicated pasts in sex and marriage.  Paul offers advice to remain in the state people were in when called and to begin to lead the life that God has called them to lead.  (This would, of course, only apply to a marriage that is legitimate in the first place—not so-called homosexual “marriage” or, e.g., divorce in order to marry one’s brother’s wife—cf. John the Baptist’s opposition to Herod’s marriage, Matthew 14:3-4, Leviticus 18:16.)  He uses other examples to make the point (circumcision and slavery), but 1 Corinthians 7 is about sex and marriage.

1 Corinthians 7:17-24 However that may be, let each of you lead the life that the Lord has assigned, to which God called you. This is my rule in all the churches.  18 Was anyone at the time of his call already circumcised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision. Was anyone at the time of his call uncircumcised? Let him not seek circumcision.  19 Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing; but obeying the commandments of God is everything.  20 Let each of you remain in the condition in which you were called.  21 Were you a slave when called? Do not be concerned about it. Even if you can gain your freedom, make use of your present condition now more than ever.  22 For whoever was called in the Lord as a slave is a freed person belonging to the Lord, just as whoever was free when called is a slave of Christ.  23 You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of human masters.  24 In whatever condition you were called, brothers and sisters, there remain with God.

Comment 9: Note that decisions about divorce and remarriage are not simply left to individuals.  The church community needs to own and oversee this ethic.  Individuals are not left alone to do what seems right to themselves.  Indeed, the church is an extension of the family, and healthy churches are important for healthy relationships.  A church should be able to decide such matters.

1 Corinthians 6:1-8 When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints?  2 Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases?  3 Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life!  4 So if you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who have no standing in the church?  5 I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers,  6 but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers?  7 To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?  8 But you yourselves wrong and defraud - even your own brothers!