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Saturday, November 13, 2010

Day 74 (Don't Trust Paul on Marriage)

[reaction to OYB's Aug. 11-13 readings]

1 Corinthians 7; Romans 7

THESIS: Paul's views on sex and marriage are discredited by the positions he takes in the seventh chapter of his first letter to the Corinthians that is preserved in the Bible.

GENERAL REMARK: There is a weak discrediting of Biblical sources that goes like this: (1) You reject guidance A (e.g., selling your daughter into slavery); (2) It follows that the source (e.g., Leviticus)is not always right; (3) QED the fact that guidance is in the source (e.g., prohibition on gay sex) does not necessarily mean that the guidance is reliable. That is not the discrediting I am suggesting in this post. I am suggesting that Paul's views on sex and marriage are so obviously wrong that all of his opinions on the subject are untrustworthy. Although he says some things that are true, they are often tautologies, i.e., sexual immorality is wrong, and are almost an accident. Paul is an important and inspired writer on many topics: church unity, the role of the Spirit, devotion to Christ by those who never met Jesus. But on sex and marriage, his thoughts are not helpful.

SUPPORT 1: Paul believes the primary function of marriage is to avoid sexual immorality--presumably sex with multiple partners or outside of marriage.
1 Now for the matters you wrote about: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” 2 But since sexual immorality is occurring, each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband. 3 The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. 4 The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife. 5 Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. 6 I say this as a concession, not as a command. 7 I wish that all of you were as I am. But each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that.
If someone came to me and said he was getting married because he needed to have sex and that was the only way to do it, I would say, "That's the worst reason in the world to get married." And the follow on, if a man said to me, "I don't feel like having sex with my wife, but I'm afraid if I don't she'll be tempted to have sex with someone else, so I'm going to do it." I would say you need to get help, or she needs to get help. Sex is a loving expression of love between to people. Marriage is a sacred union that is sanctified by God. Paul's notions are ridiculous.

ANTITHESIS: "As is always the case in Paul's letters, he treats matters that he knows bear on the readers. He does not write general treatises and then expect his readers to apply them as they see fit." ~NIB commentary on this passage Vol. X, p. 871 (2002 ed.)

SUPPORT: The initial maxim, "It is well for a man not to touch a woman" (NSRV) or "It is good for a man not to marry" (NIV) demonstrates that some, perhaps the majority in the church at Corinth advocated life-long celibacy, like Paul practiced. Paul's letter provides that celibacy is best, but provides alternatives that are still permissible. Paul's point throughout is that "[b]elievers should make moral choices with a view to (1) minimizing cares and anxieties, and (2) maximizing devotion to God." Ibid. 870.

RESPONSE TO ANTITHESIS: That's fine, but Paul still asserts that the primary reason to marry is to avoid sexual immorality. It would be difficult to miss the point of marriage by a larger margin.

THESIS: Paul's justification for advocating celibacy reflects a dramatic misunderstanding of either the meaning or timing of the coming of the Kingdom of God preached by Jesus.

SUPPORT: Skipping over Paul's views about divorce, which are contrary to Moses' teaching that it is okay for the man to do it and which are contrary to Jesus' teaching that either party can do it if there is infidelity, we find an even more profound failure of understanding from Paul in his reason to remain unmarried if you are unmarried.
What I mean, brothers and sisters, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they do not; 30 those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; 31 those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away.
It think his failure is in understanding the nature of the Kingdom of God, e.g., the Kingdom is at hand not some far away future happening, but even those looking for a Second Coming have to acknowledge an epic fail on Paul's part with regard to timing. Had the early church followed Paul's advice about what was best, then there would be no non-early church.

ANTITHESIS: Paul's motives are two fold. The end is near AND Christians should be in the world but not conformed to it. Ibid. 886.

SUPPORT: In verse 31 Paul writes that the happiest people are "those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them." This is a separate and independent justification for his writing than noting "[f]or this world in its present form is passing away." Furthermore, the phrase "in its present form" could mean more than just the Second Coming.

RESPONSE TO ANTITHESIS: First, this is very shaky. The only reason you would be happier not to ever get married that Paul offers is that the world was coming to an end. Paul was clearly wrong about that. Furthermore, earlier scripture give a clue about why Paul was so wrong about sex and marriage.

THESIS: Paul was conflicted by his own sexual desires.

SUPPORT: Paul writes about being tempted by his own flesh; and the temptation is painful for him. This is from Romans 7.
14 We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. 15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature.[c] For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.
"Sinful nature" can be translated as "my flesh." That is how the NSRV still translates it. Now, look, in the age of Larry Craig and Ted Haggard, it is easy to assume that an inexplicably unmarried, Helenistic Jew in 40 C.E. is gay. As I've mentioned before, I find this rather compelling, but I have to admit it involves projecting a lot, maybe too much, from the modern world. But regardless of whether he was gay, or promiscuousness, or a furry, it was clearly a difficult topic for him. And the when mixed with the end of the world that he saw just around the corner, it becomes a real problem.

Despite what Paul says, I believe marriage is good. I believe marriage is good for reasons other than avoiding sexual immorality. I believe a couple should only have sex when both people want to have sex. Does anyone want to defend Paul's position?

Friday, November 12, 2010

Day 73 (Sinful Marriages)

[reaction to OYB's August 8-10 readings]

For two readings in a row we have OT & NT passages that line up remarkably well. Ezra is grief stricken because of the report he receives about the remnant of the Hebrew people that has returned to the promised land. That is,
“The people of Israel, including the priests and the Levites, have not kept themselves separate from the neighboring peoples with their detestable practices, like those of the Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Jebusites, Ammonites, Moabites, Egyptians and Amorites. They have taken some of their daughters as wives for themselves and their sons, and have mingled the holy race with the peoples around them. And the leaders and officials have led the way in this unfaithfulness.”
Ezra 9:1-2. Similarly, a disturbing report has reached Paul, "It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate: A man is sleeping with his father’s wife. And you are proud!" 1 Corinthians 5:1-2. (Remember, it was still common for a man to take multiple wives, so this is not necessarily incest. Cf. "Reuben went in and slept with his father’s concubine Bilhah, and Israel[Israel=Jacob] heard of it." and "Reuben, you are my firstborn, . . . [but] you will no longer excel, for you went up onto your father’s bed, onto my couch and defiled it." Gen. 35:21, 49:3-4.)

Most troubling for me are the solutions that Ezra and Paul come up with. Actually, Ezra accepts the solution proposed by the repentant transgressors.
“We have been unfaithful to our God by marrying foreign women from the peoples around us. But in spite of this, there is still hope for Israel. Now let us make a covenant before our God to send away all these women and their children, in accordance with the counsel of my lord and of those who fear the commands of our God. Let it be done according to the Law. Rise up; this matter is in your hands. We will support you, so take courage and do it.”
Ezra 10:1-4 (emphasis added). Really? Just dispose of those families because they don't carry sufficient Hebrew blood. (As we've noted before Ruth, in King David's line, is a Moabite!) Paul similarly forgets Jesus' teaching by specifically reject his practice of eating with sinners. "I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people." 1 Corinthians 5:11. Full context for Ezra & Paul.

There are two layers to these scriptures. First is whether the alleged sin addresses the underlying fears of losing the culture and degrading oneself. Second is whether throwing people away is the right way to do it. I say no on both counts. So sue me. (Actually, that's the sixth chapter of Corinthians.)

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Day 72 (New Temple)

[reaction to OYB's August 5-7 readings]

The first new temples is the one in Jerusalem. The Israelites are overjoyed that Cyrus has allowed them to return to their homeland. King Darius of Persia is king when the second temple is completed. Ezra and Nehemiah are pretty fragmented, but I think these passages are effective in conveying the emotion. Ezra 3:10-13; 6: 13-15.

The second temple is us. It is in First Corinthians that we have the idea that your body is a temple, but read this and tell me if it sounds like an anti-smoking message. "Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple." It reads to me more like a transition from a community centered to an individual centered religion. But that's just me. The rest of the third chapter has some interesting stuff about God being more important than the messenger, whether Paul or Apollo(?).

Veterans Day (Chronicles Style)

James E. Barton II served on U.S.S. Billfish (SSN 676) from 1995 to 1998; his service was sincere but uneventful. He was an officer. His father, James E. Barton, served in the U.S Air Force 1968 until 1971. He guarded Air Force bases in Vietnam and did not enjoy questions from his children about whether he had killed any one. In Vietnam, he was exposed to Agent Orange which years later caused his death. His father, Harrison D. Barton, served in the U.S. Navy during World War II. Harrison Barton's wife, had a sister Lucille who was in the Navy during WWII. She was a WAV. The father of James E. Barton's wife was named Rodney T. Watkins and he served in the Army during World War II; he went overseas, but nothing else is known of his service. The father of Harrison Barton's wife was named Neil Kershner, and he served in the Army with "Blackjack" Pershing's Rainbow Division. He fought Poncho Villa in the Southwest, and remained with the division to fight in Europe in World War I. His campaign medal remains with the family to this day. There are relatives who we believe fought in the Civil War but the records are not clear. Some claim that the Arnold side of the family is related to a Revolutionary War general.

Harrison D. Barton had six sons, who all served in the military. Neil D. Barton was a quartermaster in the U.S. Navy. Harry T. Barton was in the U.S. Navy, although he wandered a bit from basic training to his duty station. Harry T. had two sons: Harry Barton and Doug Barton who were both in the Air Force. Doug Barton had a son named Caleb. Caleb joined the U.S. Marines during a time of war and he is serving as a Marine today. Ooh Rah. James E. Barton, was in the Air Force. He had one son, James Barton II, who served in the Navy. Danny Barton was in the Navy. Gary Barton was in the Army as a store keeper. Gary had a son, Gary Allen Barton, who was in the Army National Guard. He was a paratrooper and trained as a cook and a sniper. He served for eight years and was disappointed his unit was sent to Iraq after he left. Mark Andrew Barton was in the Navy. He served on an air craft carrier where he never saw the light of day. He was a radioman.

This is a list of some of the relatives of JimII who have served in the military.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Gospels + Acts

I'm all the way through Romans, and have yest to reflect on the reading of the Gospels. Allow me to remedy this. When I finished the Books of Moses, I was frankly a little down on my adventure. So much of it dealt with material that I not only disagreed with, but which was dangerous. Girls are sold into slavery, even today. Women are killed for sleeping with someone their community does not approve of. And the idea of slaughtering everyone who fails to share your faith is not exactly a non-problem these days. So, while nothing defeated my notion that the Bible is a story of God's presence in our culture, and that God was working through God's people even in an unjust society--I had to admit that if a person were raised on the Books of Moses as his sole moral code, that person would be, well, evil. Sorry.

I could not feel more differently about the Gospels. They confirm that mine is a Gospel faith. The Gospels not only contain many precious and joyful scriptures, the arguments presented in them are the arguments I care about. What is the nature of Jesus? How does the law apply to God's people? What is most important? The Gospels give different answers to these questions, but these are the questions I like pursuing. Jesus demanded a radical personal transformation. And how do you know you've got it? Well, as Janice Joplin says, "if it makes you feel good." Fight for justice, have faith, be in the world but not of it. And love everybody, all the time.

This is, of course, not a surprise that a modern Protestant would be more uplifted by the Gospels than the Torah. But I felt it was worthwhile to take some space to affirm it.

Day 71 (Air Assyria)

[response to OYB's August 2-4 readings]

In these readings we realize what a terrible position Israel, or actually Judah, was in leading up to the exile. The Assyrians, Babylonians and Egyptians were all breathing down their necks. They still have two good kings left, first Hezekiah and finally Josiah.

Hezekiah fortifies Jerusalem and cuts of water that was going out of the city--good seige warfare defense--but as reported in 2 Chronicles 32:16-19, also has to deal with taughting messages shouted out in Hebrew in order to undermine his followers. It doesn't work and God sends an angel to kill the Assyrian army.

Josiah, the last good king, does well but it is not enough. He suffers what I call the reverse Moses, wherein the prophetess tells him that God will destroy Israel (Judah) because of its sinfulness, but since Josiah is such a good king, God will wait to do it until Josiah dies. 2 Chronicles 34:27-28.

Second Chronicles does end on the following up note:
The land enjoyed its sabbath rests; all the time of its desolation it rested, until the seventy years were completed in fulfillment of the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah.

In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah, the LORD moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm and also to put it in writing:

“This is what Cyrus king of Persia says:

“‘The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah. Any of his people among you may go up, and may the LORD their God be with them.’”
Which is nice. Also, today's reading had some nice shout outs to all the Godly ladies. In addition to featuring a prophetess in Chronicles we have Romans 16.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Day 70 (Judge Not)

[reaction OYB's July 30-August 1 readings]

Romans 13 tells us to do what the authorities tell us to do, which I take as a condemnation of the Zealots--the original Zealots I mean--in Jerusalem, but maybe not. Then verse 6 says, "This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God's servants, who give their full time to governing." In my Bible, I've written, "Take that TEA Party." Of course, Paul scolds me in the next chapter by advocating for Christian unity.

In all seriousness, chapter 14 contains a scripture that I have tried for a long time to incorporate into my behavior, not always successfully. Paul writes,
Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them.
So, for me, this warns me against using my knowledge of scripture just to undermine the frankly immature faith of some.* That's not to say I should be dishonest, but I also do not cruelly attack someone's faith. It's a tricky balance.

And of course, the even bigger point has to do with me evaluating the maturity of the faith of another. Paul writes, "You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat." While I don't buy everything Paul says at face value, these points seem to be important and inspired. They seem quite consistent with the teachings of Jesus that would later be recorded in the Gospels.

In Second Chronicles, by the way, we're reading about how awesome King Hezekiah is, but we know it won't be good enough. Also, the twenty-third psalm is in today's readings. It's only six verses long. It seemed longer when I was memorizing it in Sunday School.

[UPDATE: *this line is a little harsh because I wanted to point out that I am guilty of being judgmental. So, as I read it last night it came off that way, but I thought, "Well, that's the point is to show your failing." As of this morning, I'm uncomfortable not pointing out explicitly that I realize this is an jerkish way to view the world.]

Monday, November 08, 2010

Day 69 (Loving Paul)

[reaction OYB's July 27-29 readings]

Psalm 22 is in today's readings. Notice Psalm 22:1,18, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? . . . They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment." Now recall Mark 15: 24, 34, "And they crucified him. Dividing up his clothes, they cast lots to see what each would get. . . . And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, 'Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?' (which means 'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?')." Interesting, yes?

My main response to today's readings is that it includes the bits of Paul's letter to Romans with which I am more enamored. I'll cite some from Romans 12. For example verse 2 says, "Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind." Paul also instructs us to be humble, Rom. 12:3, to recognize the gifts each of us has, Rom. 12:4-8, to be loving and kind even to your enemies:
Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Day 68 (Evangelist Paul)

[reaction to OYB's July 24-26 readings]

Today's readings from Romans do not so much challenge my views as a liberal Christian, as they support the point of view of many evangelicals. Like the Gospel of John, I recognize many of these passages as very important to many Christian, if perhaps a bit less important to me. They include ideas like, Jesus is for the Gentiles, Rom. 9:8, God works in mysterious ways that should not be questioned, Rom. 9:19-21, sometimes God presents us with stumbling blocks, Rom. 9:32, and the biggy from Romans, chapter 10 verse 9, "If you declare with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord,' and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved."

A more significant challenge to my world view comes from 2 Chonicles 18. Over the last 15 years or so, my study of the Bible and books about the Bible have confirmed what my dad told me about prophesy. Prophets were the social commentators of their day. They were not fortune tellers. What I have noticed in this read through of the Bible, and what is brought to light pretty clearly in this story about the death of King Ahab, is that fortune telling is probably at least a component of prophesy. It is wrong to miss out on all the social justice they are calling for; but, it seems equally wrong to suggest that they weren't also including predictions of unpredictable things.