Category Archives: Culture

Not Against Flesh & Blood (Sermon Series)

Last month I attended the Missio Alliance conference Church & Post-Christian Culture in Carlisle, PA. The focus of the conference was on the growing interest in Anabaptism as a tradition that has much to offer the church in our present cultural context. Needless to say, there were a lot of Anabaptists there.

In one of the afternoon breakout sessions, pastors Greg Boyd, Paul Eddy, and Dennis Edwards spoke on spiritual warfare in “Fighting the Right Fight: An Anabaptist Perspective on Spiritual Warfare.”

I went to the first session and showed up a little early. The large room soon filled up and folks were turned away because of fire safety regulations. It was obvious that pastors and other practitioners were interested in the topic.

I remember during the discussion hearing someone say that “we (Anabaptists) don’t talk about this very much” largely because Anabaptists haven’t been known for drawing attention to unseen, spiritual realities.

It’s true that Anabaptists have mostly shied away from the “charismatic” and been more cerebral toward matters of faith. Something I’m hearing pastors in my district within Virginia Conference regrettably lament.

I got the distinct impression that folks were feeling like they wouldn’t even know where to begin in talking about this with their congregations.

While I was listening, I held an outline to a seven-week sermon series on this very topic. For me, the entire session and discussion was affirmation that the series I had put together was indeed something led by the Holy Spirit.

I was already set to begin the series that weekend.

Not Against Flesh & Blood

This coming Sunday I will be preaching the final message in the Not Against Flesh & Blood series at Christiansburg Mennonite Fellowship.

If you’re interested, you can download the sermons and the slides (PDF) at CMF’s sermon archives. The outline gives a brief description of each message.

1. Creation & Chaos
Scripture Reading: Genesis 1:1-2, 3:1-7; Romans 8:18-23; Ephesians 6:12

In the beginning the Triune God created an orderly universe out of love. Then somewhere in the primordial past a portion of his angelic agents began working against the Creator—war in the unseen realms! Chaos ensued and creation began her groaning. In time, the disorder and chaos that began in the heavenly realms were perpetuated with God’s highest creation in all of the physical world: mankind. The first human pair used their free will to spread sin and rebellion upon the earth. Does God hit the reset button on creation? No, God responds by enacting a mysterious, redemptive plan that would not only set the world to rights, but would eventually set the entire cosmos free from decay.

In the first message of the series, we look at how things came to be broken the way they are today, and how the spiritual forces of evil are still at work exploiting human weakness and opposing God’s will. It’s a struggle between good and evil, but ultimately the real battle is not one of flesh and blood.

2. Cruciformed Sovereignty
Scripture Reading: Isaiah 25:1, 7-9; Matthew 8:23-34; 1 John 3:8b

Isn’t God all-knowing? Didn’t God see this great cosmic rebellion coming? If so, why did he create in the first place? If evil comes to pass, God must have wanted it, right? Do we truly have free will, or is everything already determined? If it’s a real battle between good and evil in the heavenly realms, can God lose? What guarantees do we have that Satan will be outwitted and defeated? These are old questions, both philosophical and theological, but they need fresh biblical answers that are consistent with the God revealed in the crucified and resurrected Jesus—keeping in view the real struggle between good and evil (i.e. a battle of the wills), among what is seen and unseen.

In the second message of the series, we consider the problem of evil and God’s interaction with time (past, present, and future). How does God experience the present with us and see the future? If God’s sovereignty looks like Jesus’ power and domination over evil by the cross, and the real struggle isn’t with flesh and blood, what does this mean for how his followers should confront spiritual evil?

3. Prayer as Holy Resistance
Scripture Reading: Daniel 10:1-14; Mark 9:14-29; Matthew 6:5-13

In the Bible and in our experience, the future is partly open and partly settled. Therefore, prayer can be seen as joining with God in engaging the present in order to shape the future. He calls us in Christ to rebuke spiritual evil, even so-called “natural” evils, and bring about the Kingdom through our words and actions. Prayer is a cry for the Kingdom in an act of holy resistance against the evil that seeks to destroy us and our neighbors. Yes, we are changed when we pray, but so do those things around us when we pray in faith. According to the Scriptures, God acts through his Spirit and his heavenly court (i.e. angels) when we pray according to his will. In the way of Jesus, we resist in continual prayer.

In the third message of the series, we dispel of the notion that prayer only changes you and doesn’t have an effect on God or the outcome of the future. On the contrary, God has built it into the very fabric and framework of space and time that we would work with him in the redemptive story. In fact, without our free participation in the Kingdom’s work of resisting evil, we postpone God’s good promises to us.

4. Prayer in Imagination
Scripture Reading: Exodus 33:7-11; Matthew 6:5-13, 11:28-30 (MSG)

Having a warfare worldview and a robust theology of prayer is good, but it’s not enough. We need to be intentional in practicing a life of prayer. Jesus calls us to remain in constant communication with the Father as we go about our lives. He even expresses the holy desire to pray with his own disciples. But Christ also reveals that getting away to a private place is necessary for deepening our relationship with God and for getting in touch with the unseen realities of the world around us. In order to go deeper with God, we must learn to use a disciplined imagination to see Christ as we meet with him face to face.

In the fourth message of the series, we look at how this existential and mystical part of our faith requires that we use our minds for more than analyzing and doing mental gymnastics. We need a supernatural experience of the living Christ. Only then can we join the spiritual war on terror.

5. Sword of the Spirit
Scripture Reading: Psalm 119:1-16; Matthew 4:1-11; Ephesians 6:10-18

We constantly have messages and images running in our minds, even on repeat. Some are good and reflect God’s truth, others are bad and can hinder us, even destroy us. Filling our hearts and minds with Scripture is a powerful and effective way of combating the flesh and the devil. The psalmist knew that meditating and memorizing Scripture transformed the soul, and washed the dirt from his eyes. And Jesus, God in the flesh, immediately resorted to quoting Scripture when facing the tempter, Satan. How much more ought we make Scripture reading, study, and memorization part of our spiritual arsenal?

In the fifth message of the series, we look at the importance of reading and teaching Scripture to bring about the change God wants in our lives, and for transforming the church. Is our thinking being shaped more by the Scriptures, or by culture and our own limited experiences? How can we use the “sword of the Spirit” that’s at work in the written word to confront evil?

6. Worship as Warfare
Scripture Reading: Exodus 10:1-9; 2 Chronicles 20:1-30; Revelation 4:1-11

Worship is far more than our preferences for music and singing. In fact, true worship should have less to do with our personal preferences and more to do with how best to corporately express God’s infinite worth out of sincere thankfulness and celebration for who God is, what he has done, is doing, and will do for us. Furthermore, worship is an activity of heaven and earth. We join with heaven in our worship. Like it is with prayer, worship is calling down the Kingdom. It mysteriously expands the Kingdom in us and around us—pushing back the darkness that seeks to consume us with fear and hopelessness.

In the sixth message of the series, we look at how worship is used in spiritual warfare. It’s not about the performance. It’s not about our preferences. It’s about calling heaven down so that God’s glory would fill the earth. Worship is a part of spiritual warfare, because it’s not against flesh and blood. We join with the angels singing, and demons flee.

7. Hell Will Not Prevail
Scripture Reading: Matthew 16:13-18; 24:4-14; Revelation 12:10-12

Jesus said he saw Satan fall from heaven like lightening. In other words, our archenemy doesn’t have a chance against God almighty! Jesus crushed the head of the serpent, and now we merely see the erratic floundering of a rogue angel losing his power. Jesus said he would build his church and not even the gates of hell would prevail against her. Our promise comes from the crucified and resurrected one. He has defeated death and inaugurated the Kingdom, which is expanding through the church until his glorious return. What does this look like today while we still contend with a fighting enemy?

In the seventh and final message of the series, we look at how evangelism, in conjunction with our prayers and worship, should be seen as a powerful weapon to advance the Kingdom of God. The growing church will proclaim an end to evil and the rebellion that began long ago.

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“The God of peace will soon crush Satan…” Rom 16:20

D.D. Flowers, 2014.


Brief History of Rapture (Left Behind) Theology

The Left Behind reboot with Nicolas Cage has Christians talking about all things rapture. Oh, joy.

I suspect that the continued cinematic production of such a ridiculous and counter-biblical narrative will only serve to wake folks up to the undeniable truth that rapture theology is nothing more than a baptized escapism–sort of a neo-Gnosticism. And it has only been around since the early 19th century.

Dr. Ben Witherington III, evangelical professor of NT for doctoral studies at Asbury and St. Andrews, has recently completed a video for Seedbed entitled “Where Did Rapture Theology Come From?” (10-8-14).

This brief history of rapture theology is worth watching.

For those interested, I’ve posted the following on rapture theology:

You might also enjoy reading a few blog posts from my friends:

D.D. Flowers, 2014.


Is Marriage a Covenant? Part III

Paul Rhodes Eddy is Professor of Biblical & Theological Studies at Bethel University and Teaching Pastor at Woodland Hills Church in St. Paul, MN.

For those who follow the blog regularly, you know that Paul is currently working on a book entitled Kingdom Sex: Toward a Covenant-Centered Theology of Human Sexuality. The book will be a further development of an extended working paper that is currently available online.

This is the third part of material from his book that he has made available on conjugal (male-female) marriage being a sacred covenant in the sight of God, as revealed throughout Christian history and the entire biblical corpus.

In the first post Is Marriage a Covenant? Part I Paul established that church history is quite favorable to the concept of marriage as a covenant.

In an effort to redefine marriage as set forth by Moses, Jesus, and the apostle Paul (Gen 2:18-24; Matt 19:1-11; Eph 5:25-31), some have questioned whether we can legitimately ground the notion of marriage as a covenant in the Scriptures. Is there a case against marriage as covenant?

In Is Marriage a Covenant? Part II, Paul addressed three common arguments that have led some to this conclusion, in order to present us with a defense for marriage as a covenant to be affirmed and celebrated in the church.

For those who have read the first two installments, you know that I originally did not intend to post a third. However, due to the relentless efforts of some critics to cast a synthetic fog of ambiguity around “biblical” marriage, largely because of the obvious messiness of relationships found in the OT (i.e. polygamy), Paul agreed that a third and final post was necessary.

NOTE: The following is rather thorough for those who have serious questions and concerns regarding “biblical” marriage, particularly why polygamy is seemingly allowed in the OT. If you want to know what’s really going on with marriage in the Bible, and if there is any clear way of knowing God’s intentions for it, I believe that Paul Eddy can help us sort it out.

Is Marriage a Covenant, Part III

In two previous posts, we considered evidence suggesting that the scriptures offer a normative vision of marriage as a covenantal relationship.

In this final post, we will consider two further challenges to this claim:

(1) the presence of polygamy within some of the biblical texts, and (2) the question of whether ancient Israelite/Jewish women were considered to be merely the “property” of their husbands, and thus could not have been authentic covenant partners with their husbands.

Is polygamy in the biblical world incompatible with an understanding of marriage as a covenant relationship?

It might seem that the practice of polygamy – or polygyny to be specific (i.e., polyandry had no place in the Jewish tradition) – within the biblical tradition is evidence against seeing marriage as a covenant within the biblical texts.1

Deuteronomy 21:15-17, for example, provides guidelines for a man who has children by two wives. However, polygynous practice does not undermine our basic claim, as the following considerations suggest.

The first point is this: Although there clearly are problems with polygamy (as we will see below), polygamous marriage in and of itself does not undermine the concept of marriage as a covenant relationship. Rather, polygamy simply represents the condition where one person enters into multiple marriage covenants simultaneously.

Now, some may suppose that the idea of having multiple simultaneous marriage covenants is an oxymoron, and they may point to Genesis 2:24 as biblical evidence of this. Specifically, a modern reader of Gen 2:24 might conclude that the phrase “the two shall become one flesh” is meant to be a defense of monogamy (i.e., “one flesh” = one couple).

For example, E. G. Parrinder argues that taking more than one wife…

“would be sheer adultery. The ‘one flesh’ makes this quite clear. It is not permissible to have two marriage contracts at once, ‘two flesh’ . . . .”

‘They are no more two, but one flesh’, excludes a third party.2

While Parrinder’s concern is understandable, his argument is flawed. The “one flesh” concept expressed in Gen 2:24 is not a reference to monogamy or to sexual union per se. Rather, as we’ve noted previously, it is best understood as referring to a covenant bond of familial community and loyalty, i.e., kinship-by-covenant.3

This being the case, it is possible for someone to have more than one kinship (“one flesh”) marriage relationship at a time, i.e., to enter into more than one marriage covenant simultaneously. As Robert Holst observes regarding the Gen 2:24 notion of one-flesh:

“there is no reason why one man and several wives would not be one flesh [i.e., blood relatives]. To be one flesh means that the man and the woman [or women] who were before marriage unrelated are now a new family unit. This phrase indicates the absolute indissolubility of marriage—not that it is of necessity monogamous.4″

The key point here is this: There is no inherent incompatibility between the practice of polygamy and an understanding of marriage as a covenant.

Now, that being said, it is also the case that the Bible, especially the NT, provides a basis for a critique of polygamy. Simply put: While polygamy is technically compatible with marriage as a covenant relationship, the biblical texts suggest that it is neither God’s original design, nor his ideal, for the marriage covenant.

Several observations substantiate this claim.

(1) While Genesis 1-2 does not explicitly prohibit polygamy, it can be properly read as underpinning monogamous marriage as the primordial ideal fashioned by God. As David Instone-Brewer has pointed out, the Genesis creations texts, along with such texts as the animals entering Noah’s ark two by two (Gen 7:9), came to form “a well-known proof for monogamy.”5 For example, the Qumran community made use of the Genesis creation story (particularly Gen 1) to condemn polygamy (see CD 4:20-5:6; 11QTemple 57:5b-19).6

(2) The OT evidence does not support the claim of wide-spread polygyny within ancient Israel.7 Of the roughly 3,000 men mentioned in the OT, only 33 of them explicitly are said to be involved in polygyny. When marriage is mentioned, the vast majority of men in the OT are said to have a “wife” (in the singular). In actual practice, it seems that monogamy was the common practice in ancient Israel, with polygyny most often appearing to be “the privilege of royalty or a necessity for a childless marriage.”8

(3) Within OT legislation, polygyny is never commanded or explicitly condoned, unlike, for example, the Code of Hammurabi (§§144-148). Deut 21:15-17 does make provision for the rights of the first-born in a polygamous marriage. But even here, the focus is on protection of the children; it is in no way a defense of the institution of polygyny itself.9

(4) Interestingly, there is a critical stream regarding polygyny that runs through the OT. To begin, the two primary cultural reasons for polygyny – i.e., the infertility of a first wife and diplomatic polygyn for the purpose of forging political alliances – are both undercut by the OT. Regarding infertility, the OT instructs Israelites that fertility flows from faithfulness to covenant relationship with Yahweh – both by narrative example (Abraham, Hagar, and Sarah) and by explicit teaching (Exo 23:26; Deut 7:14; 28:4).

Similarly, politically motivated polygyny should be out of the question, since the OT warns Israel against political alliances in general (e.g., Deut 17:16; Isa 7; 30:1-7; 31:1-3) and diplomatic polygyny specifically, both by narrative example (I Kings 11:1-10; 16:31-33) and explicit command (Deut 17:17).10

More broadly, when polygyny is mentioned in the OT, there is often an implicit critique of the practice within the narrative, whether for inciting internal disputes within families (e.g., Gen 16:1-8; Gen 30:1; I Sam 1:6) or other reasons (I Sam 11:1-4).11

Critiques of polygyny can be seen in the following instances: (a) The first canonical mention of bigamy (Genesis 4) is that of Lamech who is portrayed as a rebellious man. (b) A number of interpreters have concluded that polygyny seems to be involved in the sin perpetrated by the “sons of God” against the “daughters of men” in Genesis 6:1-4, and (when read in context) this sin is tied to the flooding of the earth. (c) Abraham’s experience of concubinage with Hagar (Gen 16) is shown to be against God’s will and an expression of Abraham taking matters into his own hands rather than trusting God’s promise. This unwise choice of Abraham seems to be tied to God’s choosing circumcision as the sign of the Abrahamic covenant in the following chapter (Gen 17). (d) Throughout the prophets, monogamy is used as a symbol of the covenant union between God and Israel, while, whether explicitly or by inference, polygyny and/or multiple lovers can be seen as a symbol of polytheism and/or idolatry (e.g., Jeremiah 2:2; Ezekiel 16:8-34; Hosea 2:18-20).12

(5) Related to the last point, for both the Jewish and Christian traditions, Yahweh’s unique covenant relationship with Israel (and eventually the church), often expressed throughout scripture in terms of a marriage, becomes in certain key respects an image that norms the ideal human marriage.

While, at times, the Old Testament mentions the idea of Yahweh forming relationships with other nations, “Israel’s singularity as YHWH’s chosen and covenanted people is never seriously threatened; ‘polygyny’ on a theological plane was a far more remote possibility than it was on the mundane level.”13 A number of texts explicitly state that Israel is Yahweh’s singularly unique people from among the nations (e.g., Exo 19:5; Deut 4:19-20; Amos 3:2). This feature of the Yahweh-Israel relationship can be seen as an inspiring analog to – and divine example of – monogamous human marriage.

(6) It has been argued by several OT scholars that the best translation of the original Hebrew in Leviticus 18:18 is something alone these lines: “And you shall not take a second wife as a rival to your first wife, uncovering her nakedness while your first wife is alive.” The argument given is that while the term “sister” is used here in the Hebrew, the phrase itself is best understood as a Hebrew idiom for “to take one in addition to another.”

Translated in this way, it is not simply a prohibition against marrying two biological sisters or, conversely, a mother and her daughter. Rather, it is a prohibition against marrying any two women at the same time. If this is the case, then the Law itself gives an explicit prohibition against polygyny.14

No doubt some have rejected this interpretation due to the fact that the OT assumes polygyny as a given reality, and thus this interpretation appears as unrealistic – even incongruous – idealism. However, at times OT laws do in fact push toward the ideal – i.e., the prohibition against hatred in Lev 19:17. Interpreted as a command against polygyny as an ideal to strive for, Lev 18:18 “can be categorized as a lex imperfecta, a law which prohibits something without thereby rendering it invalid.”15

(7) Beyond these OT considerations, there is Jesus’ perspective on this question. Jesus clearly alludes to God’s design of marriage as one man and one woman joined by God for life, and he explicitly grounds this conviction in the narrative of Adam and Eve in Genesis 2 (Matt 19:3-9; Mark 10:2-12).16

When the Pharisees ask him why, then, God allowed for divorce in the Law, Jesus answers: “It was because you were so hard-hearted that Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but at the beginning it was not so. And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another commits adultery” (Matt 19:8).

Here we notice two things. First, Jesus considers divorce and remarriage (except for proper reasons) to be a case of “adultery” and thus a form of something like serial polygamy. This strongly suggests there is no place for polygamy of any kind in Jesus’ mind. Thus Craig Evans rightly concludes: “lying behind [Jesus’] rejection of divorce is a rejection of polygamy.”17

Second, if we are to follow Jesus’ pattern of interpretation, we can legitimately say that whatever cases of polygyny were tolerated by God in the OT, they were contrary to God’s ideal plan for human marriage, and were only tolerated due to the “hardness” of people’s hearts and the commonness of these practices in the surrounding culture.18

Following Jesus, the Pauline tradition upholds monogamy, thus rejecting polygyny in the process (I Cor 7:1-4; I Tim 3:2; Titus 1:6).19

(8) Finally, the early (proto-)orthodox church followed Jesus in affirming monogamy and rejecting polygyny.20 Once again, the creation texts of Genesis played an important normative role.

N. T. Wright summarizes the situation:

The heart of early Christianity was the belief that in Jesus of Nazareth the creator God had dealt with the rebellion and corruption of the present creation, particularly of the humans who were supposed to be in charge of it, and had opened up the new and living way into a new and living creation in which the original intention would now be fulfilled. And that is why, despite the centuries of apparently unrebuked polygamy in the Old Testament, the New Testament assumes on every page that monogamy is now mandatory for the followers of Jesus – and made possible, though as the disciples recognized still difficult (Matthew 19:10), by the victory of Jesus on the cross and the power of his Spirit.21

In biblical times, were women considered to be the “property” of their husbands, and, if so, is this incompatible with a view of marriage as a covenant relationship between husband and wife?

Some have suggested that, in biblical times, wives – like slaves, animals, and land – were merely the “property” of their husbands, and that this calls into question an understanding of marriage as an authentic covenant relationship.22

I offer two lines of response to this objection.

(1) First, let us grant for the moment the claim that wives were considered to be merely the “property” of their husbands, that husbands “owned” wives the way that they owned animals and land. Even if this is how ancient Israelites understood marriage, there is no reason to think that this is somehow necessarily incompatible with the understanding of marriage as a covenant between husband and wife. Here’s why.

The paradigmatic example of an authentic covenant relationship in the OT is the covenant between Yahweh and his people Israel. However, Yahweh is not simple viewed as Israel’s covenant partner. Yahweh is also understood to be the Creator, King and Lord over all things, including Israel. In fact, Yahweh explicitly claims that he owns the “whole earth,” and that Israel is his “possession” (Exodus 19:5).

This is clear ownership and property language. And yet, this very passage in Exodus sets the context for Yahweh to enter into covenant relationship with Israel in chapters 19-24. Clearly, ancient Israelites had no sense of incompatibility between property/ownership and covenant relationship. In fact, the covenant between Yahweh and Israel provides the very paradigm by which these ideas are integrated.

As it turns out, the same holds true for Christians who are clearly portrayed as participants within the New Covenant, on one hand, and, at the same time, are referred to as God’s “possession” (Eph 1:14; Phil 3:12) and are said to have been “bought with a price” (I Cor 6:20). In fact, the early Christians easily and naturally integrated their self-conceptions as “slaves” of Jesus with their sense of being partners with him in the New Covenant. None of this divine “ownership” language within the NT is ever seen as a threat to full participation in an authentic covenant relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

(2) My final line of response, however, will be to question the very claim that I granted for the sake of the argument above. Many have claimed that women in biblical times were simply treated as property, as “chattel,” that was transferred (by purchase) from their fathers to their husbands upon marriage. The impression that is given here is of women in biblical times as having virtually no autonomy, no inherently recognized worth, and virtually no power or influence with regard to their daily lives and social roles.

I don’t have the space here to offer an in-depth response to this common caricature about women in ancient times. But suffice to say that an increasing number of scholarly studies – from classicists to OT and NT specialists, from gender archaeologists to social theorists to third-wave feminists – are calling into question this widely generalized and problematic historical construct.

These more balanced assessments, while not denying the ways in which male dominance cast its long shadow over the ancient world, nonetheless include recognition of women’s agency and influence in important sectors of daily life.23

Gender archaeologist Carol Meyers argues that “patriarchy” is “a Western, constructed concept, not a ‘social law’ or an immutable feature of all societies,” and she goes so far as to claim that “it no longer provides a valid heuristic formulation for representing Israelite society.” Instead, she has proposed that we adopt the more complex and nuanced concept of “heterarchy.”24

More specifically, a number of scholars have shown that the notion of husbands merely “owning” wives as mere non-agental “property” in the biblical world is fraught with problems.25

John Goldingay summarizes the OT evidence by saying: “As there is no suggestion in Genesis 1-2 that men have authority over women, or husbands over wives, so there is no suggestion of the idea that wives are their husband’s property . . . . Neither is there much evidence elsewhere in the First Testament for the idea that wives are their husband’s property, while there is much evidence for the opposite.”26

Two main factors have led some to conclude that a wives-as-chattel model is at work in the OT:

(1) the practice of giving the bride’s parents mohar, which some translate in an unnuanced fashion as “bride price”; and (2) the use of the word ba’al for husband, which can be translated as “lord” or “owner.” What do we say about these two phenomena? First, as a number of scholars has pointed out, mohar, which only occurs three times in the OT (Gen 34:12; Exo 22:16; I Sam 18:25), is better translated as “marriage present,” or even “compensation gift.”27

As Roland de Vaux explains: “The mohar appears less as the price paid for the woman than as a compensation paid to the family of the fiancé and, in spite of the external resemblance, the two are morally different: the future husband acquires a right over the woman, but the woman herself is not merchandise.”28

De Vaux’s conclusion fits with the fact that it was not uncommon within the ancient Mesopotamian world for this money to be given to the bride as part of her dowry.29 With regard to use of ba’al, Christopher Wright points out that, while its use in the context of marriage “undoubtedly signaled the authority of the husband, there are good grounds for doubting that it also signified his ownership of her person.”30 This conclusion is supported by simple observations such as the fact that a husband could not sell his wife, as he could mere possessions and property which he owned.31

In conclusion, we find that neither the phenomenon of polygamy nor the status of wives poses a threat to the biblical understanding of marriage as a covenant relationship.

To the contrary, and as we noted in the prior posts, the biblical vision of marriage fits well with an understanding of marriage as a covenant. Among other factors, this is demonstrated in the fact that, unlike the case with regard to many tribal societies (e.g., early Arabia), the act of marriage in the Bible is understood to create a kinship-by-covenant bond between the wife and husband (Gen 2:23-24), thus between the wife and her husband’s family.32

Paul Rhodes Eddy

Thanks to Paul for sharing his well-researched perspective.

D.D. Flowers, 2014.

_______________

1 E.g., this is raised as a potential problem in T. Tully, “Stutzman, Sex and Secular Marriage” (Feb. 17, 2014), http://thejesusevent.com/2014/02/17/stutzman-sex-and-secular-marriage/.

2 E. G. Parrinder, The Bible and Polygamy (London: SPCK, 1958), 48.

3 Walter Brueggemann, “Of the Same Flesh and Bone (GN 2, 23a),” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 32 (1970), 540; Frank Moore Cross, “Kinship and Covenant in Ancient Israel,” in From Epic to Canon: History and Literature in Ancient Israel (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998), 7-8; Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1-15 (Waco, TX: Word, 1987), 71.

4 Robert Holst, “Polygamy and the Bible,” International Review of Missions 56 (1967), 207. Similarly, William Loader notes that within ancient Judaism, “the few who could afford polygyny might see their relationship to each of their wives in the light of Gen 2:24.” The New Testament on Sexuality (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012), 53.

5 David Instone-Brewer, Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible: The Social and Literary Context (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 138-40.

6 For discussion, see Michael L. Satlow, Jewish Marriage in Antiquity (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001), 60.

7 The world-wide statistics on polygamy are interesting. According to the Ethnographic Atlas, of the 1,231 societies from around the world noted, 186 were monogamous; 453 had occasional polygyny; 588 had more frequent polygyny; and a mere 4 practiced polyandry. See J. Patrick Gray, ed., “Ethnographic Atlas Codebook,” World Cultures 10/1 (1998), 86-136. As Gordon Hugenberger (Marriage as a Covenant: Biblical Law and Ethics as Developed from Malachi [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998] 106, n. 95) notes, the attempt of some scholars to extrapolate from either contemporary Palestinian settings or alternative ANE contexts to estimated polygyny rates within ancient Israel is not without its problems.

8 Elaine June Adler, “The Background for the Metaphor of Covenant as Marriage in the Hebrew Bible” (PhD dissertation., University of California at Berkeley, 1990), 57-58 (referencing Plautz, “Monogamie und Polygamie”). See Loader, New Testament on Sexuality, 80. This aligns with Hugenberger’s (Marriage as a Covenant, 108) observation that, within ancient Mesopotamia, polygyny was largely practiced “in the exceptional circumstance that one’s wife [proved] to be infertile” or struck with illness. As evidence of this pattern, a number of Nuzi marriage contracts forbid bigyny unless the wife is found to be infertile. See J. Mervin Breneman, “Nuzi Marriage Tablets” (PhD dissertation, Brandeis University, 1971), contracts 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 8, 101.

9 See John Goldingay, Old Testament Theology, vol. 3: Israel’s Life (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2009), 379, 380.

10 As 11QTemple 57:17-19 reveals, the Qumran community apparently took their interpretation of Deut 17:17 to the point of requiring monogamous marriage for the king.

11 Goldingay (Old Testament Theology, III, 380) notes that the OT’s “descriptions of polygamous relationships can be read as deliberately drawing attention to the trouble they involve.” See also Hugenberger, Marriage as a Covenant, 111, n. 104; Craig Evans, “Genesis in the New Testament,” in The Book of Genesis: Composition, Reception, and Interpretation, ed. Craig A. Evans, Joel H. Lohr, and David l. Petersen (Boston: Brill, 2012), 474. Following this pattern, the post-biblical book of Sirach (26:5-6; 28:15; 37:11) notes that rivalry between wives can create serious problems for husbands who avail themselves of polygyny.

12 It should be noted that it is problematic to use the fact that the OT presents Yahweh as ending up in what amounts to a polygynous marriage to the “sisters” Israel and Judah (Jer 3:6-11; Ezek 16:44-63; 23:1-49) as divine justification for polygyny, since this state of affairs is not one that Yahweh set out to achieve, but rather was thrust upon him as the unfortunate consequence of national sin that led to the tragic division of God’s people. Incidentally, there is no reason to think that the Levirate law of the OT necessarily requires, let alone promotes, polygamy. On this point, see Hugenberger, Marriage as a Covenant, 114-5; Ron du Preez, “Does Levirate Law Promote Polygamy?,” in To Understand the Scriptures: Essays in Honor of William H. Shea, ed. David Merling (Berrien Springs, MI: Siegfried H. Horn Archaeological Museum of Andrews University, 1997), 273-89.

13 Adler, “Background for the Metaphor of Covenant as Marriage in the Hebrew Bible,” 60.

14 Scholars who argue for this translation include: Angelo Tosato, “The Law of Leviticus 18:18: A Rexamination,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 46 (1984), 199-214; Walter Kaiser, Toward Old Testament Ethics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1983), 189; Hugenberger, Marriage as a Covenant, 115-8; Richard M. Davidson, Flame of Yahweh: Sexuality in the Old Testament (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2007), 193-98; Ronald A. G. Du Preez, Polygamy in the Bible (Berrien Springs, MI: Andrews University Press, 1993), 74-9; René Gehring, The Biblical “One Flesh” Theology of Marriage as Constituted in Genesis 2:24 (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2013), 70-1. This is not merely a theoretical translation debate among contemporary academics. As Lawrence Schiffman notes, the Karaites used Lev 18:18 as an argument against polygamy. See “Laws Pertaining to Women in the Temple Scroll,” in The Dead Sea Scrolls: Forty Years of Research, eds. D, Dimant and U. Rappaport (Jerusalem: Magnes, 1992), 217.

15 Hugenberger, Marriage as a Covenant, 118.

16 For a discussion of the background to Jesus’ teaching on divorce and its implications for monogamy and polygamy, see Evans, “Genesis in the New Testament,” 470-81; David Instone Brewer, “Jesus’ Old Testament Basis for Monogamy,” in The Old Testament in the New Testament: Essays in Honour of J. L. North, ed. Steve Moyise (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2000), 75-105.

17 Evans, “Genesis in the New Testament,” 481. Similarly, see Loader, New Testament on Sexuality, 249-50; W. D. Davies and D. C. Allison, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel according to St. Matthew, 3 vols. (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1988-97), III, 18 (viz. Matt 19:9). Contra Holst, “Polygamy and the Bible,” 207-9.

18 David Daube notes Rabbinic opinion that the OT allowance for polygamy was a divine concession to human hard-heartedness. David Daube, “Concessions to Sinfulness in Jewish Law,” Journal of Jewish Studies 10 (1959), 6.

19 The Greek phrasing of I Tim 3:2 (along with Titus 1:6) and its interpretation have been a point of debate for some time. The phrase reads literally as a “one-man woman.” As William Mounce (Pastoral Epistles [Nashville: Nelson, 2000], 171) observes, the anti-polygamy interpretation “is the most natural understanding of . . . one-woman.” However, regardless of whether polygamy was the sole focus of this passage or not, as George Knight (The Pastoral Epistles: A Commentary on the Greek Text [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992], 158) points out, “polygamy . . . is certainly ruled out by the sense of the phrase.” Similarly, see C. H. Dodd, “New Testament Translation Problems II,” Biblical Theology 28 (1977), 115; Mounce, Pastoral Epistles, 171; Towner, Letters to Timothy and Titus, 251.

20 E.g., Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, 134; Tertullian, To His Wife, 2; Basil of Caesarea, Letter 188 (To Amphilochius, concerning the Canons), 4; Augustine, On Marriage and Concupiscence, 1, 10. Frequently, the Genesis 2 creation text is appealed to for support.

21 See Wright’s insightful essay, “Case Study: Monogamy,” in his Scripture and the Authority of God, 174-200 (here pp. 191-2, emphasis in text).

22 E.g., Abel Isaksson, Marriage and Ministry in the New Temple (Lund: Gleerup, 1965), 27-34; Tully, “Stutzman, Sex and Secular Marriage.”

23 For a succinct summary of some of this recent research, see Carol L. Meyers, “Was Ancient Israel a Patriarchal Society?,” Journal of Biblical Literature 133 (2014), 8-27. See also Carol Meyers, Rediscovering Eve: Ancient Israelite Women in Context (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013); Goldingay, Old Testament Theology, III, 354-7; Richard P. Saller, Patriarchy, Property and Death in the Roman Family (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994), esp. ch. 5; idem, “Pater Familias, Mater Familias, and the Gendered Semantics of the Roman Household,” Classical Philology 94 (1999), 182-97; Suzanne Dixon, The Roman Family (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992); Sarah Milledge Nelson, Gender in Archaeology: Analyzing Power and Prestige, 2nd ed. (Walnut Creek, CA: Sage, 2004 [1997]), esp. ch. 10 (see section on “Agency”); Suzanne M. Spencer-Wood,” “Feminist Gender Research in Classical Archaeology,” in Women in Antiquity: Theoretical Approaches to Gender and Archaeology, ed. S. M. Nelson (Lanham, MD: AltaMira, 2007), 265-300 (esp. 282-84); Daniel I. Block, “Marriage and Family in Ancient Israel,” in Marriage and Family in the Biblical World, ed. Ken M. Campbell (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2003), 41-3; David A. deSilva, Honor, Patronage, Kinship & Purity: Unlocking New Testament Culture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2000), 180-4.

24 Meyers, “Ancient Israel a Patriarchal Society?,” 26, 27.

25 See Grace I. Emmerson, “Women in Ancient Israel,” in The World of Ancient Israel: Sociological, Anthropological, and Political Perspectives, ed. R. E. Clements (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 371-94 (see esp. 382-3); Christopher J. H. Wright, God’s People in God’s Land: Family, Land, and Property in the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990), 183-221; Goldingay, Old Testament Theology, III, 355-6.

26 Goldingay, Old Testament Theology, III, 355.

27 Emmerson, “Women in Ancient Israel,” 382; Wright, God’s People in God’s Land, 194.

28 Roland de Vaux, Ancient Israel: Its Life and Institutions (New York: McGraw Hill, 1965), 27.

29 John Van Seters, “Jacob’s Marriages and Ancient Near East Customs: A Reexamination,” Harvard Theological Review 62 (1969), 392.

30 Wright, God’s People in God’s Land, 196.

31 Helmut Thielicke, Theological Ethics, trans. J. W. Doberstein (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964), III, 106.

32 Cross, “Kinship and Covenant,” 7-8. On the non-kinship transfer for marriages in early Arabia, see W. Robertson Smith, Kinship and Marriage in Early Arabia (Boston: Beacon, 1903), 76-7, 86-7, 122). In this sense, the biblical pattern is similar to that of Athens and early Rome, where wives gained full rights within the husband’s kinship group. See Stephanie Coontz, Marriage: A History (New York: Penguin, 2005), 81.


Theo Graff Podcast Interview

A few weeks ago I was interviewed by my friend T.C. Moore on his Theo Graff Podcast–a “Jesus-centered, hip-hop flavored, geeky, theological, Kingdom exploration” broadcast.

The podcast is fairly new, but T.C. has already interviewed some interesting folks, including my friends Jessica Kelley and Greg Boyd.

T.C. asks questions ranging from my own faith pilgrimage to what it means to embrace an “Anabaptist spirit” that is offering a hopeful Kingdom vision of the future, particularly in a post-Christendom age.

Give my interview a listen when you have some time.

In the second half of the podcast I talk about a book on Anabaptism that I’m working on with Tyler Tully. Also, I give a challenge for cynic saints who are stuck in their faith, even angry with the church. Enjoy and be blessed!

For more on what is mentioned in the interview, check out the following:

D.D. Flowers, 2014.


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