Day 323 (Nov. 19): Paul tells church not to judge others, God’s apostles are not showy, Paul condemns spiritual pride, Christians should settle their own disputes, avoid sexual immorality, marriage instructions

Welcome to BibleBum where we are exploring the entire Bible in one year to better learn how to follow God’s instructions and discover the purpose for our lives.  The BibleBum blog uses The One Year Chronological Bible, the New Living Translation version.  At the end of each day’s reading, Rob, a cultural history aficionado and seminary graduate, answers questions from Leigh An, the blogger host, about the daily scripture.  To start from the beginning, click on “Index” and select Day 1.

1 Corinthians 4-7

Questions & Observations

Q. (1 Corinthians 4:9): I was almost going to say that God continues to use humble people to spread His word and now He has allowed them to be tattered, according to Paul’s letter.  However, it wasn’t really God who made them dirty, hungry, thirsty, tired, weak, bruised, etc., it was the people treating them that way.

A. That doesn’t make the people like Paul spreading the message of the Gospel less humble; if anything, through humility they are able to withstand the mistreatment of others.  I certainly think the things that Paul and his companions experienced — and will experience, including martyrdom — will only increase the power of their witness.

Q. (4:15): I don’t understand Paul saying that He became the church’s spiritual father.

A. He’s the one who founded the church at Corinth, so that makes him their spiritual father.  He’s not really bragging about this, but is rather attempting to get the Corinthians to follow his example the way that a child often tries to imitate their earthly father.

Q. (5:3-5): I don’t understand v. 5.  I think what Paul is trying to say here is that we want to save this man who is disrupting the church.

A. Paul’s order is to expel the man from the church — a form of church justice, something that is sadly rarely practiced today due to our “winking” attitude to sin.  So if the man is kicked out of “God’s” territory (the church), then he is given over to the realm that is not of God, or Satan.  This isn’t a literal punishment: Paul is not saying a demon will get him, but rather he is hoping that being expelled from the community by his friends will cause him such anguish that he will repent of his sin and return to the community a new man.

Q. (6:2): What does Paul mean by the believers will judge the world and the angels?

A. As those who will rule with Christ as heirs, we have the implication that we will have some role in judging (the Greek can also mean “rule” or “command”) the world and angels.  It is a unique passage, frankly, and Paul does not expand on what he means here, so we do not exactly know.  It is possible that Paul is sharing something that he assumes his audience will already be familiar with — i.e. something they understood in their culture that has been lost to history.  Ultimately, we don’t know for sure what he means, but I think it is safe to assume that our role in the next world will be as some sort of ruler or leader of some sort.  Interesting thought, isn’t it?

Q. (6:1-8): I think many people use the justice system to resolve disputes because it is easier than facing each other and figuring it out among themselves.  But, if believers are coming together to form the body of a church, they should be able to settle their own disputes, which I think would actually make them closer.

A. I couldn’t agree more, and I suspect that is what Paul has in mind.

Q. (6:9-11): One of my best friends growing up became gay after a couple years of college.  He has an awesome, but struggling, heart and considering what he has been through — a dad that beat and threatened him on a regular basis, a mom who also suffered physical and verbal abuse and dealt with her husband’s cheating, and had been molested by many men close to him.  With attention from these men, it’s no wonder that he leaned toward homosexuality.  I do wonder how his judgment will fair, but I know that God is God and He is the judge.  I just wish he could get pulled out of that lifestyle.  Pray, right?  I need to call him more often too.

A. There is nothing sinful about being attracted to people of the same gender, but I feel the Bible is pretty clear about sexual relationships among people of the same gender (though I am aware that not everyone feels that way).  We all have our temptations that we must face, and that honestly makes it hard for me to want to pass judgment on homosexuals as a person who has never experienced a sexual attraction to a man.  God knows our hearts, and also knows our past and difficulties, and will judge us accordingly.

Q. (7:8): By Paul saying that it’s better to stay single than married, it sounds so against the way God designed humans and the world.  He made man and woman so they could come together and create more humans.  If everyone were single, the world would die off, well … if they abstained from sex unless they were married.

A. It is interesting to me that Paul brings such a different mindset to the situation then we are used to, and that God — and the Bible — are big enough to handle multiple ideas in tension.  As you well say, without marriage and children, there is no future.  But Paul is probably looking at the situation as a man who wanted to fully devote himself to doing God’s will (as Jesus, who was also never married, did before him).  So it is certainly fascinating that the two men most responsible for the Christian faith were unmarried and celibate — a tradition that is carried to this day by priests, nuns, and monks all over the world.  God can make either way for us work, but I think that Paul at least makes it clear that there are pros and cons to being single or married.  And in a society that is literally OBSESSED with weddings (less so marriages, but anyway…), I bet there are some interesting insights about celibacy in the reading.

Q. (7:10): This verse just makes me think of the spiritual parallel that God created between man and woman should be like the relationship between God and believers, only even more devoted.

A. Yes, I would agree with that.

Q. (7:25-28): What is Paul talking about here?  Why is he advising everyone to stay single?  And, honestly, I feel that some of these letters sound like personal problems of the church way back then that isn’t really our business.  Maybe this is an example of how our secret desires and motivations will be revealed on judgment day?

A. Something I didn’t mention in my above responses was that the early church went through varying degrees of persecution, and that would certainly shade his thinking about being married and having a spouse depend on you.  Imagine the heartache of dying for your faith (or being thrown in jail or sold into slavery) with a wife, or husband, women were martyrs too, you can read about some 3rd Century women martyrs here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perpetua_and_Felicity)- or even children at home.  I could see why Paul would say, “that’s not a great idea.”

I would also point out, that as a married person, it would naturally be harder for you to see the benefits of being able to give every waking moment over to God as Paul was able to do — and I’m sure his being single shaded his thinking as well.  But note that even in the midst of his thoughts on staying single, he argues that there is no sin in being married (which I realize is a “duh” to us, but anyway).  As I mentioned above, I appreciate that the Bible presents a perspective so radically different than my own.

Q. (7:31b): There are several references we have seen that alludes me to the conclusion that judgment day should have been during these times.  Paul makes the end of days sound imminent.  Yet, we have also read where Jesus isn’t coming until the most evil person rises up.

A. It hasn’t happened yet is all I can tell you.  Paul goes back and forth on the matter- some places he makes it sound immenent, other places not so much, you’ll see.

Q. (7:40): Paul doesn’t sound 100 percent sure that his advice is coming from the Holy Spirit here … or God (not sure who he is referring to).

A. Same difference.  I think he is clearly stating that God has not told him explicitly either way, which is just fine with me.  If God desires to leave the matter open, and clearly He did, then Paul is willing to say so.  That sounds about right to me.

Day 155 (June 4): A woman and man write of their intimate love for one another

Welcome to BibleBum where we are exploring the entire Bible in one year to better learn how to follow God’s instructions and discover the purpose for our lives.  The BibleBum blog uses The One Year Chronological Bible, the New Living Translation version.  At the end of each day’s reading, Rob, a cultural history aficionado and seminary graduate, answers questions from Leigh An, the blogger host, about the daily scripture.  To start from the beginning, click on “Index” and select Day 1.

Song of Solomon 1-8

Questions & Observations

Q.  I can’t help asking what the purpose of this song is?  One footnote said something about the man and woman’s relationship being an allegory to God and the church.  But, why use such intimate or sexual language?

A. That’s life.  Despite our modern Puritan almost obsession with not talking about sexuality in healthy terms — we discuss it plenty in unhealthy terms — the Bible does not shy away from talking about healthy sexuality between a (married) man and woman.  Song of Solomon presents sexuality as God desires it.  This offends our modern sensibilities that say you don’t talk about such things — there was some of this in Jewish culture as well: Jewish children weren’t allowed to read/hear this book until they had reached a certain age — but there is no reason that the love between this man and woman cannot be shared for our benefit.  No doubt it is a unique book in the canon, but I for one think the Bible is better for having it than not.  Regarding the idea that it’s not talking about human sexuality (i.e. its really about God and church), that idea is usually presented from people who don’t really want the Bible to discuss sexuality, frankly, in positive terms.  The idea that the explicit descriptions of sexual adventures are somehow metaphor is a bit ridiculous to me.

Q. Then, let’s talk about the characters.  The man is Solomon?  And, the woman strongly desires Solomon and he desires her?  What role do the Women of Jerusalem have?  Just to elevate his attractiveness by them talking about him?

A. The text appears to discuss Solomon and one of his (many) wives — there might be portions of the text that discuss their courtship before they are married — but the general consensus is that it is talking about their married romantic relationship.  The women appear to fill the role of “chorus” in Greek drama- as some sort of narrator who “responds” to the story.

Q. (Song of Songs 1:5): Why mention her dark skin?  It sounds like that it’s something he desires and that he may like the fact that she works the fields?

A. She is concerned about it because in those days, many with dark skin got it from working out in the sun, which she thinks makes her less desirable.  Generally, only the wealthy, who didn’t have to work, were pail, which made pail skin more desirable in that society.  Little does she know that he apparently likes her that way.

Q. (1:7): It seems that the woman is doing most of the chasing here.

A. She’s looking for him, no doubt.

Q. (1:17): There are a lot of references to scents and vegetation.  Why?

A. Most of the pleasant smells and scents came from natural extracts came from flowers, plants, or other vegetation.  In a society without regular bathing or deodorant, it makes sense that such good smells would be highly desirable.

Q. (2:7, 3:5): This is a refrain?  I do like the reference to not awakening love until it’s ready.  I don’t know if “the time is right” means age-wise or just couples spending enough time together until they are sure of their love?  Of course, waiting for the right person to come along is so hard for many because of loneliness, sexual desires, self-esteem, etc.  So, this is a wise verse to wait for the right person to come along to marry.  If not, it can give you loads of heartache and disappointment.  I can wait a very long time to see my kids go through that!

A. The idea of when “the time was right” would have been very different in that society than in ours.  Women got married in their late teens in ancient society, and women today average 29 years old for their first marriage.  That’s a 10-year difference.

But regardless of the “drawbacks” of waiting, the advice is sound: this entire book points to the passion found in true love.  If the man and woman didn’t really love each other, most of the emotional effect would have been lost.

Q. (3:1-4): It seems the woman is doing most of the chasing.  This indicates how desirable Solomon was?
A. Sure, he was the king, and apparently handsome.

Q. (6:11-12): I don’t understand this, do you?

A. Nope.  This is the most obscure set of verses in the text, and no one really knows what it means.

Q. (7:10-13): Is checking the vegetation a symbol used to describe if the lovers are ready to bloom and be together?

A. Nope.  It’s a bit more explicit than that.  It’s a double entendre that is used by the woman both to describe both their meeting place — in a garden — and her, um, personal garden.  Aren’t you glad you know that now?

Q. (8:12): What is the woman saying here about caring for its vines?

A. We don’t really know.  There are a number of verses of this text where the meanings are simply lost to history.

Day 53 (Feb. 22): The blood is the life necessary for purification, sexual conduct rules, decrees for treatment of others, and more of God’s decrees

Welcome to BibleBum where we are reading the New Living Translation Bible in a year, chronologically.  At the end of each day’s reading, Rob, a cultural history aficionado and seminary graduate, answers questions from Leigh An, the blogger host, about the daily reading.  Read on, some answers may surprise you.  Most of all, they can help you understand the Bible, which helps us lead a life that fulfills God and us.  Let us know if you have any comments to add.

Leviticus 17-19

Questions & Observations

O. (Leviticus 17:10-14): Rob addressed the forbidden blood issue in the first answer to Day 49 (Feb. 18).  Check it out.  Like God said, you must sacrifice in His presence.  If not, the blood (the life) was taken out of His vicinity and the attempted atonement for a sin would not be accepted.  As Leviticus says, “I have given you the blood on the altar to purify you.”

Q. (18:1-30): These laws obviously keep the peace and sanity.  Many are accepted today as taboo and thus no need to bring them up.  However, homosexuality is on the rise.  Does the NT back up the OT on this issue or is homosexuality OK under the new covenant?

A. The laws are set up to create a (fairly) clear ethic of sexual relationships: only between men and women who were married to each other.  Then you add a few other perimeters: not having sex with close relatives was a clear way to respect families and to protect women in particular, since they could be more easily taken advantage of in this system – we will see more rules like these.

The question of homosexuality is a thorny one, and one that I fear is badly overemphasized in the church today.  It does not come up very much — around 10 times in the entire Bible — but where it does, the NT and the Old are clear that it is a sinful action (Romans 1:27, 1 Corinthians 6:9).  Please note what it does not say: that being attracted to people of the same sex is forbidden, but only acting on that attraction.

There are some (generally among the more liberal Protestant denominations) that consider homosexuality to be acceptable under the new covenant, specifically because Jesus does not speak against it in His earthly ministry.  I don’t agree with the way they tend to reach this position (basically using Jesus as an argument from silence, and then minimizing other verses in both the OT and NT in order to “say” that the Bible doesn’t forbid homosexuality – this is the important part — as it is practiced today.  So there’s a few different positions out there that various groups consider to be the “right” one.

As a more conservative Bible scholar, I don’t like the way the above conclusion about the acceptability of homosexuality is reached, but it is important to understand that this is a real issue that many people struggle with, even many who do not desire to.  We must be sure that we maintain an ethic of loving the sinner, even as we rightly set the Biblical standard for sexuality.  As I said, homosexuality gets a lot of press, but there are much more pressing issues related to marriage and sex that are much more rarely challenged.  The Biblical prohibition of divorce — except in cases of abandonment or infidelity — is clearly not spoken of enough, especially in a culture where there is divorce on demand.  And in the bigger picture on sexuality, the Bible prohibits ANY sexual conduct outside of a man and woman who are married!  And we have many more heterosexual couples that are wrapped up on sexual sin than we ever will gay couples.  To me that says we too often as churches lack the willpower to proclaim this clear truth.  We certainly do not proclaim this standard in our churches very well either.  So while the perception of homosexuality being on the rise gets a lot of the press, there is a total sexual ethic that the Bible paints in this passage and other places that is too often truncated or ignored completely.

Q. (19:1-4): What should I glean from the repetition of “I am the Lord your God.”

A. The reminder that these are God’s standards for the Israelite conduct, not human ones.

O. (19:9-10): I love this small passage.  It shows so much compassion!

Q. (19:17): I don’t understand what is meant by “confront people directly so you will not be held guilty for their sin.”

A. This verse appears to be warning against holding a grudge, and carrying around malicious thoughts about a brother or sister in the community.  If a person has sinned against you, this verse teaches us, you become guilty as well if you hate them for it — i.e. you share in the sin.  This verse should be clearly read with the intent that is culminating in the next verse: don’t seek revenge, but love your neighbor as yourself — something Jesus repeats as one of the greatest commandments.  Love for neighbor covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8).

Q. (19:19): Several of these are violated today. I saw a zorse (half zebra, half horse), there are mules, of course. (Nice poetry, eh?)  Many clothes are made with different kinds of material or thread.  Would you say these are OK under the NT?

A. I think we are ok here.

Q. All of these decrees seem so random, jumping from one subject to another.  I just wonder that if they had a different flow in the language they were written.

A. That might help some, but I think this is very likely an edited volume, where various parts of the Law were brought together into one volume, and so from the outside it might appear to be done in a hodgepodge manner.  There is a lot of scholarly debate about the role of editing in the Old and New Testaments, but I have no problem with the idea that various sections of manuscript were brought together, since it would appear that this was generally done with great reverence and care.