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.

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.  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 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!

A Biblical Catechism on Sex and Marriage: Polygamy, Concubinage, and Levirate Marriage

[This post continues 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 9. Does the Bible allow polygamy, concubinage, and levirate marriage?

Answer: The creation mandate to be fruitful and multiply (Genesis 1:28) largely accounts for Old Testament practices of polygamy, concubinage, and levirate marriage in ancient Israel that are no longer practiced by Christians.

Comment 1: Polygamy is marriage where a person has more than one spouse at the same time.  Polygyny refers to a husband having more than one wife—a practice found in the Old Testament (and never a wife having more than one husband—polyandry.)  Concubinage is when a husband also has sexual relations with his wife’s maid servants.  Both polygamy and concubinage are permanent relationships (a man would not, e.g., have sexual relations with a married maid servant).  These were cultural practices in Old Testament times.  They are not sinful practices even if no longer practiced or even advisable.  They do not stem from the theology of ‘one flesh’ in Genesis 2:24, but can relate to being fruitful and multiplying (Genesis 1:28).  

Comment 2: The main purpose of polygamy or concubinage seems to be to multiply the size of the family.  Thus these arrangements were in fulfillment of the creation mandate.  In ‘levirate marriage,’ where the widow of a deceased man with no offspring could become the wife of his nearest kin, the purpose was to maintain property within the clan and to raise up children in the name of the deceased man (cf. Ruth and Boaz).  Thus these arrangements are more related to the early years of Israel, and are not noted in the New Testament.  Christians have usually opposed such practices, especially as they can place stress on the loving relationship of one man and one woman in a marriage.

Comments 3: Polygamy and concubinage are a permanent, marital relationship, as with any marriage and unlike having a mistress.  A wife was given to a man by her father, whereas concubines were servants given to the man by the man’s wife.  Concubines might be considered wives of lower status, but they, too, had a permanent relationship to the head of the household.  The story of Abraham dismissing Hagar is not meant as a positive example (Genesis 16).  Polygamy was not practiced as a form of divorce, when the husband was tired of the first wife (cf. Deuteronomy 21:15-17).

Comment 4: The polygamy of Israelite kings was a matter of status (2 Samuel 5:13) and/or political (1 Kings 11:1-3), a Middle Eastern practice of making treaties by marriage.  The practice is viewed unfavourably in Scripture (Deuteronomy 17:17; 1 Kings 11:1-8).

Comment 5: As polygamy, concubinage, or levirate marriage were not practices in Paul’s day or context, his words about an overseer, elder, or deacon being the husband of one wife do not refer to this practice.  As Paul encourages younger widows to remarry, he is also not referring to remarriage.  Thus, he must be restricting these roles in the church to persons who have not divorced and remarried.  (See Question 10.)

A Biblical Catechism on Sex and Marriage: Celibacy

[This post continues 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 8. What is the purpose of celibacy?

Answer: A person who does not marry is able to fulfill a calling of special devotion to God.

Matthew 19:12 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."  [The teaching on marriage turns to celibacy in thee verses.  Some people are born unable to enter into sexual relationships in marriage due to biological defects.  Others are made eunuchs for whatever reason.  Jesus’ main point, though, is that some voluntarily live celibate lives—function as eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom.  Cf. Matthew 19:29-30; 1 Corinthians 9:5.]

Luke 2:36-37 And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin,  37 and then as a widow until she was eighty-four.1 She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day.

1 Corinthians 7:8-9 Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I am.  9 But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.

1 Corinthians 7:32-35 I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord.  33 But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife,  34 and his interests are divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband.  35 I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord.

1 Timothy 5:5 She who is truly a widow, left all alone, has set her hope on God and continues in supplications and prayers night and day….

1 Corinthians 7:5 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.  [Married couples, too, may abstain from sexual relations with one another by mutual consent for a limited time in order to pray.]

A Biblical Catechism on Sex and Marriage: Marriage is Permanent but not Eternal

[This post continues 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 7. Is marriage permanent and eternal?

Answer: Marriage is a permanent union in this life but not an eternal union.  After this life, there is no giving and taking in marriage.

Comment: Marriage is permanent in this life, but it is not eternal.  (On the permanence of marriage, see also the discussion of divorce in question 10.) 

1.     Temporal Institution: As a procreational institution, marriage does not apply after death in the time of the resurrection and age to come.  Both sex and marriage are discontinued when the creation mandate to be fruitful and multiply (Genesis 1.28) is fulfilled.

Matthew 19:6 So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate."  [The permanence of marriage in this life.]

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. [Paul shows that he is aware of the Lord’s teaching on the permanence of marriage and its application to divorce and remarriage.]

Matthew 22:30 For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.  [Marriage is not eternal.]

2.     Heterosexuality: This fact implies that marriage is designed for a male and female, not homosexual, union (which is sinful in any case).  It is an institution ordained by God in the present age and not in the age to come so that, in this age, we might fulfill the creation mandate to be fruitful and multiply.  Close friendship does not constitute marriage.

Genesis 1:27-28 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.  28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth."

3.     Procreation: The proper instruments (male and female reproductive organs; cf. Romans 1:26-27), the proper act (sex in marriage), and the proper institution (holy matrimony) go together even if the primary purpose and result (child-bearing) is not forthcoming.  Marriage is a procreational institution for a male and a female, even if sex within the marriage is not always procreational.  If this were not so, then unfruitful marriages in Scripture would be dissolved, but they are not.  Also, if this were not so, then Paul would not have encouraged married couples to have sex to deal with sexual appetite to avoid temptation but rather have insisted that all sexual acts in marriage would only be for procreating (1 Corinthians 7:2-5).

4.     Remarriage: Because marriage is not eternal, a widow or widower may remarry another Christian after the death of the spouse.

1 Corinthians 7:39 A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord.

Romans 7:2-3 Thus a married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage.  3 Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress.

1 Timothy 5:14 So I would have younger widows marry, bear children, manage their households, and give the adversary no occasion for slander.

5.     Sex, Gender, and Identity: Since marriage is not eternal, sex (which, according to the Bible, belongs only in marriage) cannot be a defining part of one’s identity; its role is relativized with respect to the purpose of procreation.  One’s biological sex is an expression of one’s gender, not separable from it.  Celibate men and women are still male and female and still reflect the image of God even though they do not undertake the creation mandate to be fruitful and multiply.  There is no indication that gender will disappear in eternity when the giving and taking in marriage will end.

On being created in the image of God, see: Genesis 1:26-27; 5:3; 9:6; Psalm 8:6; Romans 8:29; 1 Corinthians 11:7; 15:49; 2 Corinthians 3:18; 4:4; Colossians 1:15; 3:10-11; Galatians 3:27-28.  [The Old Testament states that men and women, whose gender corresponds to their biological sex, are created in the image of God.  The New Testament introduces the notion of a new creation in Christ, with Christ as the image of God and believers being formed in him into the image of God.  This notion of representing another’s image—e.g., 1 Cor. 11:7—does not preclude both males and females being created in God’s image and equally formed in Christ, the image of God.]