The Gospel of John tells a story not found in the other gospels which describes Jesus washing the feet of the Disciples. He strips off his clothing and puts on a servants towel, he washes the disciples feet despite Peter’s objection and then has them wash each other’s feet (13:3-14). At first glance, the meaning of the story seems pretty clear. Jesus is taking the humble role of a servant and treating the young men to a relaxing foot bath and massage with some kind of vague allusion to servant leadership, right? That is certainly one way of reading it but it doesn’t explain Peter’s reluctance or his later suggestion of washing his whole body rather than just the feet. There is something else going on here which I intend to reveal.
There are a lot of Christian self help books available offering quick fix solutions to the dangers and emotional pitfalls of modern dating. In fact, it is a multi-billion dollar industry. Clearly they aren’t working, otherwise people would have stopped buying the books right? In this article, I’m going to offer some advice based on lessons I’ve learned during the course of my life which have changed the way I look at dating.
The American big church movement is growing. While churches in the majority are small, the top one percent of churches claims fifteen percent of church memberships, money and full time staff. The Top twenty percent claims sixty to sixty five percent(1). As large churches take a larger and larger share of the market, smaller churches struggle to keep their doors open. In this essay I will explore some factors which allow successful churches to attract new members and retain existing members to grow exponentially in a saturated and declining religious marketplace, and offer some suggestions for church leaders wanting to stimulate growth in their congregations. The main influences to church growth are church friendliness, counter cultural doctrines, service style and marketing.
In a humble, single room hut in the village of Capernaum, a small boy quietly tends to the animals in the lower, hay covered floor that was carved out for the animals, while in the raised family area of the hut a group of young men, guests of his father and disciples of the Rabbi Jesus, argue over which of them will hold the higher position when they’ve overthrown the Roman oppressors. The rabbi returns. His disciples run to him, demanding that he tell them the positions they will hold in his kingdom. The rabbi’s eyes scan the hut quickly as the little boy crouches low behind his goat. The rabbi smiles; he has found his answer. Pushing through the demanding young men, he reaches down and lifts the boy up to the higher level of the hut, placing him in the midst of the men, and tells them that the one of them who is most like the little boy will be the greatest; that those who cannot be like him are not fit for his kingdom. (Matthew 18:1-5, Luke 9:46-48, Mark 10:14-15).
The Synoptic Gospels each contain an account of Jesus declaring that being like a child is a requirement for entry into the kingdom of Heaven. Given that over half the world’s population consider Jesus an authority on the topic of Heaven, and a third say he is God (1), and also given the implications of being left out of the kingdom for failing to be like a child are disastrous by dominant modern interpretations, it would appear that having a correct understanding of this verse would be of critical importance. Unfortunately, those seeking to understand the meaning of this statement have left large bodies of information unused in forming their conclusions, with the result that the dominant understanding of Jesus’ statement may be incomplete. In this essay, I plan to bring together the major sources of information on the reality of what it meant to be a small child within the Roman Empire during the early part of the first century from both primary documents and archaeological evidence, in order to present four alternative readings of the phrase, and their theological applications.
These are as follows:
1) Being like a child means being vulnerable and dependant on others.
2) Being like a child means learning by asking challenging questions.
3) Being like a child means having a low status.
4) Being like a child means existing outside of the Mosaic Law.
Modern society continues to be plagued by conflicting ideas about sex practices, how they relate to marriage, and what God thinks of all this. Being the good Samaritan that I am, I thought I’d help out a bit by giving the argument a Jaminological treatment. In this post, I intend to strip Western ideas of sex back to their basic components, identify the common religious assumptions, and consider how a religiously enlightened Jaminist would view sex and marriage.
The ideas I will be discussing are by no means new, or even necessarily my own invention; but they are important, and sometimes for the sake of getting a message to be received by a wider audience it may be necessary to take old ideas and dress them up as new, buy them a pretty frock and some shiny new shoes and parade them through the living room in front of Daddy to receive admiration based upon their apparent attractiveness to reinforce some kind of appearance based self worth. The idea which I will be putting through this ritual of preparation for the ogling of potential suitors today is the idea of marriage; who can do it, who they can do it with, how many times they can do it, and whether they can stop doing it after they’ve done it.
Now, like most people, the first thought that comes to mind when I think of the term marriage is a piece of antique furniture assembled from components of two or more authentic pieces or the infusion of fine essences to make a perfume, but shortly after that comes the contentious issue of gay marriage. Now let us be clear that a gay marriage is certainly something to be strived for, as it is the gayety of a couple of newlyweds which helps to establish that lasting bond which will hold them together long into later life when her bits start to sag and he begins to notice the curvations form of a new sports racing car. However, because our language has been hijacked by people who are so terrified of the stigma attached to certain taboo words that they have to commandeer the use of otherwise useful words and then have the taboo spread on and on until you can’t utter a single normal British sentence without somebody thinking that you are talking about anal sex. So for the discussion of this particular article, the term “gay” may occasionally be used in place of the traditional titles (male and female respectively) of ass bandit and carpet muncher, just to keep the wowsers happy. And by happy I mean gay.
Gay marriage has received a lot of attention in the media lately and has become a bit of a political football (or shuttlecock depending on your preference) upon which every politician has an opinion which they try very hard to keep secret lest they lose half their supporters.
Marriage, in the traditional sense, is the fulfilled, non-retractable declaration of property rights as a father transfers ownership of his young daughter onto a naive middle aged man who agrees to take care of her, beat her when she steps out of line, and copulate with her every night to assist in the production of children on nights he isn’t attending his marital duties to any of his other wives. In some cultures this is considered barbaric, so they avoid talking about copulation when possible and commandeer the use of other word to euphemise it, thus robbing the language of those words in their original context.
Now in that traditional sense, the concept of a marriage between a man and a man is utterly preposterous. A man is already quite capable of managing his own property so he has no need of another man to do it for him, and there is also the anatomical setback of the inability of either man to produce heirs for the other. No, traditionally it is far better for a man to have a wife who produces his children and food in exchange for shelter and discipline, and a male lover who can better understand the great manly virtues of which inferior women cannot hope to comprehend. Saints Sergius and Bacchus are a notable example of such a couple within the Christian faith, lovers to the very end. The marital union of two women is equally ludicrous, as nether of them is a man and thus able to own property, so neither of them could possibly own the other any more than they could own land, cattle or jewellery. It makes the whole concept nonsense really.
Over the years, laws have been passed and society has changed to allow unmarried women the right to own property, participate in politics and copulate with multiple partners without being stoned to death; and men the right to wear dresses if they want to. Kudos to society, these seem to be good decisions. Curiously though, the idea of marriage has remained. It is so ingrained into our culture than even though they are now perfectly capable of going out and making money for themselves, most women in developed nations still place a great deal of importance on their physical appearance and their ability to secure a wealthy husband, though they don’t want to be owned by their husband now, hence the development of the term “partner” in reference to marriage. Being partners has become very similar now to what “lovers” were traditionally: two people of equal status sharing a lifelong commitment, with a shared finances clause wrapped up in it as a throwback to archaic times when husbands had to financially support their wives as dependants.
So now that we’re caught up, if you’ll pardon the expression, with the history of marriage; let us have a look at its future.
The issue of gay marriage (and by gay I mean poofy and by poofy I mean a rounded ottoman or padded foot stool) is currently at the fore front of those horrible liberals and their attack on everything people held dear hundreds of years ago and now cling to from a sentimental attachment to a bygone era or due to a misunderstanding of certain religious ideas. The idea is that since men and women are now considered equal in the eyes of society, or at the very least the laws of society, I think the eyes still perceive some clear distinctions, and that the male and female marriage has now come to be seen as a public declaration of lifelong commitment and financial security, should be opened up to same sex lovers (and by sex I mean gender and by gender I mean a grammatical category used in the classification of nouns, pronouns, adjectives, and, in some languages, verbs) who would like to attach an archaic name in a historically inappropriate way to a kind of relationship which has had much nicer names throughout history than the one linked to thousands of years of female bondage and oppression but which now has romantic connotations and a feeling of cultural acceptance.
Personally I have no problem with liberating the term. Clearly our language is an evolving thing and cannot be tied down to tradition meanings, so why not allow the new cultural meaning of the word to describe an equal loving partnership between a man and a woman also be extended to include equal loving partnerships between a man and a man or a woman and another woman? We change the meaning of words and invent new words all the time. Why such a fuss over an issue which is essentially lexiconical?
So now we have Christians. Not all Christians mind you; just the ones who happen to like the puritanical interpretation of writings which were written in the pre-existing context of women being traded as property. These Christians would like to say that Marriage is a sacred institution between a man and a women and a god. Well we’ll talk about marriages involving three or more partners in another post but for the moment let’s discuss the issue of sacredness.
Now the word “sacred” doesn’t appear in the King James Version of the Bible but in newer translations it is used in place of the word “holy” which is translated from the Hebrew word “qodesh ” which means apartness, holiness, sacredness and separateness. Separateness is the important word here as the ancient Israelites saw themselves as a people separated and set apart from other people. The laws Yahweh gave to them were specifically for them and, while as a rather insignificant nation that spent more time being ruled by other nations with more powerful gods they wouldn’t have much chance to, they were not at all interested in forcing their cultural acts of separateness onto anybody outside of their chosen group. To do so would decrease their set apart status, and it you’ve got to all the trouble of genital mutilation just to be different you don’t want outsiders copying you. A modern example might be how Goths are not particularly happy with emos coming in and wearing black clothing, complaining about their meaningless lives, cutting themselves and listening to bad music. When a culture is defined by distinctiveness and another culture copies it, the original culture loses its identity. Abstaining from man and man sexual partnerships within traditional Old Testament contexts was strictly a matter of holiness, and not of morality. It was an expression of covenant. This is why every single Bible verse which mentions men laying with men as they would lay with a woman being something that Israelites should avoid, it is in the context of idolatry and the worship of other gods. The Bible mentions nothing about gay marriage because, as I already mentioned, the concept wouldn’t have even been considered because marriage was about property, not love.
The New Testament is slightly different in that it is now dealing with new converts from non-Jewish backgrounds and there is some discussion about whether these non-Jewish Christians should be required to abide by the mandates of the original covenant with the Jews or if the Christian covenant was distinct and holy from the Mosaic covenant. The conclusion reached by the Jewish men guiding gentile believers was to encourage to “abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood”. Notice the framing. Sexual immorality is presented directly between food which has been sacrificed to idols and meat from animals which were strangled (a method of killing associated with animal sacrifices as there is little point in strangling an animal otherwise) and blood drinking which, again, is a pagan practice associated with religious ritual rather than culinary enjoyment. In context, this is clearly a discussion of how Christians should behave in a way which is separate and holy from the behaviour of those around them.
I feel the need to pause here and point out that the word translated as “sexual immorality” is the Greek word “porneia” which can mean sexual intercourse with close relatives, adultery (sex involving at least one participant who is married to somebody else), sexual intercourse between a man and a man/a woman and a woman, fornication (sex for the sake of enjoyment), and sex with animals; or it can also mean the worship of idols. Now in the context of the phrase “abstain from food polluted by idols, from X, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood” is X more likely to mean “the worship of idols” or is it more likely to mean “non-conventional sexual practices”?
Now back to the topic at hand, regardless of how the words themselves are translated, the context is that these people are discussing how New Covenant Christians should behave. There is at no stage any suggestion that God frowns on any given sexual or idolatrous behaviour, but rather it is discussing how New Covenant Christians will present themselves as distinctive from the numerous pagan believers around them. The decision was that Christians should either avoid participating in pagan religious activities, or that they should avoid pagan religious and sexual activities. In neither of these instances is there any hint of a mandate to go therefore into all the world and restrict their sexual and religious freedoms.
As such, Christians should feel free to either engage in same sex sexual partnerships or not, depending on their own personal interpretation of the above verse and the many similar verses in the Bible; and they should also be quite comfortable to allow non-Christians to participate in whatever sexual activity is allowed by local law which, in most developed countries, includes same sex pairings.
So then, returning to the issue of same sex marriage, it has now been clarified that the Bible has no issue with non-Christians participating in same sex intercourse and may or may not have a problem with non-Jewish Christians participating in same sex intercourse. Whew. What a relief.
Now we come to the issue of the sanctity of marriage as a Christian institution. Well firstly, Christian marriage now is certainly not what it was originally. It is more like a union of equals in a context of love and mutual appreciation. It that regard, modern marriage now resembles “erastai” or “mature lovers” as traditionally was between two men but with equality being in vogue now has been applied to equal status heterosexual relationships and called “marriage” in the same way that fudge packers (and by fudge packers I mean homosexuals and by homosexuals I mean people who only have one sex) are now called “gay”.
The other issue Christians may find themselves facing is the perceived mandate to be moral crusaders in their community, salt and light if you will. This is a belief which I am reserved about attacking because I believe it is both well founded in the Bible and a generally noble position to hold. I will, however, need to point out the moral contradiction of restricting another person’s religious freedom because their beliefs differ from your own.
Most developed countries hold to, or at least pay lip service to, a separation of Church and State. A lot of people don’t understand why the founding fathers of the United States of America included that in their democratic model and seem to want to overthrow that idea. Rather than going into a history lesson of the atrocities that religious institutions have committed when in a position of authority in the centenary alone, I will instead present a very simple example of the concepts involved and allow you the reader to extrapolate what you will.
Let us say that in a given population, 60% of the people or Protestant, 30% are Catholic and 10% are Islamic. In a country which did not mandate the separation of church and state, a referendum outlawing the use of rosary beads could easily be passed because they would be considered idolatrous to 70% of the population. The building of a new mosque could be outlawed entirely. Sharia law is a prime example of what happens when aggressive evangelism becomes a method of securing political power. In any country where there is not a separation of church and state, the religious majority can take away the religious freedom of the religious minority. It may be nice for you if you are in the majority, but keep in mind that the separation of church and state exists to protect your freedom of worship too when you’re religion becomes the minority. So now assuming that you are convinced that a separation of church and state is a good thing, and there are certainly Bible verses to support that Jesus kingdom is not of this world, let us have a look at marriage from yet another angle.
Marriage is either primarily spiritual or it is primarily legal. Clearly it contains elements of both but its nature must be found predominantly in one or the other. If we are talking about marriage in the traditional sense of a man paying a dowry and purchasing a wife from her father who then becomes his personal property, prostitute and house servant, then it is primarily a legal matter. If we are talking about a more modern idea of marriage involving love, commitment, equal partnership with each other and God, and so forth, I would call that primarily spiritual. Now consider your own views before reading on and decide if you consider marriage to be primarily legal or spiritual in nature.
If marriage is primarily legal in nature, in its modern form it is something like a company or not for profit organisation. The company is founded by two members who put all of their collective wealth into the company together; so John Stevenson and Jane Meddlicottbottom form a company called “The Stevensons” which from then on pays for all of their living expenses and into which all of their combined income is diverted. According to the organisation by laws, in the event of the organisation being disbanded due to death or infidelity, the deceased or unfaithful partner surrenders their share of the company to the remaining majority share holder. If there are children, they are considered minor share holders, and in the event that both major share holders perish in some unforseen accident, the remaining assets of the company will be divided between the surviving share holders. This marriage company provides legal security and tax benefits for its members.
If that is what a marriage is then to deny two partners to form a marriage on the basis of their relative gender (and by gender I mean sex) is a clear case of sexual discrimination, in direct violation of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights as passed by the United Nations in December, 1948. If marriage is primarily a legal issue, it must be made open to people of both sexes in any combination of two. I imagine that it could be quite a lucrative arrangement for a couple of friends who enjoy each other’s company and are earning vastly different salaries to enjoy a larger tax free threshold by declaring their combined earnings as a single entity.
If marriage is primarily spiritual in nature, government has no right mandating who can be married to whom in any instance because of the required separation of church and state. A person’s religious practice is a matter between themselves and the god or gods they choose to worship. If a man wants to marry his heterospecisexual Clydesdale horse then it is not the place of the government to allow or disallow it, though obviously he can’t get tax benefits because it is a purely spiritual relationship.
Quite importantly, in neither of these cases can a church be forced to perform a marriage ceremony for people it deems unsuitable to be married.
So there you have it. Perhaps a little long winded but I felt it was important to clarify the underlying issues as well as the surface ones. Hopefully, as is always my aim, I have challenged some long held views and encouraged people to question why they believe the things they believe. Thinking is a wonderful thing and I encourage everybody to do it, at least once a day. And as always, I look forward to reading your responses, even if you only managed to read a couple of lines and then felt offended, your views are always welcome.
The Bible is claimed by many to be a message from the divine being to humanity. This is an extraordinary claim which has enormous ramifications for the world if it is true. It is also arguably the most influential collection of writings in the history of humanity. How it influences us relies on how it is read, so a correct understanding of how to read the Bible and assess its claims is critical to the individual and to humanity as a whole. This essay will explore two of the dominant readings: the literal approach and the theological approach, looking specifically at how they relate to the first creation story in Genesis.
There are numerous ways to interpret the Bible. These interpretations are called readings. Because of the nature of language; there are at least as many readings of the Bible as there are readers. Each individual who picks up the collection of writings comes with their own set of assumptions, prejudices and even their own ideas of what certain words mean. This issue is magnified by the fact that the majority of people reading the Bible are reading translations which carry the assumptions and prejudices of the translators, in a canon selected by people who were again using their prejudices and assumptions to determine which books would be included, and nobody has access to the original documents which were written thousands of years ago. Another issue is that (short of divine intervention) no modern reader is able to speak with the original authors of the texts. These barriers make it difficult to know what is the best way to read the Bible.
The literal approach, also known as the historical approach and Christian Science, begins with the premise that if God intended to communicate with humanity through the written word that writing would be perfect and factual in every way. Some literal readers take this to mean that God would also protect his message through human translation, so that modern language translations can also be considered perfect and inerrant. Others prefer the idea that the original documents which have been lost were perfect and without error, and since they have been lost some minor transcription and translation errors have occurred but the message as a whole remains largely intact.
A literal approach to Genesis will seek to determine the events which happened in Genesis One by viewing the text alone, and then take meaning from that as historical events. In the literal reading, the focus tends to be on what God creates and the order in which it is created. He creates the heavens and the Earth, light, Heaven, land, plants, stars, the sun and the moon, moving animals, birds, sea creatures, land animals, and finally man and woman who would dominate all the other living things and eat all the plants. All of this he creates in six literal twenty four hour days despite creating the sun and the moon, which are our measure for a twenty four hour day on the third day of creation.
The theological approach begins by asking the question “What does the text say about God and the world?”. The issue of empirical fact is considered secondary to the message being communicated through the story. This approach treats the creation story as allegorical and makes the claim that the question of whether the story is truth or fiction is irrelevant to the message being communicated, much as with the parables of Jesus in the New Testament. Finding the theological meaning of the text requires a little more work than the literal approach because the theologian must look into the context of who is writing the story, who it is being written to, and what were the dominating ideas of reality at the time of writing, both within Israel and amongst her neighbours.
Themes and meanings that may be uncovered through a theological approach may include some of the following. God creates order out of chaos, rather than out of nothing. The ancient Jews were scared of water and the sea because to them it was a symbol of chaos and represented the demonic, the spirit of God hovering above the water shows that God is order, and separate from the chaos, and he draws the dry land itself from the chaos. The whole seven days of creation involve God separating things. This is important because the Jews have a lot of cultural beliefs about keeping things separated. The positioning of the creation of the Sun and the Moon on the fourth day, directly in the middle and the use of the terms meaning “greater lamp and lesser lamp” rather than the proper names of the Sun and the Moon is a deliberate statement that these heavenly bodies are not gods to be worshiped or which can have an effect on our daily lives, but are merely objects in the sky which produce light. There is significance that on the seventh day, God creates rest, suggesting that we work so that we may rest, rather than resting so that we may work.
By removing the need to make scripture line up with observable reality by altering one’s perception of both the language in the scripture and of external reality as a whole, the theological approach allows the reader set aside the apparent conflicts and focus on the deeper meaning. The literal approach seems to require altering the interpretation of the text to fit with observed reality, and there seems to be a high risk of missing the original intended meaning when this is done. In my own personal reflection on the ideas above, I find the theological approach far more appealing than the literal approach.