Observations on life; particularly spiritual

Posts tagged “bible

Environmentalism: Idolatry or Stewardship?

Greens election

Greens electionToday there is a national election in Australia. Key election issues include: the economy, jobs, health, education and the environment. The political parties seeking election included the Greens, the Renewable Energy Party, the Animal Justice Party, and the Sustainable Australia Party. This post looks at the foundation of the ethics and morals of the environmental movement.

I gave this message at a conference in 1998. It’s based on the situation over 18 years ago. Although the examples are now historical, most modern examples would be similar in many ways. Many people are still concerned about the natural environment.

Concern for the environment and pollution affects us all: we see and hear about it in the daily news media, it’s taught at all levels of education, it affects all businesses in some way, governments pass more and more laws about it, and in 1996, the first national “State of the Environment” report said that, “Australians are among the most environmentally aware people in the world”.

My background is in science (physics and mathematics) and environmental science. I am a certified environmental auditor, who audits environmental management systems for industry and businesses. In this message I will present the results of an audit of the foundations the environmental movement and of modern science. So we are looking at basic beliefs, values, viewpoints and assumptions.  The findings will be compared to the Bible, which I believe is God’s guidebook for humanity.

Environmentalism involves concern for the physical world, such as advocating protection and conservation of the natural environment. It’s a complex and recent subject that has developed over the past 30 years.

Model of aspects of environmentalism

A schematic diagram of aspects of environmentalism provides a framework for this message. The two main aspects of environmentalism are the principles, which are what we believe, and the practices, which are what we do. Our principles (assumptions and values) have a strong influence on our behavior. That’s why they are sometimes called “guiding principles”. This message is focused on the principles that can drive environmentalism.

Aspects cropped 400pxAccording to the Bruntland Report, “Our common future” (1987), “to achieve the goals of sustainable development, good environment, and decent standards of life for all involves very large changes in attitude”. Where do these attitudes come from? Our minds. If we are consistent, they are the principles that drive our practices. For example, if we believed in the golden rule (treat others as we would like them to treat us), then we would help others. Or, if we are selfish, we may ignore others or exploit them. But other things besides our principles can influence our behavior.

The schematic diagram shows how our assumptions and circumstances can also influence our behavior. For example, in the case of global warming; the principles are our worldview, values and ethics; the science is the mathematical models that predict temperatures and sea levels; the assumptions are those made in the scientific predictions; the circumstances are the technology available and the particular situation in each nation; and the practices are what each nation does in response to this issue.

In environmental auditing we begin by checking compliance with the organisation’s environmental policy because it contains their guiding principles, including philosophy, values, and ethics.

This message is focused on the principles of environmentalism and the assumptions of science. What are they? And, how do they compare with the Bible?

Principles of environmentalism

Environmentalism is based on a viewpoint that nature should be valued and protected. This is a pro-environment/conservation world view. Many world views have been explored in attempts to develop an ethical basis for environmentalism. There is range of viewpoints and philosophies within the environmental movement which overlap and can lead to conflicts. The three main categories of principles are based on the three main parts of our world. They are: human-centered, nature-centered, and God-centered.

Human-centered environmentalism

Nature is our life support system; we depend on it for survival. So people have a self-interest in the preservation of their environments. It’s important because of its impact on people. For example, ozone depletion in the upper atmosphere can increase risk of skin cancer. So we want to protect stratospheric ozone.

The two main ideas in this approach are conservation and preservation. Nature is a resource that needs to be conserved for human needs. So, Government Forestry Services manage forests to maintain productivity. Nature also needs to be protected for the enjoyment of all people. For example, zoos and nature parks.

Sometimes people can have a negative impact on the environment. For example, the exploitation of nature without consideration for sustainability.

Nature-centered environmentalism

This introduces the idea that nature has intrinsic value – it should be preserved unless it conflicts with something of greater value. In this category we will look at two approaches: species centered and ecosystem centered.

The first approach says that species have rights or intrinsic value. For example, animal rights are promoted – as they have a value of their own, we should seek to minimise our impact on animals. This can lead to treating other species as though they were human. Stephen Gould advocates applying the golden rule to nature and the environment, “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Lk. 6:31NIV). Similar rules exist in other religions as well. This means treating nature as we would want to be treated. But try applying this to an ant! It would be difficult avoiding killing an ant as we walk around.

The second approach acts for the good of all nature, not just human interests. This is more holistic as it involves the whole ecosystem/biosphere. This can lead to reverence for nature and wilderness, such as deep ecology. Here all natural things (ecosystems, life, landscape) have an intrinsic right to exist and there is a feeling of being connected with nature. This in turn can lead to Gaia theory (which is named after the ancient Greek earth goddess), where the earth is viewed as a single organism, like a living thing. It claims that evolution is not random, but is directed by Gaia.

These modern ideas are similar to ancient ones where nature has a spirituality. Animism is the belief that all natural objects and the universe possesses a soul. And pantheism is the belief that: God is not a personality, but a force; the universe exists of itself; all natural happenings are God, and that God is everything and everything is God; and Mother Nature replaces God.

Examples of these principles of environmentalism are given in the Appendix 1.

Problems with these principles of environmentalism

Human-centered environmentalism is not sufficient, as it omits much of the ecosphere. So most environmentalists have stopped using this approach.

Nature-centered environmentalism also has limitations, particularly with regard to species rights, sanctity of life and intrinsic value. For example: How can we determine priority between species? Is there a hierarchy of rights? Catastrophes (e.g. fires, droughts, storms, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes) that kill huge numbers of organisms are a part of nature. So nature can be destructive. It does not act as a perfect God, unless you believe in a God who can be evil. As species are interdependent (can be linked by a chain of dependence), this leads to saying that “all aspects of nature have intrinsic value” – but it is impossible to preserve everything. And it doesn’t help to solve day-to-day environmental problems.

God-centered environmentalism

We now turn to the Biblical viewpoint of the physical environment (values, principles, truths). We need to realize that the Bible contains basic principles which can be applied to all areas of our life. It contains God’s plans for the natural world (its history and its destiny) and how He intends us to live in it.

We will look at three Biblical principles here: creation, the gospel, and stewardship.

Doctrine of creation

This has two parts: God as creator, and God as sustainer. First, God created everything. “God made the world and everything in it” (Acts 17:24-28). “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible” (Heb. 11:3).  So God is the sole source of all that exists. “Everything God created is good” (1 Tim. 4:4). Jesus is “the author of life” (Acts 3:15), “He made the universe” (Heb. 1:2). “All things were created through Him and for Him” (Col. 1:16). “God saw all that He had made, and it was very good” (Gen 1:31) – Eden was paradise.

Creation is separate to the Creator. “They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshipped and served created things rather than the Creator” (Rom 1:25).

God owns creation. “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it” (Ps. 24:1).

The awe and beauty of nature. “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–His eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse” (Rom. 1:20).

The relationship between God, people and nature can be summarized as follows. God is infinite and personal. People are finite and personal. Animals, plants and machines are finite and impersonal. So humanity has special value, we share personality with God. We were made in God’s image, and people still have some of God’s image (Gen 9:6). Also, God came to earth as a man. So the Bible says that humans are both a part of nature (but not on the basis of biological unity), and apart from nature (like God). Nature is not our Mother, it is our brother and sister (as we are both created things).

“For this is what the LORD says– He who created the heavens, He is God; He who fashioned and made the earth, He founded it; He did not create it to be empty, but formed it to be inhabited” (Isa 45:18). So, creation has value because God made it and owns it.

Second, God sustains everything.

Jesus – “sustaining all things by His powerful word” (Heb. 1:3). “In Him all things hold together” (Col. 1:17). “in Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight” (Heb. 4:13). So the bible teaches that God sustains natural processes. The creation is dependent on the Creator for its continuing existence.

This includes the forces that hold things together (such as nuclear forces and gravity). Without Him all things would fly apart! God also cares for birds and vegetation. “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” (Mt. 6:26). “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin.” (Mt.6:28). “If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will He not much more clothe you – you of little faith?” (Mt. 6:30).

We can view God’s power and presence in nature, like electricity flows through a wire.  The wire is not the electricity, but it can be the vehicle through which the electricity flows.  God is not nature and nature is not God. To think that would be a to think like a pantheist and not a Christian. But in this sense, God is in nature.

“Your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you … Therefore, honor God with your bodies” (1 Cor. 6:19-20). Our bodies and senses should be used and appreciated for God. Similarly, all creation has been made by God and He sustains it, therefore, honor God as you interact and appreciate the physical world.

“Do not offer any part of yourself to sin, as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to Him as an instrument of righteousness” (Rom. 6:13). So the body and the physical world can be viewed as an instrument (or tool) which can be used for good or bad. We should honor God in our way of living in the material world – and work out what this means in the various areas of our life.

The gospel

The gospel is the good news, that addresses the bad news. God created a perfect universe, but because of the fall into sin when Adam and Eve disobeyed God, the universe is now flawed. To fix the situation, God sent Jesus to enable redemption and restoration. Those who accept what Jesus did are promised eternal life in the new heaven and new earth, while those who reject it face eternal punishment.

The fall into sin led to suffering, decay and death (Gen. 3; Rom. 8). Genesis 3 is one of the most important chapters in the Bible. God cursed not only people, but also nature, because of human sin. It explains the problem of evil in our world, in both humanity and in nature. It’s the ultimate cause of environmental problems. We live in a fallen world, different to the original condition of “very good”. Nature is abnormal, and it can be destructive. Environmentalist try to stop death in the environment. The fall explains death.

Now looking at redemption and restoration. Christians are seen as being part of a new creation, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: the old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Cor. 5:17). Through Jesus, people can be reconciled to God. The biblical visions of the kingdom of God are visions of people in harmony with nature. The Bible teaches that the effects of the curse on nature will end and nature will be restored to its original splendor (it will be a sinless, deathless paradise, reconciled to God). Nature will also enjoy with Christians the effects of redemption.

“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. The creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.
We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently” (Rom. 8:18-25). So all of creation is looking for redemption by God; not by people like us.

Christians share the gospel message with many people, even though they know that probably only a few will respond. Likewise, Christians ought to be willing to care for the created world, even though they know that they can’t bring full restoration.

Our bodies and the physical world will be transformed one day (like Jesus after His resurrection). The restoration will be through Jesus; “to reconcile to Himself (God) all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven” (Col. 1:20). “Heaven must receive Him (Christ) until the time comes for God to restore everything, as He promised long ago through His holy prophets” (Acts 3:21). When God judges the ungodly, the earth will be destroyed by fire and replaced by a new heaven and a new earth (2 Pt. 3:7-13). And we “are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells”.

God will then live with mankind as in the Garden of Eden, “There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Rev. 21:1-8).

Doctrine of Stewardship

God told Adam and Eve, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground” (Gen 1:28). “Subdue” (“kabask” in Hebrew) means to conquer. “Rule” (“radah” in Hebrew) is generally used to describe the righteous and loving rule of a good and kind king. For example, King Solomon “ruled over all the kingdoms west of the Euphrates River, from Tiphsah to Gaza, and had peace on all sides. During Solomon’s lifetime Judah and Israel, from Dan to Beersheba, lived in safety, everyone under their own vine and under their own fig tree” (1 Ki. 4:24-25).

God told Adam how this rule is to be carried out. “The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work (“abad” in Hebrew) it and take care (“shama” in Hebrew) of it” (Gen. 2:15). Elsewhere “abad” is translated to “serve” (e.g. “we will serve the Lord”, Josh. 24:15) and “sharma” is translated to “keep”, “watch” or “preserve” (e.g. “The Lord bless you and keep you”, Num. 6:24).  God keeps His people in such a way to demonstrate His great love and care. All this was given before the fall of man, so there is no suggestion of evil or exploitation of nature here. So, Adam managed the garden of Eden. Before the fall there was perfect harmony between humanity and the environment.

As God owns the world, Christians can be seen as His stewards (or managers, a delegated authority). A “steward” is a manager of a household (e.g. Lk. 16:1-9). Peter also used it as a metaphor for believers, “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms” (1 Pt. 4:10).

Stewardship means caring for creation as God would. And we are accountable to God. For example, in the Old Testament there was a Sabbath rest for animals and a Sabbath year rest for agricultural land (Ex. 20:10; 23:10-11).

The assumptions of modern science

Science provides a useful method for finding out things about the way the world works. The assumptions and boundaries of “science” largely determine the findings of science. Only theories consistent with these are acceptable to science. We will look at three major assumptions of science.

Doctrine of Naturalism

Science assumes a naturalistic world where the physical universe is all that exists. Nature is all there is. So, everything is explained in terms of mechanical processes. God only exists as an idea in the minds of religious believers. Naturalism is associated with: materialism -there is only matter (no unseen world of souls, spirits or deities) and atheism – there is no God. This limits science to naturalistic theories. As science excludes the supernatural (by definition), a model or explanation that incorporates supernatural intervention (e.g. creative intelligence), cannot be called “scientific”. Therefore, “Creation science” is impossible. As a result, science is unable to disprove the spiritual, as whatever it discovers is “natural” by definition.

Doctrine of Evolution

Science assumes an evolving world (mainly because the only alternative is an act of creation by a God). Mutation and selection are assumed to be the driving forces of evolution. As naturalism and evolution are assumptions of science, science cannot be used to prove these.

Examples of these doctrines of science are given in the Appendix 2.

Doctrine of Uniformity

Science usually assumes the present is the key to the past and the future. Sometimes there is immense extrapolation into the past (e.g. speculation on the origin of life) and into the future (e.g. speculation on global warming), without proper consideration of assumptions and uncertainty. I call this speculative science. It fails to recognize that many deep questions are unanswered and will probably never be definitively answered, given the limits of science. For example, how was the universe created?

Consequences for Christianity

Once science was based on what was able to be observed, repeated and tested. But these assumptions have been added in such a way that anything outside this scope is deemed to be unscientific and false. When applied to situations outside the scope of observational science, this approach renders all other viewpoints false. For example, it means that there is no need to prove that evolution happened. Instead they just say that it happened with no need for a rigorous proof. In this way, science has used evolution to destroy Christianity. This is explained below.

Biblical viewpoint of evolution

Putting the doctrine of evolution (one of the assumptions of modern science) to the test.  The Bible contains three clear tests for determining what is true and false:

The Jesus test: Who was Jesus Christ?
“This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God …. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood” (1 Jn. 4:2-6).

The gospel test: Is it a different gospel?
“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel–which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse!” (Gal. 1:6-8).

The fruit test: What kind of fruit is evident?
“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?  Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. …  Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them” (Mt. 7:15-20).

Here’s how evolution goes in these tests.

The Jesus test

According to evolution, there is no need for a Savior. Jesus was only a human being, not divine. He was not the Creator (as there is no need for one), or the “second Adam”, as there was no Adam who disobeyed God in the first place. So, it fails the Jesus test.

The gospel test

Gospel test.cropped 400pxThe gospel according to evolution is compared with the gospel according to the Bible in the schematic diagram. This shows they are totally different. And evolution undermines all aspects of the gospel – all basic Biblical truths.

Evolution provides a new creation story, “As a story of creation, the book of Genesis long ago crumbled under the weight of science, notably Darwin’s theory of natural selection (Time, 4 Nov. 1996, p80).

If evolution is true, then death and suffering is not the result of sin. “According to Genesis, nature is in essence benign … But according to Darwinism, the evil in nature lies at its very roots, instilled by its creator, natural selection” (Time, 4 Nov. 1996, p81). The biological roots of sin are attributed to impulses that arose by natural selection and that were then inherited as they enhanced the chances of survival and reproduction. This means that sin, death and suffering are an inherent part of nature from the beginning of time.

So there is no need for a Savior and heaven and hell don’t exist. Its message is that “salvation comes through science”.

The fruit test – the fruits of evolution

The idea of evolution supports and is associated with: naturalism, materialism, atheism, humanism (humanity is self-sufficient; capable of solving all his difficulties), and pantheism.

Acceptance of the idea of evolution leads to the following:
Less value on human life (practices such as abortion and euthanasia are more acceptable).  Another example from the past is racism (e.g. Australian Aboriginals were considered to be biologically inferior to Europeans. This was justified by biological determinism promoted by evolutionary anthropology).
Less value on family life (marriage less important, divorce is more acceptable)
Less value on morals (truth is now relative, not absolute).
A “might is right” attitude, which supports the strong, but not the weak (survival of the fittest, a competitive world, compassion involves saving “weak genes”).

These are fruits of the sinful nature, not the divine nature. So the doctrine of evolution is a major cause behind many of the problems in our society.

Results of the tests

So the “doctrine of evolution” fails all three Biblical tests. This means it’s a false doctrine, an idol, the creation story and religion of modern science.

Summary

Modern environ cropped 400pxSecular environmentalism represents a new religion (see schematic diagram). By trying to introduce ethics and morals into a world that has discarded the Bible, most environmentalists adopt ethics which are centered on humanity or nature and they follow the idols of: humanism, atheism or pantheism. These are all justified by belief in evolution (which is also an idol). Idolatry is following ideas that replace the Creator God. Although they claim to be wise, such environmentalists are foolish because their actions are based on a lie (a false idea) (Rom. 1:22, 25). Due to the influence of these philosophies, claims are often made in the name of science that go far beyond the available evidence.

Biblical environ cropped 400pxBut the Bible gives us a God-centered view of the world, it reveals the Creator, and gives us responsibility to care for the creation as God’s stewards. Biblical environmentalism (see schematic diagram) can be based on Biblical principles and assumptions. The principles include: creation, sustenance, the fall (these three show that in some respects, the past is the key to the present), redemption, restoration and stewardship. Besides the natural world, this assumes the supernatural (there is more than the physical world), special creation (which can’t be explained by current laws), and possible catastrophes (so we need to be careful when extrapolating). Let’s care for creation as God’s stewards (or managers).

Appendix 1
Examples of principles of environmentalism

The Rio declaration on Environment and development (1992) has 27 principles, including:
Principle 1 “Human beings are at the center of concerns for sustainable development. They are entitled to a healthy and productive life in harmony with nature” – Human centered
Principle 3 “The right to development must be fulfilled so as to equitably meet development and environmental needs of present and future generations” – Human centered
Principle 7 “States shall cooperate in a spirit of global partnership to conserve, protect and restore the health and integrity of the earth’s ecosystem” – Ecosystem centered

Agenda 21 is the program to implement the Rio declaration. It proposes a program for action for sustainable development. Its Preamble says:
“Humanity stands at a defining moment in history. We are confronted with a perpetuation of disparities between and within nations, a worsening of poverty, hunger, ill health and illiteracy, and the continuing deterioration of the ecosystems on which we depend for our well-being. However, integration of environment and development concerns and greater attention to them will lead to the fulfilment of basic needs, improved living standards for all, better protected and managed ecosystems and a safer, more prosperous future” – Human centered

The National “State of the Environment” report says, “Preserving Australia’s biodiversity is important for four reasons”. One of these is Ethics which means that “no species and no generation has the right to remove earth’s resources solely for its own benefit” – Nature centered

The objectives of the NSW EPA include:
“reduce the risks to human health and prevent the degradation of the environment” – Human centered, and “achieve Ecologically Sustainable Development by implementing: the precautionary principle (being cautious), intergenerational equity (protect the environment for future generations)” – Human centered, “conservation of biological diversity & ecological integrity” – Species & ecosystem centered and “improved valuation & pricing of environmental resources” (using economics).

Greenpeace’s philosophy is:
“Ecology teaches us that humankind is not the center of life on the planet. Ecology has taught us that the whole earth is part of our body, and that we must learn to respect it as we respect ourselves. As we feel for ourselves, we must feel for all forms of life – the whales, the seals, the forests, the seas. The tremendous beauty of ecological thought is that it shows us a pathway back to an understanding and an appreciation of life itself – and understanding and appreciation that is imperative to that very way of life” – Ecosystem centered, leading to pantheism.

The Australian Conservation Foundation Mission is loaded with evolutionary assumptions:
“The conservation ethic reveres the enormous sweep and splendor of life, through three million millennia of geological time and its spread into many millions of diverse species and habitats. It is conscious that Homo sapiens is but a relative newcomer. From this perspective, it seeks to approach other species and their environments with humility and without arrogance” – Nature centered, reveres evolution
“It seeks to sustain diverse and active living communities in which non-human life can resume, in comparative tranquillity, the ponderous process of evolution which has been so disrupted and confused by the interruption of man” – Nature centered
“Intrinsic to the ethic is the recognition that human life is an integral part of this slow, inexorable and continuing evolutionary process; that our own adaption results from it and our destiny is tied to its continuance; our genes carry chemical messages shared with many other species now living and with many progenitors extending back to the beginning of life. Consequently, conformity with the conservation ethic confers benefits on humanity in terms of greater efficiency and satisfaction in meeting basic human needs and producing more resilient, supportive and fulfilling communities” – link to Human centered via evolution
Against these threats, conservation seeks to hold the earth in trust for future generations, both human and non-human” – Ecosystem centered,

The UN Environment Program: “Caring for natural resources and promoting their sustainable use is an essential response of the world community to ensure its own survival and well-being” – Human centered

The Director General of UNESCO: “Unlike modern industrial society, many traditional cultures promote not only the need but the sacred duty for people to live in symbiosis with their natural environment … Our greatest need at the present time is perhaps for a global ethic – transcending all other systems of allegiance and belief – rooted in the consciousness of the interrelatedness and sanctify of all life. Such an ethic would tamper humanities acquired knowledge and power with wisdom of the kind found at the heart of the most ancient human traditions and cultures – in Taoism and Zen (Buddhist), in the understandings of the Hopi and the Maya Indians, in the Vedas (Hindu scripture) and the Psalms, in the very origins of human culture itself” – Ecosystem centered, leading to pantheism & other religions

“The theme of Theodore Roszak’s book The Voice of the Earth is our relationship to the natural world  … He proposes a new relationship to nature, one based on modern science which regards the world as a living organism, a dynamic system with the capacity to self-regulate  … possible solutions which Roszak envisions in an ecologically-grounded form of animism  …  The motivation for change on a planetary level must rise from deep within. This is where we must hear the voice of the earth, as she expresses herself through us as a genuine person need for a new quality of life. Her voice can bring us in contact with the ecological unconscious, the parts of the soul that we have lost touch with. What are needed are ‘ecological goals that can heal the psyche, psychological values that can heal the planet’” (Habitat May 94, p53) – Pantheism

Appendix 2
Examples the doctrines of science (
in the field of ecology)

Nature in its infinite wisdom gave our animals soft feet so they would be gentle on Australia’s fragile soils” (Habitat, Dec 96, p5).

“Throughout evolution, only two kinds of eyes have ever been invented. One is the vertebrate eye, which works like a single-lens camera; the other is the compound eye of insects and crustaceans” (NA, Winter 97, p34).

“Some animals have evolved to look like other animals or even plants, thereby reducing predator pressure” (NA, Autumn 96, p8).

“We’re the dominant species on the planet; at the top of the food chain; at the top of the evolutionary tree. The way we got there is by being incredibly ruthless and self-centered” (NA, Autumn 96, p47).

“Frogs worldwide have evolved almost 30 different ways of reproducing” (NA, Summer 94-95, p64).

“As a group, spiders have developed an astounding array of techniques to capture and immobilize their prey” (NA, Spring 94, p17).

“The ‘apeman’ – australopithecines – did not die out. We are those apemen, just as living apes are members of the group from which they descended. In the same way, dinosaurs didn’t die out – they are still alive and kicking as birds. All that’s happened is an evolutionary change through time in the shape of the creatures in these long-lasting lineages” (NA, Winter  94, p68).

An academic – Judith Kinnear (Sydney University Gazette, Apr 96, p25)
“The Darwinian model of evolution by natural selection enriches many of my everyday experiences: my walks in the Australian bush make me ponder a unique flora that evolved after the break-up of the Gondwana super-continent; my visits to the zoo reveal the living products of divergent evolution that fall into an orderly pattern; my viewing of a TV program on the appearance of antibiotic resistance in harmless bacteria transforming them into untreatable killers reminds me of the ongoing impact of evolutionary forces”. This shows that the doctrine of evolution is now embedded in our society. Everyone is indoctrinated in it so that it’s a worldview or paradigm and like a religion.

Written, January 1998; Posted, July 2016

Also see: Recognizing false teachers


Strong and weak spiritual foundations

Storm 2 400px

Storm 2 400pxHeavy rain, strong winds and high tides battered the eastern coast of Australia recently. Sections of some seaside homes in Sydney were washed into the ocean during huge swell. And floods caused extensive damage in Tasmania.

This reminds me of the story that Jesus told about two builders (Mt. 7:24-27; Lk. 6:47-49). The wise one built their house on a strong rock foundation, while the foolish one built their house on a weak sandy foundation. When a storm came, the house on the strong foundation wasn’t damaged, but the one on the weak foundation collapsed and was destroyed.

This blogpost looks and our spiritual foundations and how these can be strong or weak.

Types of spiritual foundations

An awareness of the spiritual aspect of life can help us get through tough times. This can give us a different perspective on life and help us see the big picture. But what sort of foundation is our spirituality based on? Obviously, strong robust and reliable foundations are better that weak fragile and unreliable foundations. As a building’s foundations affect the building, so our spiritual foundations affect our spiritual life and thereby our physical life.

In many ways our spirituality and our interpretation of doctrine and theology is based on what we believe is the source or foundation of our spiritual authority. This authority or foundation depends on our assumption about God’s revelation to humanity. There are two main viewpoints or paradigms. The first is that God has revealed Himself only in the Christian Bible. And the second is that God continues to reveal Himself by means outside the Bible.

The Bible also says that God is revealed in a general sense in His physical creation (Rom. 1:20) and in the human conscience (Rom. 2:15). But these types of general revelation aren’t addressed in this post.

Only Biblical revelation

The first main viewpoint about how God reveals himself to us is based on the historical record in the Bible, which was written between 1430 BC and AD 95. There are two main sections in the Bible. The Old Testament is God’s revelation before the birth of Christ, when the Israelites were God’s people. It was written by prophets who received the message from God “as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pt. 1:20-21NIV). The New Testament is God’s revelation in the first century AD. It has two subsections: the gospels describe the final years of the old Jewish covenant, while the remainder describes the early church, when Christians were God’s people. The Bible teaches that together the Old and New Testaments provide all we need to know about God and His interaction with humanity.

Although the Bible wasn’t written to us, it contains information and principles that are still relevant today. When we apply a Bible passage to our lives we need to discern who it was written to, the era being described and the universal principle being taught. In particular, we need to be careful interpreting and applying passages written about the Jewish era because we live in the Christian era, not the Jewish one. We will now look at some Bible passages that support this viewpoint.

In the context of persecution of Christians and dealing with false teachers, Paul told Timothy, “from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:15-17). So the words of the Bible are the words of God Himself. Also, the Bible is both necessary and sufficient to show us the way of salvation and to equip us for Christian living. Salvation is through faith in Jesus Christ, not via any of the teachings given below under “Continual revelation”. The gospel of Jesus Christ described in the New Testament is the only strong spiritual foundation (1 Cor. 3:11; Eph. 2:20).

In the context of disunity within a local church, Paul quoted the saying, “Do not go beyond what is written” (2 Cor. 4:6). He wanted the believers in Corinth to evaluate everything and everyone by the Scriptures. He didn’t want them to put other teachers or other teachings above Scripture. Their authority was to be Scripture and nothing else or no-one else.

Canon complete

The last commandment in the Bible is a warning, “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this scroll. And if anyone takes words away from this scroll of prophecy, God will take away from that person any share in the tree of life and in the Holy City, which are described in this scroll” (Rev. 22:18-19). There are similar warnings in the Old Testament (Dt. 4:2; Prov. 30:5-6). As the subjects of the book of Revelation are woven throughout the Bible, this passage condemns any tampering with Scripture. Since the book of Revelation was completed, no new written or verbal prophecy has ever been universally recognized by Christians as divine truth from God. The Scriptures are final and complete.

Jesus told the apostles that the Holy Spirit would “teach you all things” and “guide you into all the truth” (Jn. 14:26; 16:13). We have this truth recorded by the apostles and their associates in the New Testament. Today the Holy Spirit can use Scripture to guide us into all the truth. Paul told the Ephesians “the whole will of God” (Acts 20:27), which was “revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets” and written down in Scripture (Eph. 3:4-5).

Jude said that the Christian faith documented by the apostles was “once for all entrusted to God’s holy people” (Jude 3). This means it’s complete and not subject to change. So the Bible is a closed system of truth, with no new revelation being given through inspired prophets or apostles. It’s God’s complete revelation, containing all the spiritual truth that God wants us to know. Through it, God has revealed everything He wants us to know about spiritual matters. And nothing has been lost from God’s revelation.

go-kart-tragedy 2 400pxIn April 2010, a 26-year-old woman was driving a go-kart at Port Stephens, when part of her clothing became entangled in the drive axle of her vehicle, strangling her and resulting in her death. The operator was fined $32,000 with costs of $18,000 for failing to comply with two Australian Standards for amusement rides and devices. The standard says go-kart riders were required to “not wear loose fitting clothing that could become entangled in any part of the kart” and the moving parts of the go-kart must be covered. Failing to follow this safety standard was physically dangerous. Likewise, failing to follow the Bible is spiritually dangerous because the Bible is God’s spiritual standard for us.

Continual revelation

The second main viewpoint is that God continues to reveal Himself by means outside the Bible. These extra-biblical revelations may include religious teachings, religious books, traditions, or ongoing revelation via dreams, visions or prophecies.

In this case it is assumed that Christ’s promise to send the Holy Spirit to “guide you into all the truth” implies that new truth will continue to be revealed after the Bible was complete (Jn. 16:13). However, this promise was written to people who attended a Jewish synagogue, so it wasn’t written directly to us today (Jn. 16:2). Instead the new truth was revealed after the day of Pentecost and written in the New Testament for us to learn about today.

Other religious teachings

Some religious teachings aren’t consistent with the teachings of the Bible. For example, the teachings: that salvation is by grace plus works, that salvation can be obtained after death, that Jesus isn’t God, that God isn’t a trinity, that baptism is necessary for salvation, that infants should be baptized, that hell isn’t eternal punishment, that Sabbath worship is for the churches today, that Revelation 6-22 is not about the future, that God has finished with Israel and the church has replaced Israel, that Mary was sinless, that the Pope is infallible, that prophets are infallible, and that God decides who will be saved and who will be condemned.

Because they differ from what the Bible teaches, these beliefs should be rejected. To accept such teachings as a spiritual authority or foundation means giving them more authority than the Bible. In the previous section we saw that the Bible is the only reliable standard of spiritual truth. It’s superior to these other religious teachings, which contain the thoughts of fallible people like us.

As Scripture is the ultimate spiritual foundation and authority, all religious teachings should be tested against the Bible. Only those consistent with the Bible are reliable and to be accepted. The rest should be rejected as false human ideas.

Other religious books

Religious books like the Book of Mormon, the Muslim Koran, the Hindu Shruti, the Buddhist Tripitaka, “Science and health with key to the Scriptures” of Christian Science, Education in the New Age, and the Scientology Handbook, claim to be the word of God. And the evolutionary ideas of Darwin’s “On the Origin of species” are used to promote atheism. But these books always contradict the Bible in some way. For example, the Koran teaches that Jesus was just another prophet, whereas the Bible teaches that He was the divine Son of God -– the way, the truth and the life. Only one of these can be right. They can’t both be right! If you try to combine the two, then you must disregard some of the teachings of the Bible. So to accept another religious book as a spiritual authority or foundation, means giving it more authority than the Bible. We have seen that the Bible is the only reliable standard of spiritual truth. It’s superior to the other religious books, which contain the thoughts of fallible people like us.

None of these sacred books can meet even one of the standards on which the canon of the Bible was established. For example, their authors don’t satisfy the biblical definition of a prophet or an apostle or have a direct link to such a person (like Mark, Luke and James).

As Scripture is the ultimate spiritual foundation and authority, all religious books should be tested against the Bible. Only those consistent with the Bible are reliable and to be accepted. The rest should be rejected as false human ideas.

Other human traditions

After the Jewish religious leaders asked “why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders” … Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother’ and ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’ But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is ‘devoted to God,’ they are not to ‘honor their father or mother’ with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition” (Mt. 15:1-6). So Jesus placed Scripture above tradition. In this case, a tradition had been developed to avoid supporting aged parents.

Paul warned, “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ” (Col. 2:8). Here he writes against religious teachings that aren’t based on the Bible. These human speculations become traditions when they are adopted as customs.

To accept such traditions as a spiritual authority or foundation means giving them more authority than the Bible. We have seen that the Bible is the only reliable standard of spiritual truth. It’s superior to other traditions, which contain the thoughts of fallible people like us.

As Scripture is the ultimate spiritual foundation and authority, all traditions should be tested against the Bible. Only those consistent with the Bible are reliable and to be accepted. The rest should be rejected as false human ideas.

Extra-biblical visions

Paul warns those in Colossae: “a person also goes into great detail about what they have seen; they are puffed up with idle notions by their unspiritual mind” (Col. 2:18-19). They loved talking on and on about their spiritual experiences (which probably included visions of angels), but in reality these were only coming out of their own mind. Dreams and visions are subjective experiences. In those days, the Gnostics entered into ecstatic experiences which had no basis in biblical revelation. Since the canon of Scripture (the list of books that belong in the Bible) has closed, there is no further need for more revelation from God.

In contrast to the written word of God, spiritual experiences and feelings are also subjective and can’t be verified. And when interpreting Scripture, we need to ensure our experiences and biases don’t distort the process. Instead, we should test our experience against the Bible.

To accept dreams, visions and spiritual experiences as a spiritual authority or foundation means giving them more authority than the Bible. We have seen that the Bible is the only reliable standard of spiritual truth. It’s superior to dreams, visions and experiences, which contain the thoughts of fallible people like us.

As Scripture is the ultimate spiritual foundation and authority, all dreams, visions, and experiences should be tested against the Bible. Only those consistent with the Bible are reliable and to be accepted. The rest should be rejected as false human ideas.

Extra-biblical prophecies

The Bible says that prophecy is a direct message from God (Dt. 18:18). In the chapter on love, Paul wrote “Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease … For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears” (1 Cor. 13:8-10). The Corinthians had been occupied with spiritual gifts like prophecy but Paul says love is more important because it lasts longer than prophecy.

So, before the completion of the New Testament, God gave messages to the church by prophecies, but sometime after that the prophecies would cease and disappear. When is that time? The Bible says it’s “when completeness comes”. There are two main views about this.
– When there is perfection, which occurs when we go to heaven.
– Or when the New Testament was complete, which was about 40 years after Paul wrote this letter.

The second view is the best explanation. Two situations are being compared in this passage, the “partial” and the “complete”; the “now” and the “then” (v.9-10, 12). The gift of prophecy in the New Testament church was God’s partial revelation before His full revelation was available when the Bible was completed. Paul gives two illustrations of this (v.11-12). The first compares childhood to adulthood (or immaturity to maturity). The second compares seeing something in a dim mirror to seeing it in a clear mirror (or limited sight to full sight, or indistinct to distinct). Then he says, “now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (v.12). As the “know in part” was individual prophecies, the “know fully” was the complete collection of prophecies. So at a future time this knowledge changes from being partial to being complete. The complete revelation in the New Testament gives us all we need to know from a divine viewpoint.

Then he says, “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love” (v.13). So, after prophecy has “ceased”, faith hope and love “remain”. They last longer than prophecy. How long? Faith and hope last in our lifetime; that is until we get to heaven, which means when we die or when Christ returns at the rapture. That’s when our faith will be replaced by sight and our hope will be realized (Rom. 8:24; Heb. 11:1). But love is the greatest because it goes on for eternity when we will be with God, who is love.

Why is this a better explanation than saying that prophecy continues until the rapture? First, it’s obvious that all physical activities such as spiritual gifts finish when we die. That’s a no-brainer! So if this was the meaning, why mention it all? Second, the text implies that prophecy ceases before faith and hope. They don’t cease at the same time. Third, it’s consistent with the canon of the Bible being complete. Because new revelations (or prophecies) would be adding to what’s in the Bible. Fourth, the context is revelation from God, not fellowship with God. Fifth, “complete” (or “whole”) is a better match for “partial” (they are both quantitative words), whereas “perfect” (or “unblemished”) doesn’t match “partial” (one is quantitative and the other is qualitative). Sixth, the Greek word translated “complete” (teleios Strongs #5046) is also used in James 1:25 to describe Scripture.

So the spiritual gift of prophecy was temporary for when the apostles were writing the New Testament. During this period divine guidance was provided through gifts such as prophecy. Each prophecy provided only a part of the complete revelation given in the New Testament. For example, Paul didn’t have the writings of John. In the Bible, the Old Testament is called a “prophetic message” and the New Testament “prophetic writings” (Rom. 16:26; 2 Pet. 1:19-20).

Going back to the builders mentioned at the beginning of this message. The wise builder is like those who obey Scripture, while the foolish builder is like those who disobey Scripture (Mt. 7:24, 26). In the same passage, Jesus also said that true and false prophets are distinguished by their fruit, where good fruit symbolizes those who obey Scripture and bad fruit symbolizes those who disobey Scripture (Mt. 7:15-20). So Jesus taught the Jews to use Scripture to test prophecies. Likewise, we should use Scripture to test prophecies.

As the Scriptures are final and complete, there is no need for new prophecy (direct revelation from God) today. The revelation God has given in Scripture is totally adequate to instruct us in the things of God now. As Scripture is complete, any teaching or revelation that’s not consistent with the Bible is not God-given. There’s no ongoing new revelation.

To accept new prophecies as a spiritual authority or foundation means giving them more authority than the Bible. We have seen that the Bible is the only reliable standard of spiritual truth. It’s superior to these prophecies, which contain the thoughts of fallible people like us.

As Scripture is the ultimate spiritual foundation and authority, all prophecies should be tested against the Bible. Only those consistent with the Bible are reliable and to be accepted. The rest should be rejected as false human ideas.

Lessons for us

In the age of the internet and the credit card, we are warned about financial scams. Recently one of our credit cards was cancelled because of a rouge transaction of $970. But what about spiritual scams? Are we spiritually intelligent to distinguish the true from the false? Or are we gullible? Do we reject error?

We have seen that the only strong, robust and reliable spiritual foundation is the Christian Bible. Do we base our spiritual life on Scripture? Do we trust objective Scripture more than we trust our subjective feelings? This is the only spiritual foundation that can help us survive the storms of life. It’s important because our view of Scripture can affect our eternal destiny.

Other spiritual foundations which rely on religious teachings, religious books, traditions, dreams, visions, experiences or modern prophecies and are inconsistent with Scripture are weak, fragile and unreliable. Are we confused with all the foundations available in the spiritual supermarket? Do we test everything against Scripture? Do we only accept what is consistent with the Bible? Or in the spirit of tolerance (which is the spirit of our age), do we accept these weak foundations and risk our lives collapsing in the storms of life?

Let’s take the safe option of a strong spiritual foundation (Eph. 2:20).

Written, June 2016


The role of women in the church

hillary-clinton

hillary-clintonFor the first time, a major political party has a woman, Hillary Clinton, as the front runner for President of the United States. Gains in educational achievement and advances in the economic and social standing of women have been noticeable over the past 50 years. Their changing roles and status has an impact on the family, the church and society.

This blogpost is a survey of what some key passages in the Bible teach about the role of women in the church. These passages are commonly used to determine whether there are any limits to this role. After looking at what they meant in the first century, we present the range of meanings taken to apply today. These notes relate to a church meeting when men are present. So they don’t apply to an activity where men are absent, such as women’s ministries or children’s ministries.

  1. Galatians 3:28 (written AD 50)

ESV: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus”.
HCSB: “There is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus”.
NET: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female—for all of you are one in Christ Jesus”.
NIV: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus”.

Context

The letter to the Galatians is about the contrast between the law of Moses and faith in Christ and whether new Christians needed to follow Jewish practises such as male circumcision.

The paragraph (3:26-29) is about all Christians about being children (or “sons” in ESV, HCSB, NET) of God through faith in Christ. Paul describes how it happens (v.26), when it happens (v.27), what is changed from being under the law of Moses (v.28) and the resultant inheritance (v.29). Consequently, they share a kind of unity and the inheritance promised to Abraham which was fulfilled in Christ.

Meaning then

In Christianity there is a unity between people that was absent under the law of Moses. The diverse believers in Galatia were united in oneness in Christ. Regardless of race, social class or gender, now they all had the same spiritual status before God.

Note that as human role distinctions have nothing to do with our spiritual significance before God, these aren’t being addressed in this verse. However, because of belief in gender equality, today some people include gender roles in the scope of this verse.

Universal principle

Because they are united through their common relationship with Christ, God does not recognize human distinctions amongst true believers. All true Christians are equal with regard to salvation, our position before God and our inheritance. Every Christian, regardless of race, social class or gender, has the same spiritual status before God.

Those passionate about gender equality, extend the spiritual unity to equality in gender roles in the church.

Meaning now

The following options have been suggested as to how this verse applies in the church today.

  • Accept all fellow Christians without showing bias, discrimination or favoritism. “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God” (Rom. 15:7NIV). In this case, the role of women in the church is outside the scope of this verse.
  • Or, a more recent application is that women can take the same roles in the church as men. This assumes that women and men are equal in all respects, including participation in all church meetings.

Link to more detailed article
https://georgesjournal.net/2016/03/02/what-does-galatians-328-mean/

  1. 1 Corinthians 11:5 (written AD 55)

ESV: “but every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since it is the same as if her head were shaven”.
HCSB: “But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since that is one and the same as having her head shaved”.
NET: “For if a woman will not cover her head, she should cut off her hair. But if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, she should cover her head”.
NIV: “But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is the same as having her head shaved.”

Context

The letter of 1 Corinthians addresses the problems in the church in Corinth and answers their questions. It addresses topics such as factions, sexual immorality, marital difficulties, lawsuits, abuse of the Lord’s Supper, and misuse of spiritual gifts.

The section (11:2-16) is about whether the head should be covered or not during prayer or prophesy (See Appendix). Paul describes their practice (v.2-5), and the reasons for it (v.6-16). He begins with a biblical principle (v.3) and then applies it to men (v.4) and women (v.5).

Many assume that the context is a church meeting, but this isn’t clear. Maybe “prayer and prophesy” imply a church meeting. The next section deals with the meeting of the Lord’s Supper (11:17-34). And a church meeting involving singing, teaching, prophesy, speaking in other languages and interpretation of these is addressed in 14:23-39.

Meaning then

When they pray or prophesy (see Appendix), women were to honor their man by having their head covered (11:5). In those days the man could be their husband or father or head of the household. To not do this would be to dishonor (disrespect or disgrace) him. It indicated that she respected the man’s authority over her.

The corollary for men was that when they pray or prophesy, they were to honor Christ by having their head uncovered (11:4).

Some say that the covering is long hair. But the covering in v.15 (Strongs #4018) is a different word to that in v.6-7 (#2619). If the covering was long hair, then v.6a wouldn’t make sense, “For if a woman does not cover her head, she might as well have her hair cut off”.

Universal principle

The principle behind the practice of head-coverings is said to be, “the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God” (11:3NIV). This means that a man is the head (in terms of leadership and authority) of a woman as God the Father is the head of Christ.

Verse 5 addresses the need to show respect to leaders and those with authority while engaged in spiritual activities.

The Greek words used in v.5 may mean man/husband or woman/wife, with the translation being chosen from the context. The ESV uses “wife” in verses that deal with wearing a veil, because they say it was a sign of being married in first-century culture. So their translation is “the head of a wife is her husband” (11:5).

Meaning now

The following options have been suggested as to how this verse applies in the church today with regard to prayer and prophesy.

  • Whether women can pray and preach and teach (modern equivalent of prophesy) in church meetings when men are present is determined by other passages such as 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:12.
  • Or, assuming the context is a church meeting, women can pray and preach and teach (modern equivalent of prophesy) in all church meetings

The following options have been suggested as to how this verse applies in the church today with regard to head-coverings.

  • Because of the range of interpretations of this verse, whether a women wear head-coverings whenever they pray or preach or teach (or there is prayer or preaching or teaching) is best left up to each woman’s personal conscience/conviction.
  • Or, because head-coverings are no longer related to dishonor or shame, the application in the first century can’t be transferred to our modern world.
  • Or, the principle of respect and honor is essential when people are involved in spiritual activities such as praying, preaching or teaching but because the culture is different, the way this is shown can be different to the first century.
  • Or, women should wear head-coverings whenever they pray or preach or teach (or there is prayer or preaching or teaching) as the application is universal because some of the reasons are universal (v.7-9).
  • Or, some say that the covering is long hair. But the covering in v.15 (#4018) is a different word to that in v.6-7 (#2619). If the covering was long hair, then v.6a wouldn’t make sense, “For if a woman does not cover her head, she might as well have her hair cut off”.

Link to more detailed article
https://georgesjournal.net/2015/12/09/how-do-we-show-respect-for-authority/

  1. 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 (written AD 55)

ESV: “the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church”.
HCSB: “the women should be silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak, but should be submissive, as the law also says. And if they want to learn something, they should ask their own husbands at home, for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church meeting”.
NET: “the women should be silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak. Rather, let them be in submission, as in fact the law says. If they want to find out about something, they should ask their husbands”.
NIV: “Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.”

Context

The letter of 1 Corinthians addresses the problems in the church in Corinth and answers their questions. It addresses topics such as factions, sexual immorality, marital difficulties, lawsuits, abuse of the Lord’s Supper, and misuse of spiritual gifts.

The section (14:26-40) is about correcting disorder in their church meetings. In this case the meeting involved singing, teaching, prophesy (see Appendix), speaking in other languages and interpretation of these (14:23-39).

Paul addresses speaking in foreign languages (v.27-28, 39), prophesy (v.29-33, 39), and women (v.34-35). Then he emphasises that these were God’s commands (v.36-38).

Meaning then

As the “silence” in v.28 and v.30 is conditional and temporary, so the “silence” in v.34 is also conditional and temporary. What is prohibited? From the context, some say critiquing (judging) prophecies (v.29), or it could be the main topic of speaking in other languages (v.27-28, 39) and prophesy (v.29, 39). And not disrupting the meeting by asking questions (v.35).

As the speaking in v.27, 28, 29 and v.30 was public speaking, the speaking in v.34 was public speaking, not chatting (or conversation).

“The law” may mean Adam’s leadership over Eve (Gen. 2:18), which Paul quoted in 11:8-9.

Universal principle

The passage placed some conditional and temporary restrictions on women’s participation in church meetings so as to keep the meetings orderly. Several options have been suggested as to what was restricted.

Meaning now

The following options have been suggested as to how these verses apply to church meetings today when men are present.

  • Women shouldn’t preach and teach (modern equivalent of prophesy) in these church meetings. This is similar to the meaning of 1 Timothy 2:12, which was written at another time to another place.
  • Or, women shouldn’t speak during the evaluation of prophecies at these church meetings
  • Or, wives shouldn’t ask questions at these church meetings
  • Or women shouldn’t speak authoritatively at these church meetings.
  • Or, women shouldn’t speak publicly at these church meetings.
  • Or, women shouldn’t chatter in these church meetings.
  • Or, the passage had a particular meaning in Corinth that can’t be applied today. This interpretation relies on extra-biblical sources, such as the nature of pagan worship in Corinth.
  • Or, because 11:5 overrides 14:34-35, women can pray and preach and teach (modern equivalent of prophesy) in all church meetings.
  • Or, because Galatians 3:28 overrides 14:34-35, there should be no restrictions on women’s participation in church meetings.

Link to more detailed article
https://georgesjournal.net/2015/12/11/order-and-disorder-in-the-church/

  1. Acts 2:17-18

ESV: “And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.”
HCSB: “And it will be in the last days, says God, that I will pour out My Spirit on all humanity; then your sons and your daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, and your old men will dream dreams. I will even pour out My Spirit on My male and female slaves in those days, and they will prophesy.”
NET: “‘And in the last days it will be,’ God says, ‘that I will pour out my Spirit on all people, and your sons and your daughters will prophesy, and your young men will see visions, and your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.”
NIV: “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.  Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy”.

Date written 

AD 63. But reports an event that occurred on the day of Pentecost about AD 30.

Context

This is part of Peter’s sermon given on the day of Pentecost after the disciples were indwelt by the Holy Spirit. On this occasion they miraculously spoke in other languages. As he was speaking to Jews (2:22), he used Joel 2:28-32 to explain what had happened. Then he told them that Jesus was the Messiah promised by David and that they needed to repent of their sins and over 3,000 people did this.

The book of Joel is about the restoration and blessing of Israel after judgement and repentance. God promises to judge their enemies (Joel 2:20) and bring prosperity (2:21-27) and pour out His Holy Spirit (2:28-29). Then the signs of the day of the Lord are given, when God intervenes in history (2:30-32).

Meaning then

Peter was applying a prediction in Joel to what happened on the day of Pentecost. The point of similarity was an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, resulting in unusual manifestations. This was only a partial fulfilment of Joel’s prophecy because there were no signs in the heavens and on the earth (Joel 2:30-31; Acts 2:18-19). The change concerned the Holy Spirit. In the Old Testament the Holy Spirit only came on particular people on a temporary basis. For example, the Holy Spirit came on prophets to enable them to bring messages from God (2 Chr. 15:1; Neh. 9:30; Joel 2:28; Mic. 3:8). But now the Holy Spirit came to permanently live in those who trusted in Christ to pay the penalty for their sinfulness. The main point is that the Holy Spirit indwells “all people” who trust in Christ, regardless of gender (“sons and daughters”), age (old and young), or social class (includes slaves) and maybe race (includes Gentile slaves).

Universal principle

The Holy Spirit indwells anyone who trusts in Christ.

Meaning now

The following options have been suggested as to how these verses apply in the church today.

  • The role of women in the church is outside the scope of this verse.
  • Or, women can preach or teach (modern equivalent of prophesy) in all church meetings like men.
  • Or, women can participate in all church meetings like men.

Link to more detailed article
https://georgesjournal.net/2016/03/24/what-does-acts-217-18-mean/

  1. 1 Timothy 2:11-12 (written AD 64)

ESV: “Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet”.
HCSB: “A woman should learn in silence with full submission. I do not allow a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; instead, she is to be silent”.
NET: “A woman must learn quietly with all submissiveness.  But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man. She must remain quiet”.
NIV: “A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet”.

Context

The letter of 1 Timothy was written to Timothy who was in Ephesus on a temporary mission to help correct problems in the church (1:3). The main topics addressed in the letter are false teachers (1:3-1; 4:1-16; 6:3-10) and Christian behavior. After urging evangelistic prayer (2:1-7), Paul looks at problems at Ephesus related to men (2:8) and women (2:9-10). Then he addresses women teaching and exercising authority over men (2:11-15). This is followed by instruction on church leadership by elders (3:1-7) and deacons (3:8-13).

Meaning then

A woman can learn Scripture (such learning is not restricted to the man) and when they do, they should be quiet and submissive. In this context it meant not teaching men and not leading men as an elder in the local church (v.12). Instead she was to be submissive/obedient to the teacher (and to the Scripture being taught) and to the elders in the same way she submits herself in marriage.

So, a woman was not to teach Scripture to a man or exercise authority over a man. From the context it’s clear that the authority mentioned here is that of an elder in the local church (eldership is the next topic in the letter). An elder is a male who can teach, and who exercises authority (3:1-7).

Universal principle

Christian women shouldn’t preach/teach men or lead the church, but respect the men that do this preaching/teaching and leading.

Women may be highly gifted teachers and leaders, but those gifts are not to be exercised over men in the context of the church. The reason isn’t because women are spiritually inferior to men, but because the Bible commands it.

Meaning now

The following options have been suggested as to how these verses apply in the church today.

  • Women shouldn’t teach men or be elders of the church. This interpretation assumes that 1 Timothy 2:12 is addressing two activities (teaching and authority), not one activity (teaching). This is consistent with the meaning of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, which was written at another time to another place.
  • Or, women shouldn’t teach men or be elders of the church or take other leadership roles (including praying) in a church meeting.
  • Or, the passage had a particular meaning in Ephesus that can’t be applied today. This interpretation relies on extra-biblical sources, such as the nature of pagan worship in Ephesus.
  • Or, the passage had a particular meaning in Ephesus because the women had been deceived (v.14) by false teachers and were teaching heresy (1:3-7). However, this is speculative and the women were the victims and not the propagators of heresy (2 Tim. 3:6-7).
  • Or, because “authentein” (authority) refers to abusive or destructive authority (but most Bible translations don’t accept this interpretation), women can preach and teach men, as long as they aren’t abusive or destructive. This interpretation assumes that 1 Timothy 2:12 is addressing one activity (teaching), not two (teaching and authority). But the insistence on being quiet seems to rule out this option.
  • Or, because “authentein” (authority) has a sense of usurping authority, as long as a woman operates under a man’s (or elders’) authority, she can preach and teach men. This interpretation assumes that 1 Timothy 2:12 is addressing one activity (teaching), not two (teaching and authority). But the insistence on being quiet seems to rule out this option.
  • Or, because 1 Corinthians 11:5 overrides 1 Timothy 2:11-12, women can pray and preach and teach (modern equivalent of prophesy) in all church meetings.
  • Or, because Galatians 3:28 overrides 1 Timothy 2:11-12, there should be no restrictions on women’s preaching, teaching in the church or leading the church as an elder.

Link to more detailed article
https://georgesjournal.net/2015/12/13/respect-and-disrespect-in-the-church/

  1. Male leadership

Jesus selected and trained 12 disciples who were all male. He sent them out to preach to the Jews and heal the sick. Did Jesus only choose men to do this because He was following the cultural practices of that era? No! In fact, during His ministry He broke many social customs by mixing with tax collectors and prostitutes, speaking to women in public, eating without ceremonial hand washing, condemning Pharisees, and condemning merchandise at the temple. He also corrected teachings of the religious leaders on divorce and the Sabbath. So, Jesus was willing to break social customs.

The 12 apostles were the leaders of the early church in Jerusalem (Acts 6:2; 9:27). When churches were established in other places, elders were appointed to lead them (Acts 14:23). As the church grew in Jerusalem, elders were added to the leadership team (Acts 15:4, 6, 23). The qualifications of such an elder include being “a husband”, so women are excluded from this role (1 Tim. 3:2; Ti. 1:6)   So, the leaders of New Testament churches (called elders or overseers) were all men. This means that although Hillary Clinton is the front running Democratic candidate for the US presidency, as a woman she couldn’t be on the eldership team of a church that functioned according to biblical teaching.

  1. Discussion

From the above summary it is evident that, according to various interpretations, some of these biblical passages seem to imply no restrictions on women in the church (Acts 2:17-18; Gal. 3:28), while others seem to imply some restrictions (1 Cor. 14:34-35; 1 Tim. 1:12). These two viewpoints are called “egalitarian” and “complementarian”, respectively.

Of course some people also use extra-biblical sources to develop their viewpoint on this topic. For example, feminists tend to reject bible passages that they claim are based on a patriarchal system. In this case, the biblical meaning can be modified and over-ruled according to tradition, reason, experience or post-biblical revelation. I don’t use this approach because of the dominant impact of the extra-biblical factors.

Because of the clear biblical instructions on male leadership in the church (1 Tim. 3:2; Ti. 1:6) and male leadership in the family/marriage (Eph. 5:22-24), I take a complementarian viewpoint. Here’s a link to more detailed article on this topic:
https://georgesjournal.net/2016/01/25/gender-roles-in-the-family-and-the-church/

But there are a range of options within the complementarian viewpoint. For example, in a church meeting where men are present, should a women be allowed to:

  • Chair/Compere/Lead the meeting?
  • Lead the singing?
  • Preach and teach the sermon?
  • Pray?
  • Read Scripture?

The only one of these that is clearly prohibited in Scripture is preaching and teaching the sermon (1 Tim. 1:12). So there are plenty of other opportunities for women’s participation. What do you think?

  1. Appendix – What about “prophesy”?

Prophesy is mentioned in the book of Acts up to AD 57 (Acts 21:9-10). Paul mentions prophesy in his books written in AD 55-60 but not his last six books (written AD 60-66). The only biblical record of prophesy after this time is the apostle John (Rev. 1:3; 10:7, 11; 19:10; 22:6, 9, 10, 18-19). He also mentions false prophets (1 Jn. 4:1). Therefore, it seems as though the prevalence of prophesy decreased significantly after AD 60. We now have the record of God’s revelation to the prophets in the early church in the New Testament. These truths are now communicated to us by preachers and teachers who also build up (strengthen), encourage and comfort believers and convict unbelievers. Therefore, today we apply the biblical principles for prophesy to preaching and teaching.

The revelation given to the writers of the New Testament finished in the first century AD (Jude 3, Rev. 22:18-19). Just as the close of the Old Testament canon was followed by a 400-year silence (no prophecies from God), so the close of the New Testament has been followed by a 1,900-year silence. Since the book of Revelation was completed, no new written or verbal prophecy has ever been universally recognized by Christians as divine truth from God. The Scriptures are final and complete. According to Scripture, God will speak again with new prophecies, visions and revelations after the rapture, during the tribulation and Christ’s millennial kingdom (Acts 2:16-21; Rev. 11:1-13).

Written, May 2016

Also see: What does Galatians 3:28 mean?
What does Acts 2:17-18 mean?
How do we show respect for authority?
Order and disorder in the church
Respect and disrespect in the church
Gender roles in the family and the church


Songs in the Bible

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Singing 2 400pxSinging is good for you. It can have physical and psychological benefits and help you to feel good. Singing improves the memory and can alleviate depression. It involves the mind, the emotions and the body. It’s been said that, “Words make you think. Music makes you feel. A song makes you feel a thought”. In ancient times, when few people could read or write, stories were passed down through song, because songs are memorable.

Group singing has three benefits. It enables the expression of our emotions, which can increase our confidence. It requires a flexible mind in order to make the correct sounds, which can make us more creative and adaptable to life’s challenges. And it connects us socially to others with a common purpose. So group singing can enhance our wellbeing.

In this post we look at some songs in the Bible. We know that Jesus sang with His disciples and Paul and Silas sang in prison (Mt. 26:30; Mk. 14:26; Acts 16:15). And there are songs throughout the Bible.

About one third of the Bible is poetry. For example, the Wisdom books of Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs and the Prophetic books of Isaiah, Jeremiah and Lamentations are all poetic. Some of these poems are the lyrics of songs. For example, Psalms, Song of Songs and Lamentations. There are 150 songs in the book of Psalms. It was the Israelites song book. They must have been passionate singers. In all, there are about 185 songs mentioned in the Bible. Let’s look at a few of them.

The first song – after a great victory

The first song mentioned in the Bible happens after one of its greatest miracles. God delivers the Israelites from slavery in Egypt by parting the Red Sea, allowing them to escape from Pharaoh’s army. When the Egyptians pursue them, the sea flows back over them, washing away their chariots and horsemen. Not one of them survived. This was a display of God’s power over nature and a picture of salvation.

What was the people’s response? The Bible says, “when the Israelites saw the mighty hand of the Lord displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord and put their trust in Him and in Moses His servant” (Ex. 14:31NIV). They then had a great celebration that included music, singing and dancing. It was like after victory in battle (1 Sam. 18:6-7; 2 Sam. 1:20). The lyrics of the song they sang are in the Bible. It had five parts.

The chorus is (Ex. 15:1, 21):
“Sing to the Lord,
for He is highly exalted.
Both horse and driver
He has hurled into the sea”
Here they are summarizing and praising God for what He had done.

Who God is (v.2-3). They praise God as a strong warrior and say “He is my God”.

What God has done (v.4-12). They retell the defeat of the powerful Egyptian army. How they “drowned in the Red Sea”. Only their God had such power.

What God would do in future (v. 13-17). They predict that God will lead them in the conquest and occupation of Canaan. When the Edomites, the Philistines and the Canaanites hear what God had done, they would be terrified. This was later confirmed by Rahab (Josh. 2:9-11).

Conclusion (v.18). “The Lord reigns for ever and ever”. His powerful rule is eternal.

So the first song in the Bible celebrated a great military victory over their enemies. The lesson for us is that as God delivered the Israelites from slavery, through Jesus He can deliver us from the slavery of our sinfulness.

The last song – anticipates a great victory

The last song mentioned in the Bible happens in heaven when there is a time of great tribulation on earth. It’s sung by those who were martyred for their faith in God. They sang the song “of Moses and of the Lamb”.
“Great and marvelous are your deeds,
Lord God Almighty.
Just and true are your ways,
King of the nations.
Who will not fear you, Lord,
and bring glory to your name?
For you alone are holy.
All nations will come
and worship before you,
for your righteous acts have been revealed” (Rev. 15:3-4).

The song is comprised of quotations from the Old Testament. The context is God’s judgement of the ungodly. Those martyred in the tribulation are celebrating God’s coming victory over the ungodly. When Jesus returns in power and glory, He will right the wrongs on our world (2 Th. 1:6-9). Justice will be administered by our mighty God (“Lord God almighty”) over all the nations (He’s “King of the nations”).  He is unique (“You alone are holy”). And in the millennial kingdom, He will be worshipped by all nations.

Because of His sacrificial death, Jesus is worthy to execute judgment, as described earlier in Revelation in the new song also sung in heaven:
“You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
because you were slain,
and with your blood you purchased for God
persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.
You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God,
and they will reign on the earth” (Rev. 5:9-10).

So the last song in the Bible celebrates the final victory over Satan and those who oppose God. They anticipate deliverance from the presence of sin. The lesson for us is that in future all the wrongs and injustice in our world will be made right through Jesus and justice will be done.

The longest song – All about the Bible

Psalm 119 is a massive acrostic poem of 176 verses. There are 22 stanzas, one for each letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Moreover, the eight verses in each stanza begin with the same Hebrew letter.

The theme of Psalm 119 is the Hebrew Bible which is called by names such as: “law”, “statutes”, “precepts”, “commands”, “laws”, “decrees”, “word”, and “promise”. It’s mentioned in almost every verse. For example, Psalm 119:89-96 can be titled “God’s enduring word”:
89 Your word, Lord, is eternal;
it stands firm in the heavens.
90 Your faithfulness continues through all generations;
you established the earth, and it endures.
91 Your laws endure to this day,
for all things serve you.
92 If your law had not been my delight,
I would have perished in my affliction.
93 I will never forget your precepts,
for by them you have preserved my life.
94 Save me, for I am yours;
I have sought out your precepts.
95 The wicked are waiting to destroy me,
but I will ponder your statutes.
96 To all perfection I see a limit,
but your commands are boundless.

This stanza begins by saying that God’s word is eternal and ends by saying that it’s boundless. So, God’s word is a reliable enduring foundation for our faith. God also established and sustains creation. Through exposure to the Scriptures we can be saved from the penalty of sin. Peter wrote, “you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God” (1 Pt. 1:23). An acquaintance with God’s word reminds us to confess our sins a daily basis in order to maintain our relationship with God (1 Jn. 1:9).

So the longest song in the Bible celebrates God’s word, which is available to us in the Bible. The heading that I’ve given it is “All about the Bible”. It’s about how important the Bible is and how it can guide and help us in our daily life. The lesson for us is that we can trust God’s unchanging word.

The shortest song – God keeps His promises

The two shortest songs in the Bible, which are comprised of five Hebrew words, are in 2 Chronicles.

After Solomon built the temple in Jerusalem (about 958 BC), the priests carried the ark of the covenant into the Most Holy Place of the temple. Then “Accompanied by trumpets, cymbals and other instruments, the singers raised their voices in praise to the Lord and sang:
‘He is good;
His love endures forever’
Then the temple of the Lord was filled with the cloud, and the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the temple of God” (2 Chr. 5:13-14). So they celebrated the ark’s transfer from the tabernacle to the temple with this song. God had kept His promise to bring them into the Promised Land.

About 100 years later, Jehoshaphat was king of Judah (860 BC). When the Moabite and Ammonite armies came to attack, Jehoshaphat prayed to God for help. He was told to go to the pass of Ziz near the end of the gorge in the desert of Jeruel. “You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the Lord will give you, Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Go out to face them tomorrow, and the Lord will be with you” (2 Chr. 20:17).

Early the next morning they set out and Jehoshaphat “appointed men to sing to the Lord and to praise Him for the splendor of His holiness as they went out at the head of the army, saying:
‘Give thanks to the Lord,
for His love endures forever’” (2 Chr. 20:21).
So the army was led by the singers! As they began to sing and praise God, the Lord caused the enemy to kill themselves. So the Israelites showed they trusted God to deliver them from their enemies by singing this song.

A verse based on these two short songs occurs six times in the Bible (1 Chr. 16:34; Ps. 106:1; 107:1; 118:1, 29; 136:1). It says,
“Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good;
His love endures forever”.
Two reasons are given to give thanks to the Lord. First, “He is good”. That’s a part of God’s nature. Second “His love endures forever”. Under the old covenants, God promised to love the Israelites (Dt. 7:8-9, 12-13; 23:5; 2 Sam. 7:15). So this covenant love never ends. It goes on and on.

The last sentence of this verse, “His love endures for ever” occurs 43 times in the Bible. 26 of these are in Psalm 136 where it is repeated as a chorus or refrain. Under the old covenant, the Israelites knew that God loved them eternally.

So the shortest songs in the Bible reminded God’s Old Testament people that God keeps His promises and He helps them. Today Christians live under the new covenant of God’s grace. Likewise, He will keep His promises to us and help us as His New Testament people.

Summary

Songs are a powerful way to express our Christian faith and to remind us of what God has done for us.

The first and last songs in the Bible are songs of deliverance from enemies and the ungodly. They are songs of salvation. So let’s sing songs of Jesus as our Savior and Redeemer.

The longest song in the Bible emphasised the importance of God’s word. Let’s use the Bible to guide and help us in our daily life. So let’s sing songs that remind us of Scriptural events and Scriptural truths.

The shortest songs in the Bible were reminders of God’s covenants with His people. So let’s sings songs about God’s promises to us.

Christians are told to sing “to God with gratitude in your hearts” (Col. 3:16). So, let’s “Give thanks to the Lord (our Creator and Redeemer), for He is good; His love (shown by Christ’s sacrifice) endures forever”.

Written, April 2016


What’s God like?

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19 Biblical images of God

Some things are invisible like the wind, electricity, gravity, atoms, gas, electromagnetic fields (such as X-rays, infrared, microwaves, and radio waves). We can’t see them, but we use many of them every day (such as the radio waves used by cell phones). God is also invisible (Col. 1:15; 1 Tim. 1:17).

Today we will see that multiple images are required to show us what God’s like.

Does God exist?

But some people think that God doesn’t exist. That He’s as real as Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy or the Easter Bunny. They don’t believe the first verse of the Bible that says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1NIV). Instead they think that science has explained what used to be attributed to God.

But science can’t explain the origin of matter and energy. How something came from nothing. The ideas of the big bang and evolution can’t explain it. And it’s outside the laws of science. Also the origin of life is a mystery to science, they can’t create it in the laboratory without using cells from living creatures.

I think that God exists because something like us and the universe exists. God is the ultimate cause of the effects that we see around us. No one has come up with a better explanation yet. And God never attempts to prove His existence because, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands” (Ps. 19:1).

The big picture

We’ll begin with some general aspects of God. As a creator is always greater than their creations, God is greater than us. More powerful and more intelligent.

The Bible says that there are three aspects of God: Father, Son and Spirit. That’s where the word “Trinity” comes from. Today we are looking at God the Father.

God doesn’t have a body like us, He’s a spirit. The Bible says “God is spirit” (Jn. 4:24). That’s why:
– God is invisible.
– God’s not limited in space and time like the physical world.
– We rely on God’s revelation in Scripture to learn about the spirit world.
– God doesn’t have a gender. God isn’t male or female, although we generally speak of God using male pronouns. Also when the Bible mentions God’s hand, ear, eyes and mouth, it’s a figure of speech (Dt. 33:27; 2 Chron. 16:9; Isa. 59:1; Mt. 4:4;). We will see that the Bible uses lots of figures of speech to describe God. That’s one way of describing someone who is invisible.

Note that I write “someone” and not “something”. God isn’t a force or a principle. God is a person. A person has “personality”, a “soul” (Hebrew and Greek). They have a mind, emotions and a will. God has these (Ps. 78:41; 139:17; 1 Cor. 1:1). They are able to think about what they are doing (unlike animals and machines). They have relationships with other persons. Although the three “persons” of the godhead are united in the one being, they also relate to one another. They are divine persons.

Method

How can we know what God is like if He’s invisible? The best way is to look at what the Bible says about God because it’s a message from Him. It uses at least four kind of words to describe God: names, adjectives, verbs and metaphors.
– Names are titles.
– Adjectives are words that describe nouns or pronouns.
– Verbs are words that describe actions.
– Metaphors are figures of speech which compare two unrelated things. Like, “You’re an angel”, “Don’t be a pig”, “It wasn’t long before their relationship turned sour”.

Today we’re looking at images of God in the Bible. These are mainly metaphors because the Bible teems with metaphors.

Metaphors as images of God

These are powerful images which help to show who God is and what our relationship with God can be like. First; God is likened to certain people.

People

Father

God’s like a father. A kind and loving father. A father was the head of the household. He protected and provided for the needs of the family. And his sons inherited his wealth.

God the Father is the supreme sovereign of the universe because He created it (Eph. 4:6). The Israelites called Him Father because He created their nation (Dt. 32:5-6; Isa. 64:7-8; Mal. 2:10) and He continued to sustain them (Jer. 3:19; 31:9) and protect them (Isa. 63:16). They were like His children.

In God’s covenant with David, God said “I will be his (Solomon’s) father, and he will be my son” (2 Sam. 7:14; 1 Chron. 17:13; 22:10). Later this verse was applied to Christ (Heb. 1:5). So the father-son relationship is a metaphor for both the relationship between God and His people, and God the Father and Jesus Christ.

As a father interacts with his children, God interacts with us. We can communicate with Him through prayer. Jesus told His disciples to pray “Father, hallowed be your name” ( Luke 11:2). In the parable of the lost son, God is like the father who welcomed his son back after he had wasted his inheritance (Lk. 15:11-32).

For Paul this fatherhood is based on the salvation He has made available in Jesus Christ. This is why Paul refers to “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 15:6; 2 Cor. 1:3; 11:31). It’s through the work of Christ that God invites us to call him “Father”. And through Christ grace and peace have resulted and we have become God’s children with an inheritance (Rom. 8:12-17; 1 Pt. 1:3-4; 1 Jn. 3:1).

This metaphor, Father, is used so often that it’s a title of God. It’s appropriately masculine because God has given husbands authority in the family and elders authority in the church.

If God is like our father, then we are like God’s children. Like His sons, an inheritance awaits us. This image reminds us of God’s provision for us.

Mother

God’s also like a mother. A mother brings infants into the world and cares for them. Young children spend most of their time with their mother and feel secure with her.

God “gave birth” to the Israelites when he created their nation (Dt 32:18). He cared for them like a mother eagle cared for its young (Dt. 32:11-12). His love and care can be compared to that of a concerned, caring and comforting mother (Ps. 131:2; Isa. 49:14-16; 66:13).

If God is like our mother, then we are like God’s children. As His children, we can be secure. This image reminds us of God’s care and love for us.

Lord

God’s like a lord or master. A lord or master had power and authority over servants, slaves, or property.

God’s rule and authority rests ultimately upon His creation and ownership of all things and all people. David said:
“The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it,
the world, and all who live in it;
for He founded it on the seas
and established it on the waters” (Ps. 24:1-2)

God is the owner and governor of the whole earth (Ps. 97:5; 114:7; Isa. 1:24; Mt. 1:22; Mk. 5:19; Acts 7:33). That means He has authority over people whether they realize it or not. The psalmist uses “Lord” to honor God and express thanksgiving (Ps. 16:2; 57:9-10).

This metaphor is also used as a title of God in the both the Old Testament and the New Testament. The Hebrew noun Adonai (Strongs #136) applies to someone of higher rank in society (Gen. 18:12). The master rules the servant and the servant submits to the master. The Greek noun kurios (#2962) means master (Mt. 1:20; 7:21; 18:27). It signifies power, authority, and ownership.

What’s the modern equivalent of “lord”? Sir? Master? Manager? Ruler? Captain? Commander? Chief? Leader? Boss?

If God is like our boss, then it’s like we’re under God’s rule. This image reminds us of God’s leadership and management.

Bridegroom

God’s like a bridegroom and husband. A bridegroom loves and cares for his bride. They belong together.

The relationship between God and Israel is likened to that between a bridegroom and a bride (Isa. 54:5). Israel belonged to God. But Israel and Judah were unfaithful. This is illustrated by the unfaithfulness of Hosea’s wife.

The equivalent New Testament metaphor is that the church is the bride of Christ. Christians belong to Christ, like a bride belongs to her husband.

If Jesus is like our bridegroom, then we are like His bride. We belong together. This image reminds us of God’s love for us.

King

God’s also like a king. In ancient times, a king ruled a city or nation. A king has authority over all others. They have ultimate authority. In democratic countries like ours it’s difficult to imagine a king with absolute power and where there is no avenue for appeal.

God’s covenant with Moses was like a Suzerain-Vassal treaty. God was the Suzerain, the great king who promises to be Israel’s King and Protector. The ark of the covenant was His throne and the tabernacle/temple was His palace.

God was like Israel’s king (Ps. 5:2; 74:12; 95:3; 98:6; 145:1; Jer.10:10; Zeph. 3:15). He said, “I am the Lord, your Holy One, Israel’s Creator, your King” (Isa. 43:15).

He is also like a king over all creation (Ps. 29:10; 47:2, 6-8; Zech. 14:9; Rev. 15:3; 1 Tim. 1:17; 6:15-16). “For God is the King of all the earth” (Ps. 47:7).

In the gospels, Jesus only once (Mt. 5:35) explicitly called God king and in the parables (Mt. 18:23; 22:2, 7, 11 13) He only indirectly calls God king. In the parable of the unforgiving servant (Mt. 18:21-35), God is like the king who cancelled the servant’s debt. In the parable of the wedding banquet, God is like the king who invites people to his son’s wedding (Mt. 22:1-14). This shows God’s mercy and grace.

If God is like our king, we are like the subjects of His kingdom. This image reminds us of God’s authority and power. Eventually, God will defeat all opposing powers to bring justice and peace.

Judge

God’s like a judge. A judge assesses the guilt of the accused and determines the penalty if they are guilty.

Abraham called God “the Judge of all” (Gen. 18:25). And David said, “God is a righteous judge” (Ps. 7:11). God was Israel’s Lawgiver and Judge (Isa. 33:22). Peter said that God “judges each person’s work impartially” (1 Pt. 1:17).

There’s good news and bad news. At the exodus, the Israelites were rescued, but the Egyptians were judged. In future, Christians will be rewarded at the judgement seat of Christ for their obedience and service (1 Cor. 3:8-15; 2 Cor. 5:10). This is because Jesus has already paid the penalty for their sinfulness. But, unbelievers will be judged and sentenced as guilty at the great white throne “according to what they had done” (Rev. 20:11-15). Meanwhile God is patiently waiting for people to repent and turn to follow Him because He doesn’t want anyone to face this judgment (2 Pt. 3:7-10).

If God is like a judge, then we are like the accused. Because Jesus paid our penalty, this image reminds us of God’s love for us.

Warrior

God’s also like a warrior. A warrior defends and protects against enemies.

After the exodus, the Israelites sang “The Lord is a warrior” (Ex. 15:3). David often pictured God as a warrior who delivered him from his enemies (Ps. 18:13-14). Nehemiah said, “Our God will fight for us!” (Neh. 4:20). God also defends the weak (Dt. 10:18; Ps. 10:14; 68:5-6; 146:7-9; 147:6). He is “the Mighty Warrior who saves” (Zeph. 3:17).

One of God’s titles is “Almighty” (Gen. 17:1; Rev. 21:22). This means He is all powerful (omnipotent).

Satan is our greatest enemy. But Jesus was God’s means of defeating Satan. And Jesus is also described as a warrior (Rev. 19:11-21).

If God is like a warrior, then we are like those needing deliverance from Satan. This image reminds us of God’s power to defend and protect.

Potter

God’s like a potter. A potter makes pottery out of clay. The pottery displays the potter’s creative skill. They make a work of art from a lump of clay. Isaiah said,
“you, Lord, are our Father.
We are the clay, you are the potter;
we are all the work of your hand” (Isa. 64:8)

The potter can do what they want with the clay. For example, Jeremiah said that the fate of Judah was up to God, like the fate of the clay is in the potter’s hands (Jer. 18:1-10). As the clay doesn’t question the potter, we shouldn’t question God (Isa. 29:16; 45:9; Rom. 9:21). As the clay is at the mercy of the potter, we also rely of God’s mercy.

If God is like a potter, then we are like the clay. This image reminds us of God’s creativity and sovereignty.

Shepherd

God’s also like a shepherd. A shepherd cares for sheep.

In Old Testament times God chose a nation of people, the Israelites, to follow and obey Him. The picture that’s used is of God being their shepherd; “Hear us, Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock” (Ps. 80:1; Jer:31:10). He would lead them and care for them and they were to follow where He led. The imagery of a shepherd and his flock provided a picture of the way God cared for His people

David said, “The Lord is my shepherd” (Ps. 23:1). The shepherd sustains and guides the sheep (Ps. 23:1-4; 28:9). Ezekiel contrasts selfish leaders (Ezek. 34:1-10) and God’s leadership (Ezek. 34:11-16). Isaiah described God’s deliverance of the Jews from exile as:
“He tends His flock like a shepherd:
He gathers the lambs in His arms
and carries them close to His heart;
He gently leads those that have young” (Isa. 40:11).

If God is like a shepherd, then we are like the sheep. This image reminds us of God’s loving leadership.

Gardener

God’s like a gardener. A gardener cares for plants.

In the Old Testament, Israel is pictured as God’s vineyard (Isa. 5:1-7). A failed grape harvest was a symbol of Israel’s disobedience, rebellion and idolatry. In the New Testament, Jesus is pictured as the true vine, believers are the branches and God the Father is the gardener (Jn. 15:1-8). God prunes us to be more fruitful.

If God is like a gardener, then we are like the branches of a plant. This image reminds us of God’s loving care.

Second; God is likened to some animals.

Animals

Lion

God’s like a lion. A lion is a predator that rules the land.

God’s judgement of Israel and Judah (Hos. 5:14; 13:7-8) and ungodly nations (Jer. 25:37-38; 49:19; 50:44) is likened to the devastation caused by a lion.

If God is like a lion, then His judgment should be feared. This image reminds us of God’s punishment of sin.

Eagle

God’s like an eagle. An eagle is a majestic bird that rules the sky.

After the exodus, God helped the Israelites like an eagle helps its young to fly (Dt. 32:11). God is like an eagle, He covers us, shelters us (Ps. 36:7, 63:7, 91:3-4) and hides us (Ps. 17:8).

The Psalmist wrote, “Surely He (God) will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you will find refuge” (Ps. 91:3-4).

If God is like an eagle, then he can provide refuge. This image reminds us of God’s protection.

Third; God is likened to some inanimate things.

Inanimate things

Light

God’s like a light: “God is light; in Him is no darkness at all” (1 Jn. 1:5). Light is the opposite of darkness. In the Bible, light symbolizes purity and goodness, and darkness signifies evil and sin. So God is pure, righteous and holy.

Psalm 119 says, “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path” (Ps. 119:105). Light reveals things. It shows us what’s ahead. It this case the Bible shows God’s truth.

David said, “The Lord is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear?” (Ps. 27:1). Here “light” is associated with deliverance from one’s enemies.

God will be the “everlasting light” in the new Jerusalem (Isa. 60:19-20). He will be the source of all truth and righteousness.

If God is like a light, then He can show us the truth and the way to go. This image also reminds us of God’s holiness.

Rock, fortress, stronghold, refuge and shield

God’s also like a rock, fortress, stronghold, refuge and shield. These are used for protection against enemies.

Ancient cities and fortresses were often built on rocky hills. David hid in these areas to avoid his enemies. When he praised God for deliverance from his enemies, David said, “The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold” (Ps. 18:2).

This image is associated with safety and security (Dt. 32:4, 1 Sam. 2:2; 2 Sam. 22:2, 32, 47; Ps. 18:2; 31:3; 62:2; 71:3; 78:35; Isa. 17:10). A more direct metaphor is to say that God is like a refuge: “The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms” (Dt. 33:27; Ps. 46:1).

If God is like a rock, then he can provide a safe refuge. This image reminds us of God’s protection.

Fire

God’s like a fire. A fire burns and consumes whatever is combustible.

When the Israelites were warned against idolatry, they were told “the Lord your God is a consuming fire” (Dt. 4:24). This shows God’s righteous anger against the sin of unfaithfulness and disobedience. The same imagery is used to express how God will destroy the Canaanites because of their wickedness (Dt. 9:3). The consuming fire is a symbol of God’s judgement of sin (Isa. 29:6; 30:27, 30; 33:14). Today God is like a consuming fire to all who refuse to listen to Him and is to be worshipped with reverence and awe (Heb. 12:29).

Ezekiel had an image of God as a man full of fire surrounded by brilliant light (Ezek. 1:26-28). God’s presence is often symbolically revealed in the form of fire and light (Ex. 13:21; 19:18; 4:17; 40:34, 38; Isa. 66:15). They are symbols of God’s holiness, which can’t tolerate any sin.

If God is like a fire, then His awesome holiness means that He will judge everything that is contrary to this holiness. This image reminds us of God’s judgement of sin.

Tree

God’s like a tree. A tree has flowers and fruit.

God told Israel that “your fruitfulness comes from me”, because He was “like a flourishing juniper tree” (Hos. 14:8). This tree is evergreen, its leaves don’t fall off in winter. Its fruit is a pine cone that’s the source of nuts. As the tree provides the nuts, so God is the source of Israel’s blessings.

If God is like a tree, then Israel was like His fruit. This image reminds us that God sustains His people.

Fourth; God is likened to certain attributes.

Attributes

Beginning and the end

God’s like the beginning and the end, which is symbolized by the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, alpha and omega (Rev. 21:6). As Creator of the universe, He was there when it began. As God will also be there at the end, He rules over all human history.

If God is like the beginning and the end, then He is always present. This image reminds us that God is eternal.

Love

God’s loving (1 Jn. 4:8, 16). In particular, He loves His people (Dt. 7:8, 13).

This kind of love is described as, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails (1 Cor. 13:4-8a).

It means that God doesn’t force Himself on anyone. Instead, He has shown His love in this way, “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son (Jesus), that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him” (Jn. 3:16-17).

If God is loving, then people are the objects of His love. This image reminds us that Jesus was God’s love gift to us. Have you accepted God’s gift? This kind of love drives out fear of judgment (1 Jn. 4:18).

Savior

God’s a savior. A savior saves someone, like a lifeguard (or lifesaver) rescues people in danger of drowning.

Because David was often saved from his enemies, he wrote “Our God is a God who saves” (Ps. 68:20). God sees and watches all of us (Ps. 33:13-14). Savior is used so much in the Bible that it is often used as a title of Jesus Christ.

If God is a savior, then people are the ones He rescues. This image reminds us that God sent Jesus to rescue us from the judgment we deserve for our sinfulness. Have you been rescued yet?

God’s also like a builder, physician and teacher (Ps. 103:3; 119:33; 147:2; Isa. 28:26).

Summary

We have looked at several images of God from the Bible. Different images highlight different characteristics of God. If God was on Facebook, He could choose between these profile pictures because He:
What is God like collage 400pxProvides like a father
Cares and loves like a mother
Manages like a boss
Loves like a bridegroom
Reigns like a king
Sentences like a judge
Defends and protects like a warrior
Creates like a potter
Leads like a shepherd
Prunes like a gardener
Punishes like a lion
Illuminates and is pure and holy like a light
Protects like an eagle and a rock
Judges sin like a fire
Sustains his people, like a tree provides fruit
Saves like a lifeguard (lifesaver)
Is always there
Loves everyone

So God can meet all our needs. In response, do we:
Live like a child of God?
Feel secure in God’s love?
Follow God’s instructions?
Have a close relationship with God?
Respect God’s reign?
Realize that Jesus paid our sentence?
Realize that Satan is defeated?
Acknowledge that God made us?
Follow God’s leading and guidance?
Accept God’s discipline?
Fear God’s punishment?
Feel safe in God’s salvation?
Recognize God’s sustenance?
Realize God’s presence?

So multiple images are required to show us what God is like. But I’ve left the best image till last. Paul wrote, “The Son (Jesus Christ) is the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15). He’s “the exact representation of His (God’s) being” (Heb. 1:3). And Jesus said, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (Jn. 14:9). So Jesus is the best image of God.

Written, February 2016

Also see: What’s Jesus like?
What’s the Holy Spirit like


What does the Old Testament say about polygamy?

Polygamy 1 400px

I have received the following comment about a post on polygamy.
Sorry, but what I come to notice is that some people are using the New Testament to then try to interpret the Old Testament. Just like the author of this post is doing. By using Jesus and Paul interpretation of the Old Testament (Gen. 2:24-25) to say this means marriage is only between one men and one woman. If you see, in the Old Testament GOD never condemned polygamy for his people. It will be really hard for me to believe that GOD has clearly spoken and given rules about certain things like owning a Hebrew Slave, yet when it comes to polygamy he decides is best to put it a non-clear way.
1-“The first mention of polygamy in the Bible involves Lamech who claimed to avenge himself eleven times more often than Cain (Gen. 4:19, 24)”. -this point is moot, the text has to do with the killing, the fact that he had two wife makes no sense. If you find a person in the bible that was evil but only had one wife you will not say monogamy is bad.
2- “In fact, God had commanded that the king “must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray” (Dt. 17:17)” – I love this because if you actually read the TEXT in CONTENT, well actually just read starting from verse 14, see that GOD is talking about the rules that the KING OF ISRAEL has to follow. He never ever say, everyone or my people. He is specially talking about the KING OF ISRAEL.
3- “The most extreme example of polygamy in the Bible is king Solomon who “had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines, and his wives led him astray” (1 Ki. 11:3). His wives turned him to idolatry.” – Again here, the passage clearly never say don’t have many wife’s because I say it should be only one men and one woman. It clearly teaches the wrong thing here is that the wife’s made him believe in ANOTHER GOD.

This post is based on a survey of the instances of polygamy in the Old Testament (OT). I have been careful to identify instances of a man having more than one wife (or concubines) at the same time (concurrently). In those days woman sometimes died as a result of childbirth or for other reasons. In such cases the man usually remarried and could be said to have had children with two wives. Such serial marriages are not polygamy.

We will see that because polygamy wasn’t God’s idea, it wasn’t the original form of marriage, and it wasn’t the ideal marriage assumed by the OT commands and it wasn’t the model for God’s relationship with the nation of Israel.

In this post we look at whether the instances of polygamy (including bigamy) in the OT are a command, a model to follow or merely a report of events. Monogamy will be considered in the same way so the two can be compared.

Is polygamy a command, a model or a report?

Polygamy commanded

Some think that Exodus 21: 7-11 regulates polygamy involving a female Hebrew slave. However the translation of “ownah” (Strong’s 5772, feminine noun) as “marital rights” in verse 10 is uncertain as this is its only occurrence in Scripture (NET Bible). Also, it has been suggested that it could mean accommodation or ointments. The main point is that the displaced woman was to be cared for and not disadvantaged. Therefore, this verse doesn’t definitely relate to polygamy.

Hebrew law maintained the rights of the firstborn in a polygamous marriage (Dt. 21:15-17). Does this mean that God approved polygamy? Not necessarily, but He recognized that it did occur as this passage begins “If a man has two wives …”. It seems that God allowed polygamy because otherwise a man who had multiple wives would need to divorce all except one and those who were divorced would be destitute because they would be unable to remarry.

Under Hebrew law, levirate marriage obligated a man whose brother has died and left a widow without heir to marry her (Dt. 25:5-10). The son of this union “shall carry on the name of the dead brother”. This special case preserved the family name and protected the family property and the widow’s welfare in societies where women can’t own property and there is no social welfare. If the man was already married, this would mean that he had two wives. This seems to be the only OT command that is potentially related to polygamy. The best Scriptural examples of levirate marriage are Tamar (Gen. 38:1-30) and Ruth (Ruth 3:1 – 4:17), but they don’t involve polygamy.

Nathan the prophet said that God gave David Saul’s wives (2 Sam. 12:8). Does this mean that God commanded David to be polygamous? When we look at the context of this verse, it is part of the interpretation of the parable in v.1-4. The main message is that God has placed David as king of Israel in place of Saul. David has replaced Saul. So God had given David, as king of Israel, everything that was Saul’s. This included wealth and power and caring for Saul’s wives. If God had given him all this, how despicable of David to take another man’s wife. The Hebrew word translated “into your arms” (Strongs #2436) in v.8 is used in v.3 to describe how a poor man cared for a lamb like it was his daughter. Saul’s wives were given to David to care for like “all Israel and Judah” were given to him. But how could Saul’s wives trust him after how he had treated Uriah and Bathsheba? By the way, there is no conclusive evidence that he married any of them. So, this verse isn’t related to polygamy.

Polygamy modelled

It is interesting to note that Jehoiada (a good High Priest) chose two wives for King Joash (2 Chron. 24:3). Joash was a godly king until the death of Joash, but he didn’t finish well. Was this a model of bigamy to follow for the kings of Judah?

Besides this, I am not aware of any example of polygamy in the OT that has God’s approval.

Polygamy reported

In the following cases polygamy is reported as a historical event without being endorsed or criticised: Lamech (Gen. 4:19, 23), Nahor (Gen. 22:20-24), Abraham (Gen. 25:6; 1 Chron. 1:32), Esau (Gen. 26:34; 28:6-9), Jacob (Gen. 29:16-30), Eliphaz (Gen. 36:12, Caleb (1 Chron. 2:18-19, 46, 48 ), Manasseh (1 Chron. 7:14), Gideon (Jud. 8:30-31), and Elkanah (1 Sam. 1:1-2). Also, some other men who are said to have large numbers of children may have had more than one wife at once. But there are no reported incidences of polygamy among the Jews after the Babylonian exile in the 6th century BC.

Polygamy is also reported amongst the following kings of Israel without being endorsed or criticised: Saul (2 Sam. 3:7), David (2 Sam. 5:13), Solomon (1 Ki. 11:1-8), Rehoboam (2 Chron. 11:18-21), Ahab (1 Ki. 20:3), Jehoiachin (2 Ki. 24:15), Jehoram (2 Chron. 21:14, 17), Abijah (2 Chron. 13:21), and Joash (2 Chron. 24:3). These kings disobeyed the command not to have many wives (Dt. 17:17). Solomon was the worst offender with 700 wives and 300 concubines!

At that time kings used marriages to establish political alliances with other nations. For example, King Belshazzar (of Babylonia) had many wives and concubines and king Xerxes of Persia had a harem (Dan. 5:2; Est. 1:9; 2:14).

The Bible says that polygamy led to troubles in the family. There was friction, jealousy and rivalry between the wives (Gen. 30:1; 1 Ki. 11:3-4). And Solomon’s wives “led him astray” and “turned his heart after other gods” (1 Ki. 11:3-4).

So polygamy occurred in Old Testament times and it is reported amongst God’s people the Israelites, but it wasn’t approved or commanded by God. The only instance that could be a model for the kings of Judah to follow is the bigamy of king Joash.

How does this compare with what the Old Testament says about monogamy?

Is monogamy a command, a model or a report?

Monogamy commanded

The 10th commandment given to the Israelites includes, “You shall not covet your neighbour’s wife” (Ex. 20:17; Dt. 5:21NIV). The singular word “wife” assumes the ideal that each husband has only one wife.

Similarly God’s commands given to the Jews about 1,000 years later include,
“…the LORD is the witness between you and the wife of your youth. You have been unfaithful to her, though she is your partner, the wife (singular) of your marriage covenant.” (Mal. 2:14)
“… do not be unfaithful to the wife (singular) of your youth” (Mal. 2:15b).
The singular word “wife” assumes the ideal that each husband has only one wife.

Hebrew law always assumes the ideal where a husband had one wife and not more than one. For example:
“Do not have sexual relations with your father’s wife” (Lev. 18:8; 20:11; Dt. 22:30; 27:20).
“Do not dishonor your father’s brother by approaching his wife to have sexual relations” Lev. 18:14; 20:20)
“Do not have sexual relations with your daughter-in-law. She is your son’s wife” (Lev. 18:15).
“Do not have sexual relations with your brother’s wife” (Lev. 18:16; 20:21).
“Do not take your wife’s sister as a rival wife and have sexual relations with her while your wife is living” (Lev.18:18).
“Do not have sexual relations with your neighbor’s wife” (Lev. 18:20; 20:10).
“These are the regulations the Lord gave Moses concerning relationships between a man and his wife” (Num. 30:16).
“If a man is found sleeping with another man’s wife” (Dt. 22:22).
“If two men are fighting and the wife of one of them comes to rescue her husband from his assailant” (Dt. 25:11).
Also, the test for an unfaithful wife assumes the ideal of monogamy (Num. 5:11-31).
In all these instances it is assumed that a husband had one wife at any given time and not more than one.

The commands for the kings of Israel included not having many wives:
“The king, moreover, must not acquire great numbers of horses for himself … He must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray. He must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold” (Dt. 17:16-7).
Horses were used in warfare and royal wives were taken to form alliances with other nations. God wanted the kings of Israel to trust in Him and not in armaments or political alliances. The accumulation of wealth may be due to the oppression of the people. So God places limits on the armaments, alliances and wealth of these future kings. The kings “must not take many wives” (v.17). The Hebrew verb translated “many” (Strongs #7235) means multiply. This doesn’t seem to be a command for monogamy because in the previous verse the same word is applied to horses, which were used in warfare. As they wouldn’t be restricted to one horse, then they weren’t necessarily restricted to one wife. So this passage can’t be used to support monogamy for these kings.

Monogamy modelled

After God created Adam He said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him” (Gen. 2:18). Note that the helper, which became Adam’s wife is singular, not plural.

After God created Eve (the first woman) from Adam’s rib, the Bible says “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24). Because it says “that is why”, Adam and Eve are a model of marriage for humanity (when husband and wife leave their parents and live together). Because it says “his wife” and not “his wives”, this marriage is monogamous, with one man married to one woman and not many women. It is interesting to note that the second “start” to the human population (after the Genesis flood) began with four monogamous couples (Noah and his wife, Shem and his wife, Ham and his wife, Japheth and his wife). Also, Isaac, Joseph and Moses were monogamous.

One of the blessings of a godly man is “Your wife (singular) will be like a fruitful vine within your house” (Ps. 128:3). King Solomon advised “Enjoy life with your wife (singular)” (Eccl. 9:9). Also, a godly man “does not defile his neighbor’s wife (singular)” (Ezek. 18:6, 15).

Monogamy reported

Others who had one wife were Cain, Lot, servants (Ex. 21:3-5), Amram ( Num. 36:59), Lappidoth (Jud. 4:4), Heber (Jud. 4:17), Gilead (Jud. 11:2), Samson, Elimelek (Ruth 1:2), Phinehas (1 Sam. 4:19), Nabal (1 Sam. 25:3), David’s 600 men (1 Sam. 30:22), Uriah (2 Sam. 11:3), Bahurim (2 Sam. 17:18-19), a prophet (2 Ki. 4:1), Naaman (2 Ki. 5:2), Shallum (2 Ki. 22:14), Hezron (1 Chron. 2:24), Abishur ( 1 Chron. 2:29), Ephraim (1 Chron. 7:23), Jeiel (1 Chron. 8:29), Jehoiada (2 Chron. 22:11), Haman (Est. 5:10), Job (Job 2:9), Ezekiel (Ezek. 24:18). Kings have been omitted from this list because of the greater likelihood of them having more than one wife and of having concubines. For example, although Jezebel is said to be the wife of king Ahab, he also had other wives (1 Ki. 20:3; 21:5-7).

When the men of Benjamin who survived war with the rest of Israel were provided with wives, it was one wife for each man (Jud. 21:20-23).

So monogamy was the original form of human marriage (it was God’s idea) and it is assumed to be the ideal marriage in the commands of the Old Testament. Clearly monogamy was approved by God and was more prevalent in OT times than polygamy.

Marriage as a symbol

It is interesting to note that the OT prophets often illustrated God as the husband of Israel (Is. 54:5-8; 62:5 Jer. 2:2; 3:14; Ezek. 16:32; Hos. 2:16, 19-20; 3:1). In this figure of speech, the nation of Israel is God’s wife. It only makes sense with monogamy and not with polygamy – God only had one bride and wife in the OT and that was the nation of Israel. God didn’t have multiple brides and wives in the OT.

Because of her idolatry (following other God’s), Israel is accused of spiritual adultery (Jer. 3:1, 20; 13:27; Ezek. 23:37; Hos. 1:2; 4:13-14; 5:4; 9:1). Israel had broken the covenant between them (it was like a marriage covenant). This is illustrated by Hosea who married Gomer in a monogamous relationship (Hosea only had one wife). But Gomer was unfaithful in committing adultery – “like an adulterous wife this land (the northern kingdom of Israel) is guilty of unfaithfulness to the Lord” (Hos. 1:2). Afterwards Hosea took her back. He was to “love her as the Lord loves the Israelites” (Hos. 3:1). Then he told her “You are to live with me many days; you must not be a prostitute or be intimate with any (other) man, and I will behave the same way toward you” (Hos. 3:3). This is a monogamous marriage, not a polygamous one.

So the model for God’s relationship with the nation of Israel was a monogamous marriage and not a polygamous one.

Polygamy and monogamy compared

We have seen that monogamy was approved and commanded by God, but polygamy wasn’t. Monogamy was God’s idea. But God protected the rights of children in a polygamous marriage and protected women without an heir. Also the commands given in the OT assume monogamous marriages, and not polygamous ones.

The first marriage was between Adam and Eve, so it was monogamous. Also the marriages of those saved in the Genesis flood to repopulate the earth were monogamous. So marriage was monogamous at the beginning of time and not polygamous. The godly example and model for marriage in the OT was monogamy. Although some godly men were polygamous, they aren’t commended for their polygamy. Instead the Bible records the troubles that this caused (see the lives of David’s and Solomon’s children). The only model to follow that advocates polygamy, may be that the bigamy of king Josiah was a model for the kings of Judah.

Both monogamy and polygamy are reported in the OT without being endorsed or criticised. These are historical reports of events that don’t indicate God’s viewpoint on the subject of marriage.

Conclusion

Because monogamy was God’s idea, it was the original form of marriage, and it was the ideal marriage assumed by the OT commands and it was the model for God’s relationship with the nation of Israel.

Because polygamy wasn’t God’s idea, it wasn’t the original form of marriage, and it wasn’t the ideal marriage assumed by the OT commands and it wasn’t the model for God’s relationship with the nation of Israel.

Written, August 2015


Good news and bad news

good & bad news 400px

good & bad news 400pxEvery day we experience good news and bad news. Life is a mixture of both. But the news media often gives us more bad news than good news. Did you know that the Bible contains both good news and bad news?

The main message in the New Testament is called the “gospel”, which means “good news”. It’s good news about bad news. To understand it we need to understand the bad news first.

In the beginning of time, God made everything. It was very good. Everything was as God intended and people were in harmony with God. It was good news at the start.

But it didn’t stay that way very long because the first people rebelled against God. Their rebellion affected all God’s creation causing suffering, problems, disease and death. Things were no longer as God intended and people weren’t in harmony with God. That’s bad news. It’s our greatest problem.

So we live in a world that has been influenced by both good and bad news.

Jesus came to bring good news once again. To right the wrongs and solve the problems. But He does this in two stages and we live between them, between His first visit to earth and His second visit. He is the central theme of the gospel (or good news). The verses of Scripture that mention “Jesus” or “Christ” and “gospel” or “good news” are about Christ’s death, resurrection, glory (His second visit), His promise (of eternal life), the peace He brings, the fact that He can replace death with life and immortality, and His judgment of our lives.

That’s the message of the Bible. It’s the whole gospel. It’s not a human idea, but it’s God’s idea (Gal. 1:11).

The Bible says that the gospel is “the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16NIV). This power comes from God when people repent by turning towards God. God has already done His part, but we can only experience it if we do our part. It’s of no value to those who don’t accept it (Heb. 4:2).

So, let’s remember the whole gospel story. Why it’s good news about bad news. This is important because many people don’t know about the early history of our earth and humanity given in the Bible.

Written, July 2015


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