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What Do Homosexuality, Women in the Church & Home, Fornication, Divorce & Remarriage, Emergent & Hell All Have In Common?

There are some things in life which are not important until they are essential. One of these things is insurance. Another is a parachute. Another is a life raft. In ministry, one of these things is knowing where you stand on a hot-button topic.

I am convinced that the time to form an opinion is NOT half-way through a ministry posting, when a hot-button topic suddenly surfaces and threatens to wound hearts, destroy relationships, squelch spiritual life and tear the ministry asunder. This is absolutely not the time to be caught flat-footed, with no research and completely oblivious to the nuances and complexities on a certain topic. When you formulate an opinion before entering a ministry posting, one has leisure to study it fully and come to one’s beliefs in an honest and unbiased manner. In the heat of the moment, however, one has neither leisure nor objectivity. Most importantly, the decision becomes a deeply personal event: now you are not just making up your mind, but potentially condemning the actions of vulnerable, hurting peoples. This is the stuff of church-splits and scandal.

Convinced that I needed to come to conclusions on many of the main topics before entering full-time ministry, I have been slowly and methodically working my way through the major hot-button topics which confront the church in our day.


I had been working on several topics for a while, but the decision to work on them in a more public way happened rather unexpectedly. I posted my decision to cease calling myself emergent (see From Cool, Young Emergent to Boring, Old Conservative), and that received some very irate comments, and was linked to some other blogs, where it was disparaged. Unexpectedly, my readership shot up from around seven hits a day to around thirty. I tried to clear things up by responding to a comment somebody made: I had said I wanted to “step up to the plate” in my home. I felt like expressing myself very clearly on this point would clear up any misunderstandings, and soothe over tensions. Boy was I wrong.

That post got noticed by the kindly folks at the Council for Biblical Equality (CBE). I had five separate people posting very vigorously, and challenging my conclusions and beliefs on this topic. I continued posting and debating to try to defend my positions and come to a conclusion: in the meantime, my blog shot up to one hundred and sixty hits in one day, then leveled off around fifty a day. This was enough activity to bring me onto the google-radar, and the rest, as they say, is history.


The debate on women in leadership eventually came to an impasse. I said that I held the traditional view that the New Testament states that men should be the head of the home, and that men should lead and do the primary teaching in churches, etc. (note: obviously there is more to it than this: I am summarizing) but I was challenged as to my hermeneutics. Did I believe in head coverings (1 Cor. 11)? Did I believe that men had to pray with their hands raised (1 Tim. 2:8)? Did I greet people in my church with the “holy kiss” (Rom. 16:16, 1 Cor. 16:20, 2 Cor. 13:12, 1 Thess. 5:26)? If I decided that certain New Testament practices were outdated and cultural, how could I mandate others? I didn’t have a good answer, and so I ended my portion of this debate with a promise to find some answers to my own hermeneutical system, so that I would be able to come back at this topic with a fresh start.

That is about where I left it: although I have come to my own conclusions on this matter (which I expressed in a sermon that I hope to post sometime in this millennium), I have not posted on it again, simply because I have been scared off by the hermeneutical challenge.


About the same time that I was debating women in the church, a young man I (as well as other pastors at our church) was mentoring referred me to some youtube videos which (I am glad to say) seem to have disappeared from the internet. He had been publishing under “Not Another”, but this seems to have re-routed to another, similar site. The premise of this guy, at any rate, was that fornication was not forbidden in Scriptures. After all, times are much different now. “Fornication” back then was usually in a temple, with all sorts of weirdness associated. Nothing like good clean prostitution, or modern sex between mutually consenting adults. The guy really got my blood pressure up – not least of all because the person who referred this material to me was facing some serious temptations at the time, and someone fuzzing the lines really wasn’t helpful at all. I got all set to do a youtube video in response, but eventually did not do it for several reasons. First of all, I felt and looked ridiculous. That would describe about fifty-percent of the talking-heads on YouTube, but for myself…I just couldn’t bring myself to post something I produced in my garage, talking into a video camera. Also, other people were posting and were doing a much better job than I ever could. Most significantly, however, this antagonist was picking away at my Achilles heel: he was asking hard questions about how to read the Bible. In one post, for example, he loudly proclaimed, “Dude! Your Bible has a copyright on it!” This means, of course, that somebody is making money from selling you their translation of the Bible. And if they are making money, don’t you think they would have a bias!? How do I know what I am reading is accurate? The same is true (so he said) for the major concordances which are used by Churchmen: however, he had an obscure concordance which I had never heard of, but which was supposedly more accurate and not corrupted by the “church-bias”: according to this concordance, the critical verses were not translated to forbid fornication. He happily concluded that he could with a clear conscience fornicate to his hearts content, and still be a Christian. Other than mock him for being so arrogant as to boast that he alone (with no education whatsoever) was more educated and smart than the whole Christian church, I didn’t really know what to say to this guy.


The next topic I tackled was hell. I think it is important to note that I began talking about this topic as one which struck terror, shame and deep pain into my soul. I questioned “what if it’s really true?” What if, what if….if it’s true, it would have to change everything wouldn’t it? I started to become convinced that it actually was true that: 1) we really are a very very sinful race and 2) that God really is a holy, just, sovereign God, and 3) that this means that countless billions will suffer an eternal conscious torment of sufferings for the lifetime of sin which they have committed. Wow – just saying that…it is one thing to say, another thing to really process. Especially when one also believes that the only way to avoid hell is to place one’s full trust and confidence in the free gift of salvation offered in Jesus Christ, the son of God. He paid what we could not, so that we could receive what we do not deserve, but so desperately need – grace.

In Behold now…severity of God, I began to process this reality, and examine some of the ramifications. A friend from CBE began debating my literalistic interpretation of the verses. This post ultimately ended in frustration, but the underlying issue was again one of hermeneutics: I read the Bible basically like I read any other book. I read metaphors as metaphors, I read hyperbole as hyperbole, I read direct statements as statements of truth. It all seemed terrifyingly unavoidable and unambiguous. However, how could I prove that I was reading the Bible the right way? After all, I am not absolutely familiar with the original context – maybe the original writers would have heard something different than what I am hearing….?


I wrote a lengthy review of Brian Maclaren’s “A New Kind of Christian” and Rob Bell’s “Velvet Elvis“, and I don’t want to get into the content of those books very much here. However, it was very interesting that hermeneutical considerations formed a bulk of their works. Echoing many things I had heard before, they both brought up: 1) how the Bible had been used to endorse slavery, crusades and abuse of women, 2) how there are difficult verses which most people don’t know what to do with, 3) that the Bible was written a VERY long time ago, to a different culture. Thus, they concluded, it was just too simple to say “the Bible has this answer to this question.” This opened the way to present their own version of the gospel, which – as I mentioned elsewhere – is really only deism, or Liberalism, or Unitarian theology (by the way, these are all the same thing) repackaged, and with flashy graphics, wide-brimmed glasses, and a wise and twinkling eye.


Most recently, I have also been looking at the topic of homosexuality. Surprisingly, hermeneutics have not come up in my online discussions: however, when I read Justin’s essay in defense of Christians in homosexual relationships (see here), I was struck with a sudden, overwhelming sense of de ja vu: after some not-so-convincing arguments in which he tried to dismiss the well-known verses on homosexuality (his attempts were similar to the Campolo’s arguments, see here), Justin then went on to deconstruct conservative Evangelical hermeneutics. After all, he said, Christians have used the Bible to endorse slavery, the subjugation of women, and even crusades. (Wait a minute! Haven’t I heard this before…?) The Bible was written long ago, to a very different culture (hm…sounds strangely familiar), and finally, in conclusion, God is all about love, right? So why would a God of love actually tell His people that it is wrong to do something? (Note: I am being a little bit trite in my review: I actually think it is a very well written article, worth more time than I am giving it here although of course I disagree).

It was in reading Justin’s essay that the lights finally came on.

What do the topics of women in Christianity, of fornication, of hell, of emergent, and of homosexuality all have in common? Aside from being hot topics today, the glaring link between them all is that one side leans very heavily on a deconstruction of hermeneutics. The similarities are striking. Slavery came up in all of those topics. Abuse of women was next, followed by crusades. All of them found it necessary to prove, in one way or another, that the Bible could not be trusted. Ultimately, all of the people trying to pull their audiences away from the traditional view began with attacking the way most Christians read their Bibles, and ended by saying, in one way or another, “What really matters is that we all love one another, and love means agreeing with me, not with the conservatives.”

Now, I am not insane: I am not trying to debate all of these topics all at once. However, I have grouped these topics together for a reason: but I have realized something significant. Let me express it this way:

Let’s say that we were not Christians, but Muslims. Instead of trying to prove that our beliefs line up with the Bible, we are trying to make our beliefs line up with the Koran. Now, on one side of the debate are people who know the Koran inside and out. They are quoting passages, they are cross-refrencing, they are citing historical applications of the Koran, they are trying their very best to do exactly what Allah says is right on this issue, whatever it is. On the other side, a group of people is rapidly becoming experts in ancient studies, and in modern studies. They constantly challenge the “literalists” as being too shallow. They question whether the Koran can be understood on its own, as it stands. They draw many obscure “facts” (some of them real, some of them more questionable) to prove that the original context sheds all-important light on crucial passages. They point out that the Koran has been misinterpreted in the past, and strongly imply (although they never come out and say) that most of the Muslims, for most of the history of the religion have been wrong. They, however, are right. Oddly, the beliefs they seem to find the Koran teaching are exactly the same beliefs as their surrounding culture is teaching them.

Now tell me – which group do you think would be better Muslims? The group who read their holy-book and try their best to live by it, or the group who reads everything but the holy book, and tries their best to prove that their book does not actually say what it seems to say?

Let’s switch the metaphor again: rather than Muslims, lets’ invent a new religion – call it the Brittannicites. Our stated belief is that so long as we are true the the Encyclopedia Britannica, we will be saved. Now, which group is a better Brittanicite? The one who spends all their time reading commentaries about the original authors, the editions and redactions, and decides that after all, the Encyclopedia is not really very easy to trust and should be rejected? Or is it the group which actually reads the book, and does their level best to apply it to their lives?

This discovery has not really proven anything: however, the next time that someone begins, ends, or places a very heavy emphasis on the “okay, nobody knows what the Bible says, okay!? I mean, it was used to validate slavery for pete’s sake!” card, I will certainly be skeptical as to their real willingness to listen to God, as opposed to attempting to put words in His mouth.


  1. Here is something that you seem to resist seeing, so I will try to point it out.

    ANY text produced IN a specific culture needs to be understood from INSIDE that culture. When one does not do that, it is actually DISRESPECTFUL to the text as it can easily lead to taking text out of its context, turning the text into playdoh, and making it say almost anything one wants it to say.

    In terms of the Bible, there is a FALSE idea that it exists in some other way, perhaps as eternal logical propositions ala Euclid’s Elements. Treating the Bible as Euclid’s Elements is a gross distortion of what it is. Yet this is how it is treated by much of the evangelical community, altho this is changing.

    In this false model, a (supposed) Bible study consists of following logic chains of verses (specified as book, chapter and verse(s)) extracted from their immediate context in order to “prove” some proposition. But this has the potential to be a total hack. It has the APPEARANCE of an authoritative teaching, after all, look at all those references to the Bible, and this is why it can be so dangerous, as many people turn off their God-given filters and drink deep of someone’s chaining of verses that is actually of their own construction.

    So what do I see as the solution? First, it is to be humble in approaching the text, realizing our limits. I am NOT a member of the church at Corinth in the 1st century and I am certainly not Timothy, a spiritual son of Paul; so it is quite likely that there will be things that THEY figured out the text meant that I may NEVER know, since they knew the context of what was happening at Corinth or Ephesus in ways that no one today may ever know.

    Does that mean things are hopeless? No, not at all, but it does mean one needs to be diliigent in understanding as best one can the context in which to place the inspired text.

    One also must recognize that translation involves interpretation (it cannot be avoided) and therefore a specific translation is an attempt by the translators to have the reader interpret the Bible as the translators themselves do. In other words, be careful about choosing which translation you read and try to figure out the agenda of the translators, it is best if they state it themselves, but it does not end there. For example, the ESV was translated by a team of masculinist translators, this means that I read it EXPECTING that essentially every verse relating to gender will involve translation choices by them to promote gender hierarchy, as this is what they believe the Bible teaches. One is already OVER half way to a belief in gender hierarchy IF one uses the ESV as their main Bible translation. Similarly, if I read a Bible translation by Roman Catholic scholars, it would be very surprising if some verses were translated in a way to contradict some teaching of their church.

  2. P.S. You are also raising a false dichotomy. It is not a choice between reading the Bible and reading extra-Biblical information. EVERYONE uses extra-biblical information in their study of the Bible and the reason I do it is to better understand the Bible and its application for today.

    • Perhaps I have been unclear, or perhaps you have misunderstood me. In either case, it is helpful to note that we are both “playing the same game with the same rules.” We both read the Bible in our language, use church tradition, use scholarly resources (orig, lanugages, historical context, etc.), and we try to go from there, to pull Scriptures together from various places to form our conclusions on a matter.

      The difference between us is not that we use different rules, but that we emphasize different rules. This is no small distinction: the difference between protestants and catholics is that one emphasizes tradition, while the other emphasizes personal Bible-study and scholarly opinion.

      This post was more of a broad, overarching observation. I am not trying to prove that I am right on all of these points. However, I notice a marked difference in how people approach these points as opposed to others. For example, when you told me what you believed on divorce and remairriage, you were able to do so in only a few words. You mentioned Matthew 5 and the other places where Jesus talks about it, then you mentioned Paul’s words on the subject and summarized the synthesis of the two. I am sure that you have done more research than this – looking at Church tradition and scholarly resources – but in a few minutes of Bible-references, you were able to express yourself very clearly. The same would probably be true if I asked you to “prove” to me that murder was wrong. You would probably go to the OT and say “man and woman are made in the image of God, therefore it is wrong to murder.” Then you would look at the ten commandments. Then you would look at what Jesus said about even HATRED being murder, and how Paul said that muderers won’t enter the kingdom of God. You may or may not include some notes on the precise meaning of certain crucial greek words (you would probably do so to prove a difference between murder and “killing”) and you may or may not mention some historical context about how murder was different back then than it is now. However, the bulk of your work would be a very straight-forward examination of what the BIble actually says on the topic.

      On these topics I listed here, however, one side has a very different approach. If one follows the normal pattern of 1) reading the Bible for one’s self, 2) listening to church tradition, 3) listening to scholarly sources which flesh out the clear meaning of Scriptures with notes on the original languages and context, one will come to the “wrong” conclusion. Therefore, one does not begin with a study of the verses in question, but begins by saying, “look, the traditional view is wrong. It has been used to hurt people. God is not like that. Here are the reasons why….” Then one goes to the original languages and to context to say, “look, if we only were in the original, historical situation, we would know that this is not at all what the original writer/readers were thinking. This was for THEN, not for all time.” When one is done, one is fully convinced that the verses which most Christians had thought taught specifically on a certain issue (e.g. homosexuality, fornication, women in ministry, etc.) actually don’t say anything for today, or are so very confusing and debated that we can’t use them. Therefore, other verses are used to try to support a position, but ultimately the reader must be “humble” and admit that we just don’t know what they were talking about back then…

      Don, my main point is that there is a very marked, noticeable difference between how you and others approach an issue like women’s studies, homosexuality, hell, etc., and an issue like murder. In the one, you seem to be trying to listen to Scriptures: in the other, you are trying to prove that the scriptures are not saying what they seem to be clearly saying.

      You have termed your approach “humble,” since we need to realize that the Bible is far more complicated than we could ever know. I suppose this makes me “arrogant” for thinking that God is able to communicate through His word. But couldn’t this be just as true in the opposite way – that I am “humbling myself under the mighty hand of God,” trying my best to be obedient to His revealed word, while you are being arrogant enough to say that God cannot communicate, and that we ultimately need to look to different sources than the Bible for our authority?

    • God CAN AND DOES communicate with us via Scripture. However, there is always “the nut behind the wheel” (that is, us humans) who can misunderstand Scripture.

      Yes we are to see how others understood Scripture in the past, but that does not mean they got it right.

      I have studied BOTH sides extensively on the gender question, you REALLY need to study the egal side as you continue to think that the gender question is “clear”. Basically, you have been bamboozled into thinking something is clear when it is anything but clear.

      You REALLY need to have the experience of thinking something is clear in the Bible only to find out that you were wrong and wrong in a way that you slap your forehead. I have had MANY of these experiences and can help you in this if you want.

      • I think you are painting me as a younger, naive version of yourself. I am not going to try to defend myself (“oh, i have read the Bible x amount, I have spent x amount of time on the egal side, I have done x amount of research) but I would protest that I don’t think I have exactly been “bamboozled” into my beliefs. There was at least a little bit of thought on my side, and I read the Bible now and then and yes, since I was a card-carrying egal for about a year and a half I did do some research on that side of things.

        I haven’t studied as much as you, but then do you expect everyone to have to study each issue as much as you have to know what they believe? I thought children were able to enter the Kingdom? You have had much time to present your case on this and other issues: I haven’t bought it for the simple reason that the other side just seems very much more logically and Biblically sound and coherent.

        If you want to give me your best shot – or direct me to your favorite book – I will take a look at it, so long as it is available in some sort of text format. I have a nifty program that will convert text into audio. As I think I have said, I have absolutely ZERO time to read a book, but lots of time to listen to audio.

        So yeah – off topic, but if you want to have another go at that one, I will listen to what you’ve got to say.

      • I am sure you know that someone might believe a true thing for a invalid reason. Assuming normal arithmetic, I might think 2 + 2 = 4 because I think all additions give an answer of 4, for example. When this is the case the search for truth can lead one in ways that seem AWAY from the correct answer for a while.

        I claim that you are using a fundamentally flawed hermeneutic, one that might give right answers at times, but flawed at its heart. You can correct me in what you actually do, of course, but here is what I see you doing, as well as many, many others in evangelicalism.

        1. God is all knowing and wants to communicate with me.
        2. The Bible is God’s gift to humans in general and me in particular.
        3. Therefore the Bible is written TO me. That is, when I read a verse, I try to figure out what it means to me and that is what it means. For example, if I would use those words, then I would mean X, therefore the verse means X (and it is “plain” and “obvious” that it means X, after all God is not trying to trick me).

        Now a problem arises when someone else comes along and claims the verse means Y to them. Are they some kind of heretic trying to cause trouble? Do they not see the plain meaning of X? Perhaps they are simply caving into popular culture ala liberals? All of these questions indicate arrogance as the other party could just as easily claim the same things about me. Why cannot I see the plain meaning of Y?

        So the Roman Catholic challenge of each man being their own pope stands when using this hermeneutic. I think X and you think Y and we each form our own church teaching X and Y, respectively, repeat ad nauseum. This is the history of the Reformation in summary form.

        So what do I see as the fundamental flaw? It is in thinking that the Bible was written TO us; it WAS written FOR us and all humanity, but it was not written TO us. It was written to the original readers/hearers and we must do our best to read it as they would have. And by the way, this takes a lot more effort to do than they needed to do. And once we understand it as they did, we STILL have the challenge of mapping the meaning back then into an application for today, as things change. Slaves no longer wash feet of guests, my gov’t leader is not an emperor that is deified on death or during life, etc.

        Since it was not written TO us, one cannot just read it as a letter from a friend written yesterday, or a book written a few years ago. In those cases, it is almost always valid to use the meaning you would have meant if you yourself had written some text. But we cannot understand Shakespeare without lots of annotations explaining what things meant back a few 100 years ago; how much more this is true for the Bible.

        This is something I wish someone had told me much earlier in my faith, so I offer it to you.

      • Yes, of course I agree with you. I read the Bible as a book written within a context, and there needs to be serious work done to understand that context. There also has to be work done to understand the genre, the style, and the overarching context of what a person is saying. I get all of that. We basically agree (as, I think, most people do) that we need more than just the plain text of Scriptures, read as though they were addressed directly to us personally.

        As I said, the difference between us is one of emphasis. While I emphasize the plain meaning of Scriptures and tradition, you emphasize the scholarly consensus of your choosing. This is why on topics where the scholarly consensus is undecided (e.g. homosexuality, egalitarian) you say that the Scriptures are unclear, but where the scholars are silent, (e.g. bestiality) you say Scriptures are clear.

        The issue of God really being able to communicate is a serious issue, Don. There are people in the world – lots and lots of them – who have only the Bible. Think of tribes on the mission field, think of people in persecuted countries, think of thousands and missions throughout history (esp. the early church), who are unable to do all of this wonderful in-depth study you are so fond of. Are they able to know truth? Are they deceived to think that the Bible gives them real answers to real life issues?

        Yes, there are a few issues which really are difficult, and even after years of study we will never come to a conclusion on them. We need to not jump too quickly to conclusions on these points. But if God is unable to communicate whether He wants me to be marrying a man or a woman, don’t you think that He has failed at basic communication?

      • The Bible does say that marriage is between a man and a woman, ish and ishshah. I myself am a man married to a woman. And I THINK this is all it says, so that is my current belief. But I have not studied this area as much as others in the Bible, as other things were more pressing in my life. What I decline to do is claim I am 99% sure when it is really only 95%.

        And, as I have said, I have had quite a few experiences where I was 100% sure that the Bible taught something, as ALL my previous teachers taught it, only to find out I was missing some crucial pieces of info and (innocently) mishandling the word of God. This experience took away some of my cockiness and yes, my arrogance. I did see where the arrogance of others could and did cause real harm to the body of Christ and guess what, they can appear to not be arrogant at all, they can talk quietly and respectfully, clearly be mature believers, yet be dead wrong on something that harmed the body. I do not want to do that.

        My faith is like a bull’s eye target. Some things are in the core, some are close to the core and some things are further away and finally there are some things that are merely personal prefs.

        “Plain meaning” is basically in the eye of the beholder. It sounds like a reasonable hermeneutic but falls apart on examination. What one should seek is “plain meaning to an original reader” and this is something entirely different.

        One is to act in faith based on one’s current understanding, but always be teachable and seeking to learn more and possibly change when one gets more relevant info.

      • You will have an awful hard time convincing a young man, torn significantly by strong passions and desires, that “the Bible probably doesn’t approve of homosexulality….” Being certain is a great gift to those who are struggling, in the fog, and lost. That is why we like compasses.

        I hear you about the target. I also agree that being dogmatic and certain about ALL topics is arrogant. However, I don’t believe that being certain about topics which are certain is arrogant.

        I don’t think that the “plain meaning” is as soft and squishy as you believe it to be. You would be surprised how people who read the Bible for themselves all come up with the same sorts of stuff. This is especially true of the early church and the anabaptists – one group read the Bible alone because that’s all they had, the other because that’s all they wanted. On many, many topics (head coverings, holy kiss, pacifism, literal hell, so-called “arminian” theology, etc., etc.) they both formed basically the same doctrines. What is really surprising is that they did so without ever consulting one another (the anabaptists did not have access to the early church fathers.) I also notice that all of the conservative churches which emphasize the Bible tend to have the same sorts of beliefs. Yes, there is difference on the peripherals, but agreement on the essentials. This is because God’s word actually “works.” You can read it and understand it with little or no education. Although education is helpful of course, one needs to constantly put the voice of the Scriptures themselves above the voice of prevailing commentaries and opinions ABOUT the Scriptures.

      • If you think that all the conservative churches have all the same beliefs, you have not been to many conservative churches. Of course, this can become a self-fulfilling prophecy of one’s own making if one thinks that a woman pastor (or other thing that is not on an approved list) shows a church is liberal and therefore excluded from being a “real” conservative church.

        On ECF, they were ALL gentiles and wrote after the gentilization of the church. Essentially ALL OF THEM misunderstood some aspects of a Bible written by Hebrew thinkers. They were believers, as they were persecuted by Rome in cycles, but they had lost some context that would have helped them understand some Bible texts and this loss of cultural context widened over time as contact with Jews was lost. And then with Constantine, being in the church became a way to advance one’s career and gain power, so some were not even believers. My point is not that ECF were wrong about everything, far from it, but one should not look to them as a Magisterium; they are evidence to be sifted, but not conclusive evidence even when they all agree on something. But the basic history of the church is one of losing truth and adding error over time until the Reformation started to restore some truth. That does not mean the Reformers had all truth, but they did have more and also made some mistakes.

        Also, there is always a drive among some believers to “return to authentic Christianity” as found in the NT, except that people disagree about what it consists of. And each group has ways of thinking that it has the right way. The Church of Christ says that anything not explicitly permitted in the NT is forbidden and using this hermeneutic believes what they do. I think this is a bogus hermeneutic, but they do not.

      • Yes, there is much disagreement about what the NT means. It has always been this way, and Christianity has always been attacked for it. In defense of Christianity, Origen wrote that humans disagree and debate on all topics of interest and importance, for example, mathematics, chemistry, medicine, music, etc. Disagreement is not an indication of the lack of truth, but an indication of the importance of a subject.

        By “Early” church fathers, I mean “before constantine”. My mistake – I should have written “anti-nicene” fathers – although this is not totally accurate, because I think those who were earliest are the most important.

        You seem to imply that we know more about the context of the Scriptures than, for example, Ignatius of Antioch who wrote about the same time that Revelations was written, and was personally discipled by the apostle John. Is this really what you think? Please explain.

      • The original believers were about 120 Messianic Jews in the upper room, at first it was a sect of Judaism, like the Pharisees were a sect of Judaism. But the believers spread to Judeans and Galilleans, Samaritans, and then to God-fearing gentiles and finally pagan gentiles. However, Jews comprised about 2% of the population, so once gentiles came in, that opened up a mission field of the rest of humanity. In a short time they totally swamped the Jewish contingent, this is what I call the gentilization of Christianity.

        Furthermore, the Hillel Pharisee Jews declared Christianity a heresy and kicked them out of synagogues about 90. Rome had a special tax on Jews to allow them to practise their faith, but as Christians were not Jews, they became an illegal religion and persecution ensured. So Jewish context was lost among the now mostly gentile believers who were trying to survive amidst persecution.

        So a OT and NT that was written by Hebrew thinkers was now being read by Greek thinkers and some things were misunderstood. This is the start of the allegorical interpretation of Scripture, the words of God were put to SOME use in trying to advance the faith, but with allegory almost anything goes, text can be made to say almost anything if EVERYTHING is a symbol for something else. Thus the idea of Sacred Tradition needed to interpret Scripture ala the Western Roman church and the Eastern church, altho their traditions differed and later resulted in the Great Schism.

        One can see a specific example of loss of context in Mat 19:3, the ECF did not understand the 1st century Jewish context and so misunderstood it. The Jews also lost the 1st century Jewish context, as Hillel won out and the debate between Hillel and Shammai was only known by a few.

      • Are you aware that there was a strong push towards remaining Jewish, among the early church, which was strongly RESISTED by the early church? This was present in the NT (a la Paul) but also comes out strongly in the earliest of the fathers. The fathers didn’t want Scriptures to be read “Jewishly” but “Christianly.” They relied on the “rule of faith” to transmit orthodoxy. What this meant was that the apostle John not transmitted his thoughts in writing, but also worked with and discipled Ignatius. Other apostles did likewise. These specific people then started churches and mentored and endorsed the teachings of specific people under them. You certainly cannot say (as the RCC says) that this sort of succession has carried on truth for 2000 years, and even in the years leading up to constantine, a definite drift is discernible. However, for the first few generations, it seems very difficult to contradict that system of orthodoxy. If your interpretations lead you to a “more Jewish” reading of a text, in contradiction of what, for example, the earliest of the fathers believed I would think that the burden of evidence is against you, that you do not believe the same thing that the authors (who personally mentored these people) believed.

        It’s soft science I know, but that is what I think.

      • With the gentilization of the church, the leaders lost the cultural context to understand what Matthew the Jew, Paul the Jew, Peter the Jew, etc. wrote in some cases, and the loss of info accumulated over time. Eventually, the Messianic Jews were kicked out of the church, this shows how wacked it got.

        The idea of reciting a creed to show that one is a believer is very Greek, not Hebrew. For a Hebrew, faith is active. A Greek thinker might say he believes a bridge is strong enought to hold him, a Hebrew thinker will demonstrate it by walking on the bridge.

        As I said, one can see how the ECF botched Mat 19:3 as they had lost the original context, this is just one example. And the meaning was lost until 1856 when one scholar figured it out, that is almost 1700 years of misunderstanding 1 verse by essentially everyone.

      • Since you brought it up, would you please tell me what information you are referring to, surrounding Mat. 19:3?

        Have you heard of JND Kelly? Renouned as a major scholar, he very convincingly argues that the concept of “a creed, as the center of the faith” was very much present in the NT. For example, the statement “jesus is Lord” served as a test of orthodoxy for spirits. Also, Paul has several “proto-creeds” where he states, in summary form, the essentials of the information which he received about Jesus. I wrote about this at length in my essay Do We Need More Than ‘Scriptures Alone’?, which you can read on my “research pages” tab, though, so I won’t get into it here.

        I feel this conversation drawing to a close, but I am sure it will rekindle when I post again on the early church.

        peace be to you!

      • There are short statements of faith imbedded in the NT. But this does not mean they should be used in a creedal way, where if some say them and some do not, then the one that say them are declared to be Christians. Christians show the fruit of the Spirit.

        The basic history of creeds is that they were carefully crafted in order to exclude some group as that group could not say those specific works in the creed in faith. And they became increasingly esoteric. And earlier ones were tweaked. My take is if one believes the Bible is sufficient, then it is sufficient and creeds are not needed.

        In Mat 19:3 there are 2 terms used by the 1st century Jewish teachers/Pharisees that are needed to be recognized as such to understand the meaning of the verse.

        ESV Mat 19:3 And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?”

        The 2 terms are “lawful” and “for any cause”. These are both technical terms for specific concepts. “lawful” means “in the Torah” specifically “in the Torah of Moses” what we call the Pentateuch. “for any cause” is a referece to the so-called “Any Cause” divorce as taught by Hillel in referring to the words in Deu 24:1. Shammai said the phrase “ervah dabar” meant just sexual immorality, Hillel said there were 2 concepts there sexual immorality and “thing” therefore “any thing” was according to Hillel a valid reason for divorce. So the Pharisees are asking whether Jesus agreed with Shammai or Hillel in interpreting Deu 24:1. However, how many Bibles allow you to figure this out? And if you do not understand the question, it is pretty sure you will not understand the answer either. And the ECF did NOT understand this, as they were gentiles who had lost the 1st century Jewish context of what was being said. It was only in the 19th century that a scholar figured it out.

      • If you are interested in the creedal question, I would encourage you to read my essay. I can re-edit it (it was one of my earlier essays) and post it on my main blog if that would make it more interesting to you. It would just make more sense for you to read my thoughts on it in that format, though, rather than me giving bits and pieces of my opinion in this format.

        Yes, I have heard of that bit of information. What I don’t really get is why this makes any difference? The way that I think most people would read this is, “The Pharisees asked Jesus, ‘in your opinion, do Scriptures allow us a divorce of convenience?” Jesus, in effect, said, “No. You can only divorce for maritual unfaithfulness. And you cannot remarry.” (Of course there is much debate about that second part.) Now, we find out that Jesus was actually refuting one pharisee and siding with the other, then (if you accept that Jesus refused remairriage) going beyond both.

        Interesting background, but I don’t know how it changes anything. I could be just missing something though: you have done more research on this than I, so please tell me what I have missed!

      • Knowing the 1st century context of Mat 19:3 makes ALL the difference in underderstand what is going on.

        It changes the scope of the question, which you still do not see so I will point it out. It changes the question for one of global scope (divorce for any reason at all) to one of very limited exegetical scope (divorce for the claimed Hillel reason of “any reason” supposedly found in Deu 24:1). That is, you are letting your (former) incorrect understanding of the verse influence the correct understanding of the verse. You need to drop the former understanding completely.

        This is absolutely CRITICAL to not make a mishmash of what follows, as many do unfortunately. Jesus was asked a specific question about how to interpret a 2 word phrase (really how to interpret 1 word) in Deu 24:1. This is a very localized question, NOT covering ALL Scripture.

        And one can see that you miss it in your summary of what Jesus is saying in effect, you get it entirely wrong, altho you are wrong with many others if that is any comfort. You breeze over critical text and summarize it wrong, this in turn harms the church, so I oppose it.

        What Jesus does is something amazing, he goes beyond the question and starts to correct the Pharisees is OTHER things they got wrong before he answers the question they asked. It turns out these other things are laying the groundwork for his answer, but they are essential to understand in cultural context. In effect, the Pharisees taught about 20 things about marriage and divorce and Jesus is correcting seven (7!) of them, but if you do not know what they taught, you will not notice his corrections.

        What you did is an example of what I call a result of assuming the Bible was written TO us, you read Mat 19:3 as if it was written yesterday, perhaps even by you, and ask yourself, if I wrote it, what would I mean. This is TOTALLY wrong. We need to ask what Matthew meant and what it would mean to the original reader, not us today!

      • The declaration of independence was written within a certain context. However, if you did not understand that context, that document would still be able to communicate truth. This is the difference between a holy book and a newspaper: the one is written with a trans-cultural audience in mind, the other is not.

        If Jesus was only having a back-room conversation about a localized debate between two rabbi’s, was it a mistake to reprint his words? Yes, he was responding to a question arising from a localized question (just like he responded to contemporary issues, such as a tower falling on people, etc.) but isn’t his ANSWER of universal importance? He is God, after all, come in the flesh.

        At any rate, you have notified me to some interesting information. I will look into this debate someday soon, and defer this conversation to when I have done some of my own research on it, so I can engage in more informed discussion.

      • The Constitution is only 200 or so years old. And it allows amendments, so the original text gets to be tweaked. This is how former slaves became citizens and women got the right to vote, etc. And thank God for all that.

        Of course Jesus’ answer is of universal importance, that is why it was recorded in Matthew. Jesus always correctly interpreted Torah and as I said, he corrected seven misinterpretations of Torah by the Pharisees when he was only asked about one of them.

        Something can be of universal significance but it still needs to be stated so the original hearers/readers can understand it.

        P.S. All the hearers of Jesus knew about the debates between Hillel and Shammai and in the case of divorce it was important to know which school a Pharisee belonged to. What would happen is one would pick 3 teachers to sit in judgment, and if you picked 3 from Hillel school, they would allow an “Any Matter” divorce, but if you picked 3 from Shammai school, they would not. So it was CRITICAL to know which way they would rule if you were going for an “Any Matter” divorce. If you went for any other kind of divorce (for adultery, abuse or neglect), then there was likely asset division questions and guilt of breaking vows made a difference into how things were divided.

        If you want to study the cultural background info, has his books online. There is also my teaching on it in PPT at ECA website.

      • Sorry, I missed this one earlier. WordPress holds back posts with links, just because it thinks you are spamming.

        Good points and thanks for the resources!

    • To clarify, to think the gender issue is “clear” means that one is choosing to ignore the tremendous number of books and papers that have been generated and are being generated by both sides in the debate, the sheet volume says that this is not a clear issue.

      When one looks at the actual texts in question, one sees that there is a LOT that is NOT clear at all. Just to scratch the surface, authentein in 1 Tim 2:12 is a very rare word and scholars are not sure even whether it has a negative or positive connotation, let alone what it means. And there is a similar lack of knowledge about some aspects of other verses also.

  3. Josiah wrote: “When one is done, one is fully convinced that the verses which most Christians had thought taught specifically on a certain issue (e.g. homosexuality, fornication, women in ministry, etc.) actually don’t say anything for today, or are so very confusing and debated that we can’t use them. Therefore, other verses are used to try to support a position, but ultimately the reader must be “humble” and admit that we just don’t know what they were talking about back then…”

    This is absolutely NOT what I am saying. ALL Scripture is given to us for instruction. We are to mine its depths as best we can, knowing we will never get to the bottom. You have been referring to many groups in your original post and so perhaps you did not mean it to apply to me, but I can tell you it does not and if you think it does you have misunderstood me.

    For example, the gender verses when studied in context actually celebrate spiritual gifts, including leadership ministry gifts, given without regard to gender. Yes, there are a few challenging “gender” passages that may be easy to misunderstand when taken out of context, but when understood in context present a vision for ministry that is breathtaking to me.

    So my reccommendation is to learn how to do one’s best to NOT take verses out of context.

  4. ” In the one, you seem to be trying to listen to Scriptures: in the other, you are trying to prove that the scriptures are not saying what they seem to be clearly saying.”

    I know you are an honest person, Josiah. So, take a step back and realize that statement can be said by all sides of an issue. What is “clear” to you is not always clear to another and that for many many reasons. As any old time preacher will tell you, what he thought was so clear in his youth, in some cases changed dramatically in later years. When issues and understandings are debatable, there is a reason.


    • I feel dissatisfied with my post. My thoughts didnt’ come through very clearly. The gist of it was supposed to be this: when I read/hear someone, and they spend a significant amount of their argument time saying, in effect: 1) these verses, the ones which clearly speak to this issue do not say what they seem to say, and besides, 2) Scriptures are very confusing and conflicted and slaves and crusades and blah blah blah,” I really can’t help but question their conclusions. I say “question” because yes, maybe they have a few good points. But I question because so many times, when people begin with this approach, they end up being able to endorse anything from homosexuality to fornication, and beyond.

      I am still not very clear. Maybe I should just blank out this post and ponder and edit for a while. But it would be unfortunate to loose our dialogues….

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