Monday, December 16, 2013

Len Brown, Enough is Enough

If Len Brown had any integrity left, he would resign. He is a disgrace. I am all for forgiveness and restoration, and Len can have both, but that doesn’t mean he should be mayor. He can join the rest of us in the struggles of everyday life, forgiven, but paying the consequences.

First, it is old news now that he engaged in a salacious affair for two years including having sex in his office and other council contexts including the Town Hall. At that time, I thought he should resign. After all, when the story broke, he had just been voted in as mayor for the second time, and the voting public did not have this information when they voted. It rendered the vote meaningless. I personally voted for him, and I would most certainly not have had I known. I felt robbed.
For me it is a matter of trust. Supposedly, and I am probably naive here, leadership is based on trust. I can never trust a man who betrayed his family in this way. The affair indicates two years of lying to his wife and family. If he can lie to them that he supposedly loves as his flesh and blood, I assume he will lie to me and Auckland without thought. Further, his wife in that time had been dealing with cancer. All this should what a vile man Len Brown is.

Secondly, now the report of his behaviour has come out. He made 1,400 personal calls and texts to Bevan Chuang. He failed to declare $39,000 of hotel deals. He only reimbursed $263 dollars. Bevan Chuang also attended council meetings as a translator, when not a translator—shades of the sign language fiasco at the Mandela memorial! He used his mayoral vehicle to take Ms Chuang home—I am sure there was no hanky panky on the way. He also received NRL Grand Final tickets and an ipad, which were undeclared. Come on Len. Not only are you a self-confessed philanderer, all indications are that you are a crook (allegedly, yeah right).

Of course Brown’s response denies misusing council resources nor that his mistress received preferential treatment. That just digs the hole further for Len as far as I am concerned; were their others Len? Who else received this same favourable treatment? Ironically, after declaring his innocence, in his response he admits he should have disclosed the free rooms—you can’t have it both ways Len. He (again) apologises to the people of Auckland. Bla bla bla. This person of Auckland accepts the apology and grants you forgiveness, but also believes that he should resign forthwith. Len Brown is not indispensable—grave yards are full of indispensable people. Go and play golf or something. You can join the Tiger Woods supporters club and tour with him.   

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Who’s Left Behind? The Rapture

A friend asked me to blog on the rapture. So here we go. Is there a case for a rapture in the NT and if so, what sort? 

It is common in popular Christian circles—e.g. ‘Left Behind’—to speak of a future secret sudden rapture of the church. This is one of the key events at the culmination of world history. This happens before the Second Coming for many. At some moment leading up to the return, usually preceding or in the middle of a time (usually seven years) of terrible human suffering (the Tribulation) under an anti-Christ, all Christians will be whisked out of the world and taken to be with Jesus. This will happen as people are going about their normal lives. This will lead to carnage such as planes and other vehicles driven by Christians crashing into each other. Christians will suddenly and literally be whisked away. All the rest of humanity will be ‘left behind’ along with Israel to face the horrendous suffering of the Tribulation, a time which will culminate with the return of Jesus.

There are a few biblical passages which are cited as evidence, especially from Matt 24 and Luke 17, and 1 Thess 4 (some see Rev 4 as the rapture, however, this is bizarre at best). Although some scholars limit Matthew 24:30–31 to events around Jesus death, resurrection, and the Great Commission, or the fall of Jerusalem, most rightly see here Christ’s return. 

Matthew 24:3031 
In Matt 24:3031 the Son of Man (Jesus) appears in the clouds, paralleling Acts 1:11 where Jesus will return as he left by ascension. It will be a powerful and glorious moment in history. Note that there is nothing secret about it; rather, “all people” will see and mourn. At that time, he (Jesus) will gather his people from all over the world (the four winds, i.e. the directions of the compass). Presumably this is when the gospel is preached to all nations and the Great Commission is completed to God’s satisfaction (Matt 24:14; 28:18–20). No further detail is given so it is unclear at this point the details of this moment. 

Blomberg rightly says of this passage, 
        “Walvoord correctly observes that nothing in any of these verses in Matthew describes            the rapture (believers being caught up to meet the Lord in the air) [Walvoord, Matthew,          182]. Disputes about a pretribulation, midtribulation, or posttribulation rapture will have            to be settled by other texts” (Blomberg, Matthew [NAC], 363).

What happens is further clarified in what follows in vv. 36–41. After Matthew’s Jesus states that no-one, including Jesus himself, knows when this return will occur (reader take note!). Jesus then parallels his second coming to the events of the Noah and flood. At the time of Noah, the grossly sinful people of the world (Gen 6:1–4) were living normal lives including eating, drinking, and marrying. Noah entered the ark, the place of safety and refuge from the forthcoming flood. Then, without their knowing that the flood was coming, the flood “came and took them all away” (Matthew 24:39). “Them” and “all” clearly refer to the sinful people of Noah’s generation who were taken away by drowning. “Took them all away” means that they were recipients of God’s judgment; they were removed and killed. On the other hand, Noah and his family were preserved through the judgment and lived on. 

This event is then paralleled with the Second Coming by Jesus. A pair of men is working in the field and two women are grinding at a mill. In each case one is taken and the other left behind. The question is who is left behind? 

Rapturists assume that this occurs before the Second Coming and it is the Christians who are taken away and the unbelievers left behind in chaos. However, there are at least two reasons to argue that this is a flawed reading. First, this description of events does not precede the return which occurs in vv. 30–31, but further explains the return of Christ in v. 36. So, it clearly speaks of events at the Second Coming not before (e.g. pre-trib/mid-trib). As Blomberg says,
        Some have seen a “secret rapture” in view here (in which believers mysteriously                     disappear from earth, leaving everyone else to wonder what happened), which often               leads to absurd scenarios (e.g., the modern-day notion of cars suddenly without                     drivers). But the only coming of the Son of Man described so far has been the climactic           universal return of Christ in v. 27 (Matthew, 366).

Secondly, if we take the logic of who was taken away at the time of Noah, it is the unbelievers who are clearly swept away in judgment when Christ returns not the Christian. The Christians are preserved by God through the judgment. The Christian then is the one “left behind.” Blomberg rightly states,
         There will be no mystery then; Matthew 25:31–46 will describe the worldwide judgment            of humanity that occurs next. In fact, “taken” in vv. 40–41 (though a different verb in                the Greek) parallels “took” of v. 39 and suggests that those taken away are taken for              eternal judgment (not “raptured”), while those left behind remain with Christ (Blomberg,          Matthew, 366). 

This picture fits with other passages of judgment in Matthew when Jesus returns and unbelievers and believers are judged with those who are not believers destroyed in hell (e.g. Matt 13:30, 40–43, 49–50; 25:31–46). Further, it fits with Matthew’s view of a restored world most clearly seen in Matt 19:28: “Jesus said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (cf. Matt 17:10).

Luke 17:2035
Luke’s version of this event is found in Luke 17. Luke’s Jesus refers to the future coming of Christ. He speaks of false predictions, of which there have been many including in our time (Luke 17:22–23). He speaks of the coming as a cosmic event like lightening which must be preceded by Jesus’ suffering and death (Luke 17:24–25). Then he parallels the event with the flood. Like Matthew’s version, people are going about their daily business when the flood hits. While Noah is in the ark, “the flood came and destroyed them all.” Then Luke’s Jesus parallels it with the story of Sodom. Those in Sodom were going about their lives as normal when fire and sulphur rained down from heaven and “destroyed them all.” 

These two events are paralleled with Jesus’ return. In vv.34–35 two pairs are again mentioned, a couple in bed and two women grinding coin. In both situations “one will be taken and the other left.” If the parallels to the flood and destruction of Sodom are taken seriously, it is the unbelievers who are taken, swept away and destroyed. The believers are those who will be preserved and live on. Further, this happens at the massive cosmic event of the second coming that lights up the sky and not before in some pre-return rapture. 

This fits with Luke’s wider theology of restoration. This is seen most clearly in Acts 3:21: “Heaven must receive him until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets.” This fits with Isaiah’s vision of a new heavens and earth (Isa 65–66), Paul’s theology of creation released from its bondage to decay (Rom 8:19–23), and the new (renewed) heaven and earth in Rev 21–22. God is not going to blow the world up and start again, he is restoring it. Its physical restoration will be complete at his return.

Some would argue that 2 Peter 3 speaks of the world being destroyed by fire. However, 2 Peter 3 also uses the story of Noah as parallel to the culmination of history. People are scoffing at the so-called return of Christ (2 Pet 3:4). Peter then speaks of the story of the flood when the world was “deluged and destroyed” (2 Pet 3:6). Similarly, the world today is being reserved not for flood, but “the judgment and destruction of the ungodly” (2 Pet 3:7). The day of the Lord will come and there will be destruction by fire. If we find the parallel in the flood as does Peter, this is not the complete destruction of the cosmos, but a picture of judgment and the destruction of the ungodly. The new heavens and earth then are not something completely new, but the purification and healing of the world.

1 Thess 4:17
The only other passage that might be used to defend a so-called rapture is 1 Thess 4:17. Here Paul outlines the events around the second coming. Jesus will return (v. 16) dramatically with a loud angelic command, the trumpet call of God. This is not something preceding the return, a rapture, but Christ returning. It will be sudden and for many unexpected (1 Thess 5:2–3). It will be preceded by a rebellion and “man of lawlessness” (2 Thess 2:1–10). However, it will not be secret; rather it will be noisy and seen! 

At Christ’s return the believing dead will rise. Those believers at a time will join them meet “the Lord” (Jesus) in the air. This is a rapture in a sense, but it is not secret and before or in the middle of some tribulation. Rather, it is a rapture that happens at the time of Christ’s return. 

Believers “meet” the Lord in the air. “Meet” is apantēsis which was a “technical term for a civic custom of antiquity whereby a public welcome was accorded by a city to important visitors” (E. Peterson, ἀπάντησις, in TDNT, 1.380). The technical use is found in Acts 28:15 where the Christians of Rome came out to the Forum of Appius and the Three Taverns to “meet” Paul who was then escorted into Rome. This is not a rapture away from the world, but to meet Christ who is then welcomed “home” to his world as “Lord” of the world.

Witherington sums this all up nicely (1 and 2 Thessalonians, 138–39).

This imagery is pursued further in v. 17 with the use of the term apantesin. For example, Cicero says of Julius Caesar’s victory tour through Italy in 49 B.C.: “Just imagine what a meeting/royal welcome (apantesis) he is receiving from the towns, what honors are paid to him” (Ad. Atticus 8.16.2; cf. 16.11.6 of Augustus: “the municipalities are showing the boy remarkable favor.… Wonderful apantesis and encouragement”). This word refers, then, to the actions of the greeting committee as it goes forth from the city to escort the royal person or dignitary into the city for his official visit. 

Who is left behind? Unbelievers? No, it is the believers who are left behind. Is there a secret rapture where Christians are whisked out of life suddenly leaving behind chaos? Not in the NT. Is there anything like a rapture? No if you mean a secret one. But, there is a rapture at the time of Christ whereby believers are taken up to meet Christ and welcome him home as Lord of the world. They live forever with him in a restored world set free from its bondage to decay in which we will experience the healing of the nations and our suffering will be washed away. Come Lord Jesus.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

What about Divorce?

I have had a friend ask me recently about divorce. As with polygamy (below), this is rather complex. 

Beginning in Genesis, the ideal of God is heterosexual faithful loving monogamous marriage. I have already written on this (Gen 1:26–28; 2:24).  In Israel, divorce, except for extreme circumstances decided by the court, was permissible only for a husband who could divorce his wife. Instructions are given in Deut 24:1–4. When a man is displeased with his wife because of some “indecency” he writes a certificate of divorce, places it in her hand, and sends her out of the house. If she marries again and is again divorced, she is not to remarry her former husband. The Hebrew for indecency (ʿěr•wā(h)) suggests sexual infidelity. Later Rabbis debated as to whether this should be strictly interpreted purely in sexual terms (Shammai School), or more generally including such things as childlessness, religious offenses, or even the completion of household tasks such as burning bread (Hillel School). For example, m. Giṭ. 9:9 reads: 

A The House of Shammai say, “A man should divorce his wife only because he has found grounds for it in unchastity,
B      “since it is said, Because he has found in her indecency in anything (Dt. 24:).
C      And the House of Hillel say, “Even if she spoiled his dish,
D      “since it is said, Because he has found in her indecency in anything.
E      R. Aqiba says, “Even if he found someone else prettier than she,
F      “since it is said, And it shall be if she find no favor in his eyes (Dt. 24:1).”

In reality, Jewish husbands could and did divorce their wives for almost any reason including disobedience and poor cooking (Josephus, Ant.  4.253; Vita 426). This suggests that the laxer view of the Hillel school dominated at the time of the NT. If a woman had a legal certificate of divorce, she could then remarry. 

Elsewhere in the OT, the metaphor of divorce is also used in the OT of Yahweh’s exclusive relationship with Israel, something Israel defiled with her idolatry (e.g. Isa 50:1; Jer 3:8). Some argue that this exclusivity of relationship points to monogamy. However, as Amos says in Amos 9:7 points out, God is in relationship with other nations and so these OT texts are ambiguous. It is tenuous to apply them to monogamy.

In the Roman world, by the first century, both men and women could divorce and it was common. Plutarch wrote in the first century that only a coward would fail to divorce a troublesome wife (Plutarch, Virt. mor. 2; Mor. 100E). There was no stigma in divorce and most people remarried after divorce or widowhood.

In Matthew 5:31–32, Jesus endorses the position of the Shammai school on Deut 24 indicating that when a man wishes to divorce, he gives his wife a certificate of divorce if she has committed adultery. If not, divorcing her makes her and anyone she marries adulterers. 

More light is shed on Jesus’ view on divorce in Mark 10:1–12 which is take up by Matthew in Matthew 19:2–12. In Mark’s account, Jesus is asked by Pharisees whether it is lawful to divorce one’s wife. Jesus responds by asking what Moses commanded, to which they cite Deut 24:1 which states a man can write a certificate of divorce and send her away. Jesus then goes on to state that this was a concession because of the hardness of people’s hearts. That is, because of human sin which came as a result of the Fall. However, the original intent was that a man and a woman would leave their families, marry, become one flesh. Jesus concludes, “what therefore God has joined together, let no person separate.” Later, the disciples query this. Jesus tells them that whoever divorces and remarries commits adultery—no exceptions (Mark 10:10–12). Interestingly Luke excludes the account of this event, but does include the Markan absolute ban on divorce in Luke 16:18: “Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.” 

Matthew, however, does use and edit Mark in Matt 19. He adapts Mark’s question making it clearer that the real question is whether Jesus sides with the legalistic Shammai school which advocated divorce for sexual infidelity, or the more liberal Hillel school which advocated divorce for almost anything. Aside from minor differences, the discussion is pretty much the same except that Jesus gives one exception for remarriage, “except for sexual immorality” (porneia). Here, porneia would indicate the general problem of sexual immorality in any form that violates the marriage relationship. There is then a further discussion on marriage in which they ask if it is better not to marry and Jesus answers cryptically of eunuchs. 

The difference between the absolute prohibition on divorce in Mark and the sexual immorality clause in Matthew leads to a dilemma in interpretation. Should we follow Mark? Should we follow Matthew? Who has the original words of Jesus? If we follow Matthew’s allowance in the case of sexual immorality we have a further dilemma. What does Jesus mean by porneia? Should it be strictly applied as it usually is to sexual immorality, or is it to be taken more generally of not only sexual immorality but other parallel gross acts of infidelity, e.g. physical abuse. Some Christians apply this legalistically, others more liberally. I am in the latter camp.

In the wider NT there is nothing on divorce except in 1 Cor 7:10–16. Here, Paul, explicitly stating that he is referring to Christ’s teaching (probably his oral knowledge of the encounter of Mark 10/Matt 19 or Luke 16), tells believers married to another believer that neither should separate. And, if either does, they should remain unmarried unless reconciled. Then, in the case of a Christian married to an unbeliever, they should remain married unless the unbelieving spouse wants divorce. If so, the Christian should release them. If a Christian is divorced in this way they are ou dedoulōtai which literally means “not enslaved” or “not bound.” The very best scholars are split at this point as to whether Paul means here that a believer is free to remarry or not. 

Those who argue the latter (like Fee, Garland), consider that the language Paul means that a believer is no longer enslaved in a marriage where the spouse wants out but does not go so far as saying they are free to remarry. Rather, the only situation where remarriage is legitimate is death (e.g. Rom 7:2–3; 7:39). Their position would seem to lead to a Christian pastor or church not allowing remarriage. This is not uncommon in conservative churches today.

The former view sees Paul going further and saying that a believer is now free to remarry (e.g. Ciampa and Rosner, Thiselton). I find the latter view much more compelling. As Ciampa and Rosner say quoting Instone-Brewer, “Not bound here refers to freedom to remarry. Instone-Brewer explains: ‘The only freedom that makes any sense in this context is the freedom to remarry.… [A]ll Jewish divorce certificates and most Greco-Roman ones contained the words ‘you are free to marry any man you wish,’ or something very similar.’” If so, a Christian pastor would discuss the situation of a person’s divorce and remarriage and often would marry them. As a Pastor, I have dealt with those situations. I can remember a situation where a woman left her first husband, then attempted to reconcile. The first husband said no. He then remarried himself. I considered that the women was not bound as she was truly repentant and there was no going back.

So then, you can see why Christians are split on this. Some prefer Mark 10 over Matt 19 rejecting any “Jesus privilege” and then interpret 1 Cor 7:15 tightly rejecting any “Pauline privilege.” Others see in Matt 19 and 1 Cor 7 as indicative of situations where Christians will consider that remarriage is appropriate. The two explicit cases are where there is sexual infidelity and where an unbeliever wants out of the marriage. 

Others go even further. You see, neither Jesus nor Paul answered questions about other common situations in marriage such as: violence in marriage, rape in marriage, verbal abuse, abuse of the children, the complete absence of affection, neglect, and so on. Some would encourage the victim to leave those situations but would not advocate remarriage. Some, including myself, see in Matthew and Paul situations that we can reflect on analogously. That is, where we find situations analogous with those Matthew and Paul conceive of (sexual immorality/an unbeliever wanting out), then we would see remarriage as permissible. That is, where these sort of things are going on, love would say to a woman or man who is suffering deeply, “get out!” Especially if there are issues of personal safety. Where there is such behavior, one might also ask whether the perpetrator is truly a Christian, despite their claims to faith. In such circumstances, should the person who separates from the chronically failing marriage not be permitted to remarry? At this point it becomes a matter of pastoral judgment.

One more thing can be added. A look at the genealogy of Jesus through which God worked to bring his savior is interesting. It includes sexual infidelities including Judah and Tamar, David and Bathsheba and polygamists like David and Solomon. As such, we can see God is working in the mess, even if these things are not ideal.  

All in all, while I uphold rigorously that ideally marriage is loving, faithful, lifelong, monogamous, and heterosexual, and that we should do everything we can to endorse traditional marriage, love say that there are situations where it is better to divorce. If the divorcee find the opportunity to remarry, and there is genuine contrition and repentance, and where reconciliation is out of the question,  and the person show a real desire to please God moving forward, as a Pastor I would remarry them. I have yet to encounter a situation where remarriage was on the agenda and the people involved were not truly aware of their failures in the past and would undo them if they could. I would do so also allowing God to be the judge. Only he knows. I sense he is a gracious God. I believe God is a God of second chances.  

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

What about Polygamy?

I have been recently asked on several occasions about polygamy—marriage between a man and multiple women (polygyny) or the converse (polyandry). What is a Christian perspective? 
Interestingly, the discussion is more theologically complex than that gay issue in that, whereas the homosexuality is clearly repudiated throughout the Scriptures, polygamy was practiced in Israel in OT times. As such, it is a complicated discussion. However, I think when worked through, it becomes clear that a biblically faithful Christian position would reject polygamy.
The Old Testament
As I have repeatedly written in terms of the gay marriage issue, Genesis 1:27–28 and 2:24 lay the foundation for Christian marriage. Gen 1:27–28 speaks of male and female as image bearers being fruitful, multiplying, and filling the earth. This applies first to Adam and Eve, one man and one woman. However, polygamy is not ruled out. Gen 2:24 is a little clearer. The writer states that a man (singular) shall leave his father (singular) and mother (singular) and cleave to his wife (singular). They shall “become one flesh.” In the Masoretic Text the word two is missing. However, it is implied. In a wide range of other ancient OT versions “two” is found including the LXX (also Syriac Peshitta, Samaritan Pentateuch, etc). When Jesus and Paul cite this text (further below), they include “two” suggesting that the Hebrew text they knew did include it. Anyway, monogamy is implied in the creation narrative.  
Subsequent to the fall there are many examples of polygamy (polygyny) in the OT. The first is Lamech who had two wives (Gen 4:19). Lamech plays an important part in the expansion of human sin and corruption in the Genesis narrative. Polygamy would then seem part of this spread of sin. Other polygamists (polygynists) include Abraham (Gen 16:3; 21:1–13; 25:1), Ishmael (Gen 28:9), Jacob (Gen 29:1–30; 30:4, 9), Esau (Gen 26:34; 28:9; 36:2), Moses (Exod 2:21; 18:1–6; Num 12:1), Gideon (Judg 8:30), David who had seven named wives and many others (1 Sam 18:27; 19:11; 25:39, 42–43; 27:3; 2 Sam 2:2–3; 3:13–14; 5:13; 6:20–23; 11:27; 1 Chron 3:1–9), Solomon who had 700 wives (1 Kings 11:3), Rehoboam who had a paltry 18 (2 Chron 11:21), and Elkinah (one of whom was Hannah, 1 Sam 1:1–2). It seems polygamy (polygyny), was common among Israel’s monarchy and elite. (There are no instances of polyandry in the biblical data). Whether or not polygamy was common in the general populace is unclear. 
What is significant is this all these examples are post-Gen 3 indicating the corruption of the ideal of marriage in the creation narratives—one man (Adam), one wife (Eve), the two become one flesh, have children, and they too get married and so the earth is filled (Gen 1:26–28; 2:24). Polygamy would appear to be a corruption of God’s ideal of monogamous heterosexual relationships.
Yet, while there are innumerable laws concerning sexual relationships in the Levitical law there is no ban on polygamy. In Exod 21:10 a man who takes “another wife” must ensure she is well-fed, clothed, and protected. The emphasis is social justice and possible polygamy is assumed. Under Levirate marriage protocols, when a brother dies and leaves a heir without a widow, the brother is obligated to marry her even if he already has a wife (Deut 25:5–10, cf. Ruth 3–4; Matt 22:23–33). This is also an act of social justice for the widow. In Deut 21:15–17 rules are given concerning the fair distribution of the inheritance to the children of the “loved” and “unloved” wife. Again justice is the key. While the king is warned not to take many wives, this does not outlaw polygamy, but is based on a concern that the king will take on the religious allegiance of non-Jewish wives (Deut 17:17).
It is claimed by some that monogamy was favoured in a range of texts (Isa 50:1; Jer 2:2; Ezek 16:8; Prov 12:4; 18:22; 31:10–31; Ps 128:3). However, while the exclusive relationship of God and Israel could be seen to support monogamy, none of these texts explicitly state this. Rather, they speak of the ideal of the faithful wife without regard for how many wives a man actually has.
Later Judaism
Coming to later Judaism, we find polygamy was acceptable. Herod the Great had ten wives (Josephus. Ant. 17.19–20; J.W. 1.562). Josephus indicates that polygamy was common among Israel’s elite (Josephus, Ant. 12.186–189; 13.380; J.W. 1.97). The Rabbinic writings assume polygamy and give many instructions concerning it (e.g. M. Yebam. 1, 21b; m. Giṭ. 8:6 A). However, some Rabbinic writings criticised it. For example, b. ’Abot 2.5 reads: “he who multiplies wives multiplies witchcraft” (cf. b. Yebam. 44a). This could indicate the Rabbis were split on it. Among the Essenes of the Dead Sea Community in Qumran, polygamy was forbidden with Gen 1:27; 7:9; Lev 18:18; Deut 17:17 used in support (CD 4.20–5.6; 11QT 52.17–18). Polygamy was eventually outlawed in Judaism in the eleventh century in the Herem R. Gershom of Mayence (Responsa, “Ashera,” 42.1).
Aside from illegal unions, which of course were prevalent, in Roman society monogamy was practiced and polygamy legally rejected. If Christianity rejects polygamy as I believe it does, it is one of those rare occasions where it prefers an aspect of the Roman way of life over the Jewish.  
The New Testament
When we come to the NT, the first thing to note is that there is no example of a Christian living in a polygamous situation in the NT. However, neither is there any statement that endorses it or any implicit statements which could lead to its acceptability. On the other hand, while there is no explicit rejection of polygamy, it is implicitly rejected.
As I have noted in previous blogs, in the NT both Jesus and Paul cite Gen 2:24 stating that “the two shall become one flesh” (Mark 10:8/Matt 19:5; 1 Cor 6:16; Eph 5:31). Although this is not explicit, it implies two becoming one, rather than some multiple spouse arrangement (see above on Gen). What follows in the passage reinforces monogamy. For Jesus, even after divorce, remarriage is only appropriate if one’s spouse is guilty of porneia (sexual immorality) (Matt 19:9); or, in the case of Mark’s Jesus, not at all (Mark 10:10–12). Paul endorses this teaching of Jesus stating a divorced Christian should reconcile to his or her spouse or remain single (1 Cor 7:10–11). The exception seems to be when the spouse is a non-Christian and chooses to leave, then the believing spouse is no longer “enslaved” which I think indicates freedom to remarry (1 Cor 7:15, see further a forthcoming blog on divorce). It seems to make sense that if remarriage is not always permissible even after divorce, there is no way Jesus or Paul would have considered polygamy an option. 
Three passages in the Pastorals, 1 Tim 3:2, 12; Tit 1:6 state that a church leader should be “the husband of but one wife.” While there are complexities in interpretation of this clause (see any commentary on this), it would seem best to see here that Paul is endorsing that church leaders, where married, are faithful within their monogamous marriage. If it was expected of church leaders where faithful and monogamous and to be exemplars, this suggests that the ideal of Christian marriage is faithful monogamy.
In 1 Corinthians 7 Paul implicitly endorses monogamy stating that, due to the problem of sexual immorality (especially rampant in Corinth), “each man (singular) should have his own wife (singular) and each women (singular) her own husband (singular)” (1 Cor 7:2). In the next two verses, he speaks of “the wife” (singular) and “the husband” (singular) ruling out more than one of either (cf. 1 Cor 7:16). Against the backdrop of a patriarchal society, Paul then speaks of the utter mutuality of this monogamous relationship and gives instructions on remaining in this monogamous marital state unless an unbelieving spouse wants out (above). Throughout, monogamy appears assumed.
In Eph 5:22–33 Paul addresses all wives and husbands and assumes monogamy throughout. The parallel of Christ married to the one church suggests exclusivity. In v. 33 Paul says, “However, let each one of you love his own wife (singular) as himself, and let the wife (singular) see that she respects her husband (singular).”
Later Christian writers such as Tertullian repudiated polygamy. He writes in To His Wife: “we do not indeed forbid the union of man and woman, blest by God as the seminary of the human race, and devised for the replenishment of the earth and the furnishing of the world, and therefore permitted, yet singly. For Adam was the one husband of Eve, and Eve his one wife, one rib” (Tertullian, Ux. 1.2).
Considering the redemptive story, it seems polygamy is a corruption of God’s ideal for marriage. It is found post-fall only in the OT (almost exclusively among the elite), and not in the NT. The NT data strongly suggests Jesus and the first Christians rejected this practice.
This issue of course is not greatly relevant to us at this point. There is no big move in our culture to liberalise where polygamy is concerned. However, it may well become an issue in the future as western sexual ethics continues to loosen up and we become more multi-cultural. It is a bigger issue in other cultures where polygamy is practised. Missiologists have dealt with this for many years, working through how to deal with converts who are in polygamist marriages. In many cases, new converts are encouraged to remain faithful to their multiple spouses in such situations, but future generations are urged to be monogamous. This makes good sense as breaking up the marital unit especially in third world countries could have grave repercussions for the discarded wives and children.
For us in the church in the west, I believe we Christians should hold onto the Christian tradition in marriage despite on-going revision in the wider society. If polygamy becomes a touchstone issue, we should graciously resist it. If, as in the case of gay marriage, we find society legitimising it, we should hold firm faithful to the biblical standards. Where we encounter people in polygamous relationships, we can learn a lot from our missionary forbears as to how to respond. Whatever we decide is our church policy, all people regardless of sexuality and marital state should be welcome to become a part of the community of faith. God’s welcome is to all.

In the meantime, those of us who are married should be faithful and loving to our spouses. I think one wife or husband is enough for any person. I think that is what God desires. 

Monday, September 9, 2013

Why the US Should Stay Out of Syria

First, what are the reasons that the US should go in. There seem to me to are two:  
1.       To send a message that use of chemical weapons cannot go by without response to warn others from doing the same.
2.       President Obama stated the use of a chemical weapon was a red line, as such, the USA’s pride and honour is at stake. What would their enemies think if they don't act? 

The first could be seen as a good reason to go in. However, it depends on being certain as to who released the chemical weapon. The second seems a weak basis to act. It seems to assume that the USA is the policeman of the world. Is it? Sometimes it is better to back down. 

Reasons to not go in. It seems to me that there are many: 
1.       The Syrian situation is a civil war that has no relationship to the US—it is not USA’s war. Why on earth would they go in? Chemical weapons? See above.
2.       The UN and even the USA’s main allies such as the UK (aside from France) are not prepared to get involved.
3.       The majority of the American people do not want the US to attack (
4.       It is unclear who unleashed the chemical weapons and why. 
5.       It is unclear what using air attacks to strike Syria will achieve in terms of ending the conflict. 
6.       There will be significant collateral destruction including the death of many innocent civilians.
7.       Attacking Syria may lead to a regime change and the new leadership may be worse than the current one.
8.       Did the conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Egypt yield a positive outcome for the region, world, and the US? Not sure on this one. Wasn't sure of any of the above ones. 
9.       Attacking Syria may unleash greater forces drawing other powers into the conflict, especially Iran, Russia, and Israel (WW3?).
10.   The US is strapped for cash and this will further drain its resources.
11.   It will only further intensify the growing anti-Americanism in the Middle East and around the world (as if it could get much worse).
12.   It will isolate America from the international community.
13.   Other avenues to resolve the conflict have not been exhausted, e.g. diplomacy, sanctions, etc. I haven’t seen a US delegation going to Syria for talks, or have I missed something?
14.   From a Christian perspective, war is deplorable and an absolute last resort. Are the principles of just war found here? I would say no.

All in all, I can’t see why America would at this point attack Syria. I think it will be a mistake and God help us if it happens.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

My 500th Blog—The surprising power of a blog

I was wandering around my blog today and noticed that this would be my 500th post. This surprised me, because I hadn’t realised I had written that much. I didn’t think I had had that much to say.

Then I noticed that tag, "Stats." I hadn’t really taken time to look at the stats before and wondered, how many people have viewed my stuff? What a shock. I learnt that as of 11.38 am today, there had been 782 page views today alone. There were 908 yesterday. Last month there were over 26,000. Overall, there have been around 305 thousand. While I am sure there are plenty out there who would have far more views, I have to say I am more than a little surprised. I read the stats to Emma and she was similarly amazed.

Now I have written a couple of books and a number of articles. Yet, I am certain that none of them have been viewed that much. It goes to show that the internet is a much more immediate and powerful tool for communication. It is far more dynamic than the published text in book, magazine or journal. With Google and other search engines taking people quickly to material on a given topic, people are surfing the net all the time and finding all sorts of stuff. Not that I believe we should dispense with books etc. It is a both-and thing I am sure. Mind you, I think these will be increasingly found in e-formats. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to know that.

I wonder who all these people are who view the stuff I write. Perhaps they are spammers. Who knows? I hear some comments from this person and that person. But I generally don't know who they are. Thanks for bothering.

Sometimes I feel like blogging is a waste of time. But perhaps it isn’t. I think I will keep doing it. 

Monday, August 26, 2013

“My God, my God, Why have you Forsaken Me?” Did God Forsake Jesus on the Cross?

What did Jesus mean when he cried out from the cross, “My God, my God, Why have you forsaken me?” It is common in evangelistic presentations to see this as a pivotal moment in salvation history when all the sin of humanity was loaded onto Jesus and he became the bearer of our sin, in a quasi-literal sense. As such, Jesus became abhorrent to a Holy God who is disgusted by sin, and so God turned his face away from the sin-laden Jesus. That is, he abandoned or forsook Jesus. The cross then becomes the point at which God punished Jesus for our sin.  He then died having taken the punishment we would have had from God for our sin. Traditional theology says he then descended to hell with the sin. However, God’s justice was satisfied. He then rose from the dead having overcome sin.

I believe there are problems with this construct. It is a theological interpretation of the text and moment which is flawed. When Jesus said these words that is not what he was saying. What was he doing then?

First, this is a quote from Ps 22:1 (21:1, LXX). In the Psalm in its original setting, David is crying out to God in lament during a time of extreme distress. It is a desperate cry of one in immense pain. His experience is one of abandonment and forsakenness. Yet, he cries out to God. Why? He feels like he is forsaken. However, he is also a man of faith and while he feels forsaken in his experience, knows that God has not forsaken him. He knows God is with him despite his torment. David sings of God’s holiness, his acts in history (Ps 22:3–5). He prays God will come and save him (Ps 22:19–21). He states he will praise God and others should do so too (Ps 22:22–23). He then states, “for he has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted, and he has not hidden his face from him but has heard, when he cried to him” (Ps 22:24). In other words, he has not abandoned him. Explicitly it states, “he has not hidden his face from him”—the exact opposite of the claims of this theology. The Psalm then ends with praise of God across the world.

Second, theologically, God never abandons or forsakes his son. To say so leads to a false trifurcation of the Godhead. God turned away from his Son; would God ever do that? No way. God was with and in Christ suffering with him. God does not turn his face away. One my otherwise favourite worship songs, “How Great the Father’s Love,” is flawed in this respect as we sing, “the Father turns his face away.” God never does. Rather, when his people suffer, and when his Son suffers, he is with his people. On the cross, Jesus was full to the brim with the Spirit enabling him to come through his torment as the saviour of the world. The Father was in and with Christ by his Spirit. He felt Jesus pain. He went with Jesus through the cross.

Third, it was not God who punished Jesus on the cross, it was people who rejected him, mocked him, beat him, and crucified him. Specifically, a friend betrayed him, another denied him, the Jewish leaders conspired against him, the Romans crucified him, and the crowd mocked him. God did not do any of this. We did it. Yes, in his sovereignty, God presided over the event and it had immense theological significance as Jesus died for humanity. Indeed, one can sing as Isaiah does that “he was smitten by God,” but that does not mean we should read it in direct terms. God did not directly punish Jesus. This idea is not in the NT. If there was a punishment on the cross, it was us punishing God the Son. Or, we could say that God was punishing sin on the cross (N.T. Wright); however, he was certainly not punishing his Son! And God the Son took the punishment of humanity. God in his mercy and wisdom chooses to make Jesus’ death the punishment for the sin of believing humanity, and we are saved through it. We must not overplay these analogies and over-literalise them, or we turn God into a cosmic child-beater. He is not.

So why did Jesus cry out these words? I suggest two main reasons. The first is that Jesus found in David’s lament the perfect vehicle to describe his horrific pain. Jesus is praying thus not because he is literally abandoned by God, but he feels abandoned because he is in horrendous pain and wants God, who is of course with him, to come to his aid to get him through. It relates to his earlier prayer for release from the cross in the garden. Rather than releasing Jesus from the cross, God responded by strengthening him for it. The cry carries on Jesus’ genuine expression of suffering. Theologically it shows not the literal God-forsakenness of Jesus, but his genuine humanity. He felt God-forsaken in that moment, not that he was. God the Son was in immense pain.

The second reason is the most important. Jesus chose this particular Psalm to declare that he is the character of which David prophesied in the Psalms. Any reader of Psalm 22 can see that it the Psalm is an uncanny description of the horror of crucifixion and Jesus’ situation. Verses 6–18 speak of the Psalmist being a worm not a man; being scorned, despised, and mocked; being surrounded by bulls, ravening lions, dogs, and evildoers; being poured out like water, his bones out of joint, his heart melted like wax, his strength drained, his throat dry; his hands and feet pierced; his bones under stress; and the division of his garments by the casting of lots. Jesus is playing this out on the cross. He is crying out, “I am he of whom the Psalmist sang.” “Can’t you see my fellow Jews? Psalm 22 is being played out before you. Your Davidic king and Messiah is before you. The one sung of by David is here. Can you not see?” “Can you not see that you are among those evil-doers? Turn and be saved.” This is the real crux of what Jesus was saying. As he appropriated this Psalm, it was a final declaration that he is the Davidic Messiah of whom his ancestor sang. Of course they couldn’t see it for their worldview precluded a crucified Messiah and “cursed is anyone who is hung on a tree” (Deut 21:23, cf. Gal 3:13; 1 Cor 1:23; Rom 10:33).

We don’t need to use this verse in our evangelisation to speak of Jesus taking our sin and his supposed literal God-punishment and abandonment. Jesus took our sin, he died for our sin, yes! Let’s say that big time! But we don’t need to over-literalise it in this way. It is unhelpful and creates unnecessary theological problems. Nor do we need to say God punished Jesus in a direct sense. We can say that the death of Jesus becomes our death, he died in our place, he took the full vent of human fury and sin, he overcame, and he rose. We can say that God is holy and punishes sin and Jesus’ death deals with sin. But God was not some cosmic Dad with a cane who punished Jesus. This is unnecessary. We humans did it. Yet ironically and mysteriously we are saved through it. Jesus took humanities worst, he died for humanity, he the sinless one, and he rose—if we believe a mysterious unexplainable transaction takes place. His death becomes our death. We are swept up into him “in Christ.” We are declared righteous, sanctified (saints), and we are to live this status out. We are included in his people. We receive the Spirit. We are saved. All that is required is belief. We don’t need to push too hard to theologise every element, it only leads to messed up theology.

God never abandoned Jesus, he never abandons us. He is with us always, even in our darkest hour. David knew this and that is why he cried out in the first place. He knew God was with him. He always is. Jesus knew it too. What Jesus wants us to recognise in these words is that he is Messiah, prophesied a thousand years prior by David, the Lord of the universe. Wow! Perhaps the most specific prophetic fulfilment in the whole Jesus’ story. Jesus died for us. He took our sin. The punishment we deserved is sorted. We are saved through his death. That is what matters.  

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Is the Gay Issue a Secondary Theological Issue?

It is not uncommon to hear some Christians, including some evangelicals, argue that the current gay marriage issue should not concern us much, as it is a secondary issue. As such, the outcome of the legislation and Christians conducting same sex marriages is not one of those issues we should make a big deal of. In this blog-piece I want to take this on. I believe that marriage and sexual immorality is not a secondary issue, but is primary and very much so. In fact, I would argue it lies at the heart of a Christian theology.

1. Heterosexual Marriage is Essential to a Christian View of the World
The Christian story is not merely about one nation Israel and the church. It is a story of a whole world and all its people. It is a human story which begins well before Israel or the church is mentioned with Adam, Eve, and all the nations. God’s plan is for a people inhabiting his wonderfully crafted world who live out their humanness well. Marriage and heterosexual sex producing offspring is essential to the story.

In Gen 1:26–27 human identity is stated—we are image bearers. This is a statement of our identity as bearers of God’s likeness. Both men and women are created in his image. Indeed, our complementary gender appears to reflect two dimensions of God’s person—the male and female. The two complementary sexes coming together is the centre of what it means to be human.

At the heart of image bearing is that we are created for relationship, men and women. Together, we are granted sovereignty, to rule. The first command is to “be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth” (Gen 1:28). This presupposes that the male and female image-bearers will come together in relationship in line with God’s agapē character and have children. Heterosexual relationships are required for this as in all animals.

In the following chapter, God forms a man, states it is not good for him to be alone, and forms for him a partner. This is then the basis for marriage, “that is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Gen 2:24). God thus endorses a particular type of committed relationship at the core of human anthropology—heterosexual marriage. Gay marriage is completely foreign to God’s vision of human anthropology.

Now we humans are not only unique in our image-bearing and all that it entails, but we are also an animal species. We are mammals. We are mortal. Like all animals, our existence depends on sexual relationships between the male and female and the kids they produce. Propagation is essential to our survival as a species. As such, biologically the coming together of male and female is basic to our anthropology. This entails more than merely sperm fertilizing ovum; it is the full relationship of a man and woman and the raising of the household, the basic unit for human life.

These two passages and common sense place heterosexuality and heterosexual marriage at the centre of a Christian anthropology. Human ontology is premised on our coming together and multiplying, an essentially heterosexual activity. As such, it can hardly be seen as secondary any more than image bearing can be secondary. It is essential to image bearing. It is ontological. It is at the very heart of what it means to be truly human. It is central to theology. And when Christ came as a human, he came to restore us from brokenness to true humanness.

2. Jesus and Paul Endorsed This View
Our Lord Jesus, the incarnation of God, the basis of Christian faith, endorsed the Jewish view of marriage enshrined specifically in Gen 2:24. He cited Gen 2:24 in his discussion on divorce with the Jewish leaders (Mark 10:7; Matt 19:5). He repudiated divorce, absolutely if we accept Mark’s version of his teaching, or in all cases except marital unfaithfulness if we prefer Matthew’s version. He rejected sexual immorality (Marr 5:32; 15:19; 19:9; Mark 7:21) and adultery (Matt 5:27, 28, 32; 19:9; Luke 16:18), which for a Jewish teacher in the first century would be nicely summed up as “everything other than heterosexual marriage” and “any violent non-loving acts against one’s spouse within marriage.”

Paul also endorsed the Genesis picture, citing Gen 2:24 twice (1 Cor 6:16; Eph 5:31). More strongly than Jesus, likely because he was writing to a Greco-Roman world where sexual immorality was rife, Paul repudiated sexual immorality including homosexuality (esp. Rom 1:26–27; 1 Cor 5–7; 1 Thess 4:1–8). As with Jesus, he considered any sexual expressions outside marriage sin.

The endorsement of the view of marriage found in the creation account indicates that Jesus and Paul sanctioned the notion that at the centre of human anthropology was marriage. Paul also gave further instructions on marriage in 1 Cor 7 and his household codes. It was important that the Christians lived out their gospel call in marriages and families that sought to please God.

3.  A False Dualism
Considering marriage a secondary issue is born of a false understanding of the scope of Christian theology and concern for humanity. There is a tendency to believe that if something relates to Christian salvation, it is central. So, things like, the universality of sin, the atonement, the resurrection, Jesus’ true humanity and divinity, salvation in Christ, the life-giving work of the Spirit, the return of Christ, etc., are primary. Other things, like marriage and sexuality are secondary. This is a false dualism based on a narrow view of what God is doing in the world. He is restoring a whole world and came to restore humanity—including marriage.

Sexual immorality is important for the NT writers because it violates the central unity of human life, the marriage. We Christians are first human born of the coming together of male and female. We can’t isolate spirituality from our humanness. From sexual relationships between men and women, humans are born into the world and are image bearers. Murder is evil, because it cuts short life, a gift from God. Humans, like all creatures, must procreate. The species depends on it. Salvation depends on it, because one must live before one can have a relationship with God. It is spurious to drive a wedge between salvation issues and the foundation of life itself! Heterosexuality is basic to being human. Gay marriage cuts at the core of a Christian anthropology. It violates our ontological image bearing. It corrupts the ideal of the basis for human life; a man and woman coming together as one in community and love, having and raising children. The male and female elements are not secondary, they are crucial. The complementarity of male and female is central to God’s vision for healthy humans to fill his world and continue his work. Through this, the species goes on.

I suggest that those Christians who see it as a secondary issue are incorrect. They have not thought through the implications of the full extent of what God is doing on the planet. He has formed all humans in his image, male and female, and he has called us to come together and become one flesh. They are to fill his world with their kids, and so the human story goes on. Some are indeed called to singleness, and they are complete people. As Paul teaches, not everyone has to marry and he prefers singleness himself (1 Cor 7). However, in the broader biblical story, the basic unit of humanity is not the individual, but the marriage. In marriages, men and women come together, form one flesh, and have children. In this way, humanity goes on. Where Christian faith is concerned, these children are to be bought up in the Lord in a context of agape and the faith grows and carries on.  

In terms of the wider question of gay marriage, in NZ at least, for now, bible-honoring Christians have lost the public debate. However, within the church we must not compromise the anthropological centre of the gospel to what wider society in its “wisdom” has chosen to do. Marriage is a foundational doctrine that lies at the very core of Christian theology and anthropology. If we compromise on this issue, it is heresy.

Why Get Water Baptised?

A friend of mine who is coming to know Jesus asked me the other day what he had to do to show that he is a Christian. I told him he had to do nothing, because faith saves us. Faith is that “yes” that wells in the human heart to God who is calling us. It is not something we do, but something that wells up inside and we respond to. Genuine faith of course leads to actions that spring forth from it (e.g. James 2:17; Gal 5:6; Eph 2:10); but it is the faith that saves us. We are “justified by faith” and not any works (see esp. Eph 2:8–9). That is the wonder of Christian salvation—Jesus has done it all for us, all we have to do is yield to him. When we do we are saved not by works, but by grace through faith alone.
However, while it is true that we are saved by faith alone, I suggested that baptism is the moment where we publically declare that faith to God and people. While some traditions sprinkle water for baptism, most do so by immersion—a person enters water, is immersed under it, and rises out of it. 

This is the ritual that kind of ratifies our faith commitment. Just as marriage publically celebrates the coming together of a man and woman, so baptism marks the entry of a new convert into the church and union with God. One is no longer a de facto Christian, one is a full member of the church, the bride of Christ (Eph 5:25; Rev 19:7; 21:2), and part of the people now “married” to Christ and God (so to speak). Being baptised then is a statement to God, to the church, and to the world that one has “decided to follow Jesus,” as the ol’ hymn says.

In Acts in particular, we see that new converts were quickly baptised after conversion (Acts 8:12, 13, 16, 36, 38; 9:18; 10:48; 16:15, 33; 18:8; 19:5; 22:16). It is commanded that new converts should be baptized (e.g. Acts 2:38, 41). This is seen in the Great Commission in which Christians are commanded to go to all nations and make disciples. Such disciples are to be well educated in Jesus’ teaching and baptised in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (Matt 28:19).
Christian baptism is not something new; it stands in continuity with Jewish ritual cleansing which a new convert went through along with circumcision. The prophet John the Baptist baptized people in this Jewish way, in preparation for the one “who would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Luke 3:16). His was a baptism of repentance (Mark 1:4). It was a kind of initiation into a “new Israel” in preparation for its Messiah.

In Christian thought, baptism is the ritual of initiation. When someone is baptized, the visual ritual declares and enacts that person’s identification with the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. This is the event that saves us and we identify and participate spiritually in it. The baptisee goes under the water enacting the death and burial of Christ. They come up from the water symbolising their resurrection to new life (Rom 6:3–4; Col 2:12). Baptism enacts a new birth, our adoption as children, a believer is born again from above, they are regenerated (John 3:3–6; Tit 3:5; Rom 8:15; Gal 4:5). Baptism marks a believers’ expiation, their forgiveness or cleansing from sin (Acts 2:38; 22:16; 1 Cor 6:11; Tit 3:5). It marks the receipt of the Spirit, the baptism in the Spirit (Acts 2:38). It marks their entry into the church universal (all believers over time and across the world) and local (a local church community) (1 Cor 12:13).

Baptism is a vital moment in the life of a new believer. It kind of ratifies to everyone involved that this person is now God’s child. Others who are Christians witness this event and the person is incorporated into the body of Christ. God sees the act of commitment and faith, and is well pleased----the new birth of another of his children is celebrated.

As such, we should all be baptised when we come to faith in Jesus. It is an important moment in our lives which confirms that we are truly believers, a child of God, born again, destined for salvation, and part of God’s great family that spans history and all peoples. It is a glorious moment when the angels rejoice that someone else will get to live with God forever.

Of course if we are from a paedo-baptist tradition, then this is a little more complicated. Confirmation traditionally plays the role in such churches whereby a person baptised as an infant has a confirmation ceremony, which “confirms” their commitment to God. Some have a reaffirmation of the earlier baptism with the adult believer being immersed. This is not a rebaptism, but a reaffirmation. Others do not take seriously paedo-baptism at all, consider it worthless, and endorse a second baptism. All these things get a little detailed and confused. Personally, I think that point of faith-commitment is best followed by being immersed. Whether it is a reaffirmation or baptism itself is neither here nor there; it is just theologising and I am not sure God is that concerned. What matters is that we publically mark our confession of faith. 

So, it is good to be baptised (or confirmed). It is an act of obedience. It marks our inclusion in Christ, our cleansing, our initiation into the faith and church. It makes public and real our acceptance of God's invitation to salvation. It is like a marriage ceremony. We are included in God's people. 

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Should All Christians Speak in Tongues?

Someone asked me (again) the other day whether all Christians should speak in tongues if they are open to the gift? Or is it a gift only some Christians get? It is an important question, because if one believes all should or can speak in tongues those without the gift of tongues can feel somehow inferior. They can believe that there is something deficient in their relationship with God. On the other hand, some can take a position of spiritual superiority over others if they do speak in tongues believing that if only they are open then they will receive it. Let me add that I write this as a tongues-speaker having received the gift of tongues in my early days as a Christian. I often pray in tongues as a part of my prayer life.

Some False Ideas
There are a number of false ideas about tongues held by some Christians that can quickly be put to bed. One is that the gift no longer exists and that it was only for the time of the Apostles—cessationism. This view is often held by Classical Dispensationalists and 1 Cor 13:8 is used as support. However, this is based on a misunderstanding of this text which does not contrast the time of the apostles with the time of the church, but this present age with the age to come. There will be no need for tongues in the world to come, for we will all understand each other and be understood fully. Further, many Christians today have received this gift. This is clearly flawed.

Another is those who argue that there are two different gifts of tongues in the NT; one for private use and one for public use. This can be shown to be flawed with a quick look at the use of the Greek for tongues in the NT. There is one Greek word used across the NT for tongues, glōssa. It is found fifty times in the NT and used in different ways. It is not always used of the gift of tongues. Sometimes it is literally the human tongue (e.g. Mark 7:33; Rom 14:11; Rev 16:10); figuratively of someone’s ability to speak (e.g. Mark 7:35); of speech (Acts 2:26; 1 John 3:18); of a mouth with which one speaks (Rom 3:13; 1 Cor 14:9; Phil 2:11; Jas 1:26; 3:5, 6; 1 Pet 3:10); tongues of fire (Acts 2:3); and languages (Acts 2:11; 1 Cor 13:1; Rev 5:9; 7:9; 10:11; 13:7; 14:6; 17:15). In some instances, it refers to the spiritual gift of tongues (Mark 16:17; Acts 2:4; 10:46; 19:6; 1 Cor 12:10, 28, 30; 13:8; 14:2, 4, 5, 6, 13, 14, 18, 19, 22, 23, 26, 27, 39).

In the uses for the spiritual gift, the same Greek word glōssa is used each time. If there were two gifts, we would expect some indication in Paul’s language to indicate this. However, the language does not vary indicating it is the same gift each time. However, this same gift can be used in different contexts. When used privately, one can simply speak out in tongues for personal edification uttering mysteries in the Spirit to God (1 Cor 14:2–4). When used publically, Paul expects that the utterance will be translated or interpreted using the accompanying spiritual gift of “interpretation” (1 Cor 12:10, 30; 14:13, 26, 27). There is no basis for suggesting there are two different gifts. There is one gift, but it can be used in different contexts. When it is interpreted in public, it effectively becomes prophecy as it builds up the body.  

Third, tongues are not always a known language (xenoglōssia). However, it appears that sometimes they are, and sometimes they are not. In the Acts 2 outpouring, the tongues were clearly recognisable. In the other situations, it is unclear whether they are known or not. In 1 Cor 13:1 Paul mentions the “tongues of angels or of people” indicating that perhaps he or the Corinthians believed that they could be known languages or the spiritual languages employed by angels (1 Cor 13:1). Contemporary studies on tongues supports that they are usually unknown. I personally know of two first-hand accounts of people discovering that their language was known. One spoke royal Fijian, the other Tunisian.

Fourth, denominations that state you are not a Christian if you don't speak in tongues are patently wrong and heretical. The discussion below will make this clear.  

Should All People Speak in Tongues
Now, returning to the initial question, should all people speak in tongues, or is it available to all Christians if they are open to it? The data of the NT emphatically says no. Why? Here are the reasons.

First, there is no evidence that Jesus spoke in tongues. Jesus performed miracles, healings and prophetic utterances. However, there is no reference to tongues in his practice. Surely, if it is an essential component of the gifts of the Spirit we might find something in the Gospels to suggest so. There is nothing indicating that Jesus had a special prayer language. This does not rule out that he did, but it is not mentioned. And that it is not mentioned is interesting if it is so important.

Secondly, despite Mark 16:17, in fact, Jesus never taught that all believers will speak in tongues. The only reference to tongues in the Gospels is a later addition. It is found in Mark 16:17:And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.” Students of the NT know that this is that Mark 16:9–20 is part of the longer ending of the Gospel and not part of the original text of Mark. That is noted in most modern translations even if the verses are included. You can see further on this at This passage is a later addition to the original Gospel of Mark. Indeed, it is certain Jesus never said these words. Rather, later Christians summarized what had happened in Acts and the experience of the church and created an ending because they were unsatisfied with the strange and abrupt ending in Mark 16:8. Further, the passage does not say all believers will speak in tongues. Neither does the passage say that all believers will cast out demons, all will heal, all will pick up serpents, and all will drink deadly poison and not die. Some Christians like Paul did these things, others did not.

Thirdly, in the five accounts of the various fresh outpourings of the Spirit in Acts, tongues not found in every instance, but only in three of the passages. It is a common misnomer that every recipient of the Spirit in Acts received the gift of tongues at the time. Tongues are mentioned in the accounts of Pentecost, Cornelius’ family, and Ephesus (Acts 2:3; 10:46; 19:6). Tongues are not mentioned at the accounts of the receipt of the Spirit for Paul (Acts 9:17–19) and Samaria (Acts 8:17–18). We know from 1 Cor 14:18 that Paul did at some point receive the gift and speak in tongues but there is no mention of it at his conversion and receipt of the Spirit through Ananias.

What is often not noted sufficiently is that other things happened when the Spirit fell in those three that do mention tongues. At Pentecost they are also impelled into the street and Peter preaches (Acts 2:5–41)—they have received power to be Christ’s witnesses (Acts 1:8). Cornelius’ family not only spoke in tongues, but “extol” (megalunō) God (Acts 10:46). The Ephesian believers also “prophesy” (Acts 19:6). In Paul’s case, he is healed of his blindness (Acts 9:18). The Samarian account indicates that something unspecified happened. Simon Magus was impressed with some evidence and saw that the Spirit had fallen and tried to buy it (Acts 8:18–19). However, what he saw is unclear. It can’t be assumed he saw or heard them speak in tongues. This is an argument from silence. Did Simon see them praising? Did he see some healed? Did he see them prophesy? Did he see the Spirit’s fall manifest in some other way (falling over? Crying? Laughing?, etc.). Who knows?

Importantly, it is important to note that it does not say in Acts 10 and 19 that “all” of Cornelius’ family or the Ephesian believers spoke in tongues. Nor does it say that all 3000 who were baptized at Pentecost received the gift of tongues (Acts 2:38–39). They received the Spirit, but what gifts manifested remains unknown. In these instances, it may have been some of them did. It can’t be assumed; it is another argument from silence or read into the text (eisegesis).

We can also note that tongues came twice when the Spirit fell spontaneously (Pentecost, Cornelius), and once with the laying on of hands (Ephesus). There are one or two other occasions where Luke speaks of outpourings of the Spirit, including after the prayer of Acts 4:31. In that instance, the Spirit fell, the room was shaken, and they spoke the word with boldness. The amazing events of Acts 4:32 onwards including radical material sharing, the sudden deaths of Ananias and Sapphira, the miracles of Peter, and further evangelistic zeal can be linked to this experience. Yet, tongues are not mentioned and cannot be assumed.
One more thing should be noted. There is no set order of reception of the Spirit as if there is a “second blessing” through the laying on of hands. The Pentecost recipients certainly believed, then received the Spirit. However, the Spirit fell spontaneously. Similarly the Samaritans, who received the Spirit through the laying on of hands. Cornelius’ family received the Spirit in the middle of a sermon, before baptism and the laying on of hands. Paul received the Spirit after meeting Jesus by Ananias laying hands on him. The Ephesians received the Spirit after faith. Neither is there a mention of a set “second blessing” sequence in of the other 25 books of the NT. In fact, Paul is quite clear, you receive the Spirit at conversion (e.g. Eph 1:13–14; 1 Cor 12:13). There is no set order to God’s work, the Spirit blows where the Spirit wills (John 3:8). This does not mean that some Christians do not have subsequent experiences of the Spirit including some speaking in tongues. This is when the Spirit who is already in us does a fresh work, such as impart something new. I have had a number of such experiences. However, it is not as if I received the Spirit at that point—I was already indwelt by God, but now the Spirit was doing something new. We should always be open to such fresh imparting, we should “continually be filled with the Spirit” (Eph 5:18).

What we can say from Acts is that the Spirit fell on people either spontaneously or by the laying on of hands and sometimes some people received the gift of tongues. They also received other experiences such as prophesying, praising God, healing, deliverance, strong mission-power to witness, an impulse to radical material generosity, and miracles.

Fourthly, tongues are only mentioned in Paul in one section of all his letters, in 1 Corinthians 12–14. Paul makes no mention of it in his other twelve letters. Very importantly, it is not included in the gift lists of Romans 12:4–8 and Eph 4:11. Romans was written to a non-Pauline church, and if tongues were so critical, I would imagine Paul would mention it. Yet he doesn’t. Why? In 1 Corinthians tongues is mentioned alongside interpretation as one of many gifts in 1 Cor 12:8–10. There is no suggestion that this gift or any of the gifts listed is given to all believers. Indeed, the point Paul is making is the very converse; no one gets all the gifts, each gets some, and God, Father, Son and Spirit, decides what he gives to each (1 Cor 12:4–6). That is, “to each is given a manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Cor 12:8). And, “all these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.” The implication is not that all get all, but that all get some, as God apportions. Similarly, there is no suggestion all get tongues any more than all get the gift of miracles or healing. There is no basis for putting others down because they have received tongues or any of God’s gifts. Nor is there any basis for spiritual smugness among those who do speak in tongues or move in another gift. We are all one in Christ, equal, who have different gifts and roles.

The next reference is 1 Cor 12:27–31. In v. 28 Paul lists gifts which “God has appointed.” In v. 29, Paul asks a series of Greek questions beginning with the Greek . As Greek grammars and lexicons indicate, when a Greek question begins with and the indicative, it expects the answer “no” (e.g. BDAG, 642; EDNT, 2.242). In this string, Paul’s questions then read: “Not all are apostles are they? Not all are prophets are they? Not all are teachers are they? Not all have miracles do they? Not all have gifts of healing(s) do they? Not all speak in tongues do they? Not all interpret do they?” This could not be clearer in the Greek. Paul is emphatically making the express point that not all receive the gift of tongues. He ends with tongues and interpretation to emphasize it so that the Corinthians do not elevate the gift of tongues over other gifts as they seem to be doing. It is patently obvious that only some Christians are appointed to be apostles and prophets. Similarly, only some Christians speak in tongues. This is such basic Greek that is unquestionable and it amazes me that people including some biblical teachers persist in arguing all should speak in tongues. They either show utter ignorance of the Greek or find some creative loophole. One is to argue that there are two different gifts. However, as I have shown above, the consistent use of glōssa in the NT rules this out (above).  

Paul goes on to say more about tongues. In 1 Cor 13:1 he states that love is more important than any gift of tongues. This verse highlights to the tragedy of Christians with the gift of tongues lovelessly looking down on others who don’t. If they do, their babbling is no more use than an annoying clanging cymbal! That is really annoying! It is tragic that misinformed Christians who believe the NT says all should or can speak in tongues make others feel inadequate for not doing so. This is a violation of the essence of Christian ethics—love! That is one of Paul’s main points in 1 Cor 13!

In 1 Cor 14:1–25 Paul gives careful instructions concerning the meaning and use of tongues. Likely, some of the Corinthians were into tongues big time and their meetings were out of control with their use. Some were likely looking down on others who did not have the gift. Paul says a number of things concerning tongues. Christians should pursue gifts that build others up, especially prophecy. He demonstrates that prophecy is more important for the church than tongues because it builds up the community not just the individual. Tongues are a personal prayer language in which one speaks mysteries to God. Tongues are for personal edification. Paul wishes all could speak in tongues. Note however that he does not say all will and all should. His personal desire is that all do. Yet, he would strongly prefer that all prophesy. The one who prophesies is “greater” than the one who speaks in tongues, as he or she builds the church up. Paul emphasizes the importance of interpretation—one should only speak in tongues in the church gathering if it is interpreted. He gives a number of illustrations to make this point in vv. 7–11. The person who brings the message in tongues should seek to interpret it themselves. He speaks of the importance of the tongues message being interpreted so that people can understand and affirm what is prayed (vv. 13–17). He is grateful that he speaks in tongues (v. 18). Yet, he would rather speak five instructive words in a common language than 10,000 words in tongues if they are not understood. For Paul, tongues are a negative sign to believers of judgment or of Christian “madness.” Whereas, tongues are a positive sign for believers, as they build the church up. He warns the church to avoid corporate tongues speaking, as it will alienate outsiders and unbelievers.  

Put simply, there is nothing in 1 Cor 14 to suggest all will speak in tongues. Paul would like all to do so, but I am sure he would like all believers to have all the gifts, to heal the sick, raise the dead, walk on water, feed the poor, prophesy, etc. Knowing that not all receive the gift, he is much more concerned about the other more important gifts—gifts that build up, like prophecy. All in all, tongues are great for those who have the gift, but there are way more important gifts that build up, and believers should seek these (“the greater gifts”).

Fifthly, aside from Acts and 1 Cor 12–14, there are no references to tongues in the supernatural gift sense in the NT anywhere. I have already mentioned that in twelve of Paul’s thirteen letters tongues are not mentioned. And it is only mentioned in one section, 1 Cor 12–14. If tongues are so important, one might expect that they would be mentioned much more and included in his other gift lists. Further, in Hebrews, James, Peter’s two letters, John’s three letters, Jude, and Revelation, there is no mention of them.

In sum, it would seem pretty clear-cut that believers should not expect that everyone who receives the Holy Spirit will necessarily speak in tongues any more than all will be prophets, apostles, work miracles, have the gift of healing, or the many other gifts listed in the NT.
On the other hand, we should expect that some will speak in tongues. Indeed, that is what the empirical evidence suggests—some receive the gift, some do not. I know great Christians from a range of denominations who do speak in tongues, I know many who don’t. There is nothing deficient in those who do not speak in tongues. The Spirit gives as the Spirit wills. Somewhat ironically, one can argue that as tongues is a gift given to believers for their personal edification, those who do not receive it may be the stronger Christian because they have not received it!

Irony aside, what is clear is that we must no longer allow tongues to divide us or become a basis for pride or inadequacy before others. The NT is clear, if we believe in Jesus we have received the Spirit as a seal (e.g. Eph 1:13–14; 2 Cor 1:21–22; 1 Cor 12:13). The signs of that receipt are things like ongoing faith, a preparedness to confess Christ as Lord and a refusal to ever curse him (1 Cor 12:3), love (1 Cor 12:31–13:13), a missiological impulse (e.g. Acts 2), radical generosity (Acts 4), for some miracles (Acts 5), the inward witness of the Spirit (Rom 8:16), and so on. And remember, the greatest of these is the most excellent way, love (1 Cor 12:31; 13:13).

If a Christian desires to have the gift of tongues, that is fine and they should ask God to bless them with it. If God chooses to do so, that is his prerogative, for “he distributes them (the gifts) to each one, just as he determines” (1 Cor 12:11). If he  doesn’t, no worries, we are secure in Jesus and we have received the Spirit. Personally, I would take Paul’s advice and seek the greater gifts—those that build up the people of God (1 Cor 12:31; 14:1).

So, if you have had prayer for the receipt of the Spirit and tongues, and have not received it, relax! It’s ok! You are ok! Don’t let others put you down and rob you of your status as a child of God, signed and sealed by the Spirit, destined to be delivered to eternal life, an heir of the universe, etc. On the converse, if you do speak in tongues, stop putting others down who do not. To do so is to violate the primary fruit of the Spirit—love! There is no basis for spiritual arrogance. Read 1 Cor 12:11–13:13 very carefully, and live out of love! As Paul says in Phil 2:3, “consider others above yourselves!”

Shalom in the Spirit.