A Reflective Christian

All for God’s Kingdom

Creation and God as an Artist

In the Creation narrative of Genesis 1:1-2:3, there is more going on than just a bare recounting of the order of creation. In the narrative, God is being portrayed as an arist, or more specifically a potter working with a lump of clay. Genesis 1:2 refers to the earth as being “formless”, as if the earth is a lump of clay that has yet to be formed. And then, after various parts of creation have been added, such as the light, God sees it as “good.” When God completes creation with the making of humanity, it is called “very good.” It is as if God had an image beforehand of what he wanted, and then at each stage saw that it looked like a portion of what he wanted, and then God finally completed his work of art on the sixth day. Then, the seventh day was taken as a day of rest, one might say to enjoy what he had created.

Incidentally, the second creation narrative also sees God as an artist, as he makes man from the dust of the ground, or clay, along with the other animals. Which shows there is a close relationship between the supposedly two differentsources for the first and second creation narratives.

Furthermore, if the creation narratives implicitly portray God as a potter, they can be related (especially the second one) to Isaiah’s and Jeremiah’s reference to God as a potter. But yet, the lack of explicit reference in creation past making man and the animals from dust doesn’t allow for an immediate transfer of the idea to Isaiah and Jeremiah, but that there likely another source that either expounded upon the creation narratives that then helped form the ideas of Isaiah and Jeremiah, or the reverse.

April 29, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | 2 Comments

Homosexuality, society, and the Church – Different sexual ethic frameworks

The conflicts that that takes places between morally conservative forms of Christianity and homosexuality isn’t in any innate evil or disdain for persons or selfishness, per se. The divergence takes place not because of arbitrariness either. Rather, the Biblical ethic has a different rationale and raison d’etre for sexuality than Western society. In the many emotional arguments over the topic of homosexuality, it is a clash of entirely different justifications.

The Biblical ethic roots itself within the creation narrative of Genesis 1 with the command to humanity to “Be fruitful and multiply”, which is followed by “fill and subdue the earth/land.” There is a correlation between these two components, first as it requires many people to fill and then subdue the land. There is a sociological component between these land and reproduction, as a family’s, tribe’s, and nation’s hope for survival was in increasing their numbers. First, it provided more workers for the land to produce food. Secondly it protected the groups claim to the land by increasing in manpower. Interestingly enough, both Psalms 127 and 128 corresponds to these two ideas. Psalm 127 uses a combat metaphor in speaking of children like Arrows (127:4). Then as a result of being blessed with many children, a person “will not be ashamed when they speak with their enemies in the gate” (127:5). As for Psalm 128, children are compared in a simile to olive plants (128:3), which corresponds to the person being blessed/happy when they “eat the fruits of [their] hands” (128:2).

Because of this relationship between reproduction and the land, sex was given the primary purpose for reproduction. To participate in improper sexual acts was to violate this relationship and if practiced exclusively, would lead to taking away from the strength and productivity of the families, clans, and the nation of Israel as a whole. Furthermore, it could drive other persons to follow the same example, further multiplying the problem. Generally speaking, it would then be necessary to expel said sexual offenders from the group in order to preserve the sexual behavior that was beneficial for Israel.

So Leviticus 18, which is the outworking of the Biblical sexual ethic and includes homosexuality (18:22), links sexuality (in a more broad sense) with the land, as to participate in these acts defiles the land (18:25). In addition, the punishment for violation of Israel’s sexual ethic was to “be cut off from among their people” (18:29) so as to prevent the offenders from swaying others. Although, this punishment might be said to only apply generally, as particular violations such as acts of homosexuality where elsewhere called to be punished by death (Leviticus 20:13). Despite that exception, Leviticus 18 reveals the rationale for the sexual ethic in general. As a result, that explains why sexual relationships were to be practiced exclusively in heterosexual relationships, as opposed to bisexuality that might still draw other persons away from a potential reproductive relationship to exclusive homosexuality.

So, sexuality was linked with survival. Violation of sexuality was not punished out of arbitrariness, disdain for something different, or some innate disgust, but because it potentially harmed the well being of Israel, its tribes, and its families.

However, in Western and American society today, there isn’t the same importance placed upon reproduction for multiple reasons. First off, the prosperity of Europe and North America allows persons not to reproduce since it doesn’t affect the whole as drastically. Secondly, the population numbers also doesn’t put quite the onus upon individuals to be in child bearing relationships. Thirdly, even if the population of an area is being depleted, because of individual mobility of today and more toleration of other cultures (relative to ancient times), immigration from other populated areas is an option. Finally, individuals are not as directly reliant upon land for their livelihood, but instead rely upon larger farms and corporations for farms and mines to produce the goods needed for survival. Corporations hire workers, whereas families produce workers (As a side note, these things also relates to abortion). So, European and American society is free to embrace another view of sexuality without it seeing it as imperiling its survival.

Currently, sexual ethics are holding together two different principles in tension. First, there is a the romanticized and existential ideal of finding that person in “love” and to find that person who “completes you.” This is by no means exclusive to any population. For instance, many Christians assume marriage was made to be a union that reaches a spiritual level. Considering the “pursuit of happiness” mindset in Western society (although, perhaps subtly different from the phrase in the US Constitution). But the logical conclusion then is if a person is not attracted to a person of the opposite gender, but a person of the same gender, then they should be able to pursue that happiness that is to be found in finding another complete person.

The second aspect is more purely hedonistic and primal in the basic fulfillment and pleasure in the sexual act. That being the case, context of the sexual act is not important so far as it produces pleasure in the individual, Thus homosexuality is “justified” (although this principle if absolutized would categorically reject any restriction of the sexuality, so there is no true need to justify the act). However, it is being held in the romantic ideal, so it does not have free reign. Varying individuals may work from the first principle more than the second.

These two aspects being in held in tension together in society that celebrates liberty and equality (the modern notion of “equality”, not necessarily “equality” in earlier times), it is natural for homosexuality and homosexual marriage to be justified and approved of. The Biblical ethic, however, does not specifically endorse liberty and equality, nor the two principles in tension. This does not mean they are mutually exclusive and are always contradictory. But it does mean that there can come some points where there is a difference and conflict, such as on the issue of homosexuality.

In the end, the two divergent views are held because the traditions and person are formed by diverging belief systems (although, again, not mutually exclusive and inherently contradictory). But there is either the ignorance of the knowledge that persons on the other side have different justifications for their beliefs and that all people do not think alike, or there is the absolute demand to conform regardless of beliefs backed by insulting, threatening, and accusatory (such as a comment on the first post in this series) rhetoric.

April 28, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment

Genesis 6:1-8, the sons of God, and the breakdown of ancient sexual conduct

There is a particuarly mythic view of Genesis chapter 6 in regards to the ever controversial “sons of God” and “daughters of men” in which the “sons of God” are angelic beings who broke the division made between angels and humanity and bore children through females. This is due to the comparison with Job 1:6 and 2:1 where it used in reference to angelic beings, of which Satan (or the accuser) belongs to. While this might be the case, this makes a fundamental assumption that there was no change in meaning from the authoring of Genesis 6:2 and Job 1:6, 2:1. However, it is possible that there was an evolution of the phrase where from the first meaning, it adapted a second, related usage.

Quite literally, Genesis 6:2 and Job 1:6, 2:1 refers to “sons of the gods.” But as Elohim is used to refer to the one entity YHWH, to take it as the “sons of God” is perfectly acceptable translation. But it may not be justified, especially in the case of Genesis 6:2. In analyzing the different protions of Genesis, as source criticism has made note of, there is a tendency for certain passages to use Elohim to refer to the person we would refer to as God, and YHWH in others (with Genesis 2-3 being a notable exception). Genesis 6:1-8 happens to be a passages where YHWH is used. Now, YHWH is used extensively in the narrative of Job 1 and 2, but Elohim is also used and used in such a way that it is difficult to seperate the passages to use YHWH and Elohim to form two layers, one of which an editor added to the other (see Job 1:20-22).

With Genesis 6:1-8 being an otherwise exclusively YHWH passage (Although there is only a small sample size), it might seem appropriate to take ben_haelohim as “sons of the gods” instead of referring to the being of YHWH. One can take this quite literally as children of other deities, which retains a mythological interpretation of the passage but utterly belies the narrative of Genesis that does not speak of gods other than YHWH being active. Another option is to see the phrase as a title of kingly authority derived from religious claims, just as the Psalm 2 attributed to David makes a claim that he is a son of YHWH (Psalm 2:7). This option need not legitimate the “gods” whom supposedly authorize certain rulers, but it could have been a phrase that came in time to simply be attributed to rulers.

When analyzing the narrative further, the noteworthy dilemma isn’t necessarily the sons of Elohim procreating with thes daughters of men. Rather, the necessity to clarify that the wives the sons of Elohim took was “whomever they chose.” This phrase may imply that they were authoritarian in their pursuit of women. It could be that either they forcibly took women as their wives, or they ignored any social custom in which the father would “give” the daughter in marriage. Regardless, the central issue here is perhaps an improper usage of power for the purpose of procreation. Its narrative context definitely implied a proper sexual ethic (although it is never explicitly given in Genesis). In Genesis 1, the male and female are called to be fruitful and multiply. Abraham, in relation to the promise of his descendants, is called upon by God to circumcise his male sexual organ, implying there is a proper sexual conduct that Abraham was committing to. Furthermore, we see the multiple problems that are caused by Abraham’s and Sarah’s attempt to to have a child through Hagar, along with Jacob with Leah and Rachel. Thus, it would fit the theme of Genesis 6 to be focused not upon the breaking of a barrier between the “spiritual” and the physical, but rather that it is a violation of a proper sexual ethic.

This interpretation would make better sense of the reason YHWH purposed to destroy creation as He had formed it. If people were to play a pivotal role in exercising dominion (though not in a authoritarian or consumptionist sense) over the earth, including the animals, then it would be necessary for men and women to reproduce in order to bring about other human individuals who can help accomplish God’s design. But if the sexual ethic is somehow violated for the purpose of unjustified power over persons instead of the command power over creation, then humanity’s purpose was not to be fulfilled. Indeed, there is the abrogation of a sexual boundaries in Genesis 6:1-8, but there is also the mention that these children were somehow related to the Nephilim mentioned in verse 4 and there is mention of “them” (does it refer to the Nephilim or the children, if they are different?) being powerful men. In which case, if men weren’t fulfilling their purpose in ruling over creation, but instead exercising dominion more over each other, then the animals would not be “guided” properly and God’s whole creation purpose is thrown for a loop.

That Genesis 6:1-8 is related to God’s creation is clear by the declaration that YHWH “regretted that He made man on the earth” (6:6). But the link is strengthed by the usage of the adjective “evil” (6:5,) being the opposite of the “very good”  creation God had made after the creation of man (1:3). In other words, the humanity, whom God made with a purpose, was now opposing and rejecting their God ordained vocation and replacing it with a rule over each other.

April 24, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , | Leave a comment

Homosexuality, society, and the Church – Equality and Rights

I have currently planned a series of posts on the issue of homosexuality. I have up to this point on this blog remarked minimally on the topic as it is a topic that is emotionally charged which leads more towards charged rhetoric instead of calm reasonable understanding of the issues involved in the topic of sexuality. But now I feel it is appropriate to articulate what seems to me to be the underlying issues. Let me preface this by saying that I do not believe it is a proper expression of the sexuality in the eyes of God, nor do I think it is in a nation’s best interest to put it on the level of heterosexuality. But I also do not think that I am approaching this in the standard “gay marriage leads to the marrying of animals” simplistic type argument. Nor is every post meant to justify a certain sexual ethic, but part of my purpose is to illuminate the issue from the darkness of ignorance on the topic (which cuts both ways). Also, when I am talking about sexuality, it is broadened beyond just the physical acts of sex, as there is more to it than just that.

One of the greatest arguments (at least within the United States) that is used for the allowance of homosexual marriage is that it violates equal rights to all persons. The rhetoric of inequality, discrimination, etc. that is used shares similarity with the civil rights moment that was centered around racial segregation. On the surface it seems to deny the possibility of homosexual marriage is to commit the same sins of the previous generations. There seems to be a common strand that runs through both the race and sexuality. However, upon further inspection, their apparent similarity is in fact relies upon a different definition of equality. For the case of previous racial (and gender) conflicts for equality, there was not as much advocacy for the approval of certain acts in a certain context that can change, but rather to apply the same standards to one person as to the other for the same act in the same context that can change. Whereas conflicts over sexuality is focused upon the same standard for a act, regardless of context that can change.

Black persons and female persons wanted to work in the same places, sit in the same places, eat in the same places, and vote as white persons and male persons did. Previously, there was a disqualification for persons with certain characteristics that they could not change (at least naturally so). In other words, there is no way to enjoy the same benefits as other persons did beforehand.

Homosexual marriage, on the other hand, is not the same. Moving beyond the issue of whether a person’s sexuality can change (although something I will address later on), a homosexual relationship is not an unchangeable state like being black or female is, but rather an act (or more precisely, a series of acts). A person is not bound to participate in a homosexual relationship, but they are free to choose to participate in a heterosexual one if they want, even if the idea does not appeal to them. But the homosexual is playing by the same rules all other persons are.

The context of the relationship can change. And context for acts are often times the determining factor as to whether it is to be allowed or endorsed (as some things may be allowed but not prudent to endorse). For instance, to forcibly restrict the movements of persons is generally seen as wrong. However, in the case of criminals, imprisonment is an option that is seen as justified. But the context dictates whether the action is proper or not, not just the action itself. And each person is free to retain freedom of movement so far as they do so within a certain context, that is not committing crimes.

For the case of homosexual marriage, it is not a matter of an unequal playing field where one person doing something in a context is treated different from another person in the same context. Rather, it is a matter of whether the option should be made available to everyone if they so desire, whereas currently the option is denied to everyone in most states in the United States. It it is not an option denied to just homosexuals, but to all persons. And that might seem to be nonsensical on the surface because it is illogical for a person who does not have sexual feelings for the person for a person the same gender to choose to marry them. However, it illustrates the fact that at the end, homosexual marriage is about the equal allowance of differing desires (desire for a particular marriage), not an equal playing field.

Whether it is to be justified or not is another issue, but fundamentally the issue isn’t about equality in the classic sense. It isn’t about wanting the rules to be consistent from person to person, but rather to change the rule for all persons. And there are cases where the rules for everyone do need to change, so that does not mean itself that homosexual marriage should not be allowed. But the current rhetoric of equality is misleading as sexuality and marriage is different from the race or gender, and as such must be approached differently.

A more proper analogue to the choice of the type of marriage one wants is the choice of the religion one wants to participate in (ironic, considering certain religions and certain expressions of sexuality have been at conflict, but fitting since marriage in recent history has been related to religion). However, in the case of religion in the US, there is no governmental control of religion beyond the rules that all persons must follow anyways. Presuming religion isn’t to be a special exception, to apply the treatment of religion to sexuality and marriage would be to follow a libertarian-like stance where the government is not involved in the institution of marriage whatsoever. Thus in that case all attempts to allow or deny homosexual marriage in the three branches of government are unjustified. However, that is view is not mandated within the US Constitution currently, and it might not be in the the nation’s best interest for the government to not be involved in the institution of marriage (something I will also address in a future post).

To apply to other issues and to illustrate in the end, a good principle to ask is whether one group can do the specific thing desired that other persons can not. For instance, before women’s suffrage, a female person could not vote but a male person could vote. That is a form of inequality. On the other hand, a homosexual person can not participate in a homosexual marriage, and a heterosexual person can not participate in a homosexual marriage. That is a form of equality. But one must be sure to be explicit in what is referring to, because one could just simply speak of marriage, but then the implied meaning for most persons is not applying the same thing to each person (we would fill in the lack of a qualifier with homosexual in the clause about a homosexual person, whereas fill in heterosexual with the clause about a heterosexual person).

April 23, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | 4 Comments

The God says/God makes duplication in Genesis 1

In Genesis 1:6-7, 14-16, 20-21, 24-25, and 26-27, there is an apparent duplication in the narrative. On the one hand, you see God making a command for something be come into being. Then, what follows is a statement that God made/created said thing. If the purpose of the Genesis was to give an account of the events in creation, referring to God’s speech is perhaps a bit superfluous as the description of the making/creating is sufficient to give an account the creation of the earth and all that was in it.

However, as I have argued, I think part of the backdrop is that one being named Elohim in fact encompasses all the other El‘s. So for Elohim both to command and to do, it represents a unity of Elohim that does not rely on other beings in order to accomplish his will. There is no need for other El‘s to create the heaven’s, the earth, and all that is in them, as Elohim can accomplish that. But secondly, it is an affirmation of Elohim‘s sovereignty that he was not simply fulfilling the will of another being, but that Elohim himself is sovereign.

April 19, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment

The image of God, the Old Testament, and monotheism

One of the interesting aspects within Old Testament and Christian theology is the concept of the image of God in the creation narrative (Genesis 1:27-28). However, a particular oddity about this part of the narrative is that it is not a category that is used in the patriarchal narratives and after. Its influence is primarily within the pre-patriarchal narrative (Genesis 1-11). This is particularly intriguing in light of the fact that other aspects of God’s creation of humanity play a role throughout the Torah and onwards, such as the command to be fruitful and multiply, the command to fill the earth (for Israel, its primary fulfillment is in filling the land of Canaan), the concept of creation, the sabbath reast, etc. But for some reason, the image of God didn’t make the cut.

Now as I argued previously, the image of God represents a multiplicity in a unity of one. So Elohim is one entity (perhaps this gives new understanding of “YHWH is one” in Deuteronomy 6:4). Likewise humanity is to be a plurality as one (Note the second creation narrative that establish the man and woman become “one flesh” in Genesis 2:24). However, this unity was destroyed in the Babel narrative by God (Genesis 11:6). But after the narrative, there is no mention of the image of God, or similarity in language and concepts (as in the  Babel narrative).

On the one hand, one can interpret the absence as due to the lack of God’s image present in humankind after Babel. However, following the Babel narrative, Abraham is spoken of being a blessing to the nations (Genesis 12:1-3). With the image of God being related to the creation of the reproductive couple of male and female (and thus becoming united/one), and blessing with being fruitful and multiplying, it is not as if the patriarchal narrative has forgotten the purpose contain withing being in the image of God. One can even say, Abraham’s being a blessing is meant to portray the restoration of the lost unity in a way. But the language of “image” is lacking, and so is the concept of many being one. In all likelihood then, that absence is not due to a lack of God’s image in the world, because one might expect an explicit trust of restoration if the Genesis narrative views the image of God as destroyed.

Rather, I think the change in language reflects an evolution in the thought of God, that fits within the history of religions approach. However, unlike some approaches that assume the Torah and the rest of the Tanakh is a late result of the evolution of religious thought, the Torah in fact exhibits the evolution of thought as the narrative progresses forward. If I am right about “the image of God” being understood as a plurality in a unity, then it may reveal an early development of Jewish monotheism, that is less polemical that later develops of Israel’s monotheistic belief (a change from what I wrote in an earlier post where I believe the creation narrative had a polemic to it).

This early monotheism would see the many gods as in fact being all parts of the same one being. One could not speak of this being simply as “El” at this point in time, because the connotation of El was not a sovereign being (unlike our usage of “God” today), but simply one being amongst many. Hence, the early narrative feels it necessary to speak of this one being in the plural (but yet frequently with singular verbs) in order to emphasize the power that would not be conveyed by the singular. With this broad understanding of Elohim that includes the many different El‘s, it would also be natural for the narrative to appropriate the many mythological narratives within its understanding of Elohim and history. Thus there are similarities between parts of Genesis 1-11 with other religious myths such as the Enuma Elish and Gilgamesh religious (although, there are differences and Genesis need not have borrowed directly from those stories we do have), in which the stories have been appropriated as being the work of this united Elohim, also known as YHWH.

However, the plurality as a unity is a logical deduction (although, this does not mean it was not divinely inspired, as the door is still open that revelation was the catalyst for this) that places its emphasis on the oneness more so than the plurality (hence Elohim acts with singular verbs). The tension between many and one would have been forgotten, and the oneness would have become more emphasized with a total loss of the plural aspect. Hence, the more classical form of Jewish monotheism (although not Christian monotheism, of the one being a plurality). As such, the “image of God” language and concept could not have been assimilated into the newer form of monotheism.

So Genesis 1-11 reflects a more universal religious belief that integrates all the concepts of the different El‘s into one entityYHWH Elohim (as spoken of in Genesis 2-3). Whereas Genesis 12 onwards reflects a more developed (or even developing?) monotheism that Israel appropriates to describe their past, present, and future. The first would reflect Israel’s belief in YHWH without having developed a thorough self-identity other than its relation to YHWH, whereas in the latter Israel has identified itself as a people particularly called by God to live in a particular land (indicating a shift from the “fill and subdue the earth” to more particularly, the land of Canaan). And despite the more universal tone of Genesis 1-11, it still has a particular Jewishness to it as it talks about God’s sabbath, which would echo the third of the Ten Commandments.

April 16, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | 2 Comments

I am moving

Sometime in the summer, I will be moving to Wilmore, KY to finished my Masters of Divinity on campus as Asbury for the next two years. The reality of trying to pastor four churches, be a full-time student via the internet, and pursing my indepedent but equally important studies has caught up to me. But this means, on the flip side, that once I move I will have the time to dedicate to blogging again.

But to make a brief biblical studies statement: Goldingay > Brueggemann

April 11, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment