Tag Archives: Bible

Pictures from Rome (and Vatican City)

I have posted pictures from Rome and the surrounding area, including the Roman Forum, Coliseum, Arch of Titus, Pantheon, San Callisto Catacombs, and the Vatican City.

The pictures can be accessed from a link on the top of the home page or by following this link.

These pictures were taken as part of a January, 2015 study tour in Greece and Rome.

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Greece Pictures Added

I have added a page of pictures from Greece that features sites of biblical or historical interest. The cities included are Thessaloniki (home of the recipients of 1 and 2 Thessalonians), Philippi (Philippians), Berea (whose residents are mentioned in a positive light in Acts 17:10-15), Vergina (near where Philip II of Macedon is buried), Delphi (famous for its oracle at the Temple of Apollo), Athens (see Paul’s sermon there in Acts 17:16-34), and Corinth (recipients of 1 and 2 Corinthians).

I traveled to Greece and Rome this past January with a great group of students (and a faculty colleague) from Taylor University. Dave, Elizabeth, and David Sparks were our excellent guides and teachers.

Look for the “Pictures of Greece” page at the top of the home page, or follow this link.

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Series Conclusion – the Bible and Same Gender Sexual Activity

sunset

Christian congregations (particularly in Europe and North America) exist within cultures that are rapidly changing in their moral norms. In the years and decades to come, Christians will need to combine a wise and compassionate pastoral approach with biblically informed doctrine when we encounter people inside and outside the church who experience same-sex attraction.

Thankfully, God has given sufficient revelation to guide us in our theological convictions. The topic of same-gender sexual activity is addressed indirectly and directly in Scripture, as we have seen in this blog series.

Very early in the biblical story, marriage is defined explicitly as being between a man and a woman. This definition is maintained (though not always practiced) throughout the rest of the Bible. Genesis 2 establishes God’s clear intention for marriage – between one man and one woman. Jesus affirms this definition in Matthew 19 and Mark 10. Paul reiterates this definition in Ephesians 5. Marriage between man and woman is invested with deeper meaning in these passages, as signposts to God’s eternal plans in creation and redemption.

Same-sex practices are portrayed in a negative light and/or spoken against in both the Old and New Testaments. Often, “righteous” and “unrighteous” behavior is divided clearly in these passages, with same-sex practices being listed under “unrighteous” behavior.

Same-sex practices surface in the “wicked” cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.

The Law God gave to Moses (the Law that reflected God’s holy character and specified how the Israelites were to be his holy people) prohibited same-sex practices, along with other sexual activity that fell outside the bounds of a faithful marriage between a man and woman. While the new covenant in Jesus nullifies ceremonial aspects of the Law as well as specific penalties, there is no indication that God’s demands for moral purity in heart and actions have been discarded.

Jesus did not speak specifically about same-sex practices (probably since his Jewish audience already rejected such behavior because of Leviticus 18 and 20), but he did affirm male-female marriage as God’s design (Matthew 19 and Mark 10). Jesus is also clear that immoral behavior (as opposed to customary rituals) makes a person truly defiled before God (Mark 7:14-18, Matthew 15).

Paul associates same-sex practices (between men and between women) with immorality that characterizes people groups that have denied the knowledge of God in Romans 1.

Paul insists that same-sex practices are among the behaviors that are incompatible with Christian belief and participation in the kingdom of God in 1 Corinthians 6, and he groups same-sex practice with other forms of lawless and ungodly behavior in 1 Timothy 1. But as is the case for all of us, these passages remind us that because of the good news of Jesus Christ sin need not have the final word in our lives. Jesus Christ came to save sinners and re-shape our lives into his image, by the Spirit.

Thus concludes this series. Here are the links to the rest of the posts in the series:

 

Section 1 – Overview

 

Section 2 – Marriage in Genesis, the Gospels, and Ephesians

 

Section 3 – Sodom and Gomorrah throughout the Bible

 

Section 4 – Leviticus 18 and 20

 

Section 5 – Romans 1:18-32

 

Section 6 – 1 Corinthians 6 and 1 Timothy 1

 

Section 7 – Matthew 7:15-20 – A Tree and its Fruit


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Marriage according to Genesis 1-2, Jesus, and Paul

Marriage - part of God's good creation

Marriage – part of God’s good creation

This is section 2 of a series on the Bible and same-gender sexual activity. Here is the series overview.

Genesis 1-2 recounts God’s creation of humans as male and female, along with the union of man and woman in marriage. Both Jesus and Paul see these chapters as foundational for God’s plan for marriage, and they view the marital union described there as a prototype for godly marriages.

Genesis 1-2 is the best place to start in our examination of the Bible’s teaching on same-gender sexual activity: “For the negative prohibitions of homosexual practices in Scripture make sense only in the light of its positive teaching in Genesis 1 and 2 about human sexuality and heterosexual marriage” (John Stott, Issues Facing Christians Today, 344).

Genesis 1 – God’s Ordered and Purposeful Creation

The whole creation account of Genesis 1:1-2:3 is organized around the “forming” and “filling” of the world, in opposition to the earth being “formless” and “empty” – Genesis 1:2 (see Bruce Waltke, An Old Testament Theology, 185-186). The first three creation days portray God forming of the world, and the fourth, fifth, and sixth days consist of God filling the world. The creation account emphasizes several points:

  1. That God creates according to his plans. He speaks, and his intention is fulfilled.
  2. God’s creation is called “good” and “very good” throughout the account.
  3. God creates in an ordered way – separating light from darkness and waters from land, creating things “according to their own kinds,” arranging things in seasons and days and years, etc.

For the creation of man and woman, the progression in Genesis 1:26-28 is as follows:

  • Verse 26a – God creates man in his image and likeness.
  • Verse 26b – Humanity’s relationship to the rest of the created order.
  • Verse 27 – God creates man in his image when he creates male and female.
  • Verse 28a – The blessing of God – filling the earth through procreation.
  • Verse 28b – Humanity’s relationship to the rest of the created order.

Genesis 1:26a introduces the idea of humanity being created in the image of God, which will be explored further in the next section. Verses 26b and 28b are very similar in specifying that humans will govern the earth and its creatures (by ruling wisely on God’s behalf, and not for reckless gain).

The most pertinent sections for our purposes are found in verses 27-28a. Verse 27 states, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” This verse establishes God’s plan for two distinct genders in creation. Man and woman are distinct from one another, but both are made in the image of God. Verse 28 connects this design with the blessing/mandate to be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth (which matches the description of the sea creatures and birds of verse 22). There is a close association between gender duality and procreation in the passage (verses 27 and 28a).

Summary: According to Genesis 1:1-2:3, God created humanity as male and female, as part of a good and ordered creation that was meant to fill the earth over time.

A Closer Look at the Image of God in Humanity

Being made in the image of God has several overlapping nuances. It indicates the divinely ordained value of being human (see Gen 6:6; James 3:9), the function of governing the world on God’s behalf (Gen 1:26; Psalm 8), and perhaps the inherent relational nature of humans with God and with one another (if the relational plurality of humans is meant to reflect the relational plurality within the Trinity).

While God made humans in his image, humans also need to be restored to the image of God in Christ (Rom 8:29; Col 3:10), since Christ is the true image of God (2 Corinthians 4:4 and Colossians 1:15). This is made possible when believers become a new creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17) and grow into this new creation reality by putting off the old self and putting on the new self, which is “created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4: 21-24; Colossians 3:9-10).

The image of God reflects the perfection of what humans were called to be. According to the Bible, the standard for perfection is determined not by any innate desire or orientation humans experience, but by the revealed created order God designed before humanity’s fall into sin and by the perfect image and righteousness of Christ.

Genesis 2 – Male and Female Union in Marriage

The passage revisits the creation of the world from a different approach, focusing more on the creation of Adam and Eve. God creates man from the dust, breathes life into him, and puts the man in a garden in Eden. The man’s task is to work the garden and keep it (Genesis 2:15, in contrast to 2:5).

In contrast to the repeated affirmations of the goodness of creation in chapter 1, Genesis 2:18 says it is “not good” for the man to be alone. God decides to “make a helper fit/suitable for him.”

The word for “helper” (ezer) has the notion of “indispensable companion” (see NET Bible study notes).

The word that follows (kenegdo, from a combination of the prepositions ke and neged) is translated in various ways in modern translations:

CEB – “a helper that is perfect for him.”

ESV – “a helper fit for him.”

HCSB – “a helper as his complement.”

NASB, NIV – “a helper suitable for him.”

NET – “a companion . . . who corresponds to him.”

NKJV – “a helper comparable to him.”

NLT – “a helper who is just right for him.”

NRSV – “a helper as his partner.”

The animals are brought to the man for naming. This results in the man seeing his lack of a “helper fit for him.” God makes the woman from the man – “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” The woman comes from the man and thus is very similar to him, unlike the animals. But the woman is also different from the man – God did not simply create another man, but he created a woman, who represents a distinct category that is distinguished from “man” throughout the rest of the Bible.

The narrator then explains God’s intention for the partnership between man and woman: the man will 1) leave father and mother, 2) hold fast to his wife, and 3) the two will become one flesh. These are the stated purposes, not just for Adam and Eve, but for all marital unions (see Matt 19:5, Mark 10:7, Eph 5:31).

“Becoming one flesh” follows the man’s exclamation that the woman is “bone of my bone” and “flesh of my flesh” (Genesis 2:23), which is consistent with the way that the woman was made from the man’s physical body in Genesis 2:22. “Becoming one flesh” involves being unified (as “a new family” – NET) and reflecting that union in sexual intimacy (see Paul’s enlistment of that meaning in 1 Corinthians 6:16).

Genesis 2 thus reveals God’s purposeful creation of a woman (and women) to exist alongside and be in relationship with a man (and men) in this world. A central feature of this existence and these relationships is the marital union between a man and a woman.

Genesis 1 and 2 in Jesus’ Teaching about Marriage

In Jesus’ appeal to this passage in Matthew 19:3-12 and Mark 10:2-12 notice that Jesus combines Genesis 1:27 (creation of male and female) with Genesis 2:24 (God’s design for marriage). This indicates that Jesus saw that these two passages belonged together to describe God’s purpose for marriage.

Genesis 1 highlights the creation of male and female – both in the image of God. Genesis 2 focuses on the relational union between male and female in God’s plans. As Gospels scholar R. T. France notes, “This combination results in a compelling sequence of thought: the God who first designed humanity in two sexes also laid it down that those two sexes should come together in an indissoluble union of ‘one flesh’” (France, The Gospel of Matthew, 717).

Jesus moves from creation of male and female to union of male and female in marriage and anchors this union in God’s design (“what therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”) There is also a repetition of “from the beginning” in Matthew 19:4 and 19:8. This shows Jesus’ conviction that any proper view of marriage should be founded upon what God revealed from the beginning, in Genesis 1 and 2.

Though Jesus quoted these passages to emphasize the permanence of marriage, his words also reveal his broader understanding of marriage – that God himself designed marriage to be a permanent union of a man and woman.

Ephesians 5:22-33 – Christian Marriage as a Symbol of Divine Truths

In Ephesians 5 the apostle Paul anchors his teaching on marriage in Genesis 2 when he quotes God’s original plan for marriage (Genesis 2:24). This passage also paints a beautiful picture of the correlation between marriage and Christ’s relationship with the church.

Ephesians 5:22-33 is a passage that follows upon the general command to be filled by the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18), which manifests itself in a number of ways, including general practices of submitting to one another in our Christian relationships (Ephesians 5:21) and godly attitudes and actions in marriage (Ephesians 5:22-33).

Throughout the passage, the wife’s respect of and submission to her husband is said to correspond to the church’s submission to Christ, and the husband’s sacrificial love is said to mirror Christ’s love for the church. Ephesians 5:32 also directly ties the marriage relationship to Christ and the church: “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church” (ESV).

Marriages are described as being between one man and woman in this passage. Though an emphasis on deep intimacy and others-centeredness characterizes the relationship between husbands and wives, the fact that these are relationships between one man and one woman is not incidental to the passage. Paul reaches all the way back to God’s creation of the world to support his ideas on marriage. In Ephesians 5:31, referring back to Genesis 2:24, a man leaves his father and mother to become joined to his wife, resulting in the two becoming “one flesh.” The original plan for marriage that Paul refers to was the uniting of one man and one woman in a permanent bond.

In this passage marriage is linked to both creation and redemption, two central doctrines of Christianity. The tie to creation is clear from the citation of Genesis 2:24. The connection to redemption is found in the marital love Jesus shows his church – “giving himself up” for the church, for her sanctification and cleansing in holiness. See also the same redemptive language in Ephesians 5:2, where Jesus “gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice for God.”

Like Jesus affirmed in Mark 10 and Matthew 19, Paul recognized that marriage was defined by God, according to his terms. In the definitions of Genesis 1-2, Matthew 19/Mark 10, and Ephesians 5 marriage is prescribed as being between a man and woman, who unite together as part of God’s basic order for the world (Genesis 1-2), and unite in Christ to point to Christ’s sacrificial work and the intimate union between Christ and his church.

A note on cultural backgrounds and biblical teachings

Ancient cultural perceptions of men, women, and same-sex practices, while informative when viewed in comparison to biblical teachings, are not directly relevant to the biblical view of same-sex sexual activity. The passages above present God’s intent for marriage apart from any cultural consideration and with universal relevance. The Bible begins with Genesis 1 and 2, which establishes a male-female marriage as the one authorized relationship for sexual union. This male-female union is affirmed in the rest of the Bible, and deviations from this norm are attributed to hard-heartedness (see Jesus’ explanation for the divorce instructions in the Mosaic Law – Matthew 19 and Mark 10), or shown to be harmful (in cases of polygamy) or are outright condemned (prostitution, adultery, same-sex sexual activity, incest). God reveals his plans for marriage clearly and consistently throughout the Scriptures.

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Jesus Speaks . . . In Harmony with the Father and the Spirit

Gospel of LukeRed-letter Christianity – it’s a view of Christianity that gives preference to Jesus’ words in the Gospels. The thinking goes, “if I simply follow the teachings of Jesus – I can’t go wrong with my faith.” Red letter Christians don’t dismiss the rest of the Bible – they just really try to focus on Jesus.

Here is why red-letter Christianity makes some sense. Our faith is about Jesus. He is the center of the story of the Bible, and he is the one who perfectly reveals God to our world: “No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship to the Father, has made him known” (John 1:18, NIV; see also Hebrews 1:1-3). Red letter Christianity is also an important corrective for believers who only think about their forgiveness of sins through Christ but never get around to putting his teachings into action.

But here is my concern with red-letter Christianity: it isn’t Trinitarian enough. The Father, Son, and Spirit are always working as one in our world. And Jesus connects his words to the words of the Father and of the Spirit, which brings all of the Bible into play.

Jesus associates himself with his Father. Jesus states clearly “My teaching is not my own. It comes from the One who sent me” (John 7:16). Elsewhere, Jesus declares “I do nothing on my own, but speak just what the Father has taught me” (John 8:28). And again, “For I did not speak on my own, but the Father who sent me commanded me to say all that I have spoken” (John 12:49). And finally, “These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me” (John 14:24).

Jesus speaks in perfect harmony with the Father, the God “who was and is and is to come” (Rev 1:8), who also spoke through the Law and the Prophets of the OT. Jesus treats his Father’s words from the past (the OT era) as authoritative. A famous example comes from Jesus’ wilderness temptations. Three times, Jesus rebukes Satan with the words, “It is written,” followed by God’s Word from the Old Testament (Matthew 4:1-11).  Jesus’ entire ministry is introduced by linking him to the OT in Matthew 1 (with a genealogy that runs from Abraham through David to Jesus) and in Mark 1 (where his ministry is connected to prophecies from the Old Testament). And, as mentioned in this blog post, Jesus’ most famous command, to love God with our entire being, directs us specifically to YHWH, the one true God confessed by the Israelites (Mark 12:29-31; Deut 6:4-5).

Jesus also links himself as closely as possible to the Spirit, who he promised would continue to bring Jesus’ teachings, through his apostles, to the world. Speaking to his disciples, Jesus says this: “All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” (John 14:26). The focus of the Spirit’s teaching will be on Jesus: “When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me” (John 16:13). Sometimes the Spirit reiterates Jesus’ earthly teachings (for instance in James’ letter, which applies much of the Sermon on the Mount to James’ flock, or in 1 John, which reminds believers of Jesus’ command to love one another), and other times the Spirit points people to the sacrificial work of Jesus on the cross and his glorious resurrection (which is exactly what the final chapters of each Gospel do, along with letters by the apostles Peter and Paul). The Spirit even inspired all of the writings of the Old Testament, which point to Jesus as well, as indicated by 2 Timothy 3:15-17 (“Scriptures” most likely refers to the Old Testament Scriptures in this passage).

Jesus’ teachings are to be honored, as are the Old Testament Scriptures he endorses and the New Testament Scriptures that testify to him. Each passage of the Bible, when properly interpreted according to its intended purpose, is God’s authoritative and profitable revelation to us. In a way, all of the Bible could be written in red letters.

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Tipping Point – Christian Affections

At last check we were making our way through a series on “tipping points” in the Christian experience. This current post looks at the crucial adjustment that helps ignite our affections for God. In our Christian lives, we may believe the right things in our minds and practice the right things in our habits, but what helps our hearts to be drawn towards God in ever-increasing affection for him, so that we worship, trust, and obey him from the core of our being?

Monastery on top of Patmos

A critical step, or tipping point, for capturing our affections towards God is to learn to read the Bible with in a way that is sympathetic, first and foremost, to God’s perspective, rather than a human perspective. In other words, read the Bible with a sense of wonder, looking to appreciate God’s glory as we read. God cannot capture our affections for him if we are unwilling to trust him, by submitting ourselves to his revelation of himself in the Bible and see him for who he really is.

We are naturally inclined to place ourselves at the center of the universe and judge what we read in the Bible from that perspective. This can create skepticism and resistance towards God, especially when the way he acts fails to conform to our sensibilities. A great starting point for reading the Bible with God’s interests and viewpoint guiding us is found in Isaiah 55:8-9 – “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Submitting to God’s revelation requires trust that “the Judge of all the earth does what is right” (Genesis 18:25).

It is entirely appropriate to read the Bible in this way, since the Bible is written with God as the hero of the overall story and in the individual passages. In Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart’s influential book How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, the authors remind us, “In any biblical narrative, God is the ultimate character, the supreme hero of the story. . . . To miss this dimension of the narrative is to miss the perspective of the narrative altogether” (page 98).

Why is this approach to reading relevant to our affections towards God? Without an appreciation for God as the hero of the Bible we will yawn at glimpses of God’s holy majesty, bristle at scenes when God judges, underestimate the gravity of sin, or overlook the riches of God’s blessings for us. We need to have our attention focused on the beauty, power, justice, and grace of God at the center of the Biblical storyline. This grand vision of God’s greatness has fueled the worship and devotion of generations of believers. We should expect no less when we give God a chance to impress us when we encounter him in the Scriptures.

This process takes time. But once we are open to God being the center of the story, we learn to appreciate him on his own terms, without requiring him to fit into our preconceived notions of him, notions which are usually shaped by our own short-sighted goals and needs. And when we see God on his terms, we will grow in awareness of his beauty.

When we value God’s perspective and his glory above all things, Bible reading becomes a gateway into increased affections towards God and more ardent worship. We can emerge from reflecting on God and his word with the same sentiment that Paul expressed in Romans 11:33-36: “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor? Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.”

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Christians and Government

On the eve of elections in the United States, let’s take a brief look at how the Bible speaks about some of the responsibilities of 1) governments and 2) believers living under those governments. I won’t dive into any partisan positions on specific issues but will just try to identify some guiding principles that should shape our thinking.

Governments:

Human governments are part of the order that God established for the world (Romans 13:1-2). Governments function effectively when they are contributing to orderly societies in which people can live their lives in peace (1 Timothy 2:1-2).

Governments are expected to be able to distinguish between good and evil, so that through the creation and enforcement of laws governments can promote good and deter evil in society (Romans 13:3-4; 1 Peter 2:14). My guess is that Paul would appeal to conscience and general revelation as the basis for a government’s differentiation between good and evil (these are topics he already dealt with earlier, in Romans 1-3).

Governments are expected to advance the common good (Romans 13:4) – the government acts as “God’s servant to do you good” (NIV), or “a servant for your good” (ESV).

Takeaway – In democracies, believers should try to discern whether candidates are committed to upholding laws and justice as well as promoting the overall long-term welfare of the citizens. That is a fairly general place to start, but it is important to have this big picture in mind before analyzing the intricacies of the various positions about which the candidates disagree.

Believers:

Believers should pray for those in authority (1 Timothy 2:1-4).

Believers should show respect and honor towards those in authority, and they should demonstrate this by paying their taxes (Romans 13:1, 6-7; Titus 3:1; 1 Peter 2:13, 17). Jesus says this most memorably in response to a question about paying taxes: “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s” (Mark 12:15-17).

Believers should remember that our primary allegiance is to God. Every time believers confess “Jesus is Lord,” this is an affirmation of our chief obligation as believers – to be totally devoted to and obedient to Jesus as our master. Paul reminds the Roman citizens of Philippi that “our citizenship is in heaven” (Phil 3:20). Believers are to “fear God and honor the king” (1 Peter 2:17). When allegiances between God and government seem to clash, there may even be times that believers must “obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29; note how in Acts 4:19-20 Peter expresses a similar conviction in both a firm and respectful way to the authorities).

Takeaway – no matter what the outcome in the United States elections, Christians should be ready to be respectful to the leaders of our government. Let’s pray for our leaders, avoid speaking falsely about them, and be ready to pay our taxes and fulfill other duties with willingness and honesty. And let’s remember our first love – Christ – and the mission he has given us as a church. Governments change, but the work of Christ continues from generation to generation around the world.

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