Today's Issues Q&A

 

Issue:

According to the New Testament, is it better to be single or married? (1 Cor. 7:25-40)

 

Response (staff answer):

In order to better understand Paul’s advice, it is necessary to go back to the beginning of chapter 7. He begins by saying, “Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: ‘It is well for a man not to touch a woman.’”

At face value these are stunning words. Scholars absolutely believe that this sentence was written by the Corinthians to Paul in a letter; I Corinthians is his response to their letter. What scholars don’t agree upon is who wrote this sentence.

What if this sentence had been written by the women? What if the women were the ones saying, “It is well for a man not to touch a woman?” It would be akin to them saying, “We don’t want that anymore.” Prior to this point in time, women have never had the right to make such a statement. Scholars now think that it’s the women who are asserting their right to freedom in Christ. And look what’s happened! The men are so frustrated they’re going to prostitutes (see I Cor. 6). There, Paul says that the way to stop immoral sexual activity is to make sure that there are avenues for moral sexual activity.

Paul is very worried about the status of marriages within this group. And he wants them to honor their commitments regarding their marriages. Women, for their entire lives, have never had the option of refusing sex. They have never had that right; they’ve never had the ability to say no. But now they do, and they must have been saying it loud and often. They were the ones who had taken Paul’s words to heart, and they were the ones who wanted to devote more of their lives to God. It is the married women who are flexing their newfound muscles and putting their marital duties on the back burner.

So with that as a new reality, let’s look at how Paul deals with this issue. He is repetitive in his treatment of men and women. Every statement is tit for tat. He does not say the man owns the woman without saying that the woman also owns the man. He does not say the man has authority over the woman’s body without saying the woman has authority over the man’s body. And this was new. The typical view was one of the subordination of women even outside of Judaism and Christianity, in the Greco-Roman society.

What he really wants here is for them to have a solid marriage. He talks about it as an obligation. He talks about it as being a duty; it’s a debt they owe to each other. And what he is really pleading for in a very thoughtful way is for the women to think about what they’re doing. He wants them to keep the best interests of their families in mind. Since women, traditionally, were responsible for the religious education of the children, they would have been in a good position to preach the gospel to their children. Equally important to Paul’s argument is the fact that in a case of divorce, the children stayed in the oikos of the pater familias, with the father, and could be potentially lost to the Christian community if the father didn’t believe.

Paul acknowledges, though, that this is not a command from the Lord. At best, this is his thought. He’s really asking the women in a very gentle way to be alert to their marital duties for the sake of their husbands. Let’s keep these marriages intact. Let’s respect the obligations of a marriage, and then those husbands won’t have to be going to prostitutes. But there is no rebuke here; Paul is being very persuasive.

And to single, unmarried women, Paul says, “You do not have to marry.” That would have been an incredible message for them to hear. “You do not have to marry; stay as you are.” But to those who are married, he also says “stay as you are.” He speaks very clearly about all of them staying in their station in life. You do not have to change your status in life in order to be a Christian. God loves you whatever you are. What matters is how well you keep God’s commandments and live in obedience to His will. They should not make themselves dependent on society’s values. Real freedom is found in service to God. Whatever state they are in, they have been transformed by the fact that they are in it with God.

Yet, many scholars have used this passage to argue that Paul is actually anti-marriage in the first place. Let’s consider whether Paul ascribes a special holiness to the unmarried woman and virgin because she is not touched by a man. In Paul’s view holiness should be the concern of all Christians. Moreover, if he spells out in more specific language what it means for unmarried women to try to please the Lord, it is very likely due to the previously accepted notion that marriage and submission have been their only options. Paul methodically attempts to show that holiness of body and spirit is possible by both men and women, through continence for the purpose of undivided devotion to the Lord.

There is also another very interesting possibility concerning Paul’s advice regarding the unmarried. In antiquity, the daughter “belongs” to the father until she marries. Then she “belongs” to her husband. In the event of a divorce or upon his death, she returns to her father's home or is assigned another male guardian or a new husband. It seems that a woman’s main access to power and wealth is through the men in her life. If Paul recommends the unmarried state, is he attempting to deny these women any influence in their society? Or, is it, in effect, quite the opposite?

Paul’s argument that believers remain unmarried is not because he regards sexual intercourse as inherently evil or because he has no appreciation of married life. His concern lies elsewhere. Paul’s approach, like that of other philosophers, is essentially practical. Believers, like the ideal cynic, should be able to devote themselves completely to the service of God. But for Paul, serving God is not an individual affair; it is a matter of community.

One final thought: It is also true that Paul and his followers strongly believe that Jesus will be returning soon. Paul tells the Corinthians that “the appointed time has grown short; from now on, let even those who have wives be as though they have none… For the present form of this world is passing away” (1 Cor 7:29). Neither Paul nor his followers are worried about the distant future; the only important time is the present (so there is no need to change one’s marital status), and believers need to be ready by serving God.

What was happening in this community was that a group of rigorists had established an ascetic elitism and were, consequently, thinking themselves superior to those who were unable to live up to this standard. Paul “chastises them for imposing their views on everyone in the community and, thereby, causing division within it.”

Paul’s treatment of marriage, then, is simply this: “Whether one is married or remains single, one must live in a way that is pleasing to God and builds up the community of God's people.”


Issue:

In Luke 6:30, we read, “Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.” Should we give to someone who is a taker, or who takes advantage of people?

 

Response (staff answer):

Giving is so natural, and being generous is so vitally important. It’s at the very heart of what it means to be a Christian. But wisdom is also central. This month’s Bible Character and Themes topic discusses the similar passage from Matt 5:42: “Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you” (5:42 NIV).

One of the points it brings out is that the Spirit gives us discernment—to understand what is being asked or what is the best course of action. Is the person asking for money for food or for spending on frivolous activities or addictions? And if someone takes something from us, do we go after them and retaliate? Or is there a better response?

Jesus never advocated being a doormat. He, himself, was a very strong individual. He didn’t let people take advantage of him. He walked right through the mob that was trying to fling him off a cliff. He knew he was walking towards the crucifixion … and then he rose.

So let’s look at this statement in a broader context. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus’ words come in relation to how to deal with people who are unkind and insulting, who take, compel service, and ask a lot. What do we do? We refuse to take offense, to retaliate, to escalate the violence. Rather, we maintain our dignity; we respond calmly and with strength. We try to de-escalate the situation. We make people more important than things. We refuse to let possessions become a god to us. We let God correct the other person and mete out justice. Most importantly, we rely totally on God for everything.

Later in the Sermon, Jesus will counsel, “… do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces” (Matt 7:6 NIV). And a few chapters later, we learn that Jesus told his disciples, “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves” (10:16 KJV).

Neither of these statements suggests that we let people take advantage of us. Rather, these words indicate the need to be judicious in our actions. If people don’t listen, let them go. Don’t force. Don’t get upset. Don’t waste time. Move on. And then, if we come face-to-face with “wolves,” with those we may call “takers,” what do we do? Jesus doesn’t tell his disciples to let the wolves take advantage of them. He says to be wise … and harmless. It doesn’t make sense to aggravate a wolf, to make things worse. We don’t want to escalate the situation and have them hurt us. Rather, we can step out of the way and let God take care of the situation. God’s ways are always better than our ways.

So if someone takes from us, what do we do? The first thing we do is turn to God and let the Spirit give us discernment.

Here are two examples:

  • A friend of mine, who was in college at the time, had her purse stolen on a bus in Italy. She watched the thief hop off. She got off at the next stop, ran back, and saw him sitting there on the bench. She told him that was her purse, got it back, and hopped back on the bus. She was strong, courageous, and totally led by the Spirit!

  • Then there’s the wonderful example in Les Misérables: Jean Valjean steals the silverware of the bishop of Myriel. But when the police try to arrest Jean Valjean, the bishop says the silverware was a gift. Myriel’s gift of forgiveness changed Jean Valjean’s life, and he became an honest and good man.

Can we let it go of the need to retaliate or fix things ourselves? Can we rely on God to meet all our needs, not just some of our needs? If our house has been robbed, what do we do? We call the police; we do what we can. We can mentally let go of the things that were taken and move on. Then we can we bless the thief with integrity, honesty, compassion. And can we let God take care of the rest. We can also bless those who try to take our joy, hurt our feelings, ruin our lives. The Spirit might move us to not associate with those people any more. Or there might be healing.

So what can we give to a taker? We can give forgiveness. We can give blessings. We can give healing. And let God take care of the rest.


Issue:

Why do you use BCE instead of BC and CE instead of AD? Are you trying to minimize Jesus’ life and message?

 

Response (staff answer):

Our mission is to foster a deeper love and understanding of the Bible and its application in daily life. We want it to reach as many people as possible. Our website has a broad audience, reaching Christians, Jews, and Muslims. We want to be inclusive. But in no way do we want to diminish Jesus’ life or message, or to minimize Christianity, or any other faith. In fact, Christians, Jews, and Muslims all have the common ancestor of Abraham (Abram). We want to honor the universal message of love.

One Bible scholar has explained the difference, and it is on our site. But since we’ve had recent questions on this, we are highlighting it again.

B.C. is generally thought to mean "before Christ," and has been used to date events before the birth of Jesus. A.D. is the abbreviation for the Latin phrase anno Domini, which means "in the year of our Lord," and is used for dates after the birth of Jesus. This system was devised by a monk, Dionysius Exiguus, back in the year 525 (A.D.). He used the presumed year of Jesus' birth as a starting point. Unfortunately, since then, scholars have discovered that Jesus was actually born around 4-6 B.C., so his calculations were off by a few years. Nonetheless, he believed that the birth and life of Jesus were the "turning points" in world history, and that the world should forever commemorate that moment. A mere two centuries after Dionysius, a monk known as Venerable Bede introduced a Latin term that is roughly translatable as "before Christ" to identify the years preceding Jesus' birth. By the ninth century, A.D. was a common notation, but B.C. didn't really catch on until the fifteenth century. This dating has been used for centuries by Western scholars. Simply put, B.C. was everything "before Christ," and since His birth, we have been living A.D. "in the year of our Lord."

However, the world has changed dramatically over the past few decades. People have long acknowledged that Christianity is not the only tradition (not even among Western nations) and argued that it is patently unjust to force a religious system on those who do not share the values of that tradition. Some detractors have called it "political correctness" gone overboard, but the words anno Domini have been gradually replaced by C.E., meaning "the common era." B.C., meanwhile, has been changed to B.C.E., "before the common era." All the previous dates remain the same, but the change in notation is thought to be more neutral.

The term, "the common era," has been around for hundreds of years, but only recently has it been applied to the designation of dates. Interestingly, the term is derived from the Latin word vulgaris, (from vulgus, the common people). It means "of or belonging to the common people, or everyday." Historically, scholars used the phrases "Vulgar Era" or anno Domini somewhat interchangeably when writing about the time after Jesus. Unfortunately, the word "vulgar" now has a different meaning in our culture (crudely indecent), so the Latin word was dropped for its English counterpart, "common."

The word "common" also refers to the fact that the Christian calendar (the Gregorian) is the most frequently used calendar system around the world. Any other calendars are normally confined to small geographic areas -- usually by followers of a particular religion.

Of course, some scholars see the terms C.E. and B.C.E. as meaning the "Christian Era" and "before the Christian Era," respectively, but most understand the terms to mean "common." As other non-religious academics (history, anthropology, and archaeology) continue to use these abbreviations, it is thought that they will eventually totally replace BC and AD. It isn't that one is right and the other is wrong; it's a matter of being sensitive to other cultures and belief systems. In general, people's preferences derive from that with which they are most comfortable and whichever pair is more commonly used.

 


 

Issue:

How do we handle the divisiveness and bitterness in politics? Can the Bible help?

 

Response (staff answer):

It’s so easy to judge, to condemn, to defend our own human opinions, and point out some else’s faults. But these don’t help us solve problems. In fact, anger, blame, and fault-finding create the very divisiveness and bitterness we want to heal. Jesus said to “cast the beam out of your own eye” first (Matt 7:5). So rather than try to fix someone else, we have to start with ourselves. In all our dealings and conversations, we want to come from an honest place. And then we may have to give up our human opinions and turn to prayer.

A New Testament writer explained:

First of all, I ask you to pray for everyone. Ask God to help and bless them all, and tell God how thankful you are for each of them. Pray for kings and others in power, so that we may live quiet and peaceful lives as we worship and honor God. This kind of prayer is good. (I Tim 2:1-3 CEV)

First, we pray—not first we criticize or blame. We pray for everyone, for leaders, whether or not we agree with their viewpoints, whether or not they are elected officials or dictators. We pray for the office of leadership. Why? Because prayer can often do what human opinion or actions cannot. Prayer can reveal solutions we didn’t know were possible.

Prayer that is not just wishful thinking, prayer that is not just idle hope, but prayer that is the earnest expectation of God’s heavenly goodness being expressed here on earth, can transform situations and bring about healing. We want leaders to hear God’s voice so that they make honest, good, kind, successful decisions that lead to peace and harmony, unity and love. And that can come through sincere, heartfelt prayer to God, who is Love, and loves us all so dearly.

We cannot pray to God and condemn other human beings at the same time, in the same moment. Hurling insults often seems easier, but Jesus’ leadership says nothing about attacking politicians, slandering or libeling them, ruining careers with false accusations, spreading gossip on social media, or believing everything we hear about everyone and everything. Rather, we can find respectful ways to disagree with viewpoints or means that are different than ours without condemning or disparaging the person.

Jesus was pretty clear on that. He told us to love our enemies and warned us about getting angry at others: “I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell” (Matt 5:22 NLT).

Jesus expected us to live a life of love, not condemnation. Insulting someone, calling them an idiot, a fool—all of that leads to a hellish experience. To a huge degree, our perspective on events and issues really determines how we feel and what we experience. In other words, if we’re negative, looking for all the problems, that’s what we’ll see and feel—a lot of negativity. And that doesn’t fix or heal anything.

So what do we do? The psalmist declared, “Stop being angry! Turn from your rage! Do not lose your temper— it only leads to harm” (37:8 NLT). We go back to prayer. If we want solutions—genuine solutions, not just our own solutions—then we have to pray. God knows better than we do how to give peace to His children.