Understanding the Bible

Finally I can understand the Bible

Recently a friend of mine shared an article about 9 things every Christian should know to understand the Bible. It got me thinking so here is my list.  Whether you are a Christian, casual reader, or Atheist, these 11 simple ideas will help you understand what the Bible is really saying.  Understanding what it meant when it was written is essential to knowing how or if it can be related to today’s issues.

  • What is Jamnia? I went through Bible school and Jamnia was never brought up. Really? It wasn’t even in my text-book! I want my money back. (At least some of it.) Jamnia was the council in 90 CE that kicked the Christians out of Judaism. Up until then Christianity was simply some weird sect of Judaism. So if you read a book taking about church structure or leadership… It was written after Jamnia.
  • Know something about history. The New Testament was written during the early Roman Empire and this influences the authors. They have been through several horrible emperors like Nero, Caligula and Domitian. The philosophy of that era was Hellenism from the Greeks. Romans liked to steal ideas from cultures they conquered and make it their own.  The Old Testament was written in several different era’s. They are the Late Kingdom period, the captivity period, the new Temple period and the apocalyptic period. Learning about the times of the Old Testament is a bit harder because of this but not impossible.
  • Forget chapters. These books and letters were not originally with chapters and verses and many people tend to stop reading at the end of a chapter and believe a new thought is about to happen, when it isn’t. For instance, Genesis Chapters 18 and 19 are one story in which we are supposed to compare and contrast the actions of Abraham and his dealings with strangers and the people of Sodom and Gomorrah and they way they dealt with strangers. Instead they are taught as if they have nothing to do with one another.
  • Know the author. Forget tradition when it comes to authorship. Many traditions say that Moses wrote the Torah and disciples wrote much of the New Testament. The Torah was written by at least 4 or 5 separate people or schools of thought and none of the disciples could read or write. Only about five percent of the world could read and write at the time the New Testament was written and they were not fisherman. They were the wealthy and the elite. So just because 1 Peter says “This is from Peter” does not mean it is from Peter the disciple.
  • Know why the book was written. Each book or letter was written for a specific reason and the content of that reason is for that reason. For example, the book of Romans was written because certain members of the Romans church were complaining about “sins” of other Christians in Rome. They are listed in Romans 1. Oops forgot, get rid of chapters. Those sins are listed at the beginning of Romans. Then Paul basically says in the next section, but you also have sins and here they are. That is why later Paul says, “For all have sinned and fallen short…” Paul was saying, don’t judge them take care of yourself, or get that “plank out of your own eye” etc…
  • Who was it intended for? The books of Matthew and Mark were mostly intended for a Jewish audience so understanding the background of Judaism would be good. But much of the New Testament wasn’t. It was written to Gentiles and they had little knowledge of the Old Testament or ways of the Jews. The book of Leviticus was written to people of the late kingdom period or during the exile. Either way it is saying to be holy you must follow these rules and God will take care of you.
  • Learn the types of writings. Especially true of the Proverbs and Psalms. They are NOT to be taken literally. The Psalms are like taking our favorite Hymns or choruses and making a book out of them. They are our Casey Kasems Top 150! They are the authors’ feelings and thoughts about the struggles they are going through.   Nothing more. Proverbs are just that. Simple sayings that are most of the time true. So when we say “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” 22:6. It is not a promise it’s just that most of the time this will happen.
  • Prophetic books are not about the future! Prophecy has come to mean that there is something that is going to happen in the future. That is not what these books are about. They are about telling the people to get their act together. A Prophet is one who speaks the word of God. In other words they tell the people what God needs them to do to live a Godly life. They are not trying to tell a person about something that will happen at the end times. The book of Revelation is about the Roman Empire and it’s persecutions on Christians and how God will take care of those who are pure and have the “right to the tree of life”.
  • Understand the meaning of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.   In the late 60’s there was a Jewish revolt against the Roman Empire. In 70 CE the Romans destroyed Jerusalem laying waste to the city. The temple was torn down and destroyed. Up until that time the Christian thought was an imminent return of Christ. Then things changed. No Jerusalem to come to, no soon return. You start to get ideas of if Christ should wait 1000 years it’s ok, it’s like a day to god.
  • Understand the tension between the authors. Some authors love Grace and the equality of everyone. (Paul) Some authors want people to live by the rules that they are laying out. (Timothy’s and Titus) It’s the same tension today between the right and left wing of the church. Some want us to follow their rules to make it to heaven and some believe God’s taken care of that already, just love one another.
  • Question everything!  Jesus questioned the authorities and so should you.

Hope this will help you understand the Bible a little better.

Advertisements

Answering the Gay Question: New Testament Style

Image

In the past few blogs, I’ve covered Old Testament verses that Christians often use to condemn homosexuality and I’ve covered Romans chapter one. Today I will deal with more verses in the New Testament.

The next hammer verse that Christians often use to say homosexuality is a sin is 1 Corinthians 6:9-10.  9 Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. (NIV)

There are several things in this verse that I find interesting.  First is that the word for prostitutes and the word for homosexual offenders are the same word (arsenokoites, ar-sen-ok-oy’-tace).  I opened up my Greek Bible to check this and there is only one word.   It’s not that Paul repeats the word, but we do.  It seems that the translator figured the one word meant the phrase neither “male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders”.  However, why would we translate one word into two meanings and add a “nor” in there?  That confuses the heck out of me.  Yes, I am aware that one Greek word can mean a simple sentence, but it should not have two meanings.

Secondly the translation of this word is tricky.  According to my Bible computer program it translates it as sodomite.  Paul would have known that the Hebrew word for Sodomite Qadesh, (feminine Qedheshah) finds its route word in Qadash.  Qadash is the Hebrew word for Holy.  So why is sodomite and holy connected?  Is this possibly a Temple prostitute?

Thirdly, this word is also literally translated “man-bed”.  It is a compound word.  What does “man-bed” mean?  Not to you, but to the people of the first century.  We could easily say that a man-bed means homosexuality, after all what else could a “man-bed” mean?  However compound words don’t necessarily mean the two separate meanings.  For instance, mandate; is that about a man’s date?  Manhole; is that a man’s hole, or a hole in a man?  Manhood; is that a man who wears a hooded shirt?  Or a man who lives in the hood?  Mankind; is that a nice guy?  I think you get the point.

Like Romans chapter one, no one really seems to know.  Professor Jennifer Knust, a professor of Religion at Boston University says that word is “notoriously hard to translate.”  If professors of religion with PhD’s have a hard time with it then we should be careful what we say it means.

Fourth problem or question for this word is that Paul also never uses common words of the day for homosexual.  He could have used any of the following and it would not be questioned.  However, he did not.

  1. arrenomanesmeaning mad after men or boy crazy
  2. dihetaristriai – a synonym referencing lesbian sexuality, meaning essentially the same thing as hetairistriai, tribad, tribades, from: Love Between Women: Early Christian Responses to Female Homoeroticism, Brooton, Bernadette, p. 23.
  3. erastes – a sometimes older man who loves a sometimes younger male
  4. eromenos – a sometimes younger male who loves an older male
  5. euryproktoi – men who dress as women, also a vulgar reference to anal penetration
  6. frictrix – Latin word referring to a lewd woman and sometimes used to refer to a lesbian. Tertullian, 160-220 AD, translated tribas (a masculine woman) as frictrix.
  7. hetairistriai – women who are attracted to other women, used by Plato’s character Aristophanes, in The Symposium. May also refer to hyper-masculine women, from Lucian’s Dialogue of the Courtesans, cited by Brooten, p. 52.
  8. kinaidos – a word for effeminate, κίναιδος or kínaidoi (cinaedus in its Latinized form), a man “whose most salient feature was a supposedly feminine love of being sexually penetrated by other men.” Winkler, John J., 1990, The Constraints of Desire: The Anthropology of Sex and Gender in Ancient Greece, New York: Routledge.Although some scholars, like Dr. Robert Gagnon, understand kinaidoi to mean the passive partner in a male couple, Davidson argues that kinaidoi refers to a man insatiable and unrestrained in his sexual appetites instead of merely effeminate or passive. Davidson, J. 1997. Courtesans & Fishcakes: The Consuming Passions of Classical Athens, New York, p. 167-182.
  9. lakkoproktoi – a lewd and vulgar reference to anal penetration
  10. lesbiai – a synonym referencing lesbian sexuality, meaning essentially the same thing as dihetaristriai, hetairistriai, tribad, tribades, from: Love Between Women: Early Christian Responses to Female Homoeroticism, Brooton, Bernadette, p. 23.
  11. paiderasste – sexual behavior between males
  12. paiderastes or paiderastïs – παιδεραστής derived from the Greek word pais, παῖς a boy, meaning lover of boys
  13. paidomanes – a male mad for boys or boy crazy
  14. paidophthoros – a Greek word meaning corrupter of boys
  15. pathikos – the passive penetrated partner in a male couple
  16. tribades – an ancient Latin word indicating the active female partner of a lesbian pair, sometimes interpreted to mean a pseudo-male, referencing genital contact between women. Rashi defines it as “rubbing in a sexual manner.”
  17. tribas – the active partner in a lesbian relationship, who takes the male role

Instead, we translate arsenokoites, ar-sen-ok-oy’-tace here in Corinthians and later in 1 Timothy to be homosexuals when it was not at all a commonly used or definite word for that.  We must question why we translate it as a homosexual.  It might simply be a pervert, sexual abuser, prostitute, or something we have no clue about.

Like Romans 1, I am not willing call something a sin that is very unclear.  Nor am I willing to deny someone their rights or love based on a word that is unclear and neither should the church.  In fact, the more research that I do, the more I find that homosexuality is just as normal as heterosexuality and should be accepted in the same way.

My next blog I will take a look at the definition of “Biblical” marriage.

Some recommended reading:

Unprotected Texts          by Jennifer Wright Knust

http://www.gaychristian101.com/what-words-could-paul-have-used-if-he-intended-to-condemn-homosexuality.html

Living in Sin:  by Bishop Spong

Answering the Gay Question 2

Image

Romans 1 Homosexuality

Last blog I discussed some issues with the Old Testament and homosexuality.  This time I will try to tackle Romans 1.  I would like to know what Jesus thought, but he said nothing about homosexuality and very little about marriage.  The only thing Jesus said on marriage was that there should be no divorce and that Moses allowed that because of hard heartedness.

Romans 1 is often a big thumper verse that people use to condemn homosexuality.  I actually find it quite unimportant in today’s society when it is taken into context with the surrounding verses.  In some ways, I think Paul was setting up the Roman readers when writing the first chapter of this letter.  He does list sins and then in verse 2:1 Paul tells them that they are doing the same things and to stop judging others. (Please read chapter 2 as Paul lists their problems.) As in the day of Paul, we like to hide our sins (gossip, laziness, hate, adultery etc.) and focus on someone else.  So first of all, we need to know that we should not be condemning of others sins. That is God’s job and you and I are not God.

Secondly, I did say that Paul listed sins and for some people verses 26 and 27 seem to indicate that homosexuality is a sin.  Romans 1: 26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones.

27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.

The question is what is this unnatural that Paul is referring to?  This may be one of the most misunderstood passages in the Bible.  I find that no one really seems to know what exactly Paul is referring to.  Is he referring to Temple prostitutes as in the Old Testament?  Homosexuality as we see it today?  Procreation vs. sexual pleasure?  Is Paul simply a homophobe or was he gay and hating himself for it? I have read scholars’ ideas on all these subjects. So if Scholars can’t agree, how can we be sure of what it is?

From what I have read, there was not as much Temple prostitution going on as we might think, so although this is a possibility, I don’t think this is probably what Paul was talking about.  However if it is temple prostitution then it is moot for our time.  We don’t have temple prostitutes so it is not a problem. According to most of what I have read, homosexuality as we see it has nothing to do with what the society of Paul saw, so I really reject that idea as well.  I don’t think Paul was gay, nor do I think he was a homophobe.  He taught grace for everyone and equality for all.  He often spoke about there being No Jew or Gentile, no free person or slave etc.. I can’t see him hating or fearing anyone. That left me with procreation vs. sexual pleasure.

I have often had people tell me that God could not have created homosexuals because they can’t produce children.  Some denominations also have ideas that no birth control should be used and that sex is only for having children.  Though there is no specific verse for this idea there are many that could be taken along these lines.  Those ideas seem to have also been prevalent in Paul’s day.  This is what I believe people were doing that was so unnatural.  So in that case any form of homosexuality would be considered a sin, because you can’t procreate through it.  However we would also have to say that sex just for pleasure would be a sin.  So would the use of contraception (such as the pill or condoms), oral sex, and anal sex (homosexual or heterosexual).  You could also add anyone who is infertile or had an operation to “fix” themselves or people who decide not to have children for risk of passing on certain genes or because it could cause health problems for the wife.  You must also include any women above the age of menopause.  All people unable to have children having sex would be considered a sin.

So basically if you condemn homosexuality you must condemn all those others that I have mentioned and more.  However we don’t.  Actually, homosexuality seems to be the only one of many non-procreation sex acts that we do condemn.  So here is the question.  Why condemn only one act and not another?  Are we picking and choosing what to believe is a sin and what is not?

The verses also do not say that women had sex with each other.  I have found no place in the Bible that condemns that, unless you decide to read into it something that is not there.  So question two would be why would male homosexuality be a sin, but female homosexuality not?  Is it because the male writers were homophobes or is it that they were thinking something entirely different than what we read it as today?

Question three may be if so many scholars have so many different thoughts on what this could mean, how can we really be sure of its meaning.  And if we can’t be really sure how can we truly use this against so many people?  In other words, can we condemn people on verses that are unclear when their meaning may be unknown?  This is especially true when Paul (immediately after these verses) tells us not to judge.

The Final question would be what else does Paul and the New Testament say about homosexuality?  I guess that will have to wait until the next blog.  I try not to make these too long to read, so I’ll just leave you to contemplate what I have said so far.