Monday, January 22, 2018

1 Corinthians 7:17-24

You can read the text here.

Paul moves on, becoming more general in his discussion, making relative all human categorizations, and digressing slightly by showing application of his general principles to the issues of circumcision and slavery. Whether married, single, or in any other situation, Paul wants the Corinthians to avoid being enslaved by their circumstances.[1] Paul hammers this home with respect to two of the greatest divisions in his world, Jew/Gentile and slave/free.

Paul argues that circumcision or lack thereof is irrelevant as a distinction. What matters is obedience.[2] Similarly, God does not care whether one is slave or free.[3] If anything, slaves are on better footing in God's eyes. All each is called to, is service to God in the situation they are in. Additionally, at times it may have been tempting to try to gain status by enslaving oneself to an important person. The Corinthians ought not to do that. Status that matters comes from being in Christ, not from any status in the world.[4] In the end, the circumstances don't confer status, they cannot distract from the calling to serve God.

[1] Thiselton hammers home this point, that undue concern to change one's circumstances is itself a form of slavery.

[2] I would not so much say, like Ciampa and Rosner, that Paul repudiates the law here. Because Jesus has come there is no more need to become Jewish to enter into God's people. I think saying the law doesn't apply to Gentiles (e.g., they don't have to become circumcised) is not the same as saying Paul repudiates the law here.

[3] This is particularly important. As Ciampa and Rosner point out, slaves often were forced to do immoral things (especially sexually which may be the reason for the inclusion of this piece in this particular chapter).

[4] As both Thiselton and Ciampa and Rosner nicely draw out.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

How Often Should Married Couples Have Sex?

In my last post I commented on 1 Corinthians 7:1-16. In the first half of the passage Paul answers a query as to whether or not married couples should completely abstain from sex. In Roman culture, sex within marriage was not primarily about pleasure, it was about procreation. For men pleasure was pursued outside of marriage. However, for Paul, marriage was the only appropriate context for sex. Paul goes on to argue that, except for brief periods of prayer, couples should not abstain from sex, and to each spouse he grants sexual rights to the other's body.

Paul never gets specific, though. How often should married couples have sex? Part of me doesn't even want to attempt to discuss the question. I'm a man, and while I know how often I'd like to have sex, I don't know what the sexual experience of women is like. It seems likely to me that it's a much more deeply personal and vulnerable activity, having another person inside of you. Also, I think we need to appreciate that Paul's answer, that both the husband and the wife have ownership was a deeply counter-cultural statement that empowered women. Women were the sexual property of their husbands, and now he made their husbands their property.

Obviously, too, there is no one size fits all answer to this question. Drive varies by age, time of year, how long you've been married, time of day, stress levels, and a myriad of other factors. However, it is usually the case that one spouse has more drive than the other. How do you navigate that?

First, owning the other's body means that you have power over them, that you have rights. How did Jesus use his rights? He laid them down to serve the other. Ethics are all about how you use the power in your relationships for the good of the other. In this case, I believe that the individual with more drive should bear the brunt of the sacrifice and lay down their right to have sex with their spouse. Of course the person with less drive should, in love, make every effort to be accommodating, and like Paul, I would suggest that long stretches without sex are not advisable. However, I still believe the onus is on the person with the greater drive to lay down their rights for the sake of their spouse and in that way follow the example of Jesus who gave up all for our sake.

Monday, January 15, 2018

1 Corinthians 7:1-16

You can read the text here.

Paul continues to discuss issues related to sex as he answers something from the Corinthian letter. Paul has just outlawed sex with prostitutes and other forms of sexual immorality.[1] This leaves sex within marriage only. Some in Corinth apparently felt that sex should be abstained from there as well. In Roman culture sex in marriage was generally not for pleasure, it was for procreation. The normal avenue for pleasure (for men) was with slaves, prostitutes, or others of lower status. [2] Some at Corinth felt that sex should be abstained from within marriage.[3] But Paul sees this is their only outlet, so he pushes back against this idea. Paul argues that, for both parties, permanent abstinence is a bad idea and gives each spouse exclusive rights over the body of the other.[4] Paul makes an exception that for a period of time they may abstain for the purpose of prayer. However, he notes that there is a risk even there that sexual urges may hinder their prayers presumably by clouding the mind so the period must be brief. Paul wishes they were all like him and celibate, but he realizes that not all are able to push sexual desire aside to pursue God and his kingdom.[5]

Paul moves on to address widows. He states that they should stay single if they can, but recognizes that not all are able to do so and permits remarriage in those cases.

Next Paul moves on to divorce. His main point is pretty clear. If you're married, stay that way if you can, but if you have a spouse who is not a Christian and they wish to divorce you, that's ok. In this case the divorcee is not bound any longer and can remarry if they wish. However, they should try to stay together if they can as they bring holiness into their family, both towards their spouse and children, and some of that holiness gets communicated. And who knows, it could even lead to salvation for the other spouse!

[1] I think it hardly worth saying that in the Christian tradition, any sex outside of marriage has been looked down upon from the earliest days. Whether or not the tradition has had good reasons in all cases is not the point of discussion here.

[2] Both Thisleton and Ciampa and Rosner have excellent discussions of this point. I will note though, that both commentaries (and Thiselton moreso) are a little blindly androcentric in the discussion.

[3] Neither commentary makes a guess at why, but presumably, if they believe they're living in the last days, they don't want to be occupied with children.

[4] So, Ciampa and Rosner. This point elevates the status of women who typically were the sexual property of their husbands. Their husbands were now just as much their property.

[5] According to both Thiselton and Ciampa and Rosner Paul is not wishing all were celibate but that all had the mastery over sexual urges to avoid distraction.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Commentary Revies: 1 and 2 Thessalonians

It has been quite some time since I've done a commentary review, and this one will be very short, but I do want to review three commentaries on 1 and 2 Thessalonians that I use heavily in 2016 and 2017. 1 and 2 Thessalonians have been covered extensively and don't take my choice of these three to use to mean they're necessarily the best on the market. I suspect that recent commentaries like Weima's and Boring's are as good or better (and of course Donfried's forthcoming volume). I just have not had the opportunity to look at them.

It was a close call, but my favorite commentary on 1 and 2 Thessalonians is the classic volume in the Anchor series by Abraham Mahlerbe. He provides a very detailed exegesis of the text as one would come to expect in any volume in the series. What makes this volume so helpful is the depth of engagement with Stoic philosophy, a topic on which Malherbe is better equipped than most New Testament scholars. While there were times where I did not find the parallels entirely convincing, there were times where it was very illuminating. His comments on 1 Thes. 2:1-16 stand out, where he comments on the philosophical language Paul uses and comments that a big part of Paul's goals and the goals of Stoic philosophers were similar, to get their "converts" to live morally. Overall it's a dense read, but there's a lot to be learned from the time spent. 4.5 stars out of 5.

Gordon Fee's last contribution to the NICNT series may not quite be the classic that his volumes on 1 Corinthians and Philippians are, but it is still an excellent commentary and classic Gordon Fee. No commentator is more enjoyable to read than Fee. You always know what he thinks and why he thinks it. The introduction is a bit too brief and at times glosses over important issues (I was not impressed with his discussion of authorship, even though I agree with his conclusion for Pauline authorship of both epistles). The commentary proper, however, is full of good, useful exegesis. I fully reccmmend it! 4.5 stars out of 5.

The last of the three commentaries I used was the brief treatment by Beverly Roberts-Gaventa in the Interpretation series. It certainly is not the place to turn if one wants detailed exegesis, though, of course, you do get some summary treatment of the text. As a commentary geared as an aid in preaching it is quite excellent. She consistently stuck to the main point of the text and drew out key insights that would strengthen a sermon or Bible study. For almost every passage she left me thinking over some point that she had made. So while this shouldn't be your only commentary, it fulfilled the goal of the series. 4.5 stars out of 5.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

1 Corinthians 6:12-20

You can read the text here.

Paul continues to address issues related to sexual immorality in the church debunking some false conceptions that they seem to have that Paul expresses in a series of quotations in the first couple of verses. Now the starting and stopping point of the quotations is tricky to determine and I will go with Thiselton and Ciampa and Rosner and re-punctuate the NRSV as follows:

12 “All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are beneficial. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything. 13 “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food, and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is meant not for fornication but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. 

Apparently the Corinthians believed that a) the body was transitory and b) their freedom from the Law meant they had no moral obligations in terms of bodily behaviors which extended as far as sexual behavior. In fact, the stomach is for food! Why bother having the parts if you're not using them! Paul responds, admonishing them that he only serves one master, the Lord, not his appetites. For the Lord is Lord of his body, not sex, and that body will be raised one day, it's not transient, so what one does in the body matters!

Paul ups the ante, reminding them that they are all corporately part of Christ's body, so what they do with their own "members" affects the body as a whole. Sexual union for a Christian brings the one we have sex with into union with Christ's body.[1] Sex with a prostitute violates Christ, the person's body, and the Spirit.[2] A very serious issue indeed, more serious than one might expect.

As has become clear, Paul is deeply concerned with seeing the Corinthians reform their sex lives. Sex is not just about the physical, because our bodies house the Holy Spirit individually and corporately, so there is a corporate responsibility to holiness that sex with the wrong person defiles in a unique sense because of the deep unions that are formed. And it doesn't just defile the person, it defiles the temple and hence, implicitly the whole church. We don't have the right to live to gratify or 'use' our flesh how we want to. Jesus paid a high price for us, so now we belong to him, he is our master, so we must live in a way that honors him as Lord of our bodies.

[1] While I do believe Paul had in mind prostitutes in the temples (not necessarily sacred prostitutes, just prostitutes who worked in the temples), his argument seems to suggest a grounding that has broader applicability and seem to argue against sex with people who are not Christians generally, though Paul does seem to be going for a bit of a jolt here so I would remain tentative. See both Thiselton and Ciampa and Rosner for more details on Paul's precise target.

[2] Ciampa and Rosner suggest that the degredation of our union with the Spirit surpasses the violation of the one flesh union of marriage in seriousness.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

1 Corinthians 6:1-11

You can read the text here.

Paul's continues to express his dismay at behavior exhibited in the Corinthian church. Apparently members of the church were suing other members in secular courts. In all likelihood, higher status members were taking advantage of lower status members this way. Succeeding in court in the Roman world required having the right contacts and bribery was not uncommon.[1] Paul clearly wants to shame the Corinthians, though it's hard to know exactly what he is driving at in verse 2 or 3. Thiselton thinks that he may be citing a Corinthian catchphrase about their role in judgment while Ciampa and Rosner take his statements about the role of the church in judging the world and even angels at face value. Another possibility Thiselton suggests is that their status as judges is derivative from their status in Christ. They judge 'in him.' Whichever way, the effect is the same. The Corinthians should have someone in the congregation capable of judging these kinds of disputes. Going to court brings shame to the family.[2]

In fact there shouldn't even be disputes of this nature. Rather than dragging the church through the mud it would be better to be defrauded. Not only are they not willing to be defrauded, some in the community defraud!

Greed is a major problem in the Corinthian church.[3] Status seeking and greed are often linked. It's one of the many forms of wrongdoing that Paul highlights. Greed, schism, and sexual problems seem to be poking their heads up in the church and Paul wants to beat them back down. He notes that those who live that way will not inherit the kingdom, meaning there's no real future in chasing money, sex, and status at the expense of your brother or sister. True status comes via God's verdict alone. His word brings about a change in status and washes them clean so that collectively they can be God's temple, where God's Spirit resides.[5] There is no higher status that they can attain!

[1] Both Thiselton and Ciampa and Rosner have helpful discussions of the background here.

[2] Ciampa and Rosner helpfully point out the impact of the familial language. Taking other family members to court was seen as highly inappropriate in Roman society.

[3] Ciampa and Rosner point out again that greed appears in all three vice lists in chs. 5-6.

[4] Per Thiselton, justification is not fictional, it is a judicial speech act which creates the status.

[5] Again Ciampa and Rosner were helpful bringing up the tie between language of holiness and the temple.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Books of the Year: 2017

Continuing on last year's trend, I did not read a lot of exegetical works, but was much more focused on historical theology, this time from the Reformation period and on. While the quantity of books that I read was low, I felt that the overall quality was very high. Anyways, on to the list!

I recommended this book to our pastoral staff. It's a very nice, short, accessible book that's grounded in solid scholarship that argues that transformation is at the heart of the gospel. deSilva finishes the book with a strong challenge that forces us to think hard about whether or not our view of money has been transformed by the gospel.

4. Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

Steinbeck is the greatest American author. While I enjoyed East of Eden more, I understand why many consider the Grapes of Wrath to be his best work. It is chilling and every bit as relevant now as it was when first penned. The closing scene still haunts me.

I remember when I saw the first notice that this book was coming out, I turned to my wife and told her that, if I was going to write a book, this is the one I would want to write. Well, it came out and I read it, and it did not disappoint. Bates argues cogently that salvation is by allegiance or fidelity to king Jesus alone, which involves both faith/trust as well as works. If you've enjoyed that theme in my writing on this blog, definitely pick up this book!

2. Calvin's Christology by Stephen Edmondson

This book is an absolute gem. Edmondson argues persuasively that Calvin's Christology is the heart of his theology even though that isn't obvious from the arrangement of the Institutes. A must read for anyone interested in Calvin's theology or who finds his prophet/priest/king schema insightful.

Schleiermacher's theology is maligned by many, but he is an important figure and penetrating theologian who is worthy of investing time to learn from. Kelsey has written a guide to his thought for students that is a model for the genre. Explanations are clear, and she contrasts Schleiermacher's approach to Christology with other current popular beliefs through series of helpful questions for reflection. Regardless of your views on Schleiermacher you will understand his Christology and your own much better after reading this work.

Now for the books that came out in 2017 that I am most excited about but have not yet had an opportunity to read.

5. Philemon by Scot McKnight

McKnight needs no introduction. His commentaries are wonderful because they are both scholarly and pastoral. I expect this one to be no different.

Too much of Christian history is written by and about men. I am looking forward to balancing out my own learning in part through this book.

3. Philippians by Paul Holloway

Holloway is a well respected scholar and I personally am in need of an up to date Philippians commentary. The Hermeneia series is one of my favorites and I am very much looking forward to it.

Everything by John Collins is worth reading, but this book in particular has my attention as it discusses the role of the Torah in relation to Jewish identity including a discussion of the apostle Paul.

1. Paul the Pagan's Apostle by Paula Fredriksen

I have enjoyed what I've read so far on the "Jewish perspective on Paul.' Fredriksen is one of the most well respected scholars of that persuasion. I also enjoy books that tackle the big picture. This should be a double win.