Thursday, 28 September 2017

Why this Blog?

I aim to promote man-woman marriage by fostering healthy biblical-theological reflection on what the Bible says about marriage and gender. My first blog stated...

"God's mystery of marriage has been revealed in and through the birth, life, death, burial, and bodily resurrection of his one and only Son, Jesus Christ, and the undying union formed with his "body" (the Church) by the Holy Spirit. At the heart of both marriage and the gospel is the mystery of two becoming one and reproducing. All things being equal, man-woman marriage produces children "in" or "according to the flesh" in this world, and in some mysterious way the gospel of Jesus Christ produces children of God "in" or "according to the Spirit" in God's kingdom. Jesus famously declared to Nicodemus, "Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’" (John 3:5-7) Everything in life (human and non-human) requires bi-genderedness for new life to come into being. Knowing about physical birth pointed the way forward for Nicodemus to understand something crucial about eternal life and entry into God's kingdom. I am convinced man-woman marriage portrays a divine significance concerning the gospel of Jesus Christ and eternal life that same-gendered unions don't, can't, and won't. According to the Bible, the mysterious way a man and a woman become one flesh (i.e. marry, copulate, and reproduce) is so prophetically important to God that he set in place clear laws about it."
I have resolved no longer to contend in the public arena for man-woman marriage purely on the grounds of scientific research, or health outcomes, or what best serves the needs of children, etc. While these are valid aspects of the discussion, I believe they can't provide the complete picture or promote discussion of the most important things in God's eyes. The power of the gospel of Jesus Christ is completely removed from the public arena when we take this approach. There are compelling reasons for the heterosexual Christian view of marriage that will never see the light of day if we remove God's input from the discussion. I believe we should not be afraid to demonstrate our position from the Bible even if we are ridiculed for it.

Much of what is written at the popular level for or against same-sex marriage takes either a "soundbite" sloganeering approach, or a moving personal story approach. These have their place, but are not ideally suited to foster fair-minded deep thinking. Many times "expert" opinions are referred to with little or no access given to primary sources to evaluate the substance or context of the claims. It is also a sad fact there are those who use the Bible like a club to batter people. This is the very opposite of how a Christian should behave (Ephesians 4:29).

My blog promotes a perspective on man-woman marriage that is firmly grounded in the Bible and strives to do so with academic, theological, and spiritual integrity. I will not be involved in ridicule, hateful speech, cynicism, or rancour. My goal is to present what the Bible says to the best of my ability without fear or favour.
I want to give access to thoughtful biblical teaching for anyone seeking to discover (or recover) God's plan and intention for marriage as a picture of the gospel without being overly academic. This doesn't mean hard thinking won't be needed at some points.   

I intend to promote honest reflection on God's words rather than aggressive debates and arguments. You will find frequent references to the Bible here because I take seriously what it says about marriage and I want to provide ready access to "the source." I will not dismiss the Bible as historically inaccurate or culturally irrelevant. I approach the Bible as a unified work inspired by God rather than as a piecemeal collection of ancient texts. In saying this, I readily acknowledge the Bible comes to us by translation from a vastly different cultural background and worldview from our own. Therefore, we must all reflect prayerfully on it's teaching with a constant eye out for our own cultural biases and blind-spots. All approaches to the Bible must take appropriate measures to safeguard against reading into it what we think it should say in order to get out of it what seems to justify an already made-up mind.

I am persuaded that anyone who seeks to honour God with a humble desire to understand his words, even in translation, can be enabled by his Spirit to find eternal wisdom and glory in the person of Jesus Christ. The translators' preface to the readers of the King James Bible is full of timeless wisdom on this... 

"Translation it is that opens the window, to let in the light; that breaks the shell, that we may eat the kernel; that puts aside the curtain, that we may look into the most holy place; that removes the cover of the well, that we may come by the water."
For an insightful modern rendering of the KJV translators' preface see here.

This will be a semi-periodic blog rather than a regular one. There is only so much one can say (or read) that is truly helpful. I do encourage you to make use of the sidebar "Links that may interest you" because these are updated whenever I find suitable material.

In case you are interested, I worship and pastor with an Independent Evangelical church in Launceston, Tasmania. However, the views expressed here are my own.

Steve Nicholson
Soli Deo Gloria (Glory be to God alone).

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Man and Woman Created For Each Other

Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed. (Genesis 2:23-24)

The following excerpt from the ESV Study Bible provides a helpful starting point for seeing heterosexual monogamy as God's pattern for marriage.

Genesis 2:23–24 When no suitable companion is found among all the living beings, God fashions a woman from the man’s own flesh. The text highlights the sense of oneness that exists between the man and the woman. Adam joyfully proclaims, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” This terminology is used elsewhere of blood relatives (Gen. 29:14). This sentence and the story of Eve’s creation both make the point that marriage creates the closest of all human relationships. It is also important to observe that God creates only one Eve for Adam, not several Eves or another Adam. This points to heterosexual monogamy as the divine pattern for marriage that God established at creation. Moreover, the kinship between husband and wife creates obligations that override even duty to one’s parents (therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, Gen. 2:24). In ancient Israel, sons did not move away when they married, but lived near their parents and inherited their father’s land. They “left” their parents in the sense of putting their wife’s welfare before that of their parents. The term “hold fast” is used elsewhere for practicing covenant faithfulness (e.g., Deut. 10:20; see how Paul brings these texts together in 1 Cor. 6:16–17); thus, other Bible texts can call marriage a “covenant” (e.g., Prov. 2:17; Mal. 2:14). Paul’s teaching on marriage in Eph. 5:25–32 is founded on this text. The sense of being made for each other is further reflected in a wordplay involving the terms “man” and “woman”; in Hebrew these are, respectively, ’ish and ’ishshah. As a result of this special affiliation, Gen. 2:24 observes that when a man leaves his parents and takes a wife, they shall become one flesh, i.e., one unit (a union of man and woman, consummated in sexual intercourse). Jesus appeals to this verse and Gen. 1:27 in setting out his view of marriage (Matt. 19:4–5).

“Taken from the ESV® Study Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright ©2008 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Why Not Have Wedding Lease Marriages?

The article in the link provided below highlights the inevitable outcome of taking a pragmatic consumerist approach to marriage (see http://juicyecumenism.com/2013/08/08/the-newest-in-marriage-degeneration-wedleases/). If the subject of that article were to have his way we would see couples choosing to enter into marriage on the basis of a lease agreement with the understanding that the relationship may be renegotiated (or terminated) upon the expiry of the lease (in say three, five, or ten years). So what would be the problem with that?

When marriage is regarded on any basis other than that of a covenant entered into wholeheartedly for the whole of life (in this case like a contractual agreement or commercial lease) there will be consequences that have not been foreseen or intended and therefore will not be included in the fine print of the lease.


By contrast, the Bible explicitly describes marriage as a covenant relationship between a man and a woman for life (see Proverbs 2:16-17, Ezekiel 16:8, & Malachi 2:13-15).
In this covenant, man and wife commit to live as one and function with a united sense of common purpose that takes precedence over all other obligations and allegiances (Genesis 2:23-24). In a contractual relationship, the two do not become one, they remain separate - "you keep your end of the deal and I'll keep mine."

True covenant marriage encompasses the whole of life as a way of life until the end of life, and does not require detailed exception clauses to be spelled out. The idea is expressed exceptionally well in our traditional marriage vows... "For better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part" (none of this "you are my soul mate" or love poem stuff so in vogue today).

The mutual obligations of a covenant are implied in Hebrews 13:4 - that marriage should be honoured by all and the marriage bed kept pure, because God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral. The marriage covenant is based on sworn loyalty and the shared values of a common union for life, rather than on attempting to detail eventualities and technicalities in a contractual way. 
Genesis 2:24 conveys a supra-cultural wisdom about marriage that is intended for the mutual good of all concerned when it declares in unmistakable covenant language... "and the two shall become one flesh."
Following the catastrophe of Adam and Eve's disobedience when sin, misery and death enter the world, the Old Testament records the inevitable outworking of God's curse in Genesis 3:16-20 where marriage after marriage falls painfully short of his intended ideal (e.g. polygamous marriages, forced marriages, incestuous marriages, concubinage, deceitfulness, unfaithfulness, rape, murder, etc.).

When dealing with the question of divorce Jesus pointed to the teaching of the Torah about marriage in Matthew 5:31-32, 19:3-12 and Mark 10:5-9. Paul did the same in Ephesians 5:31-33 where he also cites Genesis 2:24 as God's marriage pattern. The New Testament envisions the Genesis plan for marriage as a mutually entered into, faithful, sacrificial, loving, lifelong covenant union that far supersedes the conditions of a contract or lease agreement.
The only other similar relationship to all-encompassing lifelong marriage is eternal life with the God of lavish grace and mercy who unites repentant sinners to Jesus Christ by faith through his Spirit (see John 3:16-21, 1 Corinthians 6:15-20, & Ephesians 2:1-10).
It is little wonder that Revelation 19:7-9 speaks of the marriage banquet of the Lamb (where we celebrate face to face with our resurrected and exalted Bridegroom who was sacrificed for the forgiveness of our sins). Revelation 21:2 describes God's redeemed people as "a bride adorned for her husband", and Revelation 22:16-21 depicts Jesus as the coming heavenly Bridegroom eager to be with his radiantly beautiful bride for eternity. Covenant is the only word that comes close to describing the lifelong "one flesh" nature of marriage, and the eternal "one spirit" nature of our salvation. By contrast, the idea of a "wedding lease" marriage is the foolishness of fleeting earthly "wisdom" (1 Corinthians 2:6-16). 

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Marriage on the Cosmic Stage

I launch this blog with the understanding that God's mystery of marriage has been revealed in and through the birth, life, death, burial, and bodily resurrection of his One and Only Son, Jesus Christ, and the undying union formed with his "body" (the Church) by the Holy Spirit sent from heavenAt the heart of both marriage and the gospel is the mystery of two becoming one and reproducing. All things being equal, man-woman marriage produces children "in" or "according to the flesh" in this world, and in some mysterious way the gospel of Jesus Christ produces children of God "in" or "according to the Spirit" in God's kingdom. Jesus famously declared to Nicodemus, "Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’(John 3:5-7) Everything in life (human and non-human) requires bi-genderedness for new life to come into being. Knowing this about physical birth pointed the way forward for Nicodemus to understand something crucial about new birth and entry into God's kingdom. I am convinced man-woman marriage portrays a divine significance about the gospel of Jesus Christ and eternal life that same-gendered unions don't, can't, and won't. According to the Bible, the mysterious way a man and a woman become one flesh (i.e. marry, copulate, and reproduce) is so prophetically important to God that he set in place clear laws about it.

Discovering this truth has fuelled my desire to delve further into what the Bible teaches about marriage and human sexuality in order to understand why it says what it does. In the process, I have come to see the Bible has a consistent theology of marriage and sexuality that is tied to the gospel of Jesus Christ and the glory of God (as indicated above).

Being all-wise and all-knowing, God knew exactly what he was doing when he created human beings in his image as male and female. This bi-gendered divine plan has a direct bearing on a Christian view of marriage and human sexuality. If we take the Bible seriously we see God forming male and female to complement one another in the one-flesh copulative relationship of marriage that would serve as a picture of becoming one in Spirit with Jesus through the gospel (1 Corinthians 6:17). Both Jesus and Paul appealed to the Genesis 2:18-25 account of the creation of man and wife, and did not hesitate to draw direct moral and pastoral inferences from it (see Matthew 19:4-6, Mark 10:5-9, I Corinthians 6:15-20, and Ephesians 5:31-33). 

The Jews of Jesus' day also knew from their holiness code (detailed in Leviticus 18-20) precisely what constituted unlawful sexual relations including the specified punishments for sexual immorality. Leviticus 18:3-4 explicity warned Israel: "You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt, where you lived, and you shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you. You shall not walk in their statutes. You shall follow my rules and keep my statutes and walk in them. I am the Lord your God." Consequently, it is not surprising that the prohibition on sexual immorality declared at the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15:28-29 did not spell out specific forbidden sexual behaviours (either heterosexual or homosexual) for there could be no doubt about what constituted "porneia" (i.e. sexual immorality). It was also commonly accepted among Jewish people (and other peoples) that all sexual activity (whether heterosexual or homosexual) involved more than a simple bodily act or function; an aspect of human sexuality that does not seem to be widely understood or appreciated today.

The link below takes you to an interview that provides a gospel-centred explanation of the purpose and goal of marriage that is of cosmic proportions. What Dr Greg Beale shares in this interview is derived from his excellent book, A New Testament Biblical Theology: The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2011), in the section "Marriage as a Transformed New-Creational Institution in Ephesians 5", pages 880–884 (for more information and reviews see here...). Dr Beale is a top-notch biblical theologian. What he shares from Ephesians places marriage into its rightful big-picture Scriptural context. I heartily commend it to you.

So, I advise you to have an open Bible and be prepared over the next 29 minutes to have your heart and mind stretched on the subject of marriage on the cosmic stage...