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August 19, 2003

TRADITIONAL MARRIAGE....Via James Joyner, I see that Alex Frantz has some advice for the Presidential Prayer Team on the correct wording of a constitutional amendment on marriage. Here's my analysis of Alex's four-part proposal as it relates to my own personal marriage:

  1. Part 1 is fine. Part 2 is fine too, although I have a feeling Marian might not be too excited by it. You know how women are.

  2. Part 1 would cause some serious problems for us. Well, for Marian, anyway. Part 2 isn't so hot either.

  3. This one is OK.

  4. This hasn't come up yet, but if it does someone is going to have to track down my brother. But it sounds like he can probably afford the price in any case.

Is three out of four good enough?

POSTSCRIPT: On a serious note, Alex's post reminds me of a theological question I'm curious about. Anyone who actually knows anything about Christian theology should feel free to jump in.

Here's the question: what part of the Bible — in the New Testament, I assume — removes the obligation of Christians to obey the million and one rules in Leviticus and elsewhere? You know, the dietary stuff, the sexual restrictions, etc. etc. And have all the Old Testament rules been superseded by the New Testament, or only some of them? What's the deal?

Just curious.

ANOTHER POSTSCRIPT: Speaking of James, he's hosting Carnival of the Vanities this week. Check it out.

Posted by Kevin Drum at August 19, 2003 08:41 PM | TrackBack


Comments

Kevin,

I'm no expert on the Bible, but for the past 30 years I've been refraining from the consumption of crustaceans, because I thought it meant eternal damnation. Are you telling me I had a free pass all the while, and it would have been OK? Shit...

Posted by: peter jung at August 19, 2003 08:47 PM | PERMALINK

Mixture of Old and New, actually. Jesus, as he came on earth, particularly in the Johannine redaction rather than the synoptic, was the end of Judaic law. Matthew is famous for the Sermon on the Mount, wherein Jesus says that not one jot or tittle of the law shall be changed until what he says has come to pass - and it did, through his death and resurrection (opening up the kingdom and all).

Most Christians, who take a decidedly Johannine tack when defining what makes them different from Jews (in that they are fully separate entities who recognize a different relationship with God) do not live by the Judaic law because the Judaic law is emblematic of the Judaic (i.e., non-Messianic) relationship with God. You follow the law of Christ rather than the law of Abraham, because the opening of the kingdom did away with the need for the Law.

In a nutshell, although I'm sure you'll get fifteen different interpretations of this.

Posted by: jesse at August 19, 2003 09:00 PM | PERMALINK

Praise Google! Google on 'pork christ' gets you some great material, recipes, praise of pork, put downs of pork, often theologically based, and some info re Kevin's post from Corinthians, though the pig is not mentioned by name. Anyway, I hope you all will be edified.
-Fair and Balanced Dick

1Corinthians 10:23-AV All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not.

1Corinthians 10:24-AV Let no man seek his own, but every man another's [wealth].

1Corinthians 10:25-AV Whatsoever is sold in the shambles, [that] eat, asking no question for conscience sake:

1Corinthians 10:26-AV For the earth [is] the Lord's, and the fulness thereof.

1Corinthians 10:27-AV If any of them that believe not bid you [to a feast], and ye be disposed to go; whatsoever is set before you, eat, asking no question for conscience sake.

1Corinthians 10:28-AV But if any man say unto you, This is offered in sacrifice unto idols, eat not for his sake that shewed it, and for conscience sake: for the earth [is] the Lord's, and the fulness thereof:

1Corinthians 10:29-AV Conscience, I say, not thine own, but of the other: for why is my liberty judged of another [man's] conscience?

1Corinthians 10:30-AV For if I by grace be a partaker, why am I evil spoken of for that for which I give thanks?

1Corinthians 10:31-AV Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.

1Corinthians 10:32-AV Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God:

1Corinthians 10:33-AV Even as I please all [men] in all [things], not seeking mine own profit, but the [profit] of many, that they may be saved.

Posted by: Dick Durata at August 19, 2003 09:06 PM | PERMALINK

In my small opinion, "christians" ignore or try to escape the less desirible sides of the bible, usually through bad arguments, in order to make Christianity more appealing in general. If one believes in a theology of an unscrutable being, the only way to understand that being would be (somewhat logically) through the "revealed word." The revealed word in the form of the bible, is a very intolerant book. In its bare form, the laws and rules it sets down are distastefyk or repusive to most people's sensativities these days. Instead of either rejecting it or embracing it, which seem to be the only two logical options, they make untenable arguments or ignore the more unsavory parts. (know how often priests teach the book of Job?) Oh, if you wanted to know the Christian reply. I have raised this question before...my general diluation of their answers is that God meant those rules for those people, at that time. Yet, rules in previous books still apply (10 commandments) Of course, they get to pick and choose which rules count and which don't. Yeah, I know, it doesn't make any sense. But what can you tell people who claim to understand god?

Posted by: michael at August 19, 2003 09:07 PM | PERMALINK

Well, there's Jesus' statement of the Beatitudes in Matthew (chapters 5-6) which Jesus runs down his revamping of Mosaic laws (primarily the 10 commandments). This has such charming notions that those wacky Israelites considered adultery actually having sex with someone not your spouse, whereas Jesus cuts it a little finer by saying "...whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart." (5:28, KJV).

Mark has Jesus tell it like this:

One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, "Of all the commandments, which is the most important?"
29"The most important one," answered Jesus, "is this: 'Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' 31The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these.

Then there's Acts Chapter 10 in which Peter has a vision that tells him he's allowed to eat whatever: "And the voice spake unto him again the second time, 'What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common.'"

Paul's epistle to the Romans talks a lot about the parting of the ways between the Jews and the new-fangled sect of Christianity. Galatians 5:6 gets you out from under that whole circumcision deal.

So, there's a bulk of text in which the New Testament sheds a bunch of the harder-to-stick-with-and-still-gain-converts Old Testament stuff.

So that's one thing I can thank Catholic school for: a knowledge of the Bible, pretty inside and out.

That and putting me on the path to atheism. Those darn nuns.

Posted by: j at August 19, 2003 09:19 PM | PERMALINK

J - you too? I got a degree in the stuff. (Not Catholicism, but theology.) Hot damn.

Posted by: jesse at August 19, 2003 09:21 PM | PERMALINK

J's also right - much of Christianity is Paul just sitting up and saying "I got a vision and we don't have to do X anymore."

By the way, if you're so compelled, read Beyond Belief by Elaine Pagels. It makes modern politics seem like a polite game of badminton.

Posted by: jesse at August 19, 2003 09:24 PM | PERMALINK

Well, I could give you the long Catholic answer, but the short version is that the early Chruch agreed to dispense with the requirements of Rabinnical law when they concluded that the gospels were to be preached to everyone, not just Jews.

See Acts, Chapter 11.

Posted by: Kevin Brennan at August 19, 2003 09:26 PM | PERMALINK

(ooh, and that's the law of Moses.)

Posted by: jesse at August 19, 2003 09:29 PM | PERMALINK

As far as I can see there is no New Testament blanket release from the laws of the Old Testament. In Mathew 5:17 Jesus says, "Do not think that I come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill."

You are correct, however, that Jesus did release his followers from the dietary laws. In Matthew 15:11 he says, "It is not what enters one's mouth that defiles that person; but what comes out of the mouth is what defiles one."

What I find interesting in this whole modern dialogue about marriage is that Jesus was utterly silent on the subject of homosexuality. There is not a single word in the Gospel on this topic. On the other hand, Jesus is quite vocal about his view about money and wealth. Need I point out that His views are markedly different from the Republican philosophy?

Posted by: Ed T at August 19, 2003 09:44 PM | PERMALINK

Doesn't Paul say pretty clearly that most of the Judaic Law is no longer operative in some of the epistles?

Posted by: John at August 19, 2003 09:54 PM | PERMALINK

I don't think he said anything about honoring your father and mother, adultery, coveting your neighbor's wife, or killing anybody either. Are those rules superceded as well?

Just wondering...

Posted by: Blackavar at August 19, 2003 10:02 PM | PERMALINK

On the other hand, Jesus is quite vocal about his view about money and wealth. Need I point out that His views are markedly different from the Republican philosophy?

Yes. This point should be shouted from the rooftops.

Also:
The Bible can be read as proscribing several activities, but as far as I can tell the right wing finds only proscription in it. If they'd look a little closer they'd find several positive (supererogatory) moral principles. The obvious example: love thine enemy as thyself. How many of the Republicans inveighing against gays take these supererogatory principles seriously?

It all makes my stomach turn.

Posted by: Realish at August 19, 2003 10:19 PM | PERMALINK

[quote Ed T.]Jesus was utterly silent on the subject of homosexuality.[/quote]

Relevent to this but not the rest of the thread, Theodore Jennings, a liberal Theologian, published a book this year called The Man Jesus Loved (http://www.semcoop.com/detail/082981535X). Makes the case that Jesus had an intimate and possibly sexual relationship with a man. I don't know enough theology to comment on accuracy but rereading the gospels after reading made me think he makes a strong case. In any event, made great beach reading here in the South.

Posted by: Clint at August 19, 2003 10:36 PM | PERMALINK

Jesus and his disciples seem to have obeyed the law, although interpreting it rather more flexibly than the temple priesthood of the period did. The break came when preaching to the Gentiles started to gain converts, and it came originally over circumcision. Circumcision of adult converts was painful and, in the sanitary conditions of the Roman Empire, dangerous; in addition, Hellenic culture admired the foreskin and thought circumcision a defacing. If the early church hadn't decided against it, Christianity would probably never have become the dominant religion of Europe. There is an account of the controversy in Acts 15. Paul dismisses pretty much the whole law in Romans 7:4.

Posted by: Alex at August 19, 2003 10:37 PM | PERMALINK

In Acts 10 Peter has a vision with all the animals coming down on a sheet. God tells him not to call anything God has made unclean, it is all clean. Also, there's Matthew 15:10 (quoted above) which is most important because it's Jesus talking.

For a scholarly look at Homosexuality and the Bible, I suggest, "What the Bible REALLY says about Homosexuality" by Helminiak. Among other things, leviticus uses the word toevah instead of Zimah to describe homosexual acts. Toevah generally means "impurity" or "uncleanliness" as opposed to zimah, which generally is considered more of an injustice or a sin. Thus, one can argue that homosexuality is not a sin for Christians, but an impurity that is not impure for gentiles.

I think one can only approach the Bible from a Historical-critical analytical point of view. The book itself acknowledges that it is written by humans for humans (see the beginning of Luke and Acts). If one approaches the Bible this way, you can give it the proper amount of attention. In the end, religion and biblical interpretation come down to Faith. You have to choose to have Faith in God and Christ (or Buddha, or Allah, or whatever you choose), and when interpreting certain contadictory or unclear issues, you have to follow your Faith. At the same time, the basic principles of honoring God with all one's heart and treating one's neighbor as oneself stand any Biblical analysis.

I have an interesting religious question for more traditional christians: What body do we have in heaven? The body of youth, of young adulthood, of death? Also, I often feel so disconnected from the child I was, it's almost as though he's dead and I'm a new person. Will we both be in Heaven? Personally, I think heaven probably isn't physical, but whatever.

Posted by: MDtoMN at August 19, 2003 11:04 PM | PERMALINK

Most of the Mosaic code is specifically designed to apply to Jews as Jews, as a mark of the status of the Children of Israel as "a sanctified people, a nation of priests," not to human beings as such. So it doesn't really make sense to criticize Christians as inauthentic for not living as the Jews were commanded to live. By the same token, of course, there is no logical basis for the pretense of the Christian right that the Bible somehow commands us to write selected pieces of the Levitical purity code into the secular lawbooks.

More on this point here.

Posted by: Mark Kleiman at August 20, 2003 12:16 AM | PERMALINK

I posted about this on my site a while back. Here's an excerpt :

Now, I'm no bible scholar (few athiests are), but wasn't the whole point of the new testament that Jesus was coming to Earth to tell people to forget about all the crazy Hebrew laws in the old testament and for people to just love each other? As far as I can tell, the ten commandments only appear in the old testament. If that's the case, then shouldn't the ten commandments be held in the same regard as animal sacrifices, the monetary values of various people, or god disliking midgets and people with crushed testicles?

Since many religious people falsely believe that all moral codes are based on the ten commandments (which were in fact adapted from ancient Babylonian law), I can understand why they're so intent on posting them everywhere. These people see any attempt to block the posting of the ten commandments as a rejection of their values (ie. thou shalt not kill, bear false witness, etc.), while those of us on the other side object to the overtly religious overtone of the first 3 or 4 commandments, depending on which version they're trying to post.

Of course, people like me aren't the only ones who aren't too fond of the "god commandments". Jesus was known to skip these commandments as well :

"Why do you ask me about what is good?" Jesus replied. "There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, obey the commandments." "Which ones?" the man inquired. Jesus replied, " 'Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,' and 'love your neighbor as yourself."

Not only did Jesus leave out all the "no graven images" crap, but he even went a step further and added one more commandment (which he later repeats as being his only commandment). These are the commandments that most of the Christians I've known follow (ie. the ones who keep their religion to themselves), so why aren't they good enough for the right-wingers who want them posted everywhere?

Posted by: greg at August 20, 2003 12:50 AM | PERMALINK

OT, but I beg the expertise of the commenters on this thread:

Whence came the idea of Hell as eternal torment, fire and brimstone? (Apart from Revelations, of course.) I thought that the OT's Sheol was only the grave, death, nothingness.

Does Paul have anything to say about eternal retribution?

Posted by: bad Jim at August 20, 2003 02:52 AM | PERMALINK

Whence came the idea of Hell as eternal torment, fire and brimstone? (Apart from Revelations, of course.) I thought that the OT's Sheol was only the grave, death, nothingness.

You'll find that stuff in 2 Esdras, one of the apocryphal books of the Old Testament. All these ideas about Heaven, Hell, and the Last Judgement were kicking around in Jewish culture about the time of Christ, and they fed into the Christian tradition.

Posted by: Iain J Coleman at August 20, 2003 03:22 AM | PERMALINK

"Jesus cuts it a little finer by saying '...whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.' (5:28, KJV)."

You know, I always thought it was Jimmy Carter who said that . . .

Posted by: rea at August 20, 2003 04:14 AM | PERMALINK

my particular favorite quote (learn it, folks, it will soitanly come in handy) to throw back in the face of all these rightwingers who love to beat you about the head with bible quotes is this classic from the second book of acts:

43] And all that believed were together, and had all things common;
[44] and they sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all, according as any man had need.

So let's see, Jesus' Apostles, who one might think knew something about the way Jesus felt and thought about the issues, had all their property in common, eh? So the Bible explicitly endorses Communism.

Indeed. Heh.

Posted by: j at August 20, 2003 06:35 AM | PERMALINK

j: So the Bible explicitly endorses Communism.

Indeed. Heh.

Indeed. Yes, and shortly after that passage there's another startling, to me anyway, section.

A couple began to keep from the commune a portion of their goods. Peter struck one dead on the spot, followed later by the other. It wasn't long after this that the commune broke apart and the "believers" scattered.

Many feel that it is this scattering that eventually carried the new beliefs abroad, and allowed them to become widespread. Without that, these Jewish followers of Christ could possibly, even probably, have remained a small sect.

Interesting how the history some folk remember, biblical or otherwise, seems to leave out portions they don't care to believe.

All in all, an extremely interesting discussion. Thanks.

Posted by: JMP at August 20, 2003 06:55 AM | PERMALINK

So-called "hyper-Calvinists"--the more polite term is "High Calvinists"--did take the logical step of arguing that when Christ fulfilled the Law, he fulfilled all of it, including the Decalogue.

Posted by: Miriam at August 20, 2003 07:06 AM | PERMALINK

Mark Kleiman is exactly right. There is a different between "moral law" and "ceremonial law". The latter is strictly for the nation of Israel; the former, for all people. Or are the liberals on this board going to equate breaking kosher dietary rules with murder?

Homosexuality is a matter of moral law, not ceremonial law. Contrary to EdT and others, Christ specifically condemns homosexual "marriage" in Matt. 19: 4-6,

And He answered and said to them, "Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning "made them male and female,' and said, "For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'? So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate."

For Christians, the words of Paul are just as authoritative as the words of Christ, however, because they both have the same source -- the Triune God. Using the "Jesus never said even though Paul did" argument against Christians is a non-starter.

That being said, many "conservatives" indeed fail miserably in their Christian anthropology when they endorse remarriage -- which of course Christ said is adultery. Somehow I don't think folks on this board are going to oppose second (or third or fourth or . . .) marriages, however.

Posted by: General Glut at August 20, 2003 07:10 AM | PERMALINK

Y'all are guoting from the Wholly Babble again, I see.

Which has nothing to do with morality, as anyone can plainly see:

http://www.geocities.com/Athens/5195/victims.html

Posted by: raj at August 20, 2003 07:22 AM | PERMALINK

"guoting" should be "quoting"

Posted by: raj at August 20, 2003 07:23 AM | PERMALINK

Glut writes: "Christ specifically condemns homosexual "marriage" in Matt. 19: 4-6,

And He answered and said to them, "Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning "made them male and female,' and said, "For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'? So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate." "

That would seem to condemn a man for not being to a woman; in other words, Jesus is condemning unmarried priests, social misfits who can't find a wife, etc.

It doesn't seem to condemn homosexual marriage specifically. You can be heterosexual and not take a wife.

Posted by: Jon H at August 20, 2003 07:42 AM | PERMALINK

Judaism also holds that there are seven Noachide laws which apply to all people (and which are a small subset of the many laws that apply to Jews):


  1. Do not murder.

  2. Do not steal.

  3. Do not worship false gods.

  4. Do not be sexually immoral.

  5. Do not eat the limb of an animal before it is killed.

  6. Do not curse God.

  7. Set up courts and bring offenders to justice.

So no clams on the half shell (or factory farming as practiced in many abattoirs) and no idols to Vishnu. Tort reform might also be out.

They're supposed to be a universal minimum requirement, though I suppose if you accept Jesus's divinity then you could say he waived it (though I've never seen any such waiver mentioned).

Posted by: phil at August 20, 2003 07:43 AM | PERMALINK

I wrote: "seem to condemn a man for not being to a woman"

I meant "seem to condemn a man for not being married to a woman at all".

Posted by: Jon H at August 20, 2003 07:43 AM | PERMALINK

Like everything else connected with the Bible, the notion of whether the Gospels supercede the laws of the Hebrew Bible is an interpretation.

And yes, in the Epistles, Romans I think, Paul talks about honoring the spirit not the letter of the laws of the Bible.

Posted by: tristero at August 20, 2003 07:45 AM | PERMALINK

best two posts i've seen on the subject of the bible and homosexuality are from Real Live Preacher: the sermon and the explanation.

via Longstory; shortpier

Posted by: selise at August 20, 2003 07:51 AM | PERMALINK

Paul's condemnation of homosexuality is unequivocal, but General Glut's citation of Jesus seems mostly to condemn divorce, specifically the divorce of a wife by a husband for any reason other than adultery. Further on he speaks of those who are "incapable of marriage because they were born so" which seems to mean eunuchs and those who are physically lacking. (Not a good sign for gay marriage though). Voluntary celibacy is also being discussed as an option, but not given the centrality it has in the Catholic church.

The divorce he was speaking against might have been the divorce of converts who wanted to dump their pre-conversion wives. Probably Jesus was aware that if that were allowed, he'd end up with a lot of horny newly-divorced Gingrich-type converts hitting on the cute Christian chicks.

Posted by: zizka at August 20, 2003 07:59 AM | PERMALINK

This is all great stuff, convincing me that I need to learn more about the text of the Bible and the history of Christianity. Can anybody recommend a good non-fiction work about Biblical history and interpretation (I find the Bible itself to be somewhat unintelligible much of the time without context)?

Posted by: Doug-E-Fresh at August 20, 2003 08:03 AM | PERMALINK

There have been any number of Christian sects that essentially held that earthly law didn't apply anymore-- Antinomians (Anne Hutchinson in early New England, but the label is probably a smear), the Anabaptists at Munster, the Fifth Monarchy movement in the English Civil War, the perfectionist communal movements in the 19th century here (Oneida, Amana, etc.), even to a degree Geneva under Calvin.

Some of these movements were also socialist, and there was a strong tradition of Christian Socialism that lasted well into the 20th century in America-- Norman Thomas was the perrennial standard-bearer in politics. But the modern evangelical movements that come out of Calvin are decidedly not socialist. Look to Calvin for the explanation.

There's probably almost no angle of doctrinal interpretation that hasn't resulted in at least one sect (the Catholic church knew them as "heresies"). Big problems come when a sect claims that biblical law must be implemented as civic law.

I think the unbending insistence of the 10 Commandments people and others like them comes from a desperate attempt to prove to everyone else that the biblical story is true. They have to prove it's true out there, in the real world, in order to believe it themselves.

Posted by: Altoid at August 20, 2003 08:05 AM | PERMALINK

Doug-E-Fresh writes, "I find the Bible itself to be somewhat unintelligible much of the time without context".

Bingo. Context, interpretation, exposition, explanation, whatever we want to call it, is at the heart of all this brouhaha. What we're really involved in is questions about interpretational traditions.

There are many traditions or schools about what the bible means, and they can be traced in genetic tree diagrams. Each of the major biblical religions has several. The differences can be incredibly minute and obscure. Unfortunately, though, I don't know of a single place to go for an overview of the main Christian schools of interpretation. Maybe someone else here does.

For what's going on around us, I think the key issue to look for is the consequences in civic life of any given set of doctrines. We're not talking pure theology, nor even what rituals to follow. That would be internal to the sects. We're talking how sectarians are supposed to behave in relation to the state and the non-sectarians around them.

Posted by: Altoid at August 20, 2003 08:21 AM | PERMALINK

I don't think he said anything about honoring your father and mother

Actually, he did, in Matthew 15:4:

For God commanded, `Honor your father and your mother,' and, `He who speaks evil of father or mother, let him surely die.'

Of course, he also said the following, which seems to me to be somewhat in opposition to the above sentiments, but then I don't pretend to be a Christian who's able to parse these things so that there are no contradictions:

For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law

He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me

You could look it up: Matthew 10: 35-37

Posted by: Basharov at August 20, 2003 08:41 AM | PERMALINK

Oh, and the best (and most entertaining) short guide to the Bible I've found is Ken's Guide to the Bible by Ken Smith. Available on Amazon. It's quite irreverent, so Fundies beware.

Posted by: Basharov at August 20, 2003 08:47 AM | PERMALINK

While this discussion of Christianity and The Bible is intriguing, it really has nothing to do with what laws are made.

We don't (supposedly) live under a theological government, so therefore what The Bible does or does not say has no bearing on the situation of gay marriage, or anything else.

Thanks.

Posted by: Matt at August 20, 2003 08:49 AM | PERMALINK

Doug-E-Fresh,

Best advice I can give you is to go to the Bible section of the Borders/Barnes & Noble/library/whatever and look through various history type books on the subject. There's a The Bible for Dummies out there, though I find the whole concept of that book line somewhat insulting, if helpful. There's a book Don't Know Much About the Bible from the Don't Know Much™ series. That's more of a book by book explanation, which sounds like what you're looking for.

As far as reading Bibles go, I'd wholeheartedly recommend the Oxford Study Bible as the one with the most effort put into being a good translation without doctrinal bias. Everett Fox's translations of the Old Testament (I think he's up to Saul or something like that) are truly excellent and beautiful renderings into verse (it seems strange that most people consider the Bible a prose work, though they quote verses, which is one of the major faults I have with most editions). He does a scholarly job of translating, usually one page is text and the facing page is the notes for the page detailing the various possibilities of translation, meaning, context.

(And, yes, I know, for an atheist I have an awful lot of opinions and knowledge regarding the Bible. What can I say? a.) Catholic school. b.) Know your enemies. c.) My fascination with philosophy and philosophical arguments led me to study the Bible indepth to understand the underpinings of subsequent thinkers. d.) You can't successfully be an English major without knowledge of the Bible--try reading Milton in ignorance.)

(My bonus question for all the other amateur Bible scholars on this thread is how differently do you think the Protestant Bible would be had the Catholic Church not suppressed all the non-canonical works they rejected at the Council that set the Bible parameters?)

Posted by: j at August 20, 2003 08:53 AM | PERMALINK

For Christians, the words of Paul are just as authoritative as the words of Christ, however, because they both have the same source -- the Triune God. Using the "Jesus never said even though Paul did" argument against Christians is a non-starter.

Hi General Glut, I am a Christian and I do not consider the words of Paul to be as authoritative as the words of Christ.

Christ was the Son of God.

Paul was an inspired preacher.

Posted by: wetzel at August 20, 2003 08:53 AM | PERMALINK

Well now Kevin,

The floodgates are open and (to thoroughly mix the metaphor) the horses are not going back in the barn.

And this was just one (apparently) simple question

;o)

Posted by: Terry at August 20, 2003 09:19 AM | PERMALINK

And while we're at it, remember to have those bears kill any children making fun of bald men (Kings 2:2) and don't get me started on how slavery is just fine...or how lesbians seem to get in less trouble in the bible than str8 people...

Posted by: Doc at August 20, 2003 09:26 AM | PERMALINK

zizka says:

...General Glut's citation of Jesus seems mostly to condemn divorce...

danno says:

seems? SEEMS? No, that's exactly what Jesus was condemning. The verse just prior to the one Gen Glut started at sets up the question,

Matthew 19:3 Then some Pharisees came to him in order to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful to divorce a wife for any cause?”

It is this question that Jesus is answering in Gen glut's citation. It always astounds me that people continually use this quote to claim that Jesus spoke on the subject of homosexuality. It's just like the game Jeopardy, where they give the answer first. But they keep stating the wrong question.

Posted by: danno at August 20, 2003 09:29 AM | PERMALINK

j: the Protestant Bible and the Catholic Bible ARE different. The Protestants reject the canonicity of the Apocrypha, while Catholics treat them canonically.

Posted by: Melanie at August 20, 2003 09:53 AM | PERMALINK

1. The commandments to love the lord thy god and thy neighbor as thyself, like other broad precepts, are all-encompassing. If you really love (a loving) God, you will not behave badly toward others. If you really love your neighbor, you won't steal his wife or cattle or lie to him. So these two subsume the 10 commandments for Christians. Paul does pretty well release early Christians from the Jewish law, as many have said.

2. Best books on the origin of Christian doctrine are those by Elaine Pagels, including "The Origin of Satan', and "Adam, Eve and the Serpent". The latter explains how for some (maybe many) people an explanation, even one that is counterintuitive and psychologically damaging, is better than no explanation at all.

Posted by: Mimikatz at August 20, 2003 09:57 AM | PERMALINK

Can someone enlighten me and solve a fued between two friends? I'd be fascinated to read the scripture quotes where it prohibits the sexual coming together of the same sex. Any versus would be appreciated, or thoughts. Or is it just the bible taken out of context? Is today's modern age needing a revised version?
cheers

Posted by: Confuddled at August 20, 2003 10:04 AM | PERMALINK

Doug E Fresh,

I would also recommend Bishop John Shelby Spong's Rescuing the Bible From Fundamentalism

Posted by: "Fair and Balanced" Dave at August 20, 2003 10:17 AM | PERMALINK

"It always astounds me that people continually use this quote to claim that Jesus spoke on the subject of homosexuality."

It does? Homo-haters always take things out of context to bash--rhetorically, of course--homos.

BTW, John Boswell's take on this is Bible stuff is at http://www.godlovesfags.com/bible/scripture.html

Posted by: raj at August 20, 2003 10:20 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin,

Most scripture scholars would point to 2 places in Matthew, 5:1-38, where Jesus deliberately turns quite a bit of Mosaic law on its head, and 7:12, In everything do to others as yo would have them do to you: for this is the law and the prophets. (NRSV)

Posted by: Melanie at August 20, 2003 10:23 AM | PERMALINK

In an attempt to answer Kevin's original question, I would think that the actual purpose of the Mosaic Law and all its derivatives was to prove that man, being in a fallen state and all that, would not, or rather, could not, adhere to the exact letter of the law. Therefore the purpose of the law was to condemn (Kinda explains all the "Thou shalt not"s, doesn't it?). When Christ came, He came as a radical. He focused less on what people already knew as law (although He did reference to it), and blew their minds away with the things He did and said. He washed his follower's feet, a feat normally reserved for the lowest servant of the house to perform on guests. I would agree with earlier postings that what God really desires .. so to speak, lies with the heart / intention / will of a person, that voluntary choice a person has, whether he would voluntarily choose to trust God, even though God doesn't tell him everything, rather than all the religious red tape of head-bowing and chanting and burnt sacrifice ad nauseum.

Posted by: leyon at August 20, 2003 10:27 AM | PERMALINK

Most scripture scholars would point to 2 places in Matthew, 5:1-38, where Jesus deliberately turns quite a bit of Mosaic law on its head, and 7:12, In everything do to others as yo would have them do to you: for this is the law and the prophets. (NRSV)

There is also a bit in Acts where the conditions for Gentile Christians (those not Jews first) are discussed, and a very limited subset of the traditional rules are demanded.

Posted by: cmdicely at August 20, 2003 10:30 AM | PERMALINK

Confuddled,

See the remarks above about the Levitical code. Christians can quote Paul's letters, I Corinthians 6:9-10 and Romans 1:26-28. All of this is subject to interpretation, there are some scholars who think that the "abomination" to which Paul is referring could be temple prostitution, not uncommon in the pagan world of his time. The larger discussion of sexual mores of New Testament times is given a very nice treatment by Walter Wink, a well-known scholar and Methodist minister, at http://www.melwhite.org/biblesays.html

Posted by: Melanie at August 20, 2003 10:31 AM | PERMALINK

j: the Protestant Bible and the Catholic Bible ARE different. The Protestants reject the canonicity of the Apocrypha, while Catholics treat them canonically.
Posted by Melanie

I know that and that's not really what I'm asking. Catholics included those books and Protestants chucked them out. I'm asking about all the books Catholics didn't include (Gospel of Thomas, Gospel of Nativity of Mary, the Acts of Andrew, the Revelation of Peter,etc.) that they hid in monastery libraries and that they destroyed. Many of these texts turned up long after the Protestant Reformation (think how recently the Dead Sea Scrolls turned up).

The question is, if Luther et. al. had had access to the Gospel of Thomas (or others), would they have included that as well?

Just curious.

Posted by: j at August 20, 2003 10:34 AM | PERMALINK

I ask because part of the Gospel of Thomas has the Apostles ask Jesus when he will return and he tells them that the kingdom of heaven is at hand here on earth and the only reason people don't believe that is that they refuse to see it. Would such a radical (now so considered) verse have altered history by undercutting millenarial dogma?

Sometimes I think it might have, but then I look at the endorsement of Communism and think, no, it probably wouldn't have.

Posted by: j at August 20, 2003 10:39 AM | PERMALINK

Most protestants don't veiw the early church councils as being "Roman Catholic", they view them as being catholic in the universal sense. What most protestants protest (where the word protestant comes from) didn't occur until much later, when the full social integration of church, society and government happened well after Constatine's declaration of Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire.

There is no way Luther would have included Thomas. He wanted to cut out James because he didn't like its theology, and Jude because he thought it was just a copy of another book. He would have laughed his ass off at Thomas, which doesn't really fit into catholic or protestant theology.

The funny thing now is that most fundamentalist christians now want the church and the state unified again. Boy, if only people would learn their history!!

Posted by: Derek G at August 20, 2003 11:45 AM | PERMALINK

If one actually looks in depth at most of the "rejected" scriptures, one tends to be rather impressed with the ability of the early Christian editors to sort out the good stuff and toss the bad. The Gospel of Thomas is about as close as you could get, and it's got an extremely different world-view than Paul or the four canonical gospels. Yes, including it in the Bible would have undercut millenialism, but then it would have been inconsistent with Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Paul, all of whom seem to have been fairly through-going millenialists.

Posted by: Tony Zbaraschuk at August 20, 2003 11:46 AM | PERMALINK

Great thread. I'll put in a quick plug for James L. Kugel's "The Bible As It Was", for the epochal period 500 B.C.E. - 200 C.E., more or less. It got good and IMO deserved reviews.
I have a small raft of personal heresies, and one of them hasn't really been invalidated by this thread so far: Jesus lived and died an observant Jew, and would have found subsequent history alarming. Of course, no-one's specifically raised this thesis, but some of the Gospels make it I think difficult to maintain. Jesus clearly states in the Sermon on the Mount, for instance, that the Law must be observed until it is fulfilled, and he will fulfill it. It's hard not to read that as a statement that after his death the Law will not be needed, hardly an observant Jew's claim (see above, Matthew 5 or so). Also, his saying which commandments matter, or commenting on what you put in your mouth, or taking action on the Sabbath (though you can do a righteous deed on the Sabbath in Judaism). The romance root for Easter - Pasqua in Italian - is the same word as Passover, and I think Mark explicitly calls the Last Suppper a Passover seder. Passover is big in Judaism, and always falls near Easter.
I think Jesus is ambiguous, but Paul in particular breaks with circumcision, implying that "Christianity" was a new Jewish sect until that date. The Lubavitchers are observant Jews who believe their founder is the Messiah.
So far I'm sticking with my heresy. Mary of course was pretty clearly a Jew when she died. I've often seen Jesus linked to the Essenes, an ascetic desert sect that John the Baptist recalls.
These days you can convert without circumcision, as a guy. They prick your foreskin.

Posted by: John Isbell at August 20, 2003 12:01 PM | PERMALINK

Oh - Passover is Pesach in Hebrew, just to be clear.

Posted by: John Isbell at August 20, 2003 12:04 PM | PERMALINK

I second those recommending Elaine Pagels. The Gnostic Gospels was wonderful, and very readable. Of course I choked the next time I said the Nicene Creed. Do I really believe in an apostolic church anymore? Maybe not . . .

Kevin, I've never gotten a straight answer to your original question, either.

Posted by: Emma Anne at August 20, 2003 12:22 PM | PERMALINK

John Isbell, sorry to bring you down, man, but most Catholic theologians and scripture scholars would agree with you. Probably the most important (and readable) book on the "historical Jesus" is John Meier's "A Marginal Jew." John Meier, Raymond Brown and N.T. Wright, the most prominant scholars in the "historical Jesus" tradition, all affirm with you that Jesus lived and died a Jew.

If you look a little further into the NT, there was considerable controversy at the time over whether you had to convert to Judaism before you could become one of Jesus' Jews.

Posted by: Melanie at August 20, 2003 02:32 PM | PERMALINK

Tony, you've got some confused terminology going on. The early Christians were "Millenarians," they were "apocolyptics," which was a very common movement in Judaism at the time. Apocolyptics believe that the end times are at hand regardless of the date. "Millenarians" connect the end times to millenial dates.

Posted by: Melanie at August 20, 2003 02:36 PM | PERMALINK

my bad, ...Christians WEREN'T.....

Posted by: melanie at August 20, 2003 02:38 PM | PERMALINK

danno and others,

The words of Christ in Matt. 19: 4-6 presume heterosexuality as God's intention and creation. He who made them at the beginning "made them male and female is pretty clear. Yes, the context is divorce, but the premise is heterosexuality.

Those recommending Elaine Pagels and John Spong are not recommending Christian writers but instead gnostics (in Pagels case) and heretics (in Spong's). If you want to read them, fine, but don't think you're reading Christian scholarship. Liberals want to make the Church reflect their own values -- and in the process, want to kill the Church. Just look at what Spong has done for the Episcopal Church and you'll see what I mean.

Posted by: General Glut at August 20, 2003 07:47 PM | PERMALINK

General Glut,

Jesus was asked if a man could divorce his wife. If the scribes has asked if a gay man could divorce his lover, Jesus would have answered differently. Jesus was quoting scripture to make a point. No one asked him about sexuality, and he never said anything (that we have recorded) about it.

Posted by: Bill at August 20, 2003 08:01 PM | PERMALINK

Melanie,

Interesting point (and far more succinct than I was prepared to be). It's an important historical distinction between "millenarian" and "apocolyptic."

I think the idea that If one actually looks in depth at most of the "rejected" scriptures, one tends to be rather impressed with the ability of the early Christian editors to sort out the good stuff and toss the bad has a bit of the old "familiarity is good" argumentation going on. Had Thomas been selected at the time, Tony, you might now be praising the wisdom of the early founders for not selecting that crackpot John who suggested all those heresies like Jesus was the Word and existed at the same time as God when God created the world.

What is familiar is always easier to see as being finer or better or more acceptable than what is unfamiliar. That's a common enough reaction.

I've read perhaps the bulk of existent (English translated) non-cannonical works and have to say that there is some fine poetry in a lot of those pseudepigraphic works (though, as an aside, as far as religious leaders go, I still take this cue from the Buddha as the best ever: "Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.")

Plus, one should take into consideration that the texts we have of non-canonical, apocryphal works contemporaneous with canonical texts are both often fragmentary and translated poorly. Somehow, I think if the Apocalypse of Peter or the Apocalypse of Paul got the King James treatment, our English readers might find them worthy.

Nevertheless, it's idle speculation to wonder how the world would have been different if Hitler hadn't been born, or Luther had read the Gospel of Thomas or Trotsky hadn't been killed or whatever.

But this has been one of the more fun comment threads I've participated in. Thanks, all.

Posted by: j at August 20, 2003 08:12 PM | PERMALINK

Christianity has been hiving off heresies since day one. All a heresy is is the loser in a bureaucratic struggle. Ultimstely, all Christians sects are heretical except one. What's-his-name (the Australian dude making the Jesus movie) thinks the Pope is a heretic. Garrison Keihler wrote about a sect of 20 emembers or so which had declared all other Christians to be heretics.

In short, I deny the premise of what General Glut just said.

Posted by: zizka at August 20, 2003 10:26 PM | PERMALINK

Zizka,

You can find extreme examples in any large group, and the "Christian Church" is a fairly large one. Gnosticism is a heresy in the church. As far as Spong, I really enjoyed his book, and shared it with my sisters. Very different views.

Posted by: Bill at August 21, 2003 10:04 AM | PERMALINK

Gen. Glut:

Actually, Gnostics are the original Christians. They were a diverse and lively group, until they were systematically persecuted and destroyed my Catholic Christians.

Posted by: DoctorG at August 21, 2003 11:50 AM | PERMALINK

Melanie appears to have hit the nail on the head with her discussion of temple worship practices being the basis for the worries about homosexual sex. It provides a handy explanation as to why the Levitical ban on homosexual sex is in the same chapter (20) that bans child sacrifice and other Middle Eastern worship rites of the era. The lesson for homosexuals therefore is clear: Don't chant prayers to Ishtar on dates and everything should be fine!

Posted by: James at August 21, 2003 09:50 PM | PERMALINK

Dr. G:

How exactly are you defining Gnostic?

I would disagree with your statement.

Posted by: Bill at August 23, 2003 06:32 PM | PERMALINK

John Isbell wrote:

"These days you can convert without circumcision, as a guy. They prick your foreskin."

That is sometimes practiced by Reform Rabbi's; please note, however, that such a conversion is not kosher, and does not fulfill the Jewish law on conversion. Those who do not have a kosher conversion are not, according to the Halacha (the Jewish law) Jews.

Posted by: Rex Momus at August 24, 2003 05:10 PM | PERMALINK

My wife and I are both Jewish believers in Y'shua (Jesus). Even though we are Jewish we see him as the fulfillment of all of our prophets. We both believe in eating biblically Kosher. In fact in New Testament theology I can't see anywhere including in the verses that some people on the sight threw in where it says that we shouldn't obey Adonia's Kosher instructions for his Torah. In fact one verse Quoted was Mattityahu(Matthew 5:18), which I would argue as a statement from Y'shua(Jesus) that all of the torah is to be obeyed until, "all is fulfilled". Just because He was crucified and resurected doesn't mean that everything was fulfilled, only that part was fulfilled. If everything was fulfilled we wouldn't be here anymore according to the apoctaliptic writings.

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