Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Was Polygamy ever Acceptable to God?

     Polygamy (a person having multiple spouses) – including polygyny (a man with multiple wives) and polyandry (a woman with multiple husbands) – is contrary to God’s original intention for marriage. His creative purpose from the beginning involved only “one man/one woman” marriages (Gen. 2:24; Matt. 19:4-6; 1 Cor. 7:1-5). There are, however, numerous instances of polygamy (incl. bigamy) recorded in the Bible. Lamech is the first one mentioned as having more than one wife (Gen. 4:19). This practice apparently originated among those who had become estranged from God (Gen. 4:16 ff.). Nevertheless, there are also some “righteous” men who had a plurality of wives, such as Abraham (Gen. 16:3), Jacob (Gen. 37:2), and David (1 Sam. 25:43). But even these polygamous unions were conceived in the context of sin and led to many problems (cf. Gen. 16:1-6; 21:11; 29:16 - 30:15; 37:28; Deut. 17:17; 2 Sam. 11:27; et al.). Other polygamists included Esau (Gen. 28:9), Gideon (Judg. 8:30), Elkanah (1 Sam. 1:2), Saul (2 Sam. 12:8), Solomon (1 Kgs. 11:3), Issachar’s sons (1 Chron. 7:4), Shaharaim (1 Chron. 8:8-9), Rehoboam (2 Chron. 11:21), Abijah (2 Chron. 13:21), and Joash (2 Chron. 24:3). But no polygamous marriage is ever depicted as a good marriage.
     If polygamy was contrary to God’s will and caused so many problems, why did He allow it? Throughout the Old Testament God seems to have permitted, and even regulated, a number of things of which He disapproved (e.g. Matt. 19:8). Yet He patiently endured in order to bring about a much greater state of affairs. Paul reveals that in anticipation of Christ’s atoning sacrifice, God, in His forbearance, “had passed over the sins that were previously committed” (Rom. 3:23-26). Despite their imperfections, those who submitted their lives to God prior to Christ’s death (e.g. Abraham, David, etc.) had forgiveness available to them (cf. Heb. 9:15). However, now that God’s complete will has been revealed, there is no longer any excuse. “Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30).
--Kevin L. Moore

Related Posts:

Image credit: 

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

How is “Modest” Apparel to be Measured?

            In the never-ending debates over what constitutes modest vs. immodest clothing, attempts have been made to find an exact standard of measurement in scripture to settle the disputes. But if we are not careful, we might allow our preconceptions to either speak where God has not spoken or distort what God has prescribed.
The Standard of Priestly Underwear?
The directives in Exodus 28 concern “holy garments” for descendants of Aaron in their service as priests in the Jewish tabernacle [and later temple], including a breastplate, ephod, robe, tunic, turban, and sash (vv. 1-4). These were to be made and worn according to very strict guidelines (vv. 5-43), including “linen trousers to cover their nakedness; they shall reach from the waist to the thighs” (v. 42, NKJV).
Nothing is said here about a dress code for men in general, for women, for Jewish priests outside temple service, or for Christians under Christ’s new covenant. The stated purpose of the linen trousers was “to cover their nakedness” (cf. Ex. 20:26).  
While the term “nakedness” in scripture sometimes describes one completely without clothes (Job 1:21; Eccl. 5:15) and involves the exposure of one’s genitals (cf. Gen. 9:22-23; Lev. 20:17), it is mostly used in the following senses: (a) implying sexual activity (Lev. 18:6-19; 20:11, 18-21; Ezek. 16:36-37; 23:18); (b) signifying shame (Ex. 32:25; 1 Sam. 20:30; Is. 20:4; 47:3; Lam. 1:8; Mic. 1:11; Nah. 3:5; Rev. 3:18; cf. Ezek. 16:8, 37; 23:29); and (c) descriptive of one inadequately dressed (Deut. 28:48; 2 Chron. 28:15; Job 22:6; Matt. 25:36-44; John 21:7; Rom. 8:35; 1 Cor. 4:11; 2 Cor. 11:27; Jas. 2:15).
The priestly garment was to “reach from the waist to the thighs,” but nothing more specific is enjoined. Was it to reach down to the upper thighs, mid-thighs, or lower-thighs, and how high was the waist? Was the intended purpose to cover the so-called private parts, or everything above the knees? The biblical text does not say. Moreover, this was an undergarment beneath an exterior tunic and robe.
The Standard of Adam and Eve’s Clothes?
The fig-leaf coverings Adam and Eve made for themselves, presumably concealing their reproductive organs, were apparently insufficient to hide their “nakedness,” so God made them “tunics” [Heb. kethoneth] to wear (Gen. 3:7, 21). Nevertheless, precise measurements are not given. Were these garments above or below the knees, and how many centimeters above or below? Did they have sleeves or not; how much of the arms were exposed? How wide and low were the neck openings? No specifics are given.
Principle or Measuring Tape?
The Bible affirms the basic principle of modest dress but does not provide specific and universal measurements and guidelines. Even though society certainly does not dictate what is right and wrong, society can help determine what might be considered inappropriate in any given culture. For example, it was considered shameful if a woman appeared in public without the customary headdress in mid-1st-century Corinth (1 Cor. 11:4-13), or immodest if she wore expensive clothes and jewelry and elaborate hairstyles in mid-1st-century Ephesus (1 Tim. 2:9) or if she exposed her ankles in 19th-century Europe, or if she exposes her hair and face in 21st-century Saudi Arabia. Christians living in any culture must be mindful of what is communicated by their dress and behavior.
The primary NT text that addresses “modest apparel” (1 Tim. 2:9-10) is actually talking about over-dressing, i.e., adorning oneself in such a way that draws undue attention to oneself. A person does not have to expose a lot of skin to be immodestly dressed (cf. Mark 12:38; Luke 20:46). The modern-day application of this biblical principle would be to avoid dressing in such a way that would unnecessarily direct the focus of onlookers to one’s outward appearance as opposed to one’s inward character. Immodesty in today’s westernized world would include skimpy outfits, excessive makeup and jewelry, outlandish hairstyles, countercultural attire and body art, etc.
What does one’s standard of dress reflect about one’s character and priorities? Being clothed with Christ (Gal. 3:26), with holiness and honor (1 Thess. 4:4-7), with godliness and good works (1 Tim. 2:10), and with a gentle and quiet spirit (1 Pet. 3:4), are reflected in one’s outward appearance. As a result, God is glorified rather than drawing the attention to oneself.
I have my (somewhat conservative) convictions about what I consider modest and immodest, and I try to teach, encourage, and advise accordingly. The problem is, not everyone shares my convictions – some less restrictive and some more restrictive. At the end of the day, we must understand what the Bible actually says (in context) as well as what it does not say, and avoid both extremes. We should be neither more lax nor more prohibitive than the word of God allows, with humble and selfless consideration of how our fashion choices affect and influence those around us.
--Kevin L. Moore

Addendum: In the book To the Ends of the World, co-authored with her husband Chad Garrett, Amanda Garrett quotes Ryan and Sarah Davis: “Culture should never change the basic principle of modesty in that the Christian woman should always seek to draw more attention to God than to her own beauty and body. Christian women and men on every continent should be mindful of how their speech, actions, and dress can potentially affect others” (92).

Related PostsKnow How to Possess Your Own Vessel

Related articles: Wes McAdam’s Modesty? 

Image credit:

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Know How to Possess Your Own Vessel: A Closer Look at 1 Thess. 4:4

     To the mid-first-century church of the Thessalonians, Paul and his colleagues write, “Each of you [is] to know [how to] possess his own vessel in holiness and honor, not in passion of lust, just as also the heathen who do not know God” (1 Thess. 4:4-5).1 J. Weima considers v. 4 almost certainly “the most debated text in the whole letter” (Thessalonians 268 n. 24).2 The difficulty centers on the usage of the noun σκεῦος (“vessel”) and the infinitive κτᾶσθαι (“to possess”), discussed below.
Preliminary Matters
     While Christianity is very much a communal religion (1 Thess. 3:12; 4:9, 18; 5:11), inclusive of “all” [πᾶς] the redeemed (1:2, 7; 3:13; 4:10; 5:5, 26, 27), there is also the responsibility, contribution, and involvement of “each” [ἕκαστος] member of the church (cf. 2:11).3 The significance of “to know” [εἰδέναι, perfect active infinitive of οἶδα] is twofold: (a) the divine will and how it is to be applied are knowable (cf. v. 3); and (b) the Thessalonian Christians have each known (in the past) and continue to know (in the present) the Lord’s expectations.
     The present infinitive κτᾶσθαι, “to possess” (from the verb κτάομαι), on the one hand means to “acquire” or “procure for oneself,” and on the other, to possess in the sense of “live with,” “control,” or “win mastery over” (see BDAG 572).4 Its meaning here depends on how the direct object σκεῦος is understood. A σκεῦος is generically a “thing” or “object,” used for any purpose at all, particularly a “vessel, jar, dish, etc.” (BAGD 754), metaphorically applying to one’s “body” or “person” (Acts 9:15; Rom. 9:22, 23; 2 Cor. 4:7; 2 Tim. 2:21; 1 Pet. 3:7). English renderings of this term in this particular text range from the more literal “vessel” (NASB, N/KJV) and semi-literal “himself of his own vessel” (ASV, ERV), to the interpretive “body” (CSB, ESV, ISV, NIV, NLT) and even more interpretive “wife” (RSV, ESVn., NRSVn., Weymouth).
Various Interpretations
     One interpretation of this verse is “to acquire his own wife,”5 thus directed to the unmarried men of the congregation. In favor of this position is the more common usage of κτάομαι (“acquire”) in extant Greek literature with γυνή  (“woman” or “wife”), although σκεῦος is never so used. While 1 Pet. 3:7 can be cited as an example of σκεῦος applied to a wife (“a weaker vessel”), the passage actually describes both marriage partners as “vessels,” one stronger and the other weaker, with the more apparent sense of “body” or “person.” In rabbinic literature similar terminology is applied to women, but these writings are in Hebrew rather than Greek and date considerably later than the Thessalonian correspondence. Often cited is what appears to be a near parallel in 1 Cor. 7:2-9, although this text concerns both husband and wife, and the broader context favors single-hood, thus not much of a parallel at all. 
     Another interpretation is “to live with his own wife,”6 accordingly directed to the married men of the congregation. The point here is to have an appropriate sexual relationship with one’s spouse. This would fit the immediate context better than the previous view but lacks a clear parallel with any supporting evidence, as noted above.
     A third interpretation is “to control his own body,”7 thus applicable to everyone in the congregation, whether married or unmarried (the masculine ἕκαστον [“each”] and ἑαυτοῦ [“his own”] understood generically). Some would take this a step further and see a more specific (euphemistic) reference to the “sex organ.”8 Within this very letter (5:22-23), abstaining from evil and being sanctified involve the σῶμα (“body”), a significant focus in Paul’s other writings (Rom. 1:24; 6:12; 1 Cor. 6:12-20; 7:34; 2 Cor. 5:10; Col. 2:11, 23). Moreover, there is a solid biblical precedent for using σκεῦος as a metaphor for one’s body or person (Acts 9:15; Rom. 9:21-23; 2 Cor. 4:7; 2 Tim. 2:21; cf. 1 Sam. 21:4-6 LXX). The present infinitive κτᾶσθαι (“to possess”) is then understood as “control” or “win mastery over” one’s own σκεῦος (“vessel”), i.e., “body” (genitalia?). The present [ongoing, continual, habitual] tense would be applied ingressively; “to be in the process of gaining possession, i.e. control” (D. J. Williams, Thessalonians 73); cp. Acts 24:25; Gal. 5:23; 2 Pet. 1:6.
Concluding Matters
     Abstaining from illicit sexual intercourse (v. 3) is the result of knowing how to possess one’s own vessel “in holiness [ἁγιασμός] …” (cf. 3:13 and 4:3). From an orthodox Jewish perspective, this was axiomatic. The ancient Israelites were to make clear distinctions between “the holy” and “the common” (Lev. 10:10) and be a “holy” people (Ex. 19:6; Lev. 11:44, 45; 19:2; 20:7, 26). The Pharisees, the Jewish sect of which Paul himself had been involved (Acts 23:6; 26:5), derived their name from the Aramaic peras (“divide,” “separate”) and thus were “separated ones” or “separatists.” It is interesting that this same standard is applied here to a predominantly Gentile community of believers. The holiness that was expected of ancient Israel is now God’s purpose for his church.
     Each Christian is also to know how to possess his own vessel in “honor” [τιμή]. The noun τιμή can be used in the sense of “value,”9 or to signify “honor,” “reverence,” or “respect” (BAGD 817). J. B. Lightfoot comments, “The honour due to the body as such is one of the great contrasts which Christianity offers to the loftiest systems of heathen philosophy …” (Notes 55).
     These directives were particularly relevant to the hedonistic environment of mid-first-century Thessalonica, although nearly twenty centuries later the applicability has not diminished. Sexual permissiveness, perversion, and promiscuity were the norm in most Greco-Roman societies at the time, not unlike the world in which we currently live. The message for all modern-day Christians remains the same: each of you know how to possess your own vessel in holiness and honor.
--Kevin L. Moore

     1 Unless otherwise noted, scripture quotations are the author’s own translation.
     2 Weima notes, “it has occasioned more than twenty academic journal articles or chapters in monographs, as well as one doctoral dissertation” (Thessalonians 268 n. 24; cf. J. Weima and S. Porter, Annotated Bibliography 182-96).
     3 See also Rom. 12:3-16; 1 Cor. 12:12-27; Eph. 4:16.
     4 This verb appears in the NT seven times, but here is its only occurrence in the Pauline writings: Matt. 10:9; Luke 18:12; 21:19; Acts 1:18; 8:20; 22:28; 1 Thess. 4:4.
     5 H. Alford, NT for English Readers 1326-27; C. J. Ellicott, Thessalonians 53; G. G. Findlay, Thessalonians 81; W. Hendrickson, Exposition Thessalonians 102; A. J. Malherbe, Thessalonians 227-28.
     6 E. Best, Thessalonians 162; R. F. Collins, Thessalonians 314; R. L. Thomas, “1-2 Thessalonians” (EBC) 271; B. Witherington, Women 141-42.
     7 G. K. Beale, Thessalonians (IVP) 116-19; G. L. Green, Thessalonians 191-94; G. Milligan, Thessalonians 49; L. Morris, Thessalonians 121; E. J. Richard, Thessalonians 198; J. Weima, Thessalonians 270-73.
     8 BDAG 928; F. F. Bruce, Thessalonians 83; K. P. Donfried, “Cults of Thessalonica” 337, 342; G. Fee, Thessalonians 149-50; I. H. Marshall, Thessalonians 108-109.
     9 Τιμόθεος (“Timothy”), one of the co-authors of this letter (1:1), derives his name from a combination of τιμή [“value”] + θεός [“God”], thus “of value to God.” Note also φιλοτιμέομαι [φίλος + τιμή] in 4:11.

Related Posts:

Image credit (modified):