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pages 261-321 (the end)

Any action that offends God is unacceptable for our

participation.

•“Is my conclusion consistent with love for man: will this

action hurt another person?”

Anything that harms another person is off limits. This

guideline, together with the previous one, enables us to

dependably decide what we may or may not do in those

activities of which the Bible says nothing. When we honestly

examine an activity for its possible affects on God and others

and we cannot see how it either offends God or harms man,

then that thing is probably in the realm of choice. One is free

to do that thing or to reject that thing according to personal

preference. If, after considering these aspects of moral

evidence one cannot see how an act would possibly violate

either God or man, yet still feels reluctant to do that thing,

then one has identified an area of bondage to the doctrines

and precepts of man. Judging all things by the law of love

gives us a brand new and reliable touchstone for deciding

what things are holy or unholy. According to Jesus and Paul it

is not the act itself that is either holy or unholy. It is how that

act affects God and others that determines its “holiness.”

•“Do I give God thanks for the good that I enjoy?”

Whatever activity one approves is something for which

one should thank God. This combination of seeking the Word

of God and giving Him thanks for what one “approves” gives

God pleasure. We will be bold enough to say that God is thus

pleased even if our ultimate choice is a wrong choice. Such will

inevitably be the case at times simply because of our

humanity. But God is looking for hearts that love Him enough

to make a sincere effort to know what pleases Him and then to

do that. Such a heart will not often do what God prefers we

not do. When such a loving heart makes a wrong judgment

and chooses activities that are wrong, still God’s grace enters

to apply the blood of Jesus, and so He keeps us in His love.

Defilement comes not from physical acts but from spiritual

attitudes. Physical acts are not inherently “defiling.” “Defilement”

requires involvement of the heart. Physical acts are not inherently

sinful or inherently good. They are inherently innocent. Any physical

act that hurts another person is always wrong because of its hurtful

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effect. But such an act is sinful – i.e. morally defiling – only if done

intentionally or rebelliously. Even civil laws define a difference

between “negligent homicide” versus “murder,” or a traffic

violation that brings a “warning” rather than a citation/fine.

Actions that civil law defines as “illegal” and “criminal” may be

mitigated as determined by motive. Thus some technically

“criminal” acts may be effectively regarded as “non-criminal.”

Obversely some inherently innocent acts may become sinful because

of an attitude of spite, rebellion, disregard of other’s welfare, etc. In

the civil realm, building a fence has no inherent legal implications.

But if one builds a “spite fence” civil law may require its

destruction. Especially in the spiritual realm, what makes an act

wrong/defiling/sinful is the intention behind it or its effect on others.

Sin, moral defilement, worldliness, etc. are located in people’s

minds, not in material objects or physical actions.

Again, Paul’s incredible statement is, “I know and am persuaded in

the Lord that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything

to be unclean, to him it is unclean,” (Rom. 14:14). Most religious

people cannot take that verse as it stands. We seem to be compelled

to explain away its force with such arguments as “but he is talking

only about meat sacrificed to idols.” And so forth. But Paul is also

talking about observing religious days, (vs.5,6) and wine, (vs.21)

and “anything else” by which a brother is made to stumble, (vs. 21).

Wine, feast days and meat are simply specific examples of Paul’s

general point that nothing is inherently unclean but anything can

become a stumbling block to others if used indiscriminately. And

Paul literally says, “nothing is unclean in itself.” For emphasis he

says “All things indeed are clean, but evil for him who eats and gives

offense,” (vs.20). “All things” and “nothing” are totally inclusive. The

Holy Spirit did not err in these statements. Add to these the

statement that, “To the pure all things are pure; but to those who are

defiled and unbelieving nothing is pure, but both their mind and their

consciences are defiled,” (Titus 1:15). Are “all things” really pure to

those who are pure? Paul says so. His point is that things in

themselves have no inherent moral quality. What makes something

either pure or impure is the attitude and motive of the person

involved. Even what we would consider “pure” things become

impure in the hands of those whose hearts are impure. Consider

also that Paul says, “All things indeed are lawful for me, but not all

things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be

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mastered by anything,” (1 Cor. 6:12; 10:23). Paul did not say that it is

sin to choose what is not “profitable.” That is an interpretation

made up by humans. What is “profitable” to me may not be

profitable to another. Each person must decide for themselves what

they approve of. They are free to choose because “all things are indeed

lawful.” It is circumstance that makes inherently lawful deeds to be

either profitable or unprofitable. To drink wine in the presence of

one whose conscience may be compromised by my example would

be unprofitable to that person and to myself. But to drink wine in

different circumstances would be profitable at least to me.

Many people hold strong convictions about what they call

“sins” that is all in their mind. Many devout religious people

sincerely believe it is sinful to play cards, or dice, or for women to

wear make-up, etc. It is all in their minds. The lists of actual sins in

Matt. 15:17-20; Mk. 7:21,22 covers the gamut of categories of things

we may do to violate love for God and man. All of them arise from

the heart. The condition and spiritual orientation of the inner man

is crucial to the question of what is sinful behavior and what is

acceptable behavior; what is holy and what is unholy. Outward

deeds, especially those specified not by God but by man, have

nothing inherent to do with spirituality, holiness or Christianity.

There is nothing clean or unclean, holy or unholy, inherent in any

physical activity. So no sex act is inherently unclean. The Bible says

so. All spiritual content of a deed is determined by the condition of

the heart of the person doing the deed.

Therefore, the following sex practices, and probably others we

do not include, are not in the least “unclean,” nor are they

forbidden in either OT or NT.

Multiple marriage, multiple sex relationships.

Prostitution.

Sex by single people.

Sex “play” between singles and engaged couples.

Nudity, public or private.

Nude dancing or posing (as for art classes or photographs).

Viewing nude dancing, nude photos or films of nude people.

Sexual thoughts that produce sexual stimulation.

Masturbation .

Using sex toys such as vibrators.

Oral sex or anal sex.

Viewing/reading erotic films, photos, books.

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Humans may enjoy sexual freedom in as many variations as

they desire, within the parameters of what God has not forbidden.

What God forbids are those sexual activities that violate the personhood

of other people or dishonor Him. Specifically God forbids:

Homosexual acts that violate other people (rape, child

molestation, pederasty).

Homosexual acts that dishonor God (as acts of worship, used in

witchcraft).

Heterosexual acts that violate other people (incest, rape, child

molestation).

Heterosexual acts that dishonor God (as acts of worship, used in

witchcraft)

Bestiality (evidently a dishonor of some sort to God).

Adulterous sex (sex that leads to breaking marriage bonds).

Sex that associates in any way with idolatry or witchcraft.

Are Sex And Holiness Incompatible?

We wish to begin this segment by considering King David

again.

David was a truly holy man. He taught “the fear of the Lord,” (PS.

19:9 etc.).

David was a “a man after God’s own heart,” (Acts 13:22).

David “did all thing right in God’s sight except the matter with Uriah

the Hittite (Bathsheba’s husband),”(1 Kg. 15:5).

He loved God’s law, Ps. 119.

He prayed “Search me, O God, and know my heart…. and see if there

is any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way,” (Ps.

139:23, 24).

He was a repentant man, he truly sorrowed because of his sins,

and he worked hard at honoring God’s law, (cf. Ps. 51, etc.)

He is our supreme example of worship/praise/prayer. David

wrote our prayer/worship manual, the Psalms.

David was Israel’s greatest leader. Christ was “one like David.”

“The Son of David,” (Matt. 21:9, etc.).

Such statements as the above place David in the very highest

category of “holy men.” There was no question in the mind of God

that David was holy in act and pure in heart. And it is with just

such a man that we may most fruitfully explore the relationship

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between sex and holiness. For David loved sex. One author referred

to David as “Israel’s randy king.” He had many wives and

concubines as did many other men in that era. One unique fact

about David’s multiple wives and concubines is that through the

prophet Nathan, God affirmed that He was the actual source of all

David’s women. God said He would have given more if David

wanted them, (2 Sam. 12:8). God was willing for David and other

men to have sexual relationships with many women. Rather than

viewing polygamy and concubinage as a sin or even relegating it to

“least desirable” status, God’s blessing of David with many wives

and concubines proves that God had no such view of monogamy as

does the church and virtually all of Western culture. God viewed it

as a blessing that He was pleased to bestow upon His holy servant

David. By giving multiple wives and concubines to David, God

enabled, even encouraged David to copulate with many different

women. God’s absolute holiness and his requirement that His

people be “Holy as I am holy,” quite obviously has nothing inherently

to do either with the biological act of sex or with the number of sex

partners one has. God’s personal holiness is in no way

compromised by His giving multiple sexual partners to David.

David’s personal holiness is likewise not compromised by enjoying

sex with those wives and concubines. So there is nothing

inconsistent between sex and holiness. There is no relationship at all

between sex and holiness. David could copulate with one or more

concubines, slaves or wives during the night then arise early to

“awake the dawn,” with prayer and worship, (Ps. 57:8). And our

“Holy God” delighted to receive it.

In the same vein, a man may have sex with his wife in the night

then arise to worship and pray first thing in the morning without

“repenting” of the night’s activity. The same is true if they had oral

sex or if they mutually masturbated each other or used vibrators or

other “sex toys” during their sexual activities. Likewise there is

nothing incompatible with holiness and private masturbation;

holiness and private or social nudity; holiness and wearing a

swimsuit to the public pool; holiness and wearing a skirt that

exposes a woman’s calves (as per the Puritans); holiness and

appreciating the body and sexuality of a beautiful woman or

handsome man, etc. Sex has no inherent relationship to holiness

any more than any other human activity (e.g. eating, sleeping,

exercise, etc.) inherently relates to holiness. Holiness becomes an

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issue with any activity only on the basis that such activity relates to

obedience or disobedience to God. Sex becomes unholy only when

sex violates God’s law of love; love for God and love for man.

The same is true of such comparisons of holiness and moderate

drinking of wine; holiness and moderate eating; holiness and

playing cards, or dice, or owning a television set, or observing

religious holidays, and on and on we could go. The most holy man

ever to grace this earth was Jesus Christ. Yet Jesus ate good food

and drank wine as is obvious from the accusation made against

him by the religious leaders of the day, that He was a “glutton and a

wine bibber,” because “the Son of Man came eating and drinking,” (Mt.

11:19). The fact that the charges of “wine bibbing” were made is

strong indication that Jesus drank wine. This is also indicated by

the fact that Jesus made wine for the guests at the wedding feast in

Cana, Jn. 2:1ff., even though the guests had already drunk well, (Jn.

2:10). Was Jesus unholy because he loved food and wine? Could

Jesus make wine for a wedding party, no doubt drink some of it

Himself and then go out late that night to meet with His Father in

prayer as was His custom? Can we possibly imagine that His

Father was the least bit offended by His Son’s enjoyment of good

food and wine?

It is not unholy to eat good, rich food. It is unholy to over eat

consistently, thus becoming a glutton. It is not unholy to drink wine.

It is unholy to over indulge and becoming a drunkard. Just so, it is not

unholy to enjoy sex. It is unholy to engage in forbidden sex or to

engage even in legitimate sex to excess. To do so is “concupicence.”

As with food and wine, God does not set the limit. He allows man

to decide when gluttony or drunkenness sets in. How much sex is

too much? There is no standard. Certainly problems seem apparent

when sexual activity begins to consume inordinate amounts of

money and time. But most people will never approach the limits of

sexually permissible activity. We are so repressed and bound by

false guilt that our problem is not too much sex. If anything our

problem is in gaining freedom to enjoy without guilt and shame,

what is legitimately available to us.

Holiness appears to conflict with many human activities but the

conflict is only in men’s minds. Nothing truly conflicts with

holiness except what God has declared sinful. Normal human

activity, including physical things like eating, drinking, bowel

elimination and sex, have nothing to do with holiness unless there are

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some God-given rules about those activities. The only sexual

activities that breach holiness are the sexual sins God condemns:

rape, incest, child abuse, bestiality and certain homosexual acts. If

God does not condemn it one can practice it and still confidently

walk in holy fellowship with God.

How did humans come to think of sexual activity as being

inherently unholy? Let’s try to think this through. Most of us do not

think it is unholy for a man to insert his penis in his wife’s vagina.

Sexual climax enjoyed by both husband and wife is viewed as

inherently “pure” and acceptable for most people. But many of the

same people begin to feel uneasy about masturbation. Why? God

has no law nor even the slightest intimation in Scripture that

masturbation is, in any sense, unclean or unholy. Where does our

uneasiness originate? It originates in the mind of humans as a

result of false religious teaching. Oral sex suffers the same fate.

Why do we suppose it is OK for a man to kiss and suckle his wife’s

breasts but unholy for him to do the same with her vagina? God

says nothing about it except for the probable positive references to

such activity in the Song of Solomon (cf. chapter 9). Unfounded

religious rules are responsible for all repressive attitudes toward

oral sex. The same holds true for all sexual activity that God has

not made specific laws against. If God did not forbid a sexual

activity, then it cannot possibly be unholy, unspiritual, unclean, etc.

Sexual activity is inherently good. God made it to be good. God did

not make sexual activity to be unclean. No sexual activity is unholy

or unclean unless that act violates God’s prohibitions. If God does

not prohibit an act, it is impossible for man to violate anything by

committing that act. If vaginal intercourse is not inherently unholy,

neither is any other sex act other than those God condemns. If

sexual activity between husband and wife is not inherently unholy

then sexual activity is not inherently unholy when enjoyed by

unmarried people. If it is unholy for unmarried people to enjoy sex

it is unholy only because somewhere in the Bible God defines it that

way. If any form of sexual activity becomes unholy it is only

because that activity violates God’s law of love. Like eating is just

eating, and sleeping is just sleeping, so sex is just sex. It is neither

holy nor unholy.

One of the major problems people have with sexual activity

relates to a man enjoying sex with more than one woman, or a

woman enjoying sex with more than one man. Yet one cannot

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possibly read the OT through and not be impressed by the fact that

the greatest spiritual leaders in all history were people of great

sexual prowess, who delighted in sexual pleasure with many

different partners. As we have suggested, David is the classic

example. God gave him many women and would have given him

more. And there are many other examples. What this proves

beyond doubt, is that there is nothing unholy about a large amount

of sexual activity with many different partners. These mighty

spiritual giants walked in constant fellowship with God, did His

will, overcame His enemies and led His people for generations, all

while copulating with multiple sex partners. Holiness is not an

inherent issue in sex matters. Holiness, whether relating to sex or

anything else, is a matter of obedience. Where there is no disobedience

there is no unholiness. Consider again the following examples of holy

people who enjoyed sexual diversity.

Abraham was God’s chosen vessel to bring the Israelite race

into existence. He had sex with several women including his wife

Sarah while she lived. But never a hint from God that enjoying sex

with multiple partners was any sort of blot or stain upon

Abraham’s holiness. Abraham fulfilled his destiny and is forever

enshrined in the Bible as “the father of the faithful,” and the

epitome of godly faith. God did not look upon his sexual practice as

abnormal, perverted, unclean or unholy. This anointed, faith filled

man was holy in the most profound sense of that word. And God

allowed him the blessing of sex with many women.

Jacob had two wives, had sex with them both and also with

their maids. He maintained his anointing and place in God’s plans

until his death with no mark against his holiness. God’s chosen

people still bear his name – Israel.

Judah had sex with Tamar believing her to be a prostitute. God

never reprimanded him for this act and there were no holiness

issues ever raised with reference to it.

Samson consorted with prostitutes and had multiple wives and

sex partners. But God never lifted His supernatural anointing from

Samson nor retracted his calling and destiny on the basis of sexual

activity. Indeed, at the end God heard and answered Samson’s

prayer for strength, enabling Samson to fulfill his destiny by

destroying the leaders of the Philistine government and ending

Israel’s bondage to them.

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Gideon was a mighty leader of Israel’s armies and fulfilled his

role in God’s calling. But Gideon had many wives. God did not

view Gideon’s multiple sex partnerships as in any way detracting

from his holiness.

God considers there to be nothing unclean or unholy in the

practice of sex. Sexual activity does not become unholy merely

because it breaks outside the boundaries of monogamy or even

includes prostitution. God’s servants are not defiled by it; their

loyalty to God and His Word is not rendered questionable by it.

Their qualification to serve God is in no way compromised by

enjoying sex with many different partners. God’s delight in them is

in no measure diminished by sexual activity. God’s favor continues

to remain upon them. His blessings are still available to them.

A great leader of God’s people can enjoy the God-given blessing

of sex in many varieties, yet be regarded by God as holy, anointed,

and worthy as a leader. A modern Pastor is not less holy or unclean

if he enjoys sex in as many ways as God allows. He is not

perverted, dirty, or “lustful” and His Divine calling is not

jeopardized merely by much sexual activity. God’s presence is not

withheld from him if he does so. His place in God’s kingdom is not

endangered by sexual enjoyment. If his wife also enjoys sexual

variety, even enjoying sex with other men, she is not considered

unholy by God any more than her husband is.

If David could have multiple sex partners yet walk continually

in God’s favor and anointing, where did we get the idea that such

is unholy, unclean, perverted, etc.? The male lover in the Song of

Solomon enjoyed the nude dance of his female lover in the presence

of a company of people and delighted in the fact that they wanted

to see more of her. What gave us the idea that to watch a nude

dance today is unholy? Such ideas do not come from God. They

come from false teaching and legalistic rules generated by church

leaders and pseudo-scholars who are more strongly influenced by

unbiblical Victorian concepts of holiness than by the pure, simple

and true revelation of what the Bible actually says. They have spoken

eloquently and boldly where God has not spoken and made laws

where God did not legislate. The result is a church and a churchinfluenced

society whose concept of all things sexual is that sex

itself is essentially unholy and that any true Christian will avoid all

sexual activity except for what is necessary for a married couple to

produce children. This attitude toward sex is not godly, logical,

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spiritual or holy. Indeed, this very attitude is unholy because it twists

a beautiful, Divinely blessed part of human life into something

sordid and dirty.

This question is important in our day because there is much

current talk about God calling His people to holiness and

repentance. In the minds of most this automatically equates with a

call to separation from all sexual desires except vaginal intercourse

with one’s wife or husband. A few “ministers” believe they have

God’s call to go from church to church warning the people to

abstain from the “pollution of sex,” which they define as singles

“petting,” masturbation, oral sex, looking at sexually explicit

material (all of which they categorically define as “pornography”)

etc. In their minds “unholy sex” is anything except monogamous,

vaginal intercourse. We do not hesitate to say that the “call” upon

such people comes not from God but from their own truncated

human spirit. They are, no doubt, sincere. But tragically their

sincerity is grounded in their mis-begotten, human values oriented,

pharisaic-legalistic based prejudices. Their authority is strictly

human – not Divine. Their warnings do nothing but solidify the

bondage under which the masses lie crushed and broken. Holiness

has become so integrated with the idea of “no sex” that people

cannot get it out of their minds. But if God is calling us to holiness

He is not requiring us to abandon the joy of sex any more than His

call of holiness to David, Abraham, Jacob and all the rest of OT

saints, required them to abandon sexual liberty. Sex and holiness

are not now and have never been incompatible with each other.

One can enjoy the full range of sexual pleasure allowed by God and

have no fear of losing God’s presence, anointing or call.

We must constantly remind ourselves of what exactly makes a

thing sinful. What makes something sinful is the same thing that

makes it unholy. Nothing is inherently unholy, not even bowel

movements. Nothing is unholy unless it violates God’s law.

We must get it through our heads that there is nothing about

sexual activity that has anything to do with spirituality.

Spirituality/holiness/purity/cleanness are all issues of obedience.

Paul’s statement that “nothing is unclean of itself,” (Rom. 14:14), must

be allowed to exercise its full influence in this study. The Holy

Spirit said “nothing” is inherently unclean. The Holy Spirit knows.

This statement absolutely proves that nothing about sexual activity

is either clean or unclean. Uncleanness, unholiness, etc. attaches to

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anything, only where disobedience is involved. Drunkenness is unholy

because God made a law against it. But drinking alcohol itself is not

a sin. It is not unclean. Eating food is not unclean or unholy.

Gluttony is unholy because God has a law against it. Nothing is

unholy unless it breaches God’s law. Masturbation, oral sex, sex

with more than one partner, looking at the nakedness of others,

reading erotic writings, watching sexually explicit films, watching

other people enjoy sex – none of these practices are in any sense

legislated against. None of them can be holiness issues because none of

them are obedience issues. Some sex practices are holiness issues

because of God’s laws against those practices: e.g. certain homosexual

acts, bestiality, rape, incest. If God had not made us responsible to

His law of love all of those activities would be permissible. Every

sex act that humans can enjoy that has not been legislated against,

is permissible with God and is not unholy or impure. God prohibits

only what displeases Him. He made specific laws to warn us away

from what offends Him. What is not unlawful is permitted by God.

What God permits cannot possibly be a purity, cleanness, or

holiness issue. Nothing about human sexuality offends God. He

made it as a “very good” part of His creation. Humans are free to

enjoy sex in any way that God has not condemned. Rather than

feeling guilt about this wonderful pleasure we should regularly

give thanks to God for creating sex, and for allowing us to enjoy it

in many different forms. Sex is not a curse to avoid. Sex is a

blessing from God to be enjoyed and appreciated.

Unholiness is a matter of disobedience. No act is unclean unless

that act violates a law of God. If there is no law there cannot be

violation of law. Since sin is violation of law then there can be no

sin attached to any sex act if there is no law condemning that act.

Note carefully: It is impossible to violate law if no law exists. Nothing

is sinful or unholy except what violates God’s law. Where there is

no violation of law there is no unholiness. What other people think

about it makes zero difference. A person is not holy because he

abstains from sex or other permissible activities. A person is holy if

he obeys God. Where there is no law to obey or disobey holiness

cannot be an issue.

Nothing about the body or any of its functions has to do with

holiness. Any physical act is unholy only if legislated against. The

human body and all its functions is neutral. Nothing is sinful about

the body and it’s many natural functions. It becomes sinful only

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when it violates God’s law. If any body function should be classified as

unclean, etc., it would surely be the process of elimination of urine

and feces.

The body is an instrument, subject to both good and evil use of

natural passions. The body is good because God made it that way.

His pronouncement that everything in His creation was “very

good,” (Gen. 1:31), included the human body with all its sexual

potential. God intended that humans enjoy sexual pleasure.

Procreation can take place without the pleasure of sexual orgasm

therefore sexual pleasure is not crucial to the command to “be

fruitful and multiply.” The simple explanation of why God attached

the ecstasy of orgasm to sex is that He desired to bless His children

with this intense pleasure. Sexual orgasm is a tremendous incentive

to engage in sexual activity. Is it conceivable that God would place

that potential in humans then virtually nullify its use by legislating

against all possible enjoyment of it except within the confines of

monogamous coitus and then only for purpose of procreation? In

view of the church’s attitude that sexual pleasure in general is dirty

and sinful, we would surely expect that if such were true God

would certainly not have given us such an unnecessary, powerful

potential for “evil,” knowing that we would surely not be able to

use it correctly. In reality what God did was give us sexual

orgasmic pleasure, specifically define the ways we are not allowed

to use it, then set us free to enjoy the wide variety of sexual

pleasure otherwise not legislated against.

David was the supreme worshipper. His Psalms are still our

worship and prayer manual. But this man was highly sexed and

loved a variety of women. If sexual activity with more than one

woman is a “holiness” issue then it is impossible for David to be

our supreme example of a worshipper. That He was a man “after

God’s own heart” demonstrates beyond argument that God found

nothing offensive in his great sexual appetite and his strong sexual

propensity. He remained anointed, powerful and worshipful in the

midst of his sexual activity. Imagine this: David has sex with a

different wife or concubine every night for six nights, then on the

seventh night he goes to an all night worship and prayer meeting.

Is he acting hypocritically? Is he “out of place” in God’s house of

worship? Does God accept his worship? We trust the answers to

these questions are obvious. He as surely belongs in God’s house,

praying and worshipping with all his heart, as he would if he had

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no sex the week before. David enjoys the legitimate blessing of sex

as God’s gift and God accepts his worship.

If people today do the same things as David what prohibits

them from freedom in the house of God? Can they do as David did

and enjoy the same freedom in God’s presence as David did? The

answer must be YES!!! Was it holy for David to have many sex

partners yet unholy for us? Impossible! And it is possible for us to

enjoy God’s presence even though we enjoy erotic books,

magazines and films, masturbation, oral sex, etc. None of these can

be “unholy” or “unclean” because none of them violate God’s law

of love. And if an act does not violate God’s law we can do it and

then go directly into His house to worship, pray and praise, and

know that God delights to receive our offering. In other words one

might watch an erotic film on Saturday night, then rejoice in God’s

presence in church the next morning. Any inhibitions about this

exist solely in our imaginations. God has never seen anything

unholy or offensive about our enjoyment of sexual activity in a

wide variety of ways. We would in fact do much better in relation

to God if, rather than entering His house sheepishly and with guilt

because of our sexual desires and activities, we would actually go

into His house and offer praise and thanksgiving for sex as one of

His most exquisite blessings.

We knew a beautiful girl who married a handsome man.

Prospects for their mutual sexual pleasure was tremendous. But

this girl had erroneously been taught by the church and by her

parents that sexual pleasure was dirty, unclean and sinful, and she

called home on her honeymoon crying because, as she said, “I have

always been taught I should not do these things.” They had

problems throughout their marriage, ultimately divorcing because

he, with normal male sexual appetites, lived daily in the presence

of his beautiful wife who could not release herself to him. Such a

sad situation is inexcusable. The church is to blame for its profound

ignorance and hypocrisy that has created an immense heap of

legalistic garbage upon one of God’s most exquisite blessings. For

this young couple to struggle with what virtually all of us accept as

“normal sex” demonstrates that there is an underlying conviction

in most of us that “it may be basically OK, but it is also basically

dirty, a necessary evil.” Such an attitude insults God whose

wisdom and goodness provides us with sexual pleasure. And for

any of us to struggle with sex practices that are not legislated

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against is no more valid than for this young couple to struggle with

marital coitus. They could have enjoyed each other’s bodies to the

fullest degree and they could also have enjoyed just as innocently,

the pleasure of masturbation, and many other activities that bring

sexual pleasure, all without transgressing the limits God so

carefully and specifically placed on sexual activity. Once more: if a

sex act does not offend God enough for Him to make a law against

it, how can we so stupidly make our own laws against it?

To apply these things specifically again: if God has no law

against the following, none of them can be regarded as unholy,

unclean or impure.,

God has no law forbidding nudity, therefore nudity cannot be

unholy.

God has no law forbidding nude entertainment, therefore nude

entertainment cannot be unholy.

God has no law forbidding polygamy, therefore polygamy

cannot be unholy.

God has no law prohibiting one person from enjoying sex with

many people, therefore sex with many people is not unholy.

God has no law forbidding looking at erotic materials, therefore

looking at erotic materials cannot be unholy.

God has no law forbidding masturbation or oral sex, therefore

masturbation or oral sex cannot be unholy.

God has no law forbidding use of vibrators or other “sex toys,”

therefore using vibrators or other “sex toys” cannot be unholy.

God has no law forbidding production of explicit erotic

writings, photographs and films of nude people, engaged in

sexual activity, so production or use of such explicit erotic

materials cannot be unholy.

Our intention here is to help the reader see that sexual activity

may be enjoyed in many different ways with potentially many

different people without in the least compromising one’s

spirituality or holiness. One may fully enjoy the delights of sex and

still eagerly go to church, serve in ministry, and worship and praise

God with no sense of being out of place and without bearing false

guilt or shame. God created sex. He wants you to enjoy it.

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CHAPTER THIRTEEN

 

THE LAW OF LOVE APPLIED TO SEX ISSUES

 

“There is no biblical sex ethic. The Bible knows only a love ethic,

which is constantly being brought to bear on whatever sexual

mores are dominant in any given country, or culture, or period.”

(Walter Wink, “Biblical Perspectives on Homosexuality,” The

Christian Century, Dec. 7, 1979, 1085).

The NT “Law of Love” codified by Jesus Christ, requires that

we resolve the question of sexual “do’s and don’ts” on the principle

of love for God and love for our neighbor. Applying this ethical

framework to sex issues requires that we work from a positive

foundation of divinely created and recommended sex rather than

from a negative foundation of “sex-as-dirty.” Such a foundation

means we must affirm:

Our sexuality and our whole human body experience was

created as inherently good.

Christian community must include all who own Jesus as their

personal Savior, unlimited by invalid purity codes.

The equality of women and men in all aspects of life.

The incorporation of our sexuality into the reign of God.

Sexual practice characterized by love, justice, equality, fidelity,

mutual respect, compassion and grateful joy.

Avoidance of any sexual act that degrades, demeans or hurts

others.

Refusing to judge others whose conscience before God does not

condemn them in the exercise of that for which they give thanks

to God.

(Adapted from James Nelson, Body Theology, Westminster/John

Knox Press, pg. 62)

The moral teaching and ethical guidelines established by Jesus

takes the decision about the morality of individual acts out of the

realm of inherent evil, and places the decision in the realm of love.

Sexual acts are not to be seen as good or bad in themselves. A

physical sex act has no inherent moral quality. Its goodness or

badness is determined by the effect on the persons involved. Does it

bring mutual pleasure and satisfaction? Is it done in full

consideration for the person-hood, desires, needs, and sensibilities

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of both parties? Masturbation for example, could not possibly be

defined as a “sinful act” by any Biblical standard, because: [1

Nowhere in OT or NT is that act addressed in any way, and [2 It is

performed willingly as an act of self-loving that brings harm neither

to the practitioner nor to anyone else.

Applied to “adultery” the “law of love” helps refine even more

the answer to the question of “what exactly is adultery?” We have

argued that adultery is not a sex act per se. Nor is it a biological

issue. Only under specific circumstances does a sex act become

adulterous. Adultery is not inherently the act of adding a third

party’s body into the marriage couplet. Adultery is the willful and

harmful violation (adulteration) of the vows of the original pair. It

is the both the desire and/or the attempt to break that original bond.

Thus adultery can be and is often committed in any number of

ways. A jealous or vindictive person who spreads false rumors

against a person in hopes of causing that one’s mate to leave,

commits adultery. Physical, mental or emotional abuse by one mate

against the other is adultery. A husband refusing to provide food,

clothing and other necessities for his wife, is adultery. One mate

who refuses to consider the sexual needs of the other, commits

adultery. We realize that these suggestions do not fit the modern

definition of adultery but refer again to the chapter on Adultery,

and read the actual definitions of the original Greek word.

Adultery is anything that destroys the original covenant or

promises upon which a marriage is established. Many more vows

are made in a wedding than a vow to be sexually exclusive. Vows

to “love, cherish, honor, to protect and provide” for the other mate

are as vital to the covenant as the vow to “keep myself for you

alone.” Breach of the other vows constitutes adultery as surely as

breach of the vow of sexual “faithfulness.” Any act that results in

destroying a marriage union is adultery even when sex has never

been suggested. Original marriage vows that require sexual

exclusivity of each mate have arisen out of human tradition, not

from Scripture. Can you imagine King David saying to Michal, his

first wife, “I promise to keep myself for you alone, until death do

us part?” Such a vow did not exist in that culture. Since the vow of

sexual exclusivity is of purely human origin, it may be abandoned

by mutual consent. A couple who come to clearer understanding of

their true sexual liberty, and who desire to experience it, may

decide to reaffirm their vows to reflect their better knowledge. If

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they make new vows that do not contain the unbiblical vow of

sexual exclusivity, they may experience sexual relations with other

people, without in any degree violating their marriage covenant, or

threatening the marriage bond. Such could not possibly be defined

as “adultery” except by those who insist on doing so in disregard

for the true import of the word.

Thus introducing a third person’s sexuality into the intimate

circle of a marriage may not be adulterous at all. Granted, there are

risks of jealousy, misunderstanding, etc. involved. But where there

is honesty and mutuality in agreement, meanings and intentions, the

participation of a third party does not constitute adultery. Proof of

this is scattered throughout the OT, which decisively condemns

adultery yet condones polygamy, concubinage and prostitution.

Indeed mutual consent to include a third party may – and often

does – manifest a truly deep union of love and trust between the

married couple.

Our true “sexual problem” is not homosexuality, pornography,

pre-marital sex, etc. Our problem is conformity to unloving mindsets

that set a norm of unjust compulsory heterosexuality,

monogamy and gender inequality. Not monogamous heterosexual

marriage, but true love in sexual relationships is morally normative

for Christians. Love and justice demands equality and mutuality. It

means a moral obligation to recognize and promote each other’s

personal dignity and to honor our own and each other’s needs for

intimacy and affection. Our sexuality is who and how we experience

our remarkable emotional, psychological, physical and spiritual

yearning for communion with others, with the natural world and

with God. Sexual passion and experience gladdens our hearts and

ennobles our lives.

The ethics of Jesus makes it possible for us to celebrate any

sexual relationship that deepens human intimacy, genuine

pleasure, love, responsibility and justice. To editorialize Jesus’

words, “If you had learned what this means, ‘I desire truly loving

relationships more than I desire attempted submission to sexual

law-codes’ you would not have condemned the innocent” (after

Matt.9:13; 12:7). Or perhaps, “What do I require of you O sexual

man, but to promote true intimacy, unselfish pleasure, and mutual

fulfillment with your lover?” (after Mic. 6:8). Or again, “You labor

over such issues as ‘masturbation, oral sex, homosexuality and the

like, while you don’t even notice the deeper and more important

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matters of sexual justice, mercy, mutuality, compassion and nonjudgmental

acceptance of other’s sexual choices. But while it is

right to be concerned about the others, it is wrong for you to put

these weightier matters in second place.” (after Matt. 23:23).

Rather than such an ethical foundation promoting

licentiousness and “anything goes,” it prohibits from the start all

acts or relationships that in any way wounds, abuses, violates or

exploits other people. It is we believe, the only way to incorporate

sexual ethics into the plainly stated ethical framework of Jesus

Christ who said love for God and love for one’s neighbor is the

summation of “all the law and all the prophets” (Matt. 22:36-40; cf.

also Rom. 13:8ff; Gal. 5:14). It fits exactly within the prescription we

call “the golden rule:” “Whatever you desire that men do to you, do that

very thing to them, for this is the law and the prophets” (Matt. 7:12).

This rule allows for sexual practice that fully considers the other

person while prohibiting sexual acts that are hurtful. Living on the

basis of such an ethic promotes maturity, wisdom and self-respect.

It puts Christians on the plane of spiritual responsibility. It fosters

maturity rather than stagnation. It enables one to live in freedom

instead of repression and bondage. Only such a lofty ethical system

as this can transcend our traditional act-centered sexual ethics,

described by someone as “the right organ in the right orifice with the

right person.” This new ethical system makes it possible for free

moral agents, possessing strong sexual proclivities, to live

responsibly apart from prohibitive guides.

The church’s traditional ethic represented by the preceding

quote and as well by the phrase, “celibacy in singleness, fidelity in

marriage,” is woefully inadequate and not at all Biblical. Though

pretending to be thoroughly Biblical it actually denies the rich

diversity of sexual experiences and relationships that are well

documented in Scripture, particularly in the OT. Furthermore it

establishes illegitimately, the exclusive claim of heterosexual

monogamous sex to moral propriety and sexual maturity. It focuses

on the form rather than on the substance of sexual relations;

focusing on who does what with whom under what circumstances

instead of pursuing honesty, care, love and respect in sexual

relationships. NT ethics identifies “sinful” sexual activity not in the

nature of specific acts; not in terms of whose genitals connect with

whose genitals; but in terms of what demonstrates contempt or

disregard for other people.

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If the church is ever to become a place where all-encompassing

love manifested in body, soul and spirit, is accepted and made a

cause for praising the Creator of sex, the church must honor the

goodness of sex and diversity of sexual experience. It must

transform its deep fear of sex and body, and repent of its idolatrous

fixation with both. In and of itself sex is the source neither of our

salvation nor of our damnation. As in all other ethical issues it is

what is in the heart that counts most with God.

Jesus’ own example demonstrates that when the good of others

is at stake we are justified in “breaking” the law. The basis upon

which this statement rests is the fact that the law was given not for

the sake of law but for the good of men. The law shows us how to

treat others with love. Where loving action is performed toward

God or toward others the law is fulfilled. This is the reason we

must look at all laws with a view to see if they fit either the

connection of honor given to other men’s persons and property, or

honor given to God. If a law exists that fits neither category then we

treat it as a cultural, temporary law that related to Israel’s particular

place in redemptive history and we refuse to observe that law

because it has served its purpose and it never applied to non-Jews

anyway.

This principle of love as the basis of law explains why there is

no law against such sex acts as masturbation, oral sex, use of

vibrators or other “sex toys,” viewing or reading erotic material,

etc. None of these acts are harmful in the least unless they are forced

upon an unwilling partner. In such case the sin is not in the nature

of the act itself but in the violation of the other person.

With these principles providing a fundamental working base

we can easily see why some sex acts are specifically and eternally

forbidden. It is because those acts harm other people. We can also

see why other sex acts are not forbidden at all. It is because these

acts in no way violate love for God or others. We can also

understand why some sex acts are not inherently sinful but may be

forbidden under specific circumstances. It is because the specific

circumstance involves violation of the principle of love for God and

man. Two sexual activities that are forbidden under specific

conditions but otherwise permitted, are:

Prostitution: prohibited only if done:

In conjunction with worship of idols; – violates love for God.

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By married woman in rebellion against her husband; –

violates love for husband.

Prostitution chosen as a voluntary activity is not condemned

in any sense in Scripture. The reason appears obvious.

Voluntary prostitution in no way violates either love for God

or for other people.

Homosexuality: prohibited only for males, and only if done:

In conjunction with worship of idols; – violates love for God.

In violation of young boys – “pederasty;” – violates love for

others.

As an act of rape; – violates love for others.

Homosexuality chosen as a voluntary relationship between

informed, consenting adults is not condemned in any sense

in Scripture. The reason now appears obvious. Voluntary

homosexuality in no way violates either love for God or for

other people.

The subject of homosexuality requires more intense study. It is

not apparent that the act itself does evil against either God or other

people. There does not appear to be a breach of “love for your

neighbor” in the act itself. And given God’s viewpoint of sexual

activity as we have traced it through the Bible, there does not

appear to be anything inherent in the sex act between same-sex

partners that violates God’s nature. If these observations are valid

then the prohibitions against homosexuality would be in the same

category as prohibitions against heterosexuality when it violates

love for God because of its connection with idol worship or

witchcraft, or violates love for man when associated with rape and

other forms of violence and exploitation. There is a great possibility

that our horror over homosexuality is derived from our culture and

misguided interpretation of Scripture. The subject bears much

closer investigation. Again, see our book, God Is Not A Homophobe.

One note seems appropriate here however because our subject

is the honoring of God’s law-word. God gave this clear direction:

“You shall not add to the word which I am commanding you, nor take

away from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God

which I command you” (Deut. 4:2). The same direction and warning

is given in Rev. 22:18, 19, with the warning of God’s judgment

upon one who presumes either to add to or detract from what He

has written. This means that with regard to all things surely, but for

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present purposes applied specifically to homosexuality and

prostitution:

We have no excuse before God for any attempt to add

regulations upon homosexual conduct and prostitution that

God’s own words do not contain.

What God said about homosexuality and prostitution is

sufficient to demonstrate His will. We must, in honor of God

and of His word, mandate only those forms of homosexuality

and prostitution that God forbids. Whether we like it or not we

must not add our own laws in order to prohibit behavior that

God does not address.

We are able to discern the reasons – consistent with the law

of love – for such special prohibitions. And we are also able to

discern that other forms of those activities do not breach this

law of love. We are able therefore to draw informed, mature

decisions about what appears to be otherwise acceptable

activity in God’s view.

We are obligated before we decide on the legitimacy or

illegitimacy of either homosexuality or prostitution as such, to

do our best at personal, objective study of God’s word. If we are

wrong in our conclusions because we did not study it will not

help us to say to Jesus: “But all the preachers said…” Our

conscience must truly be our conscience. And our convictions

must truly be our personal convictions. God gives us no

permission to live our lives based on other people’s knowledge

and faith.

Human biological acts are inherently amoral. There is nothing

inherently either good or bad about any basic human body

function. Only if those body functions encroach harmfully upon

others does God control them by legislation. No sex act is

inherently unclean, unholy or sinful. Sin attaches to a sex act

only if it harmfully affects other people or dishonors God. Only

on that basis does God legislate against a sex act.

Nothing about a sex act between two men or two women is

inherently dirty. A same-sex couple performs basically identical

physical acts that heterosexual couples perform. A prostitute

does the same acts with her clients as are otherwise done in

“acceptable” relationships. It is not the acts themselves that are

immoral. If the act itself is not “unclean” then what makes

legislation necessary? It is either that the act dishonors God or

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harms another person. God gave such legislation against the

specific expressions of homosexuality and prostitution that

brought harm to other people, leaving the other expressions of

homosexuality and prostitution untouched. He dealt with

heterosexuality in exactly the same way. This is sufficient for

those who desire only to know what God wills. If other forms of

homosexuality and prostitution were equally repugnant to God

He would have prohibited them also. Since God did not do so

we must refuse to do so. While this will mean nothing in terms

of affecting the lifestyle of most of our readers it will directly

affect the attitude of all of us toward those who choose either of

these lifestyles. If God does not condemn it we dare not. We must

exercise love and acceptance of such people in the same way

Jesus showed compassion and love and acceptance toward such

people in His day. As God grants grace to us so we must grant

grace to others even when they live in ways that go against our

personal grain.

The attitude has been ingrained in us by the church and society

that homosexuality and prostitution are inherently unclean. Paul

says this is not so (Rom. 14:14, 20). If we will, we can escape this

unbiblical, unloving mindset. And we must do so. We cannot truly

honor God’s law otherwise.

Sex and vulnerability

One of the primary reasons for commandments relating to sex is

that the power of sex so easily and quickly uses other people for

strictly selfish passion. Often this passion loses sight of the other

person’s dignity, welfare, needs and especially their vulnerability.

Men too easily victimize women, and children are virtually helpless

against the sexual advance of adults and even by their own peers.

The vulnerability factor is especially strong within family

relationships and is probably the primary reason for laws against

incest. Thus in the OT God prohibited conduct that would sexually

victimize others. In NT ethics those laws are not needed simply

because love as the motivating force in all relationships

automatically ministers sympathetically to the vulnerability of

others rather than taking advantage of that vulnerability.

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APPENDIX

 

THE NON-NEGOTIABLES OF BIBLE

 

 STUDY/RESEARCH

 

One cannot be in the church long, and listen to many

conversations, sermons, or teachings that appeal to the Bible for

authority, without realizing that the Bible is vigorously employed

by opposing parties to any debate, each believing that Scripture

proves the validity of their ideas. Thinking people realize that it is

preposterous to think that the Bible can be fairly interpreted in a

way that sustains opposite viewpoints. Therefore, opposing parties

may both be wrong in their appeal to Scripture, or only one of them

may be right, but both cannot possibly be right. The Bible is

sordidly misused and abused by many people in order to make its

statements fit the ideas they desire to promote. This is not an

accusation that such abuse of Scripture is intentional. It is simply an

observation of reality. Humans are so psychologically disposed and

emotionally compelled to be “right” that they will go to great

lengths to prove their ideas and justify their behavior. Often,

because of human fallibility plus the incredible difficulty of being

truly objective, defenses and arguments are offered that fall far

short of both credibility and integrity. In this milieu the Bible is

often used in ways that are totally inappropriate to any standards

of honest scholarship. If we do, as we should, grant to all Bible

students their integrity and sincere desire to know Biblical truth as

distinguished from theory and human tradition, we must

nevertheless suggest to all students that simply appealing to “what

the Bible says” is never an end-all to argumentation. Simply put, no

human is able to rise perfectly above the host of subjective factors

that color everything we think and do. No human can read the

Bible through purely objective eyes. All attempts to discover “what

the Bible says” and to defend one’s ethical or theological position

on that principle, without at the same time admitting one’s

personal, subjective contingencies, is spiritual elitism. That spirit

drove the Phariseeism of Jesus’ day and it is the driving force of all

modern legalism. No human dare approach a study of or argument

from the Bible, believing themselves to be infallible. Yet as soon as

one admits fallibility, one opens the door to the possibility that

one’s very best efforts may still not have produced unquestionable

truth. Though difficult to do, we must all face every Biblical

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discussion, on every topic, with the thought in the back of our mind

that the other viewpoint may be right. Augustine said “Whoever,

therefore, thinks that he understands the Divine Scriptures or any

part of them so that it does not build the double love of God and of

our neighbor, does not understand it at all” (Christian Doctrine

1.35.40).

This statement is true. Accordingly, any interpretation of

Scripture that creates hurt, oppression, or destruction of any kind

to people’s well-being, is a wrong interpretation, regardless of how

long standing the interpretation, or how traditional, historical or

exegetically respectable it is. There can be no debate about the

historical fact that the church’s historically established,

authoritative stance on such issues as race, gender, slavery, and

“orthodoxy” has accounted for the persecution and death of many

thousands of people over the last millennium and a half.

Traditional interpretation has prohibited women from enjoying

their rightful privileges and freedom under Christ to equal social

standing, job equality, church ministry – in short the very things

that accompany true, full standing in the human community.

Church dogma defended slavery even in the midst of the Civil war.

Racial bias still exists in the church, though admittedly in a lesser

degree than was true in past generations. And who can ever forget,

or even attempt to mollify the horrific tragedy of the Inquisition?

Of the murder of innocent people during the Salem witch trials? Of

the imprisonment and persecution of great Reformers like Martin

Luther? Of the murders of hundreds of people at different points in

history for their disagreement with prevailing church orthodoxy,

including several whose great “crime” was simply to translate the

Bible into the language of the common man and make it available

to the public?

Should it turn out that the church’s stance on homosexuality

and other sexual issues, has been as wrong as its error on so many

other issues, the church has committed more crimes against

humanity than it can possibly account for in the day of Christ’s

Judgment. Surely the church believes she is right in her blanket

condemnation of homosexuality. But she was just as surely

convinced of her infallibility on the issues mentioned above, all of

which have required repentance by the church. Can the church

prove beyond reasonable doubt that same-sex relationships damage

those involved in them, or any others? Is it even minutely possible

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that there are some aspects of the same-sex debate that merit

deeper inspection? Is the Biblical material on this issue so

transparently clear that we cannot possibly be mistaken in

absolutely condemning all same-sex relationships? Does the Bible

justify the social and spiritual excommunication of a large

percentage of the world’s population on the sole basis of their

sexual orientation? Is there “love” within our hearts for the

homosexual? If so, how do we express that love to them while

demanding their exile from the mainstream of both society and the

church?

The bottom line of Biblical studies is this: What will “build the

double love of God and of our neighbor?” The final fruit of all

appeals to the Bible for authority must be the fruit of “love, joy,

peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control”

(Gal. 5:22, 23) These all pass the supreme test of love which is the

foundation of all God’s laws. When we ask, “What is the loving

thing to do?” the preceding Scripture answers. On the other hand

we can know that our understanding is wrong, and our behavior

toward others is wrong, if it produces the fruit of “enmities, strife,

jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissentions, factions, envyings,

drunkenness, carousings and such like” (Gal.5:20, 21). We must make

every effort to understand these hurtful behaviors so that we do

not either dishonor God or harm others by our faulty convictions.

There must always be in the Bible student’s mind the possibility that

the prevailing interpretation of the Bible may not have not taken

into account important pieces of data. This is not egotistical. It is an

attitude necessary to fruitful study of the Bible. One who does not

suspect that something new may be found has no reason to study.

Such a person can logically do only one thing; accept the present

results of other Bible scholars and search no more. But of course,

this requires that one’s conscience rest upon the correct

interpretation of Scripture by others. It avoids personal

responsibility to study and determine for oneself what one believes

and chooses to practice. This responsibility, stated Biblically, is “Let

each man be fully convinced in his own mind” and “The faith that you

have, have as your own conviction before God” (Rom. 14:5, 22, NAS).

On this principle then, all legitimate study proceeds on the

presumption that there is more to find than has been found. The

phrase “Bible student” implies a person who explores the Bible

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with the expectation of finding what has not yet been seen, or at

least, has not yet been made clear.

Something very wrong seems to have developed among leaders

and teachers in the church. Most of the problems in the church

derive from its leaders. And the most glaring problem observable

in church leaders is their unwillingness and/or inability to measure

their concepts and formulate their doctrine by the strict, objective

standard of Holy Scripture. Leaders are pressured to give their

church members the impression that “I am right, you can trust me”

and “our church is right, don’t look elsewhere.” Without intending

to do so, church leaders often search the Scripture for “proof texts”

that will support their already settled conclusions. But the only

honest way to study the Bible is to read it, as much as possible,

with absolute commitment to accept its demonstrable meaning

however much that meaning may cancel previously held

convictions. Following that path is risky and potentially costly. We

understand the pain and the difficulty of such honesty and

objectivity in Bible study. Perhaps the reader will allow us a few

lines of reflection on our personal journey down this path.

Both my wife and I were born into a hard line, right wing,

negatively oriented, legalistic denomination. For generations our

families had been members of this denomination. As we grew up

we were taught, at home and from the pulpit, that all other

churches and all their members were wrong and hell-bound. We

could not leave “our” church and go to another without losing our

salvation. I knew early on that I wanted to preach the Word of God.

I admired preachers. I listened to and learned their ideas and grew

adept at using their style of argumentation. In the process I

absorbed their sectarian, legalistic spirit and became adept also at

“using” the Bible the way they did to sustain the “rightness” of our

denominational peculiarities. I began full time ministry when I was

22 and began then to associate with older preachers in a more

intimate way.

 

I was amazed to hear some of them joke among

themselves about getting their Sunday sermons by “tearing one

out,” a phrase that referred to simply copying and preaching

another preacher’s sermon outline “as is.” Such sermon copying

was done strictly within the confines of their peers and their own

denominational writers,

 

 and most church member never knew this

was a regular practice of their preachers. Something in me rebelled

at this practice. Two pieces of advice in the infancy of my ministry

 

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set the future course of my approach to Bible study and preaching.

In my first year of ministry one preacher whom I admired told me,

“Most of the people in your church have been Christians longer

than you have even been alive.

 

You will have to study like mad just

to stay ahead of the hounds.” I took that advice seriously. I learned

to use the necessary tools for scholarly Biblical exegesis and

research and for 36 years I have immersed myself in as thorough

Bible study as I know how to perform. In my second year of

ministry a visiting preacher came to preach a week at the church I

was pastoring.

 

His messages were always responded to with

statements such as: “that was refreshing…different…new…” etc.

Some of the things he taught I had never heard. While visiting

personally and intimately with him during that week, I pumped

him for information about Bible study tools and methodology. He

made one statement that proved to be the salvation of my spiritual

life and of my ministry.

 

 He said, “The best thing you can do for

yourself and for your church, is to learn to preach expositorially. Be

honest with what you find, preach it courageously, and be willing

to accept the consequences.” That statement struck a chord in my

heart, and I began to learn to study and to preach expositorially.

Over the next 18 years I studied and preached through much of

the OT and almost all of the NT, verse by verse. As I began to

become somewhat proficient at the art, I began to hear statements

from my church members, such as “that was

refreshing…different…new…” etc.!

 

I was being asked every year to

travel to more and more places to preach a week at a time at other

churches. I began writing, and was soon asked to contribute to

brotherhood journals, which I did gladly. But the method of

studying “verse by verse” and in context, so necessary to expository

preaching, produced some unexpected problems.

 

 I was seeing many things in a different light than what was accepted as the

norm within our denomination. Because I began more and more to

preach these ideas that were outside the mainstream of our

denominational mindset, my “popularity ride” began to get bumpy

and the longer it continued the bumpier it got.

 

Two things proved

to be my ultimate undoing with that denomination, and in my

home church.

 

Firstly, when I preached at other churches, I was often

questioned, sometimes edgily, by the local preacher about some of

my “new ideas.” Some of my contributions to brotherhood journals

 

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brought negative response from brethren in different places across

the country.

 

 I found that I was often in conflict with my peers

because of some of the things I believed and preached. Yet I did

truly believe in what I was preaching and so I continued to preach

my convictions, heedless of the consequences.

 

 Remarkably, though I was becoming more and more a center of controversy among

preachers, the lay members received me readily and my popularity

at home and as a traveling preacher grew.

 

Secondly, the product of my expositional study was a steadily

growing pile of concepts that did not “fit” with what I had

previously heard and simply accepted as truth on the basis of my confidence in those who taught me.

 

 I awoke to the realization that, in order to “prove” my denominational party line I had been following the example of my peers in twisting the true meaning of some Bible verses,

 

ignoring the true definition of some Bible words, and ignoring the historical, contextual, cultural setting of many verses.

 

Without intending to do so, I had used the Scriptures for my

own sectarian purposes, “finding” in them what I needed to find

even when it was not truly there.

I discovered to my absolute dismay and heart-sickness that I had become just like the Pharisees with whom Jesus struggled.

 

Eventually the pile of inconsistencies became a mountain

 

and I could no longer simply disregard the

reality that something was dreadfully and fundamentally wrong

with my spiritual and professional posture.

 

To the best of my ability I had been honest in my study and believed completely in

the truths I had uncovered. But many of those truths were in direct

conflict with the foundation stones of my denomination.

 

 I found

that I could no longer preach the “party line” with integrity. So I

began to preach things that directly challenged the doctrinal

peculiarities of our denominational.

 

As a consequence I was eventually fired from a church I had pastored for 13 years.

A year later my wife and I left the denomination of our birth to enter the

mainstream of Christianity. This departure put me in a

denominational no-man’s land, having no allegiance to any group,

and for the first time in my life totally free from any pressure to

make my ideas fit with those of someone else.

 

 I made a decision to conduct a hard-nosed re-examination of every doctrine I had ever

held dear.

 

 I was determined to decide for myself what was really –

and provably – true about all spiritual matters.

Both my wife and I have pursued this re-examination together and have learned

 

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amazing things about God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, the church, and

ourselves.

 

We learned truths that would forever have remained

hidden if we had not been able to simply take what the Scriptures

honestly say and embrace those things without fear of the

consequences. But there is a correct methodology for this process

and this methodology is the subject of this study.

 

How do we remove the blinders of ideological pre-conditioning

that each of us brings to Scripture?

 

The barest minimum of

necessary components of objective Bible study will include:

 

1. The text itself: the actual words and phrases as defined by

authoritative scholarship. No text of Scripture can possibly

be “understood” without brutal honesty as to exact meaning

of words and phrases. Every word must be understood, as

nearly as possible, in exactly the way the writer and original

audience understood that word.

 

2. The historical situation of the text. Serious Bible study

includes study of the times, places, cultural/political

situation and events surrounding the people doing the

writing, and the people receiving the writing.

 

3. Interpretation of the text in light of its historical situation.

True understanding of the Biblical text sees the words and

phrases as applied specifically to the times, places,

 

cultural/political situation and events surrounding writer

and recipients. The words of Scripture cannot be treated as if

they arose in a vacuum. All Biblical text is time, history and

culture bound. Ignoring this fact or devaluing its importance

spells doom for serious Bible study.

 

The Biblical text does not come to us in the form of timeless

axioms. Every text was composed in a specific time/space

framework. Thus Biblical writers do not generally attempt to

explain what for them and their readers were common

assumptions. Use of certain words, phrases and references was

simply taken for granted because the writer knew the original

readers would understand. The only way for us to likewise

understand is to put ourselves in that original situation, if possible,

through diligent historical study.

 

Our greatest problem if that we tend to read the Biblical text

in light of our own modern historical/cultural situation. Thus

when some read, for example, references to the “naturalness” of

long hair on women and “shamefulness” of long hair on men (1

 

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Cor. 10), their conclusions show their confusion, and churches arise

that require women to have a “veil” on their head when they enter

the sanctuary. Likewise some misunderstand the point of the “footwashing”

episode of Jn. 13, with the result that they believe Jesus to

be commanding that we go about literally washing each other’s feet

(as per vs. 12-15). Others will misunderstand Mk. 16:18 as Jesus’

“Great Commission” to build churches that specialize in drinking

poison and handling poisonous snakes.

 

Giving full consideration to the historical situation in which the

text originates will enable us to understand it as it’s original readers

and authors understood it. This rule is especially important when

studying the New Testament.

 

 The cultural environment of first

century Palestine and surrounding areas was extremely complex.

The New Testament writers were primarily Jewish, but their

audience was primarily Gentile.

 

The original church was

comprised entirely of Jews with a long history of commitment to

Jehovah and His law-word. But the church very quickly became

dominated by Gentile converts whose long history was one of

pagan idolatry.

 

 Though their mutual language was the Greek of the

common man, their thought processes were entirely different. To

understand what Paul wrote to the Roman Christians, for example,

requires one to understand more than the Hebrew concept of

things, simply because the Gentile Roman Christians did not think

like the Hebrew Christians.

 

To understand New Testament

writings, one must learn something about who the people were,

and why and how they did things. One must get in touch with the

first-century world, and learn to see things as first-century people

saw them.

 

 Until one does the hard work necessary for such study,

one is not qualified to either form or state an emphatic opinion

about “what the Bible says.”

 

Jesus said “you shall know the truth and the truth will make you

free” (Jn.8:32). The “truth” that frees us is “My word” which is God’s

word (Jn. 8:3; 17:17). Anything other than the truth of Scripture

makes us slaves.

 

 The difficulty we each face is in arriving at truth.

We struggle against subjectivity, ignorance, predisposition,

prejudice, peer influence, family ties, fear, etc. The path to truth,

though difficult to follow, is nonetheless easily pointed to: Honesty,

Thoroughness and Objectivity in Bible study.

 

The objective of Bible study is to find the “plain sense” of its

statements. “Just take it for what it says” is an oft-repeated refrain.

 

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Interestingly, every competing denominational “camp” uses the

same phrase, each claiming to be the ones who take the Bible

“simply for what is says,” understanding its “plain sense,” while

frequently occupying opposite sides of a doctrinal fence.

Obviously, two opposing viewpoints cannot both be founded on

the “plain sense” of Biblical statements.

 

 At least one, and perhaps

both, viewpoints are wrong. So how does one truly arrive at the

“plain sense” of Scripture? We can confidently “take the Bible for

what it says” but only if we can be sure we are truly reading

exactly what it says! Finding truth is possible. It requires hard

work. It requires honesty and spiritual integrity. We must be

prepared to admit that exegesis without presuppositions is

impossible.

 

Then we must be willing to lay aside all

presuppositions we find to be in conflict with what the Word

actually says. The great “victory” we wish to win in this arena is

victory over presupposition and traditional, though erroneous,

conclusions.

 

When we study Biblical statements containing commandments,

condemnation, censure, etc, we must delay making final

conclusions about the meaning and application of what we read,

until we have asked and answered some fundamental questions.

 

The basic questions one must answer, are these:

 

What, Exactly, Are The Authors Against;

What Are They For?

When Bible authors condemn and oppose something,

 What exactly are the writers opposing?

 

Quite often the real point of opposition does not lie easily and fully exposed upon the surface of the text. What are they against when, for example, they oppose

“adultery,” “homosexuality,” or “fornication?” Are the authors

always against this thing, or is their opposition related to specific

cultural, social or religious circumstances?

 

These are the very first

questions that should be asked and answered. One cannot be

honest with self or others, regarding such issues, unless one is

positive (s)he understands what the Biblical author means by using

such words. Simply because an English translation uses any of

those words, does not automatically mean that our English word

exactly represents the original intent of an author who used either a

Greek or Hebrew word. If one wants to know the meaning of a

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prohibition, one must first determine exactly what it is the author of

the prohibition is against.

 

Commonly used words frequently suffer from our assumptions

that “everyone knows what that means.” It is too easy to simply

take for granted that the commonly accepted meaning of a word is

the correct meaning.

 

It is amazing to find that, in sex-related

matters, the original Biblical authors used a large number of words

that meant to them something different than what they mean to us.

Biblical sexual ethics can never be understood if we do not even

understand the words used by the original authors. And we will

never understand those words unless we proceed on the

assumption that every word must be redefined according to the

best modern scholarship. An absolute rule of thumb is this: Never

assume you know what a Bible word means until you have examined it for

yourself.

 

As an interesting example of mistakes made in this area,

consider the word “leprosy.” All Bible readers know that in the

writings of both OT and NT “leprosy” was a dreaded disease and

especially rendered its victim “unclean.” But is that disease the

same thing we call “leprosy” today?

 

 No it is not. Today the word

“leprosy” refers to Hansen’s disease. That our present day

“leprosy” (Hansen’s disease) cannot be the same as what we read

of in the Bible is demonstrable by the facts that [1. Hansen’s disease

has no cure, while Biblical leprosy could be cured, and specific

rituals were given for cured lepers to be received back into temple

fellowship. [2. Biblical “leprosy,” unlike Hansen’s disease, could

infect physical objects such as furniture, stones, etc.

 

 Thus in Biblical

culture one might find a house infected with “leprosy.” Detailed

procedures are given for “curing” the house of this disease. What

this illustrates is the reality that what we mean by an English word

today is not necessarily what the Bible writers meant when they

wrote the Greek or Hebrew word which is the source for our

English word.

 

Therefore we must be extremely careful that we do not assume

that when the word “adultery” appears in the Bible, it represents

our modern concept of “adultery.”

 

The same is true when we read

the words “fornication,” “prostitute,” homosexual,” and a host of

other, non-sexual words. It is the most serious violation of any

scholarly standard to assume without inspection, thus without

evidence, that what an ancient author opposes is the same

 

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phenomenon existing in our time. All honest Bible believers are

obligated to treat the Bible’s statements with as much personal

integrity as possible.

 

We are all obligated to use the Bible in such a

way that we do not violate its integrity. Vast numbers of scholarly

tools exist for such study, as well as guides for correctly using those

tools. Entire college courses exist to teach and train students to use

the available resources for scholarly Bible study. One simply has no

excuse for shoddy Bible study. The scholarly methodology for

effective Bible study is straightforward.

 

What Is The True Meaning Of The Original Words?

This is the first question to answer. The “plain meaning of the

words” does not come automatically from a cursory reading. The

Bible reader must be sure he/she understands the true definition of

the words encountered, as well as the import of those words. A

good Biblical example of this is found in Jn. 21:21-23. Peter asks

Jesus about John’s future, and Jesus replies, “If I want him to remain

until I come, what is that to you? You follow me.” Those who heard this

statement interpreted it to mean that John would not die, and that

report circulated among believers.

 

“Yet Jesus did not say to him that

he would not die; but only, ‘If I want him to remain until I come, what is

that to you?’” Without a doubt, the disciples heard the exact words of

Jesus, but they interpreted them wrongly, missing the “plain sense”

of what He said, and so circulated a false report. The church is full

of exactly this kind of mis-interpretation.

 

When we read the Bible it

must filter through everything we are and all we have been taught

all our lives. It must filter through our cultural baggage and

psychological dispositions. Thus we often have difficulties

understanding the “plain sense” of Scripture.

 

For example:

“Flesh” in Rom. 13:14, e.g., does not refer to the physical

body, but to man’s sinful nature. So it is not a sign of holiness

that we despise our physical bodies, as many have done, based

on such negative Biblical references to “flesh.”

 

On the basis of “the literal reading” of 1 Cor. 14:34, 35, many

churches deny ministry for women, yet at the same time reject

modern usage of “tongues” and “prophecy” which the “literal

reading” of the same context accepts! So what did Paul mean

when he wrote “women keep silence” to the Corinthians? What did

the Corinthians understand him to say?

 

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Others take “literally” the requirement of Paul that women

in church meetings wear a head covering (1 Cor. 11). The verses

surrounding that requirement make it specifically applicable to

women who “pray and prophesy.” Yet the “literalists” who

require the head covering, refuse to allow women to pray and

prophesy in the church!!!

 

 

Mormons “baptize for the dead” as per the “plain sense” of

1 Cor. 15:29. The Christian community correctly rejects the

Mormon interpretation of those verses, and refuses to baptize

“for the dead.” But why is the church right to reject this practice?

What did Paul actually mean when he used those words?

Should we not all, based on the “literal reading” of Mk. 16:18

“handle snakes and drink poison?” Why not?

 

The “plain sense” of Jn. 13:14,15 is the basis of some

churches having “foot washing” services. All “mainline”

Christian churches reject this understanding of those verses.

Who is right? And why? What did Jesus mean when he said “you

should do as I did to you?”

 

Can we follow Jesus if we do not “sell all we have and give to

the poor?” Mk. 10:21. Since this is a command directly from the

mouth of Jesus, why is it not mandatory for all of us? Even

though he spoke to an individual, was He not establishing the

principle for a communist society?

 

Doesn’t the example of the

disciples selling their property and bringing it to the Apostles

for distribution to the poor (Acts 4:32-37), reinforce the mandate

for the church being communistic? Why not? What do Jesus’

words mean to us? How do we interpret the action of those

selfless saints?

 

Many translations exist giving different translations for the

same words. Which is right? For example, is it “prevent”(KJV)

or “precede” (NASB & others) in 1 Thess. 4:15?

 

When Paul wrote “malakos,” (1 Cor. 6:9) did he mean

“weaklings” (Tyndale and others), “effeminate” (KJV, ASV)

“sodomite” (NAB) “male prostitute” (NIV, NRSV) or

“perversion” (RSV, TEV, NEB)? Forget what we think! We must

know: what did Paul mean?

 

When Paul wrote “arsenokoites,” (1 Cor. 6:9) did he mean

“lechery” (Wyclif, 14th century), “abusers of themselves with

mankind” (KJV), “liers with mankind” (many translations prior

to 20th century), “homosexuals” (NASB, NLT), “homosexual

 

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offenders” (NIV), “sodomite,” “men who have sexual relations

with other men” (NCV), “sexual perverts,” “male homosexuals”

or “practicing homosexuals” (other modern translations)?

Which is it? Does the word Paul used really mean something

sexual that men do “with other men?” Does it mean

“homosexual?” What did Paul mean, and what did the readers

understand him to say?

 

All these different translations cannot be correct. Which one,

if any is correct? How can we know what Paul was against, if we

do not know the meaning of the words he used?

 

Such differing translations compel any serious student to simply lay them all

aside and pursue an independent study of all available scholarly resources to find, as near as possible, Paul’s original meaning.

 

Jesus’ “literal words” were “it is easier for a camel to go through

a needle’s eye…” (Mk. 10:24,25). Many interpret Jesus as referring

to “a gate in Jerusalem called ‘the needle’s eye’ through which a

camel could crawl if it had been unburdened…”

 

This “interpretation” makes it possible for a camel to go through a

needle’s eye. Yet Jesus’ intended meaning in these words was that

it is impossible for one who trusts riches to go to Heaven, (vs. 27)!

So why would Jesus begin to make such an emphatic point,

only to destroy its force with His illustration?!?!

 

The thorough researcher will discover that there never was such a gate in

Jerusalem. The first mention of such is in a commentary by

Theophylact, in the 11th century. He invented this interpretation

to try to “explain” this difficult Scripture. Jesus meant this: It

takes a miracle for a camel to go through a needle’s eye, and it

takes a miracle for a rich man to be saved. But understanding this

requires more than a cursory reading. And it requires the ability

to avoid “gimmicky” explanations of difficult Scriptures.

 

The answer to such difficulties and differences of interpretation

is not “just read without interpreting,” or “just take it literally.” The

answer is to interpret fairly and correctly, considering all available

evidence. Exegesis is careful, systematic, independent study of

Scripture, in order to find its original, intended meaning. Exegetical

study requires us to read with the thought: “what did this mean

back then, and back there.”

 

So, the first general principle of finding Bible truth, is this:

Interpret according to the correct, i.e. original meaning of the words.

 

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If we do not understand the words used, we cannot understand the

message of the Bible.

 

Consider also that an isolated word is not always clear: What do

you think of if I say “trunk?” Am I referring to an elephant’s

“trunk,” a large container, the baggage compartment of an

automobile, or the base of a tree?

 

 If I say “light” am I thinking of an electrical bulb, or of an object that is not “heavy?” “If the word is “desert” does it mean “to abandon” or “a sweet treat?” In Rev. 5:5,

“lion” refers to Christ, but in 1 Pet. 5:8 it refers to Satan. Does it

mean the same in both places?

 

Correct understanding of words depends on two factors:

Words used in translation change meaning over time. Consider

“prevent” (KJV) in 1Thess. 4:15, versus “go before” (NASB, others).

Which is the correct meaning?

 

Two ways to know: Find the true definition of the original Greek word. The word

Paul wrote actually meant “go before” to both Paul and his original readers.

 

Examine the context surrounding the word. In our example,

vs. 16 confirms the meaning “go before.” Both the original

meaning of the word and its context agree.

 

Sometimes translators use only one English word as the

translation for several different Greek words. In the NT there are

several different Greek words, all of which are translated by the

one English word “praise.” (e.g. Jn. 9:24(KJV); Eph. 1:6; Heb. 2:12; 1

Pet. 4:11.)

 

Each word has a different meaning. If the student is not

aware of this, and does not study to see what each word actually

means, the student will not understand what the NT is

communicating to us about the practice of “praise.”

What Is The Literary Context Of Those Words?

 

Individual words and individual verses have meaning only within

their context. Ignoring this had led to virtually all the error and

heresy that exists.

The most important question you can ask: “What is the point?”

What is the author’s train of thought? What did he say before and

after the sentence I’m reading? How does this word or sentence

relate to surrounding words and sentences?

 

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Look carefully and honestly at the exact definition of words, their

grammatical relationship to surrounding sentences; the meaning of

phrases.

 

As important as finding the exact meaning of individual words,

is looking carefully at the context in which those words appear. The

context is the writing that surrounds the word or verses we are

studying. The immediate context is what comes just before and just

after the verse. The remote context ranges from the remainder of the

chapter, to the book, to the whole Scripture.

 

Jn.9:3 says the parents and child in this story had not sinned. So

let’s deal with this statement: “This verse is part of the inspired

Bible and its literal, and plain sense means that these people were

sinless.” Is this really the meaning of Jesus words? It surely appears

to be so. If not, how do we demonstrate it? We can find the answer

by considering:

 

What does the remote context of Scripture teach about human

sinlessness? (e.g. Rom. 3:9-10, 23; 1 Jn. 1:8-10) We learn that

Scripture emphatically declares that all men, without exception,

are sinners. Therefore, we are forced to look for an

interpretation of Jesus’ words that is consistent with this remote

context.

 

We examine the immediate context of this phrase, by asking,

“What question was Jesus answering?” (vs. 2) Were they asking if

the people were sinners? Or were they asking if sin was the

cause of this man’s blindness? Jesus’ statement relates directly

to their question. What does He mean? He means that this

affliction was not caused by these people’s sin.

 

So is there a contradiction between Jesus and Paul, who said,

“all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23)? No,

the meaning of Jesus’ words as per the immediate context, agree

with Paul’s teaching in the remote context. Until one can make

both contexts agree, one must continue to study.

 

In studying Biblical context.

 

1. Think of all possible, legitimate meanings for the verse or

words you are studying. Which meanings present problems of

interpretation?

 

2. Read the verse in its context. Read enough to get the

progress of thoughts or events. Decide what you think is the

basic thought of the whole section.

 

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3. Examine the verse more closely. Are there any connecting

words at the beginning of the verse? (e.g. “Therefore,” “But”

etc.)

 

4. Try to answer the question: “What does this verses mean as

determined by its context?”

 

What Is The Cultural/Historical Context Of Those Words?

 

The Bible was written in a specific historical setting. The meaning

of its words relates directly to the people who first received it, as

they understood the words in their cultural setting. We must try to

find what part of its original historical context is also applicable for

us today.

 

Try this with Deut. 22:5, 8-12.

 How many of us today believe it is sinful for a woman to wear pants, or for a Scotsman to wear a skirt (kilt)?

 

 Who among us owns a house with a “parapet on the roof.”

 

 Do any of our Christian gardeners hesitate to sow our gardens with different kinds of seed?

 

 Should a Christian farmer be careful to not hitch his ox and donkey together?

 

 How many “sinners” do we have among us because of mixing “wool and linen

together?”

 

 And how many Christians have obeyed the command to make tassels on the four corners of our garment?

 

 If we do not take these commands seriously for ourselves, why not?

And if we refuse to take these Divine commands personally, on what basis do we

take other commands personally?

 

What makes the difference? Are we able to figure out which commands are still obligatory and which are not?

 

How many churches reject the requirements of OT law regarding animal sacrifice?

 

 How many of those same churches observe the OT laws requiring tithing?

 How do we know when it is appropriate to reject one command but to obey another?

 

This human, historical, cultural side of the Bible is the reason we must “interpret” it for self and for others. Even though we may know what is the “plain meaning” of certain Scriptures, that “plain meaning” may not at all be applicable to us.

 

So if we have successfully answered the beginning question, “what was the actual word written by the author?”

 

 and if we have discovered “what that word actually meant to those original recipients,” then we must decide if and how the meaning of that exact word might have relevance to us?

 

 

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Part of our answer comes as we try to answer, “why did God say

this to them?” Was there a purely local situation addressed that

required only local application?

 

 Does the same situation exist for us?

 

When removed from its historical and cultural setting, will it retain that same meaning/application?

 

 For example does 1 Cor. 7:26 mean that if we are single, we should remain unmarried?

 

 This is obviously what it meant to the original recipients. But what was

there about their specific historical/cultural circumstance that

made that advice appropriate for them, but inappropriate for us?

 

Even though we may see clearly a command relating to specific

people in specific circumstances, we must not assume that the same

command is binding on all men for all time, regardless of their

circumstances.

 

Every Scripture originated in a geographical, historical, cultural

setting. It automatically reflects the language, customs and social

mores of the time. It is crucial, in many instances, to know

something about this background, in order to make sense of what

we read. If we interpret according to our own culture, we will

frequently misunderstand.

 

Sometimes identical words and statements have different

meanings. In England a man may say a woman is homely by which

he means she is home loving and unpretentious. In America if a

man says a woman is homely he means she is unattractive and

maybe even ugly. In India, saying a man is like an owl is an insult,

because Indian culture interprets this to mean the man is stupid. But

in America saying a man is like an owl is to praise him for his

wisdom. Same word: opposite meanings.

 

Every philologist knows that word meanings change over time.

In 1611, when the King James translation of the Bible was made, the

word “prevent” meant to “precede, to go before.” Today the same

word means to “prohibit or stop.”

 

Thus modern translations are right to reject “prevent” in favor of “precede” in 1 Thess. 4:15 (KJV). “Double portion” (2 Kg. 2:9) most probably refers to inheritance

of the firstborn, rather than “twice as much.” The cultural background

of this phrase (e.g. Deut. 21:17) indicates Elisha wanted to inherit

Elijah’s ministry as a “first-born” son. Thus in our culture this

phrase does not mean the same as it did in the culture which

coined it.

 

The first and primary meaning of any scripture is what it meant to

the people who originally received it. And it may not have the same

 

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meaning or application to us as it did to them. Remember this basic

rule about Biblical interpretation:

 

A text cannot mean now, what it never could have meant to its

author or its original readers.

 

As example, what is the meaning of “that which is perfect” in 1

Cor. 13:10? Does Paul have in mind “the completed New

Testament” as many modern interpreters say? Even though this is a

widely adopted interpretation of these words, this is one thing this

text cannot possibly mean! Neither Paul nor his readers knew a

“New Testament” was in the works.

 

When the Corinthians received this epistle and read this verse, they could not have thought, “Oh, when the New Testament is completed, then prophecy and

tongues will cease.” Such an interpretation would make zero sense

to them. For that reason (as well as others), “that which is perfect”

cannot refer to “the completed New Testament.”

 

What does it mean to “take up our cross daily” and follow Jesus,

Lk. 9:23? What did it mean to the people who first heard it? They

were familiar with the practice of requiring a condemned criminal

to carry his own cross to the place of execution. Those people

understood Jesus was saying that those who follow Him must die

to their personal agendas and preferences every day. In some cases

they would face actual physical death for His sake. We are obligated

to interpret according to this original meaning.

 

Therefore it is a

misuse of this Scripture for us to refer to enduring difficult

situations and difficult people, as “this is just my cross to bear.”

Such an idea would not, and could not have occurred to the people

who first received this saying. Therefore it cannot mean that.

What Geographical Elements Might Be Important In

Understanding This Text?

 

Joel 2:23 promises “the former rain and the latter rain.” A modern

religious movement sprang up called the “Latter Rain Movement,”

claiming to be the fulfillment of this prophecy.

 

In Israel there were

two main rainy seasons: the “early rain” at the time of crop sowing

and the “latter rain” near the end of the growing season as crops

matured. God was promising to bless them by sending real rain to

bless their crops, both at the “early” time of sowing and “later” as

 

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the crops matured. God was not promising to send the Holy Spirit

at two different historical periods. And in this Scripture God was

not promising anything to us.

 

To apply this Scripture to us is a

misuse of Scripture. To apply this Scripture to the sending of the

Holy Spirit is to spiritualize it without warrant. This Scripture has

nothing at all to do with some conjectured “latter day out-pouring

of God’s Spirit.”

 

What social customs are important in understanding this text?

Jesus washes His disciple’s feet (Jn. 13:3-5) and asks if they

understood what He had done, (vs. 12). Then He tells them to do

the same (vs. 14-15). Does this text apply to us?

 

 If so, how? In that culture people traveled mostly by foot and with shoes that were

more like sandals. Their feet became very dirty when they traveled

from place to place. Their cultural practice was for a household

servant to wash the feet of visiting guests. Jesus would not be

expected to wash their feet because He is “Teacher and Lord” (vs.

13). We have no such practice because we have no such need. But if

we can discover the principle, we can make an application.

 

Jesus says He did this to give us an “example” (vs. 15). If He is

“Lord…” yet takes the place of a servant to wash their feet, they

should be willing to be servants to each other whatever the need

may be.

 

 The principle is “serve one another with humility.” So we do

not literally “wash one another’s feet” because doing so has no

meaning for us. But if we practice the principle of serving each other

in humility, we follow Jesus’ example, and His teaching.

Does the passage truly speak to our present situation?

 

A given passage may be very clear and precise in its meaning

and application to its original cultural context, yet its particulars

may have no application at all to our modern culture. One of the

best examples of this is found in the controversy in the first century

church over whether Gentile converts must be circumcised in order

to be fully accepted into Christian fellowship.

 

Acts 15:19-29

contains the conclusion reached by the church council. It consists

of:

 

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1. A statement of the requirements to be made of Gentile saints.

They are to avoid things sacrificed to idols, and from blood and

from things strangled and from fornication (vs.20, 29).

 

2. A specific reason stated for these requirements. “Moses from

ancient generations has in every city those who preach him, since he is

read in the synagogues every Sabbath” (vs. 21).

 

It is clear from this text that the specific reason for these

requirements is that Gentile saints were surrounded by Jewish

saints whose dedication to Moses’ writings would not allow them

to conscientiously eat things sacrificed to idols, or things strangled,

or meat with blood in it.

 

 If these Gentile saints had not been thus

surrounded by Jewish saints, no such prohibitions would have

been made. Eating blood, things strangled, and meat offered to

idols are not modern ethical problems because Moses’ law is no

longer determinative for Christians, and both Jew and Gentile

Christians understand that those OT prohibitions have been

nullified.

 

 Since today in our culture, we will not offend a Jewish

saint by eating blood or things strangled or meat offered to idols

we are free to do so.

 

 The situation that required those original prohibitions no longer exists therefore the prohibitions are not valid.

 

Thus a specific “commandment” to Gentile Christians to not

eat blood is not a commandment we take seriously because its

purely cultural setting is so far removed from our own.

 

We perhaps should add that the restriction against “fornication”

remains valid in whatever specific form it is applicable to our

culture, simply because God’s condemnation of “fornication” is

cross-cultural and not historically peculiar.

 

 In the Acts 15 passage

the “fornication” involved was doubtless that of Gentiles using

temple prostitutes.

 

 It is the same problem Paul addressed in 1 Cor.

6:15, 16. Neither passage addresses any specific sexual issue because

the word “fornication” does not do so.

 

 The word itself is a generic word describing any forbidden sexual activity. It must be clarified by its context in order to have any specific meaning. While it is true

that all forbidden sexual activity is included in this word,

 

nevertheless in its Acts 15 context it has specific meaning and

application to idol worship, as is obvious from its connection with

eating meat sacrificed to idols and eating blood. Thus Acts 15

forbids Gentiles from deliberately harming the consciences of

Jewish brethren by eating blood, and from having sexual

 

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intercourse with pagan temple prostitutes.

 

 In neither case do we take this passage as specifically applicable to us today.

Finding The Historical Context Think as you read: “What was the situation in the church or in Israel, among those people” that accounts for the precise words of my

subject text?

 

What was the situation in the city, or in the nation?”

 

“What was the political situation?” What historical era does the book

deal with?

 

True interpretation of individual verses in Scripture must

harmonize with the entire Biblical revelation.

 

 If one’s interpretation of a Scripture contradicts other Scriptures, one’s interpretation is wrong.

 

 The Holy Spirit does not contradict Himself.

 

Reading the Bible through on a regular basis will give a good

foundation for avoiding the mistake of drawing conclusions from a

limited perspective.

 

As example, Paul writes “I bow my knees before

the Father” (Eph. 3:14). Thus we have “Apostolic authority,”

witnessed to by inspired Scripture, that bowing the knees in prayer

is Biblical.

 

But this does not mean kneeling is the only acceptable

posture for prayer because other Scriptures authorize prayer while

raising hands, standing, or lying prostrate.

 

Heresies and false doctrine appear to have Biblical support

because their promoters use only the verses that appear to teach their doctrine while ignoring others.

 

 If a verse seems to give new and great revelation one must resist adopting such new

“revelation” until one has thoroughly compared it with the rest of

what Scripture says.

 

What was once binding upon God’s people may not necessarily

be binding today. For example, Scripture shows that God

commanded His people to not eat pork.

 

But other Scriptures show that God Himself lifted that restriction. So it is actually unbiblical for people to attempt to please God by observing this or other Biblical

food laws.

 

Some Biblical mandates have remained basically in force while

having been altered in their specific form.

 

For example, Saturday

Sabbath keeping is practiced today by sincere people who get their

“authority” in the OT law for Israel. But the NT revelation of the

New Covenant, the meaning of Christ’s resurrection, and the

practice of the early church shows the seventh day Sabbath was not

 

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practiced by first century Christians, who rather began gathering

for worship on the first day of the week.

 

Some take the NT alone as modern authority for Christians,

thereby eliminating instrumental music from worship. But this

ignores the harmony between OT & NT and the essential oneness

of God’s revelation. The Bible is not two books; it is one unified

revelation of God’s mind.

 

Using the NT alone, or Gospels alone, or the Epistles alone to

form belief is invalid. Learning the full truth about any Bible

subject requires treating the entire Bible with equal dignity and

respect, and using all of what it says as the mixture from which we

make our final conclusions.

 

The reader should not conclude from our remarks that we think

cultural or historical contexts will settle all questions about Biblical

meaning and present application. But no one should feel they have

done their Biblical research until they have tried their best to

understand Scripture as its original readers must necessarily have

understood it.

 

What it meant to them, is its true meaning. We must

acknowledge that anything written by Paul must necessarily have

meant something specific both to him and his readers. He could not

possibly have written words that meant nothing to himself and he

would not have written nonsense to his readers.

 

Given the tendency of words to change meanings over time,

plus the fact that cultural practices, mores, concepts of good and

bad, etc. also change – sometimes dramatically – we are faced with

the task of uncovering the original setting of all Biblical writings.

 

 If we are unwilling to do the hard work necessary for this we should

withdraw from Biblical study and most definitely we should cease

to pose as teachers of the Bible. Without such hard research we will

be led astray in our own conclusions and we will consequently lead

astray those whom we teach.

 

Do I Have The Courage To Stand Alone If Necessary?

 

Independent and honest research will occasionally turn up

those “rare gems” of truth that runs counter to mainstream

thought.

 

If the new ideas are sufficiently “radical” the discoverer is

faced with the dilemma of fully embracing that truth and risking

ostracism – or worse – or simply keeping it to himself and refusing

to share the truth that would set others free.

 

 The church is eternally

 

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indebted to Martin Luther and other like minded “Reformers” who

saw the “new truth” of salvation by grace and with consummate

courage proclaimed it to all who would listen. And where would

we be if Peter, James, John, Paul and the other first century apostles

and saints had not boldly preached the “Gospel” in the very face of

a dangerous and threatening Jewish court that had already

murdered their Master?

 

Their indomitable courage is the

foundation upon which the whole church rests.

 

Not every truth deserves equal commitment.

 

But a person of integrity must be willing to embrace truth even when it flies in the

face of all they have previously known. They must be willing, at

least for the sake of their own personal integrity, to be honest with

what they find in Scripture.

 

 If circumstances exist that makes it advisable for them to withhold some revelation about their findings because they genuinely feel others “are not able to bear it,” then

they have Jesus as their example (Jn. 16:12). We are never right to

simply stick new ideas in other people’s faces when we know they

have no way to deal with those ideas.

 

 But we are also culpable if

we refuse to use our information to help others who may be open

to it, and who may need it.

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OTHER BOOKS AVAILABLE FROM THE AUTHOR

OF DIVINE SEX:

 

The Royal Law of Liberty, by Darwin Chandler. (Trafford

Publishing, 488 pg; available at trafford.com and

amazon.com). This book cuts the root of all illegitimate

religious rules, bringing true freedom for humans to

enjoy all things good, without shame or guilt. This

lengthy argument establishes the “Law of Love” as the

only religious/spiritual law required of those who desire

to serve God. It's premise is vital to understanding the

necessary basic approach to all moral issues. It does for all

moral issues, what Divine Sex does for specifically sexual

issues.

 

God Is Not a Homophobe, by Philo Thelos. (Trafford

Publishing; available at trafford.com and amazon.com).

God is not a gay-hating Ogre, despite vehement claims by

the church. The Bible in no way condemns homosexuality

as a consensual life-style. This book clears the moral air of

cultic anti-homosexual rhetoric. A must read for all who

care about what the Bible really says – and doesn't say –

about homosexuality.

 

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Batchelor, Edward, ed. Homosexuality and Ethics (The Pilgrim Press).

Blank, Joani, First Person Sexual

Boswell, John, Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality

(Univ. of Chicago Press).

Brawley, Robert, Biblical Ethics and Homosexuality.

Brown, Peter , The Body and Society: Men, Women & Sexual

Renunciation in Early Christianity

Brown and Bohn, Christianity, Patriarchy and Abuse.

Cairncross John, After Polygamy Was Made A Sin

Coleman, Peter, Christian Attitudes Toward Homosexuality,

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Constantine, Larry L. and Joan M., Group Marriage: A Study of

Contemporary Multilateral Marriage.

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DeMartino, Manfred F ed. Human Autoerotic Practices, (NY: Human

Sciences Press, 1979)

Deida, David, Intimate Communion: Awakening Your Sexual Essence

DeLora, Jack and Joan, Intimate Life Styles: Marriage and its

Alternatives

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Dover, Kennet, Greek Homosexuality (Harvard Univ. Press)

Edwards, George, Gay/Lesbian Liberation: A Biblical Perspective.

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(SF: Harper, 1995)

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Hollywood: Wilshire Books, 1965)

Firestone, Shulamith, The Dialectic of Sex (William Morrow and Co.)

Fisher, Helen, Anatomy of Love.

Foxrich, David Ph.D. In Touch For Men.

Francoeur, Anna K and Robert T., Hot And Cool Sex: Cultures in

Conflict.

Francoeur, Anna K and Robert T., The Future of Sexual Relations

Friday, Nancy, The Power of Beauty, (NY: Harper 1996)

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Gould, Terry The Lifestyle: A Look at Erotic Rites.

Hannay, J.B. Sex Symbolism in Religion (2 vols.)

Helminiak, Daniel A., What The Bible Really Says About

Homosexuality.

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Heyn, Dalma, Erotic Silence of the American Wife

Hillel, Rachel, The Redemption of the Feminine Erotic Soul

Hite, Shere, Women in Love: A Cultural Revolution in Progress

Larue, Gerald, Sex and the Bible.

Lawrence, Raymond, Jr.,The Poisoning of Eros

Lee, Philip J., Against the Protestant Gnostics

MacNeill, John, The Church and the Homosexual (Sheed, Andrews

and McMeel, Kansaws City, 1976).

Marotta, Toby, The Politics of Homosexuality (Houghton Mifflin,

Boston)

Masters, Robert Augustus, The Way of the Lover

Mazur, Ronald, The New Intimacy: Open-Ended marriage

Minell Tia, The Ultimate Swinger’s Guide

Muir, Charles and Caroline, I.

Myers, Lonnie and Leggitt, Hunter, “A New View of Adultery”

(Sexual Behavior, Feb. 1972).

Nearing, Ryam , Loving More: The Polyfidelity Primer

Nelson, James B., Body Theology.

–––––––– Embodiment.

–––––––– The Intimate Connection: Male Sexuality, Masculine

Spirituality.

Nelson and Longfellow, Sexuality and The Sacred.

O’Neil, Nena and George, Open Marriage.

Oberholtzer, Dwight, Is Gay Good?

Pagels, Elaine, Adam, Eve and the Serpent

Pittenger, Norman, Making Sexuality Human,

–––––––– Goodness Distorted

–––––––– Unbounded Love

Ramsey, Paul, A Christian Approach to the Question of Sexual Relations

Outside Marriage, (Journal of Religion, vol.XLV, #2 April 1965).

Ranke-Henemann, Uta, Eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven: Women,

Sexuality …

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Reuben, David Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex.

Rhodes, Richard, Making Love-An Erotic Odyssey.

Rimmer, Robert, The Harrad Experiment.

Rogers, C.R., Becoming Partners: Marriage and its Alternatives

(New York: Delacorts, 1972)

Roy, Rustum & Della, Honest Sex.

Russell, Bertrand, Marriage and Morals (NY Bantam, 1959)

Scanzoni, Letha and MollenKott, Virginia, Is The Homosexual My

Neighbor? (Harper & Row)

Scroggs, Robin, The New Testament and Homosexuality.

Small, Dwight, Christian, Celebrate Your Sexuality.

Snaith, Norman ed., Leviticus and Numbers. The Century Bible

(Thomas Nelson)

Soards, Marion, Scripture and Homosexuality: Biblical Authority & the

Church Today (Westminster John Knox)

Stubbs, Kenneth Ray, Women of the Light: The New Sacred Prostitute

(Secret Garden, 1994)

Thomas, Patti, Recreational Sex: An Insiders’ Guide.

Trible, Phyllis, God and the Rhetoric of Sexuality

Walsh, Donald Neale, Conversations With God (Hampton Roads,

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Williamson, Marianne, A Woman’s Worth.

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The Christian Century, Dec. 7, 1979, 1085

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