America is Transitioning. So What?

We all have certain passages that we keep coming back to. The passages that stick in our brain that we just can’t help mulling over. Foundational passages. For me, one of those passages is from Daniel chapter 2. The chapter tells how King Nebuchadnezzar had a dream where he saw a massive statue with a head of gold, arms of silver, a body of bronze, legs of iron, and feet of a mix of iron and clay. King Nebuchadnezzar sees a giant rock hit the statue and it comes crumbling down. Daniel, as it turns out, is the only one who can interpret the dream for him, and Daniel goes on to tell the king how his empire is the empire of gold, and after his will be successive empires until it all crumbles down.

The United States was NOT founded as a Christian nation. Most of the founding fathers were deists, meaning they pictured God as a sort of clockmaker, who once he wound the clock never touched it. Thomas Jefferson edited out all the miracles in his Bible, turning it into basically a book of wise sayings. One of the articles in the 1798 Treaty of Tripoli, which ended the war the American Navy had been fighting against Muslim pirates in the Mediterranean, said:

As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion, as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility of [Muslims]; and as the said States never entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.

Fast-forward 150 years and the United States was no longer at war with Muslim Pirates, but Communist Soviet Union. Without getting into the ins and outs of Communist theory, Communist Russia was staunchly atheist. Because the United States was fighting the Soviets in a Cold War as opposed to a “hot” war, it was fought with things like culture, economics, and religion; not tanks and guns (in political theory this is called soft power over hard power). This meant that the United States had to portray itself as the exact opposite from the Soviets, religion included. The Soviets were the godless horde, so the United States had to be Christian. For the first time ever, the President instituted a National Prayer breakfast, and even more impactful, in 1954 the US added “One Nation, Under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance. In 1955 the US added “In God We Trust” to money. For the first time the United States was portraying itself as Christian: to be a good American, you had to be Christian; to be a good Christian, you had to be American. For the next seventy years, this was largely the status quo.

That status quo is now ending. America is returning to its secular roots. To be a good American, you no longer have to be a Christian. It’s a big shift, to be sure. But how does this shift impact us in 2023? I’d argue, it doesn’t, or at least it shouldn’t. In the movie Men In Black, when Will Smith joins MIB he is told “You are no longer part of the system; you are above the system. Over it. Beyond it.” For us, since we have joined the Kingdom of Jesus, we are no longer a part of the world system. Going back to Daniel 2, Babylon was described as the golden head, yet even the best part of the statue was smashed by the rock, which Daniel goes onto say is the Kingdom of God. it doesn’t matter whether the United States of America is the silver, bronze, iron, or clay part of the statue, it is going to get smashed by God. It is an insignificant worldly kingdom that is going to be smashed by God. It doesn’t matter what is happening in America because for all spiritual intents and purposes, a citizen of God’s Kingdom is no longer American.

Satan wants to divide us—divide and conquer is a tried-and-true strategy. Long ago, the Enemy realized persecution only united God’s people, that’s why I believe that mass style of persecution is never coming back in any global way. Where are the places Christianity is growing fastest? In the Middle East and in China, places of real, actual persecution. And if real persecution does come to America, all the better because then we truly put it on the line for Jesus. But it isn’t. No, the best way to destroy God’s people is from the inside. A house divided cannot stand. Satan wants us to get sucked into fighting over culture wars in America that ultimately don’t matter. It distracts us from the mission we have as God’s Kingdom people—proclaiming his reign and being a tangible manifestation of that reign in our communities.

One of the big culture wars of the 1920s was left-handedness. Some Christians associated being left-handed with practicing witchcraft, evilness. Christians even claimed Satan was left-handed! Here is a chart of left-handedness in the United States over the last 120 years:

The number of left-handed people didn’t magically explode in 1940s America and then plateau. No, the number of left-handed people remained the same; the difference was people were allowed to be lefthanded. It became a non-issue, culturally. A similar thing happened in the 1960s with interracial marriage. Some Christians protested out in the streets saying interracial marriage should remain illegal because it was a sin for the races to mix. Worldly culture doesn’t matter. It has always been fallen; it will always be fallen. Just like with the Men In Black quote, we are beyond the world now. We still live in it, but we must be above it. Does the person believe that Jesus is the Son of God? That he died for us when we were still sinners and rose from the dead, and through Grace undeserved allowed us to be adopted into the Kingdom? And that we are called to go forth and be disciples that make disciples? If yes to all three then it really doesn’t matter what that person thinks otherwise, because anything else we are arguing over isn’t a Kingdom issue, but a left-handed issue.

An Unoffendable Heart: Keeping the Faith in God’s Sovereignty

Things don’t always go the way we plan them. Maybe that house offer didn’t go through. The job you interviewed for never called you back. Your dream school didn’t accept your application. Maybe it’s something even more serious; tragic even. Some may say it’s fate. Simple bad luck perhaps? Someone you know will tell you all things happen for a reason. None of that makes us feel any better in the moment.

Even if we speak the words “God is still working,” it can be hard to truly believe it. And perhaps we don’t even want to speak those words. It’s easy to feel like God let you down. “Where is he? I thought he cared about me. How could he let this happen?” The vision we had for the foreseeable future is thrown for a loop. Now what?

Paul undoubtedly had his life planned out. He was a leading Pharisee; zealous for his faith, even happy to kill those that threatened it. God, however, had other plans for Paul. Not only would he follow the one he once believed to be an enemy, but he would take the saving message of the Messiah to a population that he once saw as lower than dogs…

Paul’s response on the road to Damascus wasn’t a rebellion from the God he thought he knew. To the contrary, from that moment, he became completely obsessed with his Lord. Everyone he encountered was going to hear about Jesus Christ and his kingdom!

Surely from that point on, since he was finally on the right path, everything would be smooth sailing. Both literally and figuratively, that could not have been further from the truth.

But Paul knew that. He had an intimate and deep understanding of Christ’s selflessness and humility, and he knew well the call to share in the suffering of Christ. He wasn’t the exception—the Scriptures are filled with examples of disciples who put it all on the line for their Lord.  

I have a lot to learn from them all…

Toward the end of the book of Acts, Paul is dragged in front of the Roman authorities because of the baseless claims of the Jewish leaders. He is unjustly imprisoned for more than 2 years before his case is even properly heard. Finally, he presents his case to King Agrippa and tells him “To this day I have had the help that comes from God.” (Acts 26:22)

Not only is Paul unoffended by God’s plan for his life, but he also credits God for his constant help and providence!

Festus and Agrippa think he’s crazy, saying “Paul, you are out of your mind!” (Acts 26:24). If God was helping him as he thinks, he wouldn’t have been imprisoned for years and on trial for his life for no good reason. Right? Why didn’t God grant him his freedom?

Freedom from Rome wasn’t God’s goal for Paul, and it wasn’t Paul’s goal either. Paul’s goal was to proclaim Christ wherever God willed. In this case, the mission was to Rome, and to Rome he would go! (Acts 23:11) Paul’s life was now Christ’s life (Galatians 2:20). How God chose to use that life was completely up to God himself. Afterall, “to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).

Paul wasn’t concerned with his physical comfort or happiness. Sometimes it seems this verse in Romans gets twisted in a bid for a “happy ending” in our struggles:

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good…” Romans 8:28

God works all things for our comfort? our happiness? our dreams? No, he works things out for good. The good. His will, which is “good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2).

This is a struggle. We may wrestle with God with fervent prayer over a situation in our lives. We think we know the best outcome in many cases, and perhaps what we think or want does align with God’s plan. But sometimes the good that God has planned is different than what we want. Sometimes the good that God has planned is anything but comfortable.

Not that Paul didn’t ask for deliverance at times. The “thorn in his flesh” is something that he desperately wanted to be freed of. But ultimately, Paul surrenders to God’s will. We may not know exactly what that thorn was, but it’s safe to assume it was uncomfortable and a significant stressor on Paul’s life. But as the Lord told Paul—“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)

Will we keep the faith in those moments? Will we be able to say like Paul that despite our circumstances, God is faithful and he is good? That his grace is sufficient? That it’s when we are weak that we are truly strong?

Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief! (Mark 9:24)

Is my faith based on the circumstances I’m in, or is it based on the God that is sovereign in all circumstances?

It’s reminiscent of a powerful example in the Old Testament. Three young Jewish men, living in Babylonian captivity, refuse to bow down and worship King Nebuchadnezzar’s golden idol. Brought before the king, they are given the chance to relent. If they still refuse, a fiery furnace was ready to cremate the men alive.

That’s a rough circumstance. That’s a test of faith. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego stood firm.

If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” Daniel 3:17-18

“Even if this physical harm comes to us, our God is our God and he is faithful.”

Just like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were saved from the fire in the furnace, we too will be saved from the fire—regardless of our physical circumstances and regardless even of physical harm or death. We’ve already been delivered. The same one who walked in the furnace with those three men is the same one who walked with Paul through his trials and is the same one who walks with you and me. Rest in him, even if…

But I trust in you, O Lord; I say, ‘You are my God.’ My times are in your hand…” Psalm 31:14-15

Being Reclaimed!

He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God…So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” – Acts 1:3,6-8

Have you ever wondered where you fit into the story of the Bible? Has that story seemed disjointed and too complicated to follow? How can I relate to all the wild things we read in the Old Testament? What is God doing right now? 

If so, you’re not alone. Seeing the Bible as a unified story is something I’ve struggled with for a long time. I mean, the New Testament is difficult enough anyway, why try to add the seemingly enormous complexity of the Old Testament to that? 

I’ve recently gone through a study by an author I follow that shed a tremendous light on a significant unifying thread throughout the whole of Scripture—the gospel of God’s Kingdom. 

Let’s start in Acts. Jesus has resurrected from the grave and is about to ascend into Heaven to sit at the right hand of God. He tells his disciples that they will receive the Holy Spirit, and they will be his witnesses in Jerusalem, all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth (Acts 1:8). Highlight that part in your Bibles…

Then the day of Pentecost arrived. A “wind” (which is the Greek equivalent to the Hebrew word “Ruah” meaning spirit, wind, or breath) filled the whole house (Acts 2:2). Divided tongues represented by fire rested on each of the disciples (Acts 2:3), and they began to speak in other languages so that Jews from every nation under heaven could understand them (Acts 2:4-5). They were bewildered because they could understand these men in their own tongues (Acts 2:6). People from Parthia, Media, Elam, Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia, Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt, Libya, Rome, Crete, Arabia—all were amazed and wondered “What does this mean?” (Acts 2:9-12). 

We might ask the same question…

To get the full picture, let’s go back to Genesis.

In the beginning… 

God created the earth and he dwelt with his chosen people in the perfection of the Garden of Eden. Then the people there rebelled and took authority into their own hands. They were banished from the garden. Evil corrupted the population to such a degree that in Genesis 6, God is faced with no choice but to start all over again to establish His Kingdom. He chose a man and his family who he would use to usher that Kingdom into the new world (Genesis 6:1-8). 

When the waters receded, God gave Noah the same commission he had first given Adam and Eve—“Be fruitful and multiply”—and even reminded him that God made man in His image (Genesis 9:1-7). 

But it didn’t take long for things to go awry again. The descendants of Noah’s son Ham are the perpetual antagonists throughout the Old Testament. Ham brought the evil that God wiped out with the flood right back into the new world. Again, this evil culminates into a colossal event that is recorded in Genesis 11—the Tower of Babel. 

The story starts off sounding really quite positive—people from the whole earth had one language and were united in one purpose. Except that purpose was born of the same evil root that caused Adam and Eve to rebel against God—the desire to make a name for themselves instead of living under God’s authority. 

God again is faced with a difficult choice about how to handle the corruption in the human race. He confused their languages and scattered those people all over the face of the earth; exactly what they were trying to avoid (Gen 11:4, 11:8-9).

Genesis 10 is a record of what all those nations and languages were and then Genesis 11 tells how they came to be. Depending on the manuscript, there are 70-72 different nations described in this “Table of Nations” record. 

Right after this account, we have God calling Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3). Just like with Adam and Eve and with Noah, God establishes a covenant with Abraham. He will make him exceedingly fruitful; the father of many nations (Gen 17:4-8). 

So, God divided the nations of the world up and established a new nation just for himself. He didn’t destroy the others like he did in Noah’s day. He disinherited them. He gave them over. But to who? 

When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance, when he divided mankind, he fixed the borders of the peoples according to the number of the sons of God. But the Lord’s portion is his people, Jacob his allotted heritage. – Deuteronomy 32:8-9

He gave the authority of those other nations to other celestial beings, the heavenly hosts. He divided mankind (interestingly the same word used in Acts 2:3) and confused (same word used in Acts 2:6) their languages. But he kept a remnant for Himself. Israel would be HIS inheritance and it started with Abraham. 

But drama unfolds again. The heavenly hosts ruling the nations also rebel against God. Just like Adam and Eve, they wanted to be in the place of God himself, so they seek worship and allegiance. They become the false gods of the nations that we read about throughout the Scripture. 

Paul makes it clear in 1 Corinthians 10:20-22 that the false gods of the world are truly spiritual entities, demons ruling over the world. Paul again in Ephesian 6:12 reminds us that our struggle isn’t physical, but rather against the “cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” 

In the apocalyptic book of Daniel, the archangel Michael is said to be fighting against the prince of Persia and the prince of Greece (Daniel 10:20-21). These aren’t human princes! They are the celestial powers over those nations. 

This was mind-blowing to me. Where did I think the false gods came from before? I guess I thought someone just imagined something and then somehow convinced a lot of people to go along with their imagination. But it’s much more potent than anything we as humans could come up with. So potent that God warned Israel over and over not to be influenced by the other nations of the world and not to follow their gods. 

And beware lest you raise your eyes to heaven, and when you see the sun and the moon and the stars, all the host of heaven, you be drawn away and bow down to them and serve them, things that the Lord your God has allotted to all the peoples under the whole heaven. But the Lord has taken you and brought you out of the iron furnace, out of Egypt, to be a people of his own inheritance, as you are this day. – Deuteronomy 4:19-20

Israel was God’s inheritance. He allotted those celestial beings to the other nations, not to Israel. They were His! 

But alas, Israel was seduced by the gods of the other nations. They worshipped idols (Deuteronomy 29:26) and sacrificed to the false gods (Deuteronomy 32:17). The Old Testament is an awesome epic of the Israel against the nations and God against the false gods. 

What is God to do? He’s dealing with rebellious people and spiritual beings. In Psalm 82, we see God is presiding over his heavenly court. He doesn’t withhold judgment from these spiritual beings (2 Peter 2:4). Because they have revolted against God, he decrees that they will be stripped of their immortality (Psalm 82:6-7). More importantly, it is declared that God will one day re-inherit ALL the nations (Psalm 82:8). He will reunite those who were scattered. 

Seeing the connection yet to our Acts passage?

Remember how many nations are recorded in the Table of Nations in Genesis 10? 

How many disciples does your Bible say Jesus sent out in Luke 10? 

The decision to pick 12 people to be his first disciples was no coincidence. The decision to send out 70-72 disciples wasn’t either. 

This was a rescue mission. This was a RECLAMATION of the scattered nations. Jesus was announcing the coming of God’s Kingdom—reclaiming people under the dominion of the fallen celestial powers and bringing them back under the authority of Almighty God. God was re-inheriting the nations just as he said he would. Isaiah 66 was being fulfilled (Isaiah 66:18-23). All authority in heaven and on earth was being given to Jesus—he was sending his disciples out to all nations to reclaim them for His Kingdom (Matthew 28:18-20). 

The reclamation has begun. God is laying claim on the nations again after handing them over to the heavenly hosts at the Tower of Babel. The gospel of God’s Kingdom is going out. Jesus started it in Mark 1:14-15, passed it on to his disciples, and it continues today!

And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. – Matthew 24:14

Why? Why does God want to re-inherit the nations? So we can all go to Heaven when we die? It’s so much more than that… He wants to deliver us from the dominion of darkness and transfer us to the Kingdom of His Son! (Colossians 1:13). He wants to set us free from the power of the evil one. He wants to break us free from bondage. He loves us so much that he gave his only son in order to accomplish this! Never has John 3:16-17 had so much meaning.

So, what’s happening in Acts? Babel is being reversed!

At the Tower of Babel, the people were dispersed and divided. In Acts 2, these many people are being brought together. Languages were made different and people were confused at the Tower of Babel. Now a miraculous utterance and understanding of different tongues removes that confusion and places a whole new bewilderment on the people. The Spirit of God comes down on them like fire and signals that there’s a new temple and a new Kingdom in place now. 

Jesus said the gospel of the Kingdom would go out from Jerusalem, to Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth. 

Acts is a record of that very thing. 

In the first part of Acts (chapters 2-12), the gospel is being proclaimed to the Jews and in Judea and Samaria. In the second part of Acts (chapters 13-28), the gospel is being proclaimed to the Gentile nations. 

Paul takes the message and heads west, to the end of the earth. In Romans 15:22-24, Paul tells the church there that he will be passing through Rome on his way to Spain. In the Table of Nations, what is the most westward nation recorded? Tarshish. And what is Tarshish today? Spain! Paul is carrying out God’s plan to re-inherit the nations. 

In Romans 11:25-27, Paul says that when the full number of the Gentiles has heard the gospel of the Kingdom and God has reclaimed the nations, then the end will come. All of us who are disciples of Jesus are part of this global reclaiming of the nations that God has been doing since Jesus sent out the 70! 

We are part of Jesus’ promised inheritance. By his blood, he ransomed the people of all nations and is regathering the scattered of Babel (Revelation 5:9, Revelation 7:9). 

“And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.” – Daniel 7:14

Have you pledged allegiance to that Kingdom yet? We have been called to something with glory beyond our full comprehension. We have been called to be a people of his inheritance. To be seated with him in the heavenly places (Ephesians 2:6). We should be shouting this from the rooftops!

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nationa people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” – 1 Peter 2:9-10

How to Read Biblical Prose Discourse

Writers who use a prose discourse style present an argument to their readers in the hope that their response will be a change in behavior and thinking. Prose discourse will often rely on conjunctions to tie ideas together, and in doing so, can bring greater contrast or emphasis to interconnected clauses – or statements. Transition words like “therefore, if/then, because, etc.” get used to emphasize some sort of action, purpose, or consequence, which urges the reader to act. These key words often introduce dependent clauses that otherwise would have little meaning or context by themselves but hold great significance when attached to another statement.

In Ephesians 4, Paul is trying to persuade the Ephesians to unify as one and to grow/mature in Christ as one body. Paul’s desire is for the people to put aside any cultural and ethnic differences that previously acted as a divider, and instead, join one another to build up the body of Christ. Within this chapter, we find that Paul uses prose discourse to incite action and to express the importance of humility and unity in Christ. The below excerpt from Ephesians 4:11-16 provides an example of certain transition words (highlighted below) used to connect ideas together and present a logical flow that gives credence to the arguments being made. 

11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God,  to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children,  tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

In Episode 3 (New Testament Letters: Literary Context), the video explains that the use of transition words isn’t exclusive to connecting ideas in a single chapter of the Bible but can expand to providing transitions between entire sections of the Bible, such as what we see between Ephesians Ch. 1-3 and Ch. 4-6. 

If we really want to have a thorough understanding of what Paul and other Biblical authors were trying to communicate in the New Testament letters, we must have a familiarity with prose discourse, and why they chose to use it. Coupled with an understanding of historical context (Episode 2), we can see that the Bible is still just as relevant to our lives today. 

Here are the three corresponding Bible Project Videos for this week:

How to Read Biblical Poetry

While Poetry is the second biggest category of the biblical genres, it is also the hardest to read for most Christians. One of the hardest things about Biblical poetry is the fact that there is not just one type. Even within the works of the same author (like Solomon) there are dramatically different styles and motifs. For example, while Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon are all attributed to the wise king, they are all distinct in their subject. Another example of different poetic styles in the same work is how the prophets switch between poetry of extreme destruction and extreme redemption in an effort to convince the Israelites to turn back to God. Since this is true within the works of one author, it is especially true across the collection of writings that makes up the Bible. The last distinct type of poetry is Apocalyptic poetry or Apocalyptic literature which consists of Ezekiel, Daniel, Revelation and other sections of other books. Over the course of two millennia this is the literature that has gotten Christians in the most trouble. Around the year 1000, thousands of people flocked to Jerusalem because they thought the end of the world was nigh. Even recently every few years someone will try to line up things happening in our fallen world with signs in Revelation and say the end is nigh. As Christians we should be cautious about making concrete claims, and this is especially true with Apocalyptic Literature. Only the Trinity knows when the Second Coming will be.

Why should we read Poetry? Our God is a God of emotion. God loves us with a depth and breadth that is impossible for us to comprehend. He is also a jealous God. He is also a Wrathful God. He is also a Grieving God. Poetry displays to us just how much God yearns for us to follow him. Poetry shows us how jealous God is when we turn towards the fallen world. Poetry describes God’s anger when we refuse to follow him. Poetry captures the depths of God’s sorrow when we are punished and when he lifts up his Son only the be cast down, only to be raised even higher. Narrative is certainly important in conveying God’s story to us and likewise for us to witness to other people. That is why narrative makes up the majority of Scripture. However, sometimes it is difficult for narrative to capture the emotion of the moment, which is what poetry excels at. Narrative helps us discern to what degree we can, along with help from the Holy Spirit, the mind of God. Poetry on the other hand gives us a glimpse into God’s heart. 

The Bible Project – The Art of Biblical Poetry

Exodus 15:1-21

The Bible Project – Poetic Metaphor

Psalms 69:1-6

Isaiah 17:9-14

The Bible Project – The Book of Psalms

Psalms 2:1-9

Psalms 117

The Bible Project – The Prophets

Jeremiah 1

The Bible Project – The Books of Solomon

Song of Solomon 2

The Bible Project – Apocalyptic Literature

Daniel 7:13-27

How to Read Biblical Narrative

Almost half of the Bible is written in narrative form. So how should we approach this literary style as we meditate on and digest the Word? We hope these videos from the Bible Project and our suggested readings will help!

It’s critical to catch the whole plot of God’s characters. Through the whole plot, we see God’s commitment to use weak people to accomplish big things. The following are two examples. Read just one or both and see how God transforms people and their hearts to use them for His Kingdom. He can do the same with you!

We can watch these characters through the Bible, the choices they make, and the consequences of their choices. “Biblical stories use characters as a mirror so we can see ourselves and discover our own human nature in the reflection.” Biblical writers limit detail of physical characteristics so when they are given, they are critical to the story. For instance, Jacob’s skin is described as smooth (just like his talk!)

  • Genesis 25:24-34
  • Genesis 27:11 (Gen 27:1-31 optional)
  • Genesis 32:24-32 – It is at this point and in the following chapter that we see Jacob seeking God’s blessing and his brother’s forgiveness.
  • The Bible Project – Character

The character and relationship struggles these two have are relatable to the struggles in relationships we have today. We can look at Jacob’s story and see how God is with us in our struggles, even when we are in the wrong. He blesses us, even when we don’t deserve it. Because of this blessing and forgiveness, we know how to seek forgiveness from others.

The setting is where the action took place. The biblical authors use the setting to set up what is going to happen. The settings are used to prepare you for what is going to happen. “Settings evoke memories and emotions because of other stories you know that happened in similar places.” These settings throughout the Bible are used like themes. If we know about Egypt, we can know that bad things happen in Egypt (at least until the upside-down Kingdom is at hand!) We can know that moving eastward seems to be related to exile as moving west (or from the east) is a return to the garden and presence of God.

  • Genesis 12:10 – The start of trouble in Egypt for Abram
  • Genesis 42:1-3 – How the Israelites got to Egypt
  • Deuteronomy 17:16 – Don’t have anything to do with Egypt…
  • 1 Kings 3:1 – Then King Solomon has something to do with Egypt…
  • Matthew 2:13-23 – The tables have turned. Jerusalem becomes Egypt.
  • Hosea 11:1 – Egypt’s role is flipped from a place of pain (slavery) to a place where redemption comes from
  • EAST
  • Genesis 3:23-24, 4:16, 13:11 – Exiled to the east
  • 2 Chronicles 36:15-20 – Exiled to the east again (Babylon)
  • The Bible Project – Setting

“The biblical authors have used character, setting, and plots to create a series of repeated patterns that weave through story after story and bind them all together.” This builds key themes using reoccurring words and images. One such theme that is used throughout the Bible is seeing something desired and then taking it. Then Jesus transforms this, setting his own desires for God’s.

Each of these 4 books, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, are trying to connect Jesus’s story to all the rest of the Bible. The good news is about Jesus’s Kingdom arriving. The story begins with God creating a good world and leaving humans responsible for its care but through them, sin, death, and destruction enter the world. The Gospel brings hope with the Kingdom of God and the Son of God, to restore humanity to its role of ruling the world with God. Jesus invites people to live in a new world, bringing the whole biblical world to its fulfillment. Each book quotes the Old Testament to show that all the stories before pointed to Jesus. All four books show how the life of Jesus leads up to the cross where Jesus is enthroned on the cross. When he is raised from the dead, we are watching the beginning of a new creation. “The Gospel is designed to persuade us to trust and follow Jesus so we can follow Jesus in the new creation He began.” Each book of the Gospel presents the good news of the Kingdom from its author’s unique perspective.

  • Matthew presents Jesus as a greater Moses so he groups Jesus’s teachings into 5 sections, just like in the Torah. It was written primarily for the Jews so Matthew presents Jesus as the Son of David and the Son of Abraham (Matt 1:1). Matthew tells how Christ speaks of “the throne of His glory” (Matt 19:28, 25:31). He refers to Jerusalem as “the holy city” (Matt 4:5). He is speaking to Jews who are anticipating the coming of a new king, and revealing instead the Kingdom of God, also referred to as the Kingdom of Heaven.
  • “Mark presents Jesus as a new start for humanity bringing the mystery of God’s new creation crashing into the present.” Mark writes to the Roman world and very quickly introduces Jesus’s purpose in Mark 1:14-15.
  • “Luke highlights how Jesus is God’s royal servant from Isaiah who brings God’s light to the nations.” He wrote primarily to the Greeks. He presents Jesus as the Servant of the Lord while also being human, sent to accomplish a specific work for God. As the servant of the Lord, Jesus fulfills Messianic prophecies such as Isaiah 42:1-2 and Isaiah 61:1-2 (See Luke 2:32 and Luke 4:16-30). He is the one who speaks the most of Jesus’s childhood, revealing his humanity.
  • “John focuses on Jesus’s claim to be Yahweh, the God of Israel, to do for us what we could never do for ourselves. John defined his purpose in John 20:31, presenting Jesus as the Son of God (Jn 1:34, 49). John defines who Jesus is with the “I am” statements.
  • The Bible Project – The Gospel

“Jesus didn’t tell parables to make everything clear. Rather he wanted to provoke the imagination and invite people to see what God is doing in the world from a new perspective.” These can be read many times with new revelations taken away each time and can be read by multiple people to reveal many different perspectives and insights!

  • Matthew 13:10-17 – The purpose of the parables
  • Matthew 11:25-26 – The truth will be revealed to those who have the faith of children
  • John 12:23-36 – Jesus brought the light, but many did not have eyes to see or ears to hear
  • Matthew 7:7-11 – Seek Him and you will find Him. Bring this desire to your readings of the parables
  • Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23 – The parable of the sower. Which soil are you today? Yesterday?
  • Luke 8:18 – How are you hearing?
  • Isaiah 5:1-7, Matthew 21:33-46 – Parables of a vineyard
  • The Bible Project – The Parables of Jesus

The Parables of Jesus are enough for decades of study just by themselves. Realizing the importance of them is key and how we should apply them. Jesus tells his disciples in Mark 4:13, just after telling them the parable of the sower, that if they don’t understand that one, how will they understand any of them? What do you think that means? Why is that parable so important?

May we all develop eyes to see, ears to hear, hearts to seek, minds to grasp, and faith to grow!

How to Read the Bible

We’re entering into a series on how we should handle that thick book many of us have or that app on our phones. The Bible is a unified story that leads to Jesus–but if you’ve ever tried to sit down and read it from beginning to end, don’t be ashamed if you quickly became overwhelmed. Maybe it didn’t seem very unified. Maybe it was hard to see Jesus in a lot of the Old Testament. You’re not alone.

The Bible is a sophisticated compilation of literature with different styles and objectives. To make it even more difficult: it was written to completely different cultures in completely different languages. We have an uphill battle when trying to read and interpret the Scripture from a modern, English-speaking context. We also have to remember that while the books and letters in the Bible were written for us, they were not written to us. That alone should change how we approach the texts.

The New Testament can be difficult enough, but the Old Testament can feel even more foreign to many of us. Sandra Richter in her book “The Epic of Eden” compares the Old Testament to a messy closet–a jumble of stories that we are somewhat familiar with, but no organization in our minds and no idea what’s on the top shelf or deep in the corners.

Often the discussion arises about whether we should read the Bible literally or not. Or maybe parts of it should be taken literally and parts figuratively? What does reading the Bible “literally” even mean? John Walton (the author of The Lost World of Genesis One, and other “lost world” books) discusses the importance of reading each text in the way that the author intended. In that sense, the whole Bible should be read literally; meaning we discover the original intent of the author. That can be a very complex thing, especially for us reading it from a completely different culture and in a completely different language. Many of the intricate literary devices just don’t translate well. Many of the metaphors are lost. Just the translation process itself involves an “interpretation” that may or may not be what that author intended.

Thankfully we have the Spirit to guide us through. Without him, we couldn’t hope to digest the powerful words that make up the Scriptures. It can be tempting to rely on ourselves and our own understanding at times, and perhaps we even rely too much on the printed <English> words on a page that have been translated and interpreted by men over hundreds and hundreds of years…

The Bible Project has put together a great video series that they call “How to Read the Bible.” We’ll go through each part of this series and hopefully be strengthened in our faith and encouraged to read and digest the Word even more. Each week will have 3-6 short videos and some readings to go along with them. Join in!

  • Bible Project – What is the Bible?
  • Exodus 19:5-6 – A purpose for Israel
  • John 1:1-5 – The Word was with God and the Word was God
  • Mark 1:14-15 – The Kingdom of God is at hand
  • Luke 24:44-49 – The mission launches from Jerusalem to all the nations
  • 1 Peter 2:9-10 – A purpose for us
  • Bible Project – The Story of the Bible
  • Genesis 1:1-2, 26-28 – In the beginning
  • Genesis 11:6-9 – Tower of Babel
  • Genesis 12:1-3 – The promise to Abraham for all
  • Matthew 7:13-14 – The wide gate and the narrow gate
  • Acts 1:6-8 – The mission is given, be fruitful and multiply
  • Acts 2:1-13 – The multiple languages of Babel is reversed! Reunification under Christ
  • Rev 21:3-8 – God dwells with man again

Becoming One

I’ve been studying quite a bit on marriage lately. Much of this post I learned by going through an extensive series on marriage/divorce/remarriage delivered by the After Class Podcast. These brothers in Christ are such a great resource. I highly recommend you listen to this 8-episode series. (After Class Podcast: 4.36 – Marriage – Part 1 (

Recently, I wrote a social media post inviting discussion on the differences between “legal wedlock” and wedlock in the eyes of God. This was prompted by a discussion on the guilt and stigma often associated with couples who get pregnant before they officially walk down the aisle. My belief is in these cases, assuming no adultery or porneia (more on that word later), that couple has entered into a union of one flesh that is in keeping with God’s good design. All the other things we typically think about with marriage (ceremonies, licenses, rings, etc.) are superfluous to God’s working between the man and woman. Throughout Scripture, sex is defined as the marital act. This is not at all to say that the looseness we see in society is in keeping with that. Abuse of that marital act is where the breakdown occurs (and it is rampant) but adding a ceremony and some paperwork is not the cure. We need a robust understanding of what marriage even is in the eyes of God. Tradition runs deep here, and it’s not always easy to sort out God’s ideas and man’s ideas.

I’m not against weddings or other marriage traditions. I was blessed to be a groomsman in some dear friends’ wedding several weeks ago, and I’m going to another wedding today! Jesus’ first miracle was at a wedding feast. A marriage is something to celebrate! But the events around a marriage should be to celebrate what God is doing. The ceremony doesn’t make the marriage. The preacher’s words don’t bring the two into one. The government’s paperwork isn’t filed in Heaven. To allow our government (dare I say even our religious organizations) to have the ultimate authority on what we consider “marriage” through licenses and other official documentation, are we not taking away God’s ultimate authority in the one flesh union that he has been overseeing since the Garden of Eden? This is God’s institution. We didn’t invent it. Malachi 2:15 says: “Did [God] not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union?” Jesus echoes this in Matthew 19:6: “What God has joined together, let not man separate.” It’s not what man has joined together. It’s not what our government says is joined together. It’s what God has joined together.

This is all written with the believer in mind. The world will do what the world wants to do. I don’t put much stock into what my country or state calls marriage. That ultimately has no bearing on me or God’s Kingdom. But, throughout history, the world has contaminated the hearts and minds of God’s people and led us astray. As believers, we should always pursue deeper understanding of God’s truths.

In the Beginning…

When Jesus speaks on the topic of marriage, he takes us back to the very beginning, so it’s fitting we start there too. Genesis 2:20-25 paints a beautiful picture of God creating man and woman for each other, they become “one flesh,” and therefore are made husband and wife.

I can’t read Hebrew, but I’ve grown to see how much we miss by only studying our various English translations. The story of Adam and Eve is just one of many examples of that.

I’m sure you’re familiar with the story: God saw that Adam needed a partner in the Garden, so he put him under some divine anesthesia, plucked out a rib, and formed Eve (Gen 2:18-25).

But that version misses so much. First, the name “Adam” is simply a Hebrew word for “human.” So, Adam is just “human” at the start of this story. That’s important. He’s also formed from the ground, or in Hebrew, “adamah.” Then God makes Adam a helper, which better translates to “completer” or “savior.” Also, when our English translations say God took a “rib” from Adam, there is no Hebrew word that means “rib” in that sentence. The word translated to rib is really “sela” and it typically means one of two opposite sides of a building. So, God really separated the human into two separate sides and created man (Ish)and woman (Isha). When Adam wakes up and sees Eve, he utters a beautiful poem:

      “This at last is bone of my bones

      and flesh of my flesh;

      she shall be called Woman,

      because she was taken out of Man.” – Genesis 2:23

He is now half of a whole. She’s bone of his bones, flesh of his flesh.

Doesn’t the next verse make more sense now?

“Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” – Genesis 2:24

Those two halves were always meant to come back together in perfect unity. And how has God divinely ordained that happen? By designing sexual intercourse—a both literal and figurative expression of that new identity.

Inauguration of a Marriage

What initiates a marriage? Is it a ceremony? Vows? Marriage was primarily handled between the families in ancient times, and religious institutions were not even involved in the process. Marriages became marriages when the two were joined together, becoming one flesh through sex. Some cultures even have third-party witnesses to make sure the marriage is consummated! Cultures all over the world have various traditions revolving around marriage. And many harmonize well within God’s design. But how often are we tempted to think that our ideas about something must also be God’s ideas because that’s what we’re comfortable with?

Biblically, how are marriages started? Through the marital act of sex. (By the way, it’s always marital. There is no pre- or extra-marital sex. More on that later…) This marital act literally brings the two halves perfectly together and it figuratively brings those two lives together until death.

Adam and Eve were married. Not by a priest. Not in a church. Not with a ceremony. They were joined together by God and made one flesh through the marital act of intercourse. Isaac and Rebekah’s marriage is also described in this way in Genesis 24:67. Also, Jacob and Leah (and Rachel, and Bilhah, and Zilpah… more on that in a bit). In Deuteronomy 21:10-14, instructions are given for how to treat females from enemy nations taken captive. In the context of taking care of them and giving them a home, they may be taken as a wife (after being allowed to mourn). The phrasing used here is: “After [the mourning period] you may go into her and be her husband she shall be your wife.” (Deut 21:13) Also in Deuteronomy (Deut 25:5-10), instructions are given for how to take care of a widow if she has no sons. Again, as strange as this may seem to us as modern readers, these laws were critical in that culture to ensure the woman was cared for and not forced into desperate situations. The brother of the man is supposed to take her as a wife and produce children for his dead brother. The phrasing? “Her husband’s brother shall go into her and take her as his wife to perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her.” (Deut 25:5)

In God’s design, the one flesh act is the ultimate symbol of unity and should provide a glimpse at the perfect unity between Christ and His church. It’s a bond that can’t be broken during this life. One man. One woman. One flesh. That is the ideal, and that’s why Jesus points to it when questioned about marriage in Matthew 19. Unfortunately, people don’t always follow the ideal path…

Inaugurated but Disrespected

In some cases, marriages are inaugurated, but not recognized. The marital act of sex is so commonly abused. The sacred joining of those two halves into one flesh is initiated with the act of sexual intercourse whether the participants understand the weight of that or not. Is this sacredness always realized? No. Respected? No. Have people throughout history always followed God’s design for this bond? No.

In fact, several laws in Torah were written specifically because of the people’s inability to maintain God’s good design the way he intended. Unfortunately, many of those laws were taken out of context by the religious leaders of Jesus’ day, and even still today.

Some Pharisees come to question Jesus about his understanding of the Mosaic Law for divorce, really intending to test which Rabbinical interpretation he would side with, hoping to stir division and discredit him. This is recorded in Matthew 19:3-12. He responds simply: “Don’t you remember what was said in the beginning? God created them, male and female, and the two will become one flesh. What God has joined together let not man separate.” (Matthew 19:4-6) He reminds them (and us) that if we want to understand God’s plan for marriage, we can’t look at the laws given to govern a fallen people as a baseline (they were referencing Deuteronomy 24:1-4, albeit with poor understanding). Instead, we should go back to the beginning. God’s plan for marriage was perfectly implemented in the Garden.

It bears repeating:

“Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” – Genesis 2:24

But the humans didn’t get to stay in the Garden for long. This is not a perfect world, and we are certainly not a perfect people.

One prominent example of God having to work through imperfect people is Jacob. He is certainly an example where the ideal path of marriage wasn’t followed. And to be fair, not all of that was his fault. That part of the story starts in Genesis 29. Jacob is in love with Laban’s daughter, Rachel—so much so that he agrees to work for Laban for seven years to have her as his wife. When the day finally arrives, Laban pulls a fast one and swaps Leah for Rachel at the last second. Whether Jacob was drunk or if it was just dark and she had on a full burka no one knows, but Jacob didn’t realize the switch until after the one flesh act, the marital act, had already happened. Of course, in the morning, Jacob realizes that he’s with Leah and goes to confront Laban. But not once does Jacob claim that what happened between Leah and him “didn’t count.” He knew they were one flesh and there was no going back. Even though there was no ceremony for Leah, there was no party for Leah’s engagement—Jacob and Leah were husband and wife. He couldn’t give her back after they had sex. But he still loved Rachel. He agrees to work another seven years for her to have her as his wife as well. Was that God’s plan for marriage? No. Just because something is recorded in the Bible doesn’t automatically mean it’s good. I believe it was the After Class Podcast where I heard the phrase “Description does not equal prescription.” In fact, the rest of chapter 29 and into 30 records the intense conflict that came about because of this twisting of God’s good design. Later, a law comes about in Torah to specifically prohibit sisters being taken as wives of the same man (Leviticus 18:18). Even more conflict arises when Leah and Rachel give their servants, Bilhah and Zilpah, to Jacob as wives. But God redeems Jacob’s situation. He becomes the father of the 12 Tribes of Israel. God can still use imperfect people and imperfect conditions.

That’s just one example of polygamy we see in the Bible. Some may be tempted to think that God supports polygamy, but again, description does not equal prescription. God had a perfect plan for a lot of things, and humans have successfully perverted them all. Lamech was the first to abuse marriage with polygamy, and he is not a guy any of us should emulate (Gen 4:19-24). In addition to the conflicts among Jacob’s wives, his grandfather Abraham’s wives also had major conflicts (Genesis 16 and Genesis 21). King David and King Solomon are no stranger to the problems brought about by polygamous lifestyles. Despite a clear law in Torah forbidding Israel’s kings from having multiple wives (Deut 17:17), David and Solomon allowed themselves to be pulled away from God’s plan. These are the most entitled people in the kingdom—if they weren’t allowed to have multiple wives, what should that say about everyone else?

God’s plan was one man, one woman, for life (Gen 2:24). The law of Moses that came later was meant to address the failings of the people in a lot of ways. Sometimes we can read that as if certain things were allowed, but many times the law is addressing how to make the best out of a bad situation when there is a failure—not to facilitate a detour a from God’s design.

But didn’t Solomon also have a bunch of concubines too (1 Kings 11:3)? They weren’t his wives, were they? Turns out a lot of characters in our Bible had concubines (Abraham, Jacob, and Saul to name a few). Concubines were an abuse of the marital act (as were multiple wives in most situations, excepting Deut 25:5-10). Concubines were exploited by the wealthy for sex without giving them the status of wife and the benefits therein. But just because they failed to recognize them as a wife doesn’t mean they were any less “one flesh.” They would be akin to a prostitute, which Paul very clearly states in 1 Corinthians 6:16 that you do in fact become one flesh with them. This sets up the context for 1 Corinthians 7 which is commonly used to talk about “pre-marital sex”…

Marital, Pre-marital, Extra-marital?

In God’s eyes, all sex is marital. There is no such thing as “pre-marital sex.” Jacob was planning on marrying Rachel, but his uncle tricked him, and he unknowingly slept with Leah. This was a marital act. Jacob was then married to Leah. He knows it and accepts it as we discussed before.

The problem is the extensive abuse of the marital act. What we have going on in our world today is “serial polygamy”—a lot of people very loose with sexuality entering into one flesh relationships with many people with no regard for what that bond truly means. Biblically speaking, polygamy is going on all over the US—not just in certain small, isolated communities in southern Utah. But it’s not new to our current time and place.

1 Corinthians 7:2 is sometimes interpreted to be a warning against so-called “pre-marital” sex. But this fails to consider the full historical context of this passage. As stated above, 1 Corinthians 6:16 talks about becoming one flesh with a prostitute. This is the immorality Paul is referring to in 1 Cor 7:2. The Corinthians were constantly confronted with temple prostitution in their culture, and many of them came from that way of life directly. The word translated as “sexual immorality” there is porneia, which typically describes something totally against God’s design (such things as in Leviticus 18 and prostitution). So, Paul is telling them it’s better that they marry so they will not be tempted to visit the temple prostitute.

Even if porneia is translated as “fornication” in some versions of our English Bible, we have to be careful not to read back into the text a modern definition of a word. Just because we can find “pre-marital sex” under the definition of fornication in our dictionary does not mean that’s how authors and readers of the Biblical texts defined those words. When we’re interpreting the Bible, we must remember that none of it was written in English. Translations are never perfect, and vocabulary is relative and contextual. This takes study. This takes research. This takes learning from experts. We must be responsible in how we interpret the text.

The woman Jesus meets at the well in John 4 is also brought up as someone who is in a sexual relationship outside of marriage—and indeed she is, but not because they didn’t walk down the aisle so to speak. This woman has clearly had some struggles in her life, but as God always does, He is looking out for those that are poor in spirit, humble in heart, and truly seeking Him. Jesus points out these struggles not to bring guilt upon her, but to show her that he sees her; that she is not lost on him. Look at John 4:16-18 specifically. Jesus says to her “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband;’ for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” I would previously emphasize “not” in that last part. But it makes more sense to emphasize “your.” He’s talking about her other husbands and then says “the one you have now”—so she has him as a husband, but he’s not her husband because he is supposed to be living as the husband of someone else. This was an adulterous relationship. This reading of the text then is easily aligned with all the other texts we’re discussing.

Speaking of adultery, it’s interesting that even Abimelech, king of the Philistines, knew adultery was wrong. When both Abraham and his son Isaac lied to him about their wives being their sisters (Gen 20:1-18 and Gen 26:6-11), Abimelech was appalled at the predicament he was put in. “What is this you have done to us? One of the people might easily have lain with your wife, and you would have brought guilt upon us.” (Gen 20:10) Abraham also pulled this trick on Pharoah in Gen 12:10-20 who was also sensitive to this sinful act.

So, what are the ramifications of all this? Sex is the marital act. Random hook-ups had (and still have) serious implications. Whether you want/recognize it or not, you now have a spouse. You participated in a marital act. You’ve entered into a bond that only ceases by one thing…

Only One Thing Ends a Marriage: Death

Back to our Matthew 19:3-12 passage. Jesus’s definition for marriage is plainly given here. The Pharisees seemingly want Jesus to rattle off a long list of what “indecencies” would warrant a divorce, citing a “command” of Moses in Deuteronomy 24:1-4.

But is that really the intent behind that passage of Torah?

If she finds no favor in his eyes and a man writes a certificate of divorce…”

This is not a command. It’s not even really a concession. It’s an acknowledgment that humans are broken and are going to do things that go against God’s good design. Much of Torah is all about what has to be done after men have taken matters into their own hands and messed up God’s plans for them. And the consequence for that action of divorce is simple in this passage: If you send her away, and she begins another one-flesh union, she can’t be your wife again. John Nugent refers to this as the “no take backsies” rule.

We also see in Deuteronomy 22:13-21 that a man knew divorce was not an easy option. A man that accuses his new wife of not being a virgin must prove that fact. This suggests “writing a certificate of divorce” is not as simple as it sounds, or else the man accusing his wife of this would just go that route instead of risk being whipped when the woman can prove her virginity after all.

Another passage that some try to use to support divorce as a legitimate way to end a marriage is Exodus 21:7-11. The problem with using this as a passage about divorce is that it is primarily a passage about slavery. This is not the type of slavery we tend to think about in the US—it was a consensual practice to help meet economic needs, and it was strictly regulated. Israel was not meant to be built on slave labor. Men taken as slaves had to be released on the seventh year whether their debt was repaid fully or not (Exodus 21:1-2). Since Israel was a patriarchal society, the men had family land and inheritance that they must take control of. This was not the case for the women; therefore, the rules governing the treatment of women were created to protect them as the more vulnerable of that society—quite a progressive system compared to the world around them.

So, in that Exodus passage, a man may have certain debts that he can only repay by accepting an early dowry for his young daughter. She is essentially taken in under an agreement of betrothal to this family. The person taking the girl in also benefits by being able to ensure that the girl “fits in” with their family and the dowry is less expensive. Now, if she doesn’t fit in, the family would have a lot of incentive to treat her poorly. This law helps prevent that potential abuse. If the man ends up wanting to take her as his wife down the road, that’s great—she’s in the family and cared for. Once she’s a wife, she’s not a slave anymore though (this would be how concubines were treated). If he decides not to take her as his wife, her family can buy her back (she can be redeemed). She can’t be sold off to a foreign people for a profit. If she is to marry the man’s son, she cannot be treated like a slave anymore, but as a daughter. And if the man takes another wife instead of her and she is still living with them (not redeemed), he still must provide for her basic needs, or she is free to go. The Hebrew word that is commonly translated “marital rights” there is “onah,” but this word can also mean oil or shelter. It’s unclear because this is the only time it appears in the Bible. But, if this passage is referring to the man taking an additional wife, it’s a command that she should still be treated equally as a wife (and not receive a “demotion” to slave). Since the man has already departed from God’s design for marriage, if he does begin to treat her as a slave instead of a wife, God steps in to let the woman go free (back to her home) where she can be treated fairly even if she is in a bad position for remarriage. Either way, this law addresses sex slavery and human trafficking. This is meant to protect the weak and the vulnerable—something that God is always doing. This protects women that may find themselves in a situation like Hagar, for instance.

But Jesus does not go down these roads to support the practice of divorce. Jesus paints an extremely high view of marriage and the marital act of sex. He points these Pharisees beyond Moses and takes them back to the very beginning—one man, one woman, for life. The laws came because of men’s hard hearts, but God’s plan was good and perfect right out of the gate. Remember that had it not been for man’s fall, God’s plan was for them to never die in the first place, and they would live with Him forever in perfect peace and unity. That was the ideal—one flesh forever.

But alas, death did enter the world. And that is what separates the God-instituted one-flesh bonds. Paul makes this clear in Romans 7:2-3 and 1 Corinthians 7:39-40. He also has a record of encouraging singleness in these situations as well, perhaps to magnify the sanctity of marriage and the one flesh bond even more. The other interesting thing here is that if a believer is going to pursue a new marriage after the death of their spouse, it should be limited to someone who is also in the Lord.

We as believers should be concerned about displaying the sanctity and purity of marriage. Our marriages are critical to our overall witness for God’s Kingdom to the world around us. Similarly, the Levitical Priests were to be a display of the ideal picture of God’s perfect plan for marriage—knowing that the rest of the nation and world would be distorting that picture to varying degrees. The Priests were only to marry a virgin, and it was a once for life situation. Even though it was acceptable for a widow (or widower) to remarry in the general population, the Priests were explicitly barred from marrying a widow, a divorced woman, or a prostitute (Lev 21:10-15). Are we not all considered priests today (1 Peter 2:9-10)? Perhaps that should further shape how we view marriage…

So, ultimately, Jesus says that divorce is not an option to end a marriage. Jesus’s view of marriage is also recorded in Matthew 5:31-32, Mark 10:2-12, and Luke 16:18. The Mark and Luke passages are quite blunt. A divorce and remarriage equals adultery. End of story. Death is the only thing that ends a marriage. A legal document of divorce does not remove your one flesh bond. And neither, as we’ll discuss below, does an act of adultery.

Didn’t Jesus Give an Exception?

Interestingly, both Matthew passages (Matt 5:31-32, 19:3-12) seem to include an “exception clause.” Both passages have the phrase “except on the ground of sexual immorality.” Was Jesus condoning divorce here? Why did Mark and Luke record it differently? The Greek word in this “exception clause” is porneia. In some English translations, it may read as sexual immorality, marital unfaithfulness, or unchastity. However, just before this part in Matthew 5, Matthew records Jesus’s teaching on adultery (Matt 5:27-28). The Greek word translated to adultery there is moicheia. Matthew is familiar with that word, but he switches to porneia for this so-called “exception clause.” Why does Matthew change terms? Why do some English translations assume he means an act of adultery? What does porneia mean here? What was Jesus really saying? Why do Mark and Luke not include this clause? Seems like it might be an important detail to leave out if it’s the only “way out” of a marriage… Why does Matthew (Matt 15:19) and Mark (Mark 7:21) use porneia and moicheia side by side if they are interchangeable? This takes much consideration, and we should dig deeper than our English translations and modern dictionaries. As is always the case with Scripture, we need to let the context help us understand…

The Jerusalem Council is recorded in Acts 15. The Gentiles were coming to Christ, and the believers of Jewish background were trying to discern exactly how to handle this. Should they all be circumcised? What part of Torah, the law of Moses, should be imposed on them? After much deliberation and with the Holy Spirit’s guidance, a decision was reached. The Gentile believers would have these requirements: abstain from idols, blood, food that had been strangled, and sexual immortality (porneia). These four things came straight from the law of Moses, as Acts 15:21 says: “For from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues.” Abstaining from idols is easy to understand—no one can profess to follow Christ while deliberately worshipping idols. Also, the blood guilt laws were still in effect. The life was in the blood. Food laws were no longer binding (i.e., no “kosher” requirement) except that the animals must be drained of the blood (again back to the blood laws).

What about porneia? If these four requirements came from Moses, where did Moses talk about the term? This is where the Jewish people would have derived their understanding for the word.

The Torah discusses porneia in Leviticus 18 and Leviticus 20 and it covers all sorts of cases of incest, same-sex eroticism, bestiality, and yes, even situations of adultery. Prostitution is later included in this term (1 Cor 6:12-20), and child molestation is easily understood to fall into the spirit of porneia as well.

Maybe the traditional understanding of the “exception clause” is correct, but just not broad enough? However, another important principle of interpreting Scripture is to always use the more clear passages to help discern the less clear passages.

We do have clear passages on this. Luke 16:18 says: “Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.” Mark 10:11-12 says: “And he said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” 1 Corinthians 7:10-11 says: “To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does, she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and the husband should not divorce his wife.”

Let’s dig into Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians a bit more. He specifically says this word is from the Lord. This is supposed to directly reflect Jesus’s teaching, but where is that “exception clause”? It’s plain. Neither the wife nor husband should divorce. Period. The “if she does…” statement also should not be understood as Paul giving his readers a way to work around Jesus’s teaching. The English translation makes it sound like we can disagree with Jesus and have a detour to follow. The Greek there suggests this is someone who is already in that situation. Paul is saying that if that’s the situation you find yourself in, leave the door open for reconciliation. Don’t pursue another one flesh relationship if your spouse is still alive. Isn’t that why we all became disciples in the first place? We should be people that are all about the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18-20).

Porneia can be used more narrowly in some cases and more broadly in others (hence Matthew and Mark using porneia and moicheia side by side). Based on Matthew’s use of the word and the other cross references to this passage/topic, it becomes increasingly clear that this “exception clause” isn’t so much of an exception clause at all. Marriage is for life. Jesus seems to be saying that the only thing that should dissolve a marriage is if it’s a union that was a total aberration to God’s design in the first place. This would call for repentance. This is not Jesus delivering a new exception to the law of Moses—it’s actually keeping the law of Moses. As an (extreme) example, if a 30-year-old man is “married” to a 10-year-old girl and he comes to Christ, it should be obvious that this relationship is something that must end. He is not causing her to commit adultery if she grows up and gets married someday. Mark, Luke, and Paul may suggest that of course ending a “marriage” in that case goes without saying—that was an horrible aberration to God’s design.

Some translations of this so-called “exception clause” muddy the waters further, allowing for even broader interpretation. Versions that read “except for marital unfaithfulness” (like the MEV), could be stretched to mean any sort of unfaithful behavior—not helping around the house, not giving enough attention, not providing sufficiently, etc. Are those things problems? Absolutely! But this is not what Jesus is talking about. There is a way to address those things that all too often goes underutilized, and it’s talked about in Matthew 18:15-20. We as a body of believers should be holding each other accountable.

Important Clarifications

There may also be severe cases where there is violence or other forms of abuse within a marriage. There is nothing that suggests a wife should stay in the house with an abusive husband, or vice versa. The church should also be implementing Matthew 18:15-20 in these cases, as well as bringing in the civil authorities when needed. The discipline of the offending spouse discussed in Matthew 18 must be carried out all the way. If they repent, that is wonderful—that’s the job we all signed up for as disciples. If they don’t, they are then considered an unbeliever. Paul gave very specific instructions on how that situation can be handled in 1 Corinthians 7:12-16. (Jesus never had to talk about this because there were no cases where a believer was married to an unbeliever at the time of his ministry.) The victim of abuse does not have to stay under the same roof as their spouse, but they are still one flesh. Physical separation doesn’t change that. The church should take on the difficult role of helping provide for the victim of this scenario. One day, the offending spouse may opt to end the marriage. Paul says that the believing spouse has no responsibility to keep the unbelieving spouse from pursuing that option and are at that point freed from the marriage. One question that isn’t answered is whether the believing spouse is then free to remarry. We can’t be sure, but it’s possible Paul assumes that the overall teaching is clear enough to suggest that person should remain single (until the death of the spouse breaks that bond). It’s a sacrifice to hold up the sanctity of marriage in such a difficult situation. But we should never encourage someone to remain in the house under threat of violence or abuse. We as the body must step in to help in those situations.

Another way that the sexual act is abused is through situations of rape. There’s an important passage about this in Exodus 22:16-17. Even though it wasn’t a consensual act, it was still an abuse of the marital act. This passage makes clear that because of that, the perpetrator must pay the bride price. And if she is betrothed, the consequences would be even more severe (discussed below). And it’s important to note: The girl has a choice in this situation. Maybe this was just two people who took things too far, but the woman does love the man. She can opt to live as his wife. Her father acts as her representative, and if she doesn’t want to be with this man, she is not bound to him because of this violent act.

Rape is not a true one flesh union. One party is not giving themselves to the other. The perpetrator is effectively using the victim to masturbate. The victim did not inaugurate or initiate any one flesh bond with the attacker. But the attacker took something from the victim. She is now defiled. In the culture of ancient Israel, it will be very economically challenging for her from that point on. Therefore, the attacker, who instigated this marital bond, must pay the dowry, but the woman is free to decide if she wants to be with this person or not.

Ancient Israel and other nations with strong honor-shame cultures also had other ways of dealing with these situations. Just look at how Jacob’s sons dealt with the rape of their sister Dinah in Genesis 34.

In Deuteronomy 22:25-29, more instruction is given for how to deal with those that violate the marital act. If both parties were guilty, capital punishment was invoked. If the rape happened in the country where the betrothed woman could not have summoned help, the man was punished by death. And if a virgin was raped, he had to pay the bride price and assume responsibility for her because of what he took. This sounds unfair to the woman, but it was primarily meant to ensure she was cared for. Also, the Exodus passage later clarifies that her father could step in on her behalf.

Let Not Man Separate

Jesus’s view of marriage is so high that his disciples say (basically) in Matthew 19:10: “Whew, if that’s the level of commitment it takes, it’s better not to marry at all!” The Pharisees are approaching him wondering how many ways someone can get out of a marriage, but Jesus says what God puts together man can’t separate. (Why is it I’ve heard that at every wedding ceremony I’ve ever been to, but am just now realizing the true gravity of that statement? And sadly, how many weddings have that passage recited, but the marriage still ends with the people separating anyway?)

In response to his disciples’ amazement, Jesus affirms that indeed some people have a special gifting to serve God’s Kingdom as singles, but not all. Paul talks about this special gift too in 1 Corinthians 7:6-7,40. But God has a role for the married and the single. In fact, it’s clear in Genesis 2:18 that God gave us marriage for our benefit. He made us, man and woman, as two halves that are meant to come together as a perfect whole.

God’s Grace is Greater

What I’ve written here may be difficult to swallow. You may disagree with some or many of my conclusions. I write this not to bring guilt upon anyone, but to try to help us achieve a greater understanding of God’s good design. That way, even if an individual has not followed through with that design, they can still be a champion of it. We don’t have to “baptize” our past mistakes. God’s capacity for forgiveness is inexhaustible. Let’s accept where we’ve fallen short and pursue God from wherever we find ourselves today.

A legal divorce granted through our government systems does not remove the one flesh bond that couple shares. But, praise God that adultery and divorce are not unforgivable sins. God can redeem imperfect scenarios—he did it repeatedly throughout Scripture. A perfect example of this is the story of Hosea and Gomer. Gomer was a prostitute, but God told Hosea to take her as his wife and love her despite her past. She represented Israel and their adultery with other gods. But God was always ready to redeem them.

We can’t un-ring a bell and we can’t go back in time. If you’ve already entered into a marriage after a divorce, you are now one flesh with the current spouse. The second marriage is as real as the first. Let God redeem that. Honor God through it. Commit to him that this is a bond that is “until death do you part.”

And if you had wild days in college or high school—yes, you abused the marital act. No, you don’t have go back and take them all as your spouse. Recognizing a past fault does not always require that we “fix it.” Many times, there’s nothing we can do. But we move from ignorance in an area to enlightenment, and we grow along the way.

God’s grace is truly amazing. His forgiveness is complete. Our walk with him is all about recognizing our brokenness and submitting to him. We have to come to him as we are and commit to moving forward (1 Cor 7:17-24). Remember the woman caught in adultery (John 8:3-11)? This was an offense punishable by death under Torah. Jesus flips the script. Even a capital offense didn’t garner capital punishment. That grace is offered to you today as well.


This isn’t how many of us have been taught to think about marriage, and it leads to lots of questions. A blog article is hardly adequate to tackle all of this, and especially a blog article written by me, but I do hope this starts a discussion and leads to further study and growth for all of us. Don’t take my word for it. Engage in honest study for yourself. Check out that podcast series or other scholars’ work. Pray for wisdom and understanding.

Grace and Peace.

Who’s In?

As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him. And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” – Matthew 9:9-13

Why were the Pharisees so bothered by Jesus eating with tax collectors and sinners? Because they had a very rigid picture of “who belonged” in the family of God, who fits the mold, and what hurdles someone would have to jump to be included. If Jesus is truly from God, how could he interact with such filth?

This is the picture in their mind:

There’s a very clear picture of who’s in and who’s out. A set list of character traits, traditions and rules to follow. “I’m a believer because I don’t do x, y, and z.” The border to enter this exclusive club gets thicker and higher and more difficult to cross. The Pharisees were experts at maintaining this boundary, but Jesus later reveals that they weren’t even in this so-called circle themselves (Matthew 23:13)!

Jesus refers them to Hosea 6:6 – “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” They would have known the Scriptures like the back of their hand, but it turns out they don’t really *know* them. How much else do they think they know that they really don’t? How much do *I* think I know but really don’t… In Matthew 12:6-7, it’s apparent they still haven’t figured this out.

If Jesus didn’t think like this, then clearly we shouldn’t either. What’s the alternative?

Instead of thinking in terms of who’s in and who’s out, let’s simply consider movement to the center, the very clear center being Jesus Christ.

We could be within those walls we’ve pictured before, but not be moving toward Jesus at all. We could be born into those traditions, following the right rules, and avoiding all the temptations that come our way, but if we’re not pursuing Jesus, moving closer and closer to him, we’re no better than the Pharisees in Matthew 23:13. Would we be any better than Judas…someone in the very inner circle that quite obviously wasn’t moving toward the center.

Who was Matthew? A tax collector. A traitor to his people. He represents the presence of an oppressive military empire. Romans bought out Jewish people to be rulers and tax collectors over their own people as puppets. Jesus calling Matthew goes well beyond religious implications. There are political, social, and and cultural implications here.

Even though Matthew and his friends were far away from Jesus, Jesus’ love and mercy were so compelling that he decided to follow. He drew them in. He invited them.

The Pharisees create an environment where the outsiders aren’t welcome unless they first change. They are making the willpower of people to be the center. It’s about your ability to meet the criteria so you’re in, or a failure to so you’re out. They could claim they are merciful “any time Matthew wants to repent we’ll welcome him with open arms” but the hurdles are so huge, the culture so foreign.

Jesus creates an environment where he moves toward you to compel you to follow. Your identity is in Christ, not your willpower. His grace and mercy reshapes what it means to be a community.

Matthew isn’t going to jump the bounded set boundary. But he follows Jesus.

They know that Jesus doesn’t agree with their life choices, but they are still compelled by him and want to be around him.

Just after this, even John’s disciples come to Jesus asking about why Jesus doesn’t follow the religious traditions of fasting (Matthew 9:14-17). They seem to be thinking “This Jesus is just too lax with all these dinner parties. Shouldn’t he be fasting like the rest of us?” The Pharisees after all did consider Jesus a glutton and a drunkard (Matthew 11:19). If he’s truly devout, if he’s truly the one, why does he behave like this? Even Paul talks about this kind of thinking in his letter to the Colossians about the idea of basically needing to be monks to be true disciples (Col 2:20-23).

John’s disciples are asking the same question as the Pharisees and Jesus’s response is again related to Hosea 6:6. Jesus said there will be a time for fasting, but not now. The Kingdom has come. It’s time to celebrate!

The old way of establishing God’s family is no longer compatible with the Jesus’ bringing the Kingdom. The wineskin and patch are a picture of this new community paradigm. Jesus is redefining the family of God around himself. Identity is not self-centered anymore, it is Christ-centered.

He loves the lost sheep, and he wants them to respond to the invitation to follow him. In this new community, we can celebrate the fact that despite our flaws and our failures, Jesus doesn’t remain distant from us, he moves to the sick, sinners, and those that know they need to be shown forgiveness and mercy. Jesus forms those into a community to celebrate life, joy, forgiveness, the fact that we’re not trapped by old identity.

This Jesus community definition is messy. Think about who else Jesus calls to be in his inner circle (Matthew 10:2-4). Simon the Zealot–the group that dedicated their lives to killing Roman authorities and those who sided with Rome. I’m sure he and Matthew got along just splendidly. Jesus was at the center–moving toward him meant moving closer together themselves. They had to learn to look beyond each other’s individual flaws, perceived qualifications, and their past. Then of course there’s Judas too. He was with Jesus, closer than most, and yet he was moving away from Him the whole time.

Uniformity is not the picture of God’s community of faith. The key is that we’re UNIFIED in the Center, Jesus Christ. May disagree on various things, but are we becoming more generous, loving, merciful, forgiving, and humble? Are we becoming more like Jesus? Are we all moving toward him relative to our individual starting points and are we helping each other make that movement? To think we have to be uniform from the start is to think like the Pharisees. To think like Jesus, we see that we are all in a growth process to look more and more like our Lord as we move toward him.

Now what? Are we resting on the “safe side” of some arbitrary wall of religion or are we truly moving toward the center? Maybe we use the right words, go to all the events, avoid the “big” sins. But are we growing closer to our Lord? Refocus your sights, turn your feet, and let’s really follow Him.

“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” – Colossians 3:1-4

(Adapted from Tim Mackie’s “A Jesus-Centered Community” –

A Life Made New

For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. – 2 Corinthians 5:14-20

This weekend, the minds of Christians are drawn back to an extraordinary time in world history about 2,000 years ago. For a few days, pain beyond imagination was felt–by Jesus and his closest companions. But on that Sunday, all they knew was true joy and hope. The same joy and hope and that we cling to not just today, but everyday.

Does the love of Christ compel you to live for him because he lived, died, and rose for you?

Are you living in the new creation? We are made new in Christ. The old has passed away, the new has come. Don’t cling to your past. It’s dead and it’s gone. Hold on to the newness of life that comes from Christ and his resurrection.

God is not a dictator barking out orders to his creation. He’s a loving Father who sends out ambassadors to deliver this message of reconciliation. He showed his love by sending us the ultimate ambassador in Jesus. But now, he’s sending you and me. We have the honor of being his ambassador. His representatives. He qualifies us for that. What an awesome job opportunity and the best retirement plan imaginable. Be resurrected into that life.

Maybe you don’t feel renewed today. If you have never been renewed, Christ’s invitation is open. He died for all and he rose for all. Paul continues in 2 Corinthians 5:20-21: “We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

In him, we become the righteousness of God. Praise God for that.

God, We thank you for the gift of Jesus–for his life on earth walking among us, his sacrifice to pay the debt of sin for all of us, and his resurrection into new life that you offer to us as well. Lots of people are thinking about the sacrifice and resurrection this weekend, and we thank you for that and we pray that you are moving hearts toward you through that. But may we be people that proclaim the resurrection in just the way we live our normal everyday lives. May we be a walking, talking proclamation of your love and grace when we go to school or work or even just the grocery store. Your love compels us. Lord we want that final resurrection, the fullness of your Kingdom to come right now. We’re ready to be home with you. But until that day, use us. Fill us. Mold us and shape us. May our life be your life. In Jesus name we pray, Amen.