Wednesday, August 11, 2010

August 11

OT: Nehemiah 1:1-3:14

Ha! Not until I typed that reference did I realize that we were in Nehemiah. Wow. Now I've got to go read my quick intro to Nehemiah.

Psh. Okay, I'm done reading the little page long intro provided by my commentary, and it did nothing to clear up my confusion. It merely said that Ezra and Nehemiah were originally one book, and it gave a little breakdown of the material in Nehemiah. What I want to know, though, is what is Ezra's relationship with Nehemiah? What does this timeline look like? Artaxerxes sends them both (and this, after ordering the original group of exiles to stop building the temple??), but do they know about each other? Who got there first?

I'm so confused.

Anyway, whereas Ezra was a scribe, Nehemiah was a cupbearer. Whereas Ezra's concern was the rebuilding of the temple, Nehemiah's goal was the rebuilding of the outer wall. Both seem zealous for the law and for the Israelite nation. And both encounter local opposition to their rebuilding efforts. Both, however, are very successful, thus far, in their missions.

NT: 1 Cor. 7:1-24

Ahhh, the infamous marriage passage. At least, it was infamous to me as a teenager. I read Paul's advice and wailed, "Noooo! I want to get married!" And I know that it is just "advice," as tomorrow's reading makes clear, but I still was appalled at the idea that it was better for my spiritual life not to marry. And a lot of my thoughts on all that are really associated with tomorrow's reading, so I will wait to discuss them then.

Today's reading, however, focuses on the need for husbands and wives have a healthy relationship:). One thing that bothered me as a teen was the apparent insinuation that the only reason that people should get married was to avoid sexual immorality. And while I'm sure that marriage lessens that temptation, part of me has always thought, "Seriously?? Is that really the main purpose of marriage?? Or is Paul just not a romantic??"

And yet, whatever. I do see the usefulness of marriage in that context. What struck me today, though, was the reciprocity that Paul expects in marriage relationships. Sometimes the idea of "biblical marriage" gets a bad rap for being one-sided. The wives are supposed to submit, the wives are supposed to obey, the husbands are supposed to be the head, and so on. But honestly, that picture is certainly not the full image of biblical marriage. Even the famous submission passage in Ephesians starts with, "Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ" (Eph. 5:21). And in this passage, also, Paul is very "equal opportunity": "The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife's body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband's body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife" (3-4). "In the same way." Paul gives the exact same instructions to both sides, and in no way insinuates that one side has more of an obligation to the other. I have to say, those seem like pretty radical sentiments for an unmarried man living in a deeply patriarchal culture!

I also have to say that actually blogging the Bible in a public forum makes me understand even more that it is a book that is all into the private business of its people. I noted at the time that the Law "intrudes" deeply into the private lives of the Israelites, and I'm seeing the same thing in the NT. Often, my puritanical impulses make me almost embarrassed to blog about our reading b/c it is all about sex! And yet, it's in the Bible! And it was written to be read to mixed audiences. Reading it in that light reminds me that Christianity (and Judaism) are not surface commitments. God wants every part of us, including the most personal aspects of our private lives.

Oh my goodness--I just realized that there is so much more to this passage besides the first nine verses! Verses 10-16 give very interesting instructions about marriage and divorce, particularly concerning relationships with non-Christians. I think Paul's words play in well with what happened at the end of Ezra, except this time, the believing spouses weren't supposed to put away their unbelieving spouses. Instead, they were supposed to stay with them in hopes of bringing them to God. However, if the spouses left, it seems that the believing spouses were free to remarry. It almost seems--and this is going to sound awful--that marriage to non-Christians was not fully legitimate. And again, I know that sounds horrible, but go with the logic of the Bible for a minute. In Ezra, the righteous thing to do was to separate from your pagan spouse. It doesn't even say to divorce them. Maybe divorce was what was assumed, but maybe it was like they didn't even need to divorce them b/c they weren't ever "really" married. And regardless, even if it was divorce, it seems clear that that divorce was "okay," due to the fact that one of the spouses was not a Jew. And in today's reading, Paul does make a similar argument about marriage to non-Christians. I might be wrong, but it kind of seems to me that the believing spouse was free to remarry if the unbelieving spouse left. As in, the laws for normal marriage (10-11) don't apply. Again, though Paul's final instruction is much less harsh than Ezra's, the undertone seems eerily similar.

Well. I just don't know how I feel about all that, and I could very well be completely wrong. That's just what occurred to me today, and my thoughts are truly not inspired by my own preconceptions, but rather are brought about by my interpretation the text itself. I have never thought of marriage between a Christian and a non-Christians (or two non-Christians) as an "illegitimate marriage," and I still don't, honestly. But the text led me down that thought path today. I would love it if someone would talk me out of that interpretation...

Argh. There is so much more to this passage, but I have rambled on so long, that I've got to wrap this up. If anyone does have any comments or questions about verses 17-23, please feel free to jump in. I'd love to discuss them.

Psalm 31: 19-24

In the first half of this psalm, David was in the pit. In the second half, he regains a measure of faith and trusts God to deliver him.

Proverbs 2:14

A proverb against pride and wickedness.


  1. i'm not sure i'm going to be able to talk you out of that nt interpretation, b/c that's EXACTLY how i read it this morning, maybe for the first time ever. a friend has been asking me a lot about this, and so the passage hit me today in the same way you spoke of, that marriage between a believer and a non-believer is only an earthly marriage, not recognized by God? maybe?? hhmm..

  2. Your comments about marriage reflect (some of) my thinking on the modern "gay marriage" issue. You'll rarely, if ever, hear me couch my opposition to that change in Biblical terms. I think a case can be made in terms of history, sociology, law, etc., but today's "civil marriage," with its attendant no-fault divorce and so forth bears little resemblance to the Christian covenant marriage. Abraham Lincoln once famously asked, "how many legs does a dog have, if you call its tail a leg?" The right answer was still four--calling something so doesn't make it so. What we call "marriage" these days is just an especially messy branch of contract law.