Making a financial success of a new book is not an easy business in the age of the internet, especially if you’re writing for a niche market through a small publisher. So I can understand the desire to market your work wherever and whenever you can, milking the social media machine for all its promotional worth.
That being the case, I’m not really against Canon Press making short videos of Rachel Jankovic espousing her gospel of obedience whilst she peels potatoes and answers her scandalizzzed critics. Hey, if I had a new book to promote, I’d love that kind of support from my publisher.
But what should we be making of these videos? How should we react when she derides Beth Moore and the “encroaching feminism” that dares to suggest women can and should preach in the pulpit? Should we be angry, frustrated? Should we watch or boycott? Should we analyse or parody?
Like many of the Old Testament prophets, Isaiah spoke about injustice, calling the people of Israel and Judah to account for their actions and appealing to them to change their ways. And I know it’s a cliché but: many of his words, written hundreds of years ago, are deeply resonant today. Things like ending oppression and showing hospitality to the poor.
The thing is though, many Christians reading this passage would frame themselves as being in Isaiah’s shoes; they would use his words to call non-Christians and other parts of the church to account. Yet there comes a point when you can’t escape the fact that at least some Christians are wrong to claim the moral high ground. At least some Christians must be campaigning for causes which aren’t actually just.
So as I thought about this passage over the last couple of weeks, I began to move away from framing it in terms of “Don’t oppress the poor” (which is good advice any day of the week). Instead, I thought of it in terms of “Don’t engage in wasteful campaigns.”
There are a fair few strange laws concerning sex and marriage in the Old Testament books of law.
Problem is, whilst some Christians see much of the Old Testament as not relevant at all, there are others who tend to look for modern application. And if you’re in this second camp, there are all manner of questions to be answered about which laws describe the past and which prescribe principles for ethical living — and how exactly these translate to the modern day.
My personal belief is that none of the Old Testament laws are either wholly prescriptive or wholly descriptive; I think they all reflect their time (descriptive) and they all have something to teach us (prescriptive). Well, to varying degrees, obviously, but I’m not prepared to write off any of them as wholly irrelevant relics. And maybe you agree or maybe you don’t. Either way, it’s fair to say that some Christians are inclined to interpret prescriptively and when they do, they’re influenced by what each law is actually talking about.
Maybe that seems so obvious it shouldn’t need to be said — of course laws about the priesthood, warfare or slavery are going to be taken less literally than laws about putting up safety rails on a roof or not cursing the deaf. Why? For the simple reason that modern Western societies are structured very differently to ancient Israel.
But here’s the issue: what if there are laws designed for ancient societal structures, but which mainly use timeless language? Laws like that risk being interpreted and applied more literally by modern Christians, when they shouldn’t be.
This is what I think happens with Deuteronomy 22:13-30.
Deuteronomy 22:13-21 is one of the scarier passages for impressionable young Christian women, as it seems to hold up pre-marital sex as a crime punishable by death. Even for married women, such as myself, the passage can be puzzling: hymeneal blood following intercourse is a notoriously unreliable proof of virginity.
Leaving aside the brutal, if not fatal, penalties that women may suffer even today if they lose their virginity in a socially unacceptable manner, T.I.’s attitude is reminiscent of Old Testament times.
Or is it?
CONTENT WARNING for discussion of murder and toxic purity culture.
Deuteronomy 22:13-21 is one of the scarier passages for impressionable young Christian women, as it SEEMS to hold up pre-marital sex as a crime punishable by death. Even for married women, such as myself, the passage can be puzzling: hymeneal blood following intercourse is a notoriously unreliable proof of virginity.
So, do we:
Take Deuteronomy 22:13-21 as nevertheless prohibiting all pre-marital sex,
Write it off as an ancient relic, void of Christian love as we know it, or
Say there’s got to be more here than meets the eye?
(…and marital rape, 1 Corinthians and ‘disciplining your body’. This post is a response to another Christian blogger who I hope you haven’t heard of. I’ve made two videos covering this post on my Facebook: part 1 is here and part 2 is here.)
There is this idea amongst certain Christians, that if a husband feels like sex and his wife is there, then she should habitually allow him to have sex with her even when she doesn’t feel like it. ‘Wives mustn’t deprive their husbands,’ they say, quoting 1 Corinthians chapter 7.
The problem with this kind of teaching is that it normalises prioritisation of the husband’s wants and needs over the the wife’s wants and needs, and it ignores the asymmetry of men’s and women’s bodies.
It’s also not what Paul was saying when he wrote to the church in Corinth. Back then, Christians had this idea that you were more holy if you abstained from sex continuously. But Paul was like, ‘Er, no. Husbands and wives shouldn’t deprive each other except by mutual consent.’
Why did he write that? Because, amongst other reasons, he knew that sex is one of the ways that spouses can celebrate their intimacy together. So unless there’s some adverse circumstance, it doesn’t make sense for couples to continuously abstain from this physical act of mutual affirmation. And I would agree.
That said, you can’t physically affirm someone when you feel that they pressure you, or ignore you, or use you.
And sometimes that’s how wives feel when they’re approached for sex.
What I blog about and what I want to blog about, do not always align.
The Old Testament laws on sex, adultery and rape, particularly those in Deuteronomy 22:13-29, are a sensitive topic to say the least. Whenever I find an angle to write about, my inner caution tends to apply the brakes before my enthusiasm gets to the point of posting.
It’s not that this is a topic to be enthusiastic about, per se. It’s just that, in the last few years, the biblical scholarship I’ve read on these passages has absolutely blown my mind. And the more feminist literature I read (currently working through Jessica Valenti’s The Purity Myth), the more I believe the church needs to re-evaluate its relationship with these verses. Because although these verses are steeped in patriarchy, I’ve come to believe that there’s a lot of good stuff that they can teach us today.
These are the very graphic verses where Jesus talks about …
…cutting off your hand, plucking out your eye, and hell.
I want to talk about this. Not just to understand what the passage might mean but also because I think we should have a feel for how to approach these verses in the first place.
It’s not like they’re the only New Testament verses where Jesus uses this imagery; you’ll find similar in Matthew 5:29-30, right after the verse about how looking at a woman lustfully is adultery. The thing is, no one genuinely believes that men should pluck out their eyes after they lust. So, if we’re ever to going to get traction with the idea that men are responsible for how they look at women, then we also need to reckon with Mark 9:42-49.
What’s more, Mark’s account is longer and lays it on thick with references to the ‘worm that does not die’ and the ‘fire that is not quenched’. Out of the two then, Mark’s rendering of Jesus’ words is the more difficult to tackle.
I reckon one of the biggest chasms between Christian thought and sex-positive thinking comes down to how we understand the word “flesh” in the New Testament. Or in the Greek, σαρξ.
The word appears 147 times and in the NIVUK translation it gets rendered 53 times as either “flesh” or “body”, 23 times as “sinful nature”, and a further 58 times with other meanings, translated either on its own or in conjunction with other words. These uses refer to something associated with humanity or earthliness, ranging from neutral terms like “human ancestry” to loaded terms like “perversion”. (And untranslated 13 times for those who want the maths.)
Of the times that sarx is rendered as flesh or body, the context is often negative, emphasising weakness or mortality.
What’s more, the NIVUK repeatedly translates sarx as ‘flesh’ in Galatians 5. That’s the passage where Paul writes this:
19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. (NIVUK)
Upshot: it’s very, very easy to come away from the New Testament thinking that flesh is bad, bodies are bad, and anything to do physical pleasure is very, very bad. This is particularly the case for Paul, whose letters account for 20 of the 23 times sarx is translated as “sinful nature”.
The book of Daniel often gets cited as the model for Christians to follow because he doesn’t acculturate, famously refusing the king’s food. The thing is, there are people other than Daniel in the Bible who did acculturate and brought God’s salvation and transformation into the world by doing so. (Esther and Joseph being the two leading examples.)
In my last post, I wrote about how the UK and US churches’ use of Daniel to promote non-conformity is problematic; in this post I want to dig deeper into assumptions that underpin our ‘Daniel-only’ models of church.
One of my bugbears about the church in the UK and US, is the strong emphasis of non-conformity.
We’re told to be like Daniel and show our distinctiveness. We have to be bold like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego who would face the fiery furnace sooner than bow down to the Babylonian king. As Paul put it in Romans 12:2, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world.”
This is a short story / sketch based on the events recorded in Luke 2:41-50. It is told from Mary’s point of view. You can read it and/or listen to me reading it here; to save the mp3 file (~15MB), right click on the audio and use “Save As..”):
We went to Jerusalem again this year to celebrate Passover. It was the third time we’ve been able to do so since Joseph and I returned to Galilee, but still it conjured so many emotions for me.
On the one hand it was good to be amongst family and friends, walking with them and seeing the children play together. On the other hand it reminded me of all that I missed during the years we were in Egypt. I heard the young mothers asking questions of the older women, receiving good advice and homely encouragement. It stung to be reminded how I didn’t have that community and I tried so hard not to begrudge them.
Photo credit: Martin Jernberg https://unsplash.com/@martinjernberg
Over the last few years I’ve found that there are some words that I’ve started to use or think about more frequently. They’re little tools, like an adjustable wrench or an alum key, that I never much needed when I was growing up, but are now really handy. Probably because I’m more purposeful and aware when it comes to theological deconstruction and reconstruction.
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