Category: Theology

The Icon of Marriage

The Icon of Marriage

I went to an Orthodox wedding yesterday to celebrate the sacramental marital union of my friend Nathan and his wife Rebecca. Contrary to many Western style weddings, the primary focus of an Orthodox wedding is not on the bride, but on Christ. The bride is not amplified over the groom, but rather the two are liturgically treated in such a way that it becomes difficult to distinguish between the two. This is clearly intentional, as this represents the two “becoming one.”1C.f. Gen 2:24, Mark 10:8

As with any sacrament, the effectiveness of uncreated grace is contingent upon our cooperation (synergy) with God. Just like a baptism without a real death (dying daily21 Cor 15:31) to self cannot save, or a Eucharist without the work of true penitent preparation, so too does the grace within the sacrament of marriage fall by the wayside if we cease our pursuit of Christ, and allow ourselves to be cut off from the lifeblood of the true Vine.3c.f. John 15:5 If we lose sight of Christ in our marriages, then they will inevitably descend to the place of the dead. Sacramental grace fills our being so long as we remain ‘plugged-in’ to Christ, and when we run dry, we need only repent and reconnect ourselves (through confession) to be filled once again. Therefore, we must remain vigilant in marriage, always making sure to keep our lamps lit with the oil of Christ.4c.f. Matt 25:3-4

Marriage is not merely a union of two people, it is a union of three people: Christ, husband, and wife. The married couple is a triangular trinity, having Christ at the top of the triangle. When the husband pursues Christ and His commandment to sacrificially “love his wife as Christ loves the Church,” and when the wife pursues Christ and His commandment to respectfully submit to her husband (not “all things” down to what brand of soda she is allowed to drink, but all that which encourages the ascent of her spiritual life unto salvation), both travel up each side of the triangle, growing closer to both Christ and each other.

As I looked and saw the bride and the groom being crowned, and as I heard the passages of Genesis read,  I heard in my spirit, “Look.” As I looked up and to the left wall, I saw the massive icon of the resurrection.

However, being at a wedding changed the context through which I would have normally looked. All of a sudden, the icon expressed not Christ rescuing Adam and Eve from physical death through His resurrection, but rather Christ lifting husband and wife out of their broken marriage, and uniting them one to another through Himself. I perceived the triangular lines of the image, and how heaven truly reached down as far as the east is from the west in order to lift up our marriages and restore them once again to newness of life in Him.

Whenever our marriages seem to falter because one or both parties have ceased in their pursuit of Christ, may we never forget how Christ is able to resurrect all of that which is dead, including marriage.

From Man to Ox

From Man to Ox

In the narrative of the fourth chapter of Daniel, Nebuchadnezzar says that he built the great house of Babylon by the might of his own power, and for the honor of his own majesty.[1] The text says that when such words were still in Nebuchadnezzar’s mouth, a voice from heaven said the kingdom has departed from him, and that his dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field. Nebuchadnezzar was then humbled and began to eat grass like oxen, as his hair and nails were overgrown. Scholars have pointed out that the idea of the wild man was a common trope in the mythic lore of the ancient Near East, such as the example of Enkidu in the epic of Gilgamesh.[2] In Mesopotamian magico-medical writings, Lambert reveals a similar passage which says, “I am an ox, I do not know the plants I eat.”[3] Additionally, long hair is connected to the multiplicity of sins in such literature.[4]

The narrative in the fourth chapter of Daniel sets forth an important scriptural motif that is repeated elsewhere in the Bible. Earthly kings rise to power over God’s people and set themselves up as gods. As seen in the example of Pharaoh, the pride of such rulers result in the hardening of their hearts and the departure from reason, which then provokes a response from God.[5] The ungodly then affirm the blasphemy, saying things like, “This is the voice of a god and not a man!”[6] and again they cry out, “Who is like unto the beast? Who is able to make war with him?”[7] It is precisely in these moments when God responds dramatically. The lofty and exalted beast is struck down to earth like Lucifer, having his wings torn off,[8] and cursed to a lifetime of groveling on the ground.[9] The beast is then consumed by worms,[10] and thrown into the fire.[11] The humbling of Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel’s narrative reveals how the mighty kingdom of God is destined to conquer and supplant the bestial kingdoms of this earth.

God said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people.”[12] The narrative pattern of the scriptures was always that of the Hebrew people forgetting the Lord and bringing judgment upon themselves for their lack of care for God. It comes as no surprise that such a pattern is expressly prominent within the exilic days of Daniel. The pattern of scripture itself reveals that when man acts like Nebuchadnezzar and puffs up his ego, he truly becomes like the beasts of the field. The entire book of Daniel is a reoccurring picture of the same proverb: “Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”[13] One might read the book of Daniel and think that it is a story merely about the rise and fall of kingdoms aligned against Israel, however, the reality is that God keeps trying to show His own people that it is they who are being humbled through the exile caused by the Babylonian invasion.[14] They are Nebuchadnezzar, and God waits to restore them. In such exile, people will always cry out to God asking why such a thing happened to them, thus God repeatedly shows them the answer to the question. In other words, the book of Daniel is not the story of how many kingdoms rose and fell, it is rather the story of how one kingdom rose to forget the Lord and fell. Yet still, God waits to see repentance.


[1] Daniel 4:30-33.
[2] Hector Avalos. “Nebuchadnezzar’s Affliction: New Mesopotamian Parallels for Daniel 4.” Journal of Biblical Literature 133, no. 3 (2014), p. 497.
[3] W.G. Lambert, “Incantations,” 285.
[4] Avalos, p. 503.
[5] 1 Samuel 6:6.
[6] Acts 12:22.
[7] Revelation 13:4.
[8] Isaiah 14:14-15.
[9] Genesis 3:14.
[10] Acts 12:23.
[11] Revelation 20:10.
[12] Exodus 32:9.
[13] Proverbs 16:18.
[14] Daniel 9.

How Jesus Was Tempted In ‘Every Way’ Like Us

How Jesus Was Tempted In ‘Every Way’ Like Us

Scripture says Jesus was tempted in all points as us, yet without sin (Heb 4:15). This can’t mean that Jesus was tempted by every little thing that tempts us, because some temptations require mental disability (bestiality), other temptations may, when gathered together, be contradictory to experience at the same time (a homosexual man desiring more wives), or impossible altogether (incest without siblings). In other words, sin must be a prerequisite in order to experience certain particular temptations. 

Therefore it must instead refer not to every individual fruit of temptation, but to the three branches that produce them: (1) the lust of the flesh, (2) the lust of the eyes, and (3) the pride of life (1 Jhn 2:16).

We don’t have to speculate how Jesus was tempted, because scripture tells us:

  1. The lust of the flesh is made manifest in the words, “Tell these stones to become bread.” (Mat 4:3)
  2. The lust of the eyes is made manifest in the words, “All these I will give you.” (Mat 4:9)
  3. The pride of life is made manifest in the words, “Throw yourself down, the angels will catch you.” (Mat 4:6)

No sin exists apart from these three types of temptations found in the world. Jesus didn’t have to overcome every expression of lust because he overcame the threefold fullness of temptation itself. Jesus didn’t have to partake of every rotting fruit of pride, because he cut down the tree.

Edom: An Unintentionally Validating Jewish Polemic

Edom: An Unintentionally Validating Jewish Polemic

There has been some confusion regarding the prophetic phrase in Genesis 25:23 which says how “the elder shall serve the younger,” especially since such a concept would have been so foreign to ancient Near Eastern custom (though the providence of God transcends custom).[1] Some might say the reason this was stated was simply because Esau sold his birthright, thus forfeiting his authority to Jacob (though one might also observe a peculiar reference to Joseph, considering he—the younger in Jacob’s family—was eventually served by the elders when he became a leader of Egypt). However, it is particularly interesting how this passage was eventually interpreted by Jews after the rise of Christianity.

The descendants of Esau became known as the Edomites, whereas the descendants of Jacob became the Israelites, and both groups of people saw the other as an enemy.[2] It is also known that the Jews—in a polemical sense—associated Edom with Rome (and subsequently, the Church) during the Middle Ages.[3] Zeitlin writes:

The regular intercalation of the year is to add a second Adar. However the Sanhedrin could not meet on time for fear of the Roman government. However they succeeded in assembling and intercalated the year in the month of Ab. In order to inform their brethren in Babylonia of the intercalation of the year they had to employ a secret code. In this code they employed the term Edom to the Roman Church. They did it in order to conceal and disguise their real persecutor. In applying the term Edom for the Rome Church, which was hateful to them, they had in mind the prophecy of Jeremiah, 49. 17, “And Edom shall be a desolation; every one that passeth by it shall be astonished and shall hiss at all the plagues thereof.”[4]

It is not surprising that the Jews used Edom in a polemical fashion against those whom they perceived to be enemies (especially with the rise of Protestant Zionism in the 19th century),[5] but what is surprising is that a Jewish midrash interprets Genesis 25:23 to be a reference to Jesus Christ.

Ronald Brown did an analysis of the marginal notes on the Genesis Rabbah (MS Paris 149 version),[6] and he found that in reference to Genesis 25:23, the scribe writes how the future descendants of Esau “are to serve Jesus the Nazarene, who is of the descendants of Jacob, the younger.”[7] He goes on to say that because Esau’s descendants were associated with the Romans (“the one shall be stronger than the other”), when Rome embraced Christianity, certain Jews recalled the words “the elder shall serve the younger” (Gen 25:23).[8]

One cannot help but see the irony in a Jewish polemic accidentally validating the very people they sought to discredit.

 


References

[1] John Davis. Paradise to Prison. (Salem: Sheffield Publishing, 1984), p. 232.
[2] Ibid.
[3] S. Zeitlin. “The Origin of the Term Edom for Rome and the Roman Church.” The Jewish Quarterly Review 60, no.  3 (1970), p. 262.
[4] Ibid., p. 263.
[5] Warder Cresson. “Origin of Edom, Babylon, and Rome, or Christianity.” Jewish-History.com. http://www.jewish-history.com/cresson/cresson25.html (accessed July 4, 2017).
[6] Brown notes that it was written by scribe Mordechai ben Isaac, completed in Arles, France, on Feb. 10, 1291.
[7] Ronald N. Brown “‘And the elder shall serve the younger’: a midrash about Jesus.” Harvard Theological Review, vol. 87, no. 3 (1994), p. 365.
[8] Ibid., p. 366.

How Incorporeal Angels can have Corporeal Offspring

How Incorporeal Angels can have Corporeal Offspring

“And it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born unto them, That the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose. And the LORD said, My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh: yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years. There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown. And GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” (Gen 6:1-5)

The Angelic Groom

Referencing the Enochic understanding within Jude 1:6-7 and 2 Pet 2:4,[1] St. Irenaeus accepts the idea that two hundred fallen angels (or “Watchers”) were responsible for introducing much wickedness into the human race, teaching humanity witchcraft and every kind of vanity. The offspring of this union are the giants known as the Nephilim.

“For unlawful unions occurred on earth, as angels united themselves with daughters of men, who bore them sons who, because of their exaggerated height, were called giants. The angels then gave their wives, as gifts, wicked teachings, for they taught them the powers of roots and herbs, of dyeing and cosmetics, and the discovery of precious material, love-potions, hatreds, loves, infatuations, seductions, bonds of witchcraft, and all kinds of divination and idolatry hateful to God. When these entered the world, the things of wickedness over-abounded, while those of righteousness decreased, until judgement came upon the world from God…” –St. Irenaeus of Lyons[2]

The angelic perspective is the majority view of the Church Fathers, and it is found in people like Justin Martyr,[3] Athenagoras,[4] Origen,[5] Clement of Alexandria,[6] Hilary of Poitiers,[7] Tertullian,[8] Eusebius,[9] Ambrose of Milan,[10] Jerome,[11] and Methodius.[12]

However, others like Ephrem the Syrian,[13] John Cassian,[14] John Chrysostom,[15] and Augustine[16] instead taught that the sons of God refer to the lineage of Seth, because angels are incorporeal beings and cannot have bodily relations with humans.

The Conduit Bride

This brings up a dilemma within certain interpretations of the text. Both perspectives raise valid points: Fallen angels had to be part of it, but how ought we to reconcile the idea that angels are incorporeal (which is undisputed in the church fathers), yet affirm the traditional angelic interpretation of the text (which the majority of Christians held)? And if angels really did mate with human women, and if this was truly a major reason why God sent the flood, why do the Nephilim (such as Goliath) still exist even after the flood? The only possibility is that the fallen angels united with women again after the flood. But how? I want to offer an alternative perspective that synthesizes the best of both worlds: I believe it is possible that women offered themselves as sexual conduits for demonic spirits.

Angels are incorporeal, so they cannot literally have physical relations with humans. However, they can certainly unite spiritually with a woman by possessing her, and such a union is so deep it could be considered a kind of marriage (essentially the perverse opposite of a nun being ‘married’ to Christ). Fallen angels can reveal to her the mysteries of the occult, and demonic possession could also have an effect on pregnancy. Scripture testifies of a demoniac with super-human strength (Mar 5:3-4), so it is not a stretch to think someone like Goliath is the result of such a union. This also explains why the Nephilim continued to exist after the flood, since temple prostitution with oracles was commonplace. There may have even been many more giants in the world if such practices did not go hand in hand with child sacrifice.

Therefore, I think this interpretation is interesting and does a good job when it comes to answering the difficulties surrounding the incorporeal nature of angels, but without doing any kind of harm to the other interpretations.


[1] 1 Enoch 6-9.
[2] Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching, 18, 19.
[3] 1 Apology 5.
[4] Plea for the Christians, 24.
[5] Against Celsus, LV.
[6] Miscellanies, 5.1.10
[7] Commentary on Psalm 133:3.
[8] Idolatry 9; Veiling 7.
[9] Preparation, 5:5.
[10] Noah and the Ark 4.8.
[11] Hebrew, 6.4.
[12] Discourse on the Resurrection, III.1.7.
[13] Commentary on Genesis 6.3.1.
[14] Conferences, 8.21.
[15] Homily on Genesis, 22.6-8.
[16] City of God, 15:22-23.

The Nakedness of Noah

The Nakedness of Noah

In Genesis 9:20-23, we are given a narrative that could be considered by some to be scandalous. It tells of one of the most important patriarchs of the Old Testament getting drunk and having his son Ham “look upon his nakedness.” The question is, what exactly does this mean, and what sin did Ham commit? Scholars are divided on the issue for a variety of reasons, and the obscurity of the text certainly does not help. However, the varying interpretations do have reasonable justification for their contrary perspectives, but it does not seem like any of them clear every obscurity within the text.

Voyeurism Theory

Davis does not give much insight into the nakedness of Noah, since he was much more intent on letting readers know the curse of Ham was absolutely not black skin.[1] However, he does remark that he believes Canaan was cursed because he was involved in the act.[2] This means that Davis is most likely assuming what is known as the voyeurism theory, which is the most literal and surface-level of all the perspectives. This theory posits that Ham did nothing more than stare at the exposed body of his naked father.[3] However, this theory is highly criticized because the nature of Ham’s actions does not seem to be enough grounds to justify the extremities of the following curse.[4] Voyeurism also cannot account for the fact that there is no evidence in biblical or ancient near eastern literature that expresses the accidental sight of a naked parent as being a taboo.[5] The text says that Noah saw “what his youngest son had done to him” (Gen 9:24), so it seems unlikely that it was merely a result of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

It is easily argued that “seeing the nakedness of the father” is an idiom for something sexual, because Leviticus (Lev 20:17), as well as Ezekiel (Ezek 16:36-37; 22:10; 23:10, 18, 29) use the phrase explicitly within a sexual context. Thematically, the wine motif is also noteworthy. Not only is wine connected with sexuality in Near Eastern literature,[6] but the only other reference to drunkenness in Genesis occurs with the incestuous relationship between Lot and his daughters (Gen 19:30-38). In Song of Solomon, words like “vineyard” and “wine” are euphemisms (Sng 8:2, 12), so wine is connected to sexuality even in the Bible.

Castration Theory

Attempting to address the shortcomings of voyeurism, the Jewish tradition of Rab proposes the castration theory, which states that Noah was castrated by Ham to usurp his authority.[7] There are a variety of examples of sons castrating their fathers in ancient Near Eastern mythology, so such a concept was not uncommon in this period.[8] Rab believes that castration accounts for why Noah cursed Canaan instead of Ham. Since Noah cursed Ham’s fourth son, it follows that the offence was with regards to preventing Noah from having a fourth son.[9] Even though some say Ham did the castrating, there are others who believe Canaan was responsible by “mischievously looping a cord about his genitals and drawing it tight.”[10] It is said that the main problem with this theory is that it lacks explicit evidence within the text itself.

Paternal-Incest Theory

Others like Samuel suggest the paternal-incest theory, which claims that Ham sodomized Noah.[11] This is taken from the fact that the language is very similar to the account of Shechem’s rape of Dinah (Gen 34:1-2). Thus, Noah realizing what his son had done to him suggests that Noah was a victim in a sexual act. Proponents of this theory point out the relationship between this event and the Genesis account of the fallen angels known as the “sons of God” (Gen 6:1-4). “One story introduces the flood narrative, and the other concludes it.”[12] Thematically, the two stories relate on multiple levels. Not only do both stories involve the flood, this perspective would argue, but both involve unnatural sex. Interestingly, this very event is mentioned in Jude, when using the unnatural sexual lust of the angels to describe the unnatural homosexual lusts common in Sodom and Gomorrah (Jde 1:6-7). This then leads to the person of Lot, who happens to be connected to Sodom and Gomorrah, drunkenness, and the act of paternal incest. Not only that, but the very first sexual transgression mentioned in Leviticus (Lev 18:6-7) is about incest, and it is specifically used as a polemic against the land of Canaan (Lev 18:3).

Maternal-Incest Theory

Scott Hahn suggests what he calls the maternal-incest theory, which proposes that Ham actually has sexual relations with his mother, and not his father. He reasons that Lev 18:7-8 reveals how the “nakedness of your father” refers to the wife of the father, and not the father himself.[13] The reason why he doubts that Ham had sex with his father is because the verbiage in Leviticus 18:22, 20:13 does not line up with what is written in Gen 9:21-23. Therefore, he proposes that Canaan was cursed because he was the illegitimate offspring of the incestuous union.[14]

It is difficult to say which of these are correct, since they all make valid points in certain areas, but nonetheless do not account for every detail. Hahn presents an interesting theory, but it still raises other questions about how it is that Ham could have had sexual relations with his mother. Was she also drunk? Why is she not mentioned in the text? Etc. However, it seems that incest was involved in this story, since Moses is preparing the narrative to eventually contrast his moral laws with the surrounding Canaanite life. To the Hebrews in Moses’ day, the Canaanites were a cursed people, so the Genesis narrative was probably a means to explain why. Granted, Moses could have been a bit clearer.


References

[1] John Davis. Paradise to Prison. (Sheffield Publishing: Salem, Wisconsin, 1984) p. 128-129.
[2] Ibid.
[3] John Bergsma, and Scott Hahn. “Noah’s Nakedness and the Curse on Canaan (Genesis 9:20-27).” Journal of Biblical Literature 124, no. 1 (2005): 26.
[4] Frederick Bassett. “Noah’s Nakedness and the Curse of Canaan, a Case of Incest?” Vetus Testamentum 21, no. 2 (1971): 233.
[5] Bergsma and Hahn, 27.
[6] Ibid., p. 30.
[7] Ibid., p. 28.
[8] Graves and Patai, Hebrew Myths, 122.
[9] Bergsma and Hahn, 28.
[10] Frederick Bassett, 233.
[11] Bergsma and Hahn, 28.
[12] Ibid., p. 30-31.
[13] Ibid., p. 34.
[14] Ibid., p. 35.

Love Keeps No Record of Right

Love Keeps No Record of Right

Jesus said, “Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers!’ (Mat 7:22-23).

The proud are surprised by divine rejection, precisely because they had meticulously kept record of all their good works. It is as if they thought their works made God obligated to accept them. It is as if they believed heaven was their birthright. Their heart’s disposition was always focused on themselves, even when interacting with the needy.

By contrast, the humble are surprised by divine acceptance, but it is because they immediately forgot their works the very moment they were wrought. The humble are predisposed to offer aid simply because compassion moved their hands and feet. Compassion has no internal monologue. There is no inner conflict. There is no counting the cost or analyzing the level of inconvenience. There is only love which has a disposition continually set on others.

Though love certainly keeps no record of wrong (1 Cor 13:5), it also keeps no record of right.

When you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. (Matthew 6:3)

 

On Perfection

On Perfection

There is a lot of misinformation when it comes to understanding the concept of ‘perfection.’ Many people think perfection essentially means you’re God, and capable of creating something ex nihilo.

This is not what perfection means.

“He knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I shall come forth as gold.” (Job 23:10)

Many misunderstand Adam’s state of being in the garden of Eden, and describe Adam as being ‘perfect’ before sinning. This isn’t true. Adam was not perfect, he wasinnocent,’ but ‘untested.’ Perfection is all about being tested and coming out on top.

Can ore become gold without fire? Nobody is born perfect, not even Christ. We say Christ is ‘perfect’ in retrospect. Not because He was born with a divine nature, but because He conquered every type of trial human life has to offer (juxtaposed with Adam’s failure to do so). So the next time you read the scripture which says, “Be ye perfect as your heavenly father is perfect” (Mat 5:28), know that it is attainable.

The way we become perfect is by enduring the fire in the moments we most want to flee, even if we sweat drops of blood. Only then shall we come forth as gold.

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