My Thoughts. . .
Thursday, April 8, 2019
One of the problems in studying God’s word is forgetting that it was written primarily by Hebrews living several thousand years ago. They expressed things in their culture, under their laws, circumstances, customs, traditions, conditions, and mind set rather than ours. Sometimes they practiced things which are against the law in our day but not in theirs. One example would be the acceptance and practice of slavery. Even in our time, culture and traditions change. Some expressions I grew up with like jalopy, carbon copy, okidoki, and fiddle sticks are a foreign language to my grandchildren and great grandchildren. Even my spell checker doesn’t recognize some of them! Just twenty to thirty years ago most Christians were horrified hearing someone pray using “you” and “your” rather than “thee, thine, or thou.” Some thought those pronouns bordered on blasphemy! Language and definitions change with time. How many know what “wot” means? It’s in the New Testament portion of the 1611 King James Version!
When Paul wrote about a woman’s role in marriage, we don’t realize how controversial he was being. Both Jesus and Paul were Jews growing up in a Roman controlled world. Romans who occupied Palestine were viewed by Jews. as Simon Zelotes did, which was less than favorable. How long it took him and Matthew to become friends is questionable. There were constant uprisings led by false “messiahs” to rid Palestine of those foreign barbarians.
Although married Roman women had more freedom than their Palestinian counterpart, first century Roman culture was different. Marriage was highly important to the female for she would bear heirs for her husband. Usually the female was quite young, and the male much older. Divorce was not encouraged but frequent. Remarriage was common. Infidelity upon the part of the Roman male was common and expected. Since slavery was legal, and male and female slaves were property, the slave owner had his pick with either one to fulfill his sexual desires. There were harsh laws against the wife having relations with a slave or another man, but very little disapproval of a husband doing so unless his partner was married to another Roman. The reason for the laws restricting a wife is that if a child was born out of wedlock, it was not a Roman citizen and it would not be in her husband’s bloodline nor be part of his legacy.
Men were allowed to practice their religion which usually involved “Vestal Virgins” that were readily available for them at their places of worship. These virgins served the temple for a period of time then were replaced by younger women. Roman culture viewed women, children, and non-Roman citizens as inferior to the Roman male. If you grew up with that view, being taught to love someone who was not your social equal, like a Jew, slave, freeman, or woman, would be difficult to accept or understand (John 13:34-35; Galatians 3:26-28). Even a Roman wife was considered inferior by her husband.
We had a mixture of that belief about women until most of the twentieth century had run out. In 1776 Jefferson wrote “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” Some thought Jefferson was addressing only the male population. Hearts had to change, and it didn’t happen overnight. Before 1920, it was unlawful for a woman to vote. Women who advocated the right were ridiculed, cursed, beaten, and arrested.
Slavery was another thorn in man’s flesh. It was not until 1803 that Denmark became the first to outlaw the importation of slaves into their colonies. England followed in 1807. It spread to the United States a few years later ending with the Civil War. Some don’t realize that we lost 620,000 during the Civil War because our North and South cultures misunderstood the meaning of the words, “We be brethren” (Genesis 13:8). Can you visualize the reaction when that first preacher announced to his audience that slavery was sinful? Did he keep his job? Didn’t Christian schools and colleges have closed doors to integration until the sixties?
Early Christian scholars, like Augustine (354-430) thought marriage was for the explicit purpose of fulfilling “be fruitful and multiple” (Genesis 1:22). Cohabitation to have offspring or to keep from lusting was acceptable because the husband and wife were married. However, Augustine believed that sexual contact beyond that was sinful. If the husband desired to touch his wife, but it was not related to having children, then it was shameful. For the wife to allow him to touch her for those reasons meant she was at fault, not the husband. This was male dominance kicking in! Augustine and other Christian apologists were products of their culture and misunderstanding. Future teachers who were influenced by Augustine’s thoughts developed doctrines on marriage that were not biblical. The influence of those teachers has affected believers for the past seventeen hundred years. Interpretations have been advanced and accepted that ignored scripture in favor of culture, customs, traditions, and changes observed in that societal period. It still happens.
Some cultural things are so ingrained that people would rather fight than fellowship. Culture and the traditional are not sinful IF they are recognized for what they are. It is when they become doctrine that headaches are experienced, and sin begins doing its destructive work (Matthew 15:9). Human beings are flawed, and that condition clouds our vision. The religious division among believers is deplorable but accepted by most. Each division has peculiar beliefs, erecting walls that separate rather than unite. Each believes he is closer to the New Testament example than all others. Few will admit error. For some that admission means destroying the foundation of their truth. Most believe that if all the others would believe and practice what they do, those others would be as right as they are! Sadly, that has become an enslaving lock and chain binding each division, closing the open door to freedom.
What is the answer to this ongoing problem? It seems that all need to understand God’s grace more adequately!