Paul’s Religious Mind Revisited, Part 7

In another essay I began “to consider what I called ‘Paul’s religious mind’ through the lens of Jesus’ teaching” in Matthew 18:15-17 as ballast for my own bias toward mercy.  Originally, I was concerned about Paul’s judgment from a distance of the man who had his father’s wife.  Here is the relevant text in context (1 Corinthians 5:1-5 NET):

It is actually reported that sexual immorality (πορνεία) exists among you, the kind of immorality (πορνεία) that is not permitted even among the Gentiles, so that someone is cohabiting with (ἔχειν, a form of ἔχω; literally, has) his father’s wife.  And you are proud!  Shouldn’t you have been deeply sorrowful instead and removed the one who did this from among you?  For even though I am absent physically, I am present in spirit.  And I have already judged (κέκρικα, a form of κρίνω) the one who did this, just as though I were present.  When you gather together in the name of our Lord Jesus, and I am with you in spirit, along with the power of our Lord Jesus, turn this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.

When I revisited this text and compared it to Jesus’ message to the angel of the church in Thyatira (Revelation 2:18-29) I was more concerned about its impact on the ἐκκλησία, those called by God:[1]

Let’s grant, for the sake of argument, that Paul as an apostle had the authority and God-given wisdom to recognize a weed [Matthew 13:27-30] and uproot it.  Did he have the authority to turn the church of Jesus Christ in Corinth (and any who hear him today) from the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control of the Holy Spirit, and transform them into a paranoid police force?  Rather than knowing no law against loving our neighbor as well as our enemies, does every infraction of any law call us to dam up the fruit of the Holy Spirit?  Must we judge one another constantly lest we be proud for loving one another excessively?

As I began to counter my own bias I assumed that members of Chloe’s household had already taken one or two others to the man who had his father’s wife so that at the testimony of two or three witnesses every matter may be established[2] and that he had refused to listen (παρακούσῃ, a form of παρακούω) to them.[3]  What we have in 1 Corinthians 5:1-5 then is Paul telling it to the church.  I assumed this because I think Paul was writing about the same man in 2 Corinthians 2:5-8 (NET):

But if anyone has caused sadness, he has not saddened me alone, but to some extent (not to exaggerate) he has saddened all of you as well.  This punishment on such an individual by the majority is enough for him, so that now instead you should rather forgive and comfort him.  This will keep him from being overwhelmed by excessive grief to the point of despair.  Therefore I urge you to reaffirm your love for him.

In other words, the man who had his father’s wife listened to the church when he was shunned by the church.  If one doesn’t think the one who caused sadness was the same one who had his father’s wife then 1 Corinthians 5:1-5 would be an example of excommunication rather than shunning.  If he refuses to listen (παρακούσῃ, a form of παρακούω) to the church, treat him like a Gentile or a tax collector (τελώνης),[4] Jesus said.  He was quite clear how to treat Gentiles and tax collectors (Matthew 5:44-48 NET):

But I say to you, love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be like your Father in heaven, since he causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.  For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?  Even the tax collectors (τελῶναι, a form of τελώνης) do the same, don’t they?  And if you only greet your brothers, what more do you do?  Even the Gentiles do the same, don’t they?  So then, be perfect (τέλειοι, a form of τέλειος), as your heavenly Father is perfect (τέλειος).

From the viewpoint of the ἐκκλησία very little has changed except the credence given to what is said or done by the one no longer in good standing.  Those who are led by the Spirit of God don’t think, for instance, “my father’s wife is the girl for me” because so-and-so had his father’s wife.  But the church is comprised of people who are led by the Spirit of God and others who are not, and both real estate and tangible property are at stake.  Paul didn’t differentiate between the ἐκκλησία and the not-for-profit corporations called churches the way I attempt to do.

In his article “Why are priests celibate?” on the U.S. Catholic: Faith in Real Life website Santiago Cortes-Sjoberg wrote:

It was not until the turn of the first millennium that the church started to canonically regulate clerical marriage, mainly in response to clerical abuses and corruption. Of particular concern was the transmission at the death of a clergyman of church property to his wife and children. The Council of Pavia (1018), for example, issued regulations on how to deal with children of clergy, declaring them serfs of the church, unable to be ordained and barring them from inheriting their father’s benefices (income connected to a church office or parish).

In 1075 Pope Gregory VII issued a decree effectively barring married priests from ministry, a discipline formalized by the First Lateran Council in 1123.

I tell you the truth, Jesus continued, whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven, and whatever you release on earth will have been released in heaven.[5]  I’ve quoted from a will have been bound translation of the New Testament though will be bound is just as common.  I’m no Greek scholar but will be bound appears to be the more grammatically correct translation of ἔσται.  The relevant entry on GotQuestions.org quoted will be bound but understood it as will have already been bound: “the syntax of the Greek text makes the meaning clear.  What you bind on earth will have already been bound in heaven.”

I saw a play in Los Angeles about thirty-five years ago based on this verse.  A blind priest on a mission journey baptized a flock of penguins.  God and Satan scrambled to catch up, granting the penguins rational souls so they could be held accountable for their sins and tempting them to sin, respectively.  The penguins got very excited about the command to be fruitful and multiply.  I assume “will have already been bound in heaven” exists as a possible translation to counter extreme views like that play.

Keith Drury in his article posted on The Voice, “Who says what the Bible says? The keys to the kingdom, binding and loosing,” outlines a fairly extensive process for addressing the opposite extreme (though he quoted will be bound) of one individual or even a few gathered in Jesus’ name deciding what has already been bound in heaven.  Mr. Drury begins with a group of four men plus his wife as “spiritual director,” moves to a group of six from his Sunday School class to his Sunday School class as a whole, his pastor, his entire church of 1,500 people, his denomination and finally church tradition—“Christians through history.”  In the Catholic catechism the Pope and the College of Cardinals fill this function.

Along the way Mr. Drury wrote this about small groups in John Wesley’s churches: “They did not have a short prayer and send the member out into the woods to ‘sense from the Holy Spirit’ if they had sinned or not.  They did not even send them off to study the Bible.”  I don’t believe this was meant quite as flippantly as it sounded since he described the four men he consulted first as “experts in the Bible, theology, and philosophy.”  I think Mr. Drury understands that apart from the Holy Spirit and the Bible any triangulation by consensus could be much worse than useless.  So let’s attempt to look at the Bible, led by the Spirit of God.

Jesus Jerusalem Council

Paul

Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have not come to abolish these things but to fulfill them.  I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth pass away not the smallest letter or stroke of a letter will pass from the law until everything takes place.  So anyone who breaks one of the least of these commands and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever obeys them and teaches others to do so will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.  For I tell you, unless your righteousness goes beyond that of the experts in the law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:17-20 (NET)

From the apostles and elders, your brothers, to the Gentile brothers and sisters in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia, greetings!  Since we have heard that some have gone out from among us with no orders from us and have confused you, upsetting your minds by what they said, we have unanimously decided to choose men to send to you along with our dear friends Barnabas and Paul, who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Therefore we are sending Judas and Silas who will tell you these things themselves in person.  For it seemed best to the Holy Spirit and to us not to place any greater burden on you than these necessary rules: that you abstain from meat that has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what has been strangled and from sexual immorality.  If you keep yourselves from doing these things, you will do well.  Farewell.

Acts 15:23b-29 (NET)

For all who have sinned apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law.  For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous before God, but those who do the law will be declared righteous.  For whenever the Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature the things required by the law, these who do not have the law are a law to themselves.  They show that the work of the law is written in their hearts, as their conscience bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or else defend them, on the day when God will judge the secrets of human hearts, according to my gospel through Christ Jesus.

But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast of your relationship to God and know his will and approve the superior things because you receive instruction from the law, and if you are convinced that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, an educator of the senseless, a teacher of little children, because you have in the law the essential features of knowledge and of the truth – therefore you who teach someone else, do you not teach yourself?  You who preach against stealing, do you steal?  You who tell others not to commit adultery, do you commit adultery?  You who abhor idols, do you rob temples?  You who boast in the law dishonor God by transgressing the law!  For just as it is written, “the name of God is being blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”

For circumcision has its value if you practice the law, but if you break the law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision.  Therefore if the uncircumcised man obeys the righteous requirements of the law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision?  And will not the physically uncircumcised man who keeps the law judge you who, despite the written code and circumcision, transgress the law?  For a person is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision something that is outward in the flesh, but someone is a Jew who is one inwardly, and circumcision is of the heart by the Spirit and not by the written code.  This person’s praise is not from people but from God.

Romans 2:12-29 (NET)

It seems fairly clear who had more regard for Jesus’ command not to think that He had come to abolish (καταλῦσαι, a form of καταλύω) the law or the prophets (not to mention more concern for the souls of Gentiles).  The unanimous decision of the church fathers to give Gentiles James’ (Acts 15:13-21) abbreviated version of the law was not presided over by a successor to Peter but by Peter himself.  Yes, Paul instigated the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15:1-3 NET).  Yes, Paul taught the council’s decision for a time (Acts 16:3-5 NET), but ultimately studying the Scriptures (the Old Testament) in the power of the Holy Spirit Paul wrote the letter to believers in Rome.  He said many more things[6] about the law there.  I’ll highlight only two more of them here.

The most direct route to satisfying a hunger and thirst for righteousness, obeying the law in my own strength, is closed (if it was ever actually open after Adam ate the forbidden fruit).  For the lawwas weakened through the flesh…[T]he outlook of the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to the law of God, nor is it able to do so.  Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.[7] The indirect route (1 Peter 1:18-20; John 14:6) was ever the best (Romans 3:19-22 NET).

Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world may be held accountable to God.  For no one is declared righteous before him by the works of the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin.  But now apart from the law the righteousness of God (which is attested by the law and the prophets) has been disclosed – namely, the righteousness of God through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ for all who believe.

My point here is: in the Bible for all who are led by the Spirit of God to see an individual led by the same Spirit to study the Scriptures corrected an erroneous doctrine proposed by the unanimous consensus of church authorities who claimed the imprimatur of the Holy Spirit.  Granted, none of these authorities had access to 1 Corinthians 13, Romans or Galatians.  Their decision became in effect the irritation that formed these pearls in Paul.

I am so proud of myself any time I understand something Paul wrote it’s practically sinful.  I can barely imagine taking the Old Testament, the Gospel and the mess[8] in Corinth and writing these letters by the Holy Spirit for the very first time.  I think of the thirteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians, love – a way that is beyond comparison, as an outline that was fleshed out considerably in Romans, and Galatians seems to assume Romans.  I assume then that they were written in that order though many disagree.  Of course, the Holy Spirit knew the content of all three letters and could have had Paul write them in any order He preferred.

So if Jesus communicated supernaturally through his Spirit to Paul to hand the one who had his father’s wife over to Satan, there is really nothing I can say about that.  My points are all based on the insight that 1 Corinthians 5:1-5 seems contrary to Jesus’ teaching[9] and Paul’s own writing elsewhere (Galatians 6:1-5).  I concede the need for excommunication so that church property doesn’t fall into possession of those not led by the Spirit of God.  I’m not absolutely convinced that outcome has always been the case.  In fact, I’m beginning to wonder if church property, church position and church authority are coveted more by those who live according to the flesh than by those who live according to the Spirit of God (Romans 8:5-14 NET).

There are any number of organizations in the world dedicated to instilling compliance in their members to, and even faith in, various rules and norms.  Some are arguably better at it than churches.  But none of these worldly organizations can offer believers the indwelling Holy Spirit of God, Christ in you, the hope of glory.[10]

[1] Paul’s Religious Mind Revisited, Part 1

[2] Matthew 18:16 (NET)

[3] Matthew 18:17a (NET)

[4] Matthew 18:17b (NET)

[5] Matthew 18:18 (NET)

[6] Romans 3:19-31; Romans 4:13-25; Romans 5:12-21; Romans 6:12-20; Romans 7:1-25; Romans 8:1-11; Romans 9:30-33; Romans 10:1-13; Romans 13:8-10

[7] Romans 8:3, 7, 8 (NET)

[8] It is possible that the situation in Corinth wasn’t quite the “mess” Paul thought it was.  Jesus thought He had many people in this city.  See also: Paul in Corinth

[9] Paul’s Religious Mind; Paul’s Religious Mind Revisited, Part 1

[10] Colossians 1:27b (NET)

My Reasons and My Reason, Part 7

I am persuaded that the primary meaning of πορνεία in the New Testament refers to ancient idolatrous worship practices.  It can be stretched to mean adultery in general (1 Thessalonians 4:3-7 NET):

For this is God’s will: that you become holy, that you keep away from πορνείας (a form of πορνεία), that each of you know how to possess his own body in holiness and honor, not in lustful passion like the Gentiles who do not know God.  In this matter no one should violate the rights of his brother or take advantage of him, because the Lord is the avenger in all these cases, as we also told you earlier and warned you solemnly.  For God did not call us to impurity (ἀκαθαρσία) but in holiness.

At least I hope Paul meant that one should not violate the rights of his brother by committing adultery with his wife, rather than that he should simply pass by her at a cultic festival (though I admit that ἀκαθαρσία sounds a lot like demonic worship here).  Paul may have used πορνεία to mean the list of sins found in Leviticus 18:6-23 (1 Corinthians 5:1 NET):

It is actually reported that πορνεία exists among you, the kind of πορνεία that is not permitted even among the Gentiles, so that someone is cohabiting with (ἔχειν, a form of ἔχω) his father’s wife.

If the man’s father was alive this is simply another instance where Paul used πορνεία for adultery.  (Remember πορνεία was almost the only word Paul had for sin as long as he accepted the gutting of the law at the Jerusalem Council.)  If the man’s father was dead πορνεία meant: You must not have sexual intercourse with your father’s wife; she is your father’s nakedness[1] or, A man may not marry his father’s former wife and in this way dishonor his father.[2]

In contemporary Greek πορνεία translates as prostitution in the headline Παιδική πορνεία.  If I select “Translate this Page” Παιδική πορνεία is rendered “Child prostitution.”

The one thing I am persuaded now that πορνεία does not mean in the New Testament is what two teenagers might do in the backseat of a Chevy on a Friday night.  They are not committing πορνεία but marriage by performing the only wedding ceremony yehôvâh ʼĕlôhı̂ym ever created, authorized or honored: If a man seduces a virgin who is not engaged and has sexual relations with her, he must surely endow her to be his wife.  If her father refuses to give her to him, he must pay money for the bride price of virgins.[3]

When I was young it angered me that God gave such undue authority to an autocratic father.  Now that I know Him better and have lived with, and loved, a daughter, though the autocratic father may always be a possible type, I think the point was to give that authority to the one most attuned to his daughter’s heart on the matter in an uncomfortable social situation.  One reason for rejecting this law is the embarrassment a contemporary person feels over its companion legislation (Deuteronomy 22:28, 29 NET):

Suppose a man comes across a virgin who is not engaged and overpowers and rapes her and they are discovered.  The man who has raped her must pay her father fifty shekels of silver and she must become his wife because he has violated her; he may never divorce her as long as he lives.

A scene in the movie “Fury” cast this legislation in a different light.  In April 1945, days from the end of the war in Europe, First Sergeant Collier—Wardaddy—an American tank commander, spies a woman peeking down at them from an upstairs window in the German town they have just conquered.  Wardaddy calls to Norman, Private Ellison, and the two men, armed with machine guns, head inside and up the stairs.  I have every reason to assume that Wardaddy is continuing Norman’s indoctrination into the ways of war.

Norman, a clerk trained to type 60 words per minute, was assigned to Wardaddy’s tank crew as a replacement assistant driver.  His failure and refusal to pull the trigger endangers the rest of his crew and everyone around him.  Wardaddy has already forced him to kill a German prisoner in a macabre hand-over-hand imitation of a mother teaching a child to form letters with a crayon.  I can only imagine what new lesson Wardaddy has in store for him, though the two German women have no illusions that they are anything to their armed invaders but spoils of war.

Wardaddy puts down his weapon, and tells Norman to do likewise, once he has determined that the two women are the only occupants of the apartment.  It’s a clear sign to the women, beautiful young Emma and her older cousin, that they may survive their ordeal if they comply with Wardaddy’s wishes.

Wardaddy wishes to wash with hot water, shave and eat a fried egg.  Norman plays a piece of sheet music at the piano.  Emma, delighted, sings the song and turns the page for him.  She stops when she notices the scars on Wardaddy’s back.

“She’s a good clean girl,” Wardaddy says to Norman.  “If you don’t take her in that bedroom, I will.”

Emma doesn’t need a translator to know what’s expected of her.  Given the opportunity to choose her rapist, she leads her young accompanist into the bedroom.  Norman retrieves his machine gun on the way.  Emma’s older cousin attempts to follow them, whether to intervene or to serve as a substitute is unclear.  Wardaddy stops her with a gesture and a word in German:

“No.  They’re young and they’re alive.”

As a rapist Norman is patient and gentle as a lover.  He and Emma, representing the human beings least degraded by war, exit that bedroom as husband and wife.  They know it.  Wardaddy knows it.  And so does Emma’s older cousin.  As they sit down to a wedding feast of fried eggs the rest of his tank crew—Coon-Ass, Gordo and Bible—knock at the door, calling for Norman.

Coon-Ass and Gordo have cajoled or coerced a “whore” to “entertain” them, and others, one at a time in the tank downstairs.  They have come to share her with Norman.  I get the impression that if Norman were not already married to Emma, Coon-Ass and Gordo would make it very difficult for him to refuse his share.  But seeing Emma, Coon-Ass in particular, representing the man most degraded by war, wants his share of her.  Now, however, even Coon-Ass isn’t likely to take her without Norman’s acquiescence.

“Don’t touch her!” Norman says with the all the force of a petulant child.

“Anyone touches the girl,” Wardaddy says, putting not only his rank but his personal power and authority on the line, “they get their teeth kicked in.”

Coon-Ass and Gordo are deeply hurt.  Even Bible, though apparently powerful enough in the pecking order to abstain from the women without suffering personal repercussions, is hurt to have been excluded from the wedding feast.  They remind Wardaddy that they have been together, brothers in arms, since the Normandy invasion.  Norman has not.

I suspect that Wardaddy would not have denied his brothers, Coon-Ass and Gordo, if they had gotten to Emma first.  He, as degraded by war as any of them, could not risk his rank, personal power or authority except for Norman’s or, if necessary, his own new bride.

And for those who think it might have been a better film, or Emma might have been a better woman, if she had fought to the death to defend her honor, a stray shell kills her in the next scene.  Norman grieves like a widower, though duty calls and limits his opportunity to do her justice.

If one or both of the teenagers in the Chevy come back Saturday night to perform the same ceremony with different partners, they would be guilty of adultery as long as the other lives.  The point was never to make adultery—or divorce, for that matter—the unpardonable sin.  The point was to get religious people to acknowledge that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.  But they are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.[4]

Other reasons for rejecting the view of marriage described in the law are 1) that a daughter who acted so precipitously may have robbed her father of a better bride price.  Or, 2) in more contemporary terms she may rob herself of a more lucrative match.  And 3) governing bodies, both secular and religious, want to regulate marriage.

Do they have that right (Matthew 16:19; 18:18 NKJV)?

And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.

Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.

This certainly sounds like Peter and James had the authority to gut the law.  Were they the only ones?  In the United States of America a woman is free to couple or uncouple as she pleases because she is “endowed by [her] Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness…”[5]  I often wonder why the lawyers, legal historians, philosophers and ministers who signed the Declaration of Independence didn’t forsee that the pursuit of personal happiness would come to dominate and define both life and liberty.

I’ve been taught to think like John Miller in his March 7, 2015 response to comments and an essay on happiness on blog.dictionary.com:

Everyone here really doesn’t understand the colonial meaning of the phrase.  Pursuit of happiness referred to the pursuit of holiness or godliness.  It had nothing to do with personal pleasures.  Our founders understood that morality and religion were required for a republic to succeed and in those times when someone pursued happiness it was a pursuit of that which is godly.  Sadly, that’s something very few Americans do these days and will be the source of our nation’s demise.

But the Declaration of Independence did not say “that all men are…endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are” the pursuit of Christ and his righteousness.  It said, “pursuit of Happiness.”  And I think I can say on the authority of Scripture and a bare knowledge of American history that “the pursuit of Christ and his righteousness” would never have gained consensus.

That, I think, is what I witness in both the Jerusalem Council and the Declaration of Independence.  They are prime examples of the achievements of committee work and consensus building.  They happened.  They are there for all to see.  I don’t believe these particular results of either exercise.  They are not my faith.  I think what Jesus meant was that those who trust Him would be led by his Holy Spirit (Matthew 16:19; 18:18 NET):

I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven.  Whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven, and whatever you release on earth will have been released in heaven.

I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven, and whatever you release on earth will have been released in heaven.

One of the ways to know what has been bound and released in heaven is to know God’s law, not because one is declared righteous before him by the works of the law but because the law discloses what displeases Him: through the law comes the knowledge of sin.[6]

I should clarify my thoughts on happiness: I had my ticket home.  I was ready to go.  I would have been happy to sit and watch my daughter’s graduation ceremony from college.  But my twenty-three-year-old daughter had a stroke before I arrived.  Then I was happy to sit and watch as she chewed food and swallowed without choking on it.

I am grateful for happiness.  I think it is essential to the ongoing occupation of living here and now.  But I don’t have a clue how to pursue it.  When I’ve tried, the people, achievements, occupations and possessions I thought would make me happy, did not, not any more or any less than the normal ebb and flow of when I had not pursued happiness.  I will pursue Christ and his righteousness instead.

And to the wag who may say I only do that because it makes me happy, I can honestly answer, not always, my friend, at times it is a sad or a painful thing to do.  Still, it has its moments.

Back to David’s Forgiveness, Part 6

Back to Condemnation or Judgment? – Part 12

My Reasons and My Reason, Part 8

[1] Leviticus 18:8 (NET)

[2] Deuteronomy 22:30 (NET)

[3] Exodus 22:16, 17 (NET)

[4] Romans 3:23, 24 (NET)

[5] http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/declaration_transcript.html

[6] Romans 3:20 (NET)

Torture, Part 2

And in anger his lord turned him over to the prison guards to torture (βασανισταῖς, a form of βασανιστής)[1] him until he repaid all he owed.  So also my heavenly Father will do to you, if each of you does not forgive (ἀφῆτε, a form of ἀφίημι)[2] your brother from your heart.[3]  It seems here that Jesus stated rather matter-of-factly that his Father would turn the unforgiving over to torturers.  He did not say that God would torture them Himself but implied that others would do it for Him.  Perhaps I was too hasty dismissing Jonathan Edward’s claim that God is the superlative torturer.

This metaphor—the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts (λόγον, a form of λόγος)[4] with his slaves[5]—was given in answer to Peter’s question, Lord, how many times must I forgive (ἀφήσω, a form of ἀφίημι) my brother who sins against me?[6]  The settling of these accounts is very reminiscent of, I tell you, Jesus said, that on the day of judgment, people will give an account (λόγον) for every worthless word (πᾶν[7] ρῆμα[8] ἀργὸν[9]) they speak (λαλήσουσιν, a form of λαλέω).[10]

A man who owed ten thousand talents was brought to the king.[11]  When he was not able to repay it, the lord ordered him to be sold, along with his wife, children, and whatever he possessed, and repayment to be made.[12]  I suggested that the only account that matters at a moment like this is, God, be merciful to me, sinner that I am![13]  That is essentially the account this slave gave.  He did not try to dispute the debt.  He threw himself to the ground before him, saying, “Be patient (μακροθύμησον, a form of μακροθυμέω)[14] with me, and I will repay you everything.”[15]

Love is patient (μακροθυμεῖ, another form of μακροθυμέω),[16] so, The lord had compassion on that slave and released (ἀπέλυσεν, a form of ἀπολύω)[17] him, and forgave (ἀφῆκεν, a form of ἀφίημι) him the debt.[18]  I can’t help but connect ἀπέλυσεν (a form of ἀπολύω) here with λύω[19] in, I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven, and whatever you release (λύσητε, a form of λύω) on earth will have been released (λελυμένα, a form of λύω) in heaven.[20]  It causes me to suspect that Jesus has his thumb on the scale of binding and releasing in favor of releasing, and that this metaphor is also aimed back at that statement.

After he went out, the metaphor about the kingdom of heaven continued, that same slave found one of his fellow slaves who owed him one hundred silver coins.[21]  The fellow slave asked for the same patience, but the first slave threw him in prison until he repaid the debt.[22]  Then his lord called the first slave and said to him, “Evil slave! I forgave (ἀφῆκα, a form of ἀφίημι) you all that debt because you begged me!  Should you not have shown mercy (ἐλεῆσαι, a form of ἐλεέω)[23] to your fellow slave, just as I showed it (ἠλέησα, a form of ἐλεέω) to you?”[24]

That brings me back to the beginning of this essay: And in anger his lord turned him over to the prison guards to torture (βασανισταῖς, a form of βασανιστής) him until he repaid all he owed.  So also my heavenly Father will do to you, if each of you does not forgive (ἀφῆτε, a form of ἀφίημι) your brother from your heart.[25]  So it seems that debt in the metaphor is equivalent to sins in the kingdom of heaven.

If I accept Edward’s contention that Jesus’ heavenly Father is the superlative torturer, then this metaphor seems to describe how one might expiate his own sins by becoming God’s victim, by satisfying some portion of the Father’s desire to torture someone for some unspecified period of time.  That interpretation would make this a unique passage in all the New Testament to say the least.  And it doesn’t offer much guidance why this “Torturer” would let some off easy.  Why should any escape the torture he so desired to give them by forgiving sins, the very currency that justified the “Torturer’s” torture?  In fact, why would this “Torturer” ever forgive anyone’s sins at all, or encourage such forgiveness?

On the other hand, if I consider that a man who could not pay a debt before being handed over to daily torture is unlikely to raise the funds after he is so preoccupied, then I might consider that—So also my heavenly Father will do to you—means that the unforgiving will never get out of the prison into which He confines them.  That sounds like Christians, the forgiven, who do not forgive others will go to hell.

Most Christians I know have rules against that.  In fact, I suspect that most Christians I know would not consider themselves to be great sinners who were forgiven much and were called by God to forgive lesser sinners than themselves.  I think most would consider themselves to be more like the second slave, relatively good people who deserve to be forgiven for their relatively few sins but are not forgiven, rather they are persecuted by greater sinners than they are and long for the day when God will rise up and send their persecutors to hell.

This is one of the first times I’ve used the term Christian in these essays.  I’m not sure if the Christians I know would be willing to accept me as a Christian if they read these essays.  Frankly, if Christian has come to mean something other than little Christ, a repentant sinner following Jesus into the righteousness of love, I’m not sure I would fight very hard over the word.  It can go the way of charity and temperance for all I care.  For all I know more people would repent of their sinfulness and follow Jesus into the righteousness of love if they didn’t have to become Christians to do it.  But fundamentalist Christians are my people by birth.

I still feel embarrassment and shame that the word Christian is practically synonymous with unforgiving.  Still, I can’t say that the Holy Spirit has brought this metaphor to my mind to remind me to forgive others.  My daily prayer asking the Lord to forgive us as we ourselves have forgiven[26] others has been sufficient for that.  The only time this metaphor comes to mind is when my Christian friends use their rules or reasons to attempt to persuade me that I am too forgiving.

I don’t think I respond to this metaphor in fear of hell or torture.  I think I recognize that I am not an Apostle.  I don’t present the Gospel with the signs of an apostleby signs and wonders and powerful deeds.[27]  Except for the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, and the willingness to forgive others that the Lord can force into, and wrench out of, this repentant sinner my Gospel presentation is idle talk; and the kingdom of God is demonstrated not in idle talk but with power.[28]

Still, this metaphor includes a category of lesser sinners.  Is this my error?  I have assumed that—I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my flesh[29]—applied to Paul.  Not all Christians doFor I want to do the good, Paul continued, but I cannot do it.[30]  That certainly applied to me, and I reasoned backward that—nothing good lives in me, that is, in my flesh—also applied to me.  But beyond that I have assumed that it applied to all sinners.  I am completely dependent on God’s mercy and grace, no question about it.  But are there others who are not so dependent?

Are there Christians who are lesser sinners?  Christians who are mostly righteous by their own innate goodness and/or their own obedience to the law?  Christians who require less forgiveness, less of the fruit of God’s Spirit, less grace and less mercy than I require because of their own righteousness?  I don’t see that in Scripture, but does that mean it isn’t there?  Or is it due to my own blindness because I am such a great sinner?  Are the things that concern me in these essays just nitpicking persecution of the good Christians who are more righteous than I am?  Or are the good Christians in error when they assume that—nothing good lives in me, that is, in my flesh—could not have applied to Saul after he was called by Jesus as the Apostle Paul?  Do they overestimate their own righteousness when they assume that—nothing good lives in me, that is, in my flesh—could not possibly apply to them as the redeemed of the Lord?

As a repentant great sinner I have no objective place to stand to answer those questions.  I need to approach it differently.

In Matthew’s Gospel account I read, Meanwhile the boat, already far from land, was taking a beating (βασανιζόμενον, a form of βασανίζω)[31] from the waves because the wind was against it.[32]  Here, βασανιζόμενον, a form of βασανίζω, the root word of βασανιστής (βασανισταῖς, torture, is a form of βασανιστής), expressed the conflict of a contrary wind.  And in Mark’s Gospel account Jesus saw his disciples straining (βασανιζομένους, a form of βασανίζω) at the oars, because the wind was against them.[33]  Here “torture” is the strain of rowing against a contrary wind.

As I considered these things I saw the film “Adore.”  It became a thought experiment in forgiveness.  I will be spoiling the film for anyone who things it spoiled by knowing its plot.

Lil and Roz were best friends since childhood.  They grew up and had sons, Ian and Tom, also best friends.  One day, lying on the beach together, watching their grown sons surf, they marveled, “Did we do that?”

“They’re beautiful,” Roz said while Lil nodded.  “They’re like young gods.”

Ian was first to make a play for Roz.  She tried to restrain herself, but what mortal woman can resist the amorous advances of a young god?  When Tom saw what his mother was up to, he made a spiteful play for Lil.  Lil held out a scene longer than Roz but eventually she, too, fell prey to another young god.  And so far, even as a Christian, I can follow this tale.  Though she may withstand the charms of a thousand mere mortals, the young god will not be denied apart from the ἐγκράτεια of the Holy Spirit

When Tom came home one morning after being out all night, Roz asked, “Hey, where have you been?”

“At Lil’s, doing to her what Ian’s been doing to you,” her impertinent son replied.

Roz slapped him and went off to confront Lil.  I could hear the contrary wind howling and see the storm clouds brewing.  Obviously this film intended to recount the tragic tale of a friendship ripped apart by fateful indiscretions.   But, no.  As lifelong friends and repentant sinners Roz and Lil forgave each other instead.  And I call them repentant sinners because they both acknowledged that they were wrong and that it could never happen again.  While a repentant sinner may find it relatively easy to forgive another for the very same sin she is guilty of, it is a more difficult matter for Christians.

Lil was a widow and Tom was a young single man, but they had sex before they were married.  That is sexual immorality according to most contemporary Christians.  (It was marriage according to some of their ancestors.)  Ian was a young single man but Roz was married.  That is adultery.  A Christian cannot forgive sexual immorality or adultery unless the sinner repents in a more formal way, demonstrates some sorrow over sin, and promises to take appropriate steps not to repeat that sin.  Looking into one another’s eyes and seeing into another’s heart may be good enough for repentant sinners, but Christians have rules to maintain.

Roz and Lil couldn’t stop sinning.  They decided they didn’t have to.  They decided to enjoy the time they had, knowing full well their young gods would get bored with them eventually.  One might say, For the joy set out for them they endured the cross of being rejected for younger, prettier women, disregarding its shame[34]  So Roz and Lil forgave each other for their lack of ἐγκράτεια (translated, self-control).

This forgiveness is a bit more difficult even for repentant sinners.  Others may question, even the sinners themselves may question, whether they are repentant sinners at all or simply unrepentant sinners.  I’ll continue to accept them as repentant sinners since they were resolved to accept the painful consequence of their sin.  What Roz and Lil discovered was not so much a change in the state of their repentance as an inability to quit their sin.

Forgiving continual, repetitive sin may be the most difficult of all for Christians.  Rules are flouted flagrantly.  Any demonstration of repentance seems dishonest at best.  But continual, repetitive sin is what Peter referred to when he asked, Lord, how many times must I forgive my brother who sins against me?  As many as seven times?[35]  Not seven times, I tell you, Jesus answered, but seventy-seven times![36]  The note in the NET reads: “Or ‘seventy times seven,’ i.e., an unlimited number of times…”  Discovering one’s own inability to quit sin is a watershed moment for Christians.

It is that time when we may understand, and join in with, Paul, saying, Indeed we felt as if the sentence of death had been passed against us, so that we would not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead.[37]  It is that time when we either learn to rely on the credited righteousness of God, the fruit of his Spirit, or we turn from Christ to take cold showers, think about baseball, or whatever other strategy we might come up with to establish our own righteousness, develop our own virtue, and maintain our own pride.

Roz and Lil were oblivious to all of this.  Neither studied Paul’s letters.  No one knowledgeable in the Scriptures came forward to teach them.  But they loved one another and they forgave one another.  Ian and Tom were also best friends.  Their story is not told in as great of detail but apparently they loved one another and forgave one another, too.  All four settled into their new life for a time.

fig. 1

fig. 1

Sunning themselves on the floating dock Roz and Lil swam to as children became the visual metaphor for peace and tranquility in the film (fig.1).  It is a beautiful counter-image to the contrary-wind-straining-at-the-oars image Jesus promised those who refused to forgive one another.

I’m not suggesting that forgiveness alone facilitated this idyllic equilibrium.  The two couples had shared a meal that functioned as a wedding feast in their microcosm.  Ian stood after dinner.  “Where are you going?” Roz asked.

“To your room,” Ian said as he walked away.  It was an awkward moment.  Roz had been publicly summoned to attend to the amorous desires of her young god.  It was an expression of Ian’s desire to be sure, but it was also a command no less than David’s summons of Bathsheba.  Lil knew it was no way for her son to speak to her best friend.  Tom knew it was no way for his best friend to speak to his mother.  But Tom also understood what was at stake.

“See you at yours,” Tom announced to Lil, and left the women alone to decide their next move.  They were free within the constraints of their joy and pleasure to accept or reject the boys’ assertions of rights over them.  Young gods they might be, but they were not kings.  It may seem like blackmail to some, but the women had the same joy and pleasure to offer.  They could have called their sons’ bluffs and waited them out at the dinner table to negotiate more favorable terms.  Apparently they surrendered to their lovers’ demands unconditionally.

From then on it was clear.  Though Roz was Tom’s mother, she was also Ian’s woman.  Though Lil was Ian’s mother, she was also Tom’s woman.  Though Tom was Roz’s son, he was also Lil’s man.  And though Ian was Lil’s son, he was also Roz’s man.  Yet Roz and Lil were still less than wives.  For they were still mothers and grandmothers-in-waiting who fully expected their sons to discard them for younger more fertile women.  The women not only relinquished the honor due them as mothers, but the fidelity due them as wives.  Clearly, they gave the most for these idyllic moments of peace and tranquility.

Tom was first to break the peace.  He journeyed to Sydney to direct a musical.  Lil knew that he was enchanted by Mary, his leading lady, even before he did.  She could hear it in his voice on the phone.  When Tom returned Lil sadly backed away to give way to Mary.  Roz, whether devoted to Lil or conscience-stricken herself, cut Ian off and sent him out to find a young woman of his own.  Both women promised to be good mothers-in-law, pillars of the community and grandmothers.

Roz’s uncharacteristic moral absoluteness seemed like an unjust and foreign law to Ian, like conquest and enslavement by an alien king.  He was content to remain faithful to his lover.  He couldn’t understand why he should be punished for Tom’s sin.  He took up with Hannah at Tom’s wedding to spite Roz.  He returned to Roz later that night.  He banged on her locked door, but she wouldn’t let him in.  Hannah, however, was devoted to him.

“She’s great,” Ian said of Hannah.  “She couldn’t be nicer.  I just…You know.”

“Yeah,” Tom replied.  He not only understood how Ian yearned for Roz, it was apparent he shared that yearning for Lil.

“Pretty soon I’m going to have to give her the elbow,” Ian said of Hannah.  But Hannah was pregnant.

Years passed before the next scene: Roz and Tom and Mary and their daughter scampered down to the beach with Lil and Ian and Hannah and their daughter.  The two little girls seemed to be on their way to becoming best friends.  Apparently Roz and Lil and Ian and Tom had forgiven one another again, and reached a new idyllic equilibrium, that included Hannah and Mary and their daughters.  But it didn’t last.

Ian discovered Tom and Lil that night and realized they had carried on a secret affair.  Though Ian had apparently resigned himself to Roz’s alien law he was clearly not a poet of it, but an actor, a hypocrite.  Angrily, resentfully, he blew the whistle on Tom and Lil in front of Hannah and Mary, and all the details of their pasts came to light.  Hannah was hurt and confused, but seemed to want to understand.  Mary, the actor, the hypocrite who seduced Tom as he attempted to be faithful to Lil, would have none of it.  She woke her daughter and left that night, encouraging Hannah and her daughter to leave with them.

In the end Roz and Ian, Lil and Tom were together again on the floating dock, though it was not so idyllic as before (fig. 2).  Mary and Hannah and their daughters were missing.  It was not hard to imagine angry waves beating against their little ships, as they strained at the oars against a contrary wind.  Mary could blame her circumstances on Tom’s and Lil’s sin.  Hannah could blame Ian and Roz.  But would they ever see that it was their own unforgiving hearts that had abandoned them to torment?

fig. 2

fig. 2

Roz had made room for Hannah and her daughter in her heart (as the filmmakers made room for them on the floating dock).  Ian was clearly a one woman man.  Admittedly, forgiveness might have come harder for Mary.  Lil had no self-control.  Tom gave no evidence that his harem would be complete with only two women.  But even Mary could do worse than to live among such forgiving repentant sinners.  Still, I don’t think the filmmakers intended to produce a treatise on forgiveness.

That was the mood I was in and the subject of my meditation when I saw it.  If “Adore” had some point beyond being an interesting, provocative movie I suppose it was a feminist cautionary tale.  Roz and Lil would have created less havoc in their sons’ lives if they had simply become lesbian lovers rather than expressing their love for each other by proxy, through their sons.  It’s not hard to see why “Adore” wasn’t a fan favorite among Christians.  This is the kind of film that makes Christians feel like Lot, living among the people of Sodom, day after day, that righteous man was tormented (ἐβασάνιζεν, a form of βασανίζω) in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard[38]

And I don’t mean to suggest that Lot (or Christians for that matter) should unilaterally forgive people to escape such torment.  We forgive repentant sinners because God has forgiven us.  Apparently, there were no repentant sinners in Sodom for Lot to forgive.  The inhabitants of Sodom were descendants of Canaan.  The origin of the Canaanites for better or worse is traced back to Noah’s curse.

Noah drank wine and exposed himself in a drunken stupor.  His son Ham saw his father’s nakedness and told his two brothers.[39]  Apparently Ham’s attitude was more judgmental and derogatory than mere reportage.  When Noah awoke from his drunken stupor he learned what his youngest son had done to him.[40]  So he cursed Ham’s son, Cursed be Canaan!  The lowest of slaves he will be to his brothers.[41]

I’ve heard it preached that Noah was such a holy prophet God was honor-bound to fulfill even his curse.  This interpretation made some sense when I believed that Noah found favor in the sight of the Lord[42] because Noah was a godly man; he was blameless among his contemporaries.  He walked with God.[43]  As I began to believe that God has mercy on whom he chooses to have mercy, and he hardens whom he chooses to harden,[44] I began to believe that Noah found favor in the sight of the Lord because the Lord chose to have mercy on him.  It followed naturally that Noah was a godly man, and was blameless among his contemporaries, and walked with God because he found favor in the sight of the Lord, because the Lord chose to have mercy on him.

Even a prophet, a herald of righteousness,[45] like Noah could have a bad hangover one morning, slip the leash, so to speak, of the Holy Spirit’s ἐγκράτεια (translated, self-control) and say something foolish.  Despite the enormity of its impact tracked over many generations I don’t think Noah’s curse had any more or less power than any other grandfather’s hateful words to his grandson.

fig. 3

fig. 3

Though he died about forty-one years before Sodom was destroyed (fig. 3), he lived long enough to see what Canaan’s descendants became.  The Bible doesn’t say whether Noah regretted that curse or spent his last three centuries or so trying to justify it.  But it seems to me, even as a Christian, that it would be better to forgive my son’s offense, even unilaterally, than to curse my grandson for it.

As I consider how difficult it is for Christians to forgive anyone for anything, it becomes easier to understand why Jesus threatened us with torture.  I hope others can forgive me for refusing to see Matthew 18:35 as a proof-text for Jonathan Edward’s claim that God is the superlative torturer.

Torture, Part 3

Back to My Reasons and My Reason, Part 3

Back to Fear – Deuteronomy, Part 10


[3] Matthew 18:34, 35 (NET)

[5] Matthew 18:23 (NET)

[6] Matthew 18:21 (NET)

[10] Matthew 12:36 (NET)

[11] Matthew 18:24b (NET)

[12] Matthew 18:25 (NET)

[13] Luke 18:13b (NET)

[15] Matthew 18:26 (NET)

[16] 1 Corinthians 13:4a (NET)

[18] Matthew 18:27 (NET)

[20] Matthew 18:18 (NET)

[21] Matthew 18:28a (NET)

[22] Matthew 18:30 (NET)

[24] Matthew 18:32, 33 (NET)

[25] Matthew 18:34, 35 (NET)

[26] Matthew 6:12 (NET)

[27] 2 Corinthians 12:12 (NET)

[28] 1 Corinthians 4:20 (NET)

[29] Romans 7:18a (NET)

[30] Romans 7:18b (NET)

[32] Matthew 14:24 (NET)

[33] Mark 6:48a (NET)

[34] An impertinent paraphrase of Hebrews 12:2 (NET)

[35] Matthew 18:21 (NET)

[36] Matthew 18:22 (NET)

[37] 2 Corinthians 1:9 (NET)

[38] 2 Peter 2:8 (NET)

[39] Genesis 9:22 (NET)

[40] Genesis 9:24 (NET)

[41] Genesis 9:25 (NET)

[42] Genesis 6:8 (NET)

[43] Genesis 6:9 (NET)

[44] Romans 9:18 (NET)