God and the Joys of Sex

Photo by Kjunstorm from Laguna Niguel, CA, US

A conversation on Facebook recently reminded me of my concern that Christians are not speaking enough about the joys of sex and marriage. We get caught so often, warning people about the dangers, that we get painted into the corner that makes people – even our own children – believe that God is anti-sex. So over the next few days I am going to recycle material I wrote a few years back for the NZBaptist. Let’s start thinking about sex at the very beginning.

God likes sex

That notion (that God is anti-sex) couldn’t be further from the truth. Sex and marriage was God’s good idea. It was one of God’s first good ideas, right at the very beginning…

Since I am love,” God said, “I want creatures who can love me.”
We want creatures who can love each other, just like we do.” Said each of the Trinity to each other, “and love us the same way too.” They added.

That was how sex and marriage got built into creation from the start: difference and reproduction and love. Sex is modeled on the godhead (Gen 1:27):

So God created humans in his own image,
in the image of God created he him;
male and female created he them.

It’s quite clear the very “image of God” is in our being as male and female.

Or as the Bible’s second chapter puts it: God said, “It’s no good for humans to be alone” (Gen 2:18). And, when God had made woman, the Bible concludes: “that’s why a man leaves his father and his mother, and clings to his wife: and they become one flesh.

So whatever else we say, we should start right at the beginning: Sex is God’s good idea!

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PS on “covering your feet”

These men in the Ha'aretz report were NOT "covering their feet"!

The men illustrating the Ha’aretz report (above) were NOT “covering their feet”. 

In conversation on Bob’s blog, related to my post below about foot as a possible euphemism for male genitals in the Bible, he points out that there are cases where the phrase “cover his feet” is clearly euphemistic for “going to the bathroom” – to use a more contemporary American euphemism. I entirely agree. It is. Clearly when Saul in 1 Samuel 24:3 goes into the cave to “cover his feet” להסך את־רגליו he is as the Living Bible said going “to the bathroom” (cf. Judges 3:24).

I am left with two problems, do two case make sufficient precedent for seeing euphemisms everywhere, and more importantly, how does this euphemism: “cover … feet” = “go to the bathroom” work? The way it seems to me to make sense is that when one needed to relieve oneself in the fields or on a journey one squatted, thus “covering one’s feet” with ones robe, and hiding the action from passers by. Thus it seems to me the clear euphemism is “cover the feet” = “relieve oneself” and not “foot” = “male organ”.

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Wash your hairy feet! OR Sometimes a foot is just a foot

tutl38[1]
[Back when I was new to Facebook, I did not know how to bring blog posts into this (then) new (to me) medium. So I began posting some posts on Facebook. This was the very first, and I still rather like it :) ]
Sean the Baptist has a post ‘And with two they covered their feet’ in which he repeats the conventional wisdom that “feet” is (sometimes) a euphemism in the Hebrew Bible. Basically the idea is: 

That is that the word for feet רַגְלָיו sometimes refers to what we might politely call ‘other parts of the (male) anatomy’. 

I have never really been convinced by the claim. Sean cites the following passages as the best evidence for this supposed usage (the order is mine, as are the comments in straight type):

Exodus 4.25 But Zipporah took a flint and cut off her son’s foreskin, and touched Moses’ feet with it, and said, “Truly you are a bridegroom of blood to me!”
Now why on earth would one suppose that “feet” here is a euphemism – after all no euphemism was used for “foreskin” עָרְלַת seems explicit enough.

Deuteronomy 11.10 For the land that you are about to enter to occupy is not like the land of Egypt, from which you have come, where you sow your seed and irrigate by foot like a vegetable garden.
In Egypt is most irrigation done by peeing? No wonder they brewed so much beer! Or maybe the small earth dams on irrigation ditches are quite easily broken by foot?

Ruth 3.7: When Boaz had eaten and drunk, and he was in a contented mood, he went to lie down at the end of the heap of grain. Then she came stealthily and uncovered his feet, and lay down.
If this one is a euphemism, does it not remove all the tension from the chapter where the most significant “gap” the hearer must fill is: “Did they or didn’t they?” there is plenty of other innuendo in the chapter to build up the tension, without this (possible, maybe) one.
Isaiah 6.2: Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew.
Really? Now why should face and feet not simply mean face and feet? Please explain!

Isaiah 7.20: On that day the Lord will shave with a razor hired beyond the River—with the king of Assyria—the head and the hair of the feet, and it will take off the beard as well.
Hairy feet or hairy [euphemism]? Which is more plausible? Though I suppose if the euphemism is for the whole genital area, this one might make sense.

Judges 3.24: After he had gone, the servants came. When they saw that the doors of the roof chamber were locked, they thought, “He must be relieving himself (literally ‘covering his feet’) in the cool chamber.” cf. 1 Sam. 24.3
At first sight, this one is good! In this sample I am almost convinced, there is a good case to answer, though why “covering his feet” should be a euphemism for peeing, and not merely another example of the rather gross schoolboy humour of the passage I am unclear.

2 Samuel 11.8 Then David said to Uriah, “Go down to your house, and wash your feet.” Uriah went out of the king’s house, and there followed him a present from the king.
Could be a euphemism, but then it could be that the sentence is euphemistic even if the “feet” are literal. “Wash your feet” = “make yourself at home”…

So, in the end, what evidence is there for this conventionally supposed common euphemism? Two cases where you might argue with some strength that reading euphemistically is the “best” reading, a couple more where it might just be possible but overall I’d say: No case to answer. In the Bible feet are just that. And Eglon as well as excessively fat, and greedy, also was known to his servants as having a poor aim. As the sign in our downstairs loo read for a while (we had teenage boys in the house) “We aim to please. You aim too, please!”

[Back in those heady days bloggers used to respond to one another, instead of, as we do today, merely writing to ourselves – which is perhaps the second sign of madness.]

Following my post Wash your hairy feet! Sean-the-Baptist updated his post ‘And with two they covered their feet‘ to respond (briefly within the limits of time available) to my critique of the commonplace notion that “feet” in the Hebrew Bible can often serve as a euphemism for “male organ”.

On Deut. 11.10: the point is exactly that the Promised Land will be naturally fertile and thus will not require irrigation by other means (of course the language is symbolic, irrigation is as necessary there as in Egypt in reality). Tim asks ‘in Egypt is most irrigation done by peeing?’ – well no, but neither is there literal milk and honey flowing in Israel-Palestine, and perhaps good deal more irrigation took place by this means than by carrying water on your foot (images of hopping with a bucket attached anyone?)

But why interpret the language as “symbolic” whatever that means here, I had assumed that even read as a euphemism the use was intended literally.

Irrigating with the feet would then refer to the habit of opening and closing irrigation ditches using the feet. While I cannot really see how the euphemistic reading works, in the promised land water falls from the sky, while in Egypt humans had to pee to water the ground – presumably entailing frequent trips to the irrigation ditch to drink…

On Ruth we basically agree – except whether Boaz’ “feet” are literal or euphemistic (I still wonder at the plural euphemism here?).

On Is 6:2 Sean brings up the topic of ANE iconography, as Jim Getz said in a comment on a post: Another “Feet” Euphemism in the Hebrew Bible? on this topic on Shibboleth I think I was convinced by Keel’s identification of the Seraphim here with Egyptian uraus snakes, my copy of Keel is at college, so i can’t check, but I do not remember these snakes as having prominent phalluses which might need covering to preserve Hebrew modesty! On Is 7:20 I am quite willing to agree thsat ritual humiliation is in view, and that a euphemistic reading is possible. But when the “head to foot” shaving seems to cover that pretty comprehensively I do not see the need to invent a new “euphemistic” reading. (And that is really my point, I believe that those who repeat conventional wisdom and claim a common euphemism in Biblical Hebrew “feet” = “phallus” need to provide some evidence to support this view. And where simply reading “feet” as “those two things we walk on that stop our legs fraying at the ends” works fine then they have NOT provided such evidence EVEN IF “phallus” works just as well.

Uraeus. Col. Tutkhamón from http://www.uned.es 

On 2 Sam 11:8, again we agree in our interpretation of the passage, and IF the feet-euphemism were already (on the basis of evidence) established it would make a good reading here. However, it is not it is merely “traditional” in biblical scholarship. AND reading feet literally works fine.

Result, I am still unconvinced that this particular item of “popular wisdom” has a leg to stand upon! Sometimes in the Bible, when you read “feet” they do simply mean “feet”, now on the basis of Ugaritic evidence one might I think (someone could ask Duane about the abnormally interesting uses of “finger” in those texts, and perhaps also look at Hebrew Bible texts like 1 Kings 12:10).

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Performers and audiences

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I am convinced that alongside (but poorly if at all correlated with) the personality dimension Introversion-Extroversion is another I think of as “Performer”. I am highly introverted, but love standing talking to an audience. By contrast I know several strong extroverts who really do not enjoy that sort of attention, but if thrown into a den of lions room full of people would be happily chatting to new acquaintances within minutes (I’d still be hiding in the furthest darkest corner, trying mentally to project an invisibility screen).

So, I prepare the 5 minute Bible podcasts and read the stories because I hope for an audience. The bigger, the better!

This morning I was depressed looking at the stats and realising just how few people actually listen to a full episode. (Facebook has begun to show how long people listen for, and most switch off in the first moments and few are left by 30 seconds into the piece.)

Then I got a treat, an email from Librivox from the “thank a reader” section containing this encouragement:

He reads the book like an actor acts in a movie. He acts out every character that he reads. He puts so much passion and life into his reading and he is so expressive. He keeps the listener so engaged and his pronunciation is excellent. He is by far one of the best readers I have ever listened to.

That is just what I was trying to do when reading my part in Woman in White! Then to complete the chasing away of the blues, searching for a post I had made in one of the forums I came across this reference to my voice:

his voice is: soft, tender and warm. When I listen to his voice, I have a feeling that I have just been given a freshly baked, warm and soft doughnut.

This introverted performer is delighted. Until the next time I look at the stats and see how few people do actually listen till the end.

BTW it is my birthday tomorrow (15th May) so if you want to “make my day” just invite some friends to listen to a story or a Bible podcast and drive those terrible stats up ;) I might even do an encore!

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Mark Driscoll at Thrive and a sharp double-edged sword!

Mark_Driscoll,_during_the_ABC_Nightline_Face_Off_debate

Mark Driscoll spoke at a leadership conference recently. He began with the sad story of his family’s experience during and after the events that led to his ministry at Mars Hill ending in shame and the closure of the church. This story is sad and my heart goes out to him and especially his children. No one should be treated that way!

His topic was forgiveness, and he focused on the need for “struck shepherds” to forgive those who have hurt them. So the introduction telling of his family’s experience was strong. The talk is a powerful reminder of the centrality and importance of forgiving to Christian living. It is made more real by Driscoll’s desire to forgive those who hurt his children.

Several people have already commented on the strange fact that Driscoll never asks for forgiveness or acknowledges his fault in all this experience (apart from  a rather trite aside about “struck shepherds” sometimes hitting themselves in the head). That despite his experiences and his desire to forgive Driscoll’s talk is still self-centered is sad, but sadly not untypical of Western Christians in the early 21st century.

What I have not seen commented on is Driscoll’s use of Scripture. The phrase “struck shepherds” runs like a refrain through the talk. The refers to a verse from the Old Testament that Jesus quotes in which he reads “Strike thou the shepherd and the sheep scatter.” The passages are Zechariah 13:7 and Mark 14:27 || Matt 26:31. I am not sure which passage Driscoll read nor which translation, because he seems to misquote. For the original verse in Zechariah all the translations I looked at had something like:

“Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered;
I will turn my hand against the little ones.

While the gospels read something like:

 Mark 14:27 “You will all fall away,” Jesus told them, “for it is written: ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.'”

Matthew 26:31 Then Jesus told them, “This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written: “`I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’

Far from offering comfort to a “struck shepherd”, as Driscoll seems to think,  what I notice in both the prophet and in Jesus quoting of the prophet is that the agency of the striking is God.

In these Bible passages the shepherd is struck by God.

And, unless Driscoll thinks he is Jesus struck by God and crucified he presumably ought to identify himself with the struck human shepherd/leader(s) of Zech 13. This is not at all comforting for Driscoll, for this chapter proclaims God’s action against the false leaders who led his people into idolatry!

Beware lest your misuse of Scripture cause the weapon to turn in your hand and bite you. For the words of the Word of God as like a sharp double-edged sword!

Revelation 1:16 In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.

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Mothers’ Day

Capture

Since Mothers’ Day is fast approaching, I’ve been delighted to hear of two pastors who are planning to make sure some of the motherly or other female imagery used in Scripture gets a mention.

Mothers’ day is always a sensitive occasion, so many women are not mothers who wish they were, or are mothers and wish they weren’t, or more often because of circumstances find it very hard and fear they are “not doing a good job”. And yet, we never think twice about using Fatherly language and pictures to talk about God…

All of us had fathers and mothers, our experiences and knowledge of either or both may be good, bad or even non-existent, they remain for almost all of us a deeply emotional part of our experience. Just as, used carefully, father is a powerful way to relate to God, so is mother. The writers of the Bible and the theologians of the church  (at least for nearly 1500 years) used this resource.

If you want some ideas try a guest post (last of a series) I wrote for Thalia a couple of years back or try the screencast version below. If you want a bit more academic grunt see my AJPS articles from Volume 17, Number 2 (August 2014) or here.

 

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Do fiction publishers have a death wish? or Frustrated by the fetishists)

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e-book

e-book

Almost all the fiction I read is now e-books, both purchased and from the lending library. They are in epub format. Neither the format nor the hardware are brilliant, but they do allow hypertext features and even web searches at a speed that is just on the happy side of totally frustrating.

Even with these technical limitations I love the ebook reader. It is light. I can vary the size of the print for lower light conditions (or where the designer has chosen – from my perspective – badly). I can carry as many spare books as I like with no extra space or weight. I can borrow a new book anytime from anywhere. However, the main reason I prefer the ebook is that marvelous ability to search for definitions (in the built-in dictionaries, a dozen or so in various languages as well as both American and English) or the web to check ideas and information of provide context. Reading fiction becomes like reading the dictionary or an encyclopedia was to my childish self.

Yet I am so often frustrated in my reading. Not by the technology (this is no “twitchy little screen” like the ones Annie Proulx feared in her famous and fatuous quote) but by the publishers. They sell me (and others, or the library) these “e-books”. They sell them often after the paper edition has already run its dash and is on the verge of being remaindered at cents to the dollar. They sell them at what looks to be a decent price (any thing over 1/3 of the paperback price seems to me reasonable in view of the savings in material production, stock storage and shipping etc.). Yet their conversion from paper codex to e-book never adds functionality. Why shouldn’t the publisher  spend a little building in links to the glossary, which historical novels often have, or other internal material that would enrich the reader’s experience?

Not only do they staunchly resist the danger of making the e-book better than its paper counterpart, but they refuse to even make them as good. Diagrams and maps are scanned at resolutions that ensure that given a normal page display will not fit neatly nor zoom easily. In this way publishers, I can only conclude, hope to persuade as many people as possible to prefer paper books for as long as possible.

Given the attitudes of the two most avid readers in the next generation of our family, both of whom love their e-readers, and given the flow of the tide of media consumption towards video and away from print, I can only assume the publishers are owned by the Hollywood studios and are set on ending their industry as early as possible!

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Visiting “Israel” today

From Sacraparental illustrating Chris's post

Chris Chamberlain is an interesting guy (see the neat short description at the top of the post I’m linking to). He was taken to Israel and the “Occupied Territories” recently with WorldVision.1  His reflections on Facebook were so good that Thalia and others of us persuaded him to write them up for a wider audience. In the first one (published today) he acknowledges his biases, but the writing is an interesting balance between anger at injustice and a gentle human concern for (all) others.

Having twice (1986 and 2000) made brief visits (focused on archaeological sites of Old Testament interest, not on justice) to Israel and having an Israeli friend as house guest at present, I recommend Chris’s reflections to everyone whatever political knees they are inclined to jerk when “Israel” is mentioned. This is a hard, hurtful and dangerous conflict and it is bound to be more complex than you or I think. Please read ‘We Refuse to be Enemies': A Christchurch Minister visits Palestine and Israel if nothing else your understanding of life today in the land where the Bible stories happened will be enriched, and your humanity should get some exercise too!

  1. Original text error corrected 18 April 2015. []

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Hallowing habits

Paul Hsu via Wikipedia

Richard Beck’s meditation “Unpublished: Faith as Hallowing” in which he suggests that faith can/should we considered as the practice of hallowing (making holy: marking out certain actions, things or people as special and revered), put me in mind of Conrad Gempf’s phrase (describing the significance of the law for Jewish people) “habits of holiness”.

Reflecting on these two ideas leads me to wonder if the “free churches”, whether Evangelicals or their “mainstream” (and apparently vanishing) counterparts, offer too few opportunities to practice such hallowing habits. In our Sunday services and weekday lives (sadly torn apart as they often are) we really only hallow the Scriptures and the ideas in our worship songs (somewhat trite though they often are). Some of us seek to hallow our eating, by making a habit of giving thanks. But little else.

This puts a great weight on Scripture. Which perhaps is why the claim of inerrancy and the claims of “Creation Science” become so significant for many people?

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Demolishing Scripture (while claiming to be “biblical”)

Photo by Bob Hall via Wikipedia

Several recent conversations (online and face to face) in my circles involve applying the Bible to contemporary social issues. The latest is a very long-standing one in Western churches if there are particular roles for men and for women in family and church to which we should conform.

This discussion is usually framed as between Egalitarian and Complementarian approaches. As I have said elsewhere I think this framing is false – almost everyone I talk to is egalitarian (affirming they believe women and men are “equal”) and complementarian (they believe women and men complement each other and that for example in a marriage each partner brings qualities and so the whole is more than the parts). The key difference (I think) revolves round whether this complementarity is through defined gender roles to which we ought all conform regardless of our personal skills or gifts.

Sadly much of the discussion in Christian circles has for decades disolved into either each side bashing the other with “verses” that are believed to support/teach their view, or sometimes into a “literalist” – “liberal” ding dong. My beef with the “literalist” approaches, and with the “liberal” ones is that they each end up discarding a lot of the Bible. They differ in which parts of Scripture can be ignored or removed, and in the excuses they provide to justify their anti-biblical stances.

Some “liberals” discard Scripture honestly. Some openly say that this or that passage1 “is old fashioned”. Others dismiss some Bible teaching as “cultural” and so no longer binding in this enlightened age.

“Literalists” (and often ex-literalists, like many Baptists today) often do it covertly – with their lips they pay tribute to the whole Bible, but a slippery slope starts with the laws in the Pentateuch. No one I know avoids clothes made of mixed fibres. The excuse they offer if challenged is either “it was not confirmed in the NT” or “it’s only a ritual law”. Both of these excuses leave the Old Testament without authority! Only following Old Testament teaching that is confirmed in the New makes the Old Testament superfluous and effectively Apocrypha, valuable as spiritual reading but without authority. This ignores Jesus’ clear teaching that:

Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practises and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (Mat 5:19)
Even if we could allow such tentative first steps down the slope, dismantling Scripture as Marcion did we have not solved the problem. Jesus also said

Take nothing for the journey except a staff–no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra tunic. (Mark 6:8-9)

But when such “literal” Christians pack, even for a mission trip, there are plenty of spare clothes! The response if they are challenged is “Ah, Jesus was talking to his disciples there, not us.”

Quite right, if you set aside Jesus’ words you are not his disciples!

Rather than either the “liberal” or the “literal” dismantling of Scripture we must (because every part of the Bible is socially and culturally contextual (that is incarnate in ancient places and times) look for the understanding of God and the world (theology) that the passage is teaching or applying. That is what we apply. It’s hard work, it risks us getting it wrong… in short we cease to “master” Scripture, but we (have tried to) allow it to master us.

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For more explanation of that last important section see the last three sessions in my Reading the Bible Faithfully:

9: God remains faithful: the principle of the thing

10: Application: Where the rubber hits the road

11. Reading in the light of Christ

  1. Or indeed the whole of the Bible. []

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