Moderating “Unit Quality Assurance Forms” is normally a fairly dull but useful way to earn (part of) a living. Today however I was presented with a gem of a short story by Isaac Asimov1 It dates back to the distant days when I was doctoral student. It explains why Moses described creation in just six days. The story had me roaring with laughter in just a minute or two.
Sadly looking Google seeking more info to led me to James McGrath;s blog, which in turn led me to another blog where some spoilsport claimed in the comments that the story was not Asimov’s “How it happened” but pseudigraphal. Research on Google Books led to no firm conclusion, indeed it seemed to confirm the doubters.
However, Archive.org saved the day, offering a copy of Asimov’s SF Adventure Magazine v01n02 (1979 Spring) there on pages 64 and 65 the gem appears.
Over two generations (mine and my parents), marriage has been redefined. We have done this through changes in divorce law, but even more through changes in attitude. Now marriage is merely a means to fulfillment, it is no longer understood as primarily a lifelong commitment. Yet marriage means commitment, if not marriage has little meaning at all!
Repost for Marriage Week 2017
The world has changed… My parents’ generation made legal divorce a less painful process. My generation has run behind them, and overtaken them – the statistics are terrible. Marriages don’t last (at least not in the affluent egotistical West).Our kids’ friends from school always included more from “broken” or “blended” homes, than those with parents still till-death-do-us-parting. Churches too, seldom slow to learn bad ways from the world around, are full of separated and divorced halves of what once were couples. And one has to admit, the people concerned are often the better for it.
Daya Willis had an op ed piece in the Herald back in 2004, which summed the social context up nicely:
Clearly, the baby boomers cocked up the whole marriage thing. They got hitched too young, felt unfulfilled en masse, split up and occasionally repeated the process.
Later she continued:
My beloved and I will get married when we’re good and ready – and only because we can see the value in celebrating our commitment to each other with all the people who matter to us.
What’s more we’ve already taken the ultimate leap of faith – we had a baby together. Having both emerged (slightly dented) from broken homes, it’s our sworn mission to maintain a happy whole family for the sake of our son.
From other things she wrote it’s clear she saw this as something totally different from the dreams and ideals of the generation before. Perhaps it is. Though, it shares with the boomers’ the belief that a couple “should stick together for the sake of the kids”. And like theirs it is also, in its own way, totally different from the Christian view of marriage.
When a couple promise each other (however they word it) to love, and cherish, and share their lives, till death alone parts them – it’s not “for the children”, it’s for each other. It’s all about the big C, the word neither the boomers nor their successors like to say: commitment.
Oddly (in a time of “Civil Unions” and “marriage equality”) it is the story of two women that best illustrates what it means. Ruth and Naomi:
Don’t force me to leave you; don’t make me go home.
Where you go, I go;
and where you live, I’ll live.
Your people are my people,
your God is my god;
where you die, I’ll die, and that’s where I’ll be buried,
so help me GOD–not even death itself is going to come between us! (Ruth 1:16-17)
Isn’t that what Gen 1 and 2 tell us the Creator planned for marriage – partnership with no holds barred. Marriage means commitment. I hope and pray, that when Thomas and Melissa watch Barbara and me locked in fiery argument, they see the for-richer-for-poorer-in-sickness-and-in-health commitment that undergirds our lives and even feeds the flames!
Marriage isn’t about “a perfect match”, it’s about commitment – promises that you’ll keep, and those that you can rely on.
PS: For an excellent theological and pastoral treatment of divorce and remarriage in a 21st C New Zealand church context see “Divorce and Remarriage” by Graeme Carle.
Other unnoticed women from the early chapters of Genesis include the “daughters of humanity/daughters of the man” in Gen 6:2. This little passage is mysterious and difficult. It is packed with problems..
Starting at the beginning we have to ask who the key characters are:
The women are identified as בְּנֹות הָאָדָם but are they Adam’s daughters, daughters of “the human” or daughters of humanity? The use of the definite article suggests not “Adam’s daughters” since names don’t usually take the article.1 Actually since no particular “human” is in view at this point most likely this problem is simple they are daughters of humanity (human girls).
But the men are identified as בְנֵי־הָאֱלֹהִים are they sons of the gods or sons of God? Bizarrely, the English translations avoid the obvious answer, and usually render the phrase as “sons of God”. This takes no account of the article. As far as I can see if we are to take this seriously we have a choice of “sons of the God” or “sons of the gods”. Again “the God” is not in focus here, so “sons of the gods” seems the obvious translation. The only problem is (perhaps) theological, since the author(s) of Genesis do not believe in the gods. But this puts theological interpretation in the driving seat.
This gives (an approximate and over literal) rendering as:
“1 When humanity began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born to them,
2 the sons of the gods saw that they were desirable2 ; and they took women3 for themselves of all that they chose.
3 Then the LORD said, “My spirit shall not abide in humanity forever, for they are flesh; their days shall be one hundred twenty years.”
4 The Nephilim were in the land4 in those days– and also afterward– when the sons of God went in to5 the daughters of humans, who bore children to them. These were the heroes that were of old, men of renown.
5 The LORD saw that the wickedness of humanity was great in the land, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually… (Gen 6:1-5)
Read like this, it seems to me, many of the difficulties disappear. (The Nephilim are a narrator’s aside and we can, for my purpose here ignore them.) Two main questions remain:
Who are the “sons of the gods”? Are they (minor) gods themselves, powerful (royal) people, or Greek-style demigods?
Why do these liaisons, and or the children they produce, so displeasing to YHWH?6
Cutting a long story short, and to the chase, the most likely understanding seems to me that the “sons of the gods” are royal persons (often claiming quasi-divine status and privilege in the ancient world). The combination of mention of them “taking for themselves women”, who they “go into” and have children, with the mention that they take “from all which they chose” with the suggestion that this is related to the “great evils” that stimulate the divine wrath (v.6) suggests either rape, coerced sex with the abuse of power (think of David and Bathsheba) or possibly some sort of “first night” custom.
Already, this early in the Genesis story, women are sex objects, and at best the mothers of heroes. Human division has produced classes and ideologies that confer “divine” rights on some and remove the rights of others.
But see Gen 2 where sometimes הָאָדָם is rendered “Adam”. [↩]
The word is the one used for anything “good”, it does not necessarily imply merely beautiful, for which there is a more specialised term. [↩]
Not “married” as NIV since there is nothing here about cultural or familial ceremonies, likewise not “wives” for the same reason. [↩]
The more usual “on the earth” seems unnecessary, this is a narrator’s note breaking the frame, and mentioning that this was during, but not the end of the period when the Nephilim lived in “the land”. [↩]
This is clearly a euphemism for having sex with, a common use of this construction. [↩]
For it seems to me unavoidable that this passage in some way leads to the next, as my inclusion of v.6 above strongly suggests. Only a narrowly source-critical reading allowed people to completely separate this story from the flood that follows. [↩]
Between teaching an intensive class to students from a dozen ethnicities and nearly as many countries, and exploring the beautiful scenery in the Cordilleras of North Luzon (photos attached to make you envious) I have been too busy to post properly here (even the women of the Bible series has faltered). So instead perhaps you know someone who is still asking the old chestnut about where Mrs Cain came from?
If you do, if you know someone who is troubled by other “Bible difficulties” please point them to my short article written for the NZ Baptist:
Among the women in Scripture we glide over and miss thinking about, what about poor Mrs Noah? Eve gets discussed ad nauseam often asking whether her share of the blame for the first sin is bigger than her mate’s, Cain’s wife gets asked about all the time… But Mrs Noah, another anonymous woman, only named and known for her relationship to her husband. Not even as mother of her sons, who are regularly named as HIS.
Back in Gen 3, when Eve ate the apple (or whatever the anonymous fruit really was) we quickly get told that Adam is right there beside her (Gen 3:6), but when something good happens, and God warns Noah to build the Ark (Gen 6:8-21) we aren’t told if God included Mrs Noah in the instructions. In fact although her boys are mentioned already in v.10, she herself (who bore them and nourished them) is not mentioned till v.18.
Preachers love to embellish the story of the flood. They often imagine Noah’s heroic, or ironic, conversations with the skeptics as he built an enormous gigantic boat miles and miles inland in a desert where “sea” was a word the neighbours hardly understood. Do they ever imagine the work required, most of it probably done by Mrs Noah, with Mrs Shem, Mrs Ham and Mrs Japhet helping out (and they are as unnamed as their mother-in-law) to collect and preserve food for all those people and animals for the half-year long voyage of the NS1 Ark.
Noah and the boys could never have done it without their “other halfs”, yet these hard-working and courageous women don’t get named, in fact their description “your/their woman/women” is in Hebrew just the same as that of the animals “mates”.2
The series of which this “volume” is a part has an ambitious but mixed goal:
The series is designed to be a research tool. Each guide presents a wide range of interpretive issues raised by Bible scholars. These resources meet the needs of those studying the Bible in academic settings, but the broad scope of coverage also makes them useful for preaching preparation. 1
In fact, limitations of referencing (almost?) only works available in the Logos system limits it’s usefulness for scholarship, and so the work is in some ways better suited to the practical needs of a pastor or other seriously minded Bible reader.
Integration of the text with the Logos library system is of course a great strength of such this type of electronic publication, but there are times when the implementation of this integration serves Logos’ commercial ends better than it serves the user. For example when I read: “Mathews uses the analogy of a stained glass window to describe the literary complexity of Gen 1–11…” The name “Matthews” is, as one would expect in an electronic text, a hyperlink. If the user already owns the cited work by Mathews in Logos format, then I assume2 they are taken to the reference. If one does not own the work in Logos format one is offered the chance to buy it. However, if one does not already own the Logos edition, the link to the Logos sales site does inform the user what work is being referred to, enabling a search on a local library catalogue, Worldcat or Google Books.
There is however a welcome but odd inconsistency, when the references are to further reading suggestions offered as bullet points rather than inline citations, they do give at least the title of the work, without need to access the Logos.com website.3
Hypertext links also provide convenient popup explanations of technical terms, enhancing further the educative possibilities of the text, and making it accessible to a wider range of “lay” readers. They also enable jump navigation within the text, and this is enhanced by a preview popup showing the beginning of the text of the section to which the link leads.
The work offers a neat clear and concise overview of (almost always, but not exclusively, Evangelical) scholarship on the issues and passages treated. This is a superb resource to begin studying a passage or topic, Mangum et al. Offer clear concise summaries of important issues that will be really useful to any pastor or amateur biblical scholar. They are also potentially really useful to students and their teachers, though this usefulness would be enhanced by referencing that included some mention of work not published in Logos format..
Within the limits of works published in Logos format (I have yet to find any reference to other work) these summaries and the suggested readings are very useful. The restriction of the references to the Logosworld generates the restriction noted above to predominantly only Evangelical scholarship, and very predominantly American scholars4 This parochialism is sad!
A byproduct of this limitation is scholarship that is also very predominantly male and white. Since women and non-Caucasian scholars are more likely to have significant work in journals and less likely to have breached the portals of book length works with publishers who make their list available in Logos format.
On the other hand, the fact that such a useful compendium can be offered despite this restriction of horizon to Logosworld is a tribute to the extent (if not always variety) of that world today. Logos is not yet a universal biblical studies library, but it is far closer than one might have expected only a few years ago.
A student today will need to seriously consider whether to accept the limitations of horizon imposed by the choice of Logos as their exclusive supplier, wholeheartedly making Logos their library system, or on the other hand if financial constraints or a desire to be open to a wider world of scholarship will severely limit the usefulness of a work such as this. I wonder how long it is before Logos offers a subscription service modeled on Amazon’s “Prime”?5
Without such a service, or without the financial resources to pay to own an extensive private Logos library, users are given a glimpse of the world of American Evangelical scholarship, but taking a closer look is made difficult by the exclusively in house referencing.
In short this work highlights the huge usefulness and potential of the Logos system (for those rich enough, and selfish enough, to be willing to spend enough on a library devoted to their private use). It also highlights the exclusive nature of this system by making the use of external resources (in an institutional or public library, or on Google books, for example) more difficult even than it would be in an obsolescent print codex.
Douglas Mangum et al., Genesis 1–11 (, Lexham Bible GuideBellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012). [↩]
I have yet to find a reference to a work that I spotted as being included in my Gold collection, or among the other works and texts I have bought. So I could not check this assumption. [↩]
In the circles I move in it often seems to be assumed that Gay Christians (at least the ones who do not agree to “settle” for celebacy, nor “recognise” that God “must” be calling them to celebacy – and who consequently support gay marriage) “must” be soft on Scripture.
I have recently been following Allan Hooker’s blog while I never agree with everything anyone says (not even myself) I find much that he writes makes sense, and he seems to care deeply about reading Scripture in faith and not merely “against the grain”. In this he reminds me of some of the Feminist biblical scholars who influenced my Bible reading most a few decades ago.
Whatever your attitude to the questions around Scripture and sexuality I recommend his blog. (His most recent post, as I write this, is on Genesis 11 )
Public Health Warning: Those who prefer to let their knees jerk instead of their minds better avoid it, because it includes phrases like “Queerly Divine”… [↩]
Later than most of the (vaguely) interested public1 I finally watched “Noah” on one of the flights the other day.
I won’t comment on the story, or its relationship with Scripture, other have done that well. Nor will I offer erudite comments on the legend of the watchers – I’m not competent. I want to focus on ideology. Again even within this category, I won’t comment on the radical “green” claim that humanity is a blight upon creation, others have. I’ll focus on the blatant misandry. Consistently in this film the men are against life, whether “goodies” or “baddies” those who kill or seek to kill are male. Indeed when humanity’s anti-file tendencies are in view we are named “Man”. By contrast the women consistently seek to preserve life.
I despise such blatant and crude stereotyping.
Only vaguely because I have little interest in “biblical” films, which almost always spoil fine literature making it clumsy film, and on the whole I feel SciFi (the genre descriptor which seems best to fit this film) also works better as text than film. [↩]
NZ Christian Network have begun to produce a series of thought starters. Aimed to fit on one double-sided sheet of A4 (in PDF format for printing and folding). The goal is to be simple, clear, and to start people thinking. They call them “Notes“. So far they have:
S14-01 Secularism 101 – What it is, why does it matter and how to address it
M14-01 Marriage – Why it matters, where it’s heading and what we need to do
M14-02 Marriage – Towards a strategy for Building a Healthy Marriage Culture
S14-02 Secularism is religious – A gospel by any other name
M14-03 There’s more to marriage! – Is marriage for you?
The format is great for people who still live in the print age (like many church people, especially those too old to have grown up in the Internet and mobile ages).
Since I wrote the last one, I am delighted that they are also making them available in a format that’s more user-friendly for the e-age. As blog posts (with a Feed if you want to subscribe, mine is here, I hope the others will be appearing soon :)
Looks good to me on laptop, tablet and phone, how about you?
The series is not finished yet, so I can recommend it without grinding any axes, but for any Christian wanting to work out more clearly where they stand on any or all of the moral and theological issues surrounding LGBT people and activities this series of posts1 by Preston Sprinkle offers an excellent resource. The writing is sympathetic, gentle and leavened with a touch of humour. His conclusions may not be mine2 but I am enjoying3 the journey and appreciate the tone of the series so far.