Pagan Christianity?

Pagan Christianity, by Frank Viola and George Barna

Anyone read this book? It’s validating of stuff I have been saying for decades but to which most people tune out once I start.

The book title, “Pagan Christianity”, might be off-putting to the average Christian, but what it’s saying is that many of the traditions that are part of modern-day groups that gather in buildings known as “churches” are derived from pagan practices. So much is wrong there, yet people keep feeding into it.

Like with Halloween, so many people keep on doing it, even those who call themselves Christians, though the roots of it are evil.

Do you think tithing is biblical? Why? Because a pastor told you with Scriptures he pulled out of context and used over and over?

Do you think a pastor being the leader of a local church is biblical?

Do you think the office of a “pastor” is biblical? Oh, the word “pastor” is in the Bible, but it is not what these men (and sometimes women) are portraying today.

Do you think it is biblical that one orator should be preaching Sunday after Sunday, year after year, with maybe a “guest speaker” now and then?

Do you think having a dedicated building, with all its expenses, for church meetings is biblical?

Do you think seminary is biblical?

Well, you’d be wrong if you think so on any of that, and furthermore the roots from which all that stems is not what you might be led to presume.

Look into history. Many things that are acceptable today did not start out that way.

Look at the evils around us today to which many of us are opposed. If we don’t succeed in shutting down that which we know is wrong, it will become accepted as the norm and throw individual souls and collective nations into further harm as they ignore the truth.

Get to know Jesus better, through His word. Question everything and study to show yourself correctness. Know Jesus by His Word, the Bible. Know why He came, and know where you are going as a result. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. The truth really does set us free.

Dreams Don’t Have To Have Meaning

Go with the spirit…

“Dreams are sometimes simply fascinating stories, and that in itself is worth something in this world.”

Steeny Lou

A friend told me about a dream he had where he was on the 76th floor of a church spire. His nine-year-old son, whom he misses dearly, was up on that 76th floor with his mother and stepdad. My friend kept climbing the stairs, flight after flight, wondering why there was no elevator and why the spire was so high, trying to reach his son. When he got to the 76th floor, his son ignored him, as he had been instructed to do by the mother and stepdad who took it upon themselves to block the real dad out of the boy’s life.

I can easily attach some meanings to that dream based on how it parallels with things I know/assume about my friend and things I know/assume about buildings, stairs, church spires, hate-filled exes, and the number 76. But my thoughts may or may not accurately reflect the reason for my friend’s dream. Giving him my musings on the dream are at best food for thought and fuel for further discussion between two friends as they try to resolve a troubling aspect of one of their lives, and perhaps ideas may apply to something else in my own life, in that story-swapping manner that is characteristic of friendships.

And that is not a bad thing.

It has occurred to me that dreams may simply be fascinating stories that have no conclusion attached, and that in itself is worth something in this world.

If dreams truly are messages from God, as some presume them to be, based on what they know/assume about dreams that were interpreted in the Bible, I would like Scriptural evidence for me to consider.

Then as soon as I wrote that last line, this from God’s Word came to mind: “Little children, love one another.”

And perhaps that is at least part of the point of dreams, to encourage communication with fellow humans about something that piques our own curiosity enough to share it with a friend, so we can help each other in the selfless way love does, even if only to be a hearing ear where needed.

Why I Don’t “Go To Church”

I wrote this a few years ago while on a rare visit to a church building.

I rarely “go to church”, but those who know me must know that I am no doubt a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ.

I found a typo in a song lyric. Do you see it, or am I way too critical?

Maybe someone else can relate to these thoughts I wrote while “at church” today:

Why do I have such a hard time “going to church”?

I stand here when told to stand. I see the song words on the screen. I hear people singing. The odd song is familiar. How I miss hymnals and flipping to song number 400-and-something. Without drums. Oh, there is a place in my life for drums, but it doesn’t feel right to have them here.

Not much feels right.

Then again, maybe I, too, am not right.

I do love Jesus. I need Him as much as everyone else who sings of their need for Him does, whether they know Him or not.

I was uncomfortable being in a school assembly. And in a classroom. And at information seminars for anything from parenting to eye surgery. At any age. I was as uncomfortable at age 5 in kinder-dread as I was at age 38 in university.

I am aware that the others in “the audience” seem way more comfortable than me. They laugh freely. They seem to know each other. Why can’t I be more invisible?

I know! I can dress in camouflage. No, wait, the benches are red. So, I should wear a red dress? Hmm, that seems inappropriate in the context.

I think “church” must be an enjoyable thing to a lot of people, as people keep filling the buildings, just as university must be fun to some, as they keep paying and going. But kindergarten? Not my thing. But I digress.

Oh no… they’re taking up an offering. Here comes another level of uncomfortable. Don’t even get me started on how much I have read from fellow Christians who have studied the topic of tithes and offerings in the Bible and how it doesn’t apply to the New Testament church… but then this building has expenses, and someone has to pay for them… but then, what’s wrong with meeting in homes, as equals, without hierarchies? That is my preference, but so far I have not found others with whom to do that outside of the wilderness of Alaska, where I was blessed to be part of a physically spread-out yet spiritually close-knit body of believers.

I have never been a fan of going with the flow. Look: I turned to Jesus at the age of 20 when nobody else I knew was a believer. And yet here I am feeling like I am going against the flow right here in a church.

“A church”. That term right there is not one I like to use. I believe the Scriptures teach that “THE church” means the collective body of believers in Christ. Not just believing that Christ walked the earth, but that He was, as prophesied, the coming Messiah, the sinless Son of God, born of a woman who was a virgin at that time, the only way to the heavenly Father, Creator of all life and matter, and not only equal with God but verily God Himself. It makes sense to me, because of years of reading the Bible, but before that, I believed by faith.

Anyway, OK, great, there is a person or two who has read the Bible who stands in front of a congregation to teach a bit of what they have gleaned. That can help those who know nothing about the Bible. But as long as one is able to read, reading the Bible on one’s own is the best way to find out the truth without prejudice.

Why do so many come back Sunday after Sunday to hear the same people share what THEIR knowledge of Scripture is, without the freedom to interject their own thoughts from what their own education has been from daily Bible reading? Has it become a habit? A feeling of obligation? A social status symbol? A desire to be entertained?

If, however, sitting in a church building and hearing what is sung and said has been the avenue that led a soul to salvation, through faith in Christ and what He did to pay the price for sin, that is great.

I wonder, did “going to church” play a role in your finding the Way of salvation? If so, please tell me.

As for me, I don’t like to take someone’s teaching as the last word. In university, I had to throw a lot out, for my questioning attitude was strong there, too.

Maybe my discomfort is because of my heart of rebellion against “the system”. Maybe it is my desire for truth and accuracy. Maybe I just don’t fit anywhere on this planet – but is that so unusual? There is nothing new under the sun.

I feel disconnected, even when – especially when – a stranger smiles at me and shakes my hand.

I want to feel united, one on one, with people who share my love for God. But this does not happen instantly. My guards are up. That is how I have been for as long as I can remember, and it has become more pronounced over the years.

I long for heaven, where all barriers that result from these bodies of sin-stained flesh will be gone.

I am unusual for not feeling comfortable with “going” to “church”. But we believers are, according to Scripture, a peculiar people.

Seminary is not Biblical

“This is very far removed from the Spirit-led, physically decentralized, Christ-centered, biblical model; and this is why I have a problem with seminaries.”

Greetings. My name is Christine and I’m a questioner.

My post here, as much of my writing, may not be popular with many people. Because I question everything. It’s a wonder I got saved at all, but by the grace of God, indeed I am headed for heaven through faith alone in Christ alone, because all that I might consider to be a righteous deed is tainted by the sin in which my body of flesh lives.

I’ve long been uncomfortable with certain aspects of “churchianity”. Seminary is something I have questioned in the past. This article here is something someone else wrote on the topic. I will copy and paste it in case it ever disappears, and put the link at the bottom.

“I am not saying that God has never used seminary graduates to teach the truth. I am saying that it is not because of the seminaries but in spite of them that God was able to use such seminary graduates. “

Most churches, and probably most Christians, assume that those who serve in the ministry, at least at the pastor level, should have seminary training. There are some who dare to question this system. Their question is often, Are seminaries biblical? The answer they’re often given by seminary advocates is, Does something have to be biblical to be good? After all, cars, indoor plumbing, electricity, and other conveniences that we take for granted are not in the Bible. Even words such as “Trinity” are not in the Bible. But this response of citing general cases is an evasion of the question.

Modern conveniences are not directly related to the Bible, and we might expect that the Bible would say nothing about them. And, while the word “Trinity” is not in the Bible, the Trinity certainly is (see “Why Christians Believe in the Trinity“). So, these examples that seminary advocates list are faulty analogies and evade the real question: Is seminary training supported by Scripture?

Seminaries are postgraduate schools that are designed specifically to teach the Bible, biblical languages, theology, leadership skills for the ministry of Jesus Christ, and so forth. Thus, we have every reason to expect the Bible to contain a precedent for seminaries or either explicit instructions or implied directives concerning seminaries. After all, it includes accounts of the ministry of Jesus Christ Himself, His training of His apostles, the apostles’ instructions to their disciples, lists of the qualifications of elders, instructions for the meetings of the assemblies, and so forth. Surely, these give us principles that will tell us whether seminaries are a good way to train the Christian leadership.

Are Seminaries Biblical?: A Precedent for Seminaries?

Seminary advocates often point out that Jesus, being God in the flesh, needed no teacher. Therefore, we can’t say that because Jesus didn’t have seminary-like training, that there is no need for seminaries today. This is true. It could be that while Jesus didn’t need seminary training, ordinary humans do. Yes, it could be so, but it isn’t because the Bible tells us of people who became Christian leaders without seminary training or even formal higher education.

Did Jesus’ apostles need a seminary? Advocates for seminaries say that Jesus’ apostles were directly taught by Jesus, and what better teacher could they have had? Jesus’ teaching His disciples, they say, was the precedent for seminaries. He may not have had formal classrooms, but Jesus did teach His disciples. Today, since Jesus no longer walks the Earth, we can no longer learn from Him but must send people to seminaries to learn. Is this true?

The Bible contradicts this view and tells us that we can still learn from Jesus. In fact, it tells us that we are in a better position to learn from Jesus than the disciples during Jesus’ earthly ministry.

It is true that Jesus directly taught His apostles. Oddly enough, however, the Bible reveals that during Jesus’ earthly ministry, His disciples frequently misunderstood what Jesus was talking about and were often clueless. Even though Jesus was right there in front of their eyes and speaking directly to them, they commonly didn’t understand Him. That’s because Jesus’ physical presence wasn’t the important ingredient for understanding. The disciples had trouble understanding because “the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus wasn’t yet glorified” (John 7:39).

At various times here and there, God gave these men miraculous bits of revelation (e.g. Matthew 16:15-17). On the whole, however, their minds were yet too carnal for them to comprehend what Jesus was teaching.

Jesus plainly spoke of this very thing: “However when he, the Spirit of truth, has come, he will guide you into all truth, for he will not speak from himself; but whatever he hears, he will speak. He will declare to you things that are coming. He will glorify me, for he will take from what is mine, and will declare it to you. All things whatever the Father has are mine; therefore I said that he takes of mine, and will declare it to you” (John 16:13-15). Until the Holy Spirit was dwelling in the disciples, there were many truths the disciples could not bear. But once they had the Holy Spirit, they could begin to understand.

Jesus also said that He Himself would dwell in His followers (John 17:20-23). This He does through the Holy Spirit. So, it is wrong to say that we need seminaries because Jesus can no longer teach us. Jesus is very much with His people today—more so, in fact, than when He was physically on the earth. Today, He spiritually dwells within us through the Holy Spirit.

All believers today are indwelt by Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit. This means that, unlike the disciples during Jesus’ earthly ministry, we have direct access to the Holy Spirit, Jesus, and the Father (John 16:26-27). We also have the written Word of God at our fingertips. In other words, rather than being at a disadvantage because Jesus isn’t physically here, we have great advantages over the disciples when they were physically with Jesus.

It was only after they received the Holy Spirit that Jesus’ followers wrote the New Testament that contains the doctrine we Christians need. And they accomplished that feat without the physical presence of Jesus, and they did it entirely without seminaries.

Now, don’t mistake me for saying that a person needs no education to teach. I say this because some Christian groups, especially some Fundamentalists, disparage education as somehow being contrary to healthy Christianity. I don’t agree. Certainly, there are schools at every level of learning that try to infuse an anti-Christian bias into the minds of their students. But this doesn’t mean that there is anything wrong with education per se. I believe that Christians should seek to further their education as much as possible. But there is a difference between education and indoctrination. Extensive, critical reading is one of the best ways to become educated.

Paul speaks of the ability to teach when listing the qualifications of elders/overseers (1 Timothy 3:2 and 2 Timothy 2:24). Paul also tells Timothy that he should be able to rightly divide (orthotomeō—”cut straight,” “dissect”) the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15). This requires reading proficiency and a good level of reading comprehension. The apostle John may have been a fisherman, but he was apparently educated well enough to write a lengthy Gospel account and three epistles of significant theological depth. Peter, also a fisherman, wrote two epistles. Nevertheless, they were not seminary trained. Many more men today who are not seminary trained would be able to teach if given the chance.

Are Seminaries Biblical?: Seminaries Train Clergy

God gives all Christians gifts and responsibilities. Some particularly have the gift to oversee and/or to teach. This does not, however, set them apart from the rest of the body of believers in some entirely unbiblical category called a clergy. I more thoroughly discuss the clergy in the article, “How Many Offices Are In God’s Assembly?” Yet, seminaries originated specifically to train clergy. What’s more, the clergy seminaries were founded to train were Catholic clergy. Even further, the Catholic Church founded seminaries as part of its counter-reformation. The purpose of the seminaries was to train priests who could argue against the challenges to Catholic doctrine presented by the Reformation.

The “faction” and “heresy” referred to in this quote is the Reformation: “And when in the 16th Century faction and heresy had disturbed the Church and had confounded all things human and divine the sacred Council of Trent devised no more efficient expedient than the erection of Seminaries to check the growing mischief which was spreading about her” (Henry Weedall, D.D., The Origin, Object, and Influence of Ecclesiastical Seminaries Considered, in a Discourse…. [R.P. Stone and Son, Birmingham: 1838] 14).

The Catholic Encyclopedia tells us that ecclesiastical seminaries are “schools instituted, in accordance with a decree of the Council of Trent, for the training of the Catholic diocesan clergy…. This system of seminary education, which has now become an essential feature of the Church’s life, had its origin only in the sixteenth century in a decree of the Council of Trent…. Cardinal Pole, who had witnessed the foundation of the German College and had been a member of the commission to prepare for the Council of Trent, went to England after the death of Henry VIII to re-establish the Catholic religion. In the regulations which he issued in 1556, the word seminary seems to have been used for the first time in its modern sense, to designate a school exclusively devoted to the training of the clergy. After the council [of Trent] reopened, the Fathers resumed the question of clerical training; and after discussing it for about a month, they adopted the decree on the foundation of ecclesiastical seminaries. (Anthony Viéban, “Ecclesiastical Seminary.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 13. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912).

Given this information, it can be a somewhat staggering fact that almost every Protestant, Baptist, and other non-Catholic denomination—as well as many non-denominational churches—have established seminaries! Yet, it shouldn’t really be surprising given that all of these denominations and churches have either always been or at some point in history become part of the institutional church that is epitomized by the Roman Catholic “Holy Mother Church.” The institutional church is not, and never has been, the ekklēsia built by Jesus Christ; although there are believers in the institutional church, and they are members of the ekklēsia.

Further reading: “Ekklēsia or Church, Does It Matter?

Is my point that Protestant churches shouldn’t have taken the word “seminary” that was used by Catholics and used it for their schools? No. That is not my point. My point is that the Catholic Church established seminaries as centralized institutions through which they could indoctrinate young men with official Catholic dogma. These men would then be sent to churches where they would teach the same, uniform doctrine they had been taught. This, it was hoped, would create an atmosphere hostile to individual thinking and prevent the spread of the Reformation. Protestant seminaries did more than just take the name “seminary.” They based their seminaries on the same model—centralized indoctrination of young men taken from their local churches who would then be sent out as a special class of Christians called clergy to teach the dogma they had imbibed at the seminary.

This is very far removed from the Spirit-led, physically decentralized, Christ-centered, biblical model; and this is why I have a problem with seminaries.

Are Seminaries Biblical?: The Danger of Unbiblical Authority and Centralization

Jesus indwells each believer, we all have access to the written Word of God, and we can be exposed to the ideas of other believers through the meetings of the assemblies or—as is often now the case—through electronic and print media. Thus, even if we assume that the purpose of seminaries is to impartially teach the Word of God—and that is a questionable assumption, at best—we can see that there isn’t a legitimate need for seminaries. Jesus teaches us directly through the Spirit and written Word. But is there anything wrong with seminaries? I believe there is. Again, even if we assume an innocent purpose behind their founding, seminaries are a danger because of their inherent structure.

Two fundamental problems with seminaries lie in the perceived authority of their teachers and in their centralized organization. These really become one big problem when lots of people gather in one place to be taught by a few authorities. What happens when the sole teacher in a classroom begins teaching unsound doctrine? Can we trust that the seminary administration will catch this and dismiss the teacher? The record of the past tells us that we cannot. Jesus instructed, “If the blind guide the blind, both will fall into a pit” (Matthew 15:14b). In the case of seminaries, the bad teaching of one instructor can lead many into a pit.

Of Christ’s assemblies, the Bible says that two or three are to speak and the others are to judge or discern or scrutinize. The Apostolic Bible Polyglot translates the Greek of 1 Corinthians 14:29 literally: “And prophets, let speak two or three, and the others scrutinize!” Is this the way seminary classes are conducted? Do the students have the right to scrutinize their teachers? Do these impressionable young minds even want to do so, or are they awed by the dignity and reputation of their instructors? Are they spiritually mature enough to know when a teaching ought to be challenged? In 1 Timothy 3:6, Paul specifically says that those who are to be overseers in the assembly of God are not to be novices or neophytes (from the Greek neophutos—literally “newly sprouted”). Yet, that is exactly what many seminary students are.

Speaking of the spread of heresy, the Bible says, “A little yeast grows through the whole lump” (Galatians 5:9). Seminaries have often become hotbeds of heresy. All it takes is one instructor in a seminary to teach heresy to his students, who then bring that teaching back to the churches in which they are hired, to spread that heresy worldwide.

Never, when listing the qualifications of elders or overseers or servants, does the Bible ever say that people must be, or even should be, seminary graduates or anything that would be a prototype of seminary graduates. Never is such a thing even suggested. Yes, the elder is to hold “to the faithful word which is according to the teaching, that he may be able to exhort in the sound doctrine, and to convict those who contradict him” (Titus 1:9). But this is a gift given by Christ through the Holy Spirit and exercised through study of God’s Word, not something earned or learned at a seminary.

Some have pointed out that Paul was taught, in a possibly seminary-like fashion, by Gamaliel. It’s true that Paul was taught by Gamaliel, and he pointed this fact out to the mob of Jews to show that he was a devout Jew and well-educated in the Jewish religion, and that’s why he “persecuted this Way [of Christ] to the death” (Acts 22:3-4). But he contrasts this with his encounter with the risen Christ on the road to Damascus. Surely, he considered his education by Gamaliel amongst the dung or refuse of confidence in the flesh and the law (Philippians 3:3-8). Paul makes clear that his Gospel did not come from men: “But I make known to you, brothers, concerning the Good News which was preached by me, that it is not according to man. For neither did I receive it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came to me through revelation of Jesus Christ” (Galatians 1:11-12).

Paul’s instruction to Titus implies that those appointed as elders in a city were residents of that city (Titus 1:5). The Bible never teaches that the assemblies should look outside of themselves for elders. Yet, the seminary system promotes this very thing. It takes people away from their local congregations. Youths who have been force-fed worldviews and doctrine and practice by a few professors are then called as strangers before pastoral search committees who will decide, like a corporate human resources team, whether to hire them for the job. The church is a worldly institution that is the opposite of the Scriptural ekklēsia in virtually every way.

Seminaries Are Contrary to the Centrality of Christ

In the end, the problem with seminaries is that they are contrary to the centrality of Christ. Like wrong-headed teachings that say we are sanctified by our works, or that we are still somehow under the law, they faithlessly deny the power of Christ. The Bible gives us no other way to learn than to be taught by Christ through the indwelling Spirit and written Word of God. Part of this can include hearing and reading the ideas of other believers whose teachings we have scrutinized. We can then pass this on to others in a way that is also subject to scrutiny. This is the way the Bible teaches us to gain knowledge.

I am not saying that God has never used seminary graduates to teach the truth. I am saying that it is not because of the seminaries but in spite of them that God was able to use such seminary graduates.

Are seminaries biblical? No. The Bible never so much as hints that we are to send people who want to serve the Body of Christ out of their locality to a central institution to learn to be a special executive class of Christians called clergy. Christ taught His disciples, and He teaches us today. The Word of God gives us qualifications for elders, but they do not include seminary training or anything that resembles it.

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“Log In To Reply”

I get email notifications when there’s a new post from the few WordPress blogs I follow. They give me links to go like or comment. When I click them and I arrive on the blog post, when I try to hit the like button or the comment button, it tells me I need to log in.

Then it takes me to my photo that goes with my blog, and a button to click for presumably logging in. I hit the only option there is, and it takes me back to the blog post I wanted to like, but it still asks me to log in.

I try again but the same thing happens every time.

So… If you are one who wonders why I never comment or like anything you post, but you know I used to, that is why. It makes me sad. I wish I knew how to make it work. It used to work, but it hasn’t in many months.

Is WordPress broken?

Every time I get a notification by email to let me know that one of the few people I follow on WordPress has posted something, when I want to click “like” I click the link in the email to get to their actual site and try to click like but it won’t let me unless I sign in. Well I try to sign in, but it won’t let me sign in. I apologize to the few people that I follow. I really am reading your words and wishing I could say something in response but it won’t work. I guess we’ll have to talk in heaven.

All In

The following post is shared from my brother and fellow WordPress blogger, whom I call GeeDebub.

I am not in a hurry. I am just going to say I expect to have God’s peace when He is ready to make me glad. Like the champion poker player holding four aces says, I am all in. (I don’t gamble, by the way. If I’m a fool I’m a fool only for Christ.) […]

All In

Divorce, the Law, and Jesus

The following was not written by me, but it has been helpful to me so I want to share it.

Divorce, the Law, and Jesus

by Walter L. Callison

Divorce and remarriage are topics of much debate. The purpose of the following article is to invite the reader to reassess the church’s attitude toward remarriage.

We welcome your comments and opinions on the content of this article.

For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ (John 1:17). Grace. Did grace come by Jesus Christ to those suffering marital tragedy, even as much grace as was provided by Old Testament law? Surely, we affirm, grace and truth did come by Jesus Christ. Then how does grace abound to those who have suffered the tragedy of a marriage failure and divorce?

Christ did more than teach with words. He also taught with his life. Christ brought new ideas to his followers, rejecting their ancient “eye for an eye” and “tooth for a tooth” doctrines, encouraging love for those not their own, lifting up women from the status of “things” to recognition as people. Yet he also taught respect for the old Jewish law.

When we study what he said about divorce, we must also study the life he lived among those of broken marriages, as well as what he taught about Jewish law, especially their divorce law.

But what about his words? If a divorced person is remarried, what about the words, “Whosoever putteth away his wife and marrieth another, committeth adultery” (Luke 16:18)? We could emulate the compassionate and forgiving nature of Christ, as he sent the woman at the well into Samaria to be his witness. But do his words deny his actions? Are people who are divorced and married to another living in adultery? Are they forbidden service to Christ?

We also must hear the words of the Apostle Paul, “A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife” (1 Tim. 3:2). Does he speak of a person who has been divorced and remarried?

Luke records only one comment, and a very concise one, on this subject:

“And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one title of the law to fail. Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery”(Luke 16:17-18).

Concise. But Jesus did make it clear that the Old Testament had something significant to say.

There is a law! When asked by the Pharisees, in the Gospel of Mark, “Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife?” (Mark 10:2), Jesus answered, “What did Moses command you?” (Mark 10:3). “They said, Moses suffered to write a bill of divorcement” (Mark 10:4). There is a law.

The law is found in Deuteronomy 24:1-4, and at the time Christ lived, Flavius Josephus, who also lived then, paraphrased it and referred to it as the “law of the Jews”:

“He that desires to be divorced from his wife for any cause whatsoever, (and many such causes happen among men), let him in writing give assurance that he will never use her as his wife any more; for by this means she may be at liberty to marry another husband, although before this bill of divorce be given, she is not to be permitted so to do…”

(Antiquities of the Jews – The Life and Work of Flavius Josephus, Book IV, Ch. VIII, Sec. 23, p. 134; tr. Wm. Whiston; Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, NY).

Here is the law from Deuteronomy:

“When a man hath taken a wife, and married her, and it come to pass that she find no favour in his eyes, because he hath found some uncleanness in her: then let him write her a bill of divorcement, and give it in her hand, and send her out of his house. And when she is departed out of his house, she may go and be another man’s wife” (Deut. 24:1-2).

The law was still around in the time of Christ. We must, therefore, deal with the “tittles” of the law.

The Bible only records one divorce. God said he did it. In Jeremiah 3, God reminded Judah that she was heading for trouble. Israel had already been taken captive. God told Jeremiah to warn Judah that she had witnessed her sister Israel’s infidelity and had seen God give her a bill of divorce and send her away; and yet she did not fear (Jer. 3:6-8).

There were other things men did with their wives. Many men of old married more than one wife, and without bothering about divorce. Some of these were God’s servants: Solomon, David, Abraham, and Esau, for example. Heroes of God’s revelation, but also products of their culture.

If he did not divorce her, what did a man of those days do with a wife when he took another? He put her away. There is a word for that in the Old Testament, the Hebrew word shalach. It is different than the Hebrew word for divorce, which is keriythuwth. Keriythuwth (Jer. 3:8 above) literally means excision, a cutting of the marital bonds; legal divorce was written, as commanded in Deuteronomy 24, and permitted subsequent marriage. Shalach is usually translated “to put away.” Women were “put away” when their men married others, put away to be available if needed or wanted again, put away to become mere property, as slaves, or put away in total dismissal; it was a cruel day for women. They were “put away” in favor of another, but not given a divorce and the right to marry again. This word described a cruel tradition, common, but contrary to Jewish law.

Some of the hardships and terror experienced by women who were “put away” can be seen as this Hebrew word shalach is described in the Langenscheid Pocket Hebrew Dictionary (McGraw-Hill, 1969)-“to let loose, roaming at large, to be scared, abandoned, forsaken.”

J. B. Phillips, in his book of meditations For This Day (Word, 1975) wrote:

“The Christian faith took root and flourished in an atmosphere almost entirely pagan, where cruelty and sexual immorality were taken for granted, where slavery and the inferiority of women were almost universal, while superstition and rival religions with all kinds of bogus claims, existed on every hand.”

God hated this “putting away.” Malachi, the prophet, broken-heartedly pleaded with God’s people to stop the practice. Hear Malachi plead with them. The word translated “putting away” in Mal. 2:16 is not the Hebrew word for divorce but it is shalach, put away. Hear Malachi respond to leaders, who asked how they had dealt treacherously, and committed abomination in Israel, and profaned the holiness of the Lord.

“Yet ye say, Wherefore? Because the Lord hath been witness between thee and the wife of thy youth, against whom thou hast dealt treacherously: yet is she thy companion, and the wife of the covenant. And did not he make one? Yet had he the residue of the spirit. And wherefore one? That he might seek a godly seed. Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously against the wife of his youth. For the Lord, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth “putting away” (Mal. 2:14-16).

And Jesus came. And his words do not deny his actions! He spoke of this when he said, “Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery” (Luke 16:18). Whosoever does this commits adultery! This practice was cruel and was adulterous, but it was not divorce.

This New Testament word, translated “put away” in the King James Version, is a form of the Greek word apoluo. It is the word in Greek, the language of the New Testament, which parallels the Hebrew word shalach (put away).

There is an Old Testament Hebrew word for divorce, keriythuwth, and a New Testament Greek word, apostasion. The Arndt-Gingrich Lexicon of the New Testament cites usage of the word apostasion as the technical term for a bill or writing of divorce as far back as 258 B.C.

Apoluo, the Greek word for putting away, was not technically divorce, though often used synonomously. In that age of total male domination, men often took additional wives, and did not provide written release when they forsook wives and married others. The Jewish law demanding written divorce (Deut. 24:1-2) was largely ignored. If a man married another woman, so what? If a man “put away” (apoluo) his wife without bothering with a written divorce, who was going to object? The woman?

Jesus had some objections. Jesus even loved mistreated women! He told them that this earth would go up in smoke before the law requiring a written bill of divorce should fail (Lk. 16:17). And he said, when you put away a wife (without written divorce), and marry another (while still married), you are guilty of adultery (Lk. 16:17). Moreover, she who is put away is in real trouble. She has no divorce paper. She is abandoned, but still married. She would commit adultery if she married again (Lk. 16:18).

The distinction between “put away” and “divorce,” between the Greek apoluo and apostasion is critical. Apoluo indicated that women were enslaved, put away, with no rights, no recourse; deprived of the basic right to monogamous marriage. Apostasion ended marriage and permitted a legal subsequent marriage. The paper makes a difference. “Let him write her a bill of divorcement, and give it in her hand, and send her out of his house. And when she is departed out of his house, she may go and be another man’s wife” (Deut. 24:2). That was the law.

There are passages, other than Luke 16:17-18 (above) where Jesus spoke on this matter. They include Matt. 19:9, Mark 10:10-12 (where Mark records that Jesus laid down the same law for women as for men), and Matt. 5:32. Jesus used a form of the word apoluo eleven times in these passages. In every passage he forbade apoluo, putting away. He never forbade giving apostasion, written divorce, required by Jewish law.

Should the Greek word apoluo be translated divorce? Kenneth S. Wuest in The New Testament, an Expanded Translation always translated it “dismissed” or “put away,” never “divorced.” The old, and very literal American Standard Version always translated it “put away.” The King James Version translated it “put away” ten out of the eleven times Jesus used it. That eleventh instance seems to be the source of the problem. In 1611, in ONE place the King James translators wrote “divorced” instead of “put away.” In Matt. 5:32, they wrote, “and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.” The word is not the Greek word apostasion (divorce), but is a form of that same Greek word apoluo which did not include a writing of divorce for the woman. She, technically, would still be married.

Matt. 19:3-10 records the Pharisees taunting Jesus about this matter, asking him, “Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?” He responded that marriage is a permanent relationship, and said, “Whatsoever God hath joined together, let not man put asunder” (Matt. 19:6).

They then asked, “Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement (apostasion), and to put her away?” (Matt. 19:7). Jesus answered, “because of the hardness of your hearts!” (Matt. 19:8). The first basic human right God gave us was the right to be married. No other companionship was adequate. Hard-hearted men unilaterally put away women and married others, considering themselves divorced, but leaving the women without recourse and deprived of that first basic human right. Human rights were for men only in those days. Jesus changed that! He demanded obedience to the law; he demanded equal marriage rights for women. Grace does abound in Jesus Christ!

Jesus told those men that to put away a wife and to marry another was adultery! Adultery! The law (Deut. 22:22) called for the death penalty for adultery, for both the woman and the man! That was bitter medicine for men who did as they pleased with women. Matt. 19:10 records their shock: “If the case of a man be so with his wife, it is not good to marry.” They did not live in a culture wherein a man was expected to live with only one woman for life, much less, give her equal rights if marriage failed.

How did we ever begin to read “whosoever divorces his wife” into those places where Jesus literally said “whosoever puts away, or abandons, his wife”?

It may be that the one place where apoluo was mis-translated “divorce” in 1611 started the whole process. The American Standard Version corrected the error in 1901. It never became popular enough to make much difference. Wuest was careful to avoid such mistakes, as noted earlier. But almost everything that has ever come off a printing press has been influenced by the King James Version of the Bible, even Greek-English lexicons, and most modern translators seem to be influenced by that one occurrence in it and translate apoluo “divorce,” even though the meaning of the word does not include a writing of divorce (apostasion). Now, tradition has taught us to record “divorced” in our minds though our eyes actually read “put away” in the King James Version.

Is written divorce, as commanded in Deuteronomy, the solution to the cruel practice of “putting away”? The twenty-fourth chapter of Deuteronomy is evidence that, even as God heard the groaning of his people in Egypt and provided deliverance from slavery, he also heard the groans of enslaved women and provided deliverance from abuse by means of that tragic necessity, divorce; tragic because it ends that which should never end, marriage; necessary to protect the victims of those who do not obey the rules of our creator, all-mighty God. Necessary, originally, because men “put away” women, trapping them in illegal and adulterous multiple marriages.

Divorce is a privilege, provided as a corrective for an intolerable situation. It is a privilege which can be, and often is, abused. Divorce is not a pretty picture in most cases. Loneliness, rejection, a deep sense of failure, loss of self-esteem, critical relatives, child care problems, property settlements-these concerns, and more confront the divorced.

Divorce can be more traumatic than the death of a mate. Grief following the death of a spouse is hard to bear, as is the grief of divorce. But a dead spouse does not keep coming back. The divorced one often does, thus prolonging and often renewing grief. Divorce is still only what it was in Jesus’ day, a partial solution to a serious and cruel situation; and maybe the only reasonable solution. It may be necessary, but it is always a tragedy!

We might be able to prevent some divorces by tightening our divorce laws or by religious prohibitions against divorce, but such actions would not prevent broken marriages. When couples stay together only because of fear of the notoriety required by divorce laws, or because of church prohibitions, or “for the sake of the children,” tragedy can result. Disastrous marital triangles, domestic cruelty, child abuse, murder, and suicide are some of the documented consequences of marriage which had failed but was not terminated. What a fearful choice! A broken home is a tragedy, but I will never forget a young man who put a gun barrel in his mouth and ended his marriage, his alternative to divorce. His church had forbidden divorce.

Our high divorce rate is not the real problem. Marriage failure comes first, and then divorce. The divorce rate is only an indicator of our high bad marriage rate. To correct this, we must do more than preach against divorce! It will be more difficult. It is easy to preach against divorce, but difficult for a church to be constructive in providing preparation for marriage and strengthening of marriages. Our challenge lies here!

Can a divorced person be ordained as a deacon or a preacher? The Apostle Paul, an educated man, knew the Greek word for divorce (apostasion) and knew his culture. He also knew Christ would accept anyone, even him, the “chiefest of sinners” (1 Tim. 1:15). Unquestionably some early converts had multiple wives, slave wives, and concubines. Each of these relationships, though given the nicer title, polygamy, was adultery. Paul rejected the heads of such households as leaders in the church. The command to give a writing of divorcement in Deuteronomy 24 limited a man to only one wife and thus prohibited polygamy and the adultery inherent in it. Paul seemed to concur fully when he said, “A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife” (1 Tim. 3:2). He rejected polygamy, not divorce.

Despite serious abuse, the divorce law (Deuteronomy 24) still has validity. Divorce is a radical solution to insurmountable marital problems. It ends all hope that the marriage might be saved, and declares publicly that the marriage has failed. This moment of truth can be shattering. Sin, related to this failure, must be confessed if there is to be any forgiveness, any peace with God. “If we confess our sin, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sin, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). This includes forgiveness for marital failure.

As opposed to putting away, written divorce, commanded by the law, provided a degree of human dignity for women subjected to cruel abuse, adulterous polygamy, and the whims of hardhearted men. Nothing so flimsy as an oral “I divorce you” would do. Divorce declared the legal end of a marriage, thereby precluding any charge of adultery or bigamy should either party ever marry again. Divorce severed all marital ties and all control by the former spouse. Divorce demanded strict monogamy. Divorce prevented unilateral dismissal and preserved the basic right to be married. Divorce does the same today. Abandonment, desertion, putting away, or whatever one calls that hard-hearted forsaking of a wife for another, without divorce, was and is forbidden by the Lord Jesus himself (Mt. 19:9, Mt. 5:32, Mk. 10:11-12, Lk. 16:18).

For centuries much of the Christian community has interpreted these teachings of Jesus to say: 1) Divorce is absolutely not permitted, or at best, is permitted only in the case of admitted or proven adultery. 2) A divorced person is not allowed to marry again. 3) A divorced person who does marry again lives in adultery. 4) A person who is divorced cannot be ordained as a deacon or a minister. Every one of these beliefs could be wrong. The first three are contrary to Mosaic Law and are based on scripture in which Jesus did not even use the Greek word for divorce (apostasion); the fourth is based on scripture in which Paul did not use it. The word Jesus used was apoluo, to put away. This was the problem with which he dealt, not divorce.

A divorced person must have great grace and determination to serve in a church which holds to the four positions listed above. How can this be, when the church is the body of Christ on earth, to function and to serve as he did, in person?

Christ, who once wept over Jerusalem, must look down from heaven and weep over us. He came and called Simon the Zealot, a radical anti-Roman, and Matthew, a hated lackey of Rome, a pair as incompatible as any you could find in America today; but he put them to work, together, in his kingdom. Then he went to Samaria, revealed himself to a woman with a shameful background of marital failures, and sent her out to share the revelation of God in Christ as if she were as good as anyone else. He must weep when he sees us wasting our time trying to figure out whom we can disbar from serving him in his church.

Jesus openly ministered to all who came to him. Yet many of our divorced friends are afraid of our churches. They know what we say the Bible teaches about divorce. Can we be right and so unlike Christ? Do our traditional interpretations separate us from people whom Christ would have received? If so, we must be wrong. He came to save sinners. The only people he ever rejected were the self-righteously religious. Is our understanding of his words correct if it does not square with his life? Divorced people are real people! For centuries churches have excluded these people from fellowship and usefulness, from joy and equality, even from salvation; people for whom Christ died. Whether or not divorce is sin, this certainly is! May God grant us the grace to mediate that grace which did come in Jesus Christ to the divorced.

(This article appeared in the May/June 1986 edition of Your Church. Walter L. Callison is a Baptist minister from Iowa City, IA. He is a graduate of Park College and the Midwestern Baptist Theology Seminary. He served previously as director of missions for the Bethel Baptist Association.

A quick howdy…

A river in Canada’s Rockies – no filter!

Greetings, friends, Romans, countrymen, and assorted yet-unmet WordPress readers! How art thou?

I still get notifications when the people I follow post something new, but summer has been so busy I have not had a chance to read much, and even less time to respond.

I just wanted to check in for whatever it’s worth.

For the past week, I have been out driving. I undertook a solo road trip from central BC, through the Rocky Mountains, to Jasper, Alberta, down to Calgary, out to a remote quarter section of friends in the foothills, and back home via a different route. I had never been to the Rockies. Had I known how incredibly beautiful it was, I would have gone through sooner. It was truly a taste of heaven.

I stayed in a hotel two nights, at two different AirBnb’s, and three nights in the back of my pickup truck under the canopy. The latter was by far the best place to get restful sleep.

Life continues to be busy, so although I dearly wish I could write an entire blog post about the trip, I won’t get time today. I just got home last night, and still have to unpack, and get caught up on some things around the house and yard. My family did a pretty good job holding down the fort though.

Hope you all are having a fabulous summer. Keep looking up, for your redemption draweth nigh!

Corb Lund Announces New Album “Cover Your Tracks”

I saw an email notification tiday saying this blogger started following my blog. I like her style and I see we have a few things in common right off the bat — Looney Tunes and the music of Corb Lund. Cool!

The Country Goth Girl

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