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Question #1:

I stumbled on your site today and was very pleased with what I saw there. I am a Christian of many years. I gave my life to Jesus as a teenager and God has been helping me. I have always believed in modesty as far as Christian dressing is concerned and not on any legalistic 'dos' and 'don'ts' but my recent experiences is giving me lots of anxiety. I don't use jewelry for personal reason and not spiritual reason. However I have a baby girl and the father insisted that the daughter must use ear-ring since the day she was born. My husband wanted our daughter to use ear-ring and I never opposed it. She has been using it for the past 4 years. Now we attend a denomination where those who use ear-ring are regarded as those that will not make heaven. Last year, one brother from the church came to me and said that God sent him to us that we must obey God totally by removing our daughter's ear-ring. My husband did not accept this and we never removed it. Now, yesterday, another sister gave me a book about someone who saw vision of people in hell and especially of those who went to hell because they use jewelry. I know everything is still about my daughter's ear-ring. Now, my husband does not see anything in all their disturbances and I am no longer comfortable with it. One thing is that, this church is one of the few churches that preach the truth and getting good one around will take a long time. I don't know what to do and I don't want to continue to go there except my husband agree that we remove our daughter's ear-ring. 1. Please advise me. 2. Sir, what can you say about the claim of those that claim to see vision of hell where people who wear jewelry go to. 3. Do people denominational belief influence their vision. I am just Christian who wants to make heaven at all cost. Thanks so much.

Response #1:

Good to make your acquaintance.

As to your question, the Bible does not forbid the wearing of jewelry. Indeed, in Old Testament times many believers, men as well as women, did so (e.g., Gen.24:22; Num.31:50). Here are some links on this subject:

Should Christians wear Jewelry?

Earrings and Nose-rings

It is true that Peter at 1st Peter 3:3 says "Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes" (NIV), but that is not a prohibition on these things. Rather it is a command to concentrate on our inner-person rather than our outer-person when it comes to pursing spiritual growth. Paul's comments about modest dress at 1st Timothy 2:9-10 are to be taken in the same vein. He states what he wants: spiritual adornment. He is not saying that wearing jewelry is wrong. And it is certainly true that the difference between modest adornment and an ostentatious display is obvious. This is analogous to the difference between long hair and no hair. A man need not shave his head in order not to have long hair; nor must a woman never cut her hair in order to avoid having hair which is too short. These are relative measures, and what crosses over the line into immodesty is very obvious (even allowing for cultural differences between countries such as mine and yours).

People/Christians who want to make the Christian life all about what we eat, what we wear, and all other manner of superficial things are at the very least flirting with legalism. Legalism is the attempt to reduce our walk with Christ to a set of rules and regulations. Whether the Mosaic Law is used in whole or in part, or whether an entirely new set of laws is put forward, none of this comes from God. Our law now that Christ has come is the law of love. We should not do anything that unnecessarily offends our brothers and sisters in Christ. On the other hand, we cannot allow ourselves to be bullied out of reasonable behavior by those who wish to bind us with non-biblical chains.

I do appreciate your dilemma. The number of churches which even make a show of teaching the Bible nowadays are very few and far between. That is why this ministry is on the internet. You are certainly welcome at Ichthys, and I would be happen to correspond with you whenever you have questions.

As to the claim of a vision of hell for jewelry wearers, since Rebecca wore jewelry and is in heaven as a great believer, we may say unequivocally that the vision is false. Christians are good-hearted people and tend to believe what others tell them. When it comes to all things biblical, however, we should look to the Bible and to our spiritual common sense as the Holy Spirit teaches our spirit. If what someone tells us agrees with the Bible, then there is no particular harm in believing it (the substance if not the claimed special source). If what they say does not agree with the Bible, then it is not true (please see the link: "Third Party Reports").

Everyone who maintains their faith in Jesus Christ will make it to heaven! We are still here after believing in order to store up treasures for eternal life (please see the link).

Yours in Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob Luginbill

Question #2:

Thank you so much sir. I really appreciate your advice and explanation. As a believer, I don't just believe something because someone claim he/she receives it from God. As a teenager, God has delivered me from many errors because I always take my stand on issues; after all I have the spirit of God. I have lost interest in denominational gatherings, that is why things like this and other denominational dogmas trouble me. I grew up as a Christian in an interdenominational environment and I have watched people live the Christian life in truth and in spirit. Yes sir, I will always keep in touch anytime I have questions. Do you belong to any denomination too?

Response #2:

You are most welcome. Please do feel free to write me back any time. As to your question, while I grew up in a denomination (Presbyterian) and was associated for a long time with an independent church (a very large one to the point of almost being a denomination), I currently have no connection to any denomination. As I say in the "About Ichthys" page (see the link), these studies (and my background) are broadly speaking within the evangelical tradition, but I committed long ago to following our Lord and the truth of His Word wherever He and it chose to take me. Traditions, assuming they are good ones, may be a brake on some forms of heresy and apostasy, but they also often retard the search for the truth. And, generally speaking, in my experience even in those cases where denominational traditions were originally based on some correct understandings of the truth, their reception and application by later generations always seems to result in their corruption and misapplication. In any case, as you imply with great justification, denominations by their very nature are not just disinterested in pursuing the truth further – they are mostly not interested in the truth at all. That is why this ministry is on the internet.

Keep fighting the good fight of faith!

Yours in Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #3:

I've come to notice a fairly big pattern when it comes to women, so far, in scripture, at least in the Old testament. Why are women, in general, treated or thought of with such disrespect? Or am I only seeing the negative and not the positive? I was just kind of curious why it seems women were treated so badly, at least from what I've read, like they were possessions and nothing more. I realize this is a big question, and in hindsight, I'll save my question about James for another time. I really hope this isn't a burden on you, and I'm sorry if it is. Like I've said before in previous emails: you can feel free to not answer, also, I'd understand.

Response #3:

On the issue of women, again, the historical books of scripture give us the historical facts. Scripture itself values women in the Old Testament and the New equally to men – because God values us all equally; we are all here to serve God, we are all made by Him, and we are all saved the same way. Our bodies are different, and also the roles we are to play in this life (person to person, gift to gift, gender to gender, Israelite to gentile, etc.). But we all have equal opportunity to be saved and to earn eternal rewards, even if the life we have to lead to win them will be different as a result of our different genders, gifts and circumstances. Everyone, after all, is different. If you have the gift of helps and I have the gift of evangelism, it is pointless for me to wish I were a better administrator or set myself to doing that instead of what God wants me to do, spread the gospel; and it would be equally pointless for you to wish you were better at evangelizing and instead of taking on the administration of a local church to dedicate yourself to an outreach ministry for which you have no gift and to which God has not called you. If God has created a person a man or a woman, as in all things it is in that capacity that he/she has to serve Him, seek Christ, and strive to grow, progress and produce for Him . . . at least for those who wish to do things the right way, and the only way to gain any significant reward in this life.

Let each one remain in the same calling in which he was called.
1st Corinthians 7:20 NKJV

Question #4:

Thank you for your answer, though I was kind of bringing up a question of why women were treated the way they were by men, other humans. I know scripturally we are all equals, but I was merely asking about why the men of that time thought the way they did? Am I reading too much into it, and there are just simply many more cases of men mistreating women than the other way around? I apologize if I'm making wrong assumptions or remarks about this.

Response #4:

As to women being mistreated by men, that has been happening since the expulsion from Eden, and still continues today, even in this country (even if our PR on the matter is better than that of other countries); no doubt because men are stronger in general and possess a greater number of positions of higher authority traditionally: in other words, (some) men do it because they can. Women have sin natures too, however, I have observed many occasions of women abusing authority and abusing other women too at that. The sin nature runs deep in us all. God, however, is "not a respecter of persons" and treats everyone with absolute fairness and justice.

Question #5:

Why does giving birth take away a women's humiliation and or reproach among men? Gen 30:23, Luke 1:25

Response #5:

All one has to do is to read the story of Abraham and Sarah to appreciate just how important physical progeny was in the ancient world. Indeed, it still is today outside of western culture. Not that in our world it is not still important, but the cultural decline of the west has led to de-emphasizing what for most of history in most cultures was the most important thing: having children. In that context, for someone not to have them was a "reproach", and especially in the community of the godly might be looked upon as a punishment for "sin" or the like. As with Job, people tend to think the worst – even when God is planning the best (as He was with John the baptist's mother Elizabeth too).

Question #6:

Hi Dr. Luginbill,

What do you think about Christians who are feminists? I don’t mean to be inflammatory. I just want to know you’re opinion on the subject.

Thanks,

Response #6:

Good to hear from you. As to your question, I'm not much on labels so I suppose it all depends upon what the person (self-described) or the person doing the describing means by this. We are all one in Jesus Christ, so to the extent that this means recognizing the oneness of men and women in Jesus, I'm fine with that: we are all saved the same way, and we all have equal opportunity before the Lord to win the three crowns (only the ministries to which we are called differ – and they differ person to person as the Lord determines). If a person means by this, just for example in a Christian context, that women should be able to teach men the Bible, then I would have to say that no movement however well intentioned can usurp God's authority: He writes the rules, He gives us the gifts He gives us, and He calls us to the ministries to which He calls us (His decisions, not ours). If a person means by this a campaign of political action to achieve societal equality, while I can sympathize with the goal of justice, it is always a mistake for Christians to get caught up in any political cause of any sort. There are many of these out there, and they mostly all have at least a grain of goodness and truth, but inevitably the means to carry them out goes awry, causes more negative things than the positive goal intended ever could (even if achieved), and in the process such activity has a tendency to knock the Christian in question right out of any hope of spiritual growth, progress or production – and in many cases results in apostasy. This trend is going to get worse as the Tribulation approaches and begins. Some links:

Steer clear of politics

Christians and state authority

Political Action versus Biblical Christianity

History, War and Politics

Christianity and Politics

Yours in Jesus Christ who is Lord of us all,

Bob L.

Question #7:

Hi Bob,

After reading Numbers 5, I encountered this passage. Can you help me interpret it? I had to use the NIV, because otherwise it's almost impossible to comprehend.

Then the Lord said to Moses, "Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘If a man’s wife goes astray and is unfaithful to him by sleeping with another man, and this is hidden from her husband and her impurity is undetected (since there is no witness against her and she has not been caught in the act), and if feelings of jealousy come over her husband and he suspects his wife and she is impure—or if he is jealous and suspects her even though she is not impure— then he is to take his wife to the priest. He must also take an offering of a tenth of an ephah of barley flour on her behalf. He must not pour oil on it or put incense on it, because it is a grain offering for jealousy, a reminder offering to draw attention to guilt.

"‘The priest shall bring her and have her stand before the Lord. Then he shall take some holy water in a clay jar and put some dust from the tabernacle floor into the water. After the priest has had the woman stand before the Lord, he shall loosen her hair and place in her hands the reminder offering, the grain offering for jealousy, while he himself holds the bitter water that brings a curse. Then the priest shall put the woman under oath and say to her, "If no other man has slept with you and you have not gone astray and become impure while married to your husband, may this bitter water that brings a curse not harm you. But if you have gone astray while married to your husband and you have defiled yourself by sleeping with a man other than your husband"— here the priest is to put the woman under this curse of the oath—"may the Lord cause your people to curse and denounce you when he causes your thigh to waste away and your abdomen to swell. May this water that brings a curse enter your body so that your abdomen swells and your thigh wastes away."

"‘Then the woman is to say, "Amen. So be it."

"‘The priest is to write these curses on a scroll and then wash them off into the bitter water. He shall have the woman drink the bitter water that brings a curse, and this water will enter her and cause bitter suffering. The priest is to take from her hands the grain offering for jealousy, wave it before the Lord and bring it to the altar. The priest is then to take a handful of the grain offering as a memorial offering and burn it on the altar; after that, he is to have the woman drink the water. If she has defiled herself and been unfaithful to her husband, then when she is made to drink the water that brings a curse, it will go into her and cause bitter suffering; her abdomen will swell and her thigh waste away, and she will become accursed among her people. If, however, the woman has not defiled herself and is free from impurity, she will be cleared of guilt and will be able to have children. (Numbers 5:11;28).

(1) According to Genesis 46:26, the phrase "her thigh" refers to her genitals, and is a typical Hebrew idiom for sex organs. If that is the case, God appears to be advocating an abortion, in the case of adultery not caught.

(2) St. Paul appears to allude to this verse (1 Corinthians 11:29) and the psalmist does as well (Psalm 109:18).

(3) Is there any connection to this passage and the Little Scroll that the angel gives John to eat? (Revelation 10:10)

(4) Lastly, if this passage says what it appears to say, then it is un-Biblical to say that abortion in the case of rape is wrong.

Response #7:

This passage, like many passages in the Law (cf. the regulations covering skin diseases in Lev.13), describes very specific procedures which are a bit difficult for us to understand and to visualize as even being practical in their actual conduct even at the time. I think a good deal of the point is just that. We have no record of the Israelites ever actually using this procedure in biblical times (nor the onerous skin disease stipulations, etc.). Indeed, when it comes to most aspects of the Law the people seem to have ignored them entirely until the era of the second temple, and at that time restricted them and practiced what they chose to practice very eclectically and through careful "interpretation" (which in many instances was clearly mis-interpretation which limited Law-keeping to a "do-able" set of provisions). As Peter reminds the Jerusalem council, in truth the Law was always "a yoke on the neck . . . which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear" (Acts 15:10 NKJV).

As far as this passage you ask about is concerned, I see no justification to take it to be anything but literal. A husband who suspected his wife of adultery had a procedure ready-made in the Law to take away his worry one way or the other.

As to your specific questions . . .

1) The Hebrew word yerech can mean thigh or "loin"; it is typical of ancient body-part descriptions that they do not mesh with our thinking about such things, and the application of a particular term to multiple areas which we may see as absolutely separate is far from unprecedented. The thigh and the loin abut, so this word loosely meaning "side" can cover both. That is apparently the meaning here since it is conjoined in the context with "belly" (beten). The sense I have of the meaning of the two together here is not one of restricting the area of swelling but of demonstrating that the entire "bottom half" of an offending woman would be so affected. The passage doesn't say anything about abortion. Also, the whole point of the exercise is that God is the One who will be manifesting the truth (as in the manner of "casting lots"), demonstrating whether or not a woman so accused was really guilty. In the hypothetical case of adultery and pregnancy, miscarriage might result I suppose, but that is well beyond anything the text can be made to say or mean. I certainly would be unwilling to draw any broader conclusions from such speculation.

2) The other two passages you adduce, while interesting, do not, I think, affect the discussion. Paul is talking about communion, eating as well as drinking, and the ceremony is not meant to be a test of sinfulness but a rite of remembrance; it only has the latter effect when and if someone abuses it. The Psalmist, on the other hand, is speaking entirely metaphorically.

3) So, no, I don't see any connection with Revelation 10:10; that passage is instead recalling Ezekiel 2:8 - 3:3, where the eating represents learning and experiencing the truth of the Word of God.

4) Abortion is anti-God. Rape is anti-God. I would no more take it upon myself to tell a woman who had been raped and conceived as a result that she should bear the child than I would tell her that she should not consider having the child. I don't know how often this problem actually comes up, but I think it fair to say that it has exercised a misleading influence on more people and wasted more time and energy than the infinitesimally small number of such actual situations could ever deserve. If it is an individual question, I would leave it to the individual. If it is a political question, well, you know by now what I think about Christian involvement in politics.

Yours in Him in whom all the treasuries of wisdom reside, our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Bob L.

Question #8:

Who is Rahab (mentioned in Matthew 1:5), with whom Salmon begot Boaz? Is it possible that she is the Rahab from Joshua 2? Thanks.

Response #8:

Good to make your acquaintance. As to your question, yes, they are one and the same. Joshua 6:25 makes it clear that Rahab did indeed live among the Israelites after the destruction of Jericho. As Jerome noted, scripture makes a point of including famous women in the genealogy of Christ who demonstrate that God's grace is what is important. This is not the sort of legalistic thinking that many would assume: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba are all "trophies of grace" (for one reason or another), and they show us what God really finds important: a heart for Him rather than a perfect "track-record" (after all, even those who appear to be beyond reproach are still sinners since we "all sin": Rom.3:23; cf. Jas.3:2; 1Jn.1:5-10). Given the history of the only other women who are included here, it would be difficult to argue, I think, that this Rahab is not the same Rahab as the woman who gave shelter to the spies. That is to say, the only reason to include her name is precisely because she like the other three was not "perfect", but through God's perfect grace she believed and acted righteously – and so is blessed to find herself in the genealogy of our dear Lord as an example to us all.

The chronology here has bothered some in the past, and some have tried to solve the "problem" of too much time between Salmon and David by suggesting that some names have been left out of the list and only the famous included. That, I think, is a questionable approach. Extremely long life-spans among Old Testament believers are certainly not unprecedented, even after the flood. Jacob lived to be over 130 years old (Gen.47:9), and given that Benjamin still seems to be a fairly young lad during the episode of Joseph's time in Egypt, it seems that he must have been at least a hundred when Benjamin was born. We should therefore understand that the generation which entered into the land of promise and those immediately thereafter must likewise have been blessed with exceptional length of days and continued fecundity into old age (at least among the godly believers) which would be remarkable by today's standards. After all, even before he entered into the land, Caleb could say in truth "So here I am today, eighty-five years old! I am still as strong today as the day Moses sent me out; I'm just as vigorous to go out to battle now as I was then" (Josh.14:10-11 NIV). And Caleb was still active in the period of conquering the land for many years to come thereafter (cf. Judg.1:12-15). So the fact that between Salmon (who I would argue must have been one of the two spies whom Rahab protected) to Solomon's reign we have well over four hundred years but only four additional males in the line (i.e., Boaz, Obed, Jesse, David) only seems problematic for those who wish to overlook these other biblical facts. David, for example, was the youngest of eight brothers (1Sam.16:10), so we are safe to conclude that Jesse sired him in his old age. And of course Boaz was also an older man when he married Ruth (cf. Ruth 2:1; 3:10). As I say, while this sequence would be remarkable in our day and age, it would have been much less so at the time – and what genealogy, after all, is more remarkable in every way than that of our Lord?

Here are some other links on this:

Genealogies of Christ

The Son of David (including a discussion of the genealogies)

The Place of Christ's Birth (including a discussion of the genealogies)

In Jesus Christ who is our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob Luginbill

Question #9:

1 Corinthians 11:7
For a man ought not to have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man.

Is the uncovered head a sign of authority?

Response #9:

In my view, this is speaking about hair, not hats. Men having long hair is a violation of the principle just as women having short hair is. See the links: "1st Corinthians 11: Hats or Hair?" and "hair length and the Bible".

Question #10:

Dear Bob,

I have a question about 1 Corinthians 11, and hair. Paul says that having long hair is a shame onto a man (I don't anymore, at least not as long as it used to be back when we first met), and that having long hair is a glory to a woman. Why is it a shame for a man to have long hair, when -if I remember correctly- Samson had long hair? And why is it a shame for a woman to have her head uncovered during prayer?

Response #10:

The question of hair-length is a somewhat complicated issue so let me give you the Ichthys links below. I wouldn't worry about past behavior on that (there are a whole lot of worse things). Length is "relative", and the shame is something one feels "naturally" rather than any particular curse. Samson was under a Nazarite vow of sorts, so that his long hair is a unique situation.

Here are the links:

What does the Bible say about hair-length?

1st Corinthians 11: Hats or Hair?

Are women required to wear hats or veils in church?

More on veils and hats in church.

What length of hair is considered long?

More on hats and hair length.

Yours in Jesus Christ,

Bob L.

Question #11:

Hey Dr. Luginbill,

I want to ask your opinion on something. I know the Bible says that short hair is unbecoming on a woman. I'm not sure if it was in the OT though. Does that still stand? I would think it would be a little more complicated. The reason I ask, is because a friend of mine in church suggested that I get extensions. I was wearing a different hairstyle, and she asked about it. That's how we ended up on the topic of hair. I don't think she meant the comment to be offensive. I just think that most whites are largely ignorant of black hair. I cut all of my hair off last year. I've been letting it grow back out though. The only reason I cut it was because I had split ends and heat damage. The church is more conservative. I figured they didn't approve of short hair, but no one said anything. Anyway, my hair always looks short. Even when it was longer, it only looked to be about 5 inches. My hair was somewhere in between my shoulder blades. My hair doesn't grow down though. It grows up and out. My hair is naturally an afro. Afros don't look long. They look big. That's why I don't know how to feel when people say a woman's hair should be a certain length. I've heard shoulder length as being the standard. The thing is, my hair is shoulder length. It appears to be a little over 1 inch. So I think God meant something different when He said women's hair should be a certain length. That statement doesn't allow for people with afros. Unless, someone's going to take a ruler to a persons afro and stretch it out to see if its acceptable. So, what do you think? I think some Christians might look at me and think my hairstyle is sinful. Really, it's just the hair God gave me. Which is why I was a little offended by my sister in Christ's suggestion that I wear weave.

Thanks

Response #11:

Always good to hear from you.

Paul's words about hair length in 1st Corinthians chapter eleven are mostly misunderstood. What he is condemning is 1) the practice of tearing out the hair in mourning (a pagan ritual which indicates desperation and lack of hope – inappropriate for Christians), and 2) the practice in Corinth of woman taking vows and imitating the Nazarite practice of shaving the head in order to do so. Otherwise, "short and long" are relative terms, and this is one place where cultural practices do apply. For a woman, a good rule of thumb, besides not shaving the head (unless it is a medical or other therapeutic practice as the one you describe), is not wearing the hair shorter than would be considered odd or notable in the culture of which she is a part; for a man, a good rule of thumb is not wearing the hair longer than would be considered odd or notable in the culture of which he is a part. For the details here please see the following links:

What does the Bible say about hair-length?

1st Corinthians 11: Hats or Hair?

Are women required to wear hats or veils in church?

More on veils and hats in church.

What length of hair is considered long?

More on hats and hair length.

Yours in Jesus our dear Lord,

Bob L.

Question #12:

Hey Bob,

I was reading 1 Timothy 5 today, and I'm actually still in the middle of it at the time of writing this. I don't recall this being acknowledged in the rest of the chapter, but what is Paul speaking of in 1 Timothy 5: 8, when he says that 'those who do not provide for their own, especially their own household, are worse than unbelievers and have denied the faith'?

Also I was curious about the subject of widows. When Paul is speaking of widows, I am kind of confused by his wording. He does plainly say at the end of the second paragraph that he wants them to get married and bear children, but then a little earlier on in the chapter he says they want to get married, and it SEEMS like he is casting it in a negative light, unless I'm just getting confused by the preceding statement regarding 'sensual desires' and the following one of 'incurring condemnation'?

Response #12:

Always good to hear from you my friend. As to your questions:

1) Paul means here the failure of Christians to render the assistance and support to dependents incumbent upon those responsible to support them. If a person does not care for his/her aging parents in their hour of need, for example, that would be an instance of this offense. If those for whom the believer is responsible are totally dependent on him/her, that is, are actually living in his/her home, then that is also a grievous offense.

2) The first reference is part of Paul's demonstration that the practice of the church supporting widows was a poor one, and especially if carried to extremes. Apparently, those who were taken in by the local church in Ephesus were cared for with the understanding that from then on their lives and efforts would be totally devoted to the church and the Lord's work. That is an almost impossible standard and a bargain that is very difficult to hold up – and indeed Paul demonstrates in his handling of the passage that it was not, in fact, a workable arrangement. This is a good example and instance of even someone with Paul's apostolic authority being very reluctant to restrict the choices of local churches even when they were making poor ones (an indication that church polity is to be flexible, not set in stone as if the Bible gave firm direction since as this example shows the opposite is the case; see the link). So while it is clear that Paul felt the practice of something close to the R.C. concept of nuns was a bad and unworkable one, he wasn't telling the local church they couldn't do it, nor was he telling them nor the younger widows they had contracted with that they should break that contract. What he does do in the second mention is to give his preference: instead of entering into such agreements, younger widows should remarry.

I hope all is going well.

Yours in Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #13:

I had a discussion with a person regarding 1 Timothy 5, in particular regarding the meaning of the word 'pledge' (verse 12):

1 But refuse to put younger widows on the list, for when they feel sensual desires in disregard of Christ, they want to get married, 12 thus incurring condemnation, because they have set aside their previous pledge. 13 At the same time they also learn to be idle, as they go around from house to house; and not merely idle, but also gossips and busy bodies, talking about things not proper to mention. 14 Therefore, I want younger widows to get married, bear children, keep house, and give the enemy no occasion for reproach; 15 for some have already turned aside to follow Satan.

This person treats this 'pledge' as an official, formal resolution to live in celibacy (according to this person, most likely undertaken in the presence of some elders and other members in the church), undertaken by some widows. This pledge, according to him, can be taken as a supporting argument for celibacy in the catholic church.

What is your take on this? I may be wrong, but I thought that 'pledge' here could also be understood as simply our resolution to live according to the word of God and not according to the worldly values and maybe it doesn't have to be taken literally, I also see no evidence for this formal pledge of celibacy to be undertaken in the presence of others (similarly like celibacy is in RC church).

Response #13:

I certainly agree with you. This is a difficult passage to interpret, but there is nothing in the actual wording of the text to suggest anything of the sort your friend is asserting. The actual word is pistis, "faith", and makes more sense to me as an abandonment of faith or faithfulness as a result of what these young women are reported as doing. The situation Paul describes here is that of outrageous behavior on the part of certain young widows whom the local church has taken into its care for physical support. Paul's whole purpose in this passage is restrict the practice of support for otherwise resource-less woman to those who are much older. In other words, he is specifically discouraging anything like a "convent" or "nuns" because of the abuses such a situation might produce for the reasons he mentions. So if anything this passage discourages any sort of professional or organized clergy, quite apart from the question of celibacy.

Question #14:

Regarding 1 Timothy 5:9 "A widow is to be put on the list"; Does by being 'put on the list' Paul refers to the 'physical support' you mention? When you say 'In other words, he is specifically forbidding anything like a "convent" or "nuns" because of the abuses such a situation might produce for the reasons he mentions', do you refer to the recommendation to get married ('Therefore, I want younger widows to get married')?

Since this passage refers to widows, a) why do you think it discourages professional clergy? b) Is it because the points made here can/should also relate to women who are not widowed? c) Does the fact that Paul says 'previous pledge' mean that they have already abandoned faith?

Response #14:

a) On widows, yes, the purpose of the list is to identify those who get support – which is interesting. Based upon present day charity one would imagine that anyone who wanted help would "get in line" and receive it, but Paul's approach and the early church's approach is vet carefully those who are accepted into the category of receiving support. And even here the policy in Paul's view has been too generous.

b) That is certainly part of it. Notice that there is no mention of these individuals being spiritually gifted for such a position; the requirement is one of need alone. Were this a professional clergy situation or even a service situation that would be the key factor, not monetary need.

c) I don't think we can draw that conclusion. A number of individuals are involved here. To get on this "list" at Ephesus (or elsewhere) apparently required making some sort of commitment to abide by certain regulations and to carry out some set of duties. In other words, this was not a free dole but a work contract (even if the work was Church-centered). Breaking the contract upset the order of the arrangement for all to some degree. To my mind, Paul's description and advice make it sound as if the entire procedure was a questionable one – and certainly since it is not mandatory it seems to me that the conclusion anyone should draw when reading this is that trying to duplicate it today would be a bad idea. It says a lot about the independence of the local church in God's true economy of the Church universal that Paul, although he seems to find fault with the practice in general, is concerned here only to correct specific faults with its implementation (rather than forbid the policy outright and dictate others). This section is a brief for flexibility in the administration of churches, not a blueprint for universal and monolithic organization (see the link).

Question #15:

Regarding widows, I think it would help me if we started from the scratch on this one. I can see that there is nothing mentioned about any of the widows being spiritually gifted and the whole idea of a convent clearly isn't there. My question is about why you think in these verses Paul is 'specifically forbidding anything like a 'convent'. The fact that the idea of convent isn't there may not mean it is forbidden, that is the gist of my question here.

At 1st Timothy 5:11-12, Paul says: 'they want to get married, thus incurring condemnation' and then 'I want younger widows to get married' - could you clarify? Also, why do you think that Paul considered this procedure questionable? If he found it questionable, had he not said it instead of giving recommendations? Why is it problematic and why should it not be duplicated?

Response #15:

On widows and convents, since Paul never heard of nun or a convent, I can't say that he is forbidding either here. I can only say that such would be the proper application of this passage, if its meaning were to be taken fully into account. Paul is faced with regulating a practice he did not initiate. It is not wrong to help the needy in a systematic and organized way, but the problems with doing so in a residential, institutional way are very clear from this short passage and, I would argue, in Paul's view the problems and disadvantages outweigh the benefits. That is why he recommends the individual approach outside of the church (1Tim.5:16). If the Ephesian church had fewer institutionalized widows, they might be able to deal with the problem through direct charity rather than church mediation.

If a widow is institutionalized, she takes on responsibilities (apparently concentrating on prayer in the Ephesian church, among other things no doubt); wanting to marry after making this commitment would be going back on the commitment (and possible disrupting what the church had set up, and also sowing discord with the other women in this situation). Better, if one is a widow who has not yet made this bargain, to get married again. So again, Paul is looking for solutions that avoid this institutional solution that the church at Ephesus had come up with.

As to the first question, the local church is given vast autonomy in scripture. The fact that an apostle who was very much involved in a church's founding in the first place is very reluctant to tell said church that an administrative solution they have come up with would be better being terminated speaks volumes in my view. Paul doesn't tell them to end this practice directly because that would be interfering with their Christian application. To draw a loose parallel, if someone reports to me that they are sinning and asks me what I think about it, well, I tell them to stop. However, when people write me for advice and report to me things they are doing which to my mind are counterproductive and not the best way to go about the thing at all – but are not sins – I am very reluctant to tell them to do it my way instead of their way. After all, not only are we responsible for our own decisions in this world, but it is also true that what works for me may not work for you and vice versa. And beyond that, if someone starts taking their instructions from me then I become their pope. Not only does that virtually destroy their free will and eliminate any genuine chance for spiritual growth, it is likely to end up very badly for them (not to mention for me) since I am not omniscient (in addition to many other personal failings and limitations). Faced with a practice Paul clearly views as problematic, he does the next best thing, namely, he points out the problems which do need to be corrected and suggests solutions which, if carefully considered and carried to their logical conclusions, would eventually lead to the correct action, namely, abandoning the practice as unworkable. For me, this is the essence of how to give advice when giving advice is really a dicey prospect because of the issue of interfering with someone else' decision making process: make good suggestions but do so in a way that does not blame or censure or carry any idea of obligation. Since many if not most people have misunderstood what Paul was trying to do here in any case (we can only hope the Ephesians "got it"), all the more reason for those of us who are not of Paul's stature to stay away of "passing judgment on disputable matters" (Rom.14:1). As to why the practice is problematic, well, the more a church gets away from its primary function, namely, the teaching of the Word of God, the worse for everyone. Developing a large social-action / charity arm is certainly good in the sense that charity is good, but these things have a tendency to develop a life of their own on the one hand and to replace or at least overshadow the true purpose of our assembly on the other hand. The fact that this was obviously happening even in the first generation of a church founded by the greatest apostle shows me very clearly the pitfalls of that approach.

Question #16:

Regarding what you wrote about widows, Paul says: 'they want to get married, 12 thus incurring condemnation' and then 'I want younger widows to get married' and you explain the problem in the paragraph above. I've got twhree questions:

a) Since Paul says 'thus incurring condemnation', does it mean that violating this church practice on part of these widows 'incurs condemnation'? In other words - the church engages in this questionable practice, problems of which you have clearly outlined, and yet violating it remains a reason for condemnation (so violating a questionable human-devised rule results in condemnation)?

b) You write: 'Better, if one is a widow who has not yet made this bargain to get married again'. How about the widows who have committed to this practice? Are they to marry or stick with the commitment? Wouldn't their marriage 'incur condemnation'?

c) What is the meaning of . . .

1 Timothy 5:16: If any woman who is a believer has dependent widows, she must assist them and the church must not be burdened, so that it may assist those who are widows indeed.

I cannot understand the distinction between 'dependent widows' and 'those who are widows indeed'.

Response #16:

To take the last question on this topic first, widows who were in the care of some matron's household were not "widows" in the sense of being bereft of all support: they were being supported, but without the intervention of the church. By "widows indeed" Paul is referring to woman who had lost their husbands and with him all visible means of support so as to have become completely destitute. That is the main point. In Paul's view, the best thing for woman in such a circumstance would be remarriage rather than entrance onto the church's roles. This was an important point to clarify because it seems from the way this discussion is presented that the conventional wisdom was precisely the opposite, and indeed we see this corporate mentality having infiltrated many denominations today with the attitude that charity should come before self-reliance, whereas Paul's position is that self-reliance should always be the first choice – precisely so that resources might go where they are truly the most needed. In my own personal observation, where this rule has not been observed or where it has been "fudged", it is often the case that the most deserving are overlooked while the less deserving (and often those not deserving at all) are cared for with the result that the church or at least those doing the giving being unnecessarily and/or unprofitably burdened where they could have, individually, made a real difference in other ways. So to take up your first two questions Paul sees this not as some institutional practice that will continue but one which really ought to be immediately nipped in the bud. The number of women who were on the roles and shouldn't have been should, it seems to me to be implied from the overall discussion, get married in his view. It is only in the case of those who previously made this bargain to do certain things (and then changed their mind and let the church down which was counting on them doing those things) where Paul finds fault – but once it is acknowledged that the practice itself is problematic then transitioning back to a better way would be better for all. Since it is not absolutely sinful for the church to have adopted this practice in the first place, Paul goes easy on them in not calling the practice wrong outright, but it seems to me that following his advice in letter and in spirit will bring an end to the practice altogether – and that seems to me to be doctrinally and practically the right course: the church can help widows as individuals and also as a group without institutionalizing some system of support.

Question #17:

Your reply regarding the widows has clarified all my doubts but just one, as to how to interpret Paul's words 'incur condemnation' from . . .

1 Timothy 5:12: But refuse to put younger widows on the list, for when they feel sensual desires in disregard of Christ, they want to get married, 12 thus incurring condemnation, because they have set aside their previous pledge.

What does he mean by 'incur condemnation here' - is it to do with being condemned by the church? The practice was, as you say, in itself questionable, so I would like to understand in what way they were being condemned.

Response #17:

12) I would translate this part of 1st Timothy 5:12 as follows: "they are guilty of having violated what they have pledged to do". The word krima is somewhat general and may mean judgment, crime, charge, penalty, etc., but the hoti clause following gives the content of what the krima is, namely, in this context, what they have done amiss. Whether or not the same is a sin would depend upon the circumstances, I suppose, but it is certainly not something anyone should aim for, that is, violating an agreement.

Question #18:

As to the sub-text of your question, it is fair to say that this topic is one of the more controversial in Christian circles (because every Christian denomination has a position staked out and therefore a stake in the outcome).

What do you mean by 'because every Christian denomination has a position staked out and therefore a stake in the outcome'?

Response #18:

Two slightly different meanings of "stake" in verb and noun respectively: Denominations et al. have set down ("staked out") very specific positions on what they think the Bible has to say about proper church polity – which is in all cases, miraculously, precisely how they do things. That is what I mean by having a "stake", that is, a self-interest, in the outcome of the question. They cannot really answer these questions objectively because if they did it might undermine their tradition and their way of doing business.

Question #19:

You are wrong [about Gen.3:16]! the meaning is clear when taken in context your desire shall be for your husband - yet you will have great pain in childbirth - meaning you will sexually desire your husband although it will cause you pain.

Response #19:

Dear Friend,

With all due respect, here is what the verse actually states:

Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire [shall be] to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.
Genesis 3:16 KJV

Thus "sorrow" (Hebrew 'etsebh meaning here physical pain) is directly and unmistakably connected to conception and to childbirth by the scripture itself. I have written quite a bit about this subject and do allow as to how a marriage is a bigger sacrifice for a woman than for a man (so that without the desire for marriage instilled by the Lord most women would otherwise in the hypothetical avoid such unions). Nevertheless, whatever pain and sorrow a woman may have in regard to marriage and the desire for a husband, even in English versions it is quite clear that the pain/sorrow of the first part of the judgment refers to the pain women experience in bearing children. Please see the link:

The Judgment

Yours in Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob Luginbill

Question #20:

Regarding the Genesis curse in Paul's letter to Timothy - is the curse then purely a matter of authority? I didn't understand it correctly as I kept linking the curse with childbearing. So is my understanding correct there - Paul rebukes the women giving Genesis passages as a support for the authority of men over women, but reassures the women that they will be delivered through childbearing (in the meaning that you proposed, whereby childbearing is the thing through which they will be delivered)?

One more question on this passage - could you clarify Paul's usage of 'if' -

if they continue in faith and love and sanctity with self-restraint.

It is not unlikely that since then many non-believing mothers were bore their children safely and many believing women died at childbirth (although only God knows this), hence I'm wondering why the if is there.

Response #20:

Paul (and no doubt his readers) are thinking of the judgment in its entirety, that is, not splitting up "I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children" from "Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you" in Genesis 3:16 (NIV), but seeing them as inseparable parts of the same thing. It is the inseparability that no doubt contributes to Paul's desire to add the rider about deliverance through childbirth: reminding these woman of the continuing need to accept the post-fall pattern of divine authority brings up the troubles women have in childbirth, and Paul wishes to reassure the Corinthian women of God's grace and provision on this score. The "if" rider is added to make it clear that this comfort is not for all women but for believers (and belief is something that must be maintained). Please see the links: "Deliverance through Childbearing in 1st Timothy 2:15?" and "Saved through childbirth?"

 

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