Saturday, March 22, 2008

Vacationing in London

My dear friends and acquaintances in the blogosphere, Ronnie and I are headed to London on Sunday night to visit our very good friends, Joel and Gabby Patrick. They have been there since August so that Joel can complete his Master's degree in philosophy at the University of London at Birkbeck. We will be there for a little over a week and I doubt I will have either the time or inclination to spend time blogging. No offense, but when it is between touring St. Paul's Cathedral and writing a blog post, I'll take St. Paul's every time. Please keep us in your prayers. We look forward to rest, relaxation, and really good fellowship with a dear brother and sister in Christ.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

How Wrong Was Rev. Wright?

I don't know about you, but I am sick and tired of hearing the sound bytes of Rev. Jeremiah Wright played ad nauseam on the TV and radio. And, I am particularly perturbed at the lack of maturity and thoughtfulness in the discussions surrounding Barack Obama's sensitive and intelligent response to the controversy. On days like today, I just want to tell our whole country, especially our TV news anchors, to grow up.

It is with this frustration in mind, that I came across this short post by fellow Cincinnatian, Troy Jackson, pastor of University Christian Church in Cincinnati, Ohio. I appreciated his measured words here and I hope you do, too. There is much for us to learn from this controversy--much more than speculation regarding whether or not white men will run to McCain rather than vote for Obama. (Puh-lease, people!)

By the way, Troy Jackson is a graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary and earned his Ph.D. in United States history from the University of Kentucky. His book, Becoming King: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Making of a National Leader (The University Press of Kentucky, 2008) will be available in the fall.

How Wrong Was Rev. Wright?
by Troy Jackson

On a Sunday when Americans flooded houses of worship seeking words of comfort, hope, and healing, Rev. Jeremiah Wright of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago dared to forgo the singing of "God Bless America." Instead, Senator Barack Obama's pastor claimed the prophetic biblical message of the hour ought to call us to proclaim, "God Damn America."

The words remain jarring and infuriating. Wright's comments seem at best incomplete and untimely. At worst, they imply that God is vindictive, vengeful, and bloodthirsty, even during a time of tragedy--that the judgment of God is appropriately meted out through the tragic deaths of innocent people through terrorist acts of hatred and evil.

On Sept. 15, 2001, Rev. Wright was wrong. His words failed to connect with the pastoral needs of a nation in mourning.

Throughout his career, however, Rev. Wright has been "right" more often than not. He has followed in the traditions of Hebrew Testament prophets, challenging his nation to live up to its own creeds of justice and opportunity for all - including African Americans, other minorities, and the poor.

Wright is in good company. When his provocative language is read alongside the vitriolic words of many Hebrew Testament prophets, Wright's words ring true. The prophets connected their nation's injustice and neglect of the poor with the destruction of Israel, often using vitriolic language. The prophet Amos once described the wealthy women of Samaria as "fat cows." Isaiah referred to once faithful Israel as a prostitute.

Not only are most of Rev. Wright's words biblically correct; they are also historically accurate. The U.S. has participated in many acts of evil. From slavery to Jim Crow segregation, from sexism to the internment of Japanese during World War II, from environmental disasters to the neglect of the poor, America has a record on par with that of Hebrew Testament Israel.

When it comes to foreign policy, the U.S. did financially invest in South Africa during the days of apartheid, used the CIA to enact coups against democratically elected leaders in Iran and Guatemala in the 1950s, and remains the only nation to use nuclear weapons. Perhaps these domestic and foreign policy actions prove that Rev. Wright was right.

But this is only a part of the picture. While the U.S. is far from perfect, the nation has made significant progress regarding rights for minorities and women. The U.S. has often been a force for good in the world, from helping to rebuild Japan and Western Europe after World War II to the vast amounts of private and government funds offered to deal with global crises like the HIV-AIDS and malaria crises in Africa. Rev. Wright was not entirely right.

On March 18, Barack Obama used his speech about race to appropriately distance himself from the most vitriolic of his pastor's rhetoric. He has also removed Rev. Wright from a position on his campaign's spiritual advisory committee.

In the Hebrew Testament, prophets were as a rule not insiders in the royal palace. Jeremiah's words of prophetic judgment became so disruptive to the King threw the prophet into jail. Just over 40 years ago, Martin Luther King, Jr. gave up his access to President Lyndon Baines Johnson to prophetically speak out against the war in Vietnam. Put simply, prophets and presidents don't mix.

Thankfully, Senator Obama was careful not to condemn the entire prophetic ministry of Rev. Wright. Our nation desperately needs the prophetic voice he has embodied over decades of public ministry. And no matter who our next president is, he or she would be well served to consider the words of Rev. Wright, for he has been more right than wrong.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Satire: The American Beatitudes

This biting piece of satire is written by David D. Flowers, a satirist and writer from The Woodlands, Texas. I've posted satire from him before. He has one based upon Romans 13 that is worthy of reading, too. His satire has been published in The Wittenburg Door and Christian Ethics Today. This work is based upon the Beatitudes of the Sermon on the Mount, found in Matthew 5:1-16. Like all satire, this one hurts, offends, and might just make you angry. In the words of a preacher I know, prepare to say "Ouch," if you can't say "Amen."

The American Beatitudes (From the Sermon on the Hill)
Matthew 5:1-16
by David D. Flowers, Satirist/Writer

1 One day as he saw the politicians gathering, Jesus went up the steps of the capital and stood behind a podium with The Statue of Freedom looming overhead. The Senate gathered around him, 2 and he began to address them.

3 "Blessed are those who have a military-industrial complex and realize their need to secure their economic interests in the Middle East, for the kingdoms of the world are theirs.
4 Blessed are those who are hedonistic, for they will be satisfied.
5 Blessed are those who are proud and arrogant, for they shall rape and pillage the whole earth.
6 Blessed are those who lust for power and prosperity and call it "justice," for they will have comforts.
7 Blessed are those who show no mercy, for they will never be in need of it anyway.
8 Blessed are those whose hearts are peacefully wicked, for they shall be gods.
9 Blessed are those who kill for peace, for they will be called the "good" children of God.
10 Blessed are the persecutors of evil men (those who threaten the Pax Americana), for the kingdoms of the world are theirs.
11 Blessed are you when people burn your precious flag and curse you because you destroyed their homes and killed their loved ones. These evildoers simply have not understood the power and salvation of redemptive violence. My followers must understand, when we talk about war... we are really talking about peace.
12 Be happy when people curse you for this! Be very glad! For great is your reward on earth. And remember, every empire before you was cursed for the same things.
13 You and you alone are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has been corrupted by dirty Mexicans from the South and cave-dwelling Muslims from the east? They should be shot like the Indians and dumped in the sea like slaves. They are worthless! This is your manifest destiny!
14 You and you alone are the light of the world--an idolatrous city on a hilltop cannot be hidden.
15 No one buys alcohol and gets drunk alone. Instead they share their maddening wine with everyone in the world until everyone has had their fill!
16 In the same way, let your American ways spew out for all to taste, so that everyone will embrace carnal living and let freedom ring!"

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Why [we] don't read your blog...

This is one of those humorous, but true, posts from Internet Monk (a.k.a. Michael Spencer): Ten Reasons I Don't Read Your Blog. Check it out, have a giggle, and improve your blogging IQ. I know I learned a thing or two.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Women and the Law, Part 3

Many contemporary women who encounter what the Law of Moses says about women and the female experience, will be shocked, dismayed, and even offended. The idea that female babies are more defiling than male babies, the restrictions upon women due to perfectly normal menstrual cycles, and the bizarre ritual of cursing in the case of suspected adultery—all these things are difficult to bear for women seeking to be both honest and faithful to God and God’s Word.

Of course, we know that in Christ we are free from the Law. Paul assures us that it is for freedom we have been set free (Gal 5:1). But, how should we understand the Law’s perspective on women when it seems so contrary to what we know of God in Jesus? While a full evaluation of how one may rightly understand the Law’s perspective on women is beyond my ability at this point, what follows is my attempt to hit the “high points.” This post will be rather long, but I trust it will be well worth it.

Patriarchy in the Ancient Near East
As I stated in Part 2, it must be understood that patriarchy was the cultural milieu of the Ancient Near East. Unfortunately, in our modern context, the term patriarchy suggests the absolute control of males over females and/or the subservience of women to men. Certainly, sometimes this has been the case, but as historians have sought to accurately describe the actual situation of the ANE, the ideological baggage associated with the term “patriarchy” is unhelpful.

Today, ANE scholars emphasize the patrilinear and patrilocal nature of Israelite society and ANE societies in general. A society is patrilinear when land, wealth, and inheritance is passed down through the father’s line. And, because the females are expected to join with the male’s family, the society is also patrilocal--focused around the male’s family. (For more information, see Hennie J. Marsman, Women in Ugarit and Israel: Their Social and Religion Position in the Context of the Ancient Near East [Oudtestamentische Studiën; Leiden: Brill, 2003]).

The Law of Moses is clearly a product of the patrilinear and patrilocal nature of ancient Israelite society. When God established a covenant with a people group in the ANE—namely, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—and then formed a “holy nation” from the people he liberated from Egypt, God did so with a people characterized by a thoroughly patriarchal culture—in the patrilinear and patrilocal senses. As I stated in Part 2, however, it is wrongheaded to assume that patriarchy must be embraced simply because Israel exhibited a certain form of it, as depicted in Scripture.

Authority and Power in the Ancient Near East
Another term that ANE scholars use to describe ancient Israelite society is cultural asymmetry. This means that the relationship between male and female, as presented in the Hebrew narratives, exhibits “asymmetry”—with men accorded a set of advantages apparently unavailable to most women. It is not uncommon in contemporary discussions about gender to hear people explain this cultural asymmetry by creating “gendered spheres,” with women restricted to the “domestic sphere” and men to the “public sphere.” Usually, this is done with a presumed air of biblical authority and sealed with statements like, “A woman’s place is in the home.” In reality, however, this way of thinking is inaccurate from the perspective of ANE history.

Instead, in an agrarian peasant society (that is, a society organized around subsistence farming and herding), particularly an agrarian society that is kinship based, the home is the central focus of society. Rather than a “lesser” component of society, the home was the primary center of societal affairs. Unfortunately, the contemporary notions of “gendered spheres” have lead to the assumption that the power was in the “public sphere,” while subordination was found in the “domestic sphere.” Yet, today’s ANE scholars argue vigorously against this oversimplified reading of ancient Israelite culture.

One of the foremost scholars on gender in ancient Israel, Carol Meyers, draws a distinction between power and authority in patriarchal cultures like the ANE. Authority is defined as the culturally legitimated right to make decisions and command obedience. In ancient Israelite culture, males possessed authority as defined this way. But, power is defined as “the ability to control despite or independent of official authority.” While power may not have the same cultural sanctions as authority, it still has the capacity to shape social interactions and even social constructs.

Meyers and others have concluded that while ANE women did not participate in the structures that grant authority, women, nonetheless, did have power. An example of this female power is seen in the account of the daughters of Zelophehad, who were able to ensure a change in the Law that brought justice for their unique situation. (See further, Carol Meyers, Discovering Eve: Ancient Israelite Women in Context ([New York: Oxford, 1988].)

Dennis Tucker, in an unpublished paper from 2006, describes very well how this distinction between authority and power aids us in interpreting the scriptural narratives about women, many of which don’t “fit” the view of a male-dominated society in ancient Israel. He says,

“If one embraces a traditional notion of patriarchy in which men have all the authority and power, and further that women are subordinate to it, then women such as Deborah, Huldah, and even Miriam seem to challenge such a model. And if one embraces a strongly patriarchal model—one that afforded women no power in Ancient Israel—then one must offer an explanation for the appearance of such women in leadership roles, and moreover, one must explain why there is not some apologetic in the text itself for these anomalies. If, however, Israelite society was comprised of systems of authority, as well as systems of power, then the function of women within that society demands a far more nuanced analysis” (“Women in the Old Testament and the Old Testament on Women,” Truett Seminary, Nov 9, 2006).

All this is to say that the patriarchy evident in the Law of Moses and the Old Testament narratives is not as “black and white” as many complementarians and egalitarians make it out to be. It is clear that women did not possess authority—neither over their future, their property, or even their own bodies. But, women did possess some degree of power, the kind of power that could petition God’s lawgiver to change the Law to afford them justice.

Jesus and the Law of Moses
Let me close with what may at first appear to be a tertiary matter. The Gospels afford us a few instances in which we can observe Jesus interpreting and applying the Law of Moses as it relates to women. I believe that his take on the matter offers us tremendous insight into how we should understand the Law in light of the New Covenant.

In Matt 19 (also Mark 10), Jesus is approached by Pharisees and questioned regarding the right of the husband to divorce his wife. There was a debate among religious leaders in first century Palestine about the legitimate reasons for which a man may divorce his wife. Some leaders affirmed that a man could only divorce his wife for reasons of porneia (or, sexual perversion), while other leaders said that a man could divorce his wife for any reason at all (even burning the breakfast). Presumably, the Pharisees want Jesus to pick a side.

In typical fashion, however, Jesus gets beyond their initial question and cuts to the heart of the matter. First, he relates for them the ultimate purpose of God that those who are joined in marriage are “one flesh” (vv. 4-6). The Pharisees object, of course, that Moses permitted men to give their wives a certificate of divorce (v. 7). They are saying, in effect, “Moses let us do it. What’s your problem?” Then, Jesus replies, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning.”

In this statement, Jesus does two things. First, he reveals the sin in the Pharisees heart (and any man’s heart), for hunting for permission in the Law to divorce their wives. In a place and time where divorced women typically became destitute or prostitutes, Jesus is rebuking them for their selfishness and lack of love for their wives. Second, and more important for our purposes, Jesus reveals that there are things in the Law of Moses that are God’s “permission” or condescension because of hard hearts and not necessarily God’s “perfect will.”

Toward a Conclusion
With Jesus as the example, therefore, I argue that as we look to the Law of Moses, we must be sensitive to the fact that it is a product of the culture that produced it. That is to say, even though divinely inspired, the Law is spoken in the voice of an ancient near eastern, patriarchal society. Although women possessed power, they did not possess authority, and as a result, the Law reflects the authority of males over females.

My conclusion, therefore, is that we must not conclude that each individual law in the Law of Moses reflects God’s perfect will for all peoples, for all times. This is in accordance with what Jesus says about the laws governing divorce. Instead, the laws of the Pentateuch reflect the will of God as revealed to the Israelite people in the ANE patriarchal context.

Does this mean that the Law of Moses is useless for the people of God today? By no means! Instead, we must read it with Jesus as our interpreter. Jesus taught us that all the Law and prophets are summed up in the commands to love God and love our neighbor. A heart that does these two things will fulfill all the Law, even if he eats catfish, cuts his sideburns, and wears cotton-polyester blend slacks. Instead of focusing on the rule of law, as the Pharisees did, I think we must focus upon the heart of God in the law, as Jesus did.

What was the heart of God in the laws about rape? I think the heart of God was to protect women in a society in which they had no authority and their virginity was essential to their value. What was the heart of God in the laws about menstruation? I think the heart of God was to accommodate the pre-scientific views of bodily functions that did not understand why a woman’s body would emit blood for up to seven days every month. What was the heart of God in the laws about prisoners of war? I think the heart of God was to provide some protection for women within a common cultural practice of the ANE.

Although I acknowledge that this treatment of the Law and women is very limited, I hope that this is helpful to men and women alike, who desire to reverence the Law of Moses, but struggle with its clearly patriarchal context and implications. I do not believe the Law of Moses is antithetical to an egalitarian perspective. In fact, I think the way Jesus engages and interprets the Law makes a case for the possibility that God has been desirous of moving his people toward a Kingdom of equality and mutual submission since the very beginning.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Women in the Law, Part 2

Part 2 continues my overview of the content of the Law of Moses as it relates to women and the female experience. Again, please note that I have organized this treatment according to subject matter first and then in sequential order as the laws appear in the code.

Lev 12:1-8 - When a woman gives birth to a son, she will be ceremonially unclean for seven days until the circumcision and then for another 33 days to be “purified from her bleeding” (v. 4a; presumably the bleeding associated with childbirth). But, if she gives birth to a daughter, she will be ceremonially unclean for 14 days, like during her menstruation, and then another 66 days to be “purified from her bleeding” (v. 5b).

In this reasoning, somehow the birth of a daughter makes a woman more ceremonially unclean than the birth of a son. Or, in reverse, the birth of a son makes a woman less ceremonially unclean than the birth of a daughter. In either case, the laws differ for a woman’s restoration to cleanness and “atonement” after childbirth depending upon the sex of her child (v. 8). Unfortunately, one cannot help but conclude from this passage that daughters are significantly less desirable than sons, although this is certainly not new information about the ancient near east (ANE).

Sex Crimes
Lev 18:6-30 – Leviticus 18 contains an extensive list of those sex acts, which are defiling and forbidden to the people of Israel. According to v. 24, “the nations” defile themselves in these ways and, therefore, Israel should not follow suit. The summation of these rules as they relate to women is found in v. 6: “No one is to approach any close relative to have sexual relations.” This means that a man cannot have intercourse with his mother, his wife’s mother, his sister, his sister-in-law, his daughter, his aunt, his cousins, etc. If enforced, theoretically this law can serve to protect women from sexual harassment and abuse by members of her family and extended family.

Deut 22:13-21 – This passage instructs that when a man takes a wife, consummates the marriage, but them becomes displeased with her and accuses her of not being a virgin, the woman’s father and mother must bring “proof” of her virginity before the town elders (presumably the sheets from the marriage bed displaying the blood from her broken hymen). If the proof is presented, then the man will be fined “a hundred shekels of silver” for his slander and give the money to the woman’s father for dishonoring his family. Moreover, he will not be permitted to divorce her as long as he lives.

Yet, if no proof of the woman’s virginity can be produced, then she “shall be brought to the door of her father's house and there the men of her town shall stone her to death” (v. 21). She must be stoned because she had dishonored her father’s house and the evil must not be allowed to remain in Israel. Practically speaking, this means that even if the woman is innocent, if the woman’s hymen was broken in childhood, or if there was simply no blood in the marriage bed, then the accused wife may die of stoning despite her innocence. This prospect is more than a little frightening to say the least.

Deut 22:22 – This law is straightforward and short enough to merit a direct quote: “If a man is found sleeping with another man's wife, both the man who slept with her and the woman must die. You must purge the evil from Israel.” It is interesting to note that in the story of the woman caught in adultery, located in John 8, only the adulterous woman was brought forward to be stoned—the man was nowhere to be found.

Deut 22:23-29 – In the matter of rape, I must admit that I find the law quite unpleasant to say the least. If a man sleeps with a betrothed woman in a town, but no one hears the woman screaming for help, then it is concluded that she cooperated with the adultery willingly, and both parties are to be stoned.

Yet, if a man sleeps with a betrothed woman in the country, because there is no one to hear her screaming for help, then it is concluded that she was raped and did not cooperate with the act of adultery. The man is the only one who must die, while the woman is not to be condemned (v. 26). Also, notice that the reason for the man’s stoning is that he “violated another man’s wife” (v. 24). The violation is against the woman’s husband, not the woman.

Finally, if a man rapes a virgin who is not betrothed and “they are discovered” (v. 28b), then he must pay the woman’s father “fifty shekels of silver” (notice it is less than the fine for falsely accusing a woman of adultery in Deut 22:19). Again, the violation is against the man in custody of the woman, not the woman herself. Moreover, following the rape, he is required to marry the woman and is not permitted to divorce her as long as he lives (v. 29).

Certainly, the purpose of this law is to ensure that the raped woman suffers no further humiliation by being unable to marry due to her “defilement.” By forcing the rapist to marry her, the law is protecting the woman from being turned out by her family or treated as an adulterer by the community. Even so, do I really need to say how horrifying this scenario would be, for a rape victim to be forced to marry and bear children with her rapist?

Prisoners of War
Deut 21:10-14 – When the nation of Israel goes to war against an enemy and successfully defeats them, a soldier is permitted to take a “beautiful woman” from among the captives as a wife. After shaving her head, trimming her nails, taking away her old clothes, and giving her a month of mourning, then the soldier may consummate the marriage. But, if the soldier is displeased with her (whether after the month or after their consummation, it is not clear), then the captive woman must be allowed to leave freely. She may not be made into a slave or sold as a slave.

Presumably, this law is made to protect those women who were certainly taken as part of the spoils of war with other nations. Rather than allow for women to be taken and given without regard for their ordeal, soldiers are required to permit them a period of mourning and forbidden to sell them as slaves after taking them as a wife. Granted, this is surely better than the treatment of captive women in every other nation in the ANE. Even so, there is no denying what a horrific experience it would be for a woman captured in war to have to marry a man who participated in the destruction of her family and nation.

Numbers 27:1-11 – This is an exceedingly interesting case, with exceedingly interesting implications, which I anticipate will be discussed more fully in Part 3 of this series. For this reason, at this point I will merely summarize the events as they appear in the text.

The daughters of Zelophehad, who are named in the text (v. 1), appear before Moses, the priest, the tribal leaders, and the whole assembly at the tent of meeting. They present their case for judgment: “Our father died in the wilderness. He was not among Korah’s followers, who banded together against the Lord, but he died for his own sin and left no sons. Why should our father's name disappear from his clan because he had no son? Give us property among our father’s relatives” (v. 3).

In traditional patrilinear* inheritance practices (notice that there are no laws related to this in the Hebrew Scripture—the practices are merely assumed), the property of the patriarch must go to his sons. If he does not leave sons, it must go to the closest male relative. The problem with this for women, of course, is that they are left utterly dependent upon their male relatives for support when and if their father dies. So, the daughters of Zelophehad request of the leaders of Israel permission to inherit property along with their father’s relatives (a significant change in property law at this point), so that they may carry on their father’s name.

When Moses brings this case before God, God affirms the truth of the daughters’ concerns and instructs Moses: “You must certainly give them property as an inheritance among their father’s relatives and give their father’s inheritance to them” (v. 7). Moreover, building upon the need for justice in the case of these women, God goes on to declare a “new law,” so that when a man dies and leaves no son, his inheritance should be given to his daughters. Only then, if there are no daughters, should the inheritance go to his brothers, father’s brothers, or other next of kin (vv. 8-11).

I should note that this case is followed up on in Num 36 and it is added to the law that the daughters must marry within their tribe in order to retain their father’s inheritance (v. 6). If they marry outside their tribe, their inheritance goes to their father’s next male kin. Numbers 36:12 then notes that the daughters of Zelophehad, named again in the text, do as God instructs (vv. 10-12) and they retain their father’s inheritance within their tribe.

Check back later for Part 3, as I attempt to draw some conclusions regarding the Law of Moses as it applies to women and how we should understand the Law's perspective on women in light of the New Covenant and the coming Kingdom of God.

*Patrilinear refers to the nature of any society in which land, wealth, and inheritance are passed down through the father’s line. Because the society is patrilinear, the female is expected to join with the male’s family. This social construction is not limited to ancient Israel alone, but was foundational to all ANE cultures. (For more information, see Hennie J. Marsman, Women in Ugarit and Israel: Their Social and Religion Position in the Context of the Ancient Near East [Oudtestamentische Studiën; Leiden: Brill, 2003]).

In my opinion, the claim that patriarchy must be embraced simply because Israel exhibited a certain form of it, as depicted in Scripture, is to misunderstand the typical cultural assumptions evidenced in the social constructions of nearly all ANE societies. For more on this issue, see W. Dennis Tucker, Jr., “Women in the Old Testament and the Old Testament on Women: A Constructive Hermeneutic," unpublished paper, presented at George W. Truett Theological Seminary, Nov 9, 2006.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Women in the Law, Part 1

In contemporary discussions of women and women’s roles in the kingdom of God, it is uncommon for egalitarians or complementarians to give attention to the treatment of women in the Law of the Hebrew Scripture. In fact, in my own experience, it was not until two years into my seminary program (a total of five years into my higher education) that I was exposed to the treatment of women in the Law of Moses. Yet, if the Law of Moses was the first code by which the people of God understood God and God’s will, then it is essential to consider its content as we consider God’s will for women today.

Therefore, in the next three posts, I will consider the Law as it relates to women. In Parts 1 and 2, I will overview the content of the Law of Moses as it relates to women and the female experience. For ease of understanding, I will organize this treatment according to subject matter first and then in sequential order as the laws appear in the code. Then, in Part 3, I will make suggestions as to what I believe is the best way to interpret the laws about women within the New Covenant. I hope this overview is beneficial to those who had not previously considered the way in which the Law of Moses applied to women and served to characterize the female experience in the Judeo-Christian tradition.

Circumcision and Covenant
Gen 17:11 – Although it is difficult to admit, there is no doubt that the covenant of circumcision formed with Abraham inherently excludes women from bearing the physical sign of covenant relationship with God. Later, this covenant is understood to apply to all Hebrew men, all foreign men living within Israel, and all male slaves living in Israel. By default, therefore, women become a part of the covenant with God by being related to a circumcised Israelite male, whether as a daughter or wife.

Exod 19:1-15 – Prior to the ceremony at Mt. Sinai, in which God affirms his covenant with Israel, Moses is told by God to instruct “the people” regarding their consecration. Among the things they must do to prepare to meet with God, including washing their garments, Moses instructs “the people” not to defile themselves with women (v. 15). The implication of this verse seems to be that women, or sex-acts with women, are inherently defiling and that “the people” who stand before God at Sinai are the men of Israel.

Num 30:3-5 – The vow or pledge of a young woman still living in her father’s household may be upheld or nullified according to the will of her father. The Lord is said to release the young woman of her vows when the father has forbidden it. Perhaps this was intended to protect ignorant and/or gullible women from being duped by those who would prey on them. The same protections are not available to a young man, for v. 2 specifies that a man must keep his vow or pledge before the Lord without exceptions.

Lev 15:19-30 – In the context of a lengthy treatment of bodily discharges that cause ceremonial uncleanness, the woman’s “regular flow of blood” is addressed. According to the priestly laws, the menstruating woman will be unclean for the seven days of her period, as well as seven days following her period. Then, upon the eighth day, she must take two doves or young pigeons to the priest to make an offering before God that will atone for her uncleanness.

Moreover, during her menstruation, anything the woman sits upon or lies upon will be unclean, as well as anyone who touches the woman or anything she sits upon or lies upon. This means that the husband of a menstruating woman is instructed not to approach her for intercourse (Lev 18:19) and, even more severely, “If a man has sexual relations with a woman during her monthly period, he has exposed the source of her flow, and she has also uncovered it. Both of them are to be cut off from their people” (Lev 20:18).

Practically speaking, these laws mean that every menstruating woman is ceremonially unclean for 14 days out of every month—roughly half of every year. Also, the menstruating woman is defiling to her husband and everyone within close proximity to her during this period of time as well. For women who had physical problems that caused overabundance or constant menstruation, such as the woman with the flow of blood in the Gospels, she would be ceremonially unclean for her entire life and never able to make “atonement” for her uncleanness.

Exod 21:10-11 - In a discussion of treatment of servants, the matter arises as to what should happen if a man gives his female servant to his son. If a man marries a female servant and then marries another woman, he is not permitted to deprive the first wife of her food, clothing, and marital rights. If the woman is not provided with these things, she is to go free, without any payment of money for her freedom.

Num 5:11-31 - Honestly, this is a rather strange portion of scripture that details an involved ritual, called “the law of jealousy,” in a case where a husband suspects his wife of unfaithfulness, but possesses no proof.

In this case, the husband is to take his wife to the priest, along with an offering of barley flour on her behalf (as a “reminder-offering”). The priest will stand her before God, loosen her hair, and place in her hands the offering of barley flour, while the priest holds a clay cup of holy water mixed with dust from the tabernacle floor. Then the priest will put the woman under oath, make her drink the “bitter water that brings a curse,” and offer the barley flour to God.

According to vv. 27-28, if the woman has been unfaithful, the water will make “her abdomen swell and her womb will miscarry,” but if the woman has not been unfaithful, then she will be cleared of guilt and “will be able to have children.” Frankly, this appears to be a rather bizarre means of determining the faithfulness of a married woman, but I suppose in some sense it protects a woman against unfounded accusations. Of course, if she is naturally barren, then she would be out of luck.

Num 30:6-15 - Like the unmarried daughter in the home of her father, a married woman may have her pre- or post-marital pledges and vows, either affirmed or nullified according to the expressed will of her husband. If he does not nullify her pledges or vows with expediency, then he will bear the consequences of her wrongdoing (v. 15).

Deut 24:1-4 – In this law, if a man writes his wife a “certificate of divorce” and sends her away, he may not remarry her if she has been remarried and divorced again, because this would be “detestable in the eyes of the Lord.” It is important to realize that this law assumes the reality of divorce, but does not affirm it as desirable. In fact, Jesus was very critical of the men in his day who sought all sorts of various reasons for which they could dismiss their wives as “indecent” (v. 1). Interpreted rightly, it seems that this law can protect women from a husband’s flippant use of divorce certificates.

Stay tuned for Part 2, in which I will detail the laws relating to childbirth, sex crimes, prisoners of war, and inheritance.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Education in God's Kingdom

Although it has been some time since my last post on women in the Kingdom of God, I want to assure my readers that I have not forgotten my commitment to the series. Currently, I am working on my next post, "Women and the Law." Even as I do so, however, I am in the process of applying for adjunct teaching positions at a number of Christian colleges and universities in our area. This process is somewhat involved and it has been occupying a good portion of my time. As a result, I have had to do a lot of thinking about education and the kingdom of God. Here is what I wrote today in an attempt to put my thoughts together.* Feel free to offer your comments and suggestions.

One's view of education must be grounded in the story of God found in scripture. The testimony of the Bible is that sin and evil have marred God’s creation. The first humans rejected God’s rule for their own and their choice has been perpetuated in every human being to follow. Rather than the harmonious, loving relationship that God intended, humanity chose a position of enmity with God and the rest of the created order became subject to the resulting chaos. Everything has been broken in the effects of sin, including every good human endeavor that God designed: art, music, politics, literature, business, science, medicine, and even education.

Yet, when Jesus of Nazareth emerged on the stage of world history, he announced that God’s reign had decisively broken into the marred creation. The gospel he preached and embodied announced the power of God to renew the cosmos and every human endeavor within it. Following his life, death, resurrection, and ascension, Jesus reigns in power over all creation. By his Spirit, Jesus is revealing his restorative and comprehensive rule through his people as they embody and proclaim the good news in every aspect of human life. Everything that was broken, God is in the process of making whole. The venture of the Christian, therefore, is to seek after God’s good creational design in whatever sphere of life to which he or she is called.

Since God is the ultimate designer of education, followers of Jesus involved in education must seek after those forms, models, and structures that fulfill God’s design. Unfortunately, even though the Bible is the revelation of God, it does not contain a “handbook” from which we may construct a philosophy and model of education that perfectly conforms to God’s design. As a result, Christian educators, being led by the Spirit and guided by the Word, are like master play-writes, seeking to complete an unfinished Shakespearean masterpiece as faithfully as possible to the author’s original intent. In this way, the Holy Scripture and the life and person of Jesus provide a number of foundational truths upon which Christian educators may confidently build.

First, it is essential to understand and affirm that Jesus is the most intelligent person who ever lived on earth, the master educator, and the Lord of all academic disciplines. It is not common for Christians to look to Jesus as the example of intelligence; we more quickly point to Plato or Einstein as exemplars of intellectual excellence. But, if Jesus is who Christians confess him to be, then he is the most sophisticated thinker who ever lived. Granted, Jesus did not write textbooks or elucidate all the mysteries of the universe, but that does not mean that he would not be perfectly at home in any academic context where good work is being done today. Indeed, Jesus must be honored as the most knowledgeable person in every field, including education, and we must seek his cooperation and assistance in everything we teach.

Second, Christian educators must also embrace the truth that nurturing transformation is just as important as conveying information. Throughout his ministry, Jesus taught his followers in ways that not only convinced them of truth, but also compelled them to a new life as a result. The apostles affirm this by distinguishing a between knowledge and wisdom. Paul says of knowledge, “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up” (1 Cor 8:1b). Yet, James explains that wisdom is evidenced through godly living: “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom” (Jam 3:13). Certainly, Christian educators must form knowledgeable students in every field for which they are responsible, but more important is the formation of wise students with humble lives.

Finally, it must be remembered that for all academic pursuits, the ultimate purpose is that God would be known and his reign established. This means that students of every field, whether business, nursing, education, medicine, and more, will learn to cultivate professional lives that honor God and seek righteousness in every endeavor. In this way, every area of human life can be a foretaste of the coming kingdom of God, when all things will conform to God’s perfect rule.

*Written in interaction with the following: Albert M. Wolters and Michael W. Goheen, Creation Regained: Biblical Basics for a Reformational Worldview, second ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005), 120-122; Dallas Willard, "Jesus the Logician," in The Great Omission (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 2006), 180-195.