Paul told Timothy (11 Tim. 2:15) to study and handle correctly the word of truth.
My intention here is to ask how we too should handle scripture reasonablely, within its historical and cultural context.
Did the New Testament have a historical and cultural context? Yes. If you agree with that, and you may not, it has to be understood (handled) in that context. Which means there are some passages which should be understood in that framework. Which also means the application for the later (modern) reader may have no contemporary application at all, except to illustrate a given point in time and culture. .
The foundation for this is that the early (NT) Christians expected Christ to return soon, even within their lifetime. See I Thess. 1:9, 3:12, 4:16-17; James 5:1-11, I Cor, 1:7 and I John 2:28, 3:2,3 to name only a few.
Let’s look at I Cor. 7 for example, and ask if these instructions (commands) are conditional or contemporary?
The chapter opens with Paul addressing “matters about which they wrote”. He answers a “matter” by saying, “It is good for a man not to marry” (NIV) Other translations use other terms, but we’ll use this one. Do Preachers preach that today?
His response is that due to “immortality” it’s okey to marry. In v. 5 he says marriage is because of “your lack of self-control.” Is that what we think and preach today? Remember, it’s in the book!
The same lack of self-control is applied to all unmarried and widows.” V.8&9.
V.10 Paul says the Lord “commands” the wife not to separate from her husband, but if she does she must remain unmarried, or return to her husband. He adds that the husband should not divorce his wife. Notice that according to Paul, the Lord commands (allows) the wife to leave her husband as long as it is not to marry another man. No reason is given. (More about that later.)
In vs. 12-16 Paul tells how marriage to non-believers should be handled. If the woman has an unbelieving husband who is content to live with her, she should not divorce him because of his unbelief. This is to work both ways. (V.15) However, if the non-believer wants out of the marriage, let them go. “A believing brother or sister is not bound in such circumstances.” Meaning the marriage is no longer binding, i.e., can be dissolved. There is also the issue of the non-believing “husband” (partner) being sanctified, as well as the children, through the believing partner. (V.14). The answers (?)) to that are about as many as the stars in the sky! It should be noted that even if Paul is granting divorce for such a situation, under his previous advice, neither should remarry.
In vs. 17-31 he sets out his view on all of this by saying “Nevertheless.” His main principle is based on this thesis: “Let everyone retain the place in life that the Lord assigned to him and to which God has called him.” Which is better explained in v20. “Each one should remain in the situation which he was in when God called him.”
So circumcised or uncircumcised, don’t try to change it. (Yes, there was a surgical attempt to make the circumcised appear uncircumcised.)
A slave? No problem, stay a slave, unless you can gain freedom.
A virgin? Forget marriage. Married? Forget divorce. Unmarried? Forget marriage, but if you do, it’s not a sin. If married, live as though single. (v.29) Mourning? Stop. Happy? Stop. Buying things is meaningless. (v.30)
Vs. 32-40. Unmarried men are more concerned about the Lord’s business. (More later) Unmarried women are better at the Lord’s affairs. Married women are not. Everyone must have undivided attention to the Lord.
If the man has a virgin-bride-in-waiting, who is getting on in years, it’s not a sin to marry her. But if marriage is not what the man wants, it’s not a sin to not marry the virgin-bride-in-waiting, but he does better if he doesn’t marry her. A widow can remarry, but only to a believer.
Let’s review. It’s better not to marry. This is stated several times. If one does, it’s due to a lack of self-control. (v. 5&9)
A wife can’t leave (divorce?) her husband to get another man, but she can leave him if she wants. No reason given. A man must not divorce his wife.
If married to an unbeliever and they are living in peace, no divorce. If the unbeliever wants out, let them go. The believer is not bound any more than if they died. Note v.39.
Each person should remain in the situation in which they were called, i.e., became a believer. Live like you are single if married and so on.
Conditional or contemporary? If contemporary, why does Paul want elders to be married, and doesn’t tell men to live like they are single in other writings?
As to women leaving (separating from) their husbands, if the Lord is expected so soon as to cause marriage to cease, perhaps these women wanted to be part of those single women who “worked for the Lord’s coming. (v. 34)
As to remarriage after the unbeliever leaves, this is not a contemporary discussion about divorce and remarriage. Paul has said it’s better not to marry (or remarry).
All of chapter 7 is conditional, because, as Paul says in vs.26, 29&31, “Because of the present crisis” “The time is short” and, “The world in its present form os passing away.” The expectation of Christ’s speedy return conditioned how Paul, at least at that time, instructed them to live. For us and the later believers, not so.
That being true, how much more of what we apply as instructions or beliefs is the result of the conditions and the culture of the New Testament period? To examine such questions is about handling the scriptures right.
CONCERNS: Judy Hall continues to improve each day. Lilly, the young woman who received a double lung transplant due to CF is now in rehab. Del Bolin’s mother, Carrie, spent some time in the hospital. Ellen Tidwell, Debbie McRoy’s sister-in law had a lump scan on Tuesday. Debbie’s has a cousin who is having health issues as well. Richard Foy (Chrone’s disease) Deanna McRoy; in cancer recovery. Joni and Alan Beach’s parents; Teryn Gaynor’s mother and step-father; a friend of Leena Bolin’s who is having stress problems. Sheila Jansen and daughter, Amber Weaver. Melanie Gentry; Wayne Phlegar; Ray and Darnel Barns; Gil Richardson; (ALS) Jamie Cole; Jim and Mary Smit; Tim Elder, and Steve Fox a recently retired minister who is being treated for neurological issues.
Our thoughts today will be directed by Mike Branch. Our thanks to him for the message.
Out sympathy is extended to Lyn Jordan in the death of a cousin who died over a week ago. The funeral was in Knoxville, TN.
Today is Super Sunday. The fellowship meal will be in the annex following the service. Visitors are considered our honored quests. Please stay.
There will be a steering committee meeting in the library following the Super Sunday meal.
During the summer months many of our congregation will be traveling. If you are going to be away, let Keith know. In relation to that, the Susan Jordan (and sometimes Lyn) will be away for the rest of June. The Bolin’s will also be away in July. During one of those “aways” Del will be lecturing in Greece.
THINK ABOUT THIS
Mike Branch invited me (KW) to sit in on a scipe session with the daughter of Joy Johnson, the former director of the Rescue Mission, who is studying at Notre Dame. She is involved with the Mennonites. When asked about evangelism among that group, she said their growth comes from the members sharing how much they enjoy being part of their church. When I heard that I thought about those of our church who have come to us for the same reason.