Tag Archives: pauline

Sexual Ethics and Logos Christology: Neither Natural Law or Nihilism

UPDATE: ** After conversing with Chad via text message, I have concluded that this post affirms most of what Chad argued. There was just confusion with my reading of his conclusion.  But other than that, this is the approach I take. **

Below Chad posted on how Jesus as a rabbi loosed/bound some laws as weightier than others.  While we may disagree on the issue of marriage, I think it is suffice to say that neither Chad or I believe in Natural Law or Nihilism.  Natural law or the idea that there are ordinances that govern the material universe was appealed to by proponents of the recently overturned Proposition 8.  I believe personally that natural law ethics are problematic because of the refusal to deal with particularity; as one professor of mine puts it so succinctly: “Nothing is natural.”  I think that philosophically speaking, cultural conservatives are encapsulated by the logic of natural law, speaking in universals, and discussing what the “rights of man” are.  On the other hand, there is on the other side a proclivity towards what I consider a form of nihilism, that idea that “nothing has any meaning” because all is, in the end, socially constructed and it is the human right to continue to construct and re-construct a world for herself.  I think that purpose is a gift, and that humanity needs help in making the world a better place; in fact, humanity needs a word who continues to speak in a tradition that transcends human particularity but at the same time, invites humanity in its differences to participate in the life of the Creator.

I think distinctively for Christians, this word is the Logos, Christ Jesus, the Word of YHWH who embraced embodiment.  I make no apologies when I say this but Marcion remains wrong because Jesus IS the precedent in the “Old” Testament; Jesus’s story is the story first from the Hebrew people to everyone second.  So, whenever one says that Jesus did this or that as a rabbi, I would like to say, no, we do not know that really since we are unsure which Judaism Jesus practice.  What we do know is this: Christ Jesus is the Logos of the God of Israel, and therefore as special revelation Jesus interprets himself; Jesus of Nazareth in other words, is special revelation that is self-interpreting , the Word interpreting Scripture.  Therefore, he alone has the right to correctly reveal and continue to disclose the multiple meanings of the biblical text. The Logos is the end of the Scripture, and the Logos is the end of all of creation (Colossians 1).  Paul is unable to write Romans 1 (under the auspices of natural law language) without first knowing the revealed law, in this case Christ Jesus, the crucified and risen logos. This is where the theologies of the apostle Paul and Clement of Alexandria meet: Christ is the Logos Incarnate,  is at once, the Law (in the Hebrew Bible), the Law-Giving/Covenant making God Yahweh, as well as the covenant-bearing Son of  Humanity (for more on this from Clement, read his Stromata [I translate it as Carpets] Book 1, specifically his views on Moses receiving the Logos.

I find it difficult to agree with the thinking of natural law arguments or nihilism.  We are either trapped by the subjective whims of a free humanity without limits or bound by what an elite few consider to be “natural.”  Logos Christology frees us from the hopeless binary of either of the first two approaches.  Christ, as the Wisdom of God, corrects human foolish behavior by teaching us the right way.  In the context of the Hebrew Bible and human sexuality, I think that Chad’s analysis falls short. First of all, because something happens with God’s permission does not mean that God honors it, like polygamy.  Of course, I know, that is part of Reformed theology in some circles, but biblically, polygamy fails.  Polygamy happens AFTER the fall (whether it is the fall to violence with Cain and Abel or the fall to empire with Nimrod). David epically fails on his own because he breaks the Law given to Moses, you know, the parts about the king not having multiple wives or building large armies or having slaves; check Deuteronomy 17:14-20. The Deuteronomist is notorious for making a mockery of the monarchy; there is no endorsement. Only warning, disobedience, and tragedy.  The one true king who governs Israel is the Logos itself, or indirectly guiding the Israelites like Wisdom led them out of Egypt according to the Apocrypha.  God never honors or endorses polygamy, concubine, sex slaves, or anything like that; God however does work within those human bodies who practiced these acts because God governs in meekness, through us weak and ignorant human beings.

Outside the mystery of the Incarnation, humanity remains too stupid to know what right or wrong is.  Of course, there is God sends us hints (some call it common grace, others prevenient grace) of what is good and right (the logos with a small l that is carried by the Spirit of God throughout the world).  Jesus had to teach his followers how to pray. He had to teach them about marriage. Whenever I see the added subtitle “Jesus’s teaching on Divorce,” I want to split my hairs and scream! Jesus is disclosing knowledge on marriage and the nature of it; this is what Matthew 19 is about.  Our narrow focus on the two or three verses on divorce does the entire chapter a disservice.  Not everyone can accept Jesus’ words (revelation) precisely because it was NOT natural for humans to understand what marriage is all about.  Marriage does have a purpose, a purpose given to it by the Logos, for man and woman to become 1: 1+1=s 1.  A mystery and revelation simultaneously, much like the idea of the Trinity.

Both natural law social conservatives and nihilist social progressives rely on the idol of marriage, the notion that everyone needs to marry, and family is natural and so is being with another person is as natural as being human, but this notion of relationships is faulty because we never take into consideration Jesus’s words at the end of Matthew 19, about those who leave their households (families, relationships) inheriting the Kingdom of God. This is quite disturbing, the family values of Jesus, that is.

What does this all mean, in conclusion? Should Christians go around creating a theocracy by force? Of course not, but neither should secularists.  However, it is the free gift of God that the church teach what is the purpose of marriage, through living example as well as preaching of the Word.  One cannot conclude just because something appears in Scripture without commentary from God, does not mean God gave it approval.  Instead, we must first check to see how the Word interprets itself (Jesus understands the canon) and work our way out.  We must be taught by the Educator (another Clement reference, I know, I know) before we can teach the world what we have learned.

"Grace" is Paul's way of putting words in God's mouth. Literally.

Any theology professor worth their salt (hats off to you, Maxie Burch, David Gouwens) will tell you that you can’t really understand the theology of a person unless you understand their history. Biography=theology, or at least somewhere close. With that in mind, I wondered aloud the other day if that applied to the apostle Paul. For example, did the fact that Paul having killed a bunch of Christians in God’s name have anything to do with the conclusions he came to later? So I looked into it. It turns out, from my perspective, yes.

The New Testament uses this word “grace” (χαρις), 155 times, in 147 verses. Paul’s writings contribute 107 of them. Jesus uses this word only 4 times. And guess what? It isn’t God’s χαρις, but a human’s χαρις that is in view. Even if we stop right there, that is enough for me to rethink how “grace vs. law” might not be the best framing of our faith. If Jesus did indeed come to offer God’ grace, why the heck didn’t he talk about it? EVER?

But that isn’t it. The times in Acts the word is used is 17. 11 of those are about God’s grace. In the Gospels, the word is used a total of 12 times. 6 relate to God. 5 of 8 in Hebrews is about God. James uses it 2 times, about God. 7/12 uses of “grace” the Petrine letters are about God. 1,2,3 John and Revelation use it 4 times, 3 times in greeting. Jude uses it once, about God. Of the non-Pauline New Testament corpus, only 26 uses are about God. Paul’s “Grace of God” VS. other NT writers “Grace of God” VS. Jesus’ “Grace of God”. 107/26/0. 5 Times in the Old Testament (LXX) is this word used to describe what God has toward an individual. 5 times. Paul/other NT writers/Jesus/Old Testamant. 107/26/0/5.

Is it possible, that just perhaps, we have inherited a fixation on “grace”, specifically, “Grace vs. Law” from a guy who was so hung up on the fact that he ruthlessly killed a bunch of good people and needed forgiveness, or “grace”, that he like so many after him, simply assumed that everyone else needed to hear what he needed to hear?

The Old Testament speaks primarily of faithfulness. Specifically faithfulness to a covenant. Jesus speaks primarily of God’s Kingdom, forgiveness of others, loving others . Paul speaks A LOT about Grace from God. Is it telling that so many of us put ourselves down as “wretches like me”, hopelessly lost without the Grace of God? Whose cues are we taking when we give priority to our Bible reading? Do we think og Jesus as being a wonderful savior who is so mysterious and scary that we need super-smart Paul to understand what he really meant? I think that is absolutely how most protestant churches treat the Bible.

Paul is not Jesus. He wasn’t as smart as Jesus. He wasn’t as loving as Jesus. He wasn’t as good of a pastor, a prophet, a scholar, a rabbi, or a speaker than… Jesus. So why do we keep running to Paul for our lessons about Grace, when instead we should be immersing ourselves anew all the time in the Kingdom message of Rabbi Jesus, and using Paul as someone who testifies to the way HE lived out the message faithfully in his time? Instead, we have taken Paul’s faithful outworking and instead made IT the message. God is not all about “grace”. But perhaps God was that for Paul (and Augustine, and Luther). For the rest of us, perhaps those of us who don’t make a habit of self-flagellation, God is about forgiving others, revolting against evil, justice, and God’s love. Don’t make Paul or Grace an idol.