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What Does the Bible Say About Marriage?

The conversation around the topic of marriage came to the forefront of social consciousness a few years back. These debates typically center on the limits of marriage, whether it is only meant for one man and one woman or whether it is open to any loving relationship. Most biblical arguments for the traditional view focus on two aspects; procreation and God’s design for men and women. However, these arguments don’t often speak to what marriage is, only what it does or why it exists. So today let’s ask the more important question: what is biblical marriage

To state it as succinctly as possible: Biblical marriage is a union of two persons – a man and a woman. This union involves a number of different aspects, like love, commitment, and so on, and it produces certain results, like relationship and offspring. But at its core, marriage is a union. While the Bible has much to say about procreation and the roles of men and women, let’s take some time to see what it says about this concept of union. 

There are three significant aspects of this union that we find in Scripture: 

  1. The marriage union is physical 
  2. The marriage union is personal 
  3. The marriage union is relational

The Marriage Union is Physical

After God creates the first man, He says something that He had never said before; He says “It is not good…” Everything He had done before was declared “good.” So, what was not good? God continues, saying “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him” (Genesis 2:18). What happens next is informative: God shows the man every creature that He had made, but none was fitting for him. They were all good, but they were coming from outside the man, separate from him, and they were not made like him. So, God creates the woman from the flesh of the man. They originate from the same substance, and she was made specifically to fit him. So, as Scripture declares, the man and the woman “shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). To put it plainly, this is talking about sex, but that sex itself is the means of physical unification.

This physical aspect of union is essential to marriage. Like puzzle pieces that fit together just so, the man and woman are physically unified. They are of one substance, like a single object divided in two, that is made whole as it is brought back together. No other piece will complete the puzzle. 

This is an important distinction: the one who is fitting for this union is of the same substance, and is complementary to the other. Two different kinds of things won’t unify, and two that are not complimentary will not be fitting. 

The Marriage Union is Personal

Now, if bodily unity were the most significant aspect of marriage, then certainly we would not have much reason to consider marriage important. So much of what our culture gets wrong about sex and marriage comes from this point: physical intimacy involves the whole person. It is intimately personal. Sex is the means of procreation, but procreation is not essential to the physical union; rather, it is a result. The marriage union brings a person into intimate connection with another person in a way that nothing else can. Most modern cultures want us to believe that sex is merely a physical act, but Scripture teaches otherwise. 

This union is a loving communion of equal and distinct persons. When the two become one, it is more than a physical connection. It involves a connection on the personal level, where the two persons commune in a way that is unique to that relationship. Sex is a means of connection, but the whole of the marriage relationship involves this personal connection. The physical union is merely one level of contact. As we already mentioned, marriage involves the whole person: physical, emotional, spiritual, and so on. The goal of the biblical marriage is for the two to become one as they connect and commune with each other at each of these connecting points.

So, marriage is physical because we are physical beings, and it is personal because we are personal beings, but we also see that marriage is inherently relational. 

The Marriage Union is Relational

When God first creates the man and woman, Scripture makes an interesting declaration: “So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Genesis 1:27). The first time that the Bible mentions the distinction of the sexes is in relation to the image of God. So, the question becomes, what does this male-female union have to do with God? The answer is essential to Christianity, and to a proper understanding of Scripture: God Himself IS a union of persons. God is the relationship of Father, Son, and Spirit, Three-in-One; that is, three persons with one essence. Marriage is a picture of that union. 

The union we find in the Trinity is a loving communion of equal and distinct Persons who are One in essence. This is precisely what marriage is meant to be. While marriage is not the only expression of this divine union, it is perhaps the clearest picture God has given us to explain and even experience the Trinitarian life of God. Now, the question remains: what is this experience? What is the essence of Trinitarian life that is demonstrated in the marriage relationship?

As a loving communion of equal persons, this relationship consists of self-giving love which seeks the good of the other. The Trinitarian relationship is always outward-facing love from one to another. So also, the marriage relationship is meant to consist of this kind of self-giving, other-focused love. Consider what Scripture says about this: 

John 15:13 says, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” And we know this is precisely what Jesus does on the cross, demonstrating the greatest form of self-giving love. Paul picks up on this idea and connects it with the marriage relationship when he says in Ephesians 5:25, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” Every human relationship in some way models this type of self-giving love, but in marriage we see it most clearly. We could spend hours discussing Christ’s relationship with the Church as it relates to marriage, but we will save that for another time.

So, as we close out this discussion, here is a clear definition of biblical marriage to walk away with: biblical marriage is a loving, self-giving communion of equal but distinct and complementary persons. If we approach marriage with this in mind, much of our cultural confusion about the nature of sex and marriage can be resolved, and many of our marital conflicts can be avoided. But remember; to love as God loves requires the help of God, and a relationship that imitates the Trinitarian life requires that our personal relationship with God be intimately connected with our marriage relationship.

 

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Can You Trust the Bible?

Is the Bible Anti-Science?

One of the many things that I do that annoys the easily annoyed is that I complicate supposedly simple things. When people denounce the Bible as “anti-science,” I annoy them with questions about the definition and limits of science. Then I challenge their perception of Scripture as merely a collection of unsophisticated children’s stories. 

While doing my Ph.D., I worked as a security guard at a hoity-toity high school. Once, while reading my Bible, a student said, “Why are you reading the Bible when Science has proven that there is no God?” I retorted, “My goodness, Science sure has come a long way. Last I checked, Science was limited to the material world, and was incapable of proving the non-existence of anything.” He scoffed and went on his way. This assumption was not generated in a vacuum, sadly. The student learned this disposition towards “science” from his science teacher, who once boasted to me that ‘science’ has solved nearly every great mystery of the world and has disproven the existence of the immaterial world. 

Perhaps you yourself have wondered if the Bible is anti-science. It is, after all, filled with miracles, talk of angels and demons, odd creation stories, visions, prophetic dreams, and the like. So, is the Bible anti-science? 

Quick answer: NO. 

Annoying answer: Define Science. Articulate the limits of Science. Describe the “pre-scientific” understanding of reality. Then ask me that question again.

Let’s unpack… 

Define Science

In modern times, the word science has taken on mythic proportions. Thanks to Thomas Dolby, it even has its own theme music. Unfortunately, its legend has incorporated many elements that go well beyond its definition. “Oxford Languages” defines science as “the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment.” In other words, science is a methodology for studying our physical world where knowledge is gained through observation and experimentation.

The Limits of Sciene

So, science is an inductive method for studying the material world. That’s it. It is limited by the human capacity for observation, measurement, and the ability to conduct experiments with consistent outcomes. Scientists can be considered experts in many matters pertaining to the physical world, and their knowledge should be both welcomed and questioned. Unfortunately, this does not prevent some scientists, or the “Scientific-minded” from venturing authoritatively into the realms of the unobservable and unobserved.

People like the teacher and student I mentioned above believe science can “inform” or “prove” many more things than it actually can. For instance, logical and mathematical truths are outside the realm of science and must be presupposed in order to do experiments. Math is rooted in deduction, not induction. Questions about morality or the observation of aesthetic qualities such as goodness or beauty are not determinable through the scientific method. Metaphysical truths, like believing that there are other minds than one’s own, cannot be proven in laboratory experiments. Even the scientific method itself cannot be validated by the scientific method!

The Pre-Scientific Understanding of Reality

Being raised in a science-minded civilization, we tend to divide history into two pieces… scientific and pre-scientific. When we say Pre-scientific, we typically mean “ignorant of reality” and “governed by silly religious superstitions.” This is quite misguided. 

Ancient documents, like pagan myths and even Scripture, were not pre-scientific attempts at science… far from it. Humans of every age and place have observed the cause-effect structures of the material world, continually adding to the compendium of human knowledge over the millennia. We are still learning, and still find ourselves having to unlearn many things that we were absolutely certain we already understood. No, what changed between the scientific and pre-scientific eras of man is, rather, the interest that our respective societies have in the world, our perceptions of the nature of reality itself, and our purpose in seeking to understand the world around us. 

Most scientific-minded people believe they live in a world of only physical things, governed by material laws alone. They accept only material causes as explanations for all phenomena. 

Pre-scientific people were functionally-minded, living in a world of human striving to survive and thrive. They were trying to discover and describe the behavioral patterns that lead to spreading human flourishing… at least for their group. While they were attentive to material cause-effect and implemented that knowledge practically, they were also concerned with the ultimate cause behind material causes. 

We might imagine a No-Smoking sign. Some will talk about the material that went into the sign, or about the script used to deliver the message, or even the dynamics of its support. These are material-minded thinkers. The functional-minded man reads the sign and puts out his cigarette. So… who really understands the sign?

Regarding creation, we modern folk want to know how old the earth is, where all the stuff came from, the processes by which it became what it is… and we imagine that by discovering this we have come to truly understand the world. 

Pre-modern folk, however, wanted to know how the world works, so they could work well within it. Biblical literature is, therefore, as is most of the literary arts of the ancients, wisdom centered… at least in intention… and should be read so. 

The Bible is Not Anti-Science

The answers that ancient people gave about the struggle for human thriving—often articulated creatively in their myths—vary slightly from society to society, but most systems fall naturally under the label “pagan.” In Scripture, we find a radical departure from the pagan struggle for human thriving, but not a departure from their functional orientation to the world. It is important, therefore, to understand what we are reading in Scripture—a wisdom approach to reality. 

Applying a supposed scientific model of interpretation to pre-scientific stories about creation is a grand mistake. This does not make Scripture anti-science. It simply recognizes a completely different orientation to reality, to human need, and to biblical content. We must not demand that Scripture satisfy our modern curiosity about the material world; it is not written to do so. Rather we need to discern what the Bible intended to communicate about living in God’s world as it uses terms, grammar, literary relationships and structure, as well as genre to preach truth to minds struggling with a pagan worldview. 

Properly-applied scientific method, if freed from its enslavement to philosophical materialism and from the agendas of world power players, may add much to our knowledge of the processes of God in His world. Faith has nothing to fear from facts. This does not suggest that “scientists” have figured it all out, nor that what they think they’ve figured out is true. It merely holds out the possibility that man could, if unfettered by hubris and agenda, discover much more about the material world, and more easily escape their enslavement to unprofitable philosophical commitments so as to use this collection of facts wisely… i.e. to promote spreading human flourishing. 

Properly-understood Scripture, if freed from modern attempts to force its ancient texts into a scientific mold, would in turn, more easily bequeath to the modern reader its message of wise action in God’s world. 

Armed with this understanding, we are better prepared to address each instance in which some have proposed a conflict between “science” and Scripture, and can do so without fear. Neither Scripture nor faith has anything to fear from the truth. The Bible is NOT anti-science, but its authors have a different orientation to life… one outside the purview of the scientific method. The Bible is NOT anti-science, for it is the book inspired by the Creator of all.

 

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Studying the Bible

Reading the Bible Better: The Importance of Prayer

The Bible can be a bit intimidating. It’s huge, it’s ancient, and it’s inspired by the eternal God who made everything. How can we possibly understand it? Well, it is one of the great miracles of history that God has communicated His Word to us in a way that even children can get it. And He has made us a part of His Church, so we are not alone in the effort. So, let’s spend some time trying to understand how we can study Holy Scripture so that we might not only understand it, but be changed by it.

What makes the Bible so intimidating is also what makes it so approachable: it comes from God. This guarantees two things that we should always keep in mind: first, that it is inexhaustibly rich and full of meaning beyond anything we will ever know; but second, that God Himself desires to communicate to us in specific ways—ways we can understand and respond to. This means that, no matter who you are or how intelligent you may be, you will benefit from your study of Scripture, even if you study the same verses every day for the rest of your life. 

Now, if God desires for us to read and study His Word, we must come to it with certain expectations and follow certain rules in order to get the most out of our study. The first and most important rule is described in 1 Corinthians 2:14, where Paul tells us that “a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.” If we rely solely on our own, natural wisdom to understand God’s Word, which was breathed out by His Spirit according to 2 Timothy 3:16, it will seem to us a very foolish thing. We who are in Christ study Scripture in order to pursue God and deepen our relationship to Him. Therefore, we must rely on His Spirit, active in us, to fully comprehend and engage with His Word.

All of this is to say that, even before you read your Bible, begin your study with prayer. Ask the Spirit of God to do for you exactly what Jesus promised that He would do. Jesus tells us in John 14:26 that “the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.” So, before you sit down to read Scripture, pray and ask God to teach you. Ask Him to help you understand what you read, to see new things that you’ve never seen before, and to understand and obey God as a result of what you read. 

Now, let’s take this understanding and apply it to an effective Bible Study method—inductive Bible Study.

Step 1: Observe the Text

The first step in a good inductive Bible study method is to observe the text. This means that you simply read the passage of Scripture, sometimes more than once, and make note of everything that stands out to you. Make note of what the passage tells you about God—who He is and what He wants. Make note of what it tells you about humanity—who we are, both as children of God and as sinful creatures. Finally, make note of any commands you see in the passage—how we are to respond to God. 

So far, this can all be done easily according to human wisdom, and it doesn’t require a relationship with God to do it. To transform your reading time from a book study to a devotional time of worship, take your observations and pray them back to God. Say anything that you find amazing or praiseworthy about Him. Remember, God loves to hear His own words spoken back to Him in praise and thanksgiving, so pray Scripture back to God. Then, tell God what you see about humanity, and about yourself, in the passage. You may see your own sin and shortcomings in the passage, so take time to confess. And finally, respond to any commands you see, telling God how you will obey, or confessing the difficulty you have with the command. 

When you respond to Scripture in this way, you are engaging with the God who is there; the very real and present God who indwells you by His Spirit if you are a believer, and who is the author of the words you are reading. You are no longer merely reading words printed on paper, you are conversing with your Creator who loves you and wants you to know Him. The next two steps fall in line with this:

Step 2: Interpret the Text 

After you have observed what is in the text, you can interpret its meaning. Sometimes the meaning will be clear, but there is often meaning beyond the surface. Other times you may have no clue what it means. Here, especially, prayer is needed. Ask God to help you understand His Word by His Spirit. God will certainly respond to the humble prayer, as James 1:5 says, “but if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” 

You will not likely experience an immediate flash of understanding. This will involve learning from others in your church community. It may be a long process of reading the Bible, wrestling with its content, and asking for clarity from people you can trust, but the Spirit of God will teach you according to His Word. The goal is not mere understanding. The Word is meant to change us, and that is why we also need step 3:

Step 3: Apply the Text 

Finally, you should look to apply what you have learned from Scripture and heard from God. If there were any direct commands in the passage you studied, this part is easy because it will be quite clear what you need to do. If your observation did not reveal an obvious application, ask God how He would like you to respond to what you’ve read. In either case, you can tell God how you want to obey His Word, what steps you will take, and that you need His help in doing so. And in every case, obedience means sharing what you have learned with others. 

Now, if you approach Scripture in this way, you will begin to see your Bible study time as a divine appointment; a meeting with Almighty God. Rather than sitting down with a boring, confusing book that you know you’re supposed to read, you can see that reading the Bible is like sitting down for a rich and engaging conversation with a friend who loves you, and a teacher who cares for you. This kind of study does not just inform you; it changes you. 

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Can You Trust the Bible?

Can You Trust the Bible?

One of the questions I get asked the most about the Bible concerns some element of its trustworthiness. “Can you trust the Bible?” 

In fact, I was asked to speak at a philosophy conference many years ago, in which my question for the evening was, “Is the Bible Reliable?” In the weeks leading up to the event, I asked the moderator for a few more specifics on what he meant by reliable, qualifying “reliable for what?” He laughed and told me to take it where I felt inclined. 

He was less than pleased when I opened the lecture part of my discussion with a list of things that we could absolutely rely on the Bible to accomplish. For instance, your Bible will hold up one corner of your couch if its leg is broken. It may be a sacrilege, but it will work. I have a friend who once used a bible to defend us against a street gang intent on robbing us. It was efficient. Indeed, a good Bible will even stop most bullets… assuming it’s not a digital one on your smartphone. 

I followed with a list of things that one could NOT rely on the Bible to do. You cannot rely on all of Scripture to be easy to understand, or to give up all its secrets to the casual observer. You cannot rely on the Bible to reflect your own cultural or personal sensibilities back to you, or to use all your own categories for understanding the world. Scripture is neither a math text, nor encyclopedia, nor dictionary, nor comprehensive history of the world written with modern standards of what does and does not constitute history. It is not a manual on psychology, philosophy, economics, nor is it a textbook on biology, archaeology, linguistics, physics, chemistry, anthropology or medicine. 

This does not make its literature primitive babble, nor insist that the Bible is utterly useless when discussing these matters, but it does mean that the authors’ orientation to the world, their vocabulary and categories will not replicate our own. It does mean that the intention of the writers is not to satisfy inquiring minds, but is to impart a specific body of understanding and wisdom to the diligent student. 

While we categorize the animal world with mammal, fish, amphibian, reptile, bird and the like, it is perfectly acceptable for the inspired writers to present a world organized around different categories, like swims, crawls, or flies. In that case, a whale can be called a great fish, a bat can be classed with birds. My inability to trust Scripture to organize reality as my modern mind does is NOT a testament to its frailty, but to the important distinction between wisdom and knowledge. 

The cosmology of Scripture, for instance—the vision of the structure and nature of the world—has the disadvantage of being almost entirely presented in poetry, making their beliefs about material world forces difficult to discern with precision. For instance, it is plain from the historical texts written in prose—normal talk—that the ancients understood quite well that rain came from clouds and that clouds were made of water, but that does not keep their prophets from recording God’s poetic challenge to Job and his friends saying, “Have you entered the storehouses of the snow, or have you seen the storehouses of the hail…?” Just so, sailors have known for ages that the earth is round, witnessing at sea as the hulls of ships disappeared from view before their sails, exposing the curvature to view. In fact the Greek mathematician Eratosthenes discovered the circumference of the earth with a stick and a shadow almost three centuries before Jesus walked the shores of the Mediterranean. 

There is a big difference between what the arrogance of modern souls imagine about the ignorance of the past and what the ancients actually knew. We can trust the Scriptures to present to us the divine wisdom of the ages in an ancient husk, if we are wise enough to wrestle our way to it. Hubris will sabotage us.

Let’s finish with one more. You cannot rely on Scripture to be a science book. The scientific method was articulated millennia after the writing of even the newest Scriptures. Our particular way of thinking about and talking about the world as scientific-minded readers (However poorly we do at it) will not be reflected back at us. This does not make Scripture untrustworthy or wrong, rather it qualifies the kinds of discussions we can and cannot have with the Biblical text. 

For example: The Creation story of Scripture, which in truth stretches from Genesis 1 through Genesis 11 is not interested in our modern ontological curiosities about the origin of the material world. The Biblical Creation story is more interested in functional ontology than material ontology. Scripture tells us not about the origins of all the stuff, beginning its tale with the material world in place, unformed as it was, but does tell us about the nature of divine order in creation as God takes that material and turns it into a functional world. 

We want to know “when” and “how,” but the author of Genesis wants to talk about “Who,” and “Why,” and “What.” Who made the world? What did He make the world to be? Why did He make the world? How did He make it to function? The ultimate question then becomes a wisdom question: How can I function best in the world that Yahweh made and that man has influenced? This is the Bible’s bailiwick. 

The inspired descriptions of creation are made within the bounds of interest for the inspired writer, dealing with the realities of a world drowning in paganism. Therefore, I cannot rely on him to dazzle me with a scientifically definitive answer to questions of “when” and “how,” but I CAN rely on the prophetic writer to tell me the truth about life before the one Holy Creator of all. I can trust him to tell me the truth about the fundamental problem in the world’s systems. I can trust the Bible to speak true about the hope that we have for redemption and restoration in the salvation plan of that Holy Creator. 

This does not mean that the inspired writers are ignorant clods on all matters we would regard as scientific. They lived and prospered in their world far better than most of us would if magically transported there. True, we understand many things that they do not. We know how far the moon is from the earth. We know what the bottom of the ocean looks like. We even know the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow. But we don’t know many things that they understood intuitively and that they learned by lived experiences so different from our own. 

It reminds me of the punch line in the majestic poem in Job 28, which after detailing all the then-modern accomplishments of man, asks the more meaningful question. We find boasts like those in verses 3 & 4, saying, “Man puts an end to darkness, And to the farthest limit he searches out. The rock in gloom and deep shadow. He sinks a shaft far from habitation, forgotten by the foot” But, the poet turns to the important counter in verses 12 & 13, “But where can wisdom be found? And where is the place of understanding? “Man does not know its value, Nor is it found in the land of the living.” We can put an astronaut on the moon, but living peaceably with our fellow man is often beyond us. We can map the human genome, but do not know how to cultivate truth and integrity. We may rightfully boast the former, but it is Scripture that will guide us in the mastery of the latter. 

As we continue to unpack the question, “Can you trust the Bible?” let us escape the simple-minded approaches to Scripture common to modern readers who have not learned to think reasonably or wisely about their own questions and expectations. Instead, let us articulate exactly what we mean (and don’t mean) when we ask, “Can I trust the Bible?” and continue the investigation in coming posts.