Archive for the ‘creation’ Category

JESUS’ RESURRECTION OF LAZARUS

 

Chapter 11:1-44 of John’s Gospel describes the event of Jesus’ resurrection of Lazarus.

“Now a certain man was sick, named Lazarus, of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister, Martha. (It was that Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick.) Therefore, his sisters sent to him, saying, Lord, behold, he whom you love is sick. When Jesus heard that, he said, This sickness is not for death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified by it.

“Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus. When he had heard, therefore, that he was sick, he remained another two days in the same place where he was. Then, after that, he said to his disciples, Let us go into Judea again.”

Jesus’ disciples thought at first that Lazarus was merely asleep. They questioned Him as to why, if that were the case, he needed to go to him, along a route they knew was dangerous for him. Jesus responded directly by telling them that Lazarus was dead. He followed that with an enigmatic statement:

“And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, to the intent that you may believe; nevertheless, let us go to him.”

By the time that Jesus got to Lazarus’ place, he had already been dead for four days. When Martha and Mary complained about His delay in getting to Lazarus, He reassured them that Lazarus would rise again. Then He made the following statement:

“I am the resurrection, and the life; he that believes in me, though he was dead, yet shall he live. And whoever lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”

When Jesus saw Mary weeping along with Lazarus’ friends, He asked where Lazarus had been laid, and wept along with them. The friends marveled at this demonstration of Jesus’ love for Lazarus. When Jesus came to the cave where Lazarus was, He asked that the covering stone be removed. Martha responded with horror, reminding Jesus that after four days, Lazarus would have the stench of death. At this, Jesus reminded her that if she would believe, she would see the glory of God. When the covering stone was removed, Jesus lifted up His eyes and, for the sake of the belief of the onlookers, thanked His Father for hearing Him. With that, He commanded Lazarus,

“Lazarus, come forth.”

Lazarus responded to this command by stepping alive out of the cave, still in his graveclothes.

On the surface, this story is worthwhile for demonstrating Jesus’ compassion toward Lazarus, and for His supernatural ability to perform a resurrection. But the story prods us to look for a deeper significance, in the odd circumstance of Jesus waiting for another two days before performing the resurrection. Surely He knew how Mary, Martha and Lazarus’ close friends would be grieving, and that his loitering around would serve to prolong their suffering. It would almost seem that Jesus was rather indifferent to the whole business, a thought that clashes with the fact that Jesus made a hazardous journey to reach Lazarus, and that He wept, and that He did perform the resurrection.

The apparent contradictions of motive in the story point out that something else is in play here – that the resurrection was a far more important event than simply reviving Lazarus. Jesus was actually prophesying His own resurrection. Sense can be made that He waited until Lazarus was dead four days before resurrecting him only if there is a significance to the period of four days that is associated with this prophecy.

Verse 4 of Psalm 90 gives us an interesting clue as to what that significance might be.

“For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night.”

If this was the only passage that presented a specific relationship among specific periods of time, one might be tempted to dismiss the association as reading too much into the verse. But there is another verse, 2 Peter 3:8, that describes that same relationship:

“But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.”

Moreover, the implication of Jesus raising Lazarus after the fourth day is not the only association of four days with Jesus’ appearance. There is an even more basic one, the Passover that pointed to Jesus as the Lamb of God. The Passover event, as described in Exodus 12, includes a significant four-day period in verses 3 and 6 just before the killing of the lamb:

“Speak you to all the congregation of Israel, saying, In the tenth day of this month they shall take to them every man a lamb, according to the house of their fathers, a lamb for a house . . . And you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of the same month; and the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it in the evening.”

Here is that same time period, when the lamb has been kept until after the fourth day, after which he was killed. Jesus as the Lamb of God was crucified after the fourth millennium from Creation.

Furthermore, God in Scripture makes other precise relationships among time periods, as in Ezekiel 4:6, where the following sentence may be found:

“I have appointed you each day for a year.”

In the sense of a day for a thousand years, Jesus came to Earth on the Fourth Day since Creation, confirming that His birth in the midst of a seven-millennium history of man of itself was a prophecy of His own resurrection.

It also confirms God’s use of time equivalence in Scripture.

THE FULFILLMENT OF HANNAH’S VOW

 

The two books of Samuel in the Bible were written over a thousand years before Jesus Christ was born, when Israel was still a young nation. The first chapter of First Samuel is occupied with Hannah, a woman of Israel from the tribe of Ephraim.

Hannah wanted to have a son very badly, but she didn’t seem to be able to have one. Yet she remained faithful to God, and every year she went with her husband up to a city in Israel called Shiloh to make their yearly worship and sacrifice. Year after year she did this, hoping to have a son by the next year. Finally, one year while she was praying, she broke down and wept in the sight of the priest for her lack of a son. In her misery, Hannah prayed to God, making a promise to Him if He would show His kindness toward her by giving her a son. Her vow went like this:

O Lord, of hosts, if you will look on the affliction of your handmaid, and remember me, and not forget me, but will give to your handmaid a male child, then I will give him unto the Lord all the days of his life.”

After speaking to God, Eli the Priest blessed her, and she trusted God and was no longer sad when she returned home with her husband.

“And the Lord remembered Hannah. And she bore a son, and called his name Samuel, saying Because I have asked him of the Lord. And when she had weaned him, she took him up with her along with sacrifices to the Lord. And they brought the child to the priest Eli. And Hannah said, O my lord, as your soul lives, I am the woman who stood by you here earlier, praying to the Lord. For this child I prayed; and the Lord has answered my prayer which I asked of Him. Therefore also I have lent him to the Lord; as long as he lives he shall be lent to the Lord. And he worshiped the Lord there.

Hannah did as she had promised God: she left her son Samuel with Eli the priest to live with him and learn the deep things about God from him. Then Hannah prayed again, this time to thank God for His kindness toward her:

“And Hannah prayed, and said, My heart rejoices in the Lord, my horn is exalted in the Lord; my mouth is enlarged over my enemies, because I rejoice in your salvation. There is none holy like the Lord; for there is none beside you, neither is there any rock like our God. Talk no more so exceeding proudly; let not arrogancy come out of your mouth; for the Lord is a God of knowledge, and by Him actions are weighed. The bows of the mighty men are broken, and they that stumbled are girded with strength. They who were full have hired out themselves for bread; and they who were hungry no longer hungered; so that the barren has born seven; and she who has many children has become feeble. The Lord kills and makes alive; he brings down to the grave and brings up. The Lord makes poor and makes rich; he brings low and lifts up. He raises the poor out of the dust, and lifts up the beggar from the dunghill, to set them among princes, and to make them inherit the throne of glory; for the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s, and he has set the world upon them. He will keep the feet of his saints, and the wicked shall be silent in darkness; for by strength shall no man prevail. The adversaries of the Lord shall be broken to pieces; out of heaven He shall thunder upon them. The Lord shall judge the ends of the earth; and He shall give strength to his king, and exalt the horn of His anointed.

“And Elkanah went to Ramah to his house. And the child did minister to the Lord before Eli, the priest.’

Samuel was raised among the priests, where he learned much about God. Then God used him in a mighty way. He became a great prophet, one of the greatest in Israel.

Listen to the words that Hannah spoke in thanksgiving to God for His gift of Samuel: ‘The bows of the mighty men are broken, and they that stumbled are girded with strength.’ God humbles the proud and lifts up the humble. Hannah was a prophet herself. She foretold in the Old Testament another woman’s prayer, far into the future, in the New Testament. This other woman’s name was Mary. Listen to Mary’s ‘Magnificat’ in Chapter 1 of Luke’s Gospel, which she spoke after learning that she was to give birth to our Lord Jesus Christ:

“’And Mary said, My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. For he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden, for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. For he that is mighty has done to me great things; and holy is his name. And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He has put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree. He has filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he has sent empty away. He has helped his servant, Israel, in remembrance of his mercy; as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed forever.’

We can learn something from this. The Old Testament is very important by introducing to us to things about God that He describes more fully in the New Testament. Just about everything that Jesus said and did when He came in the flesh was done before in the Old Testament by people of faith who were willing to be directed by the Holy Spirit. The same is true of those who were the closest to Him, like Mary.

We also can learn something else from this. God is our maker, and He loves each of us with a very great passion. But He doesn’t like it when we puff ourselves up as important, or when we get upset with ourselves because we don’t always win. He made us how He wanted to make us. Perhaps we should think less about how God should make us as perfect as possible and more about how we can be used by God and for His purpose the best that we can with what He has given to us to use.

NAMING THE ANIMALS

 

In Genesis 2, God pronounces it not good that Adam should be alone. But before He proceeds to do something about it, He brings the animals of His Creation to Adam and asks him to name them. Then he forms Eve out of Adam’s rib.

“And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help fit for him.

“And out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof. And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there was not found an help fit for him.

“And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof. And the rib, which the lord God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man.”

This passage raises a number of questions, particularly in the sequence of events, but with other issues besides. Why did God insert the naming of the animals between His concern over Adam being alone and His forming of Eve? What was so important about Adam naming the animals? How could he name all the animals, given the enormous diversity of life?

As to the first issue, the sequence of the Biblical narrative, I like best an answer picked off the Internet on the Creation Moments website: God was using the simple tool of names to teach Adam to communicate, a skill that he would then pass on to Eve, enabling them to bond through joint communication. That answer is appealing, as it would be a valid prerequisite to the event of bringing Adam and Eve together, much to be preferred to the two staring dumbly at each other, at a total loss of words.

This reason also answers in part the second issue, the importance of Adam naming the animals. But there are other important reasons, one of which is that in having Adam name the animals, God was asserting that these creatures were fixed kinds, finished designs whose basic properties would remain intact throughout history. Thus, this episode in Adam’s life is a slap in the face to Darwin’s theory of evolution, which postulates that life is unceasingly undergoing change. In Darwin’s view, all life is in constant transition from one form to another, so that the animals we see now are simply snapshots in time of what may be very different in the future.

Noted biochemist Douglas Axe captures the essence of this contrast between God’s stability of form with Darwin’s corresponding instability in Chapter 6 his book Undeniable: How Biology Confirms our Intuition that Life is Designed. There, under the heading “Life A La Darwin”, he speaks of the salmon and the Orca whale, each very different but “utterly committed to being what it is”. Life, as Axe sees it, magnificently represents completion of form, creatures living precisely as God designed them to live.

This stability of form leads to the next issue, the question as to how Adam could have named all the animals, even within his very long lifetime. If all kinds of life are stable as was asserted above, the very diversity of life would not only indicate that this diversity existed at the time of Adam, but also would make this task extremely difficult. At this point I’ll make a statement that appears to directly contradict this supposed stability of life: there were a relatively few “kinds” of animals that Adam was asked to name; first they were limited to birds and the larger animals; second, these “kinds” were the much-fewer basic precursors whose offspring branched out after Noah’s Flood to the diversity we see today. But then one might say, “See? Animals aren’t stable in form at all!” But the post-Flood diversity has much more to do with designed-in adaptability than actual change corresponding to the evolutionary model. The difference is that God’s engine of change is His inclusion in DNA of pre-existing alternate design modifications, whereas Darwin’s “engine” is dumb, random variation.

Take, for instance, the dog. There exist today an enormous variety of dogs of varying shapes, sizes and attributes. But they’re all still dogs, having the wolf as a common ancestor. The DNA of the wolf is information-rich, capable of accommodating plans “B”, “C”, and so on according to environmental conditions or the human interference of breeding. Most common breeds today are the product of the intelligent operation of selective breeding, and many of their features would quickly revert back to those of their common ancestor if they were to be divested of their human overseers and go into the wild. It is true the Mexican hairless creature would be in serious trouble in another ice age because some features such as length of hair might be incapable of reversion. But that would be due to DNA information loss arising from forced breeding.

ABRAHAM’S SACRIFICE OF ISAAC

 

Chapter 22 of Genesis describes the greatest test of faith that God would impose upon Abraham or, for that matter, upon any human. In that chapter, God tells Abraham to sacrifice the son whom he dearly loved.

“And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham, and said to him Abraham: and he said, Behold, here I am. And he said, Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and get you into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell you of.

And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and saddled his ass, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son, and split the wood for the burnt offering, and rose up, and went to the place of which God had told him. Then on the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes, and saw the place afar off. And Abraham said unto his young men, Stay here with the ass; and I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you.

And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering, and laid it upon Isaac his son; and he took the fire in his hand, and a knife; and they went both of them together. And Isaac spoke to Abraham his father, and said, My father: and he said, Here am I, my son. And he said, Behold the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb for a burnt offering? And Abraham said, My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering: so they went both of them together. And they came to the place which God had told him of; and Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar upon the wood. And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to kill his son.

And the Angel of the Lord called unto him out of heaven, and said, Abraham, Abraham: and he said Here am I. And he said, Lay not your hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me. And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold, behind him a ram caught in a thicket by his horns: and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering in the stead of his son. And Abraham called the name of that place Jehovah-jireh: as it is said to this day, In the mount of the Lord it shall be seen.”

Abraham actually had more than one son, but Isaac was the only son that was born of his wife Sarah, and the Bible carefully showed that it was to be through Isaac’s bloodline that the promises of God to Abraham eventually would be realized. It was in the sense that Abraham’s seed through Isaac would be the one to bear fruit to God that Isaac was considered to be Abraham’s only son.

God clearly intended this event in the life of Abraham and Isaac to foretell the sorrow that would be the Holy Father’s lot as his only begotten Son Jesus was sacrificed on the cross at Calvary. What God held back from requiring of Abraham, He Himself had to do in this magnificent expression of His sacrificial love toward mankind. Abraham was blessed for his faith. The importance of it was not just that he was willing to suffer the sorrow of losing his son. The greater part of his faith was that he was willing to represent the drama between the Father and Jesus in the most significant moment in the history of mankind: Jesus’ passion on the cross.

Genesis Chapter 24 involves Isaac again, but under considerably happier circumstances. Isaac is now old enough to marry, and his father Abraham is choosy about whom he shall have as a bride. Sarah has died, so the task of selecting the proper wife for Isaac falls on the shoulders of Abraham’s trusted servant, who is told to go to the country of Abraham’s kinfolk. We pick up the narrative at verse 10:

“And the servant took ten camels of the camels of his master, and departed; for all the goods of his master were in his hand: and he arose, and went to Mesopotamia, unto the city of Nahor. And he made his camels to kneel down without the city by a well of water at the time of the evening, even the time that women go out to draw water. And he said, O Lord God of my master Abraham, I pray you, send me good speed this day, and show kindness to my master Abraham. Behold, I stand here by the well of water; and the daughters of the men of the city come out to draw water: And let it come to pass, that the damsel to whom I shall say, Let down thy pitcher, I pray you, that I may drink; and she shall say, Drink, and I will give your camels drink also: let the same be she that thou hast appointed for thy servant Isaac; and thereby shall I know that you have shown kindness to my master.

“And it came to pass, before he had done speaking, that, behold, Rebekah came out, who was born to Bethuel, son of Milcah, the wife of Nahor, Abraham’s brother, with her pitcher upon her shoulder. And she was very fair to look upon, a virgin, neither had any man known her: and she went down to the well, and filled her pitcher, and came up. And the servant ran to meet her, and said, Let me, I pray you, drink a little water of your pitcher. And she said, Drink, my lord: and he hasted, and let down her pitcher upon her hand, and gave him drink. And when she had done giving him drink, she said, I will draw water for your camels also, until they have done drinking. And she hasted, and emptied her pitcher into the trough, and ran again unto the well to draw water, and drew for all his camels. And the man wondering at her held his peace, to wit whether the Lord had made his journey prosperous or not. And it came to pass, as the camels had done drinking, that the man took a golden earring of half a shekel weight, and two bracelets for her hands of ten shekels weight of gold; And said, Whose daughter are you? Tell me, I pray you: is there room in your father’s house for us to lodge in? And she said to him, I am the daughter of Bethuel the son of Milcah, which she bare to Nahor. She said moreover to him, We have both straw and provender enough, and room to lodge in. And the man bowed down his head, and worshiped the Lord. And he said, Blessed be the Lord God of my master Abraham, who has not left destitute my master of his mercy and his truth: I being in the way, the Lord led me to the house of my master’s brethren. And the damsel ran, and told them of her mother’s house these things.”

So Abraham’s servant went into the house of Rebekah’s brother Laban and told them of his mission to find a wife for Abraham’s son Isaac. He related how God had led him directly to Rebekah and had confirmed that she was the one whom he had sought. After this, the servant asked for their consent to take Rebekah back with him and present her to Isaac. Upon receiving their consent, the servant lavished Rebekah and her family with gifts. As he prepared to return home, the family stalled off, asking that Rebekah stay with them for at least ten more days. He, wishing to return immediately, asked them to reconsider the delay, whereupon they called Rebekah into the meeting and asked her for her consent. Having received it from her, the servant then returned home with her and she became Isaac’s wife.

At this point, Scripture had already identified Isaac as representing Jesus on the cross. Now, the circumstances of his marriage to Rebekah just as clearly show him as representing Jesus who will wed a very special bride. As the Bible brings out in the New Testament, the bride that Rebekah prefigured will be the Church.

GENDER IS INTRINSIC TO GOD (CONTINUED)

 

In my previous posting I wrote that I intended to proceed from my rebuttal of the notion that the spiritual realm lacks gender to addressing several Scriptural passages that suggest that Scripture indeed supports the fullness of gender in that realm.

I begin by returning to Matthew 22:29 quoted in the previous posting, part of that passage that supposedly proved that gender doesn’t exist in heaven. Why, if the spiritual realm lacks gender, would Jesus have chided them for not knowing the power of God in almost the same breath as He told them they don’t marry in heaven? A spiritual realm void of gender certainly wouldn’t speak of God’s power. But the application of gender to a human entity larger than the individual would do exactly that.

I’ll go next to the very beginning of the Bible, in Genesis 1:1-3:

“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.”

In this passage God the Holy Spirit responds to God the Divine Will by creating the First Light, Jesus Christ. Here there is a differentiation by gender of Father and Spirit, wherein the Holy Spirit acts in the preeminently female role of responder.

Genesis 1:26 and 27 amplifies the suggestion of God’s gender differentiation. The passage deliberately includes gender in God’s association of His design of man in His image:

“And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.”

Note also the deliberate use of the plural form of God in this passage, adding to the emphasis of gender differentiation. The usual Christian interpretation of this passage ignores the part of man’s creation as male and female, as if it isn’t relevant to the rest of the passage. How they can justify that exclusion is beyond my understanding, as it is an integral part of the description of man’s creation and as such is apparently important to God.

Continuing on into Genesis 2:18 and 21-24, God forms the feminine Eve out of Adam

“And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help fit for him. . . And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof; and the rib, which the Lord God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man. And Adam said, This is now bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife; and they shall be one flesh.”

Does it not seem rather odd, in the context of a genderless God, that God Himself would say that it would not be good for Adam to remain in a state where gender wasn’t exercised? Would it not be more logical to assume that God said this because He Himself was fully gendered and didn’t want Adam left out of something beautiful that He possessed?

In Ephesians 5:31 and 32, Paul applied that last statement of Adam’s to Christ and the Church, asserting two things: first, that Jesus, being both God and sufficiently gendered for marriage, placed gender directly within the Godhead; and second, that the process of two and then three becoming one in love explains intuitively through the notion of Family how God can be both one and a Trinity as stated in Deuteronomy 6:4 and 5 and Matthew 28:19.

The specific emphasis in Genesis 2 on the details of Eve’s creation out of Adam leads me to the conclusion that God intended that passage to be understood beyond the plain text. I personally suspect, with support from the Church’s formation out of the pierced side of Jesus, that the account of Eve’s formation out of Adam’s side was a reenactment of the formation of the Holy Spirit out of the side of the Father, rent voluntarily for that purpose.

If God was indeed genderless, it is doubtful that the Song of Solomon, with its open intimacy and erotic theme, would have had a place in the Bible, let alone have had its canonization affirmed within the Church, and particularly by a Church that was so bent on denying any association of itself with sexuality. In their discussions of this Book, many respected Bible commentators have openly applied the Song of Solomon to the relationship between Jesus and His Church.

Elements of Jesus’ ministry on Earth point to His gender. His first miracle, recorded in John 2, applied to His adding of joy to an already-joyous occasion, that of a marriage in Cana. His words to Mary during that event suggest that He, too, was anticipating His being personally involved in a future marriage.

In John 3, the very next chapter of John’s Gospel, the Holy Spirit is associated with birth, which is not only gendered but feminine:

“Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again. The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound of it, but canst not tell from where it cometh, and where it goeth; so is every one that is born of the Spirit.”

This passage echoes Job 33:4, which attributes to the Holy Spirit the breath of life, or spiritual birth:

“And the Spirit of God hath made me, and the breath of the Almighty hath given me life.”

If anybody sees a male represented by a dove in Scripture, I’d like to know about it. In every instance except one that I’ve seen in Scripture where a dove is mentioned, it applies to a female. That exception is in John 1:32, where gender is not specified in its reference to the Holy Spirit:

“And John bore witness, saying, I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon [Jesus].”

More commonly, Scriptural references to a dove are feminine, such as in Genesis 8:9, Song of Solomon 1:15, and Nahum 2:7:

“But the dove found no rest for the sole of her foot, and she returned unto him into the ark, for the waters were on the face of the whole earth: then he put forth his hand, and took her, and pulled her in unto him into the ark.

“Behold, thou art fair, my love; behold, thou art fair; thou hast doves’ eyes.”

“And it is decreed, she shall be led away captive, she shall be brought up, and her maids shall lead her as with the voice of doves, beating upon their breasts.”

Finally, I appeal to Revelation 19:7 and 21:9-11, which again speaks of the feminine Church in the consummation of her marriage to the fully-gendered Jesus:

“Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honor to him; for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready.”

“And there came unto me one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues, and talked with me, saying, Come here, I will show thee the bride, the Lamb’s wife. And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, having the glory of God; and her light was like a stone most precious, even like a jasper stone, clear as crystal;”

GENDER IS INTRINSIC TO GOD

 

Several of my recent postings have addressed the question as to whether God possesses gender. It’s an important issue with me, as my common-sense understanding of Scripture naturally leads me to accept as factual that the Godhead is indeed gendered, and that this gender exists in a non-trivial, fruit-bearing manner, whereas it is a commonplace notion within the “mainstream” Churches that gender doesn’t exist in the spiritual realm.

If a proper interpretation of Scripture does indeed suggest that God possesses the attribute of gender, then the issue is important to you as well, because the understanding of gender within the Godhead naturally supports and enhances a loving relationship between man and God.

Because of the issue’s importance, I offer in this posting yet another discussion of God’s gender, this time appealing to the very straightforward suggestion in Scripture of the existence of gender in the spiritual realm. But before I address the positive, I’ll dispose of the negative.

As far as I know, there are only two Scriptural passages that may be misinterpreted to suggest that gender is not intrinsic to God: Matthew 22:29 and 30, and Galatians 3:28:

“Jesus answered and said unto them, Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are like the angels in heaven.”

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female; for ye are all in one in Christ Jesus.”

I’ve addressed these passages before, insisting that because this apparent lack of gender applies only to individual humans, it says exactly nothing about the presence or absence of gender to humanity in the collective sense of Church. Paul likened our spiritual gifts to individuals, emphasizing how these individual gifts operate together within the greater body of the Church, which suggests that the Church itself is an entity different from and residing above individual humanity. 1 Corinthians 12:4-20 is prominent among Paul’s teachings that emphasized the distinction between the individual member of the Church and the body as a whole:

“Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same god who worketh all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit. For to one is given, by the Spirit, the word of wisdom; to another, the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; to another, faith by the same Spirit; to another, the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; to another, the working of miracles; to another, prophecy; to another, discerning of spirits; to another, various kinds of tongues; to another, the interpretation of tongues. But all these worketh that one and the very same Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will. For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit were we all baptized into one body whether we be Jews or Greeks, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.

“For the body is not one member, but many.

“If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it, therefore, not of the body? And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it, therefore, not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling? But not hath God set the members, every one of them, in the body, as it hath pleased him. And if they were all one member, where were the body? But now are they many members, yet but one body.”

Paul continues in that vein for the rest of that chapter. In the process, he makes it plain that each of us, as an individual, is only a component of the Church, and a partially-equipped one at that. Being vital but incomplete components just like specialized cells in our own bodies, why should we expect to be gendered? But the Church as the assembly of components is a complete body, wherein the capability of creative production may well be a factor.

It is the Church, I claim, that possesses gender, as Paul revealed in Ephesians 5:25-32:

“Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it, that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word; that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh, but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church; for we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones.

“For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church.”

This marital relationship between Christ and His Church is not simply a figure of speech or trivial, as Paul also in Romans 7:4 and Galatians 4:27 describes it as bearing fruit:

‘Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ, that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God.

“For it is written [in Isaiah 54], Rejoice, thou barren that bearest not; breakforth and cry, thou that travailest not; for the desolate hath many more children than she who hath an husband.”

Having applied what I consider to be a logical and straightforward interpretation of Scripture in denial of the common Christian misperception that some passages suggest a genderless spiritual realm, I will proceed next to offer several Scriptural passages that suggest the opposite, namely that Scripture indeed supports the fullness of gender in that realm.

[to be continued]

A RECONCILIATORY ACCOUNT OF JESUS’ BIRTH

At first glance, the story of Jesus’ birth in the Gospel of Matthew appears to conflict with the account given in the Gospel of Luke. The event, in Matthew’s account, is accompanied by violence against the young males in Bethlehem, danger for Jesus, and the flight of Jesus’ family into Egypt to escape the wrath of Herod. Luke, on the other hand, presents a peaceful scenario surrounding Jesus’ birth.

The specific accounts will be reviewed in detail. According to Matthew 2:1-16:

Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him. When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born.

And when they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet [Micah 5:2], And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel.

Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, enquired of them diligently what time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also.

When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.

And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way. And when they were departed, behold, the angel of the LORD appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him. When he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt: And was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet [Hosea 11:1], saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son.

Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently enquired of the wise men.”

The corresponding account of the event of Jesus’ birth from Luke’s perspective is presented in Chapter 2 of his gospel:

“And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.

And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them; and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you: Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.

And when eight days were accomplished for the circumcising of the child, his name was called JESUS, which was so named of the angel before he was conceived in the womb. And when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were accomplished, they brought him to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord;(As it is written in the law of the Lord, Every male that openeth the womb shall be called holy to the Lord;) and to offer a sacrifice according to that which is said in the law of the Lord, A pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.”

In studying these two accounts of Jesus’ birth, we immediately see large differences between them. Matthew described a flight into Egypt to avoid the murderous Herod. Luke’s account, on the other hand, paints a peaceful scenario, one in which the family of Jesus makes an uneventful return from Bethlehem, one that includes the presentation of Jesus to the Lord at Jerusalem.

At this point we might be tempted, by the apparent inconsistency of Luke’s Gospel with Matthew’s, to speculate on the possibility that one of them was in error. If we make an effort to avoid the assumption that conflict means error, however, we are led to persist into a deeper investigation.

This difference does not, we note first, condemn the two accounts to incompatibility. In general, the gospels were written to supplement each other, not to corroborate. According to the very nature of faith, they were written to instruct rather than justify. On a more specific level, several alternative possibilities immediately suggest themselves. In Luke’s account, for example, Mary waited until her purification was completed before Jesus was presented at the temple in Jerusalem. The Mosaic law to which Luke referred that is prescribed for this purification is given in Leviticus chapter 12:

And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, If a woman have conceived seed, and born a man child: then she shall be unclean seven days; according to the days of the separation for her infirmity shall she be unclean. And in the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised. And she shall then continue in the blood of her purifying three and thirty days; she shall touch no hallowed thing, nor come into the sanctuary, until the days of her purifying be fulfilled. But if she bear a maid child, then she shall be unclean two weeks, as in her separation: and she shall continue in the blood of her purifying threescore and six days. And when the days of her purifying are fulfilled, for a son, or for a daughter, she shall bring a lamb of the first year for a burnt offering, and a young pigeon, or a turtledove, for a sin offering, unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, unto the priest: who shall offer it before the LORD, and make an atonement for her; and she shall be cleansed from the issue of her blood. This is the law for her that hath born a male or a female. And if she be not able to bring a lamb, then she shall bring two turtles, or two young pigeons; the one for the burnt offering, and the other for a sin offering: and the priest shall make an atonement for her, and she shall be clean.”

According to this purification rite, Mary had to wait eight days for the circumcision of Jesus, and then an additional thirty three days, before she could present Jesus to the temple in Jerusalem. This forty-one day period is an absolute minimum time that Mary had to wait. But, as stated in Leviticus 15:25, the purification may take longer:

And if a woman have an issue of her blood many days out of the time of her separation, or if it run beyond the time of her separation; all the days of the issue of her uncleanness shall be as the days of her separation: she shall be unclean.”

We do not know how long Mary was burdened with post-birth complications after she brought forth Jesus. Could it have been of sufficient duration to complete a journey to Egypt and back? Or perhaps the presentation of Jesus at the temple in Jerusalem might have involved another delay that related to the unique nature of Jesus. That delay may or may not have been forced by Mary’s continuing issue, but the day of His presentation may have been held off until it coincided with some event such as the Passover feast.

On the other hand, the journey into Egypt may have taken place well after Jesus was presented at the temple. This is the more likely situation, for as the assertion was made in Chapter 5, the major events in Jesus’ life were enacted by man before His coming. The precursor of Jesus’ Egyptian rescue at birth was enacted through Moses. This event is described in Chapter 2 of the book of Exodus, where we read:

And the woman conceived and bare a son: and when she saw him that he was a goodly child, she hid him three months. And when she could not longer hide him, she took for him an ark of bulrushes, and daubed it with slime and with pitch, and put the child therein; and she laid it in the flags by the river’s brink. And his sister stood afar off, to wit what would be done to him. And the daughter of Pharaoh came down to wash herself at the river; and her maidens walked along by the river’s side; and when she saw the ark among the flags, she sent her maid to fetch it. And when she had opened it, she saw the child: and, behold, the babe wept. And she had compassion on him, and said, This is one of the Hebrews’ children. Then said his sister to Pharaoh’s daughter, Shall I go and call to thee a nurse of the Hebrew women, that she may nurse the child for thee? And Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, Go. And the maid went and called the child’s mother.”

In this case, it would be the Gospel of Matthew that would require a different interpretation than some have presumed. There is nothing that infers, from Matthew’s gospel, that the wise men saw and left Jesus immediately after His birth. To the contrary, there are several reasons why one might interpret the passage otherwise. One might well view the appearance of the star that led the wise men to Jesus’ house as different from and separated in time than its first appearance that initiated their journey into Israel. First, they had already seen the star before they spoke to Herod; then, after his command to search for Jesus, they were overjoyed at its appearance that led them to the house of Mary. Would their joy be as great if the star had continuously remained in their sight? Second, the description of Jesus as a young child does not constrain his age to be days or even weeks. Third, Herod had inquired of the wise men when the star first appeared. On the basis of that inquiry, he killed the children up to the age of two years old. That point alone strongly suggests that the first appearance of the star preceded by at least several months his command to the wise men to find Jesus. Alternatively, the wise men remained with Jesus for a period of months before they returned to their own country. Fourth, the destination of the wise men was a house rather than an inn or a barn. If, in fact, Jesus was several months old when the wise men left to return to their country, His peaceful return from Bethlehem and presentation at the temple in Jerusalem, as recorded by Luke, could have preceded His journey into Egypt by that same time factor. The differences between the accounts in Matthew and Luke would be entirely natural, as they would have described two entirely different events in Jesus’ life.