Monday, June 27, 2016

On alcohol and polygamy

People.  We need to get it straight, what the Bible says, and what it does not say.

Also, where the Bible is concerned, we need to realize: this is the revealed heart of God.  The Revealed Heart of God.  Thus, one should not read the Bible with an eye to looking for loopholes.  One should read the Bible humbly, recognizing the beauty of the authority it holds.

One must not bring preconceived ideas to the Bible and insist that they exist in the Bible, simply because they existed one's mind first.  This is folly.

Revelation 22:18-19 warns us neither to add to nor to take away from the words of the scroll.  I believe that this specifically applies to the book of Revelation itself, but I do not think I am adding to the scroll if I suggest that it would be a safeguarding principle to apply this standard to our approach to all of scripture.  There are dire consequences for tampering with the Word of God.

You must not throw out parts of God's Word that you don't like.  At the same time, you must not claim that God's Word says things you wish it said, but that it does not say.

For instance (I will offend 99.9% of people by the time I've reached the end of this post; I'm sorry):  Claiming that the days in Genesis 1 are 24-hour days is going beyond what the text tells us.  Could they have been 24-hour days?  Of course!  Of course they could have been.  I am not saying that they weren't.  I am only saying that there is not definitive proof in the text that they were, and therefore I think we should be cautious about making claims about how accurate it is to interpret "day" as a 24-hour period of time, rather than as an epoch or something else; for instance, I don't think anybody assumes that the "day" in the phrase, "Day of the Lord," is necessarily 24 hours.  Again, please hear me: I am not saying that Creation did not happen in 24-hour days, I'm just saying that the text does not make it definitively clear that such was the case, and thus we should be careful about what we insist on.  We should firmly maintain that God is the Creator of all things, and that everything that exists has its origin in Him.  We should not insist on 24-hour time periods.  We can ponder the possibility and discuss the implications, but we should not proclaim that the Bible says something that it does not say.

Political activists who are distraught over the definition of marriage in the United States make me similarly crazy.  They try to bolster their arguments against homosexual marriage with bumper stickers sporting stick figures and the phrase, "one man, one woman."  This is insanity.  I'm sorry, but it is.  You cannot read the Bible and come away with the idea that it clearly defines marriage as the union between one man and one woman.  The Bible is rife with polygamy.  Abraham had two wives: Sarah and Hagar.  ("Wait!" you say, "That didn't turn out well!"  Well, no, it didn't, but God did not condemn Abraham for his union to Hagar.  In fact, God extended blessings and mercy to Hagar and Ishmael.)  Abraham also had a wife named Keturah.  As far as I am aware, Isaac was only married to Rebekah.  However, Jacob had two wives and two concubines: Leah, Rachel, Bilhah and Zilpah.  Again, maybe it didn't turn out ideally, but God never prohibited it, nor did He condemn Jacob for his family situation.

Moses had at least two wives: Zipporah and a Cushite.

King David was married to Saul's daughter, Michel, and also to Ahinoam, Abigail, Maacah, Haggith, Eglah and Bathsheba.  That makes seven.  The only one he got into trouble over was Bathsheba, because she was another man's wife and David committed adultery with her.  David was called a man after God's own heart.

When Moses presented the Law, among the guidelines God gave was that a king must not take "many" wives, lest his heart be led astray (see Deuteronomy 17:17).  This--the giving of the Law--would have been a perfect opportunity for God to define marriage--the ideal marriage situation--as one queen for one king, if He so desired.  But He did not.  God only warned kings not to get carried away taking too many wives.  Solomon got carried away and took 700 wives and 300 concubines.  After his wives led him astray to idol worship, Solomon did lose the kingdom, but I think we can all agree that his was the type of extreme case that the guideline had been given to prevent.

Even in the New Testament, where qualifications for overseers are listed, it says that they must be "husbands of only one wife," (1 Timothy 3:2), and the same for deacons (1 Timothy 3:12).  This leads one to assume that there must have been men in the church who had more than one wife, hence the clarification.  Why would you even mention the requirement if it was prohibited for someone to have multiple wives in the first place?

The Bible does warn that homosexuality is a sin and an abomination to the Lord (Leviticus 18:22, 2 Kings 23:7, Romans 1:24-27, 1 Corinthians 6:9, 1 Timothy 1:9-10).  This is because God is the great Husband and Provider, and He created the marriage relationship to be a picture of His relationship to His people (Ephesians 5:31-32).  God wants husbands to provide for, protect and be faithful to their wives in the same way that the Lord does these things for His people.  He wants wives to respond to their husbands' faithfulness and goodness with love and honor, reflecting the way believers should respond to Christ.  These are sexual roles God has created for a specific purpose, and in God's design, the roles of husband/man and wife/woman are not casually interchangeable.  This is true.  This is what the Bible says.  The metaphor exists throughout both the Old and New Testaments.  However, if you combine this point--which is true--with the idea that polygamy is wrong, you discredit yourself.  The Bible does not say that polygamy is a sin.  The Bible demonstrates that polygamy is an arrangement that does not usually breed peace and harmony, but the Bible does not command people not to participate in polygamy.  To suggest that it does is to lie. When you combine a truth with a falsehood, you should not expect to be taken seriously as a truth-teller.  If you want to help people understand how homosexuality is outside of God's will, you ought not combine your argument with blatantly unbiblical claims about polygamy.

Polygamy is not recommended or encouraged, but it isn't prohibited either.

And then there is alcohol.  If I haven't offended you yet, I suppose I will now.

Like polygamy, alcohol consumption is not prohibited in the 10 Commandments.  Jesus famously  turned water into wine at the wedding feast of Cana (John 2).  Some folks try to argue that this was not strong wine, not consumed for a mood change, but John 2:10 would suggest otherwise -- these people were drinking to get drunk, and the master of the banquet was very confused as to why the best wine was brought out after the guests were too inebriated to appreciate it.

There is another affirmative mention of alcohol in Proverbs 9, where Wisdom prepares her banquet and calls people to come to it.  Proverbs 9:2 says that Wisdom has prepared her food and mixed her wine, and in Proverbs 9:5, Wisdom calls out, "Come, eat my food and drink the wine I have mixed."

Ecclesiastes 9:7 says, "Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do."  But one must be careful about pulling verses out of context, especially from Ecclesiastes, which also says that bread is made for laughter, wine gladdens the heart, and money is the answer for everything (10:19).  We know for certain that it is not Biblically sound to operate under the premise that money is the answer for everything (Matthew 6:24, 1 Timothy 6:10).  Likewise, wine may not gladden the heart in a completely healthy and wholesome way.  We should be careful, but all the same, the Bible clearly does not prohibit alcohol consumption.

God does not condemn or prohibit alcohol consumption in His Word.  That may bother you, but it's the way it is.  Perhaps it doesn't bother you.  Perhaps it makes you very happy.  If so, now it's your turn to have your thinking challenged.

Although alcohol appears in a relatively positive light a few times in scripture, most of the time when the subject of alcohol comes up, it is related to someone giving his enemies a "cup" to drink, so that they will be drunk and reeling, and easy to defeat in battle.  People use alcohol throughout the Bible to exploit others, and even when someone isn't specifically using it to exploit, it results in shame and humiliation for those who drink it (compare the stories of Noah in Genesis 9:20-27, and Lot in Genesis 19:30-38).  Nabal, who got drunk during sheepshearing season, was described as an utter fool (1 Samuel 25).

Like polygamy, alcohol consumption is not prohibited, but (also like polygamy) it is shown to be commonly detrimental, something to be approached with caution.  Proverbs 20:1 tells us that wine and beer result in fights and foolishness, and that the wise will not allow themselves to be so led astray.  Proverbs 23:29-35 tells us that those who linger over wine bring all sorts of unnecessary strife and sorrow into their lives, in the end losing all judgment and sensibility.  Drunkenness is condemned outright (Romans 13:13, 1 Corinthians 5:11 & 6:10, Galatians 5:21, 1 Peter 4:3).

In Deuteronomy 17:17, we saw that God warned kings not to take too many wives.  In Proverbs 31:4-5, we also learn that it is not for kings to drink wine or crave beer, lest they lose their judgment and fail to rule justly.  Just as 1 Timothy 3 outlines that elders and deacons should be limited to one wife, it also explains that they must be temperate and not indulge in much wine.

Priests were prohibited from drinking wine while they were serving (Leviticus 10:9).

I believe that the Bible demonstrates that the better, safer path is the path that eschews alcohol.  At the same time, I cannot argue that the Bible condemns alcohol categorically, because it clearly does not.

It comes down to convictions, and convictions are tricky things to navigate.  Convictions are impressions that the Spirit of God lays on individuals for how they, personally, should live, in areas where scripture does not state clear commands.  Romans 14-15 and 1 Corinthians 8 give us guidelines for handling our convictions.  We are to listen to the Spirit and obey His promptings.  I am not to force on others the promptings that the Spirit lays on me.  However, believers are also sternly warned not to belittle a conviction someone else has--which they themselves may not share--because to encourage someone to act against a conviction that God has laid on him would be to encourage him to sin.  Above all else, we are to walk in love and humility, looking not to our own interests but to the interests of others, making up our minds not to put a stumbling block or obstacle in our brother's way.

My own conviction--that alcohol is dangerous and best avoided--stems from the following:

(1) Alcohol is highly addictive.  When a person becomes addicted to something, that thing becomes a major "need" in his life.  When we need something other than God for satisfaction, comfort or fulfillment, then it is, by definition, an idol.  God categorically condemns all idolatry.  Perhaps I would not become addicted to alcohol if I used it, but statistics show that approximately 20% of people who drink become alcoholics.  I do not want to open myself up to a 20% chance of shackling myself to idolatry.  God is my source of satisfaction and joy.  ("And do not get drunk with wine, which leads to debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit," Ephesians 5:18.)

(2)  Because of the high number of people in our culture and society today who struggle with alcohol addiction, I do not ever want my actions or example to lead anybody else into bondage to addictive sins.  ("It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall," Romans 14:21.)

(3)  I have enough trouble keeping a clear head without adding chemicals to the mix.

I am not telling anyone else what his or her conviction must be.  That is between you and the Holy Spirit, and you need to take it seriously, but it's not my business what He tells you.  I understand and agree that the Bible does not say, anywhere, "Thou shalt not partake of a glass of wine."  I will not condemn you or think ill of you for doing so.  At the same time, I ask that if you do not share my conviction, you would still respect me in my conviction, and not ask me to do things with alcohol that would trouble my conscience.

We need to get straight on what the Bible says, and what it does not say.  We need to speak the truth in love, extend grace, love mercy, seek justice and surrender humbly before the the Lord.

Also, I'm counting on my husband never to take a second wife while I'm alive, whether it's prohibited or not.


Shawn Carpenter said...

Well, your husband is a "one woman man." :)

I think scripture provided space and opportunity for people with exceptional convictions. One example that I can think of would be the opportunity for some to take Nazarite vows. Among their vows was a promise not to touch fermented drink during the period of their vow.

Very thoughtful post.

Ruthie said...

Dear Shawn, Thank you for your conviction to be monogamous. I appreciate it. Thank you for a kind comment on a post I was scared to publish.