A sermon I heard about a preacher sleeping well after preaching the full counsel of God was basically a good one. I suppose some of God's counsel will give us pause. The (KJV) prohibitions against fornication mean at the very least that I will have to resist temptation, and in some cases make tracks, "flee youthful lusts." The (NIV) prohibitions against sexual immorality, on the other hand, in my opinion are pretty lame, especially in a sermon on giving the full counsel of God. This because of the relative nature of morality. "The popular conscience often regards the prevailing mores as eternal laws of nature and reason."621
I've had people I am close to--or have talked to or overheard--think that sexual immorality means having sex with more than one person during a certain period of time, or it's having sex with someone one does not "love," or having sex without the other's consent, or using a position other than the "missionary" one. I've had a homosexual tell me that his homosexual acts aren't prohibited by the Bible as the law of Moses was done away in Christ. A friend of mine thought that Romans 14 tolerance should apply to his wanting to engage in premarital sex while I thought it was a sin, and he thought that I should not be judging him. Another friend thought adultery was okay as long as they prayed about it first.
In fact I do sleep better for having explained the situation to people, that fornication is prohibited by the counsel of God, although the (NIV) prohibition against sexual immorality wouldn't phase them in the least, as they all thought they'd been following some eternal principle of morality.
The precise verse that gave the preacher pause, mentioned in his sermon, was--in the KJV-- (Hebrews 13:4) "Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge." but which his NIV rendered--to quote in full--, "Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral," which first part at least expresses a different sentiment. My Criswell Study Bible lists a note:
13:4 The first clause has no verb in Greek. If "marriage is honorable in all" is read, the statement becomes a refutation of asceticism, which downgraded marriage. If the imperative is supplied, "let marriage be," the statement becomes a call to purity within marriage.
So in a traditional service the preacher changed the traditional refutation of asceticism into a call for purity. This bears comment.
The moral contrast of the purity of the marriage bed/wholesomeness of marriage with the vileness of adultery/whoremongering finds somewhat of an analogy in the book Not the End of the World where a fundamentalist Christian moral coalition is having a gathering across the street from a Hollywood movie makers convention. The focus of their attention was on the "Whore of Babylon" a low grade porn movie actress who was discovered to be the daughter of a Christian right wing Senator. (The movie she was in had Babylon in the title, whence the name.) Anyway, one of the crazies has planted a bomb on a yacht full of movie producers which he plans to blow up unless the "Whore of Babylon" sacrifices herself instead. Here is their moral dilemma:
But then that was what this lunatic wanted them to think about, wasn't it? That was what he wanted the whole world to think about. Not generally who would most deserve to die for their perceived sins 'against God and America', but whether Madeleine Witherson deserved to die more than the people on the boat.
I'd say Hebrews has a similar moral comparison for those who are advocating asceticism. Yes, God will definitely judge the adulterers and whoremongers because of their demonstrably harmful influence on family and society, like Maddy Witherson's. But the poor blokes who just want to live their lives raising families, it is kind of nebulous precisely what harmful influence they are exerting. "A few transgressions of taste" don't bring the same level of condemnation. Let's take a historical example where it might've been good to so apply Hebrews 13:4 traditionally.
It just seems to me that Thomasine was guilty of nothing beyond "a few transgressions of taste." She, after all, "didn't set out to pollute or corrupt" anyone. And where, in fact, does one draw the line on clothing and jewelry? One ring? Two? No, the whole institution of marriage is honorable in all, including the raising of children, and doesn't call for the "extreme measures" of the ascetics.
But the change from the traditional rendering of Hebrews 13:4 to the modern exhortations to purity in marriage would only serve to add fuel to the fire in the Millinery War or any similar debate. Therefore I must reject that NIV and similar versions. Furthermore, I have a scriptural basis for complaining about the rejection of the traditional wisdom in scripture. (Jer. 8:7-9) "Yea, the stork in the heaven knoweth her appointed times; and the turtle and the crane and the swallow observe the time of their coming; but my people know not the judgment of the LORD. How do ye say, We are wise, and the law of the LORD is with us? Lo, certainly in vain made he it; the pen of the scribes is in vain. The wise men are ashamed, they are dismayed and taken: lo, they have rejected the word of the LORD; and what wisdom is in them?" Jeremiah, to be sure, was complaining about the loss of traditional wisdom of oral passing of God's word, but the same can be said about the loss of traditional wisdom in established text.
Oral tradition was passed down from one generation to the next. Moreover, as William Graham argues in his book Beyond the Written Word: Oral Aspects of Scripture in the History of Religion, even the written word is relational. That is to say, "A text becomes 'scripture' in active, subjective relationship to persons, and as part of a cumulative communal tradition. No text, written or oral or both, is sacred in isolation from a community."625 Likewise, even after oral tradition is textualized, it never completely escapes a fundamental orality....
Our word of God comes from tradition, which accumulated wisdom gave us the King James Version in English, which I have used at church before our current preacher ever got here, and with people, some of them, at other places before there even was published a NIV. The accumulated wisdom of the saints used the KJV Bible long before any NIV.
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Copyright © 2005, Earl S. Gosnell III
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Licence.
Permission is hereby granted to use the portions original to this paper--with credit given, of course--in intellectually honest non-profit educational material. The material I myself have quoted has its own copyright in most cases, which I cannot speak for but have used here under the fair use doctrine.
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Scripture quotations marked NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION or NIV are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.
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