Addictions and Other Destructive Behaviors: Sin or Disease?

Destructive behavior includes elements of both sin and “disease.” Some people are especially susceptible to particular kinds of destructive behavior. For example, men who abuse women are often reared in families where women were abused. Imbued with contempt for women, they are predisposed to use women as scapegoats for frustration. There is clearly a sense in which this predisposition (or heightened temptation) to debase and abuse women can be called a “sickness,” since it was largely instilled by external influences.

Does this mean that an abuser’s “sickness”—the fact that he has been damaged by sin and is consequently more prone to abuse women than men who haven’t been so damaged—justifies his abusive behavior? Absolutely not! His “sickness” helps us understand his behavior, but doesn’t excuse it. He isn’t merely a victim of outside circumstances, like someone with meningitis or malaria. In spite of the tendencies he inherited, an element of conscious, willful sin is present in every abusive act. Regardless of his background, he is capable of resisting his impulses. No one is so isolated from the laws of society and the influence of conscience that they are completely unaware of the wrongfulness of spouse abuse. Our legal system acknowledges this with the principle that ignorance of the law is no excuse. Abusers are accountable to society for any violation of laws against spouse abuse. Further, to the extent that an abuser knows his behavior is wrong, he is responsible before God to change.

Some people object to making a distinction between sick internal impulses and sinful actions (willful sin). They say that the impulses and emotions of the abuser are just as sinful as his decision to abuse.

It is true that the evil emotions and impulses of an abuser are not merely sick. They are the results both of original and personal sin and are repulsive and evil in themselves. However, they aren’t sinful in the same sense and to the same degree as a conscious personal decision to act sinfully. (See the ATQ article, Are Christians Held Responsible for Unpremeditated and Unconscious Sins?)

If we condemn sick predispositions as much as sinful decisions and actions, we leave no room for compassion.

Jesus had compassion on sinners (Matthew 9:12-13). He stressed the importance of having compassion on the failures of others:

You wicked servant, he said, I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you? (Matthew 18:32-33)

The reason Jesus had compassion was due to His awareness that while people are sinners, they are not entirely given over to premeditated evil. There is a sense in which they are also sin’s victims.

And Jesus was going about all the cities and the villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness. And seeing the multitudes, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and downcast like sheep without a shepherd. (Mt. 10:35-36)

If we are to be like our Master, we must be able to have compassion upon lost, sinful people, at the same time as we hold them responsible for their premeditated sin.

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Am I Sinning When I Feel Attracted to Someone of the Opposite Sex?

There is an element of sinfulness that enters into every human thought and desire, a sinfulness that is rooted in the fall. (See the ATQ article How Can Christians Believe that the Human Race Is Depraved?) In a sense, no human desire is untainted with sin. Because an element of evil intrudes into every human interaction and relationship, it is impossible for human beings to achieve absolute purity.

Along with our depravity, our composite physical nature is a factor. Like all animals, humans are physical beings with instinctual sexual/mating desires “hardwired” into us. Because of our instinctual mating desires, it is normal for people to struggle to suppress inappropriate sexual thoughts and feelings towards attractive people of the opposite sex. This is natural.

The Bible makes it clear that although temptation is the result of sin in the sense of it being an aspect of our fallen world, mere temptation isn’t something that God holds us accountable for. Even Jesus experienced temptation (Hebrews 4:15). But though we aren’t accountable for the temptations we experience, the Lord made it clear that we are accountable for sinful responses to temptation—whether it be preferential treatment of the individual or conscious lust (Matthew 5:28-30).

The moment someone consciously sexualizes his admiration of another person’s beauty—transforming admiration into lust—he commits soul-damaging sin that warrants judgment. The willful cultivation of wrongfully sexualized thoughts arouses further destructive sexual feelings that wreak havoc in a person’s spiritual, emotional, and relational life. Sinful responses to instinctive sexual desires increase the power of temptation and result in enslavement to ugly, compulsive behavior.

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Are All Jews Perpetually and Universally Responsible for Christ’s Death?

Matthew 27:25 says, “Then the people as a whole answered, ‘His blood be on us and on our children!’ ” Does this verse imply that all Jews are perpetually and universally responsible for Christ’s death?

If Matthew’s account is accurate—and there is powerful textual and historical evidence that it is,1 this Jewish mob did not and could not speak in behalf of all Jewish people. As verse 20 says, “Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus.” This crowd was not a ground swell movement, but rather a mob stirred up by religious leaders who envied Jesus (Matthew 27:18 ).

The rest of the New Testament record combines with history to show that this mob didn’t represent all of the Jews in Israel. It certainly didn’t represent the large number of Jews who admired Jesus, followed Him, and joined the church following His death and resurrection. For this reason alone, it is obvious that all Jews weren’t—and aren’t—uniquely responsible for Jesus’ death. At the same time, while the mob’s collective oath didn’t represent all Jews, it has had implications for the Jewish nation as a whole and for people of all nations.

A high view of scriptural authority makes it impossible to assume that this verse is an “anti-Semitic” addition added by later Christian editors with “an axe to grind,”2 or that the declaration by the mob is an insignificant detail of the account.3 From an overall biblical perspective, the mob’s rejection of Christ represents much more than the historically insignificant action of a small group of conspirators. It symbolizes the culmination of Israel’s rejection of God and His prophets. And Israel, in turn, represents the way people of all nations are inclined to reject the light of God’s self-disclosure (Romans 1:18-23).

The account of Stephen’s witness and death in Acts 6:9-8:2 summarizes the case against Israel, the nation uniquely chosen to represent all nations. Stephen, himself a Jewish man, was being prosecuted by the enemies of the gospel for continuing to proclaim the message of Jesus Christ.

Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people. Opposition arose, however, from members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called)—Jews of Cyrene and Alexandria as well as the provinces of Cilicia and Asia. These men began to argue with Stephen, but they could not stand up against his wisdom or the Spirit by whom he spoke. Then they secretly persuaded some men to say, “We have heard Stephen speak words of blasphemy against Moses and against God.” So they stirred up the people and the elders and the teachers of the law. They seized Stephen and brought him before the Sanhedrin. They produced false witnesses, who testified, “This fellow never stops speaking against this holy place and against the law. For we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs Moses handed down to us.” All who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at Stephen, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel. Then the high priest asked him, “Are these charges true?” (Acts 6:8-7:1 NIV).

In response to the high priest’s query, Stephen told the story of the Israelite people, beginning with Abraham. He told how a majority of the children of Israel always rebelled against God and His messengers. Joseph, specially anointed to lead (and rescue) his brothers, was persecuted by them and sold into slavery in Egypt. Moses was also initially rejected by his people, and then was repeatedly resisted and criticized by them after he led them out of Egypt. In spite of God’s special blessing and calling, the Israelites again and again at crucial points in their history rejected the prophets God raised as their spiritual leaders and defenders. Moses, the first and greatest prophet of their tradition, had declared “God will send you a prophet like me from your own people.” When the prophet promised by Moses came to Israel, He was rejected as well.

This is the conclusion of Stephen’s testimony to the Sanhedrin:

“You stiff-necked people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are just like your fathers: You always resist the Holy Spirit! Was there ever a prophet your fathers did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him—you who have received the law that was put into effect through angels but have not obeyed it.” When they heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep. And Saul was there, giving approval to his death. On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria (Acts 7:51-8:1 NIV).

Anyone familiar with the Law, the prophets, and intertestamental Jewish literature knows that Stephen’s accusation was neither novel nor uniquely Christian (1 Kings 19:10-14; 2 Chronicles 36:15-16; Nehemiah 9:26; Martyrdom of Isaiah 5:1-14). Moses and the prophets made it clear that only after national repentance and renewal would the blessing of God be restored to Israel. Israel, doing what any other nation would have done in her position, rejected Moses and the prophets and finally rejected both the Son of God and His Holy Spirit. John the Baptist described the consequences:

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire” (Matthew 3:7-12 NIV).

Jesus also repeatedly prophesied His rejection by the majority of His contemporary Jewish countrymen (Matthew 8:12; 21:33-41; 23:35, 37-38). For over a thousand years, the Jews were the privileged recipients of the law and the prophets, and their special privilege involved special responsibility (Mark 6:11; Luke 12:35-48; Romans 2:12 ).

God is not mocked. The nation of Israel is a reminder to us that to whom much is given much is also required. As the author of Hebrews shows us, where there is increased knowledge, there is greater responsibility and accountability to God.

If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. Anyone who rejected the Law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Hebrews 10:26-31 NIV).

Lenski defines the spiritual principle behind these verses:

If the blood of Abel cursed impenitent Cain, the blood of Christ must far more curse those who shed it and their children who still consent to that shedding by spurning Christ.

God’s judgment on the Jewish people is not universal or perpetual. Even though it has had special implications for the history of the nation of Israel as a whole, the resulting judgment of God applies only to those in every generation who willfully reject Jesus. During every period of ancient Israel’s history, there was a faithful minority (Exodus 32:7-13; Numbers 14:27-34; Isaiah 10:21-23; Romans 9:27). At the advent of the promised Messiah, there was still a faithful remnant (Romans 11:2-5). There will always be a faithful remnant until the Second Coming of Christ (Romans 11:23-29 ).

The fact that Jesus asked His Father to forgive His executioners (Luke 23:34, echoed by Stephen in Acts 7:60 ) proves beyond question that God does not hold Jewish people solely responsible for the death of Christ.

On the other hand, the mindset that hated Christ enough to murder Him has been preserved within the Judaism that survived the destruction of the Second Temple4, and to a less obvious extent within every other Gentile religious system that rejects Jesus as the Son of God and Savior of the world (Romans 1). That mindset continues to cloud the vision of those who are reared within its influence.

Yet even after the religion of Abraham, Moses, and the Prophets was replaced by the religion of the Rabbinate, the “oral traditions,” and the Talmud, there remains a faithful remnant among the people of Israel. Millions of courageous Jewish converts to Christianity throughout the centuries attest to this fact.

  1. Is the New Testament Reliable? A Look at the Historical Evidence, Paul Barnett, IVP; The New Testament and the People of God, N.T. Wright, Fortress Press; Jesus and the Victory of God, N.T. Wright, Fortress Press. Back To Article
  2. See the ATQ article, Are New Testament References to Jewish Persecution of Jesus and the Church True? Back To Article
  3. Tyndale Commentary on Matthew: All the people indicates, as McNeile points out, “the Jewish nation” (Greek laos), which “invokes the guilt upon itself.”

    Finally, Matthew underlines in obvious ways that the crowd shared the guilt for Jesus’ execution—though he also refuses to let Pilate absolve himself from guilt as easily as he desires. Pilate, who hands Jesus over to the crowd’s wishes, is no less guilty than weak-willed Zedekiah, who hands over Jeremiah in Jeremiah 38:5. By accepting the bloodguilt on themselves and their children, however (cf. 2 Samuel 3:28-29), Matthew’s crowds directly fulfill Jesus’ warning in Matthew 23:29-36, thereby inviting the destruction of their temple at the end of the generation, in their children’s days. They ironically invite a curse against themselves (cf. Jeremiah 42:5 ). Back To Article

  4. During the First Jewish-Roman War, from 600,000 to 1,300,000 Jews were killed. Over 100,000 died during the siege of Jerusalem alone, and nearly 100,000 were taken to Rome as slaves.

    Here is Will Durant’s terse description of the consequences of the Bar Kochba rebellion of AD 135:

    Under the leadership of Simeon Bar Cocheba, who claimed to be the Messiah, the Jews made their last effort in antiquity to recover their homeland and their freedom. Akiba, who all his life had preached peace, gave his blessing to the revolution by accepting Bar Cocheba as the promised Redeemer. For three years the rebels fought valiantly against the legions; finally they were beaten by lack of food and supplies. The Romans destroyed 985 towns in Palestine, and slew 580,000 men; a still larger number, we are told, perished through starvation, disease, and fire; nearly all Judea was laid waste. Bar Cocheba himself fell in defending Bethar. So many Jews were sold as slaves that their price fell to that of a horse. Thousands hid in underground channels rather than be captured; surrounded by the Romans, they died one by one of hunger, while the living ate the bodies of the dead. Back To Article

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Are All Who Haven’t Heard of Christ Damned?

In John 14:6 Jesus declared, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” Jesus’ words make it clear that He alone has brought God’s gift of salvation to the world. But do His words also mean that everyone who hasn’t heard of Him will be condemned to hell?

Abraham lived long before Christ. When he told Isaac that God would provide a sacrifice, his words were strikingly prophetic, but he didn’t understand their true significance. He knew nothing about the Lamb of God who would die on a cross nearly 2,000 years later. People like Abel, Enoch, Noah, Job, Melchizedek, Abraham, Sarah, and Jacob never heard the gospel, yet Hebrews 11:13 leaves no doubt that they will be in heaven.

No one in Old Testament times had a clear understanding of the role that Jesus Christ would someday play in atoning for sin. But centuries before the gospel was revealed, the faith of Old Testament believers was already “credited to them as righteousness” ( Genesis 15:6; Psalm 106:31; Galatians 3:6 ).

One of the most remarkable missionary stories of this century was the martyrdom of five young missionaries in Ecuador and the conversion of the Auca Indians. The first convert from the Auca tribe was a young woman named Dayuma. Remarkably, Dayuma was predisposed to accept the gospel because of her father’s influence. Although he had never heard the name of Jesus, he spoke out against the blood feuds and murder that were an Auca way of life. Unlike the others of his tribe, he was deeply conscious of his sinfulness and knew that he and his people needed forgiveness. He told Dayuma that some day God would send a messenger to the Aucas to tell them the way of salvation. Like Old Testament believers, Dayuma’s father was still living by faith when he died ( Hebrews 11:13 ). The witness of his life implies that he would have been overjoyed to hear the gospel, but he died before missionaries came.

Does Scripture give us grounds for insisting that Dayuma’s father is any different in God’s eyes than the believers of the Old Testament? Clearly, Dayuma’s father, like Abraham, would face eternal damnation apart from Christ’s shed blood. Apparent, too, is the desperate spiritual need of those, like the Auca people, who live in fear and spiritual darkness. The fact that Christ is the only way to God places on us the responsibility to make Him known to all.

Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles asked:

How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? (Romans 10:13-14).

But there isn’t a passage of Scripture that definitively proves that God looks upon Dayuma’s father differently than He looked upon Old Testament believers who had only a faint idea of the nature of coming redemption. (See the ATQ article, How Could Old Testament People Be Saved?) The apostle Paul may have had this issue in mind when he wrote the first chapters of Romans, declaring that God has revealed Himself in creation ( Romans 1:18-20 ) and in human conscience ( Romans 2:12-16 ). Paul said that each individual will be judged according to his response to these two revelations of God. To those who respond positively, God gives more knowledge—as He did to the Ethiopian eunuch and the Roman centurion, Cornelius (see Acts 8,10 ). Those who are lost will be judged according to their response to the spiritual light they have received ( Hebrews 4:12-13 ). 1

It may be that God will extend His grace to Dayuma’s father on the basis of Christ’s shed blood, just as He did to Enoch, Melchizedek, Job, Abraham, and Sarah—people who had only the faintest intimation of the means by which God would provide for their redemption. In the final analysis, we must leave this matter in God’s keeping. He is both just and loving. We can be assured that the Judge of all the earth will do right ( Genesis 18:25 ).

(See the ATQ article, How Can Christianity Claim To Be the Only Way to God?)

  1. Jesus made it clear that those who had little light will be punished lightly:
    That servant who knows his master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what his master wants will be beaten with many blows. But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked ( Luke 12:47-48 ). Back To Article
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Are doubts a sign of a weak faith?

I’m a believer—a Christian. I’m a “lifer” and an insider. I was born into a Christian home. I have Christian parents. I’ve gone to church all my life.

I’m also a doubter.

Over the years I’ve had many troubling questions: How do I know God exists? Can I be sure Christianity is right? How can there be an all-loving and all-powerful God when there is so much evil in the world? Can I really trust that the Bible is true?

For most of my life I’ve walked in a place of doubt-plagued faith. And while I’ve never stopped believing, I have stopped pretending that I have all the answers. I’ve come to believe that not all doubt is an enemy of faith. Sincere doubts can be an indispensable part of each person’s faith journey.

If we never doubt, we never question. If we never question, we never change. And if we never change, we never grow.

Just before I graduated from seminary, I had a conversation with my 80-year-old grandfather that changed how I think about doubt.

Poppaw had called to congratulate me on my upcoming graduation. He asked about the kids. I asked if he had been fishing. He talked about getting the old boat in the river. And then the conversation took an unexpected turn.

“Son [my grandfather called me son], I need to ask you a question.” He paused. “Can I trust the Bible? I mean, does the Bible I read in English say the same thing as the original Bible says?”

Up until this point I thought my doubts were a sign that my faith was weak. Frankly, that was part of my reason for going to seminary in the first place. I thought if I could just accumulate enough information, then all my doubts would be crushed under the weight of overwhelming information. But at the end of his faith journey here was Poppaw—one of the most faithful Christ-followers I have ever known—struggling to believe despite his doubt.

That day I began to wonder if I had misdiagnosed the problem. Maybe my doubts weren’t the problem. Maybe they were part of the solution.

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Are People Who Divorce and Remarry Without Biblical Grounds Living in a State of Adultery?

Are people who remarry after a divorce on grounds less than sexual infidelity or abandonment living in adultery? The answer seems to be no. The words of Christ— “Anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery” (Matthew 5:32)—are in the aorist tense, indicating action specific in time, completed when it occurs. A couple divorced on less than biblical grounds commit adultery when they remarry, but their new marriage is valid.

The New Testament never instructs divorced and remarried people who become Christians to break up their latest marriage, something we might expect if people who remarry after a divorce are considered to be living in a state of perpetual adultery. In fact, Paul definitely instructed married Christians to remain in their present state if at all possible (1 Corinthians 7:15-24). Jesus acknowledged that the Samaritan woman had lived with five husbands, recognizing each marriage contract as a bona fide union (John 4).

Christians commit the sin of adultery when they remarry after a divorce that’s not based on infidelity, but once a new marriage begins they do not live in a continuing state of adultery.

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Are some sins more wrong than others?

Many of us have a tendency to judge certain sins as worse than others. We say, “I have my struggles, but at least I don’t struggle with that.”

Surely some attitudes and behaviors carry the potential for greater, far-reaching consequences than others. But that does not make one set of sins worse than another. The New Testament calls us to take all sin seriously:

Yes indeed, it is good when you obey the royal law as found in the Scriptures: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you favor some people over others, you are committing a sin. You are guilty of breaking the law. (James 2:8–9 nlt)

James, the author of these words, does not seem to be setting up a hierarchy of sins. He wrote to people who were guilty of such things as favoring the rich over the poor,[1] and he is confronting the self-righteous attitudes of those who don’t feel they have sinned enough to need God’s grace. He told his readers that this kind of thinking is not only prideful but also self-deceiving. Everyone sins and needs God’s grace.

The mercy of God is not just for those who commit obvious and heinous kinds of sin. A person who doesn’t murder or commit adultery but shows partiality to the rich while ignoring the poor is a lawbreaker, too.

Sin is a struggle for all of us. And none of us have reason to feel superior to those who sin in ways we don’t. Most of all, let us never forget that our gracious God longs to extend His hand of mercy to all.

[1] James 2:1-4

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Are the Ten Commandments for Christians?

The Mosaic Law, including the Ten Commandments, was given to the people of Israel (Exodus 20:1-17), not Gentiles. It included both moral principles and ceremonial laws and regulations. It was intended to bring awareness of sin and guilt (Romans 3:19-20; 7:7-13; 1 Timothy 1:7-11), not to be a way of earning salvation. (Hebrews 11 explains how Abraham was saved by faith long before the law was given through Moses.)

The Jews referred to the Ten Commandments as “the ten words” (Deuteronomy 4:13). They were the basis of the entire Mosaic system, and as such they contain principles that remain the foundation of Christian ethics.

Christ fulfilled the requirements of the law (Romans 5:5; 8:1-4), so that Christians are no longer under the external Law of Moses (Galatians 3:1-14; Colossians 2:8-17). The Ten Commandments contain elements of ceremonial law. Christians aren’t required to follow these. Yet, when obedient to the Holy Spirit, Christians manifest God’s love and righteousness in harmony with the Ten Commandments’ moral principles (Romans 13:8-10).1

  1. The works of the flesh and the works of the Spirit listed by the apostle Paul in Galatians 5 demonstrate clearly how impossible it would be to live a Spirit-filled life while violating the moral principles within the Ten Commandments. Back To Article
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Are There Any Biblical Grounds for Divorce and Remarriage?

While the Scriptures take the marriage covenant very seriously, they permit divorce and remarriage in some situations. To learn exactly what these circumstances are, we’ll begin with the Old Testament regulations of divorce and remarriage. Then we’ll consider the words of Jesus on this subject. And finally, we’ll look at the instructions given by the apostle Paul.

Deuteronomy 24:1-4 tells us that when a man finds “some uncleanness” in his wife, divorces her, and they both marry new mates, they cannot ever undo this new marriage to remarry each other.1

We know little about the rate of divorce in Israel between the time of Moses and the exile into Babylon over a thousand years later. However, at the beginning of the New Testament era, men were divorcing their wives for the most trivial reasons imaginable. In the rabbinical literature of that time, burning a husband’s food was listed as grounds for divorce! While the conservative school of Shammai taught that the provision of Deuteronomy 24:1-4 required a serious moral violation, most rabbis belonged to the far more lenient school of Hillel. In their view, any man who wanted a divorce should be able to obtain one easily. Even the rabbis who followed Shammai believed that it was violation of a man’s masculinity to live as a celibate. In practice, therefore, both schools advocated remarriage for any single male, no matter what the grounds for his divorce were. 2

Of course, while this may have been the rabbinical consensus, it certainly doesn’t reflect the biblical view of marriage! The rabbinical schools of Christ’s day were often wrong in their interpretation of the Old Testament. They made the Law into a works system for salvation and created loopholes by which clever people could get away with terrible wrongs. It appears that these Jewish scholars, all of whom prided themselves on their loyalty to Moses, were often out of tune with the deep spirituality of the Law.

In this cultural and religious context, the Lord’s statement that people who divorced on lesser grounds committed adultery when they remarried was shocking. It even amazed the disciples, as evidenced by their response 3 ( Matthew 19:10 ). Jesus’ teaching clearly ran contrary to the easy-going divorce and remarriage customs of His time. He declared that the only grounds for a valid divorce was porneia (sexual immorality—Matthew 5:32 ), a term that encompassed a broad range of sexual sins. Later, Paul added another legitimate reason for divorce—the willful desertion of a Christian by a non-Christian mate ( 1 Corinthians 7:15 ).

While the New Testament explicitly makes both sexual infidelity and desertion by an unbeliever grounds for a Christian’s divorce and remarriage, it doesn’t offer a detailed description of how a Christian should deal with an intolerable marital situation that doesn’t involve either of these circumstances. It appears that Paul had such situations in mind when he wrote:

To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife (1 Corinthians 7:10-11).

To sum up, there is general agreement among evangelicals that apart from the death of a mate, the New Testament gives only two situations in which a marriage can be terminated with the right to remarry: illicit sexual activity, and abandonment by an unbelieving mate. There are no other rightful grounds. Although it may be necessary in some other situations for a Christian to separate from or divorce his or her mate, Scripture requires him or her to remain unmarried until reconciled. From the very beginning, God recognized the profound value of unconditional commitment between spouses in marriage. He mercifully provided a way out of relationships that have already been shattered by adultery and abandonment, but He never intended an “easy out.”

  1. This raises three questions:
    a. What is the “uncleanness” that apparently gave the husband grounds to divorce his wife?
    The meaning of the term “some uncleanness” is not clear. The expression is often translated “nakedness” or “something shameful.” Basically, we don’t know all that the term represented, but it must have been a serious matter short of adultery.b. What is the reason for the restriction that they could never remarry each other?
    No reason is given for the restriction forbidding the remarriage of two people once they had entered a new marriage. It certainly would prevent a man from divorcing his wife and marrying another woman as an experiment, thinking he could obtain a second divorce and return to his first mate if he chose to do.

    c. Why did the Law of Moses permit this disruption of a marriage?
    Jesus Himself stated that the Mosaic law allowed divorce “because of the hardness” of men’s hearts (Matthew 19:8). Because of the strongly patriarchal nature of ancient Israeli society, if a man disliked his wife for any reason, he had the power to make her life unbearable. He could marry other wives, treat them with respect and favoritism, and treat his first wife like a slave. If he did, she had no recourse other than to call upon the support of her family. Back To Article

  2. In Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament under the discussion of porneia, we are given evidence that even the strict school of Shammai believed it to be shameful for a divorced man to remain unmarried. Interestingly, according to Kittel, the school of Shammai taught that a sexual offense of some kind was the only grounds for divorce, but it advocated remarriage for all divorced men, even for those who obtained their divorce on trivial grounds. It appears that these Jewish scholars were convinced that almost all unmarried men would find sexual release somewhere, and that the best solution was a new marriage. Back To Article
  3. Since Jewish culture considered it shameful for a man to remain unmarried after either the death of a spouse or a divorce, divorced men of that time quickly married new mates, regardless of the circumstances of the divorce. Back To Article
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Are Today’s Jews the Physical Descendants of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and the Israelite Tribes?

Israel is the name God gave Jacob on the night he wrestled with the angel (Genesis 32:28). As a group, his sons along with the 12 tribes that descended from them inherited the name. Although Israel always accepted proselytes,1 it was at first largely made up of people physically descended from Abraham through Isaac and Jacob. Eventually the term “Israelite” was replaced by the term “Jew” (Yehudi), derived from the kingdom of Judah (Yehuda), the southern Israelite kingdom that retained its independence for approximately 135 years after Assyria conquered the northern kingdom and took its leading citizens into captivity.

After the fall of the kingdom of Judah, Judaism (the Israelite religion) continued to be open to Gentile converts. The book of Esther mentions one such occasion.

“In every province and city, wherever the king’s command and decree came, the Jews had joy and gladness, a feast and a holiday. Then many of the people of the land became Jews, because fear of the Jews fell upon them” (8:17 nkjv).

Soon after the conversions described in Esther, Alexander’s conquests established a common Hellenistic culture around the Mediterranean, exposing pagans to Jewish religion and lifestyle. Judaism became a vibrant missionary faith. Many thousands of Gentiles became God-fearers and converts.2

During the third and second centuries BC, a group of Greek-speaking Hebrew scholars in Alexandria translated the Bible into Greek (the Septuagint) so that it would be available in the common language of commerce and culture. Philo and other Jewish apologists strove to explain Israel’s faith to the Gentile world. They wrote intertestamental books—including those in the Apocrypha—that described the superiority of their God.3 The proselytizing zeal of the Jews was still strong during Jesus’ ministry.4 Most Gentiles who converted to Judaism did so because Israel’s God offered both a superior way of life and the hope of resurrection. Some, like the Edomites and Itureans, were forcibly converted by Jewish rulers.5 There were about six million Jews throughout the Roman Empire when Jesus was born in Bethlehem, of whom a large proportion were converts or descendants of converts. Regardless of their pedigree, all Jews identified with the symbols and story of Israel and hoped that Messiah would come to initiate the longed-for days of blessing and restoration. But when He appeared, many didn’t accept Him (John 1:11).

Two thousand years have brought significant religious and demographic changes to non-Christian people who identify with the Hebrew tradition. A majority of the Jews in the Roman Empire probably converted to Christianity during the first five centuries ad6 following the official Jewish expulsion of Christians from synagogue worship.7 It is a common misunderstanding that following the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem in the Jewish-Roman wars of ad 70 and 135, the Jews of Palestine were driven from the land as a people and that modern diaspora Jews are their descendents. Actually, there never was a great “dispersion” or “mass exile” of Jews following the Jewish-Roman wars of ad 70 and 135. Most of the Jews were “people of the land” (Am Ha’aretz), peasant farmers generally indifferent to politics but devoted to their homeland. Keeping a low profile, they remained in Palestine, many becoming Christians and Muslims under Byzantine and Arab rule. As mentioned earlier, Jews of the Diaspora, including the ancestors of today’s northern European, Yiddish-speaking Ashkenazim, continued to be largely the descendents of proselytes.  Today, dark-eyed, brown-skinned Palestinians are more likely to be Abraham’s physical descendents than the light-skinned northern European Ashkenazim displacing them. This has been acknowledged by Jewish historians, including two of the founders of the modern state of Israel, David Ben-Gurion and Itzhak Ben-Zvi:

To argue that after the conquest of Jerusalem by Titus and the failure of the Bar Kokhba revolt Jews altogether ceased to cultivate the land of Eretz Israel is to demonstrate complete ignorance in the history and the contemporary literature of Israel . . . The Jewish farmer, like any other farmer, was not easily torn from his soil, which had been watered with his sweat and the sweat of his forebears . . . Despite the repression and suffering, the rural population remained unchanged” (Eretz Israel in the Past and in the Present, Jerusalem: Ben-Zvi, 1979; in Hebrew, translated by Sand, p.198).

The fellahin [Arabic-speaking Palestinian peasants] are not descendants of the Arab conquerors, who captured EretzIsrael and Syria in the seventh century CE. The Arab victors did not destroy the agricultural population they found in the country. They expelled only the alien Byzantine rulers, and did not touch the local population. Nor did the Arabs go in for settlement. Even in their former habitations, the Arabians did not engage in farming . . . They did not seek new lands on which to settle their peasantry, which hardly existed. Their whole interest in the new countries was political, religious and material: to rule, to propagate Islam and to collect taxes (Ibid., p.196).

If Jewishness were determined by the preponderance of patriarchal genes alone, the people we know today as Jews would be a significantly different group. The myth that the dominant group of modern Jews—the Ashkenazim—are uniquely the descendents of Abraham creates a tribal idolatry. Even among Christians, it encourages new manifestations of the Judaizing spirit that the apostles battled in the first century.  

Although today’s Jews still identify with the Israel of the Old Testament, they are not uniquely the descendants of the patriarchs, and their rejection of Jesus has locked their focus on the tribal aspects of the Old Testament tradition while distancing them from the universal message of the Old Testament prophets. Jesus said, “The last will be first, and the first will be last” (Matthew 20:16). Israel was formally the primary witness for God in the world, but the members of this judicially blinded group remain the most opposed to His universal plan. When Israel repents its corporate rebellion, it will be “life from the dead.” The elect Jews will be freed from their judicial blindness, and their desperate faith in a tribal God will be transformed into passion for the salvation of the entire human race.

Even though they are not unique “people” in a genetic sense, and have no “rights” they can demand from the Lord (including the “right” to return the ancient Hebrew homeland, displace or drive out its current inhabitants, and establish a Jewish state), both the Old and New Testament testify of God’s love for the Jews and His desire to restore them when they humbly submit to Him and the Messiah He has sent.

  1. Some examples: Joseph married Asenath, an Egyptian priest’s daughter (Genesis 41:45,50; 46:20). She bore him sons Manasseh and Ephraim. Moses married Zipporah, the daughter of a Midianite (Exodus 2:21). She may have been partially of African descent (Numbers 12:1). She bore Moses two sons: Gershon and Eliezer (Exodus 18:3-4). During the period of the judges, the Israelites intermarried extensively with the surrounding nations (Judges 3:5). Jesse’s wife, the mother of Israel’s great King David, was probably a Moabite. King David himself took the daughter of the king of Geshur as one of his wives. King Solomon was notorious for the number and variety of his wives: Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Zidonians, and Hittites (1 Kings 11:1-3). Other kings and commoners married foreigners, including the notorious daughter of a Phoenician king, Jezebel, wife of Ahab. Back To Article
  2. It would not be an exaggeration to say that but for the symbiosis between Judaism and Hellenism, which, more than anything, turned the former into a dynamic, propagative religion for more than 300 years, the number of Jews in today’s world would be roughly the same as the number of Samaritans. Hellenism altered and invigorated the high culture of the kingdom of Judea. This historical development enabled the Jewish religion to mount the Greek eagle and traverse the Mediterranean world.The conversions carried out by the Hasmonean kingdom were only a small part of a far more significant phenomenon that began in the early second century BCE. The pagan world was already beginning to rethink its beliefs and values when Judaism launched its campaign of proselytization and became one of the factors that prepared the ground for the great Christian revolution. Judaism did not yet produce professional missionaries, as its younger sibling would do before long, but its encounter with the philosophies of the Stoic and Epicurean schools gave birth to a new literature that demonstrated a strong desire to win souls (Shlomo Sand, The Invention of the Jewish People, p.161). Back To Article
  3. See Ibid., pp.162-164. Back To Article
  4. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves” (Matthew 23:15 nkjv, see also Acts 2:10). Back To Article
  5. “In 125 BCE Yohanan Hyrcanus conquered Edom, the country that spread south of Beth-zur and Ein Gedi as far a Beersheba, and Judaized its inhabitants by force. Josephus described it in Antiquities of the Jews:Hyrcanus took also Dora and Marissa, cities of Idumea, and subdued all the Idumeans; and permitted them to stay in that country, if they would circumcise their genitals, and make use of the laws of the Jews; and they were so desirous of living in the country of their forefathers, that they submitted to the use of circumcision, and of the rest of the Jewish ways of living, at which time therefore this befell them, that they were hereafter no other than Jews.Thus did the ruling Hasmonean high priest annex an entire people not only to his kingdom but also to his Jewish religion. Henceforth, the Edomite people would be seen as an integral part of the Jewish people” (Sand, TIOTJP, pp.157-158).“In 104-103 BCE Judas Aristobulus [son of Yohanan Hyrcanus] annexed the Galilee to Judeaand forced its Iturean inhabitants, who populated the northern region, to convert to Judaism. According to Josephus, ‘He was called a lover of the Grecians; and had conferred many benefits on his own country, and made war against Ituraea, and added a great part of it to Judea, and compelled the inhabitants, if they would continue in that country, to be circumcised, and to live according to the Jewish laws’” (TIOTJP, Sand, 159). Back To Article
  6. The systematic expulsion of Christian Jews from Judaism occurred prior to the Bar Kochba revolt. See below.“In the oldest Palestinian version of the 12th benediction of the Prayer of Eighteen Benedictions, now known to us through the findings in the Cairo Geniza, Nazarines and minim are mentioned together: ‘May the Nazarenes (Christians) and heretics perish in a moment, be blotted out of the book of life, and not be written with the just.’ The introduction of this benediction into the Shemone Esre and therewith into the liturgy by R. Gamaliel II c. ad 90 carried with it a definitive breach between the Chr. Church and Judaism. From then on cursing the Nazarenes became an integral part of synagogue worship and the daily prayer of every Jew. Precisely in this benediction very great care was taken to see that the cursing of the minim was done correctly and without abbreviation. Attending the synagogue and taking part in its worship thus became impossible for Christians. Complete separation resulted. In future confession of Jesus Christ meant excommunication and expulsion from Judaism. The Johannine statements belong to this period” (Gerhard Kittel and Gerhard Friedrich, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, vol. 7, p. 850). Back To Article
  7. Scholars generally agree that in the first century there were approximately six million Jews in the Roman Empire. That was about one tenth of the entire population. About one million were in Palestine, including today’s State of Israel, while those in the Diaspora were very much part of the establishment in cities such as Alexandria and Constantinople. At one point Klinghoffer acknowledges that, during the life of Jesus, only a minuscule minority of Jews either accepted or rejected Jesus, for the simple reason that most Jews had not heard of him. Some scholars have noted that, by the fourth or fifth century, there were only a few hundred thousand, at most a million, people who identified themselves as Jews. What happened to the millions of others? The most likely answer, it is suggested, is that they became Christians. What if the great majority of Jews did not reject Jesus? That throws into question both the title of the book and Klinghoffer’s central thesis. The question can be avoided only by the definitional legerdemain of counting as Jews only those who rejected Jesus and continued to ally themselves with rabbinical Judaism’s account of the history of Israel (Richard John Neuhaus, “Why the Jews Did or Did Not Reject Jesus,” First Things).To begin with, a few definitions: Who is a Jew? A Jew is anyone who has a Jewish mother or who converted to Judaism in conformity with Halacha, Jewish religious law. This definition alone excludes racism. Judaism does not seek converts, but those who do convert are accepted on a basis of equality. Let us see how far this goes. Some of the most eminent and respected rabbis were converts to Judaism. Jewish parents throughout the world bless their children every Sabbath and holiday eve, and they have done it in the same way for millennia. If the children are girls, the blessing is, “May G-d let you be like Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah.” Not one of these matriarchs was born a Jewess; they were all converts to Judaism. If the children are boys, the blessing is, “May G-d let you be like Ephraim and Menashe.” The mother of these two was an Egyptian woman who became Jewish and had married Joseph. Moses himself, the greatest Jew who ever lived, married a Midianite woman who became Jewish.Finally, the Tenach, the holy writings of the Jew, contains the book of Ruth. This woman was not only not Jewish by birth, but she came from the Moabites, traditional enemies of the Jewish people. This book describes Ruth’s conversion to Judaism and is read annually on the holiday commemorating the giving of the Torah, the “Law,” i.e., the Pentateuch. At its very end, the book of Ruth traces the ancestry of King David, the greatest king the Jews ever had, to Ruth, his great-grandmother.Apart from the Zionists, the only ones who consistently considered the Jews a race were the Nazis. And they only served to prove the stupidity and irrationality of racism. There was no way to prove racially whether a Mrs. Muller or a Mr. Meyer were Jews or Aryans (the Nazi term for non-Jewish Germans). The only way to decide whether a person was Jewish was to trace the religious affiliation of the parents or grandparents. So much for this racial nonsense. Racial pride has been the downfall of those Jews in the past who were blinded by their own narrow-minded chauvinism.

    This brings us to a second definition. Is there a Jewish people? If so, what is its mission? Let us make this completely clear: The Jewish nation was not born or reconstituted a generation ago by some Zionist politicians. The Jewish nation was born on Mount Sinai when the Jews by their response, “let us do and let us hear,” adopted the Torah given to them by G-d for all future generations. “This day you become a people,” though valid still today, was spoken thousands of years ago. (Quotation from Neturei Karta, “The Difference Between Judaism and Zionism”). Back To Article

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