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This brief article is in reference to an interview of Bart Ehrman by Terri Gross, host and interviewer of Fresh Air on NPR. I am compelled to respond to Bart Ehrman’s words because there are saints in Christ who would read his words and actually think he’s hit on something real and previously unheard. This is not so. I encourage you to listen to the 38:37 minute/second interview. This is not a point-by-point response to Ehrman’s words. There are nothing less than three fundamental flaws in Ehrman’s discussion of the question concerning the deity of Jesus, “If Jesus never called himself God, How did he become God?”
1) He continues to blithely misuse the term become from his days as a young evangelical Christian up to the present day as an agnostic, historian professor of religion.
Messiah is a man
First, Ehrman’s view that the Messiah was to be a man echoes the ancient, classic example of various and numerous misunderstandings by Israel. As such he, like devout Jews, believes Christians got it all wrong by putting their trust in the man Jesus as Messiah. However, Israel’s own history abounds with misunderstanding and rebellion against God. No, they may not be any better or worse than Christians or anyone else, but there’s little to be gained by such comparisons and, more importantly, their misunderstandings cannot be overlooked on the basis of their privileged status as the chosen people of God.
One instance of Israel’s misunderstanding involves Abraham’s sacrifice of his son Isaac. As much time and as long as Israel had to ponder, analyze, discuss and philosophize this sacrifice which occurred four centuries before the release of Israel from Egyptian slavery they were still at a loss to gain much understanding about it. Some took that sacrifice as merely a lesson from God to impress on the future nation of Israel, the descendants of Abraham, that He was not like the pagan gods to whom their devotees offered human sacrifice. Another view was that Isaac was literally and actually sacrificed.
Second, none of this prepared Israel for the reality of wide-scale human sacrifice, because that was precisely how God chose to free the people of Israel after four centuries of slavery in Egypt. This human sacrifice, the death of Egypt’s firstborn, in Jewish history is a psychological burden which weighs heavily on some Jews to this day. God, unlike Pharoah who commanded the Egyptian midwives to secretly kill the Jewish newborn male infants, pronounced the sacrifice of Egypt’s firstborn. It was not a secret, mindless slaughter of all Egyptians. It was a very precise and select sacrifice which God took for himself with the death of the firstborn among men, women, children and livestock. Furthermore, Pharoah and the entire nation of Egypt had been through nine plagues at the time they were warned about the coming tenth plague which was to take Egypt’s firstborn. Pharoah stood firm in his stubborn defiance.
The sacrifice of Isaac and the sacrifice of Egypt’s firstborn would seem to leave little reason for the longstanding rejection of Jews to the concept and reality of human sacrifice, not by humans, but by God himself. It is a rejection which may have a pious, devout ring to it, but it just does not complement the reality of human sacrifice in Israel’s history as related in the OT.
No wonder then that for Israel their understanding of Messiah was that he was at the very least a mere man. Maybe Messiah would be at the very most, the king of Israel. However, never, ever remotely or possibly could nor would Messiah be a human sacrifice in accordance with the will of God. Even less possible for Israel and Ehrman is that the sacrifice of Jesus could or would be God himself in the flesh.
Bart Ehrman shares this ignorance with Israel. My point is that Israel was repulsed by and saw as inconceivable the idea of human sacrifice. Their God, they believed, was not the kind of God who would do such a thing. Yet, that is what God turned out to do just as He repeatedly baffled Israel with his ways. Similarly repulsive was the notion that God should dwell among men, but this repulsion forgets that God dwelt in wooden box, the ark of the covenant, in the midst of Israel. Certainly, Jews do not believe God limited himself when he made that dwelling arrangement for himself. Would it be anymore difficult for God who dwelt in a wooden box made by human hands than to dwell in one not made by human hands?
Suddenly, it does not seem so inconceivable that that same God should dwell in human form anymore than to dwell in a wooden box. Suddenly, it does not seem inconceivable that He should demonstrate his power over death, not merely by raising a few dead people, but by
taking up his own body up from the grave of death through the very public spectacle of the resurrection.
2) Ehrman goes on just as blithely to reference the trinity, which he does not believe, (and a term for which I have no need or use) as much as ranking from first to third those same deity entities of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Jesus, a man, became God
Ehrman claims to be a just-the-facts historian Ehrman, but completely ignores the deity references Jesus made of himself. Yes, he is familiar with these, but he dismisses these claims which appear in John’s gospel because, as he states, these do not appear in Matthew, Mark and Luke’s accounts. What?!?!! Then, not only does he dismiss the references in John, but he claims they are historically inaccurate.
What Ehrman claims to have determined from his research is that Christians found themselves in a bit of a sticky situation when they claimed, according to Ehrman, that Jesus became God when he ascended into heaven. Actually, this may be professor Ehrman’s own sticky situation and one to which he has never, whether as zealous evangelical or agnostic historian, been able to offer a cohesive, comprehensible response. Long story short: Christians determined, according to Ehrman, Jesus must have been God even before he was born of his virgin mother, Mary. Christians went from one sticky situation to another because then they had to explain a plurality of deities such as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This need for an explanation by Christians Ehrman mistakenly calls “exaltation christology.” According to Ehrman the first Christian writings twenty years after Jesus death were based on pre-literary traditions. What this means is Paul and other NT writers were borrowing from those prior sources and it was in these pre-literary sources which gave rise to “exaltation christology” which began the belief that Jesus became God when Jesus was raised from the dead. It is Ehrman’s own sticky subject. Ehrman's dismissal of the apostles first century writings on the basis that these are merely a reflection of earlier "exaltation christology" is mistaken. If Ehrman's few references to that christology are any indication, -and they are- there is nothing in it which is at odds with the whole of NT and OT writings.
“The best theologians have always classified that [the trinity] as a mystery which means that you can’t understand it with your rational mind. If you think you do understand it then you misunderstand it. (laughs).” Bart Ehrman
Theology appears to be the latest place of refuge for Ehrman. He has gone from evangelical to historian and now this last resort as theologian. He can cast himself among the best of theologians, write off the whole matter of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit (the trinity) as a mystery and expound on it at length while believing it can never be understood, just like Ehrman, an agnostic, claims God can not be known. It does not occur to Ehrman that what he, the professor, historian and theologian can not understand for himself he can not explain to those whom he purports to enlighten on the true, historic and accurate matters of God. What Ehrman does not understand is what Israel did not understand.
The nature of God is just one other instance of Israel’s serious misunderstanding of God. Despite numerous references in the Tanakh (OT) by God of himself in the plural form these were simply dismissed and disregarded by Israel. This misunderstanding was rooted in their quantification of God. Jews, Muslims and Christians alike share in this misunderstanding. Jews and Muslims quantify God as one. Christians quantify God as one . . ., but three.
What has been overlooked between Yahweh’s words to Israel in Deuteronomy 6 & 18 is the unity of his message about which he was admonishing Israel in her future years. Briefly, that unity meant that there was total harmony, unity and agreement in everything God said, everything Moses said God said, everything the prophets said God said, everything Jesus said was from the Father, everything the apostles said was from the Spirit and everything the saints in Christ read is every bit the word of God before it was heard, since it was spoken and since it was printed. When Moses, by inspiration of the Holy Spirit declared, “The Lord is one” it was not a numeric value to be quantified as one, two or three, but to be understood as the oneness and harmony which characterizes God and which we can only strive to imitate in our lives. It is in this respect that those plural entities dismissed by Israel and equally misunderstood by Christians are seen and understood as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, not numerically, but in the complete unity in their entire revelation to man.
Ehrman argues there is no indication that the disciples of Jesus in the first century came to believe in the tomb as proof of the resurrection. He is unwittingly, despite his unbelief, quite right.
Even twenty years after the resurrection of Jesus the apostle Paul wrote that Jesus had appeared to more than 500 people some of whom, he said, were still living at the time of his writing in I Corinthians 15. Of course, for Ehrman the resurrection, although he never states it as clearly in the interview, never happened because what was left of Jesus after his death on the cross was food for scavenger birds.
Fresh Air host and Interviewer Terri Gross presses Ehrman on his view that Pilate would not have consented to the body of Jesus being taken from the cross after his death, but would have instead let it, as was the Roman custom, rot and be prey for the scavenger birds. His reason: "Pilate was not a nice fellow." Again, Ehrman is oblivious to some particulars which are chronicled in the gospels, namely, that Pilate’s wife approached him and urged him to have nothing to do with that man Jesus because of some troublesome dreams she had about Jesus. Second, whether or not it was because of his wife, Pilate attempts to release Jesus. Pilate himself pressed the multitude as to what evil Jesus had done. Suddenly, it does not seem totally implausible that Pilate might have made an exception to allow the body of Jesus to be taken down from the cross, - especially when someone requested the body. Such a request by anyone of a one who had been crucified and brought such shame and reproach on himself and family was a common thing. Furthermore, by entombing the body of Jesus Pilate could possibly use it as a future reminder to anyone claiming that Jesus was raised from the dead. In this respect, it may have been a shrewd Pilate who saw an advantage in preserving the corpse of Jesus for future use. The fact that the gospels relate that Pilate did in fact give consent to a request for the body of Jesus hardly makes Pilate a nice fellow. He may have acted out of character, but this is what is related by the gospel writers.
All this is merely Ehrman the historian dabbling seemingly for his own amusement, because after painting for us the imagery of the corpse of Jesus being eaten by birds he asserts that he believes Jesus was not given a decent burial, but that he was just thrown into a common grave even though Ehrman acknowledges the body of Jesus was requested of Pilate by and delivered to Joseph of Arimathea who placed his body in his own tomb soon to be emptied of Jesus’ body.
Indeed, the disciples of Jesus came to believe in the resurrection because they SAW him. Here again, Ehrman dismisses the testimony of the scriptures and prefers to concoct his own explain of “visions” as something akin to euphoric delirium or human nostalgia. The gospels testify unabashedly of the unbelief of the disciples EVEN WHEN THEY SAW Jesus.
Literally, they could not believe their eyes. Jesus drew them back into reality. He invited Thomas to stick his finger in the holes in his body and to touch and feel so they can verify for himself that the Jesus he was seeing was not a spirit because a spirit does not have flesh and bones as did Jesus. He reassured the disciples he was not a vision of their delirium or their imagination as Ehrman argues. This is the evidence of testimony which asserts the disciples saw Jesus. It substantiates what they saw with touch and feel plus a measure of unbelief to remind the inquisitive seeker this was not an ordinary matter. It demands to be assessed by historians, believer and nonbeliever alike and not without some very human behavioral reaction.
My response to Bart Ehrman’s claims
Jesus took on the form of man
What Ehrman, at least in this interview, never touches on and does not seem to realize is that the scriptures never state that God became a man, that Jesus became God, or that God made Jesus God. This goes back to #1 at the beginning of this article. This is what the scriptures do state:
Have this in your mind, which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, existing in the form of God, didn’t consider equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, yes, the death of the cross. 9 Therefore God also highly exalted him, and gave to him the name which is above every name; 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, those on earth, and those under the earth, 11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5-11)
There are three significant points made by Paul in this passage:
1) Jesus existed in the form of God.
2) Jesus emptied himself of that form of God to take on the form of a servant . . . in the likeness of man.
3) Jesus humbled himself in that human form even unto death on the cross.
The declarations in this passage do not say anything about God becoming a man, a man becoming God, or a man being made God. Rather, it declares that He took on the form of a man. Note also, that the exaltation of Jesus so grossly misunderstood by Bart Ehrman did indeed occur. It was AFTER his death on the cross and it was also then that he was give the name above every name.
Jesus is not one of the Gods. He is one with God. He is one with the Father. He is one with the Holy Spirit. The Father and Holy Spirit are one with Jesus. This means Jesus as much and no less God than the Father and Holy Spirit. The fact is the practice of simplification such as the origin and use of the term trinity do nothing to enable believers to understand God. Any time a believer resorts to trying to understand God through a numeric value of one, two or three he/she will fail to understand the unity of the message of the will of God which spans from Genesis to Revelation.
This, according to Luke the author of Acts, is what Peter declared concerning Jesus:
Let all the house of Israel therefore know certainly that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified. (Acts 2:36)
“Don’t let your heart be troubled. Believe in God. Believe also in me. (John 14:1) peace to all.
Are you familiar with theHalal certification on meats and other products in your grocery store? Perhaps you have been eating and are eating Halal certified food products. H.E.B., where my family shops for our groceries, is a major grocery retailer in central Texas carries Halal. What this certification designates is those meats and products which are approved and which are allowed for Muslims to eat. The Jewish designation for foods which are allowed for Jews to eat and which have been prepared in accordance with their laws is kosher. One specific aspect of Halal certification is the requirement that livestock being slaughtered be facing towards Mecca, the birthplace of Mohammed, the prophet of Islam.
What is your stake
Idols and places as objects of devotion, adoration and worship or of meats sacrificed to an idol or a particular place may mean nothing to nonbelievers. Their interests may be from a cultural or economic perspective. The interests at stake may be voiced as humane concerns about the slaughter of animals; perhaps a carryover from other, older, existing ongoing protests which may be as much against eating meat altogether. These interests may be voiced as patriotic concerning the presence of foreign influences in America. Quite likely, there are gains and losses as concerns the growing presence of Halal standards in the meat industry, both culturally and economically, depending on a person’s perspective and priorities. It would seem no matter whatever one’s stance might be there is a stake in the matter.
Christians in the first century who had severed their ties with their past beliefs and their sacrifice to and worship of idols. Now, in the faith that is in Jesus, they were often faced with the reality of idols and marketplace vendors from whom they bought meat which had been sacrificed to idols. The apostle Paul addressed their concerns in First Corinthians 8. I am copying the entire chapter here.
things sacrificed to idols
1 Now concerning things sacrificed to idols: We know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. 2 But if anyone thinks that he knows anything, he doesn’t yet know as he ought to know. 3 But if anyone loves God, the same is known by him. 4 Therefore concerning the eating of things sacrificed to idols, we know that no idol is anything in the world, and that there is no other God but one.5 For though there are things that are called “gods”, whether in the heavens or on earth; as there are many “gods” and many “lords”; 6 yet to us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we for him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and we live through him. 7 However, that knowledge isn’t in all men. But some, with consciousness of the idol until now, eat as of a thing sacrificed to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. 8 But food will not commend us to God. For neither, if we don’t eat, are we the worse; nor, if we eat, are we the better. 9 But be careful that by no means does this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if a man sees you who have knowledge sitting in an idol’s temple, won’t his conscience, if he is weak, be emboldened to eat things sacrificed to idols? 11 And through your knowledge, he who is weak perishes, the brother for whose sake Christ died. 12 Thus, sinning against the brothers, and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore if food causes my brother to stumble, I will eat no meat forever more, that I don’t cause my brother to stumble.
Is there anything about Halal for the saints in Christ to examine and consider. After all, as it is alleged and which is not within the scope of this brief article, Halal just involves a humane way of slaughtering animals. However, here is the matter for every individual to consider for himself as a matter of a conscience informed by his/her knowledge of the scriptures.
what is involved in the Halal certified slaughter of animals
The practice of slaughter in accordance with Halal to have the animal facing Mecca involves 1) an idol as a place of reverence according to Muslims, and 2) it is an invocation to Allah at the moment the animal is slaughtered. Yes, Muslims may deny Mecca is an idol, but what should anyone who has desecrated such a holy place, but death? It is a matter of actions, that is the taking of human life, speaks louder than words, that is, denying Mecca is an idol.
What and how Muslims seek to worship is their own business. I have, as a Christian or an American, no need to bash or desecrate neither their beliefs nor their practices either for cultural, religious or economical reasons.
What are you compelled to do
What I am compelled to do is within my conscience as informed in accordance with my knowledge of I Corinthians and related New Testament passages. I will not purchase meat, whether beef or poultry, which bears the Halal certification. I have no need to boycott or call for a boycott nor would I support such a worldly response by Christians towards those retailers who sell Halal products anymore than the apostle Paul instructed the saints in Corinth to do so with those vendors who earned their livelihood from those meat sales. Unlike the first century idols to whom those animals sold in the marketplace were sacrificed which did not espouse a teaching against Jesus as Lord and Savior and the Son of God, this is the message of Islam today.
The marriage union between a man and a woman often becomes a battleground. The conflict between the two is bad enough, but I am referring to the disputes which arise in the mind of others when the end of that union was divorce. Specifically, it is when the reason for that divorce was something other than the unfaithfulness of sexual immorality by one of the spouses in the marriageOf course, the travesty and ravages of divorce on personal happiness are often revisited upon those who had put that in their past and moved on with love and to love again. That revisit happens when he or she learns that they have been measured and burdened by the scriptures in a way beyond their comprehension even as they have come in search of Jesus to draw near to God. It is at this point that they are (mis)informed of their illicit marriage.
It is an understatement to say this teaching of scripture leaves something to be desired. Of course, the goal of studying the scriptures is not to find what we like or what makes us feel good. Yes, we there is much in there which we may like and which may make us feel good. Certainly, the many discourses and debates and every manner of interpretation of scripture on the subject which the saints have heard in those discourses remain at serious odds with both, Jesus and Paul on the subject of marriage and divorce. The picture which is painted is dismal. It is devoid of the love and mercy nonbelievers hear so much from the saints in Christ. This article represents a brief look and examination of this teaching from the English text with emphasis on the concessions and commands as presented, first by Paul as well as Matthew's gospel account to see what Jesus presented on this matter.
man and woman in relationship
The apostle Paul addresses three (the fourth involves the unmarried and virgins) different relationships involving a man and a woman in the seventh chapter of I Corinthians:
1) A general statement of advice (verses 1 - 6) which could hold true just as well for nonbelievers as for believers a) not to marry, (The unusual nature of this general statement is that Paul’s letters are not addressed to the nonbeliever. Paul does not presume to impose the truth and weight of this general statement on nonbelievers. The content of the statement represents a common reality and a matter of fact, or fundamental human dignity and love as between a man and a woman.) b) to show, maintain and respect each other in and with affection/authority and consent for one another,
2) He advises the unmarried and widows, that is, those who were at one time married to remain unmarried, [notice his use of the term, gift*] (verses 7 thru 9)
1 Now concerning the things about which you wrote to me: it is good for a man not to touch a woman. 2 But, because of sexual immoralities, let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband. 3 Let the husband give his wife the affection owed her,* and likewise also the wife her husband. 4 The wife doesn’t have authority over her own body, but the husband. Likewise also the husband doesn’t have authority over his own body, but the wife. 5 Don’t deprive one another, unless it is by consent for a season, that you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer, and may be together again, that Satan doesn’t tempt you because of your lack of self-control.6 But this I say by way of concession, not of commandment. 7 Yet I wish that all men were like me. However each man has his own gift* from God, one of this kind, and another of that kind. 8 But I say to the unmarried and to widows, it is good for them if they remain even as I am. 9 But if they don’t have self-control, let them marry. For it’s better to marry than to burn.
3) He commands the married believers to stay married and to remain unmarried with a view to being reconciled should one spouse leave. (verses 10 & 11)
10 But to the married I command—not I, but the Lord—that the wife not leave her husband 11 (but if she departs, let her remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband not leave his wife. Lastly, he advises
4) the unmarried and virgins to remain unmarried. (verses 12 thru 17)
All these statements (1 thru 4) by Paul are accompanied by concessions and other words of considerateness involving two people in the most intimate relationship a man and a woman can ever have in this life.
concessions by Paul
These are some of Paul’s concessions to men and women in different states (married/unmarried) of relationships.
a) “because of your lack of self control” (verse 5)
b) “if they don’t have self-control, let them marry (verse 9)
c) “The brother or sister is not under bondage in such cases” [of separation] (verse 15)
d) “But if you marry, you have not sinned” “He does not sin. Let them marry.”
e) “only in the Lord” (verse 39)
Paul goes to some length to explain repeatedly he would like to spare them the trials they will face in the world as husband and wife. What he conveys to his readers is not a quick, simple resolution towards reconciliation in their relationships, but also, through concessions, the provision of grace and love from our heavenly Father. Paul followed in the footsteps of Jesus.
Noticeably, Paul makes it clear that it is the Lord, not Paul, who gave command concerning married believers in verses 10 & 11.
10 But to the married I command—not I, but the Lord—that the wife not leave her husband 11 (but if she departs, let her remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband not leave his wife.
It is the only one of the above mentioned list of four in which Paul does not include any kind of a concession or other words of considerateness for those affected by this command. It may appear and it fact it has been taken and taught that way by some, that Paul is prohibiting the marriage of man or woman in the aftermath of their divorce or abandonment by their spouse. Perhaps the most difficult part of Paul's words is to be found in this parenthetical expression: (but if she departs, let her remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband). Yet, in the prior passages of the context of his message to men and women and marriage Paul alludes to a vital, key term* used by Jesus in his reply to his disciples. So, since Paul himself deferred to Jesus, not I, but the Lord, it is worth our while and necessary to look at what Jesus said on the matter.
concession by Jesus
The words of Jesus on this matter are found in Matthew 19. Unlike Paul, Jesus had a live audience which could respond to the seemingly hard nature of his words. He spoke these words in response to the question put to him: “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason?” Yes, Jesus did speak some hard words (see, John 6:60ff) and which he would not compromise anymore than we are to forge and impose burdens of our own making as our solutions. The disciples, perhaps with a bit of exasperation expressed the sentiment of many saints affected by divorce when they cried out to Jesus: If this is the case of the man with his wife, it is not expedient to marry. [Later in the text the disciples were similarly “exceedingly astonished” concerning just who could possibly be saved given some other hard words they heard from Jesus. This was Jesus’ response to them: “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”]
It is what Jesus replied to his disciples which speaks to the saints in the faith that in Christ Jesus.
It speaks as much to the husband as to the wife who was abandoned as much as the husband/wife who abandoned their spouse.
This is the concession, or the considerateness by Jesus and to which is referred to by Paul in his own concessions and considerateness in that key, vital term of gift.* It was used by Paul in his letter to the saints and particularly those whose marriages were affected by abandonment by their spouse. The world has been filled with more solutions, that is, laws and commandments and endless hypothetical scenarios involving divorce and remarriage. These are the attempts by men to improve on what they perceive as potential loopholes in God's grace as though God were unaware. However, despite what men made of the free gift of grace in Paul's day he did not refrain from proclaiming the message of the grace of God. Neither should the saints in Christ, today.
But he said to them, “Not all men can receive this saying, but
those to whom it is given. 12 For there are eunuchs who were born
that way from their mother’s womb, and there are eunuchs who
were made eunuchs by men; and there are eunuchs who made
themselves eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven’s sake. He who is
able to receive it, let him receive it.”
a gift to receive
Paul alluded to the command of Jesus and points out for us it is, not I, but the Lord to whom we are to refer to on this matter.Jesus instructed his disciples concerningthe husband or wife who find themselves without their spouse because of divorce or abandonment. The solution was not, as the disciples' thought and as some have argued, for those divorced or abandoned to abstain from marriage. If they are not to refrain from marriage they are not to be denied the union of marriage, also. Rather, for those who have experienced divorce or abandonment and CHOOSE NOT to marry they are able to do so because it has been given to them. What is given to them is very much like our salvation. It is not earned or merited, but it is a gift.
1) they have RECEIVED a thatwhich enables them to refrain from marriage (if that is what they choose) that is, it has been given to them; it is a gift given for them to receive and to remain unmarried, or
2) the individual has NOT RECEIVED that which can enable him/her to live unmarried and without a spouse. Hence, he/she is free to marry and take a spouse. All unmarried people are no more the same than all eunuch are the same as Jesus illustrated for the disciples.
Unlike eunuchs who are a) born as eunuchs, b) are made eunuchs by men, or c) make themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom Jesus speaks of those who RECEIVE a GIFT, not something that they are made or something that they make, which is GIVEN to them by none other than the Father from whom proceed all gifts. (James 1:17, see also Matthew 19:26, about those things which are impossible with men, but which are possible with God) It is a GIFT which enables them to either MARRY or NOT TO MARRY. The test as to whether or not one has received and been given that gift is for no one to say other than the person who chooses to MARRY or to NOT MARRY. Whether one chooses to remain unmarried or one chooses to marry no more condemns or commends them towards God than whether they are Jew or Gentile, male or female, circumcised or uncircumcised. A Jew who was divorced was no less a child of Abraham than those who are of the faith of Abraham in Jesus are any less children of the kingdom.
a call to leave everyone and everything behind
Lastly, there is the call every one of us heard and to which we responded when we committed our lives to follow Jesus. We were exhorted to count the cost of following Jesus. That cost was measured against our greater love for Jesus above that of our love for father, mother, wife . . . including our own life. That was the moment when, as Paul put it, we counted all things lost in order that we might gain Christ.
It was the moment we, as Jesus stated, lost our life in order that we might find our life in Him. That was the moment we lost our father, mother, wife, possessions and our very life. The fact that that loss was virtual does not diminish the reality of the loss. Hence, when the actual loss of one of these loved ones, whether a spouse or a child, does occur we are not easily distracted from following Jesus. The prospect of reconciliation between a husband and wife after the passage of time may be as much a difficult conflict between the desire for reconciliation as the acceptance of the reality of that reconciliation, but we know of more than a few instances of the marvel and work of the Spirit in the lives of the saints. When the disciples expressed their consternation at what they heard from Jesus and all that they had given up to follow after he him encouraged them with these words. 28 Jesus said to them, “Most certainly I tell you that you who have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on the throne of his glory, you also will sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 Everyone who has left houses, or brothers, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive one hundred times, and will inherit eternal life. 30 But many will be last who are first; and first who are last.
The apostle Paul delivered specific instructions, commands and concessions to men and women and husbands and wife in various states of relationships. The only one relationship to which he does not deliver a concession is the only one which he directly associates with the teaching of Jesus.
When Jesus delivered his own words in Matthew 19 in response to questions concerning divorce and marriage it prompted his disciples to ask their own question. They may have been a bit exasperated by what they heard from him. His words seemed to them to be beyond the capability of any man. The solution, they thought, was to simply not marry. This is the solution often given by men today to those affected by divorce, but this is not what Jesus replied.
It was then that Jesus explained that whether a divorced man chose to marry or to remain unmarried was a matter of whether or not that gift was given to he to receive or whether he had received it. He who chose not to marry and remain unmarried was because he had received the gift to do so. He who chose to marry because he could not remain unmarried could so because he had received the gift to to remain unmarried. Where does such a gift come from if not from God?
It is likely upsetting to think about how a gift could possibly work to the glory of God and as a blessing to those who receive as much as those who do not receive it, or how two people can do the same thing, but differently. Yet, both Jesus' and Paul's teaching is filled with this reality. There was the disciple who was casting out demons, but who did not follow after Jesus and the disciples and yet Jesus declared that disciple was for the disciples and Jesus. (Luke 9:49) Similarly, Paul could rejoice that despite the motives of some saints and which were different than Paul's motives he was thankful that Christ was being preached. (Philippians 1) These are just two examples which represent a capability, or gift, which was seemingly different and at odds with Jesus and Paul, but which had the net result of bringing glory to God.
Do not impose burdens on the saints who are of the faith that is in Christ Jesus which neither He nor Paul ever imposed. If Peter was neither ostracized nor marginalized because he denied Jesus by what standard are the saints in Christ marginalized and excluded from contributing the ministryand the edification of the saints? Where is the instruction, command and concession by which those saints are being builtup, and like Peter, restored to the fulness of glory of God? Yes. There are some who actually state: Well, Peter just denied Jesus. He didn't kill anyone and was certainly not divorced as though denial of Jesus were a small, insignificant matter. Let us not create and impose man-made standards to prevent, in the estimation of a carnal mind, an abuse of God's grace. Permit those who have not received the gift to
28 “Come to me, all you who labor and are heavily burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”