FOR READERS: I have just started a new blog: xtremejesus.co which is intended to contribute to political and social debate from the point of view of the Jesus tradition. Some have found difficulty in accessing the site from their search engines and browsers. At present, Google Chrome gives it easily.
MEANWHILE, this old faithful blog continues to explore Paul’s Corinthian correspondence day by day. At present it is dealing with 2 Corinthians. I’m assuming that all his Corinthian letters were sent from Ephesos. The news headline is a reminder of the world we live in. The great amount of commentary on this site can be accessed by date from the archive, or by googling emmock.com and adding either a scripture reference or topic, e.g.: emmock.com John 3:16; or emmock.com punishment.
“SAYING WHAT YOU THINK IN RUSSIA IS RISKING EVERYTHING” SAYS MURDERED POLITICIAN’S DAUGHTER
2 CORINTHIANS 6
14. Do not yoke yourselves together in a team with unbelievers. For how can righteousness and lawlessness be partners? What fellowship does light have with darkness? 15 What harmony can there be between the Messiah and the Prince of demons? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? 16 What agreement can there be between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God — as God said,
“I will house myself in them, . . .
and I will walk among you.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people.”
17 Therefore The Lord says,
“‘Go out from their midst;
don’t even touch what is unclean.
Then I myself will receive you.
In fact, I will be your Father,
and you will be my sons and daughters.’
says The Lord Almighty.”
This passage used to be interpreted by some Christian traditions as applying to marriage. My own family counselled me against marrying my wife (-48 years married this week!), because she was a humanist. The Greek verb seems more general, “heterozugountes” referring literally to the unequal yoking of animals for the plough. It obviously could include marriage. Paul was careful to warn against abandoning unbelieving spouses, but he might well have advised against entering marriage with an unbeliever, although given the small size of the Assemblies, there might have been a serious shortage of believing partners. But we should remember that there were business and civic partnerships, from which Paul took his keyword “koinonia“, that were helpful for people wanting to secure a place in Graeco-Roman societies. Paul may be urging caution with regard to these. Indeed he uses the word when he asks, “What koinonia can light have with darkness?”
We may be impatient with what sounds like a puritan sort of scrupulosity, but both Jewish and Greek wisdom saw companionship as one of the key influences of a person’s life. Paul’s view goes beyond popular wisdom: he saw the Messianic Assembly as holy ground, the new temple of the living God in which a partnership with unbelievers might be sacrilege.He puts together a chain of biblical verses, Leviticus 26:12 emphasising that God will dwell amongst his people and be their God as they enter the promised land, Ezekiel 37:27 speaking of the restoration of Israel to its land as God’s people; Isaiah 52:12 commanding the exiles to leave Babylon and all its unclean things behind them as they set off back home; 2 Samuel 7: 14 promising that God will never abandon David “for I will be his God and he shall be my son.” These references emphasise God’s abiding love and presence with his people and the consequent demand that they should have no idols and should be a holy people.
This demand for community holiness is only increased by Paul’s re-interpretation of the Jewish temple tradition as now applicable to the assembly of believers. What was commanded of a sacred space and behaviour within it is now commanded of believing people. This is exactly the interpretative turn that is at the heart of Pharisaism, which demands that the laws of holiness, originally made for priests, should apply to all Jews. Here Paul applies it to the Assembly of believers, seeing them as the temple in which God walks. They are the place of God’s presence, the Zion to which in the last days “the Gentiles shall flow”, and in whom the ancient promises made to Israel are fulfilled. One can see how Paul went from supporting synagogues and encouraging their people to observe the laws of holiness, to establishing Messianic Assemblies and encouraging them to become the new holy people, amongst whom God would dwell. Both the individual person and the community of believers are seen as dwelling places of the holy God.
This is much more than any mere puritanism. It sees the human being and the human community as dwelling places either of the true God or of the powers of evil. There is no such thing as an un-tenanted house, as Jesus’ profound parable of the expelled spirit who returns to his cleaned- up former residence, implies; in Bob Dylan’s words, “it may be the devil or it may be the Lord, but you gotta serve somebody.” Paul’s emphasis on communal holiness fits his picture of the life of faith as a continuing battle against spiritual powers of evil.
It is a tradition well-represented in all main branches of the Christian Church but perhaps lost a little in the ethical confusions of church and society in the 20th and 21st centuries. A church member said to me, “Of course we have to have same-sex marriage, it’s the 21st century!” And I said, “No that’s not it. We have to have same-sex marriage because people of same-sex orientation are part of the holy community.” It would be a terrible insult to any people to accept them because we are relaxing our standards and saying that anything goes. Habitual readers of this blog will see that this issue ties in with the issue of ethical education which I raised yesterday.