Signers and Decliners

Now comes another statement, named for a Tennessee city, with the signatures of more Christian scholars attached to it. I wonder if those who signed “An Open Letter from Christian Scholars on Racism in America Today” will also sign the Nashville Statement on biblical sexuality. Lots of professors are listed on each statement, and yet I can’t help but think each set has reservations about the scholarship practiced by the signers of the other statement.

What is it about statements? The one time Tim Keller and I agreed came in 1996 at the meeting of theologians and pastors that produced the Cambridge Declaration, a statement that expressed concerns about contemporary worship and megachurches. Keller did not sign. Nor did I. My reasons for not signing went along the lines that Matthew Anderson recently gave for not signing the Nashville Statement:

While I am generally ‘statement-averse,’ it seems reasonable to want a succinct depiction of the theological boundaries on these issues. If nothing else, such statements are efficient: they remove much of the work of retelling all of our convictions on a certain matter by giving us a public document to point to. It’s a lot easier to find all the people who are on board with a certain vision of the home, for instance, by asking what they make of the Danvers Statement.

Yet this virtue is also a vice: by creating a public context in which all the people who affirm certain doctrines or ideas are identified under the same banner, statements tacitly shift the playing field, such that to not sign is to signal disagreement.

Ding ding. Statements imply that those who don’t sign are not of the right outlook because those who sign are right. A lot of signaling going on.

Yet, a curious feature of the Nashville Statement is that it includes the heavy hitters in the Gospel Coalition. John Piper, Lig Duncan, D. A. Carson, Al Mohler, Russell Moore, even J. I. Packer and R. C. Sproul. Tim Keller did not sign.

The problem could be that statements are a problem. But Anderson also explains another reason for the Nashville Statement’s deficiency. It specifies a minimal set of norms while leaving aside a broader sexual ethic and biblical anthropology that should provide the source for specific practices or convictions:

With the signers and the drafters of the Nashville Statement, I am persuaded that the current controversies over sex, gender, and marriage are of maximal importance. With those individuals, I agree that there are matters here essential to the truthful, beautiful articulation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. With those individuals, I agree that the crisis in the evangelical church is real, and that those seeking to alter our institutions so that they affirm gay marriage undermine and distort the faith that all Christians, in all places and times have affirmed.

But issues of maximal importance deserve maximal responses. It is possible to say too little, as it is possible to say too much. If I have sometimes erred toward the latter vice in my exposition and defense of a traditional account of sex and gender, I have done so only because the deflationary and minimalist approach to such questions is itself an intrinsic part of the intellectual atmosphere which has left the orthodox Christian view unintelligible to so many.

Meanwhile, secular academics are trying to defend middle-class virtues:

That [mid-twentieth-century bourgeois] culture laid out the script we all were supposed to follow: Get married before you have children and strive to stay married for their sake. Get the education you need for gainful employment, work hard, and avoid idleness. Go the extra mile for your employer or client. Be a patriot, ready to serve the country. Be neighborly, civic-minded, and charitable. Avoid coarse language in public. Be respectful of authority. Eschew substance abuse and crime.

These basic cultural precepts reigned from the late 1940s to the mid-1960s. They could be followed by people of all backgrounds and abilities, especially when backed up by almost universal endorsement. Adherence was a major contributor to the productivity, educational gains, and social coherence of that period.

Imagine if the Christians who signed the Open Letter or the Nashville Statement had joined with Amy Wax and Larry Alexander in a defense of older American norms.

It sure looks like Wax and Alexander could use it:

We, a group of Penn alumni and current students, wish to address white supremacist violence and discourse in America. Even if we are not surprised that Charlottesville can happen, witnessing blatant racism takes an emotional toll on us, some more so than others. And yet, overtly racist acts are identifiable and seem “easy” to criticize. It is nearly impossible for anyone, white, black or otherwise to see what happened in Charlottesville and not admit that a wrong occurred — unless you are a white supremacist yourself, that is.

But at the same time, history teaches us that these hateful ideas about racial superiority have been embedded in many of our social institutions. They crawl through the hallways of our most prestigious universities, promoting hate and bigotry under the guise of “intellectual debate.” Indeed, just days before Charlottesville, Penn Law School professor Amy Wax, co-wrote an op-ed piece with Larry Alexander, a law professor at the University of San Diego, claiming that not “all cultures are created equal” and extolling the virtues of white cultural practices of the ‘50s that, if understood within their sociocultural context, stem from the very same malignant logic of hetero-patriarchal, class-based, white supremacy that plagues our country today. These cultural values and logics are steeped in anti-blackness and white hetero-patriarchal respectability, i.e. two-hetero-parent homes, divorce is a vice and the denouncement of all groups perceived as not acting white enough i.e. black Americans, Latino communities and immigrants in particular.

Wax’s and Alexander’s claims rely on a simplistic, bigoted and archaic notion of culture; a concept purported to be bounded and discrete, a postulate which anthropologists “dismantled” decades ago by showing how such formulations of culture are embedded in systems of political, economic and social oppression.

Against outlooks like this statements don’t have a snowball’s chance in hades.

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151 thoughts on “Signers and Decliners

  1. What is the difference between statements, like the Nashville Statement, and our confessions. For some, it’s a matter cheese. For some, our confessions are statements with cheese while today’s statements, like the Nashville Statement, have no cheese. So for some, the Nashville statement is not enough because it has no cheese, that is it is not binding or worth being binding.

    Some see today’s statements as a minimalists approach to addressing today’s issues and thus distracts people from past statements like the confessions. But minimalist statements accommodates the faith of many people today and those who have a strong affinity to their denominations confessions feel that making such accommodations compromises too much so that not all that is needed to be said is said. That seems to be the gist of the article above.

    As for being concerned about different sets of cultural values reflecting racial or cultural supremacy, I don’t think we should be concerned about equality. Rather, we should be open about acknowledging the tradeoffs that each set of cultural values has. In addition, one should see that when one believes that one’s own culture’s values is preferable to the values of other cultures, that does not imply that one has a right to try to force one’s own cultural values on others, And nobody, regardless of the culture they identify with, should think that they have everything to teach people who hold to other cultural values and nothing to learn from them.

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  2. Curt, “one should see that when one believes that one’s own culture’s values is preferable to the values of other cultures, that does not imply that one has a right to try to force one’s own cultural values on others”

    Does that apply to private property, Mr. Socialist?

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  3. I don’t know why Rev Keller didn’t sign, but I wouldn’t have signed (aside from the fact that I don’t like these kind of things anyway) because Article I is wrong in part, Article II is wrong in whole, Article IX is wrong in part, and Article VI is clunky and poorly written, though probably correct.

    But aside from the anti-Scriptural portions and poor hermeneutics, this sort of thing is the EEEEeeeeeeeevangelical version of virtue signaling. The Nashville Statement originated from a Baptist organization, and I’m sure it plays great with the mostly older, mostly white, mostly rural fundamentalist Baptists out there who lap this sort of thing up. It’s a way for the signatories to show their bona fides when its comes to their inclusion in conservative evangelicalism.

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  4. VV, 1) Keller would claim to agree with most of this, but it is surely not nuanced or urbane enough for his end of the park bench. Let’s see what TGC has to say about it. 2) What’s wrong with #2? You sound like an R-rated movie aficionado. 3) It surely is virtue signaling. 4) You are correct that is largely baptist, but that is just a way of saying that it’s evangelical. 5) You are wrong about “mostly rural fundamentalist baptists”. This is largely about upper-middle class megachurchers and culture warriors who can’t quite go liberal on sexual issues, though they will gladly moderate, innovate, and coalitionize on most other ecclesial and social issues.

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  5. Curt: In addition, one should see that when one believes that one’s own culture’s values is preferable to the values of other cultures, that does not imply that one has a right to try to force one’s own cultural values on others

    That’s true for some cultures, but 16-19th century Europeans absolutely believed in the right to impose cultural values on others. So did Communist Chinese, Romans, Babylonians, and Egyptians.

    “No right to impose” is itself a cultural value, and cannot (by your own precept) be imposed on others.

    Welcome to the relativistic meltdown.

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  6. cw – Article II is mostly wrong (I’ll give them “fidelity within marriage”) because the Bible does not teach chastity outside marriage – that’s a cultural import. Interestingly, they don’t provide proof texts for any of these positions, and I think they would have a particularly hard time with Article II. By their logic Abraham, Jacob, Judah, David, Solomon, Esther, the characters of Song of Songs, among others, all lived outside the bounds of Articles I and II with no rebuke whatsoever (indeed, celebration in some cases), not to mention the absence of any general call to chastity in the Torah or NT.

    I agree with you on #4 and #5. I do believe this appeals to rural folk more than urban, but you are on the money with this statement: “This is largely about upper-middle class megachurchers and culture warriors who can’t quite go liberal on sexual issues, though they will gladly moderate, innovate, and coalitionize on most other ecclesial and social issues.”

    Jeff – nailed it.

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  7. It is nearly impossible for anyone, white, black or otherwise to see what happened in Charlottesville and not admit that a wrong occurred — unless you are a white supremacist yourself, that is.

    Kafkatrapping. 15 yard penalty.

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  8. @VV Your criticism of ArticleII is pretty bold. I’m not sure I buy the claim that neither the OT nor NT make a blanket denunciation of extramarital sex. The Westminster standards certainly do so. Not sure that appealing to silence in the description of various OT characters is such a sound exegetical approach.

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  9. sdb – I agree about forming a view of sex based on the absence of criticism: generally not a sound hermeneutic. I grew up believing extramarital sex was inherently sinful, but never felt I could give a good defense of that view when challenged by nonbelievers, or in some cases other Christians. So, I delved into an in depth analysis of what Scripture has to say about sexuality (after I was already married, incidentally) from liberal and conservative sources, and concluded that the Bible clearly teaches that adultery, homosexuality, bestiality, incest, pedophilia, necrophilia, and rape are inherently sinful, but that the rest is unclear at best. I’ve vacillated a bit over the years on extramarital sex (including premarital sex, polygamy and polyamory), but I find that really the best reason to call these practices sinful is because that is the overwhelming view of the church today, which I find unsatisfactory and insufficient if Scripture is to be our rule of faith and life.

    Without going into a complete analysis, I will say that extramarital sex is absolutely nowhere prohibited in the OT law or prophets, and is celebrated directly in Song of Songs and tangentially in Esther. Polygamy and polyamory (concubinage) likewise are celebrated and even labeled a “blessing” from God in the cases of David and Solomon. I find it unfathomable that God would “bless” men with things that are ipso facto sinful. The NT case hinges on the intended meaning of “porneia.” It is hotly debated in Christian and non-Christian academia, but the current scholarly consensus seems to be that porneia probably refers to sexual acts prohibited in the Torah in the broadest possible context. The single case where porneia can be reasonably seen to refer specifically to premarital sex is 1 Corinthians 6, but even then it is unclear if that refers to a general moral prohibition, or a prohibition in the context of Hellenistic culture where women were effectively “owned” by their father or their husband, and had no legal agency to consent to their sexual partners. In any case, the idea that extramarital sex is sinful is uncertain at best.

    I’ve already gone on longer than I intended to on this, but the point is that a Scriptural view of sex does not clearly include a prohibition of extramarital sex. Even Martin Luther said polygamy could not be considered sinful. If Scripture is to be our rule of faith and life, we have to look at what Scripture says, not what the early church fathers or Puritans or anyone else says. The signatories of the Nashville Statement would never explicitly condone premarital sex or polygamy, but the least they could do is not pretend the Scriptural teaching is as clear as it is on homosexuality and adultery.

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  10. I knew a guy who had a friend who was UU. He told my friend that when they had a church retreat or weekend thing someone was always designated as the condom provider — responsible for making sure there were plenty. Maybe the ticket to fun times and unsinful sex is just not to marry. Maybe that was Paul’s point. Silly us.

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  11. WCF 1.6 concept of good and necessary consequence is one of the answers to this odd Kellerian biblicism:

    “vi. The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture…”

    Maybe transfundies (transformational fundamentalists with their own form of mere Xianity) are a new thing.

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  12. @ VV: and the “do not defraud the brother” of 1 Thess 4, and the “whoever joins himself to a prostitute has become one with her” in 1 Cor.

    In other words, sexual ethics don’t merely devolve on inherent rightness and wrongness of sex, but also on integrity of actions-as-relational-statements.

    That said, your point about importing sexual norms from culture is a valid caution, and the problem is evident in discussions of modesty and virginity.

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  13. … the current scholarly consensus seems to be that porneia probably refers…

    ….

    we have to look at what Scripture says, not what the early church fathers or Puritans or anyone else says

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  14. @vv curious. I’m not sure allowances in the OT (accommodations?) are good guides. See for example, Christ’s comment about divorce being allowed in levitical law. In fact, here he points to the garden for the picture of what sex and marriage should entail.

    In a world where premarital sex is acceptable, why would looking at a woman lustfully be wrong? Coupled with Paul’s admonition to marry, Joseph’s example upon learning of Mary’s pregnancy, etc… it seems to me the Westminster stds are on pretty solid ground.

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  15. I thought Solomon’s many wives were a snare? (1Ki 11). Obviously their idolatry is a confounding factor here. But the point is that I don’t recall God approving of Solomon’s many wives.

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  16. @Jeff I think that’s right regarding Solomon (I think Jacob’s experience taking on multiple wives and the problem that caused and Abraham’s experience with Hagar and the turmoil that led to fall into the same category). That being said, we also have the example of levirate marriage. Here it is disgraceful not to take on one’s sister-in-law as a spouse if your deceased brother did not provide a son already. I think this creates the biggest challenge to arguments against polygamy. But it seems to me that this could also be understood in the context of an accommodation to difficulty we face as a result of the fall (in this case the result being death and the need to take care of widows – not totally unlike the option of divorce given to Moses).

    This levirate marriage is probably best exemplified in the case of Boaz and Ruth, and I’m not sure why this doesn’t continue in the NT as it seems to predate the mosaic law and was an established custom going back at least as far as Judah. I suppose Jesus’s teaching on marriage and pointing back to Genesis for the model is the basis of ending this custom?

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  17. cw – the “good and necessary consequence” clause is a very dangerous one, for obvious reasons, as it can lead to a Rabbinical mentality and Pharisaical legalism at worst. Thus its application should be carried out with great care. The authors of the Nashville Statement actually use it appropriately when they claim that God’s design for the sexes precludes transgenderism. Considering the whole counsel of Scripture, the creation order, verses like Deut 22:5, etc this seems to be a wise and appropriate deduction. But claiming that the 7th commandment prohibits all sexual relations outside marriage when the Torah explicitly allows concubines is a poor “deduction,” and is neither good nor necessary.

    As for 1 Corinthians 7:10-11, there are several ways to view it. First is what seems to be your (any many others’) interpretation, that Paul is referring to all sex outside marriage: by getting married they can have sex and not “burn” with passion. Another view is that marriage and sex within marriage prevents sexual sins prohibited by the Torah (adultery, homosexuality, etc), which is probably what Paul had in mind given the broader context of 1 Cor 5-7. Yet another view is that unmarried people idealize and ultimately idolize marriage and sex, and marriage prevents that. This view is based on the fact that “porneia” is often used to describe “idolatry” in contemporary Jewish writings.

    sdb – the context of the Sermon on the Mount is undeniably adultery. Jesus’ point is that desiring to commit adultery is the same as the physical act itself. If He wanted to include all sex outside of marriage, He could have said “you have heard that is was said do not have sex outside of marriage…” But He didn’t, and neither does the rest of the Bible. The problem with Mary’s pregnancy was that Joseph knew the child wasn’t his, normally meaning that she had committed adultery (I know they were just betrothed, but still adultery). Gabriel assures Joseph that Mary has, in fact, been faithful and that Jesus was conceived by God. So the issue wasn’t sex before marriage, the issue was adultery, as Matt 1:19 makes clear by saying that Joseph was “unwilling to put HER to shame.”

    Jeff – I think you hit on the key to understanding the Bible’s regulation of sex: how does sex impact others primarily, and the natural creation order secondarily. Adultery is abhorrent not because of the act of sex, but because it breaks a covenant before God. Rape is wrong because it violates another person. Exploitation and coercion are wrong (1 Thess 4) because they “defraud” another person. Having sex with another man’s slave in the OT is wrong not because of the sex, but because it violates the property of another man. Homosexuality and incest and other acts are prohibited because they are contrary to God’s creation design. Transgenderism is wrong (bringing it back to the Manhattan Statement) because it is contrary to God’s clear creation order and design.

    Consensual sex between an unmarried adult man and woman does not harm any person, nor does it run contrary to the natural order of creation. Same is true with concubinage and polygamy. Now, I’m not advocating for polygamy or polyamory – I’m barely a competent husband to one wife, let alone multiple wives, and suspect the vast majority of people are in the same boat. I’m also not advocating for promiscuity or unbridled sexual activity – sex can be gluttony, idolatry, and reveal a lack of self control both in and out of marriage. My point is that the Bible clearly prohibits things like homosexuality and adultery, but premarital sex and polygamy are a different matter altogether. The authors and signers of the Manhattan Statement would have been wise to stick to the clear teaching of Scripture, and even wiser to provide proof texts and analysis of their assertions, whether or not I agree with them.

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  18. sdb and Jeff – as Jeff notes, the problem with Solomon’s wives was their idolatry. The number of wives and concubines is never criticized, but the fact that his “foreign” wives turned his heart away from worshiping God alone was the problem. Also, God’s blessing of Solomon in 1 Kings 3 must be considered, and his numerous wives were undoubtedly part of that blessing (“no other king shall compare with you”).

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  19. “I know they were just betrothed, but still adultery”
    This is a stretch. If sex between an unmarried man and woman is not problematic, then there should have been no problem on Joseph’s part. Of course your claim that consensual sex between unmarried people doesn’t harm any person ignores the fact of pregnancy that ordinarily arises from such encounters. This is probably why the mosaic law stipulates that an unmarried man who has sex with a woman pay a fine to the father and marry her. Further, a married man who discovers that his bride is not a virgin may have her executed. Now if women can’t have sex before marriage, it seems to me that it is pretty hard to see how it is OK for men to do so. Given this context in the OT, it seems to me that Paul’s description of sexual immorality in the NT would include fornication.

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  20. sdb – exactly, there wasn’t a problem on Joseph’s part. The problem was that he had not had sex with Mary, but she was pregnant. In every case but that one the cause would be adultery. That’s why he intended to divorce her “quietly,” because all the shame would be on her, not him.

    The fine for sex with an unmarried woman was so that the father was not cheated of the bride-price for a virgin daughter. Again, the issue isn’t a moral problem with sex, it’s cheating the father of his payment for a virgin daughter. The same is true of a man who finds his wife was not a virgin: he paid for a virgin, but is given a non-virgin. The issue isn’t sex or even virginity, it’s fair dealing. In effect the man who pays a bride-price for a virgin is being cheated if the woman is actually not a virgin – the moral problem isn’t sex, it’s honesty and fairness. Contrast these laws with the clear prohibitions of sexual practices in Leviticus 18, which are called “abominations” and “abominable customs,” meaning they were immoral in and of themselves.

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  21. @ VV:

    Just exploring here. In Ex 21, the man and woman are found sleeping together. Part of the judgment is that they must marry unless her father refuses consent.

    Why?

    Note that in asking the question I’m not advocating continuation of OT judicial law.

    I merely want to explore: if consensual sex does no harm and is fully acceptable, why is there a sanction?

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  22. @vv I’m not following your case for Mary. She wasn’t married yet, so how could it be adultery?

    Regarding the bit from Deut… stoning for lying or theft seems awfully harsh – even for the Torah. But your inference about the “real” reason for capital punishment in this case goes way beyond the text. A more parsimonious interpretation is simply that pre-marital sex is sinful.

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  23. Jeff – I don’t think there’s a “sanction” in Exodus 22. Look at the preceding verses: they deal with making restitution for lost, stolen, or damaged property. The payment of the bride-price was a form of restitution to the girl’s father, since he would not be able to charge the “virgin bride-price” to anyone else since she was no longer a virgin. Since is a form of restitution to the father, if anyone was “harmed” it was him, not the man or woman. Note that there is no moral condemnation of the sex at all. In modern American society there is no bride-price and no de facto ownership of daughters, and thus no one is harmed when two adults mutually consent to sex. Isn’t that the principle here?

    sdb – in Judiasm – then as now – the first stage of marriage is called kiddushin, which is the “betrothal” period Joseph and Mary were in when she became pregnant. In this stage of marriage a man and woman are absolutely bound to each other and can have sex, but do not live together as the man ritually prepares his home to accept the woman. They are not fully married, but the only way to dissolve the relationship is through death or divorce. A woman who slept with another man during this period would definitely have committed adultery.

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  24. @ VV:

    I was noticing that there were two requirements:

    1. The brideprice must be paid.

    2. The couple must marry (unless the father refuses).

    Since 2 is not logically necessary for 1, it stands apart as a separate sanction.

    So the question is, why 2? Why not simply require that the brideprice be paid, the end?

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  25. @vv In this stage of marriage a man and woman are absolutely bound to each other and can have sex, but do not live together as the man ritually prepares his home to accept the woman.

    I understand the betrothal period prior to the wedding to be chaste (not consummated) based on the following passage in view of the Jewish wedding ceremony practice of a wedding tent for consummation.
    Deuteronomy 22:20 But if the thing is true, that evidence of virginity was not found in the young woman, 21 then they shall bring out the young woman to the door of her father’s house, and the men of her city shall stone her to death with stones, because she has done an outrageous thing in Israel by whoring in her father’s house. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.

    Sexual purity in *all* periods and aspects of life is our Lord’s teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. His definition of adultery included *everyone* who looks with lust. (This is not restricted to married people.) He’s extended the seventh commandment beyond the narrow way you have interpreted it with reference to the O.T. kings, et. al.
    Matthew 5:27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

    Indeed perfect holiness (sinlessness, righteousness, godliness) is the standard for acceptance with God who is Holy, Holy, Holy. (Heb. 12:14) Only by trusting in Christ Jesus as our righteousness (Jeremiah 23:6) are we acceptable to God.

    Similarly Paul warns against sexual impurity (fornication) in listing sins that characterize the unrighteous.
    I Corinthians 6:9 Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, 10 nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.

    I also understand the relationship of Christ to His church to be exemplified in faithful, loving marriage of two (not three or more) individuals who become one flesh.
    Ephesians 5:25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might *be holy and without blemish*. 28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body. 31 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and *the two shall become one flesh.*” 32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that *it refers to Christ and the church*. 33 However, let each one of you love his wife (AFC: not wives) as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband (AFC: not husbands).

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  26. VV,

    If your attempt is to follow the Scriptures on this, why are you advocating (are you advocating?) a position that says polygamy and premarital sex are alright? Does it not cause you to question whether your reading of Scripture is correct since you’re pretty much casting aside moral teaching that transcends the WCF. Rome, the EO, the Reformers, modern eeevangelicals, Pentecostals, the NAPARC denominations, etc. have all been of essentially one voice on this when they haven’t agreed on a whole lot else. Seems odd that what you’re talking about would be correct and everybody else would be wrong?

    And especially so when the only groups I know of that would endorse premarital sex and even polygamy are denominations that have already abandoned biblical authority. Seems to me there might be a connection here…

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  27. The idea of marriage as an illustration of Christ and his church is especially important. The alternative is to be married to or involved with someone other than Christ, ie, false gods. If idolatry is wrong, why would premarital sex be okay, since such a relationship would in essence depict the opposite of marriage to Christ?

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  28. D.G.,
    Obviously, you don’t understand socialism. You might want to ask if the believe in some, not all, private property is based on the denial of our interdependency. In addition, when laws are democratically made, are they being forced on the population?

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  29. vv, “the “good and necessary consequence” clause is a very dangerous one, for obvious reasons, as it can lead to a Rabbinical mentality and Pharisaical legalism at worst.”

    It can even lead to Presbyterianism, and according to some, Tim Keller is Presbyterian.

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  30. vv, Tim Keller should settle this:

    The modern sexual revolution find the idea of abstinence till marriage to be so unrealistic as to be ludicrous. In fact, many people believe it is psychologically unhealthy and harmful. Yet despite the contemporary incredulity, this has been the unquestioned uniform teaching of not only one but all of the Christian churches—Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant.

    The Bible does not counsel sexual abstinence before marriage because it has such a low view of sex but because it has such a lofty one. The Biblical view implies that sex outside of marriage is not just morally wrong but also personally harmful. If sex is designed to be part of making a covenant and experiencing that covenant’s renewal, then we should think of sex as an emotional “commitment apparatus.”

    If sex is a method that God invented to do “whole life entrustment” and self-giving, it should not surprise us that sex makes us feel deeply connected to the other person, even when used wrongly. Unless you deliberately disable it, or through practice you numb the original impulse, sex makes you feel personally interwoven and joined to another human being, as you are literally physically joined. In the midst of sexual passion, you naturally want to say extravagant things such as, “I’ll always love you.”

    Even if you are not legally married, you may find yourself quickly feeling marriage-like ties, feeling that the other person has obligations to you. But that other person has no legal, social, or moral responsibility to even call you back in the morning. This incongruity leads to jealousy and hurt feelings and obsessiveness if two people are having sex but are not married. It makes breaking up vastly harder than it should be. It leads many people to stay trapped in relationships that are not good because of a feeling of having (somehow) connected themselves.

    Therefore, if you have sex outside marriage, you will have to steel yourself against sex’s power to soften your hear toward another person and make you more trusting. The problem is that, eventually, sex will lose its covenant-making power for you, even if you one day do get married. Ironically, then, sex outside of marriage eventually works backwards, making you less able to commit and trust another person. (The Meaning of Marriage, 225-27)

    Sex before marriage must be bad.

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  31. D.G.,
    Again, is the belief in some private property a denial of our interdependency? And by some I am referring to private property used for commerce? That question should answer your question.

    BTW, Marx counted as the abolition of private property the state where those without property could make laws governing those with property. That is in his second epistle to Munich.

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  32. Jeff – there are two reasons the man must marry the woman. First, it is a form of protection for her, since in the ancient patriarchal culture of the Israelites a woman was essentially hopeless unless she “belonged” to a man, usually her father or husband. This is why the levirate law was established and why there is such great concern for widows throughout the Bible. Second, this will seem crass and insensitive, but it is effectively a “you break it, you buy it” mentality. The father can no longer procure a virgin bride-price for his daughter, so the man pays it and thus she belongs to him. Again, the harm here is to the father, not the man or woman.

    AFC – you misunderstand the nature of the Jewish marriage customs, which is very common in the Christian community. The misunderstanding arises because even though the man and woman (Mary and Joseph) are married, they do not live together. Again, this does not preclude sex (though obviously not in the case of Mary and Joseph, since she was a virgin when Jesus was conceived), but it is not a full-fledged marriage, even though the two are bound to each other. The closest thing in Christian/Western culture is an engagement, but this is not at all the nature of the kiddushin, which is basically an incomplete marriage.

    Robert – absolutely, you are correct. As I said earlier, the best reason I could find to adhere to the idea that premarital sex and polygamy/polyamoral are sinful is because that is the overwhelming view of Christianity today. I could very well be wrong – I’m far from absolutely certain about it. At the same time, if you set out to make an objective case for extramarital sex being sinful and a case for it being acceptable, the case for it being acceptable is much stronger from a Scriptural exegesis standpoint. While I went back and forth on the Torah and NT exhortations, what put me in the “acceptable” camp was an understanding that the couple in the Song of Songs is unmarried. That being the case, it forces us to either completely re-translate the meaning of the book to fit our understanding of sexuality, or it forces us to adjust our understanding of sexuality to fit what Scripture says. To my knowledge, no one has questioned – from ancient rabbinical teaching to modern day conservative Christians – that the book is a celebration of sexual love, and on a deeper level an allegory of God’s love for his people. That being the case, since the couple is not married – and it is almost impossible to make the case that they are married – then we have an entire book of the Bible celebrating unmarried sexuality. How do we deal with that? Do we brush it under the rug or do we wrestle with the implications of that for our understanding of sex?

    DGH – as much as I admire Keller, I disagree with him here. I do believe sex finds its highest fulfillment and meaning in marriage, but that does not preclude sex outside marriage. Besides, viewing sex as the primary means of “covenant-making” is a vast overstatement.

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  33. VV,

    That seems an awfully weak argument, however. The deciding factor is a poetic book with a hotly contested interpretative history? I think its obvious that the book is about sexual intimacy, but it’s by no means clear that it’s “nearly impossible” to view it as the song of a married couple. It’s also not clear that it’s not or that the book is describing something that has taken place vs. anticipation of something in the future in a covenantal context. And given the discussion of the bride price and ancient marriage customs, it seems awfully odd that an inspired writer would celebrate extramarital/premarital sex in such a way if it could “ruin” one of the persons.

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  34. Robert – I’ll grant that there are enigmatic aspects to Song of Songs; the exact nature of Solomon’s involvement is chief among them. But there is no mention of marriage or covenant in the entire book, and every Hebrew scholar I’ve read says she claims not to be a virgin in the 6th verse of the book (“my own vineyards I have not kept”). The exotic locations of their encounters could be poetic inventions or could indicate lack of a permanent home, indicating they are unmarried. Regardless, if God intended sex to be strictly limited to marriage, isn’t it strange that He never indicates that in His law or in an entire book of Scripture dedicated to sexuality?

    And it’s not the girl who is “ruined.” What is ruined is the transaction of the bride-price for her father. Interestingly though, in Song of Songs there is also no mention of her father – only brothers. Maybe that’s the reason for her sexual freedom?

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  35. @ VV:

    First, I want to echo Robert’s point in a particular way. You are absolutely within your right to ask for Christian doctrine to be based on sound exegesis, so your appeal to Scripture is procedural in order. That said, the fact that you are taking a position contrary to pretty much the entire church across denominations places you with full burden of proof.

    So, I want to consider your points.

    VV: While I went back and forth on the Torah and NT exhortations, what put me in the “acceptable” camp was an understanding that the couple in the Song of Songs is unmarried.

    I’m confused.

    3.11: Go out, O daughters of Zion,
    and look upon King Solomon,
    with the crown with which his mother crowned him
    on the day of his wedding,
    on the day of the gladness of his heart.

    4.1: Your eyes are doves
    behind your veil.

    4.8 – 12: … my bride … my bride … my bride … my bride …

    I’ve always read this as a wedding in chap 3, with the resultant “my bride” in chap 4.

    VV: there are two reasons the man must marry the woman. First, it is a form of protection for her, since in the ancient patriarchal culture of the Israelites a woman was essentially hopeless unless she “belonged” to a man, usually her father or husband…

    I’m confused further. If the woman remained unmarried, she would still be under the protection of her father. So there does not seem to be any added benefit to requiring that she marry, since she would be moving from protection to protection.

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  36. D.G.,
    But such a view shows a myopic version of interdependence. The market is not good at identifying all of its stakeholders.. That is because it only seeks to benefit some of them.

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  37. Jeff – thank you for your thoughtful response. A couple of quick points. First, regarding Song of Songs, the characters of Chapter 4 are different from those at the beginning of the book. Solomon was never anything like a shepherd, so far as we know, so it makes no sense to view him as the man depicted in most of the book. The appearance of Solomon and his “bride” can be explained in several ways: 1. The book is an anthology of poems, rather than a continuous narrative, 2. The woman in the book envisions her lover as a king like Solomon (Solomon being the archetype) in a sort of fantasy version of her relationship with the shepherd, 3. The appearance of Solomon and his bride alludes to Psalm 45 and therefore has Messianic overtones. There are other interpretations, but at the very least the book celebrates unmarried erotic love in its first chapters, if not throughout.

    As for the bride-price, the main reason for the marriage is because the man paid for her, and therefore has a right to marry her. The “protection” is probably in the case that her father died or disowned her or some other reason. Regardless, the issue is the fair restitution for damaged property, not the moral aspect of premarital sex.

    I agree with you and Robert that my view of premarital sex/polygamy/polyamory goes against the grain of Christian thinking, at least today. My concern with the Christian community in general and the Reformed community in particular is the reluctance to really study the Bible and sex in an objective way, realizing that it might conflict with traditional views, including the WLC. For example, how can so many theologically sound Reformed men sign a document like the Nashville Statement, Article II of which says “God’s will for all people is chastity outside of marriage” when God’s Word allows, regulates, condones, and ultimately celebrates concubinage? Thus Article II is false on its face, because chastity was obviously not God’s will for His people in the OT, and therefore is not His will for ALL people.

    We have to wrestle with issues like polygamy and concubinage and premarital sex rather than glossing over them and spouting the standard lines that sound holy and pious. Sex in the Bible can be very complicated, because the ancient views of sex and gender roles were dramatically different from our views today, not to mention social class, slavery, etc. For example, based on the Torah it was not adultery to have sex with a slave or concubine, even though it was sex with
    a woman other than your wife. This was because the slave and concubine were essentially property, and thus were not really “people” in the same way the wife is a person. This is a completely foreign way of thinking to us in 2017, but we have to understand the ancient views on a variety of social issues to fully understand Scriptural teaching. Thus we have to interpret what the Bible says about sex very carefully to develop a systematic doctrine of sex that reflects the intent of the inspired authors.

    DGH – no, because they haven’t actually consummated anything.

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  38. VV,

    For example, based on the Torah it was not adultery to have sex with a slave or concubine, even though it was sex with a woman other than your wife.

    Given your statements, I’m curious whether or not you would consider it adultery for a married person to have sex with an unmarried person. After all, the Greco-Roman ethic was that it was prudent to go to the temple prostitutes to protect you from adultery–because adultery was sleeping with a married man’s wife (echoing your comments about women’s sexuality historically being tied to the honor of the man to whom she belonged). Given everything you’ve articulated about sex between consenting adults not being harmful, on what grounds are extra-marital relations prohibited? And I will add one more thing–what do you think about the use of pornography?

    Deeply considering sexual ethics is important, but I’m afraid that your rationale is opening a Pandora’s Box of problems that fly in the face of Scripture.

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  39. VV,

    Re: The signers of the Nashville Declaration and the OT.

    I think it’s fair to say that the assumption of the declaration is that we are not guided by the specifically theocratic principles given to the Israelite nation-state in the new covenant era. Thus I’m not sure why the call for chastity outside of marriage as God’s will for ALL people is problematic.

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  40. VV,

    I don’t think anyone disagrees that we need to understand the ancients’ views of such issues in order to develop a sexual ethic, but it’s really complicated.

    Sure we can see in the OT instances of the patriarchs soliciting prostitutes (Judah and Tamar, for example). We also see laws regulating polygamy. And we could say other things as well. But then of course, we are confronted with New Testament teaching where Jesus appeals to the singular male-female pair as well as Paul’s instructions that an elder may have only one wife.

    Clearly, based on the NT, the singular pairing is ideal. But then what to make of these other things.

    1. Re: OT prostitution; I don’t recall where it is ever discussed in a positive context. It’s certainly negative in the cases of Judah and Samson. Is the OT giving moral approval of the practice? Seems quite unlikely. Perhaps what we are to take from these stories is that the practice is most unwise and leads to trouble and not to then infer from that that extramarital sex of whatever kind is okay. I think stories like these are more along the line of “Yeah, prostitution (and extramarital sex in general) is sin, but they aren’t the worst possible sins imaginable.”

    2. Polygamy: You have to look at why and how it’s practiced. You can end up with situations like levirate marriages where a man has more than one wife on account of tragedy, and the law is given because that was the best way to protect the woman in that ancient culture. Transferring it over into our culture where there are other ways to protect women is unnecessary.

    But just looking at the NT evidence, it seems awfully clear that any idea of polygamy or polyamory is foreign to the NT authors as being compatible with the Christian profession. At best you might have a situation where the gospel comes to a polygamous culture and people are converted. What do you do then? Seems like you don’t tell the men to divorce all their wives, as that would compound problems. On the other hand, you don’t let them serve as elders either.

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  41. I always thought the curmudgeon reformed were the trustees of doctrinal orthodoxy, and yet, now an argument at OL about the Biblical ethics of polyamory?! Who wudda thunk it. Chortles, where art thou? Say it ain’t so!

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  42. DGH – sex CAN consummate a union, but it doesn’t ALWAYS consummate a union. Was there a “union” between Solomon and his concubines? The flaw in your logic is the same as the flaw in Dr. Keller’s re: covenant-making. Christ was worried about the desire to commit adultery; the sex of the person is irrelevant.

    Brandon and Robert – yeah, I agree with you, it’s very complicated and difficult to draw a neat correlation between ancient patriarchal culture – both ANE and Greco-Roman – and modern Western culture when it comes to sexual ethics. It always amuses me when gay activists claim that the ancient Greeks were very tolerant of LGBTQ people. Little do they realize that the idea of two men mutually consenting to sex would be bizarre and deviant to the Greeks (in most Greek cities, not all) and especially the Romans, who tolerated homosexuality only in the context of a free man gaining pleasure from a slave or adolescent. It would be highly taboo for a free adult man to consent to sex with another free adult man, and gay marriage would be inconceivable. In essence they tolerated homosexuality only in the context of what we would consider to be rape. Hardly an open and tolerant society.

    Anyway, the point is finding consistent biblical principles for sexuality in our culture is difficult, and the NT is not as clear on this as you make it seem. As I noted in an earlier post, the NT view of sex really hinges on the use of the word “porneia,” which is currently the subject of much scholarly debate. The problem is the word is used very inconsistently in extra-biblical writings, so it’s hard to pin down exactly what the NT authors intended. It could mean anything from “idolatry” to “all sex outside marriage,” though neither of these were the common usages. There seems to be a growing consensus that porneia in the NT refers to all sexual activity forbidden by the Torah, which is why understanding the OT’s sexual laws is so crucial to this discussion. The meaning could be purely contextual, in which case there is really no clear indication that it refers specifically to premarital sex except possibly in 1 Cor 6, when Paul discusses prostitution. But again, is Paul condemning all extramarital sex? Sex with prostitutes? Sex with temple prostitutes? Promiscuity and lack of self-control given the cultural mores in Corinth? It can be taken different ways, but to make a case that premarital sex is sinful, that’s the best NT passage. And even that is ambiguous.

    So to answer your question, Brandon, a married man having sex with an unmarried woman today would be sinful because there is no concept of a “lower class” or “slave” or “concubine” or “dishonored” woman the way there was at the time. Today all persons are considered to have equal moral and legal standing – at least in Western culture – and thus to sleep with any other woman is adultery. As for pornography, I don’t think it is inherently sinful, but it easily leads to sin and sexual addiction and a host of other pathological problems, and thus I believe it is very unwise to use it in general. I was exposed to pornography through a roommate in college, and found it to be more disgusting than arousing (apparently it was of very low quality), so I have never had a desire to watch porn, and it’s hard for me to understand why so many people are into it. That said, sexual arousal is never condemned at all in Scripture, so I’m not sure we should classify porn as sinful per se, though perhaps, like polygamy, it is dangerous and only properly used by a very select few.

    As I posted in response to Jeff earlier in the discussion, the guiding principles from Scripture seem to be that sex is morally permissible as long as it does not harm anyone (e.g. adultery, rape) or violate the natural order of creation (e.g. homosexuality, bestiality). In 21st century Western culture, two unmarried consenting adults of the opposite sex do not violate these principles. Am I 100% certain this is correct? No. Would I fall on my sword for it? Of course not. But like it or not, or whether it fits with our pre-conceived ideas or not, I think this is correct considering the whole counsel of Scripture. I think this is a good discussion, and one the Reformed community would benefit from having.

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  43. Petros says: I always thought the curmudgeon reformed were the trustees of doctrinal orthodoxy, and yet, now an argument at OL about the Biblical ethics of polyamory?! Who wudda thunk it. Chortles, where art thou? Say it ain’t so!

    astounding, isn’t it

    re cw , he did say :-cw l’unificateur says: VV, tell me you’re not a youth leader or volunteer
    but maybe he hasn’t said anything more not to be distracted from more heinous sins such as “from circumstances of time, and place: if on the Lord’s day, or other times of divine worship; or immediately before or after these”…

    -John 17:3 This is eternal life, that they may KNOW You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.
    -1 John 5:20 And we know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding so that we may KNOW Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life.

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  44. Liberal Christians Figure They’ll Go Ahead And Accept Polygamy As Well

    U.S.—In a strong show of opposition to the recently released Nashville Statement outlining a conservative biblical view of marriage and gender, the entirety of the nation’s liberal Christians got together Wednesday to draft and sign a document called “Christians Really United: In Support Of Polygamist Inclusion in the Church.”

    After the release of the “progressive manifesto,” many celebrated by marching in the streets and protesting outside churches that currently consider polygamy and polyamory sinful, waving signs and banners and chanting sayings such as “You’re welcome in God’s house, with more than one spouse.”

    “I mean, why not, you know? You do you,” one progressive leader said to reporters. “God made some people to desire more than one spouse. That’s how God made them, and He doesn’t make mistakes. And just because some fundamentalists cling to an ancient dogma promoting the heteronormative, patriarchal, binary, monogamous sexuality and gender paradigm, doesn’t mean that we enlightened ones will not follow the Spirit’s call to a sexual reformation in this new age.”

    “We’ve gotten so far with inclusion of the LGBT+ folks, how can we possibly sit by and let the polygamous children of God suffer and wallow in shame, as lowbrows with toxic theology call them ‘sinners’ who need to ‘repent?’” she added, waving her banner.

    At publishing time, an inebriated crowd of progressive protesters was set to go ahead and OK drunkenness also.

    http://babylonbee.com/news/liberal-christians-figure-theyll-go-ahead-accept-polygamy-well/

    Liked by 1 person

  45. Hi VV,

    I don’t know how much time or effort you want to put into this, but I would like to pursue this further.

    (1) On SoS, I remain unconvinced. You assert,

    Solomon was never anything like a shepherd, so far as we know, so it makes no sense to view him as the man depicted in most of the book.

    But SoS does not present “Solomon” as a shepherd, but as a king (ch 3).

    Granted: There are two places that refer to “Solomon” pasturing his flock — 2.16, 6.2 “My beloved has gone down … to pasture his flock in the gardens and to gather lilies.” Maybe this is utterly literal. But if so, “Solomon” is a terrible shepherd, to let his goats or sheep feed in the gardens, and even to graze among the lilies (2.16), most species of which are poisonous.

    I would suggest a different interpretation. First, 1.1, 1.9 (whose mare gets to be among the chariots of Pharaoh?), 3.6-11, and 8.11 – 12 are sufficiently dispositive that the poem is intended to represent Solomon and not a random person calling himself “Solomon.”

    PG-13 alert!

    Second, given that the woman calls herself and her nether parts by the metaphor “lilies” (2.1-2, 7.2), I think we should probably understand “he pastures his flock among the lilies” as a sexual metaphor. As mentioned above, it would be bizarre to pasture actual sheep in gardens and among lilies.

    I’m not absolutely sold on this point, but I would rate the sexual interpretation to be at least 3x more likely than actual shepherding here.

    End of alert!

    VV: The appearance of Solomon and his “bride” can be explained in several ways: 1. The book is an anthology of poems, rather than a continuous narrative, 2. The woman in the book envisions her lover as a king like Solomon (Solomon being the archetype) in a sort of fantasy version of her relationship with the shepherd, 3. The appearance of Solomon and his bride alludes to Psalm 45 and therefore has Messianic overtones. There are other interpretations …

    I would certainly agree that the book is an anthology, with all of the poems clearly written by the same author based on style and vocabulary. That said, the simplest explanation would seemingly be that the song is that of Solomon, putting together various images, mostly from the point of view of his bride.

    I would suggest that positing a different lover who imagines himself to be Solomon is possible, but needs strong evidence.

    VV: but at the very least the book celebrates unmarried erotic love in its first chapters, if not throughout.

    Hm. Maybe, maybe not. Consider:

    Interpretation 1 — SoS is a chronological narrative. In this case, the wedding happens in ch 3, while clearly some sexual activity is taking place in 1.2 – 4 and 1.12 – 2.6. So premarital sex is happening, and is celebrated.

    Interpretation 2 — SoS is a dischronologized montage of poems describing their relationship, with memories of sweet times, hard times, and their wedding day. In this case, the events of 1.2 – 4 and 1.12 – 2.6 are not definitely premarital.

    Which of these is more likely? Given that 3.1 – 4 is chronologically out of place, I would suggest that dischronologization is the most likely.

    So where does this leave us? Certainly, I have not by good and necessary consequence shown that SoS must be by Solomon and must be describing married love only.

    But I have shown that your claim “at the very least the book [SoS] celebrates unmarried erotic love in its first chapters, if not throughout” is over-confident in resting on one particular reading among at least two plausible readings. That being said, I would prefer to say that “SoS might, on one reading, celebrate unmarried love; or it might not.” I would even push further and say that the unmarried interpretation is less likely.

    Thoughts?

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  46. Petros, so why didn’t curmudgeon reformed get credit for supporting Tim Keller when proponent of polyamory was defending Keller?

    Your selectivity skirt is showing.

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  47. DGH – there’s no question Paul is saying a union of sorts happens during sex, but it is not necessarily a covenant union. The Corinthians seemed to think the appetite for sex is the same as the appetite for food (v 13), but Paul corrects this idea and admonishes them to flee sexual immorality (“porneia”) in v 18 because of the unique dangers it poses to believers. That is why, in context, Paul is probably warning them of unbridled sexual engagement with prostitutes, especially with pagan cult prostitutes.

    And for the record, I’m not a “proponent” of polygamy or polyamory. My point is that they cannot be condemned out of hand the way the Nashville Statement condemns them based on Scripture.

    Jeff – I’m happy to continue this discussion as long as you are. The Song of Solomon is a fascinating book on a variety of levels. I think the key difference between our interpretations is that you view Solomon as the author and/or as the “Beloved” throughout, while I don’t believe this interpretation fits with the structure of the book or the historical context.

    First, the idea of Solomonic authorship is problematic. For one thing, the first recorded marriage of Solomon is to Pharaoh’s daughter, and his lover in Song of Songs does not fit that description at all. So, this must be a previous or (less likely) subsequent romance that is otherwise unrecorded, though that seems unlikely given Solomon’s other writings and what we know of his life. The second problem is that while it could be a fictitious account of ideal romantic love, it would seem strange for him to introduce himself in an idealized form in some sort of court procession when he otherwise depicts himself as a shepherd. Third, the reference to Solomon in 1:1 does not imply authorship – it could be a dedication or simply indicate that it was a book written at the time of Solomon, which was common in extra-biblical Hebrew poetry. It’s not impossible that the book was written by Solomon, but it is unlikely.

    Second, the idea that Solomon is the main character in these poems is equally problematic. As noted above, the historical context excludes Solomon, unless you take all the references to the shepherd as a grand extended sexual metaphor. I’ve read multiple commentaries on this – from conservative Reformed theologians to non-Christian Hebrew scholars – and all agree that Solomon is unlikely to be the same person as the shepherd. References to Solomon could serve to (1) contrast the rural settings of the lovemaking with the royal court, (2) tie in the allegory of the intimate romance to God’s love for His people, (3) show that the woman views the man as the most regal and noble of kings because of her love for him, (4) simply allude to contemporary historical context, or (5) show Solomon as a sort of bully who interferes with the love of the two main characters. The last possibility is very unlikely given that the book was either written by Solomon or dedicated to him.

    In terms of structure, I agree that it is likely an anthology of thematically linked poems arranged to form a loose narrative. That said, there is no reason to place the events of Chapters 1-2 after the events of Chapter 3. For one thing, it is not clear that the procession in Chapter 3 is a wedding. It could be, but the only reference to a wedding is the description of the crown Solomon wore on his wedding day. Otherwise there is nothing about the scene to suggest a wedding. But even if it does depict a wedding, it is clearly a royal wedding. If Solomon is the same person as the shepherd, then your Interpretation 2 could be correct. But if Solomon is not the shepherd – and that seems to be the clear consensus view – then the wedding is not relevant to the lovers at all, and my contention that their lovemaking is not connected to marriage or covenant is correct.

    The bottom line is the celebrated lovemaking of the Song of Songs occurs after marriage only if you believe ALL of the following: that Solomon is the same person as the shepherd, that the events of Chapter 3 depict the wedding of Solomon/shepherd to the female character, and that Chapters 1-2 take place after the wedding in Chapter 3. As I noted above, you are in a small minority if you believe Solomon and the shepherd are the same person. Chapter 3 may or may not depict a royal wedding – I’ll give your view the benefit of the doubt and grant that it does. Even if it is a wedding, it is not the wedding of the shepherd unless we grant that the shepherd is Solomon, which, again, is unlikely. There is no evidence at all that Chapters 1-2 take place after Chapter 3, whatever your other views of the book and the characters. All that being said, the lovemaking in the Song of Songs is very likely outside of marriage. The main reason to put it in the context of marriage is to presuppose a biblical ethic that requires sex only within marriage, and then interpret Song of Songs to fit that ethic. In my view that is inappropriate and unwarranted.

    I want to reiterate the importance of this discussion: if Song of Songs celebrates an unmarried erotic romance, then it requires us to seriously reconsider the prevailing Christian view of extramarital sex in general, and premarital sex in particular. How can we possibly say that extramarital sex is necessarily sinful if an entire book of the Bible celebrates it? The standard Christian – including Reformed – exegesis of the Song of Songs assumes extramarital sex is sinful and then interprets the sex in the book as necessarily being within marriage, even though the book itself leads to the opposite conclusion. I could understand this approach if there was a clear – or even strongly implied – moral condemnation of extramarital sex elsewhere in Scripture (especially the Torah), but there’s not. Again, this is a discussion well worth having.

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  48. VV,

    The second problem is that while it could be a fictitious account of ideal romantic love, it would seem strange for him to introduce himself in an idealized form in some sort of court procession when he otherwise depicts himself as a shepherd.

    It’s not strange when you consider that Ancient Near Eastern kings even outside Israel commonly referred to themselves as shepherds…

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  49. Dear VV, Hebrews 13:4 Marriage is to be held in honor among all and the marriage bed is to be undefiled for fornicators and adulterers God will judge.

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  50. D.G.,
    I agree with that statement. At the same time, mere loyalty to a group is not tribalism. Tribalism comes into play when loyalty is strong enough to interfere with and prohibit us from being objective in how we see our own group and how we see those from other groups.Tribalism comes into play when loyalty is so strong that it moves us to embrace moral relativity.

    The issue in tribalism isn’t mere loyalty, it is a strong loyalty that causes us to embrace moral relativity.

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  51. Robert – I won’t claim to be an expert on royal ANE poetry, but my understanding is that rulers referred to themselves as shepherds, not depicted themselves as shepherds in an erotic collection of poems. Solomon never refers to himself as a shepherd in any of his other writings.

    Ali – thanks for that confirmation that adultery is sinful.

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  52. Vae victis (@masonmandy) says: Ali – thanks for that confirmation that adultery is sinful.

    VV, then why are you trying to confuse people? You will give an account.
    Harlotry takes away understanding and a spirit of harlotry leads astray from devotion to the Lord.
    We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.

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  53. VV: Short on time, so two quick things

    VV: I’ve read multiple commentaries on this – from conservative Reformed theologians to non-Christian Hebrew scholars – and all agree that Solomon is unlikely to be the same person as the shepherd.

    Can you give me references? I’m looking at multiple commentaries that are all unanimous in affirming that Solomon is the author, and in rejecting the “two-lover” theory.

    VV: The main reason to put it in the context of marriage is to presuppose a biblical ethic that requires sex only within marriage, and then interpret Song of Songs to fit that ethic. In my view that is inappropriate and unwarranted.

    You’ve made several statements like this that imply bad faith on the part of those who hold that SoS depicts married love. I want to encourage caution on your part in imputing motives to others. Viewpoints — such as my viewpoint on SoS — are formed from interlocking propositions that can be very tenacious yet without being held in bad faith.

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  54. VV,

    I won’t claim to be an expert on royal ANE poetry, but my understanding is that rulers referred to themselves as shepherds, not depicted themselves as shepherds in an erotic collection of poems. Solomon never refers to himself as a shepherd in any of his other writings.

    We have only a very small sample of Solomon’s actual writings. At most we have all of SoS and Ecclesiastes (though that’s debatable) and a good portion, but not all of, the Proverbs.

    But in any case, it’s not hard to jump from kings referring to themselves as shepherds to depicting themselves as shepherds even if Solomon possibly is the only one to ever have done so.

    The simple point is that its not inherently odd for a king to paint himself as a shepherd in a poem. At best it’s unusual.

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  55. Jeff – my sources are Keil & Delitzsch OT Commentary, Richard Hess’s commentary on SOS, Tremper Longman’s commentary on SOS, Robert’s Alter’s translation/commentary in Strong as Death is Love. All of them strongly support a two-person interpretation, and all consider Solomonic authorship as unlikely.

    Fair point about my implications of bad faith. That was not intentional, but I appreciate your correction.

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  56. Vae victis (@masonmandy) says: Ali – the point of the discussion is determining exactly what obedience entails when it comes to sexuality. We should do what Scripture commands, not what seems right to us.

    It is apparent, VV, from your comments and refusal to accept a number of others input, that you have a settled certainty in your mind. I think if we had a member in our little church espousing and counseling others with your opinions in this, he/she would be counseled and disciplined.

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  57. Ali – I have said multiple times in this thread that I am not “certain” I’m right, and acknowledge the majority of traditional Christian teaching disagrees with my views.

    Jeff – I want to clarify something I said earlier in our discussion. I mentioned that the authors I cited “strongly” support a two-person view of the male character in SOS. Delitzsch actually views the book as a total allegory, so he sort of believes that Solomon was the shepherd, but that the book is purely symbolic with no “real” characters anyway.

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  58. Vae victis (@masonmandy) says: Ali – I have said multiple times in this thread that I am not “certain” I’m right

    I think I saw once in the thread of you not being certain , otherwise there’s these:

    Vae victis (@masonmandy) says: Article I is wrong in part, Article II is wrong in whole, Article IX is wrong in part

    Vae victis (@masonmandy) says: cw – Article II is mostly wrong because the Bible does not teach chastity outside marriage – that’s a cultural import, not to mention the absence of any general call to chastity in the Torah or NT.

    Vae victis (@masonmandy) says: I’ve vacillated a bit over the years on extramarital sex (including premarital sex, polygamy and polyamory), but I find that really the best reason to call these practices sinful is because that is the overwhelming view of the church today, which I find unsatisfactory and insufficient if Scripture is to be our rule of faith and life.

    Vae victis (@masonmandy) says the point is that a Scriptural view of sex does not clearly include a prohibition of extramarital sex.

    Vae victis (@masonmandy) says: extramarital sex is absolutely nowhere prohibited in the OT law or prophets, and is celebrated directly in Song of Songs and tangentially in Esther. Polygamy and polyamory (concubinage) likewise are celebrated and even labeled a “blessing” from God in the cases of David and Solomon.

    Vae victis (@masonmandy) says:The single case where porneia can be reasonably seen to refer specifically to premarital sex is 1 Corinthians 6, but even then it is unclear if that refers to a general moral prohibition, or a prohibition in the context of Hellenistic culture where women were effectively “owned” by their father or their husband, and had no legal agency to consent to their sexual partners. In any case, the idea that extramarital sex is sinful is uncertain at best.

    Vae victis (@masonmandy) says the point is that a Scriptural view of sex does not clearly include a prohibition of extramarital sex.

    Vae victis (@masonmandy) says: But claiming that the 7th commandment prohibits all sexual relations outside marriage when the Torah explicitly allows concubines is a poor “deduction,” and is neither good nor necessary.

    Vae victis (@masonmandy) says: As for 1 Corinthians 7:10-11, Another view is that marriage and sex within marriage prevents sexual sins prohibited by the Torah (adultery, homosexuality, etc), which is probably what Paul had in mind given the broader context of 1 Cor 5-7.

    Vae victis (@masonmandy) says:Consensual sex between an unmarried adult man and woman does not harm any person, nor does it run contrary to the natural order of creation. Same is true with concubinage and polygamy. My point is that the Bible clearly prohibits things like homosexuality and adultery, but premarital sex and polygamy are a different matter altogether.

    Vae victis (@masonmandy) says: Also, God’s blessing of Solomon in 1 Kings 3 must be considered, and his numerous wives were undoubtedly part of that blessing (“no other king shall compare with you”).

    Vae victis (@masonmandy) says: At the same time, if you set out to make an objective case for extramarital sex being sinful and a case for it being acceptable, the case for it being acceptable is much stronger from a Scriptural exegesis standpoint…since the couple is not married – and it is almost impossible to make the case that they are married – then we have an entire book of the Bible celebrating unmarried sexuality.

    Vae victis (@masonmandy) says: As for pornography, I don’t think it is inherently sinful ..and That said, sexual arousal is never condemned at all in Scripture, so I’m not sure we should classify porn as sinful per se, though perhaps, like polygamy, it is dangerous and only properly used by a very select few.

    Vae victis (@masonmandy) says: the guiding principles from Scripture seem to be that sex is morally permissible as long as it does not harm anyone. In 21st century Western culture, two unmarried consenting adults of the opposite sex do not violate these principles. …I think this is correct considering the whole counsel of Scripture.

    Vae victis (@masonmandy) says: DGH – there’s no question Paul is saying a union of sorts happens during sex, but it is not necessarily a covenant union. That is why, in context, Paul is probably warning them of unbridled sexual engagement with prostitutes, especially with pagan cult prostitutes.

    Vae victis (@masonmandy) says As I noted above, you are in a small minority if you believe Solomon and the shepherd are the same person.

    Vae victis (@masonmandy) says: For example, how can so many theologically sound Reformed men sign a document like the Nashville Statement, Article II of which says “God’s will for all people is chastity outside of marriage” when God’s Word allows, regulates, condones, and ultimately celebrates concubinage? Thus Article II is false on its face, because chastity was obviously not God’s will for His people in the OT, and therefore is not His will for ALL people.

    Vae victis (@masonmandy) says: If He (Jesus) wanted to include all sex outside of marriage, He could have said “you have heard that is was said do not have sex outside of marriage…” But He didn’t, and neither does the rest of the Bible.

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  59. Hi Vae,

    Thanks. I have KD here, and have access to Henry, Tyndale (Duguid), and Barnes at school. I’ve also looked at Roland Murphy’s take on authorship, and I have Dillard and Longman’s Intro to OT.

    Henry, Tyndale, Barnes all take a straightforward Solomonic authorship approach and a straightforward “Solomon and his bride” approach, at points forcefully rejecting the two-lover reading.

    KD does not actually think of the book as allegorical, but as typological:

    We see therein the mystery of the love of Christ and His church shadowed forth, not, however, allegorically, but typically [KD 499]

    This is actually an important distinction, since types are actual historical figures.

    Delitszchspwwthh then puts the work forward as a dramatic pastoral in six acts, the third of which is the marriage of Solomon to the Shulamite.

    Murphy is exceedingly uncertain about authorship.

    DL have an interesting take:

    More troubling, though, is the contrast between the love described in the Song and the picture that the book of Kings gives us of a man [Solomon] with many wives and concubines…Further, those passages within the book that mention Solomon by name seem to look at him from a distance…On the other hand, there are many features of the book that are best explained as originating in the Solomonic period… [Dillard/Longman An Introduction to the Old Testament 264]

    but then

    Nowhere in the book are the lover or the beloved said to be married. Also, though there are wedding songs, no marriage ceremony is explicit in the book. However, the canonical context of the book makes it clear that this poem describing such intense lovemaking between the two requires that we presume they are married…In other words, the Song must be interpreted within the context of the law of God, which prohibits any kind of pre- or extramarital intercourse. [DL 263]

    So reflecting on all this, I observe

    (1) One’s opinion seems to be heavily shaped by what one has read. In my case, I had never read *anyone* prior to last week who had even suggested that the two characters (much less three!) were unmarried. In your case, your sources seemed unanimous in the other direction, although perhaps KD is more “standard” than you realized.

    This suggests that we might need to seek objective, textual reasons for clarity, OR admit that dogmatism is impossible on the basis of SoS alone.

    (2) The Solomonic authorship stands alone from the question of whether the characters are married.

    Thoughts?

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  60. D.G.,
    Yes, objective. For if our presuppositions don’t help us to decipher reality, then what good are they. In addition, the lenses we gain from Biblically supported presuppositions are not the same as the lenses we get from loyalty to a particular group of people.

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  61. D.G.,
    You assuming that I have a lack humor let alone that that deficiency is the only explanation for me not responding the way you wanted. It seems to me from my participation on blogs that theologians need to take logic classes before they should try to make conclusions based on “evidence.”

    That we all struggle with objectivity is a known fact. And we can chalk that lack of objectivity up to being human and say it is inhuman to be objective, or we can use that fact to temper the conclusions we make about others. And high degrees of loyalty to our groups contribute to that lack of objectivity. ;(

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  62. Ali – you are the master of cut-and-paste. I never would have taken the time to copy all those comments from this thread into a single post. We’re having a discussion in which I am trying to make my case. I’m not going to put a disclaimer of uncertainty after every single argument or assertion.

    Jeff – I agree with #2. As for #1, I agree that we cannot be dogmatic about the authorship of Song of Songs, or about whether or not Solomon is the shepherd, though it does seem the best scholarship on this from a purely Hebrew literary perspective leans heavily toward Solomon and the shepherd being different. What I do believe is clear is that for at least part of the book – and I would argue all of the book – the main characters are unmarried and their lovemaking is celebrated. D&L basically assume they are married because they assume the Torah prohibits premarital sex, which is the standard hermeneutic most theologians use when interpreting the sex of Song of Songs. Obviously I disagree.

    Changing the subject a bit, I did some reading over the weekend about the past and current Jewish views of extramarital sex. Interestingly, it is highly variable based on the particular Jewish tradition, and more importantly, the beliefs of the local rabbi. Even the most conservative/orthodox rabbis agree there is no direct prohibition of extramarital sex in the Torah, but many prohibit it in order to maintain the “holiness” of marriage. In other words, the Jews who believe premarital sex is wrong believe it not based on the Law, but based on rabbinical teaching. This is telling: if the experts on the particulars of the Law believe it does not prohibit extramarital sex, then why do we? Are our views of sex more rabbinical than Scriptural? The same is true of polygamy and concubinage: the Jewish rabbinical teaching became more “Greek” after the conquest of Alexander the Great and the establishment of the Seleucid Empire.

    On the other hand, the prevailing Jewish sex-positivity within marriage is borderline extreme. Some rabbis demand that married couples sleep together unclothed to foster intimacy (except during the unclean period of menstruation), and consider sexual pleasure a right of Jewish women (along with food and shelter). Men are required to grant sex to their wives on demand, the frequency of which depends on the man’s occupation. Can you imagine if Christians (especially fundamentalists) co-opted these particular rabbinical teachings? I shudder to think…

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  63. VV: D&L basically assume they are married because they assume the Torah prohibits premarital sex, which is the standard hermeneutic most theologians use when interpreting the sex of Song of Songs

    That’s not what they say.

    Rather, they say that

    the Song must be interpreted within the context of the law of God, which prohibits any kind of pre- or extramarital intercourse.

    In other words, the prohibition in their minds is not an “assumption” but an exegetical conclusion. Granted, they don’t devote space to that issue here. So it’s possible that the statement above is bare assumption. But given their scholarly status, I doubt it.

    I still find it strange that the man calls the Shulamite “my bride” repeatedly, but you see an unmarried couple everywhere. Can you explain that? Mrs. Cagle would have words with you if you called her unmarried.

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  64. Vae victis (@masonmandy) says: Ali – you are the master of cut-and-paste.

    Oh, you’ re welcome, no problem. Cut and past is very fast and no trouble. It’s usually worth it.
    Although, your first comment alone :” Article I is wrong in part, Article II is wrong in whole, Article IX is wrong in part”, “anti-Scriptural portions”, alone is sufficient to reflect your certainty.
    not to mention your accompanying judgment “this sort of thing is the EEEEeeeeeeeevangelical version of virtue signaling”)
    ngelicalism.

    Anyway, as the time draws near, and the Lord works to purify His bride, and His people are engaged more and more in this, we ought not to be surprised but in fact are to be expecting these contrary voices to come out more and more too. He ‘s warned us about all this in (just about) every Bible book.

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  65. @VV: Ok, so what evidence do you have that they are in fact unmarried? Is that simply the default position, unless otherwise proved? Or are there interactions that can only make sense if unmarried?

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  66. Jeff – sure, the evidence is pretty strong that they are not married. 1. The book obviously never says they are, and makes no mention of any sort of covenant; 2. The woman says she is not a virgin in v 1:6 – “my own vineyard I have not kept” is most likely a euphemism for losing her virginity since the vineyard is used throughout the rest of the book as a metaphor for her sexuality, and this has occurred prior to meeting her lover; 3. Their lovemaking occurs in exotic locations for the most part, rather than their own home; 4. In the early chapters especially, their relationship seems to be in the early phases (e.g. she does not know where he grazes his sheep during the day).

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  67. VV,

    I’ve attempted to post this, unsuccessfully. Hopefully this time it works!

    Sorry for the pile-on, but this does not strike me as “pretty strong.” In response:

    1. I think the use of “bride” to describe the woman strongly mutes this assertion (whether or not you believe the ‘pet names’ should be determinative of their marital status does not make the absence of an explicit statement “strong” evidence)

    2. I don’t have the commentaries in front of me on this, so please feel free to refute, but I recall numerous possible interpretations of 1:6. The one I find most compelling, contextually, is that the bridge is not speaking about her virginity, but she is speaking about attending to her physical appearance. Your proposed meaning is unconvincing for a few reasons:

    a. It interrupts the focus of verses 5 & 6 on the bride’s appearance.
    b. The imagery is used of the “bride’s” (word not used here, but using for the sake of clarity) vineyard, but she is said to be keeping her mother’s vineyard (hence her own unkempt appearance). If we take your interpretation, what is going on in the immediately preceding stanza? The implication could be rather bizarre about the “bride” tending her mother’s vineyard.
    c. Because of a & b, there are contextual clues requiring further argument to substantiate a uniform meaning of “vineyard”

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  68. Cont’d from above:

    3. I’m not sure what sort of expectation we have for ANE love poetry, but I’m unaware of why this genre would be surprised to see intercourse occurring outside of their home. Perhaps you can provide further information on that?

    4. It *does* seem that there is a progression of familiarity through the Song, but she even describes her living conditions in 1:17, “Our couch is green; the beams of our house are cedar, our rafters are pine.” I’m open to an interpretation where the “bride” is not describing their shared dwelling, but my own prima facie reading is that they are sharing a living space based upon this line.

    In order to have a valid interpretation of any poetry takes nuance and skill–a skill I don’t claim to have (and my Hebrew is painfully bad, at this point). So I’m open to correction on the above 4 points, but in my mind I don’t find any thing you’ve proposed as “pretty strong.”

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  69. Brandon – good points, but a few things to consider on your points:

    1. He also calls her sister, friend, and Egyptian mare, among other pleasantries, in addition to bride. And again, the Hebrew word for bride can indicate an intimate love, not necessarily a spouse.

    2. The meaning could be purely physical as well as sexual. The problem with reading it entirely in terms of appearance is that her brothers made her “keeper of the vineyards,” and were angry when she did not keep her own vineyard. Why would her brothers care about her physical appearance and why would they be angry if she didn’t keep it? Wine/grapes were a common metaphor for sexuality in ANE literature, so describing her body as a vineyard/garden automatically has an erotic connotation. In the book itself, see 4:16, 5:1, 7:12 for highly erotic sexual imagery using the vineyard/garden metaphor. The closing segment in 8:11-12 refers to her sexuality as essentially priceless, again using the vineyard motif. And I don’t see anything about tending her mother’s vineyard.

    3-4. Certainly the lush settings and metaphors of animals and gardens lend themselves to outdoor settings for lovemaking, married or not. In fact, the location of 1:17 is likely outdoors: the green couch is green grass, the branches of cedars and pine trees are their beams and rafters. She also refers to going to a room within her mother’s house in Chapter 4, but this again is likely metaphorical. Mothers as background figures were common in ANE erotic poetry, because the mothers were expected to instruct the daughters in the art of lovemaking. So the reference to her mother’s house heightens the eroticism, and the private chamber possibly indicates a degree of intimacy beyond what she could have learned from her mother. Also, it is highly unusual for the woman to call the home her mother’s house rather than her father’s house, again indicating that the entire scene is more imaginative than literal.

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  70. VV,

    I was ambiguous in my statement regarding the tending of the vineyard. The ESV renders it:

    Do not gaze at me because I am dark, because the sun has looked upon me. My mother’s sons were angry with me; they made me keeper of the vineyards, but my own vineyard I have not kept

    In my hasty reading of the passage I drew a debatable inference–that the vineyards she tended were not her own but belong to her family, specifically her mother, since she was explicitly named.

    But a question remains: which vineyards did she tend so that she did not tend her own (do they belong to her mother, brothers, family more generally, or other men)?

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  71. Moreover, you provide a contestable interpretation of verse 6 when you say,

    The problem with reading it entirely in terms of appearance is that her brothers made her “keeper of the vineyards,” and were angry when she did not keep her own vineyard.

    I believe you need to textually justify cause and effect in the passage. You have proposed that the brothers are angry because she tended someone else’s vineyard (again, whose?), but she did not tend her own. I believe, however, that this does not make full sense of the passage, because the portion after the atnach is epexegetical, it is explaining why her skin is dark. Thus, the cause and effect in my interpretation flows like this:

    A. I am dark because the sun has looked upon me (Effect)
    B. The sun has looked about me *because* my mother’s sons were angry with me (epexegtical)–they made me keeper of the (family) vineyard (Cause)
    C. But my own vineyard I have not kept (Effect; poetic restatement of A)

    Your Thoughts?

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  72. VV,

    I’ve been paying a bit of attention to your conversation about the Song of Songs.

    Here’s what the church says about it:

    The Song of Songs (or Canticle of Canticles) is an exquisite collection of love lyrics, arranged to tell a dramatic tale of mutual desire and courtship. It presents an inspired portrayal of ideal human love, a resounding affirmation of the goodness of human sexuality that is applicable to the sacredness and the depth of married union.
    Although the poem is attributed to Solomon in the traditional title (1:1), the language and style of the work, among other considerations, suggest a time after the end of the Babylonian exile (538 B.C.) when an unknown poet collected extant love poems, perhaps composing new material, and arranged the whole into the masterpiece we have before us. Some scholars argue the possibility of female authorship for at least portions of the Song.
    The structure of the Song is difficult to analyze; this translation regards it as a lyric dialogue, with dramatic movement and interest. In both form and content, sections of the Song bear great similarity to the secular love songs of ancient Egypt and the “Sacred Marriage” cult songs of Mesopotamia which celebrate the union between divine partners.
    While the lovers in the Song are clearly human figures, both Jewish and Christian traditions across the centuries have adopted “allegorical” interpretations. The Song is seen as a beautiful picture of the ideal Israel, the chosen people whom the Lord leads by degrees to a greater understanding and closer union in the bond of perfect love. Such readings of the Song build on Israel’s covenant tradition. Isaiah (Is 5:1–7; 54:4–8; 62:5), Jeremiah (Jer 2:2, 3, 32), and Ezekiel (Ez 16; 23) all characterize the covenant between the Lord and Israel as a marriage. Hosea the prophet sees the idolatry of Israel in the adultery of Gomer (Hos 1–3). He also represents the Lord speaking to Israel’s heart (Hos 2:16) and changing her into a new spiritual people, purified by the Babylonian captivity and betrothed anew to her divine Lover “in justice and uprightness, in love and mercy” (Hos 2:21). Similar imagery has also been used frequently in Jewish mystical texts. The Song offers a welcome corrective to negative applications of the theological metaphor of the marriage/covenant in some prophetic texts. It frequently proclaims a joyous reciprocity between the lovers and highlights the active role of the female partner, now a pure figure to be cherished rather than an adulterous woman to be punished and abused. See also Is 62:3–5.
    Christian tradition has followed Israel’s example in using marriage as an image for the relationship with God. This image is found extensively in the New Testament (Mt 9:15; 25:1–13; Jn 3:29; 2 Cor 11:2; Eph 5:23–32; Rev 19:7–9; 21:9–11). Thus the Song has been read as a sublime portrayal and praise of this mutual love of the Lord and his people. Christian writers have interpreted the Song in terms of the union between Christ and the Church and of the union between Christ and the individual soul, particularly in the writings of Origen and St. Bernard.

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  73. @ all:

    This has gotten very interesting.

    VV, thanks for laying out the argument. I will chew on it and respond by Thus, dv.

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  74. Brandon – the text does not indicate she kept someone else’s vineyard instead of her own. Rather, she simply did not keep or “maintain” her own vineyard. It certainly could refer to her physical appearance on one level, but it likely refers to her virginity as well, as I explained above. The best prosaic reading of 1:6 is “My brothers were angry with me because they gave me a vineyard to keep, but I did not keep that vineyard.” The cause is the neglect of her vineyard (her body/sexuality) and the effect is their anger. But again, why would they care about her appearance and why would they be angry if she did not keep it? And given the way she adorns herself throughout the book, it doesn’t seem failure to maintain her physical appearance is the primary intended meaning here.

    Susan – genuine question: if an archbishop or cardinal in the RCC came forward and said that the Church needed to reconsider its doctrine of sexuality based on his study of Scripture, including making premarital sex permissible, or a venial sin rather than a mortal sin, what would be the reaction of both the lay Catholics and among the cardinals/pope?

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  75. vv, are you a millennial?

    Chastity is a lifelong onus for all Christians—married and unmarried. The problem is premarital sex seems like a more acceptable sin among the Millennial generation.

    Regnerus identifies “Cheap sex,” as the culprit. Proliferation of the Pill, pornography, convenience of cohabitation, and efficient online dating apps has cheapened sex.

    “Young Christians are suffering the bruising effects of participating in the same wider mating market as the rest of the country,” Regnerus writes.

    “They want love, like nearly everyone else,” he adds. They couple. Sex often follows, though sometimes after a longer period of time — a pattern that confuses them more than most, because premarital sex remains actively discouraged, but impossible to effectively prevent, in the church.”

    The stats hint this may be more than a mere fluke. Eighty percent of unmarried Evangelicals between 18 and 29 had engaged in sex, according to a study in 2009 by National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.

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  76. VV,

    Yes, the text does say she kept someone else’s vineyard instead of her own,

    I am very dark, but lovely,
    O daughters of Jerusalem,
    like the tents of Kedar,
    like the curtains of Solomon.
    Do not gaze at me because I am dark,
    because the sun has looked upon me.
    My mother’s sons were angry with me;
    they made me keeper of the vineyards,
    but my own vineyard I have not kept!

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  77. Brandon – no, the text says nothing like that. It says she neglected to keep her own vineyard – where does it say she kept someone else’s? It says she’s dark because she has been outdoors, but that’s consistent with a rural, agrarian lifestyle. Is there something else I’m missing here? I haven’t seen any other commentaries support your view.

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  78. VV,

    It’s directly in the text: “they made me keeper of the vineyards, but my own vineyard I have not kept”

    Why has she not kept her vineyard? They [her angry brothers] made her the keeper of ‘the vineyards.’

    If you could do a line by line analysis of the text, perhaps I could understand why you’re not seeing what I see as being indisputably in the text.

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  79. VV,

    “Susan – genuine question: if an archbishop or cardinal in the RCC came forward and said that the Church needed to reconsider its doctrine of sexuality based on his study of Scripture, including making premarital sex permissible, or a venial sin rather than a mortal sin, what would be the reaction of both the lay Catholics and among the cardinals/pope?”

    No man in his right mind could think that scripture is going to condone immorality.
    Why do you ask such a strange question and what has it to do with SOS? The info I gave you is ‘how’ the poem is supposed to be interpreted and is in keeping with the tradition of The Church. It’s an allegory of God’s love for Israel and now, Jesus’s love for the Church.

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  80. Brandon – I think the problem is that I’m viewing it metaphorically and you’re viewing it literally. “My own vineyard” refers not to a physical vineyard, but to the vineyard of her body/sexuality. She worked in the vineyards, possibly as a punishment for losing her virginity, but they were probably family vineyards.

    Susan – “Why do you ask such a strange and what has it to do with SOS?”

    Have you been reading this thread at all? Go back and take a look and it will all make sense. Also, your answer demonstrates the problem with the Magisterium. In your view the Church defines what is immoral, and Scripture should not condone it. But the order is the opposite of what it should be, which is that Scripture defines what is immoral, and the Church should not condone it. In other words, our sexual ethics are based on what infallible Scripture says, not what the fallible Church says.

    The other problem with the Magisterium that your response demonstrates is the lack of willingness to challenge the teachings of the Church where they need challenging. If the Church defines truth, then why would anyone be willing to question the Church’s interpretation of Scripture, even if that interpretation is wrong? The same tendency is true in Reformed circles with the Reformed confessions, though perhaps not to the same degree.

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  81. VV,

    To be clear, I’m fine viewing it metaphorically (or poetically), but I’m trying to view it in totality. You asserted this verse supported your assertions about pre-marital sex and that discussion of her unkempt vineyard means she is not a virgin. I’m asking for you to make an argument from the text and the flow of the poem, to that effect. I’m not taking the narrative literally, per se, but I’m trying to understand the poem in context. If you can substantiate your exegetical conclusions, then I can have a better understanding of where you’re coming from. Right now your argument is not clear.

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  82. @vv I guessed you missed the series of 1000+ comment threads on supposed epistemic superiority of the infallible magisterium + scripture vs. the fallible magisterium + scripture. The one true church is infallible when it defines doctrine. How do you know something it teaches is doctrine and thus infallible you ask? Well if it is ever demonstrated to be wrong, then it wasn’t doctrine…voila…(ditto for the Pope and the ex cathedra business). How do we know all this? 30,000 protestant “denominations” Q.E.D.

    Of course the catholic church has erred on many things. While the purported unity may exist on paper, it does not exist in actuality. God’s word is infallible because he can’t lie or err, but it shouldn’t surprise us that he uses fallible vessels to preserve his word. That being said, these fallible vessels are sufficient for him to accomplish his purpose – namely the salvation of sinners. Adding an extra infallible layer between his word and the hearer doesn’t change one’s epistemic status as the information must still be processed by a fallible person. Ergo prots are not in a worse epistemic state than RCs.

    There I saved you wading through a million or so words on the topic…you can thank me later.

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  83. Good post here this am https://www.challies.com/articles/whats-the-purpose-of-sex/

    What Does the Bible Say About Sex?

    Some excerpts:

    The Bible has much to say about sex and leaves us in little doubt as to its ultimate purpose…

    ..The ultimate purpose of sex is to glorify God… While the great purpose in sex is the glory of God, it achieves this through three subordinate purposes: intimacy, offspring, and gratitude.

    Sex is meant for intimacy. It glorifies God by uniting us with our spouse in knowledge, intimacy, and mutual pleasure, and in this way serves to display the covenant love of Christ. Sex is to exist only where there is a covenant! Sex outside of marriage is destructive because the covenant love within marriage is the foundation of sex, and sex is only properly used when it is an expression of that covenant love. Tim Keller says, “Sex is perhaps the most powerful God-created way to help you give your entire self to another human being. Sex is God’s appointed way for two people to reciprocally say to one another, ‘I belong completely, permanently, and exclusively to you.’ You must not use sex to say anything less. So, according to the Bible, a covenant is necessary for sex.” The covenantal union achieved through sex glorifies God because it points beyond itself to God’s joyful union with himself and the church’s union with Christ.

    Sex is meant for offspring. It glorifies God by producing godly offspring that bear his image, fill his earth, and give glory to his name. This purpose of sex goes back to the very beginning of the world, when God commanded humanity to, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it” (Genesis 1:28). …Al Mohler points out, “Marriage, sex, and children are part of one package. To deny any part of this wholeness is to reject God’s intention in creation–and His mandate revealed in the Bible.” One of the good and God-glorifying purposes of sex is producing offspring.

    Sex is meant for gratitude. Sex is meant to glorify God by producing gratitude to him.

    Conclusion
    Sex is a gift from God meant to carry out the purposes of God and bring glory to God. Sex is not merely a natural appetite that we may satisfy as we please, but a good gift from God that is to be used only as he mandates. Sex is not merely an expression of affection, but an expression and display of covenant love rooted in Christ. Sex is not merely a means of fulfillment, but an opportunity to give ourselves to our spouse in love and to God in thanksgiving. Its ultimate purpose is to bring glory to his name.

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  84. sdb ssay That being said, these fallible vessels are sufficient for him to accomplish his purpose – namely the salvation of sinners.

    amen sdb.
    And that salvation is deliverance from the penalty, the power, and the presence of sin

    for those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified. He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him;
    to the end that we would be to the praise of His glory, God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory.

    See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God. Now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.

    Until that day, as we “see” Him and His perfection and holiness more and more in His word by the Spirit, and ever say “I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear; but now my eye sees You; therefore I retract, and I repent in dust and ashes.”

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  85. sdb – oh, I am well aware of the many posts on the topic of the Magisterium, on Old Life alone. I participated in some of those discussions. I understand exactly what you’re saying, but apparently Susan does not, which is why I’m using this discussion as an example of the Magisterium’s flaws and inadequacies, and why it’s pointless to have this discussion in a Catholic context.

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  86. .,,,,.and.,,,,, as we wait for Him, He loves His children so much that……

    whoever causes a little one who believes to stumble, it would be better for him if, with a heavy millstone hung around his neck, he had been cast into the sea.
    It is inevitable that stumbling blocks come, but woe to him through whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea, than that he would cause one of these little ones to stumble.
    Be on your guard!

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  87. If we only had Christian magistrate who enforced the revealed ten commandments, we would not need these unofficial people signing statements about their opinions. https://calvinistinternational.com/2017/05/01/whether-permitted-king-prince-magistrate-establish-religion/

    Calvin’s commentary on 1 Cor. 15:28:–Christ has been appointed Lord and highest King, so as to be as it were the Father’s Vicegerent in the government of the world — not that he is employed and the Father unemployed (for how could that be, inasmuch as he is the wisdom and counsel of the Father, is of one essence with him, and is therefore himself God?) But the reason why the Scripture testifies, that Christ now holds dominion over the heaven and the earth in the room of the Father is — that we may not think that there is any other governor, lord, protector, or judge of the dead and living, but may fix our contemplation on him alone. We acknowledge, it is true, God as the ruler, but it is in the face of the man Christ. But Christ will then restore the kingdom which he has received, that we may cleave wholly to God. Nor will he in this way resign the kingdom, but will transfer it in a manner from his humanity to his glorious divinity, because a way of approach will then be opened up, from which our infirmity now keeps us back. Thus then Christ will be subjected to the Father, because the veil being then removed, we shall openly behold God reigning in his majesty, and Christ’s humanity will then no longer be interposed to keep us back from a closer view of God.

    Dietrich Bonhoeffer —“For a man in his wife’s arms to be hankering after the next world is, in mild terms, a piece of bad taste, and not God’s command. We ought to find and love God in what he actually gives us. If it pleases God to give us to enjoy some overwhelming earthly happiness, we mustn’t try to be more pious than God himself and have our happiness be corrupted by presumption and arrogance, and by unbridled religious fantasy which is never satisfied with what God gives, God will see to it that the man who finds him in his earthly happiness and thanks him for it does not lack reminder that earthly things are transient. But everything has its time, and the main thing is that we do not keep pressing on a few steps ahead.”

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  88. markmcculley – great quote from Bonhoeffer.

    Brandon – my argument is that the woman says she has not kept her vineyard, and based on the imagery used in the rest of the book as well as contemporary ANE imagery, this very likely refers to her body and her sexuality. Also, it is the only reasonable explanation as to why her brothers were so angry with her. They were overly protective, as indicated at the end of the book in 8:8-12, and she rebukes them by saying that “my vineyard, my very own, is before me.” In other words, she is telling them that she is no longer a little girl with “no breasts,” but she is a grown woman (“my breasts were like towers”) and she can take care of her own body and her own sexuality. Given the broader context of the entire book, the best reading of 1:6 is that she had sex before meeting the shepherd. If you want to say that 1:6 is a prelude and that she meets the shepherd in a flashback that occurs before 1:6, then it is certain they were unmarried when they had sex – otherwise why would she return to her brothers and why would she be forced to work in the fields? The bottom line is that she had unmarried sex with the shepherd, and possibly before meeting the shepherd, regardless of how you sequence the rest of the narrative.

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  89. VV,

    Given the broader context of the entire book, the best reading of 1:6 is that she had sex before meeting the shepherd.

    We’ll just have to agree to disagree here. You still haven’t produced anything approaching an exegetical defense of this view in 1:6, and this unformed exegesis of 1:6 makes you say things like this:

    Also, it is the only reasonable explanation as to why her brothers were so angry with her.

    You’re resting this on unsubstantiated exegetical conclusions. Your argument is that the reason she is working another’s vineyards is because she didn’t keep her own vineyard–bringing upon her the anger of her brothers. But that’s an inventive way of reading the passage, and inverts the actual casual relationship between the stanzas of 1:6.

    The bottom line is that she had unmarried sex with the shepherd, and possibly before meeting the shepherd, regardless of how you sequence the rest of the narrative.

    I’m open to this potential reading (though conservative commentators have noted that the refrain of “do not stir up or awaken love until it pleases” serve to show restraint from fantasies she is entertaining), but I’m trying to go through your arguments and assess them. Your conclusions may be right, but your exegesis of 1:6 doesn’t get there, IMO.

    Regardless of whether or not you’ve convinced me, I do appreciate your willingness to entertain the conversation!

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  90. Brandon – I appreciate the interaction, but I don’t know what else to tell you about 1:6 that I haven’t said already. To me it’s fairly obvious, but I’m obviously not doing a good job communicating. We’ll have to agree to disagree.

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  91. Jeff Cagle says: V, thanks for laying out the argument.

    Brandon Addison says: Regardless of whether or not you’ve convinced me, I do appreciate your willingness to entertain the conversation!

    Please.
    Isn’t that like saying to “Indeed, has God said,…or to “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down, for it is written…
    oh, good points and thoughts, thanks for engaging in conversation and making these arguments

    If you are going to be so commending, you should 1) remind Proverbs 11:2 and Proverbs 9:10 and 2) be very clear of the process that the best interpreter of scripture is scripture itself in its complete context of the whole of the Bible and the knowledge of God.

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  92. Hi VV,

    Sorry for the late hit. One of the books that I have found very helpful in shaping my approach to hermeneutics is Foundations of Contemporary Interpretation, a multiauthor work (Long, Silva, Poythress, Longman, Muller). I want to share a bit of Long’s approach to explain how I’m approaching this. But also, I would recommend the work as having a fairly balanced approach to issues ranging from history to linguistics to genre, etc. I was hoping to quote from it, but it seems still to be packed. So from memory …

    Long lays out a way of constructing arguments:

    A because warrant B, unless X or Y.
    B because warrant C, unless W or Z…

    In that one compact construction lies a very helpful way of understanding not only the arguments of others, but also one’s own thoughts. Identifying the warrants B and C allows us to ask the question “is this a valid inference (either deductive or inductive)?”; identifying the defeaters W…Z allows us to consider the likelihood that our argument is defeasible.

    The other side benefits are that circular reasoning becomes apparent, unfalsifiable arguments become clear, etc.

    So if I interpret your response in that framework, we have

    the couple in SoS is unmarried because

    (1) The book obviously never says they are, and makes no mention of any sort of covenant;

    unless … it does say they are married by implication, or it does mention a covenant by implication.

    (2) The woman says she is not a virgin in v 1:6 – “my own vineyard I have not kept” is most likely a euphemism for losing her virginity since the vineyard is used throughout the rest of the book as a metaphor for her sexuality, and this has occurred prior to meeting her lover;

    unless … the reference to not keeping the vineyard is not a reference to intercourse per se, OR
    unless … the intercourse has not occurred prior to meeting her lover, OR
    unless … she lost her virginity to someone else.

    (3) Their lovemaking occurs in exotic locations for the most part, rather than their own home;

    unless … making love in exotic locations can be done by married couples, in which case this fact fails to warrant.

    (4) In the early chapters especially, their relationship seems to be in the early phases (e.g. she does not know where he grazes his sheep during the day).

    unless … the book is non-chronological, OR
    unless … the references to shepherding are sexual rather than literal.

    There might be many other possible defeaters, and I leave it as an exercise to discover as many as possible. It’s healthy self-reflection. The possible defeaters do not need to all obtain; for example, the possible defeaters under (2) are mutually contradictory. They are simply “different ways in which (2) might be wrong.”

    Now in terms of evaluating strength, we can consider the likelihood of the defeaters.

    Wrt (1), I consider the use of the word “bride” to be dispositive. Brown-Driver-Briggs has khalah as “daughter-in-law or bride”, either as daughter-in-law in ref to a husband’s father (citations incl Gen 38, et al); or as bride, usually just before marriage (citations, including SoS 4). The cognate word khalulah means betrothal.

    So it seems clear to me that at whatever point in time ch 4 occurs, they are engaged or possibly just married.

    To me, this defeats warrant (1) entirely.

    Add to this the references to the wedding of “Solomon” (whoever he may be) in chap 3, and you’ve got yourself a marriage.

    NOW. Could my analysis be wrong? Sure. It’s possible that the references to marriage and bride in ch 3 – 4 are all metaphorical, “bride” used as a pet name, etc. That’s possible — but less than 50-50, for sure. I would rate at less than 10%, tbh.

    So (1) is not strong evidence. In fact, the greater likelihood is that “bride” and “marriage” defeat the whole thesis.

    Evidence rating: 0 out of 5.

    Wrt (2), I’ve been watching the exchange with Brandon without a whole lot of clarity. I allow that it’s certainly possible that “keeping my vineyard” could mean “keeping myself virginal.” But then, like Brandon, I wonder why she is made “keeper of the vineyards” by her brothers. Does this mean that she is put in charge of everyone’s virginity?? Weird.

    (And why would her brothers be angry about loss of virginity, if indeed it is morally permissible to have unmarried sex?)

    Why would her brothers even know? And why is she telling her lover, if indeed he was the cause of her “not keeping her own vineyard”? Wouldn’t that suggest that she lost virginity to another? And what does this have to do with her being dark and brown?

    It seems as if there are many more possible meanings.

    Here is one: 1.6 is literal; subsequent references are metaphorical, pointing back to 1.6 in the sense: “I did not keep my actual vineyard, but the one that is more precious to me is yours, O lover.”

    I don’t know that that’s right, but it strikes me that (2) as a warrant depends on the correctness of a metaphorical interpretation with a large number of unanswered questions.

    Evidence rating: 2/5

    Wrt (3), Interesting point. Of course, don’t let us married folk know that we can’t have intercourse in exotic places. I agree that exotic places are a more likely provenance for unmarried folk, but not exclusively.

    Evidence rating: 2.5/5

    Wrt (4), IF the shepherd talk is literal, then yes, she doesn’t know him very well in 1.7. Lots of different possibilities here, and I want to address K&D’s comments next, but for now: family calls!

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  93. @ Ali: Courtesy is not agreement; Vae Vic is not a teacher to my knowledge. More later, but if blog comments are held to the standard of teachers, then Paul thinks women must be silent.

    I for one am glad they are different, as we benefit from your comments.

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  94. Jeff Cagle says: @ Ali: Courtesy is not agreement; Vae Vic is not a teacher to my knowledge. More later, but if blog comments are held to the standard of teachers, then Paul thinks women must be silent. I for one am glad they are different, as we benefit from your comments.

    Oh, my point was, as I understand it, that we are to discern the rebellion and deviation and in this particular case, I liken the apropo response to Jesus’s in his wilderness temptation – not engaging in courteous long drawn-out debate and conversation – just the word. boom. that’s it.done. (as you originally, dgh, Robert, sdb, maybe others, have done in this post). You must feel otherwise.

    As to my previous reference that my pastor would counsel and discipline one who espouses these strong views so opposed to foundational truth, I was not meaning only for a teacher (though we are all teachers (and are to be teachers) in some regard to anyone we opine with) so I’m not sure what you are saying.

    Anyway, I think I’ve been here as I have been supposed to be, but I’m weary; and though I never quit, for example, in the Tullian Tchividian fiasco until the Lord’s intervention, every situation, of course, is different, so not certain about more. I do think I know with as much certainty as possible, that you too love the Lord and His body, only by His great mercy and grace, and for that are truly very grateful. Take care.

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  95. Ali: Oh, my point was, as I understand it, that we are to discern the rebellion and deviation and in this particular case, I liken the apropo response to Jesus’s in his wilderness temptation … You must feel otherwise.

    I do feel otherwise. VV is not Satan. And in this context, he is not teaching others, but expressing his own interpretation of Scripture.

    Does that come out of a spirit of rebellion against the Lord? That element may be buried there, but if so, I won’t touch it through blog postings. Is it also possible that he’s simply read and been influenced by a set of authors and commentators? Yes, that is possible also. The motives that drive people lie deep, and cannot easily be discerned over the Internet. Bluntly put, assuming that VV is wrong (and I do), I don’t think you or I are capable of discerning whether VV is “in rebellion” or simply misled.

    Contrast Paul’s directions for those who are astray over against those who are false teachers.

    And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will. — 2 Tim 2.25ff

    He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound[g] doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it. For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach. — Titus 1.9ff

    If we try to hold both of these teachings as applicable to all people, we end up with an impossible contradiction. But if we understand that teachers are to be held to a high standard because they represent Christ in their office, everything comes into focus.

    Let’s talk tactics. A harsh rebuke conveys urgency, yes. It also conveys contempt for the recipient. What does Scripture tell us about the effects of harsh words? Do they change minds?

    I cannot recall any instance where a harsh rebuke or “calling out” or any other kind of public shaming has changed someone’s mind. There possibly are such instances, but I can’t remember seeing them.

    Wait! Didn’t Jesus rebuke the Pharisees harshly? Yes. But He wasn’t trying to change their minds. He was trying to loosen their grip on Israelites. They were teachers; it was His job to shepherd the flock against the wolves.

    According to Proverbs, what is it that breaks bones?

    VV doesn’t come here as a teacher trying to influence others. He is expressing an opinion — one with which I disagree — for the purpose of discussion. My guess is that he is uncomfortable about the fact that his written sources, such as the ones that hold SoS to be about unmarried sex, are at odds with an almost universal church teaching that sex is reserved for marriage. So discussion provides him opportunity for greater clarity, for potential new perspectives, for reducing the cognitive dissonance.

    And my intent is to provide the contrary viewpoint in a gentle way with the hope that he might listen. And, on the waaaay off chance that the church has gotten it wrong all these years, I also intend to listen to Scripture.

    I don’t see any good outcome from treating people roughly. Even with Mermaid, who drove me to the point of drawing a hard line, the outcome was simply that she left town. That was not my first choice.

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  96. Jeff, very quickly

    1)we can agree to disagree – that we are discerning differently
    2) the enemy employs whoever cooperates in any way to do, say, suggest anything opposed to God, His character, His will, His people – using believers, his favorite, no doubt.

    Can you see it in the dialog thread Jeff?

    -vv says the Nashville Statement is just evangelical virtue signaling of older, white, rural fundamentalist Baptists who lap this sort of thing up- sure otherwise theologically sound Reformed men; yet unsound/unstudied* in saying “God’s will for all people is chastity outside of marriage” when God’s Word obviously allows, regulates, condones, and ultimately celebrates concubinage, even obviously having blessed it

    -sure, vv says he knows his view of premarital sex/extramarital sex/polygamy/polyamory/pornography goes against the grain of Christian thinking, but that is just “at least today.” And lest one misunderstand the endorsement of the above vv, of course says he is “not advocating for polygamy or polyamory; not advocating for promiscuity or unbridled sexual activity out of marriage.”;nor particularly advocating for pornography.

    VV may be a very good candidate to help write Screwtape Letters 2

    (*even though, as Robert, says “Rome, the EO, the Reformers, modern evangelicals, Pentecostals, the NAPARC denominations, etc. are one voice on this; and the only groups endorsing premarital sex and polygamy are denominations that have already abandoned biblical authority)

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  97. Ali – I think you have missed the point of the discussion. You say you (and others) need to correct me with Scripture on this issue, but my point is that Scripture is on my side. I might be wrong, and fully recognize this is a distinct possibility given that the majority of official church teaching disagrees with me, but I’m making an appeal from Scripture. If you want to rebuke me – and I certainly welcome that when needed – then you need to make a compelling case from the Bible. You have not done that so far.

    Jeff – thanks for your analysis. I’ll take each point one at a time.
    1. Let’s say arguendo you are correct and we can take the shepherd calling the woman “bride” to indicate definitively they are married. In that case you are still left with the problem of them engaging in sex before marriage occurs in Chapter 3. Now is it possible the book is not chronological? Sure, it’s possible, but in that case the burden of proof is on you to demonstrate why that is the most plausible reading. In fact, using your own rating scheme I see no internal evidence at all that Chapter 3 precedes Chapters 1-2. So again, we are left with the lovers engaging in sex prior to marriage, and that love is celebrated.

    2. We’re clearly not reading 1:6 in the same way. To me the logical sequence is that she lost her virginity, the brothers became angry, and then made her work with them in the fields/vineyard. So there is the metaphorical vineyard of her body/sexuality, and the literal vineyard where she was forced to work and as a result developed a dark complexion. The brothers were angry because their family could no longer sell her for the virgin bride-price. Going to the discussion we had earlier, she was “damaged goods” to the family economically speaking, so now she might as well just work the fields. There’s no need for her to maintain her beauty inside the house now that they cannot fetch the virgin bride-price, so working the vineyards is her best contribution to the family.

    3. I’m married too, so I get that exotic locales don’t preclude marriage. But if they were married and had their own place, wouldn’t she reference that at some point? There are allusions to a house or a room, but that is the exception, not the norm in the Song of Songs.

    4. I look forward to your comments, but I think the evidence is strongly in favor of the shepherding being literal, at least on a basic level.

    My point is that none of these individual points are proof positive they are unmarried. But taken together the evidence strongly tilts toward them being unmarried, at least for part of the book – certainly the evidence is stronger that they are unmarried than married.

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  98. VV: In that case you are still left with the problem of them engaging in sex before marriage occurs in Chapter 3. Now is it possible the book is not chronological? Sure, it’s possible, but in that case the burden of proof is on you to demonstrate why that is the most plausible reading…

    You’re absolutely correct. Actually, I have two possible options. One is to see the book as non-chronological. If in fact the book is an anthology of poems (which you seemed to agree to above), then non-chronological is more probable than not. The other option is to see ch 1 – 2 as not actual intercourse (fantasizing or fooling around). K&D, for example, see ch 1 – 2 as a precursor to marriage.

    To your main point, yes: if I want to establish a particular reading, the burden of proof is on me to demonstrate why that reading is plausible.

    But my aim was a little more modest. I was simply suggesting other possible interpretive options, options which others in fact have taken (ie, not merely my being inventive or obtuse). In light of those options, to claim that your evidence (1) is strong, the burden of proof is on you to show why those options are eliminated. To the extent that you can do so, then (1) becomes stronger; if you cannot (beyond “I prefer this one”), then (1) becomes weaker.

    (2) This is similar to (1). Your reading of 1.6 is self-consistent. But do you eliminate all other possible options? If not, then you lack a strong argument. K&D argue persuasively that “my own vineyards” points to her personal appearance, which would be self-consistent with her lamentation about being sunburned.

    (3) VV: But if they were married and had their own place, wouldn’t she reference that at some point? There are allusions to a house or a room but that is the exception, not the norm in the Song of Songs.

    Not surprising, actually. Mrs. Cagle and I reminisce about our anniversaries, not the master bedroom.

    (4) VV: I think the evidence is strongly in favor of the shepherding being literal, at least on a basic level.

    So considering the options (a) that the protagonist is literally a shepherd, (b) that the protagonist is figuratively a shepherd, (c) or that the shepherd imagery is sexual wordplay, I would say that the evidence doesn’t stand by itself, but depends more on the theory of the text.

    K&D for example takes the protagonist to be Solomon. This compels D to understand the shepherd imagery as “Solomon is the shepherd of the people, but the Shulamite misunderstands him” [KD 518 – 520]. This is in keeping with their view of SoS as typological (which certainly checks one of my boxes!). The difficulty here is that it’s a difficult reading of the language.

    You see the shepherd as a literal shepherd. This is consistent with a view of the text that the couple is unmarried (ie, she literally does not know where he shepherds). But the difficulty here is, as pointed out above, that no real shepherd would let his flock graze among lilies or people’s gardens, which clearly would not belong to a simple shepherd and are therefore not his own.

    I see the possibility that the shepherd language is potentially sexual, at least in some places. The strength is that this makes sense of “letting the sheep graze among the lilies”, since the lily imagery is sexual. The difficulty is understanding 1.7 – 8 in that way.

    In other words, there is not enough information to make an argument from textual principles about the shepherd language; any argument rests on a larger textual theory.

    VV: My point is that none of these individual points are proof positive they are unmarried.

    I appreciate the candor!

    VV: But taken together the evidence strongly tilts toward them being unmarried, at least for part of the book – certainly the evidence is stronger that they are unmarried than married.

    There’s a little bit of a fallacy in the wind. There are not two possibilities, “the evidence shows they are married OR the evidence shows they are not married.” There are in fact three:

    * The evidence shows they are married
    * The evidence shows they are not married
    * The evidence does not show anything conclusively.

    I have argued that bride and wedding are dispositive, that the evidence shows they are married. UNLESS “bride” could be figurative and the wedding in Ch 3 is the real Solomon’s wedding, and not the shepherd’s etc.

    You have argued that “the evidence strongly shows they are not married.” But what I think you really mean is “the evidence does not convince me that they *are* married.”

    For of your four arguments, only one argues that they are not married — that she knows little of him. The other three — that there is no mention of marriage, that she claims not to be a virgin, that she mentions lovemaking in exotic places — are equally consistent with marriage or non-marriage.

    That fourth argument, in turn, turns out to rest on a particular theory of the text, which means that it is not strong evidence either.

    Objectively speaking, you haven’t argued that the text shows they are unmarried. Rather, you have argued that the text fails to show that they *are* married.

    And that’s quite different. The proper conclusion from your arguments (assuming their correctness) is that “the evidence does not show anything conclusively.”

    And that would bring us back to Longman’s point in DL, which echos yours: That the strongest reason to see the couple as married is the larger Biblical theology of sexuality. And I would extend their thought — the only reason to see the couple as unmarried would be a larger project of revising the Biblical understanding of sexuality.

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  99. erratum: This compels D to understand the shepherd imagery as “Solomon is the shepherd of the people, but the Shulamite misunderstands him” [KD 518 – 520].

    I wrote this as if a direct quotation. It’s a paraphrase.

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  100. Jeff – a few points. First, regarding your analysis of #4 (shepherd being literal): you put a lot of weight on the fact that a real shepherd would not pasture his flock among lilies, and therefore conclude that this is sexual imagery. I would agree that in that instance it is, but it does not mean other references are not literal. The shepherd is an actual shepherd and some references are to literal shepherding, but other references are metaphors for sexual activity – it’s not an either/or phenomenon. The woman does tend to a literal vineyard, but her body is also a vineyard. The man is a literal shepherd, but also grazes among the lilies of her body. Just because there is some sexual imagery using the shepherd motif does not mean that ALL references to the shepherd are sexual – there is a mixture of both, which only accentuates the metaphor.

    Second, I agree the book is a collection of different poems possibly by different authors, but the poems were clearly arranged and edited to form a loose narrative structure. Therefore there is a chronology of sorts. I read it as the progression of a love affair that focuses on the sexual aspect of the affair, but the narrative structure is more character-based and evocative than plot-driven.

    Third, while I agree that their marital status is not absolutely conclusive, the internal evidence does point to them being unmarried (at very least in part). The book does not clearly state one way or another, but there is one correct answer: either they are or they are not married. I think I’ve laid out the case pretty clearly that the internal evidence points to them being unmarried, and frankly virtually all of the best modern scholarship agrees with me on this.

    Last, I disagree that the prevailing understanding of sexuality is biblical. I’ve tried to make that case here in part, but there is much more to it, including the evolution of the Jewish thinking on sex from the time of Solomon to the NT, as well as the history of sex in the church up to the Reformation. Where you and most Christians interpret the Song of Songs in the context of a so-called biblical understanding of sexuality, I would flip it around and argue that our understanding of sexuality should be partly informed by the Song of Songs, since it is an entire book of the canon devoted to sex. We should evaluate the Torah, the OT attitudes and teaching on sex (including obviously the Song of Songs) and the NT teaching on sex to form a comprehensive biblical view of sexuality. Taken together, biblical attitudes and teachings on sex paint a muddled (at best) picture of extramarital sex.

    What Susan seems to be doing from a Catholic perspective, and what I believe many other Christians like Ali are guilty of doing, is assuming that the prevailing Christian view of sexuality is correct and then reading Scripture in a way that supports that assumption. We should approach Scripture with no preconceived ideas about sex, and objectively interpret Scripture using sound hermeneutics. That’s why understanding the Song of Songs is so important – it will inevitably play a big role in understanding what Scripture says about sex.

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  101. VV, thanks. I think our conversation is winding to a conclusion, so I’ll wrap up unless you have some specific issues hanging free. As a summary, you’ve given me some things to think about, which I appreciate. My overarching criticism would be that you overestimate the strength of your position.

    VV: I would agree that in that instance [the shepherd imagery] is [sexual], but it does not mean other references are not literal…it’s not an either/or phenomenon.

    I whole-heartedly agree with that approach.

    VV: The shepherd is an actual shepherd and some references are to literal shepherding, but other references are metaphors for sexual activity

    I want to be clear about my central thesis:

    In my view, you have overstated the strength of your evidence because you have not demonstrated the impossibility or improbability of potential alternatives.

    So it is here. “The shepherd is an actual shepherd…” OK, that’s possible. Now make an argument that it must be so!

    In other words, I am pushing you to reconsider what constitutes strong evidence. I would like to appeal to you to consider setting aside a framework of “evidence that is consistent with my hypothesis” and taking up a framework of “evidence that eliminates competing alternatives.”

    In other words: The shepherd could well be an actual shepherd, and not one of the alternatives: Solomon in disguise, or Solomon as typological shepherd of God’s people, or a metaphor for Solomon or even “Solomon” as a lover. But until you have given *cause* to reject those possibilities, your evidence remains weak, EVEN THOUGH you have textual bits that are consistent with your hypothesis.

    That’s just the way evidence works.

    What we’re really arguing about is percentages, since you agree that it is possible that they are married (but unlikely, in your view), and I agree that it is possible that they are not (but very very unlikely in my view).

    Out of curiosity, what is your “prior probability” (in the Beyesian sense) that the couple is unmarried?

    VV: Last, I disagree that the prevailing understanding of sexuality is biblical.

    Right, and I appreciate the principled approach that you take here. It is encouraging that we agree that whatever the Bible does in fact teach about sexuality, is in fact normative.

    To sum up what I understand of your position, you argue that

    (1) As a book devoted to a sexual relationship, SoS should receive great weight in forming a Biblical view of sexuality,
    (2) Internal evidence in SoS makes it more likely than not that the subjects are unmarried
    (2a) As confirmed by 1.6
    (2b) As confirmed by her seeming ignorance of his life
    (2c) As confirmed by lack of reference to their own home
    (2d) As confirmed by “virtually all the best modern scholarship”
    (3) Jewish commentary on sexuality, as well as some medieval Christian commentary, supports the licitness of unmarried sex.

    Fair?

    In response, I say that

    (1) is correct
    (~2) The internal evidence that is most clear and plain points to their being married and eliminates other alternatives
    (~2a) The repeated designation of “bride”
    (~2b) The description of marriage
    (~2c) The New Testament teaching against porneia
    (~2d) The OT strictures against sex outside of marriage (Eg Deut 22.13-21, esp v 21).
    (~2.5) The overwhelming consensus of the church appears to be that the OT and NT teach sex within marriage only, and that porneia includes fornication.

    I’m not in a position to comment on (3).

    As a final comment, I would like to talk a bit about the place of “best modern scholarship”, older commentaries, church councils, and dissent.

    First, It belongs to synods and councils, ministerially to determine controversies of faith, and cases of conscience; …which decrees and determinations, if consonant to the Word of God, are to be received with reverence and submission; not only for their agreement with the Word, but also for the power whereby they are made, as being an ordinance of God appointed thereunto in His Word.

    So when you speak dismissively in this way: what I believe many other Christians … are guilty of doing, is assuming that the prevailing Christian view of sexuality is correct and then reading Scripture in a way that supports that assumption, you are missing the element of ministerial authority that legitimately belongs to the WCF and WLC as doctrinal standards reached by a consensus of those people called by God to interpret Scripture.

    Without squelching your desire to keep Scripture first and foremost, I would still want to see more respect for those who (a) are genuinely persuaded by Scripture to a view contrary to yours, and/or (b) place great weight on the consensus of church authority. It is not a fallacy to say that the WCF is very likely to be correct because it is the prevailing consensus of the church. (It would be a fallacy to say that the WCF must be correct because it is consensus).

    That said, there is still a place for dissent. The WCF goes on: All synods or councils, since the apostles’ times, whether general or particular, may err; and many have erred. Therefore they are not to be made the rule of faith, or practice; but to be used as a help in both.

    For that reason, I uphold your right to appeal to Scripture, even as I disagree with your conclusions.*

    Finally, your appeal to “virtually all the best modern scholarship” is less weighty than it might seem.

    “Best” is of course problematic. Why are Tyndale or Longman or Hess not “best”? And “virtually all” is an impressive implied boast, indicating master’s or PhD research on your part.

    But beyond that, modern scholarship is not always better than ancient. It has potential, of course: Moderns have substantially more access to linguistic and cultural information, and greater ability to synthesize secondary sources including older commentaries.

    But there are also fashions in scholarship and debts to cultural assumptions that make the moderns just as susceptible as the ancients to pushing a tendentious thesis. In my research on 2 Cor, I found many (not all) modern commenters straining at gnats in order to divide 2 Cor into 3, 5, or even 7 distinct letters.

    In other words, when I observe that scholarship has shifted its opinion from “married” in K&Ds time to “unmarried” (assuming your survey is correct), my reaction is to question why the change occurred. Were K&D overly influenced by sexual norms in their time? Or are modern scholars overly influenced by sexual norms in ours? Did we finally realize that the text demands an unmarried couple, or did we simply flip the null hypothesis?

    Well, that’s all. I very much appreciate your time and thoughts. You’ve given me some things to think about in the Song.

    * It would be a different matter if you were teaching or promulgating your view under the cover of church authority.

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  102. Jeff – I really appreciate the conversation – definitely helpful in sorting through these issues. The summary of my overall position on sexual ethics is this: the use of the word “porneia” by Paul and Jesus probably most accurately refers to all sexual sins forbidden by the Torah. Examining the Torah and other OT books (chiefly the Song of Songs) reveals a sexual ethic that does not prohibit premarital sex and explicitly allows concubinage and polygamy. While these sexual practices may have their own problems and can potentially lead to sin, they are not themselves sinful, and the Christian community should not condemn them as sinful as the Nashville Statement does.

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  103. Jeff – no, not as inherently sinful. Look at the context: it’s all about honesty and fair dealing. The woman who is found not to be a virgin is condemned because she has been a “harlot” specifically *in her father’s house*. This could be literal, but more likely meant *under her father’s authority*. In other words, she betrayed him, probably lied to him, and cost him the virgin-bride price. He sold her under the pretense of being a virgin, and it brought dishonor to him when it was found out that she was not. The person wronged is the father.

    Two other quick notes on this. First, the harsh sentence of stoning implies multiple lovers, since two eye witnesses were required for a death sentence. This suggests promiscuity, since more than one man would have to testify that they slept with her. Second, most rabbis do not consider extramarital sex to be forbidden in the Torah (though the rabbis generally forbid it in practice), and those that do cite other verses, not Deuteronomy 22. This should give us a big clue about the original intent of the passage.

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  104. VV Your appeal to how rabbi’s read the Torah is not compelling. Note that the Torah also allows for divorce. When the Pharisees approached Jesus about this, he responds that:
    1. The proper understanding of marriage is grounded in the creation account of Genesis.
    2. While the Torah made allowances for divorce, this was due to the hardness of the people’s hearts. An accommodation if you will, but divorce+remarriage for reasons other than infidelity was still intrinsically sinful.
    3. The order that Jesus points to is: 1. leave parents, 2. hold fast, & 3. become one flesh. The clear implication is that sex is to follow marriage. Any pattern that falls short of this ideal is sinful (this would include concubines, etc…)

    It seems to me that our reading of Deut., SoS, and Paul’s epistles should be read in light of Jesus’s use of the creation account as a dispositive model for proper sexual expression.

    Your reading of Deut 22 is too narrow. To be sure it is written for a context far removed from ours, but you seem to want to take prostitution very, very narrowly. The implication here is that the simple fact of sex with men to whom one is not married makes one a harlot. If there were nothing immoral about sex among unmarried adults, one might wonder why such a premium was put on virginity. Paul’s language about being united to the prostitute points in this direction. The hard teaching about marriage from Jesus and Paul (and the instruction to marry rather than burn with passion) indicates that marriage is the only proper outlet for sex.

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  105. @VV: So it is your contention that the real offense in Deut 22:13ff is a property offense, of fraudulent dealing wrt bride price. Can you think of any other property offenses that were punished in the OT law with death?

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  106. sdb say The hard teaching about marriage from Jesus and Paul (and the instruction to marry rather than burn with passion) indicates that marriage is the only proper outlet for sex.

    so, cont. other post, re: reasons one might pray about revival…
    7. that He would keep His people pure, enabled to follow His principles, to stay away from sex sin, to control our bodies so they honor God, to not do what the rest of the world does, guided by their lusts and passions, and to not use other people, and take advantage of them.

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  107. sdb – comparing the Torah’s commands on divorce to extramarital sex is not valid for several reasons. First, divorce is in place only because of sin, namely adultery. If there was no adultery there would be no divorce, as Jesus clearly states in Matthew. That’s not the case with extramarital sex, especially polygamy and concubinage. Those aren’t allowed because of sin – polygamy is even indirectly commanded in the case of levirate marriages. So comparing the the allowance of polygamy/concubinage to the allowance of divorce is an inappropriate analogy.

    Second, the creation account defines nature of the marriage covenant, but does not concern sexuality other than to indicate marriage should be heterosexual. Jesus’ concern is with covenant fidelity, not sexuality. His point is that people in marriage should be faithful to each other based on their covenant vows, unless that covenant is abrogated by an unrepentant spouse, in which case divorce is acceptable. In other words, the creation order establishes the importance of fidelity, not monogamy. Thus we can read the creation order (and Jesus’ affirmation of it) as the defining model for covenant fidelity, but not for “sexual expression.”

    Regarding virginity, a “premium” was put on virginity for several reasons, in ancient Israel and many other cultures. 1. It was a sure sign of paternity of the husband, 2. It delineated clear “ownership” of the woman, 3. It reduced spread of disease, 4. It was potentially more sexually pleasurable. For what it’s worth, virginity (of women) was extremely important in Greco-Roman society – and I wouldn’t call that culture a paragon of sexual morality.

    Jeff and sdb – the punishment for a false accuser is quite harsh as well – public beating and a fine. In both cases the “crime” is dishonoring the father of the woman: in the case of a false accusation of not being a virgin he is bringing shame on the father, and in the case of her not being a virgin she has brought shame on her father. Again, the death sentence for the young woman was probably extremely rare and reserved for severe cases of wanton promiscuity. Note that there is no moral opprobrium of sex the way there is for violating gender roles in 22:5.

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  108. @vv “First, divorce is in place only because of sin, namely adultery. If there was no adultery there would be no divorce, as Jesus clearly states in Matthew. That’s not the case with extramarital sex, especially polygamy and concubinage. Those aren’t allowed because of sin – polygamy is even indirectly commanded in the case of levirate marriages. So comparing the the allowance of polygamy/concubinage to the allowance of divorce is an inappropriate analogy.”

    Deuteronomy does not require adultery for divorce, so your conclusion does not follow.

    “Second, the creation account defines nature of the marriage covenant, but does not concern sexuality other than to indicate marriage should be heterosexual.” The creation account does not define anything. It is a model from which one may deduce that marriage should be covenantal. There is no reason to draw a narrow conclusion there. The fact that sex follows and implies union is a crucial part of that model.

    Regarding the reasons you list for the “premium” – wouldn’t those indicate that the causal behavior is in fact immoral. But point 1 needs to be expanded (or an additional cause needs to be stated). Having extramarital sex will produce fatherless children – even in our age of cheap and effective birth control. Effectively the mother adults are guaranteeing the children of a widow. Strong moral boundaries on the expression of sex are necessary to restrain what is a very powerful appetite indeed.

    Why is “wanton promiscuity” a bad thing if the act one is doing wantonly and promiscuously is not sinful? Indeed, why would prostitution be considered sinful if one never married and the clients were never married? Perhaps all pre-marital sex is a kind of prostitution even if money never changes hands.

    In summary – your case against the immorality of pre-marital sex fails to properly account for the model provided in the creation narrative, the stiff penalties for being discovered to have been engaged in pre-marital sex, the teaching of Jesus and Paul on marriage, and the call to sexual purity woven through the old and new testament.

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  109. sdb – Deuteronomy 24:1 allows for divorce only in cases of “indecency.” This is an admittedly broad term, but the term Jesus uses in Matthew 19, porneia, is also broad. In context it most likely indicates adultery, but it could refer to other sexual sins as well. Regardless, the intent was for marriage to be a lifelong covenant relationship, though there were provisions in the case of adultery to maintain a civil society. In any case, divorce is not commanded while polygamy is in certain cases. Nowhere does the NT condemn the OT practices of polygamy and concubinage the way it condemns divorce.

    The creation account defines the natural order of marriage: a man and woman are bound to one another, and as Jesus indicates, this is for life. Sex is certainly a part of the model, but the creation order (and Jesus’ affirmation of it) only deal with marriage, not with sex. Based on the creation order it is reasonable to deduce that sex is crucial within marriage, but not that it is forbidden outside marriage. Again, it is hard to imagine sex outside marriage is sinful when God Himself gives David and Solomon multiples wives and concubines. And it is very hard to imagine if indeed the characters in the Song of Songs are unmarried.

    No, I don’t agree at all that the reasons virginity was prized is because premarital sex is immoral. All sorts of perversions were a premium in ancient culture (pederasty in the Greek world, for example) – it does not imply morality one way or another. Certainty of paternity was crucial to maintain pure bloodlines in the ancient world.

    Wanton promiscuity is bad the way any unbridled activity is bad: it constitutes gluttony. Ice cream is perfectly fine unless you down a carton with every meal. Beer is great unless you become an alcoholic. Smoking pot is fine (where it is legal) as long as you don’t stay incessantly high. Playing poker now and then is fine, but poor stewardship on account of excess gambling is sinful. Having sex with prostitutes every time you get an urge is exactly what Paul condemns in 1 Corinthians 6. Being obsessed with sex with your wife can be gluttony as well, even though no one doubts that in itself married sex is a blessing.

    It goes without saying I disagree with your final paragraph: the OT never condemns extramarital sex and the NT sexual norms reflect those of the OT. The creation order is vital for understanding the nature of marriage, but not for understanding sexuality in general.

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  110. Hi VV,

    I want to address your arguments later tonight or tomorrow, but speak to you as a person here.

    The question on the table is, How does one know when one is engaging in “motivated reasoning”? We can often spot it in others, but what of ourselves?

    In the case of our discussion, each of us has that potential. For me, possible motives to sway my reasoning might be that I have a vested stake in protecting the Confession from dissent, or that I gain psychological satisfaction from judging those who engage in premarital sex.

    For you, the motives could be that you feel protective of someone that you care about who engages in premarital sex, or that one of your favorite professors or teachers espouses this line of reasoning, or even that you are disenchanted with confessionalism and are eager to challenge “outdated views” with new interpretations of Scripture.

    Other motives are possible. For both of us, hidden personal factors have the potential to make weak arguments seem strong, to help us brush aside or fail to fully engage with counterarguments.

    I’m not making a charge here, nor am I demanding full disclosure of all your motivators.

    I’m just raising the question for both of us to consider: How do I, Jeff or Mason, know when I have slipped over from objective argumentation into protecting a view?

    That’s one reason that I place such a premium on rejecting possible alternatives. It’s not a fool-proof method, but it does have the virtue of forcing me to consider the alternatives to my own argument.

    The stakes are high. Though Ali jumped the gun in accusing you of rebellion, still and all, she has a point: at least one of us is in error, and to be obstinate in that error runs the risk of fighting against God Himself.

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  111. Jeff – thanks for the admonishment and the reminder. I have no personal stake in this discussion in terms of my own sex life or really the sex life of anyone near to me. I don’t have anyone in my (PCA) church who advocates my views. I think it’s good to always examine our motives, but the more I have studied this issue the less convinced I am the prevailing church teaching is correct. That said, I submit to the authority of the church and would not teach or advocate my view if I were in the position to do so (I’m not).

    I will say that while I affirm the Westminster Standards with a few minor exceptions, I do think we need to constantly re-evaluate those Standards. Not that they are necessarily wrong, but it is always wise to ensure that our theology aligns with Scripture. I think there is a reluctance in the Reformed community to do this for fear of appearing rebellious. In my view this mentality is dangerous and unwise.

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  112. Jeff Cagle says: The stakes are high.

    Very.
    Matthew 18:6 but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.

    Jeff Cagle :Though Ali jumped the gun in accusing you of rebellion

    We can agree to disagree. Comment #1 right out of the gate :
    Vae victis (@masonmandy) says: aside from the anti-Scriptural portions and poor hermeneutics, this sort of thing is the EEEEeeeeeeeevangelical version of virtue signaling. The Nashville Statement originated from a Baptist organization, and I’m sure it plays great with the mostly older, mostly white, mostly rural fundamentalist Baptists out there who lap this sort of thing up.

    ‘virtue’ proclamation – a bad thing? – probably should check in with the Holy Spirit – the Spirit of Holiness – about that as a legitimate accusation and judgement against brothers.

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  113. Oh wait, I forgot, the proclamation from some of your circles is how free wwweee (mmmeee) are in Christ …
    …to do whatever we want.

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  114. Ali – yeah, I was at least stereotyping, if not being a bit judgmental. That was a mistake. That said, I’m not a big fan of these kinds of statements in general because it is a way for some people to jump on board with a certain set of values as a way of being “in the evangelical club,” so to speak. I was also critical because I disagree with parts of it and believe there is thin Scriptural warrant – at best – for some of their conclusions. And that is what the discussion has centered on for the past couple of weeks.

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  115. Ali: ‘virtue’ proclamation – a bad thing?

    Well, according to Jesus, yes. Matt 6.1 – 6.

    There is a tricky line between letting your light shine and doing deeds of righteousness to be seen by others, between exposing fruitless deeds of darkness and judging others with a measure by which we ourselves cannot be measured.

    Blessed is the man (or woman) who does not condemn himself by what he approves.

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  116. not surprised, anyway anymore, by the response, especially by one agreeing with vv here:
    Jeff Cagle says: That said, your point about importing sexual norms from culture is a valid caution, and the problem is evident in discussions of modesty and virginity.

    I think you have said you have children. I think I will pray for them.

    I accept and as sincere and applaud the conviction here: Preamble (excerpts)

    By and large the spirit of our age no longer discerns or delights in the beauty of God’s design for human life.

    This secular spirit of our age presents a great challenge to the Christian church. Will the church of the Lord Jesus Christ lose her biblical conviction, clarity, and courage, and blend into the spirit of the age? Or will she hold fast to the word of life, draw courage from Jesus, and unashamedly proclaim his way as the way of life? Will she maintain her clear, counter-cultural witness to a world that seems bent on ruin?

    We are persuaded that faithfulness in our generation means declaring once again the true story of the world and of our place in it—particularly as male and female. Christian Scripture teaches that there is but one God who alone is Creator and Lord of all. To him alone, every person owes gladhearted thanksgiving, heart-felt praise, and total allegiance.

    This is the path not only of glorifying God, but of knowing ourselves. To forget our Creator is to forget who we are, for he made us for himself. And we cannot know ourselves truly without truly knowing him who made us. We did not make ourselves. We are not our own.

    We believe that God’s design for his creation and his way of salvation serve to bring him the greatest glory and bring us the greatest good. God’s good plan provides us with the greatest freedom. Jesus said he came that we might have life and have it in overflowing measure. He is for us and not against us. Therefore, in the hope of serving Christ’s church and witnessing publicly to the good purposes of God for human sexuality revealed in Christian Scripture, we offer the following affirmations

    Btw, I love this simple verse of the Lord’s picture for us;
    2 Corinthians 11:2 For I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy; for I betrothed you to one husband, so that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin. 3 But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ.

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  117. If you thought my comment meant that we don’t value modesty or chastity chez Cagle, then you need to look again. The enemy of my enemy (the flesh) is not my friend.

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  118. So here I am, looking back through and focusing really hard on the various arguments concerning extramarital sex. Very much appreciating Chortles, WDO, SDB, Robert, and AFC. Then I hit

    D.G.,
    Obviously, you don’t understand socialism.

    *snort*

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  119. @VV:

    OK, I need to push back against the argument made here. Just to recap: You have argued that porneia in the NT covers forbidden sexual sins in the OT. This seems correct to me, though I have not studied that question in detail.

    Then you have argued that premarital sex is permitted in the OT. I’ve asked you to consider two seeming counterexamples: Ex 22.16 – 17 and Deut 22.13 – 21.

    In the first passage, it would seem to me that the couple is compelled to marry because, in the act of sex, they have made themselves one. You reply that,

    VV: The payment of the bride-price was a form of restitution to the girl’s father, since he would not be able to charge the “virgin bride-price” to anyone else since she was no longer a virgin. Since is a form of restitution to the father, if anyone was “harmed” it was him, not the man or woman. Note that there is no moral condemnation of the sex at all. In modern American society there is no bride-price and no de facto ownership of daughters, and thus no one is harmed when two adults mutually consent to sex. Isn’t that the principle here?

    In the second passage, it would seem to me that in the case where the woman was not found to be virginal (guilty until proven innocent?), she was to be stoned. That is, she was stoned for a single act of premarital sex occurring at any time prior to the accusation. This very high-stakes penalty is consistent with the sanctions for other sexual sins, and inconsistent with the relatively lower sanctions for property sins. You reply,

    VV: Look at the context: it’s all about honesty and fair dealing. The woman who is found not to be a virgin is condemned because she has been a “harlot” specifically *in her father’s house*. This could be literal, but more likely meant *under her father’s authority*. In other words, she betrayed him, probably lied to him, and cost him the virgin-bride price. He sold her under the pretense of being a virgin, and it brought dishonor to him when it was found out that she was not. The person wronged is the father.

    Two other quick notes on this. First, the harsh sentence of stoning implies multiple lovers, since two eye witnesses were required for a death sentence. This suggests promiscuity, since more than one man would have to testify that they slept with her. Second, most rabbis do not consider extramarital sex to be forbidden in the Torah (though the rabbis generally forbid it in practice), and those that do cite other verses, not Deuteronomy 22. This should give us a big clue about the original intent of the passage.

    I have a number of objections to this reading. Two are factual, and I will post those here.

    (1) You claim in both cases that the person wronged was the father. However, in Deut 22, the person wronged by the false accusation and also by premarital sex is held to be the woman.

    and they shall fine him [the false accuser] a hundred shekels of silver and give them to the father of the young woman, because he has brought a bad name upon a virgin of Israel. And she shall be his wife. He may not divorce her all his days.

    It is clear that the accuser has wronged the woman, not the father. As a result, he owes the woman support and fidelity for life.

    One might be fooled into thinking that the money paid to the father is evidence that the father was wronged. But a moment’s reflection shows that the father receives the money on behalf of the woman; for the accusing husband to pay the woman herself would be silly, since he owns her property. But for the father to hold it because he brought a bad name on her means that the money will be available to her, but not the husband.

    And further in Deut 22, the passage that parallels Ex 22 reads

    28 “If a man meets a virgin who is not betrothed, and seizes her and lies with her, and they are found, 29 then the man who lay with her shall give to the father of the young woman fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife, because he has violated her. He may not divorce her all his days.

    Here again (and in sharp contrast to your reading of Ex 22), the man has an obligation to the woman because he violated her. The father is not the injured party.

    (2) You cite rabbinical tradition as giving a clue to the original intent of the passage. I made some attempt to verify this claim. My research is by no means complete or scholarly, so I invite you to add your own research here. Nevertheless, what I found was quite the opposite.

    Early sources that I could find tended to take this passage to refer to a woman who had failed to remain virginal until marriage. Thus Philo (Special Laws 3.79ff), Josephus (Antiquities 4.8.23), Qumran (4Q159), and Sifre Devarim (Ki-Tetzei, Pisqa’ 235ff — PG13 alert!).

    The Qumran is interesting. Jeffrey Tigay has an article that considers the manner in which the bride’s virginity was assessed. As you can imagine, it was a non-trivial process. He concludes

    “Although bloodstained cloths and garments are widely used to prove the virginity of brides in the Middle East and elsewhere, such evidence is notoriously unreliable. It was already recognized in Talmudic times that the absence of blood is no proof of premarital intercourse … It was likewise recognized that bloodstains are not proof of virginity… The inadequacy of the cloth as evidence is reflected in the halakhah, which holds that in fact the case must be resolved by witnesses. As read by the halakhah, Deut 22:13 – 22 refers to a case where the new husband claims that, finding no evidence of virginity, he investigated and learned from others that his fiancée had engaged in sexual relations after becoming engaged to him. He must produce two witnesses who saw her sin, and her parents can disprove the charge only be producing other witnesses who counter the husband’s, thus laying out the facts “like a cloth.” This forced interpretation is testimony to the impracticability of the law as stated in Deuteronomy. The adaptation of this law found at Qumran represents a pre-rabbinic attempt to employ other means to resolve the case.” [Tilgay, “Examination of the Accused Bride in 4Q159, emph add.]

    The bolded sentence shows the evolution of interpretation over time: from literal interpretation in Biblical times, requiring the bedcloth and requiring virginity on the part of the bride, to a much less literal interpretation in medieval times.

    In fact, medieval rabbinical sources deliberately eschewed the literal meaning of the passage. Eg.:

    Ex.:

    “With regard to a defamer, the verses are fulfilled in accordance with the halakhic midrash, not their literal meaning. In short, the case of the defamer is as follows: A man married a young woman, i.e., neither a minor nor a grown woman, who is not a convert, and he engaged in regular sexual intercourse with her. Subsequently, he claimed in court that she was not a virgin, and he brings witnesses that she committed adultery when she was betrothed to him. If the testimony of these witnesses is accepted, she is stoned at the door of her father’s house. Even if she does not have a father, or if her father does not have a house, she is executed regardless. If the father brings witnesses who testify that the first pair were false, conspiring witnesses, the guilty witnesses themselves are stoned, in accordance with the halakha of false, conspiring witnesses, while the husband is flogged and must pay the father of the young woman one hundred shekels of silver. Furthermore, he must retain her as his wife and may not divorce her unless she wants to leave him.”

    — Introduction to the Babylonian Talmud, Ketubot, Summary of Perek IV.3

    The change from 3rd cent CE to 11th cent CE is stark. First, the woman no longer has to prove herself innocent with the bedcloth; instead, the accuser must present witnesses. Second, the understanding of the offense has shifted. No longer is the woman accused of being non-virginal, as Josephus baldly states. Instead, she must stand accused of having relations with others while engaged.

    So I conclude that far from helping determine original meaning of this passage, rabbinical sources — that is, Talmudic and medieval sources — deliberately nudged aside the earlier, original meaning in favor of a more “workable” law.

    Again, I’m not a midrashic scholar, so I welcome debate here. Still, the preliminary take is not promising for your argument.

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  120. Now let’s turn to some theoretical problems.

    (3) Your reading rests on an unusual relationship between God’s law and man’s law. In your view, being unchaste was not a sin, but it did violate the cultural moral standards of the times. Hence, you hold that the bride-price was paid for a virgin because her chastity was valuable according to man’s standards. The value assigned to virginity was the basis for the penalty: if a man took her virginity, he owed the father the bride-price; if the father mis-represented his daughter’s virginity, he would be committing fraud.

    All of this is (supposedly) in reference to cultural, man-made norms and not God’s actual disapproval.

    This raises the question: Why is God commanding that a woman be executed for violating man-made norms that are not actual matters of sin?

    Does God do that anywhere else in the Bible? Is that remotely consistent with His character as revealed elsewhere?

    You appear to have God binding Himself to the laws of man, creating a judicial law with sanction of death, based upon man’s cultural norms.

    That is a huge theoretical problem in your reading. It makes sense that if premarital sex is a sin, that God might punish that sin, in the age under the Law, with death (in Deut 22). That is an extreme penalty, yet consistent with the judicial law bringing terrors to those under it.

    It makes no sense that if premarital sex is not sin, that God would punish the woman for engaging in a non-sinful action that happened to offend the sensibilities of the culture.

    (4) Likewise, as Chortles and SDB (at least) have pointed out, the act of sex is the marker for marriage, such that marriage is described as “the two becoming one flesh” by Jesus and Genesis alike.

    What is the point of that marker if it may be licitly shared with others — any number of others, as long as not “in excess”, as you would have it — prior to marriage?

    Alice loves Bob. She sleeps with him. This act does not make them one, in the marriage sense.

    Alice also likes Charlie, and so does her family. He proposes, unlike Bob. She marries Charlie. She sleeps with him. This act makes them one.

    Charlie is a cad. He visits a prostitute and sleeps with her. This act makes them one, which is a violation of the marriage vows and a sin in its own right.

    But Alice is still not one with Bob because even though she took the exact same actions, they didn’t count without the ring! Unless Bob paid her, in which case she was a prostitute.

    I wonder if receiving dinners and gifts counts as payment? /McMark

    You see the problem. The “makes one” understanding of sex is woven throughout the rest of Scripture. In that understanding, the problem with premarital sex is that it makes two people one who have not actually committed to each other to be one. It is an act of defrauding one another (1 Thess 4).

    Your view essentially carves out an exception for sex outside of marriage, but with no basis for it other than that there is not a specific, detailed prohibition against premarital sex. In other words, your argument resists the force of good and necessary consequence on the ground that the exact words “premarital sex is a sin” are not found.

    (5) We talked of the danger of importing cultural understandings. If I were to positively ding your argument for any “import violations”, it would be here:

    VV: … and thus no one is harmed when two adults mutually consent to sex.

    While I have never read that principle in Scripture, I certainly have heard it very often from those who advocate ethical license with regard to sexual matters — not just premarital, but adultery, homosexuality, etc.

    That principle moves the goalpost from “is it sin?” to “can you prove harm?” and from “what does God desire?” to “what do I desire?”

    And yet the paradigm of “consent” is proving to be a nightmare on college campuses.

    I would submit that the question of “harm” hinges first on the question of sin. If Deut 22.29 is correct, that “the man who lay with her violated her”, then harm was done. If Paul is correct, “that whoever sins sexually sins against his own body”, then harm is done when sin is committed — and not the other way round.

    So what of your examples? In particular, what of Song of Solomon on the one hand, concubinage in the OT on the other, and levirate marriage on the third hand?

    SoS is too mushy. There are enough degrees of freedom in the understanding of the text, between questions of chronology and questions of symbols. I think those predisposed to see sex reserved for marriage have enough textual room to think of SoS in that way — Longman and Deilitz. Those predisposed to see sex not reserved for marriage have enough textual room to think of SoS in that way.

    In other words, SoS is somewhat like Revelation: contestable, and not sufficiently clear on its own to act as the foundation for a theology of sex (or end times).

    Concubinage I find described in the OT, but never endorsed. Certainly, it was not treated as if adultery simpliciter — think David — but that does not mean that it was acceptable in God’s eyes.

    Levirate marriage is a more interesting case, since it was commanded. Is that because it was “least bad of all possible options”? I can’t say. What I can say is that by the time Paul writes to Timothy and Titus, men with two wives are disqualified from being elders. So there’s something there that is defective.

    Now, in typing all of this, I am conscious that my own behavior over the course of my life is cause for repentance and not pride. Please don’t understand me as “virtue signalling”, but as seeking to uphold what I perceive Scripture to be saying.

    School has ramped up in earnest, and it’s time for the annual hibernation. I will check back for your response, but I’ll leave off commenting. God bless.

    You, too, Ali.

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  121. Jeff Cagle says God bless. You, too, Ali.

    Thank you and same to you, Jeff.

    may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant us to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus so that with one accord we may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
    to Him who is able to keep us from stumbling and make us stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.

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  122. Jeff – Sorry it has taken so long for me to respond – I have been out of town since last Thursday. Let me respond to each of your points individually.

    1. I’ll concede that Deut 22 *might* be referring to the woman when it condemns the man for bringing dishonor on “a virgin of Israel.” But several things to consider: first, this was a patriarchal society, and as such shame and dishonor were brought on the family, not the individual. So really the shame would have come on the father and and the family name, not the woman as an individual. Second, Bruce Waltke contends that the word for “virgin” here really means “young woman” or “girl of marriageable age.” Eventually the terms for “virgin” and “young woman” became conflated because they were often redundant, but “virgin” was not the intended meaning at the time Deuteronomy was written.

    Also, Deut 22:28-29 deals with rape, not consensual sex. Thus the man has “violated” her because he has taken her forcefully. Every commentary I’ve read agrees that rape is in view here. The father was wronged, but the woman was wronged also because she was forced. Thus the man must marry her and provide her basic needs throughout her life. To us it seems unfathomable that a rape victim would be forced to marry her rapist, but at the time this was the law in order ensure the woman was provided for throughout her life – there was no requirement for her to sleep with him or even live with him. All that to say, you can’t use Deut 22:28-29 in a discussion of consensual extramarital sex.

    2. The rabbinic interpretation of Deut 22 has varied somewhat, but overall the view is that it was virtually impossible to “convict” the girl of any wrongdoing in a case like this. First, it required two male eyewitnesses (for the death penalty), which likely means two different men who have slept with her. This would be difficult enough for the accuser to produce without any defense needed from the girl. Second, taking a literal view, the girl only needed a bloody sheet to prove her innocence. Think about the ease with which this could be done: all she needed was blood on a sheet. This could be actual blood that was cause by her first intercourse, but it could just as easily be her own menstrual blood, blood from somewhere else, someone else, or something else. It was an incredibly low bar to prove her innocence. So in the unlikely event that a man produced two eyewitnesses, the defense was incredibly simple, leading us to believe that a “conviction” was extremely rare in practice.

    I don’t have the text with me at the moment, but one Medieval rabbinical scholar (Rashi, I think) concluded that this verse deals with adultery, not lack of virginity. His reasoning is that it includes the death penalty, which was the penalty for adultery. He also makes the case that the situation is the kiddushin stage of marriage, so the man and woman did not live together but were bound in marriage (the status of Mary and Joseph). So the crime in this case was adultery, not premarital sex.

    The bottom line is that Deut 22 does not deal with a case of simple, consensual premarital sex, but of either rank promiscuity or adultery that brought shame on the father. That is the prevailing view of rabbinical teaching, and keep in mind that the rabbis generally forbid premarital sex as a safeguard to actually breaking the Torah, which they typically believe does NOT forbid extramarital sex.

    3. The harsh sentence of the death penalty in Deut 22 is more problematic for your reading than it is for mine. If premarital sex was so abhorrent in God’s eyes, Scripture would tell us somewhere. For a list of truly “abominable” sexual sins, look at Leviticus 18. If God wanted to include premarital sex on this list, Moses would have done it, and one of the NT authors would have repeated it, or we would have direct condemnation of it somewhere in Scripture. So if your case is that Deut 22 is a case simple premarital sex, then you believe God instituted the death penalty for something he never directly condemns anywhere else in Scripture, which is hard to believe.

    4. I do not deny, and in fact agree wholeheartedly, that sex is a seal (or marker) of marriage. But that does not imply that sex functions ONLY as a marker for marriage. Again, if this were such an all-encompassing principle God would not have allowed/commanded polygamy and concubinage. Also, I will agree that sex is probably its deepest and most fulfilling in marriage, but that does not mean it must be restricted to marriage alone. For example, we don’t avoid wine and bread outside of celebrating the Lord’s Supper: they may have special, spiritual meaning as part of the Sacrament, but can also function as mere food and drink outside the Sacrament. The same applies to sex: it can be a seal and a fulfilling part of marriage, but it can be enjoyed outside marriage as well (within limits). In my opinion it is classic eisegesis to read into Gen 2 and Matt 19 the idea of chastity outside marriage.

    5. We both agree that we should define “harm” and sin based on Scripture, not culture. That said, we disagree about Scripture (I strongly believe your reading of Deut 22:29 is wrong). Paul indeed warns about the harmful/sinful effects of sexual immorality. But if sexual immorality is defined by the OT, then we are back to discussing implications of the law and best reading of Song of Songs. I think we are on the same page that we have to consider the whole counsel of Scripture when evaluating any doctrine, but in this case we simply disagree about what that counsel is with regard to extramarital sex.

    Thanks for the discussion, Jeff. I understand you may too busy to comment, but please feel free to respond with any other thoughts.

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