“Time for a Greek word study!”

Soren Kierkegaard:

The matter is quite simple. The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand we are obliged to act accordingly. Take any words in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly. My God, you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined. How would I ever get on in this world?

Herein lies the real place of Christian scholarship. Christian scholarship is the Church’s prodigious invention to defend itself against the Bible, to ensure that we can continue to be good Christians without the Bible coming too close. Oh, priceless scholarship, what would we do without you? Dreadful it is to fall into the hands of the living God. Yes, it is even dreadful to be alone with the New Testament. 1

Douglas Wilson:

Depending on the issue and the text, liberals are sometimes more to be trusted with the message of the text than conservatives are. This is because liberals are not stuck with the results of their exegesis the way conservatives are. Because conservatives confess that the teaching of the text is normative, the conservative has to make a show of actually doing whatever he comes up with. The liberal can say that the apostle Paul prohibited women teaching in the church—ho, ho, ho—but there it is. At least we get an accurate summary of what Paul’s position was. The conservative cannot afford to say that Paul was wrong, and—because whether or not they admit it, conservative church are pressured by the zeitgeist too—he cannot afford to act as though Paul was simply straight-up right. What to do? What to do? Time for a Greek word study!” 2


It is, I must admit, quite a bit of fun to tell another Christian that you believe x (in which x is effectively a restatement of a passage from the Bible) then watch them squirm—or fight you on that point.3

However, in the interest of first addressing the log in one’s own eye, I can remember many occasions in which I have read some passage of Scripture, and said in my heart, “Surely not!”, then searched for some commentary to tell me that this passage doesn’t really mean that.

Now, it should go without saying that there are many passages of Scripture that truly will be misunderstood at first blush, if the context or the genre are not taken into account. That is a thing, I grant.

What I am taking aim at here is the little King Ahab in each of our hearts, who amplifies the voices of sycophants to drown out the sound of God’s word:

Then the king of Israel gathered the prophets together, four hundred men, and said to them, “Shall we go to battle against Ramoth-gilead, or shall I refrain?” And they said, “Go up, for God will give it into the hand of the king.” But Jehoshaphat said, “Is there not here another prophet of the LORD of whom we may inquire?” And the king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, “There is yet one man by whom we may inquire of the LORD, Micaiah the son of Imlah; but I hate him, for he never prophesies good concerning me, but always evil.” And Jehoshaphat said, “Let not the king say so.” (2 Chronicles 18:5-7, ESV)

Let us consider, oh I don’t know, 1 Corinthians 11. Yes, the first bit of that chapter. And let us suppose that this passage, properly understood, truly doesn’t require a Christian wife in our day and age to wear a piece of fabric over her head when she goes to church. That being the case, it would be far, far better for a Christian wife to “misread” and “misapply” that passage by wearing a head covering to church with an obedient and joyful spirit, rather than saying what many of us have said in our hearts with that page of our Bibles open before us: “He can’t mean that! I wouldn’t do that!”

The impulse to get a second opinion about God’s word should be one of the central targets of our mortification. Instead, let us get in the habit of saying, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38, ESV).

  1. Soren Kierkegaard, Attack upon Christendom
  2. Douglas Wilson, Why Ministers Must Be Men (p. 41–42)
  3. Am I being Christlike in so doing? Yes, that’s where I got the idea: Luke 20:16-17.

 

A peculiar kind of dismembering of reality

I confess to following the news (if I follow it at all) in a very erratic fashion, getting only bits and pieces of stories every few days. I tend not to commit too much time to knowing in detail things that don’t affect my sphere, or about which I cannot do anything.1

All of this amounts to a defence of why I don’t have much in particular to say about the American border separation business that is making the news at the moment. I don’t have all the relevant facts, nor do I have much insight on the issue of immigration that I could be of use to anyone else. (Add to this that I’m living all the way over in Australia, and we’ve got plenty of our own curly immigration questions already, thank you very much.) As a rule, though, I’m generally against traumatising children; I don’t know where that puts me on the political spectrum.DgN8dH3WsAA-Dzr

Of more interest to me is the meta-story about how the story has been presented.

Many of you will have seen the TIME Magazine cover featuring a two-year-old Honduran girl balling her eyes out in front of a less-than-empathetic President Trump. As it turns out, the little girl photographed hadn’t been separated from her family because of the policy, as the image suggest; her mother had momentarily put her on the ground while she was being searched at the border. As Rachel Stoltzfoos writes for The Federalist:

The photo and story made a big splash in the media war over the separation policy, which Trump has since ended, but both have now been completely dismantled by the press, resulting in a major correction.

“The original version of this story misstated what happened to the girl in the photo after she taken from the scene,” the correction reads. “The girl was not carried away screaming by U.S. Border Patrol agents; her mother picked her up and the two were taken away together.”

[…]

TIME defended its cover and its reporting Friday, essentially claiming the facts are irrelevant because of the propaganda value of the piece. The photo and story “capture the stakes of this moment,” the editor in chief told reporter Hadas Gold.

“Yes, it’s not technically true, but it tells the story very effectively.” Jiminy.

This struck me as an almost perfect instance of what Neil Postman discussed in his book Amusing Ourselves to Death over thirty years ago:

The photograph also lacks a syntax, which deprives it of a capacity to argue with the world. As an “objective” slice of space-time, the photograph testifies that someone was there or something happened. Its testimony is powerful but it offers no opinions – no “should-have-beens” or “might-have beens”. Photography is pre-eminently a world of fact, not of dispute about facts or of conclusions to be drawn from them. But this is not to say photography lacks an epistemological bias. As Susan Sontag has observed, a photograph implies “that we know about the world if we accept it as the camera records it”. But, as she further observes, all understanding begins with our not accepting the world as it appears. Language, of course, is the medium we use to challenge, dispute, and cross-examine what comes into view, what is on the surface. The words “true” and “false” come from the universe of language, and no other. When applied to a photograph, the question, Is it true? means only, Is this a reproduction of a real slice of space-time? If the answer is “Yes”, there are no grounds for argument, for it makes no sense to disagree with an unfaked photograph. The photograph itself makes no arguable propositions, makes no extended and unambiguous commentary. It offers no assertions to refute, so it is not refutable.

The way in which the photograph records experience is also different from the way of language. Language makes sense only when it is presented as a sequence of propositions. Meaning is distorted when a word or sentence is, as we say, taken out of context; when a reader or listener is deprived of what was said before, and after. But there is no such thing as a photograph taken out of context, for a photograph does not require one. ‘In fact, the point of photography is to isolate images from context, so as to make them visible in a different way. In a world of photographic images, Ms Sontag writes, “all borders… seem abitrary. Anything can be separated, can be made discontinuous, from anything else: all that is necessary is to frame the subject differently.” She is remarking on the capacity of photographs to perform a peculiar kind of dismembering of reality, a wrenching of moments out of their contexts, and a juxtaposing of events and things that have no logical or historical connection with each other.

The term “post-truth” has been thrown around quite a bit in recent years, but Postman is pointing out that the medium in which propositions are subjugated to the image is necessarily beyond truth, not in the sense that every image the media shows you is misleading, but that the true-or-false taxonomy that you can use about a proposition doesn’t neatly apply to images in the first place.

Is TIME’s magazine cover true or false? Well, I don’t understand the question.


    1. I don’t hold this to be a hard rule, as though the goal is to shut out any information about things outside my own life; rather, the goal is to focus on areas where I can exhibit some agency, rather than spending inordinate amounts of time picking up ever-changing tidbits of information merely for their own sake. (This, incidentally, is also something I learned from Neil Postman: “the information-action ratio”.)

      I have been challenged on this position by other Christians who have pointed out that the more I know, the more I can pray about. This is quite true: Paul prays for the good news and bad news in other churches as he hears about them, and shares news between churches so they can act and pray, with prayer itself being a form of action: 2 Corinthians 8:1; Colossians 1:3-4. However, I don’t think that this argument makes the necessary step of showing why I ought to commit to finding out an unmanageable amount of extra information in the first place.

      I don’t think it’s unduly cynical to suggest that, if we’re honest with ourselves, this amounts to an after-the-fact justification for our habit of scrolling endlessly through feeds and streams. We rather like the feeling of “being informed” and knowing what’s going on for its own sake. As Postman also points out, our opinions about the news are useful fodder for newspolls that themselves can be turned into news for us to know about.

 

When your hints are not taken

“Will you please let me go?” said Jane. “I want to get home. I am very tired and it’s very late.”

“But you’re not going home,” said Miss Hardcastle. “You’re coming to Belbury.”

“My husband has said nothing about my joining him there.”

Miss Hardcastle nodded. “That was one of his mistakes. But you’re coming with us.”

“What do you mean?”

“It’s an arrest, honey,” said Miss Hardcastle.

C. S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength (p. 91)

The dimly-lit streets of our discourse

Edwin H. Friedman, from his book A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix:

But the most important ramification of the herding phenomenon for leadership is its counter-evolutionary effect. In order to be “inclusive”, the herding family will wind up adopting an appeasement strategy toward its most troublesome members while sabotaging those with the most strength to stand up to the troublemakers. The chronically anxious, herding family will be far more willing to risk losing its leadership than to lose those who disturb their togetherness with their immature responses. Always striving for consensus, it will react against any threat to its togetherness by those who stand on principle rather than on good feelings

The effects show up in language usage, in the administration of justice, in education and welfare policy, in divorce settlements, in the emphasis those who specialise in conflict resolution put on compromise, in the conduct of public meetings, and even in the world of sports. And in some institutions the togetherness forces put such a premium on inclusivity that those who do not agree with making it the overriding principle of the organisation are isolated or rejected, thus creating Orwellian “Animal Farms” in which diversity is eliminated in the name of diversity.

It has been my impression that at any gathering, whether it be public or private, those who are quickest to inject words like sensitivity, empathy, trust, confidentiality, and togetherness into their arguments have perverted these humanitarian words into power tools to get others to adapt to them.

Note well that Friedman died in 1996. The tolerance police have been patrolling the dimly-lit streets of our discourse for much longer than I realised.

One Whole Minute of Bliss

Fyodor Dostoevsky, White Nights1

‘Forgive me if I again say something not quite… But here it is: I can’t help coming here tomorrow. I’m a dreamer; I have so little real life that I regard such moments as this one, now, to be so rare that I can’t help repeating these moments in my dreams. I will dream of you all night, for an entire week, all year long. I will come here tomorrow without fail, exactly here, to this very spot, exactly at this time, and I’ll be happy as I recall what happened yesterday.’

I owe it to myself to sit down one day and figure out exactly why I keep coming back to the writings of Fyodor Dostoevsky, but suffice it to say that I’m very very fond of them.

White Nights bears many family resemblances with other members of the Dostoevsky oeuvre: grandiose speech, unrequited love, someone retreating from the world in shame, and dreams. (I ask that you refrain from psychoanalysing me for the moment.)

The narrative involves our hero “the dreamer” who, while terribly alone in Petersburg one night, rescues a young woman named Nastenka from an unsavoury encounter with a potential attacker. Their initial conversation that night leads to more conversations in the subsequent nights, which in turn leads them quite naturally to love, or at least something very much like it. As it turns out, Nastenka has another love interest, who was expected to return to propose to her by now but hasn’t. The dreamer daren’t hope for much from this woman of his dreams, but finds that he cannot but fall for her.

Dreams

The major theme of the novel is, if I may be so bold, dreams. These dreams are not only an escape from reality for the dreamer, but a necessary part of how he processes that reality. The dreamer describes himself seeing Petersburg by “another, different new sun […] and it shines on everything with a different, special light”.

Without the light that these dreams bring for him, the world (and the future in particular) promises only inescapable loneliness. In the dreamer’s discourse about himself to Nastenka, it is suggested that he was deeply humiliated and hurt in some previous attempt to connect another person.2 As a result, he has disengaged as much as he can from the real world, sealing himself up from the inevitable loneliness. When Nastenka asks about his life, he goes so far as to say that he is “absolutely without stories of any kind”. He has no meaningful engagement with reality; only the dreams are real for him.

Nonetheless, as he watches others live successfully in reality, the dreamer has some sense that he is supposed to leave dreams behind. Indeed, the dreams themselves are “finally growing tired”, and the dreamer is outgrowing them. So not only is reality unbearable, but his dreams are also fading, leaving him with nowhere safe to hide:

‘Sometimes I am overcome by moments of such anguish, such anguish […] Because at those moments it begins to seem that I will never be able to begin living a real life; because it already seems that I have lost all sense, all feeling for the genuine, the real; because, in the end, I curse myself; because after my fantastic nights I am visited by sobering moments that are horrible!’

The arrival of Nastenka, then, has “pierced his breast with all its wearisome torments”: she holds out (intentionally or not) the possibility that he can come out from his white nights to reality. Nastenka is, so to speak, a dream come true. She is something real to cling to that will rescue him both from these fading dreams on one hand and horrible loneliness on the other. She is, indeed, better than his dreams: “What will there be for me to dream about when I have already been so happy in real life beside you!”

Of course, the dreamer cannot cling to Nastenka in the end; she also fades, like all the other dreams. Nastenka’s vanishing is not merely a withholding of love from the dreamer; rather, the entire frame through which he can live in the world is crushed and he has nothing left.

The tragedy of this story surrounds the decisive exit from the world of dreams for “one whole minute of bliss” in the real world, only for the dreamer to find himself suddenly abandoned, and everything he feared most becomes his eternal and very real fate.

The dreamer can no longer retreat to his dreams, which were already beginning to die out. At the same time, neither can he live in reality. The awful loneliness he so deeply feared is now what he must live with for the rest of his life in exchange for this fleeting moment of real happiness:

‘He thinks that this is a poor, pitiful life, not anticipating that perhaps some day the sad hour will strike for him as well, when for a single day of this pitiful life, he would give up all of his fantastic years, and give them up not for joy, or for happiness, and without wishing to choose in this hour of sadness, repentance and boundless sorrow.’


White Nights is all at once surreal, beautiful and sad, and I must say that I really loved it.

Perhaps this is what I love about Dostoevsky: In his best moments, he plunges you down to the bottom of the ocean of another’s suffering until you start to taste the water in your mouth. I have found often that his characters, in their bold declarations of their own suffering, have even expressed to me what I feel, with words that I likely wouldn’t have had the genius to put together nor the courage to say, even to myself:

‘You shake your head and say: How quickly do the years fly by! And again you ask yourself: What have you done with your years? Where have you buried your best days? Did you live or not? Look, you say to yourself, look how cold the world is becoming. More years will pass, followed by gloomy solitude, and then doddering old age will come on a walking-stick, to be followed by anguish and despondency. Your fantastic world will grow pale, your dreams will wither, die and scatter like yellow leaves from the trees… Oh Nastenka! It will be sad, you know, to be left alone, quite alone, and not even have something to regret – nothing, absolutely nothing… because all that I have lost, all this, it was all nothing, a stupid, round zero – it was merely a dream!’

  1. Or “Dostoyevsky”, if you prefer.
  2. In any case, I read the translation by Ronald Meyer. One can see strong parallels to the mental breakdown of Golyadkin in The Double, and the Underground Man’s decisive descent into self-loathing in Notes from Underground.
  3. (The dreamer, in telling his own story here, refers to himself as “our hero”, which is also the narrator’s ironic nickname for Golyadkin in The Double.)

Turns of Phrase Gallivanting About Upon the Stage

Beach was no weakling, but he had begun to feel that too much was being asked of one who, though always desirous of giving satisfaction, liked to draw the line somewhere. A butler who has been compelled to introduce his niece into his employer’s home under a false name and, on top of that, to remove a stolen pig from a gamekeeper’s cottage in a west wood and convey it across country to the detached villa Sunnybrae on the Shrewsbury road is a butler who feels that enough is sufficient.


Perhaps some of you might be interested to know what I’m reading from time to time. Perhaps some of you might even want to know what I think about what I’m reading. I don’t think I’m able to explain either of these demographics, but mine is not to reason why.

What follows is closer to a book recommendation than a proper book review, though I think even the former is too ambitious: I think it would be better to describe this as a sort of witness statement testifying to my having enjoyed P. G. Wodehouse’s Pigs Have Wings.

The premise of the book, to be brief, is that two estates in the English countryside are at war to protect their respective swine for an upcoming pig show. Beyond that there are all manner of other subplots that weave in and out of the fore in ways that are very satisfying to watch.

The plot of this novel, clever though it is in its own right, really serves as a sort of theatre stage upon which Wodehouse’s turns of phrase can gallivant about and soak up the glory. The back-and-forth between the characters is very funny. (At the risk of being the guy who ruins the joke by explaining it, it might be the minor but regular miscommunications between characters that drives both the plot and most of the chuckles in the conversations.)

Pigs Have Wings is light, silly and just delightful to consume. If it contains a serious point, I am too obtuse to see it, and that’s probably a much more enjoyable way to read a book like this.

John T. Baptist: ‘I’m a Prophet of God, and I Intend to Vote Yes to Herod and Herodias’s Marriage’

AD 30 / John T. Baptist

Editor’s Note

Things have not been easy for Australian Christians this year. As the postal survey on same-sex marriage looms ever closer, some otherwise conservative Christians are seriously considering voting Yes, while many others have uneasy feelings about imposing an explicitly Biblical concept of marriage on those who have not assumed submission to the Bible.

With timing that can only be attributed to the providence of God, a team of archaeologists have uncovered what appears to be a miraculously preserved collection of leather-bound writing journals in a cave near the River Jordan. While some words and phrases throughout have been irreparably lost due to some pretty bad splotches of wild honey, the vast majority of the corpus has been preserved for our edification.

Of particular note is what appears to be an ancient thinkpiece by none other than John the Baptist, the prophet who led the way for the coming of the Lord Jesus. It explains John’s thought process behind his controversial stance on the marriage of Herod Antipas and Herodias, and was likely intended for publication.

It is truly an honour to be able to publish this gem from the ancient world. Without it, the Christians of Australia might ever be groping about in the dark, uncertain of how to talk about marriage in the public sphere in a way that the Lord Jesus would commend.

Praise the Lord, who always provides us with everything we need!

Introduction

I want to start a conversation.

As almost all of you are now well aware, the tetrarch Herod Antipas has recently divorced from Phasaelis, princess of Nabataea, to marry Herodias, the wife of his half-brother, Philip.

Herod and Herodias’ marriage (or HHM) has raised some important questions: What is marriage, really? Should followers of Jesus be contributing our views on marriage to the public discourse? Shouldn’t we have somebody other than a man who eats locusts leading the campaign?

There is amongst the followers of Jesus a near-universal assumption that the only faithful way to respond to HHM is to denounce it, an assumption which I want to challenge. I propose that the most God-honouring thing might be to publicly affirm HHM, or simply to refrain from saying anything at all.

The moral versus the political

The first thing I want to clear up is that the question about marrying your brother’s wife is a related (but completely separate) question to the question of the legality of HHM. One is a purely moral question, the other is a political and legal question. The political takes into account the moral, but it also takes into account many other things, and so it isn’t the same.

The Scriptures are clear on sexuality itself and what marriage is. But it is actually silent on how followers of Jesus ought to respond to a nation of unbelievers that want to deviate from the Scriptural understanding of marriage. Believe me, I’ve looked everywhere and I’ve found nothing.

Persuading Pagans

Some amongst us have thought very carefully about this issue, concluding not only from a moral point-of-view that HHM violates God’s intention for marriage, but that allowing it would not be conducive to flourishing for the happy couple, to say nothing of Perea. There have been many followers of Jesus hard at work crafting extra-scriptural arguments for this. For example, some have suggested that HHM might strain the relationship with Herod’s now-disgruntled father-in-law, King Aretas IV of Nabatea. So goes the argument, this could lead to a full-scale occupation of Perea, which Herod’s army would be unlikely to fend off successfully. In my view, this is unfounded and needless speculation. We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

Here’s the bottom line: Despite going to great lengths to downplay its relevance to the debate, the fact can’t be avoided that we only have an objection to HHM because of Leviticus 20:21. We don’t seem to have learned that, in the absence of that underlying moral objection to HHM, no argument against it will ever make adequate sense to him.

Persuading followers of Jesus

So, Herod is unlikely to be convinced by our extra-scriptural and consequentialist arguments. But how ought these arguments be received by us as followers of Jesus?

One of the overarching problems with all these extra-scriptural arguments against HHM is that it’s not our job as Jesus’s followers to make them. I’m not saying the arguments are necessarily wrong, but God simply hasn’t revealed these things to us.

For that reason, I have never been able to take seriously those Israelites who make arguments from what ”nature itself” teaches, or people who try and interpret the so-called ”signs of the times” or, God help them, those who try and derive their work ethic from watching insects. Anyone could have made these insights, regardless of whether they’re a follower of Jesus or not. And being a follower of Jesus doesn’t make you the best amateur myrmecologist. We are not called to be right about everything; we are just called to be right about who Jesus is.

It is not our job to correct Herod on everything. It’s not our job to tell Herod about insights we have arrived at by our own intelligence. Our job is to deliver to him the message God has spoken.

Followers of Jesus, the world and sin

So how should a follower of Jesus react when pagans endorse and celebrate something that God denounces? We must remember that our citizenship is in heaven, and that we are strangers in this world.

Our job is not to shape Herod into our image, but to conform ourselves to Christ’s image. We are not called to demand that Herod and Herodias act like God’s kingdom, but are called simply to be God’s kingdom and invite Herod and Herodias across the border. I cannot overstate what a mistake it would be to publicly denounce HHM, simply because it does not conform to what we believe God’s design for marriage is.

Of course, sometimes God’s people are called to petition the authorities to act mercifully and justly. But read the Scriptures: this directive was never about holding society to a standard of morality or holiness for its own sake – it was always mandated specifically with a view towards helping the least of these. That is, the goal was not to hold people to account for their evils, but to alleviate the impact of evil on the lives of those affected. We should only step in where there is a victim in need of protection. In this case, nobody has been able to show successfully why any third parties are going to be affected by HHM. The fact is that Herod and Herodias are two consenting individuals. I believe that what Herod and Herodias do with their marriage is not under our jurisdiction; it is not our concern. I don’t think it makes any sense to try to hold them to our standard.

Followers of Jesus versus…

What if, however, the victims will be followers of Jesus?

It bothers me that so many followers of Jesus might think in this fashion. Are we to seek the welfare of our city so in it we can find our own welfare? Are we to pray for kings and those in high positions that we might lead peaceful, quiet lives? I think these questions answer themselves.

It comes across to the world as though we are more concerned about our own welfare than we are with theirs. It seems as though we are we trying to protect God’s people from the world, when it is our job to be a light for the nations.

We can reason with those in power, but we can do that without opposing HHM. It makes it look as though Herod and Herodias are enemy number one. It appears as though we are careful with our lives, but reckless with theirs, willing to prevent them from enjoying the recognition of marriage in order to avoid hardships for ourselves, even though these hardships can be avoided in other ways.

This is pushing Herod away from us, and its hindering him from hearing the gospel. For that reason, it can’t possibly be the best way to escape persecution as followers of Jesus.

The Relationship Priority

We are losing more than a debate

The reality is, we are losing this debate. What’s more, we are losing friendships, not least of all with Herod and Herodias. The relationship between them and the followers of Jesus is entirely occupied with the debate over HHM. The debate about HHM is getting in the way of relationship.

At this point, I must address some pernicious rumours to the effect that I, God’s penultimate prophet to the Israelites and the greatest man ever born to a woman, have become a vocal opponent of the HHM. Let me be clear: this is fake news.

I would hope anyone who has paid even the slightest attention to my ministry would recognise that this is something I would never do. I shudder to think that I would sacrifice a relationship with Herod for the sake of “speaking the truth”, or that I would attribute the current division us to his unwillingness to hear the truth.

I propose that this is actually not a godly way of approaching this. There is a better way. For followers of Jesus trying to reach out to Herod and Herodias, we must remember to become all things to all people so that by all means we might save some. We must be well thought of by unbelievers. And we must live peaceably with all as far as it depends on us. I don’t see how taking these ideas to heart would lead someone to oppose HHM.

The fact that there is such division between Jesus’s followers and Herod is too terrible to accept and to settle for. I believe we are more responsible for this divide than many of us realise. We certainly have not done all we can to live peaceably with Herod. (For example, calling Herod a “fox” is just not on.)

This is not just about what the correct answer is to a philosophical question. This is about people. The fact is, Jesus’s followers are pushing Herod and Herodias away by our insistence on continuing to fight against HHM. We are becoming a hindrance to them discovering the love of Jesus.

What is Herod hearing?

What do you think is the main message God wants to communicate to Herod and Herodias? I think it is clear: God wants to say that he loves them. The main message God has for Herod and Herodias is not about marriage and sexuality. It is the same message he has for everyone: he loves them and he wants them.

What do you think is the main message Herod and Herodias are hearing from us? Unfortunately, they seem to believe that the primary attitude of Jesus’s followers towards them is one of opposition. We are saying “No” to them.

Whether we mean it or not, our fervent opposition to their ability to get married is taken by them as fervent opposition to them as people.

It doesn’t matter if we don’t actually oppose or hate Herod and Herodias as people. If they think we do, we have a problem that we must take responsibility for.

A way forward

I am convinced that the only way to mend the relationship between God’s people and the family Herod is, believe it or not… to stop arguing with them. Stop speaking and acting against their marriage. Stop being an obstacle for them getting this thing that means so much to them.

I believe it is time to stop talking about HHM, and focus entirely on talking to them about God’s perfect, amazing love – until they can forgive us for the harm we’ve caused. Until God’s main message to them can be heard again.

We also need to accept the inevitability of HHM. (I mean, really, it’s happened. Talk about a ship that’s already sailed.) Is this losing battle worth continuing the fight, at the expense of enormous relational damage, just for the symbolic value of not giving in? Was it worth winning in the first place? Is this really what God has commissioned us to do? Are we going to stay in this sinking ship and go down with it, along with any hope of reaching Herod and Herodias with the love of the Messiah? (And won’t somebody think of Salome?)

I want to support HHM because:

  1. I think it would make Israel feel kinder and safer for them,
  2. It isn’t the mission of Jesus’s followers to hold the world to our standards on this type of issue, and
  3. I believe it would end a conversation, one that isn’t doing any of us any good.

My invitation to Christians

Jesus-follower, I can’t tell you how to vote. But I am asking you to seriously consider joining me in publicly affirming HHM. It would be an act of friendship. It would remove an enormous obstacle to our relationship with them.

If you don’t feel that you are able to affirm HHM, I would ask you to consider not saying anything. Just don’t participate in the conversation. You don’t have to take action to prevent HHM from happening.

What do they need to know?

You might be thinking, “Well, don’t Herod and Herodias need to know the truth?”

Firstly, not all true things need to be said all the time. In this case, I would advise you never ever ever to say this particular true thing to them forever and ever amen. Wisdom tells us when to refrain from speaking true things because we understand the consequences of our words.

Secondly, telling someone something doesn’t make them know it. Unfortunately, the field of epistemology is still very much in its embryonic stages, and we are a long way away from making people know things. Look, I’m not even sure how I expect that writing a piece like this will make you know things. (As a full-time prophet, I find this to be a pretty devastating problem.)

Thirdly, the truth they need to know most desperately and urgently is that they are deeply and unconditionally loved by the one who created them. And all this talk about HHM is stopping them from being able to know that truth! People need to know the truth, but they don’t need to know every truth equally. Some truths are more important than others.

We do not need to convert them to a Mosaic sexual ethic. That on its own will ultimately do nothing for them. We need to invite them into a relationship with Jesus. I don’t want Herod to miss out on Jesus because I was pushing him away by talking about something other than Jesus!

The meaning of a vote

Maybe you think that by affirming HHM, you’d be enabling or condoning sin. But firstly, Herod and Herodias are going to do what they’re going to do anyway. This won’t affect their behaviour. Secondly, what someone means when they affirm or denounce something is rather complex.

Consider those who affirm HHM. Some affirm it because they morally endorse and approve of what Herod and Herodias are doing with their marriage. Others, like myself, want to affirm HHM for some of the other reasons I’ve already discussed. It isn’t reasonable to assign only one possible meaning to a vote.

In reading the previous paragraph, some of you might try to apply that same nuanced framework to those who wish to denounce HHM. “Why,” you ask, ”can’t I simply remind people that my denouncement doesn’t necessarily mean I hate Herod and Herodias?” At first blush, this really does seem like a strong argument in favour of Jesus’s followers being able to denounce HHM while still having due love and care for Herod and Herodias. But there is a fatal flaw in that argument. The reason that people ought not take a nuanced approach to HHM opponents is that – (Unfortunately, the rest of this paragraph has been lost due to a wild honey stain on the manuscript. – The editor)

All things considered, I think the best outcome would be to have Herod and Herodias continue in their marriage. Sure, I could be misinterpreted as endorsing their lifestyle. But Jesus doesn’t seem to be worried about being misinterpreted to be condoning sin when he associates with sinners. He seems to care much more about knowing those sinners are loved. Jesus is like a flautist playing the major-key melody of the gospel throughout all Israel. And if Jesus is playing a flute, I don’t want to be the one playing a dirge!

More importantly, opposing HHM can and will be interpreted by Herod and Herodias as expressing hatred for them. How is that better than being interpreted as endorsing HHM?

Hate is sin. In fact, it’s one of the worst sins. Some of you hate the assembly of sinners, and will not sit with the wicked. That’s a sin. If I’m going to be misinterpreted, I would rather be interpreted as violating Leviticus 20:21 than to be hating Herod and Herodias. Not only because hatred is worse than HHM, but because the appearance of hatred on my part would be a hindrance to Herod and Herodias discovering the goodness of God.

Therefore, it is essential that a follower of Jesus never say anything that could even remotely be construed as hating Herod or Herodias, your father or mother, your wife or children – whoever.

What to do with uncertainty

As I mentioned earlier, the Scriptures are silent on the issue of how to respond to a nation that wants to deviate from the Biblical understanding of marriage. There are a lot of complex factors at play, which means that any decision you make will have some amount of uncertainty.

But when things get complicated, I would choose the side of love and compassion. I wouldn’t choose something that seems pious and orthodox but has foreseeable practical costs. God is not a lawgiver. He is our Father. (Note that these are mutually exclusive categories.)

Conclusion

For me, affirming HHM is the best way of seeking Herod’s forgiveness for the long period of hostility between him and us. (Need I mention again the unsolicited “fox” comment?) It is the best way of building a relationship with Herod and Herodias, so that they can finally hear that Jesus loves them. Imagine what would happen if they received that message.

I don’t believe they can hear about that love and hear the Jesus movement opposed to HHM at the same time. We have no mandate to contest against HHM in this world, because our citizenship is in heaven (again, mutually exclusive categories).

The marriage of Herod and Herodias has proven to be a very heated issue amongst the followers of Jesus, and understandably so. All the same, as one of God’s chosen prophets, I would hope that my example should be sufficiently persuasive to help you think through this issue.

In the end, these kinds of issues are just not worth losing your head over.


This piece was originally published on 15 September 2017 on an ad hoc website of mine in response to a blog post by Lachlan McFarlane that was doing the rounds in my social circle. Some trivial grammatical and formatting mistakes have been corrected; it is otherwise unchanged from its original publication.

Shapiro, Shapiro, Shapiro and Shapiro

‘Pardon me, m’lord,’ said Beach. ‘A Mr Wapshott is on the telephone, desirous of speaking to you. He implied that the matter was of importance–’

Lord Vosper came out of his trance.

‘Wapshott?’

‘Yes, m’lord. He stated that he represented the firm of Wapshott, Wapshott, Wapshott and Wapshott.’

‘Reminds me,’ said Gally, who never let an opportunity like this pass, ‘of the story of the chap in New York who rang up the legal firm of Shapiro, Shapiro, Shapiro, and Shapiro. “Hello,” he says, “can I speak to Mr Shapiro?” “Mr Shapiro is in court.” “Then I’ll talk to Mr Shapiro.” “Mr Shapiro is in conference with an important client.” “Then connect me with Mr Shapiro.” “I’m sorry, but Mr Shapiro has taken the day off to play golf.” “Oh, all right, then I’ll talk to Mr Shapiro.” “Speaking.

– P. G. Wodehouse, Pigs Have Wings