[This review first appeared at the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womahood]

William Loader.  Making Sense of Sex:  Attitudes towards Sexuality in Early Jewish and Christian Literature.  Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2013.  168 pp.  $24.00.

Has there ever been a society in history where sex isn’t a hot topic? I’m not qualified to definitively answer that question, but my gut tells me “no.” Today, as we peruse news headlines or watch reality shows or listen to conversations at water coolers and play-dates, it’s easy to see how pervasive sexuality has become. It’s everywhere. And it’s awful controversial.

MakingSenseWhat does God say about sexuality? That’s another big question. The first step in approaching this delicate subject is to keep one eye on our present culture while putting the other squarely on the biblical world. We need to grasp the ancient setting behind the text and the literary world of the text. If we miss these, we may not accept the validity of Leviticus’ restrictions on homosexuality (Lev. 18:22) or embrace Jesus’ heavy teaching on divorce and remarriage (Matt 19:1-12) or enjoy Solomon’s racy poem on marital sexuality (Song of Solomon).

William Loader helps us see the ancient world more vividly in his work Making Sense of Sex: Attitudes towards Sexuality in Early Jewish and Christian Literature. He says “this book is about listening to what ancient authors were saying [about sex]. In particular it looks at attitudes towards sex in early Judaism and one of the movements it generated, Christianity” (1).

The Flesh and Bones of the Book

Making Sense of Sex is an accessible summary of five scholarly works on ancient sexuality published by Loader over several years.  These books assess attitudes towards sex from a variety of Jewish and Christian sources, written between 300 BC and 100 AD—including Philo, the Pseudepigrapha, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and the New Testament.

Not surprisingly then, this book is thoroughly researched and carefully organized. It’s divided into four sections that explore sexuality within creational beliefs, the family structure, the temple system, and the intersection of Hellenistic and Jewish thought. The book also includes a subject index that covers all six works. Thus, the book can be enjoyed on its own or used as a guide for Loader’s larger corpus.

Sexuality in the Ancient World

Loader effectively describes the ancient world and helps readers learn to inhabit these ancient cultures. He explains that first century wives were viewed as inferior to their husbands. Typically 10-15 years younger than their husbands, they had less life experience and lower social standing. Some in the Roman world even considered women dangerous because their sexual drives could not be controlled. The Apostle Paul’s teaching on sacrificial, Christ-like headship and Jesus’ reversal of norms in his interactions with women must have turned many heads.

Loader also locates a tension in first-century Judaism between those who adopted Greek culture and those who resisted it. Most rejected the widespread adultery, prostitution, and nakedness in sports. Surprisingly, small pockets of Greco-Roman society actually celebrated marital fidelity. Loader insightfully concludes “the respected and respectable in the best of the Roman world easily became the benchmark for Christian households and enabled them to assert that they were not an oddity but models of virtue”  (109). Perhaps the first-century Christian marriage witnessed to the gospel in a way that was valued and not quickly dismissed by the broader culture.

Hermeneutical Assumptions Matter

My main interest in reading Making Sense of Sex is evaluating how Loader handled biblical texts. Does he listen well to the Gospel writers and to the Apostle Paul?  Does he consider the Bible as a transcultural text, for all people and times, inspired by God and authoritative for life?

Hermeneutical assumptions matter…and Loader and I come from fundamentally different interpretive paradigms.  He assumes the biblical text has no more authority than Philo or The Book of Jubilees. He believes the biblical writers were significantly influenced by outside sources—in ways that give no credit to a Divine Author who gives authoritative insight.

Loader’s faulty assumptions taint his ability to accurately interpret to biblical texts. When considering Jesus’ teaching on divorce (Matthew 19:1-12), he claims that Jesus’ restrictions “could trap people in abusive and destructive marriages.” Here he misses the heart of Jesus, which is to emphasize the sacredness of the marriage union and discourage flippant divorcing.

When reflecting on Paul’s understanding of men’s and women’s roles, he claims Paul has a “dichotomous view of women”—in one place affirming women’s dignity (Gal. 3:28) and elsewhere teaching hierarchy in marriage (Eph. 5:22-33). He fails to recognize the distinction between role and dignity. Husbands and wives are equally valuable yet play different roles in the marital drama. Unity and diversity is an important motif in the Bible, not only applied to husbands and wives but also to the persons of the Godhead.

Loader also misreads Paul’s teaching on Romans 1 as only condemning certain homosexual acts. Paul only denounces unusual acts that are abusive, out-of-control, or stem from stifled heterosexual desires. “This is not about natural orientation into which people might have been born or which they might have developed in the processes of maturation” (137).

Romans 1:18-32 is a treatise on the origin and development of sin, not just a response to pederasty or out-of-control sexual urges. People suppress the truth in unrighteousness and exchange God’s glory for idol worship. The result is the moral breakdown of society, which includes homosexual acts (vv. 26-27). Paul calls these acts “dishonorable,” “unnatural,” and “shameless” which echo Jewish tradition and Old Testament teaching. Natural sexual relationships for Paul were between a man and a woman, as verse 27 clearly indicates: “…and the men likewise gave up natural relationships with women…”

In the opening chapter, Loader says that sex is not an optional extra—it’s part of what and who we are.  Indeed, sexuality is beautiful, powerful, and potentially dangerous. It is vital that we grasp God’s heart on this subject. Unfortunately Making Sense of Sex is unhelpful and inaccurately understands biblical authors.  For a more careful interpretation of what the New Testament says about sex, I recommend Denny Burk’s What is the Meaning of Sex?

“Who are the Elders of SSBC?”  I can’t say I’ve never heard that question before.  Our church is at the size where getting to know our Elders is not always easy.  Yet God has called these men to be our shepherds (1 Peter 5:2), teachers (Acts 6:4), and examples (1 Peter 5:3).  We should know them!  Being a Pastor at SSBC gives me the privilege of rubbing shoulders with these godly men on a regular basis.  They are wise leaders and enjoyable to be around.  More importantly, they love the Lord, love their families, and love our church.  To help us get to know them better, I plan on asking each eight questions and posting their answers here.  Enjoy.  And please pray for these men and their families.

Past interviews:               Eric Mello                   Tim Ells                   Jim Kleberg

ForknersWhen Jeni and I arrived on the South Shore for the first time, Kent and Lisa Forkner hosted a welcome gathering.  We enjoyed their hospitality and generosity.  I’ve seen this kindness extend to a multitude of others at SSBC, as they have hosted Elder meetings, home gatherings for visitors, ministry team meetings etc.  Lisa even served on the Connections ministry core team during its early days.  Serving with Kent on the Elder board has been a privilege.  He is thoughtful, organized, and winsome in his leadership.  Here’s a little more about Kent and his family…

1.       How long have you and Lisa attended SSBC?  What drew you to SSBC?

My wife and I along with our three (now) teenage children live in Hingham and have been attending South Shore Baptist since 2003.  While my wife is originally from the south shore and grew up attending SSBC, I’m from the midwest. We met at Wheaton College (IL), married in 1993, and moved to the Boston area from Chicago in 1994.  In 2003, while attending Park Street Church in Boston, we felt called to attend a more local church in which our family could more regularly partake in our church community together.  SSBC was an obvious choice for us since Lisa had a long family legacy there and had grown up in the church, and because we knew that the preaching there was centered on God’s Word.

2.       What is your favorite part about serving as an Elder at SSBC?

My favorite part of serving as an elder is the privilege of regularly praying for our members.

3.       When was a time that God undoubtedly showed His faithfulness to you and/or your family?

During most of 2009 I was unemployed.  God gave me encouragement through a unique set of responsibilities for that time period: I was able to serve extensively on the Building Committee for South Shore Baptist’s new building project.  I know that God finely orchestrated that opportunity for me for that specific time and those specific circumstances.  Looking back I’m so thankful for that time and hope I can encourage others to use the seasons God gives them to find unique ways to further his Kingdom.  I am truly grateful for that God-given sabbatical and his faithfulness to me.

4.       What are three Christian books that have significantly influenced your life?

Mere Christianity (C.S. Lewis) is a basic book on Christianity, good for any Christian or seeker. It challenged me to take a deep look at the sin of pride.  The Rest of God (Mark Buchanan) helped me to find ways to step away from the busyness of everyday life and rest in him. The Meaning of Marriage (Tim Keller) is one of the best books on marriage that I’ve ever read and is really encouraging me as a husband.

5.       What is God currently teaching you?

God is teaching me to pay attention to my attitudes.  I’ve been reading through sections of the Old Testament for the last year and He’s used that to show me how important my attitudes are to living out my faith.  Specifically, if I don’t treat those closest to me well and examine my attitudes toward them, then I’m not letting God sanctify my heart.

6.       What is one thing about yourself that most people don’t know?

I come from a very musical family and played piano, cello, and even sang in a men’s glee club in college.

7.       What do you like to do for fun?

I love to play golf and if I can’t do that, then fishing isn’t a bad way to spend an afternoon.

8.       How can the SSBC congregation encourage and serve the Elders?

Pray for us, and extend us grace when we need it!  We covet your prayers as we seek to humbly lead the church.  This includes our shepherding of members as well as decision making broadly for our church. It’s an honor to serve and we thank you, in advance, for those prayers.

B.B. Warfield, The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1948), pp. 446.

The contemporary church takes much for granted and often gets into trouble for it.  Churches today proudly sing of the “Godhead Three-in-one,” not realizing that their theology of the Trinity was forged through fire by Athanasius, Basil the Great, and others.  Forgetting the fires of the past, some modern scholars set aside historical theology and dangerously go their own way.  Sometimes they lead Christians astray.  So today we owe a special debt to church historians who carefully listen to our dead friends and remind us of their relevance.  In a day when Jesus’ divinity, the Bible’s authority, and justification by faith are challenged from within mainstream Christianity, it is crucial to hear these older voices calling us back to biblical Christianity.

inspirationOne of these older voices is Benjamin Warfield, professor of theology at Princeton Theological Seminary from 1887 to 1921.  He was most known for his passionate defense of biblical inerrancy, though his broader impact on contemporary evangelicalism is also significant.  Not only did he train over 2700 seminary students, including J. Gresham Machen, but his writings have stood the test of time.  Conservative evangelical scholars find much in Warfield that is useful today, while liberal scholars have attempted to upend his present influence.  His voice is still strong and true, and we would be wise to carefully listen to him.


Summary

Warfield’s Inspiration and Authority of the Bible is not a book that he set out to write from beginning to end.  Instead, it is a collection of articles that Warfield formerly wrote for various bible encyclopedias and theological journals.  In this way, the book is really seven reflections under the umbrella of biblical inerrancy.  After Cornelius Van Til’s extensive introduction, Warfield covers the biblical ideas of revelation and inspiration and explores specific biblical terms about revelation (e.g. “God-inspired”).

Inspiration and Authority continues with a sweeping look at God’s revelation in history, rooting the Bible in God’s overarching story.  Christianity is a “revealed religion” in opposition to other religions which are “products…the art and device of man” (72).  The Bible itself is one of God’s redemptive acts (81), necessary because general revelation (God’s speech through creation; cf. Ps 19) is inadequate for salvation (73).

According to Warfield, revelation in Scripture is defined as God’s acts plus their meaning, carried out in three overlapping stages: theophany; prophecy; and inspiration.  Theophanies were “external manifestations” or “naked messages of God,” such as miracles and direct words from God (e.g. God’s conversation with Moses through the burning bush).  Prophecies were God’s communication given internally to particular men, through visions, dreams, and words.  Prophets had no part in creating the message; they were only reporters (88-89), like Isaiah or Amos.  Inspiration was revelation mediated by the Spirit through human personality and history.  This is illustrated by the Psalms, the epistle to the Romans, or John’s Gospel.

Warfield’s first chapter concludes with a beautiful reflection on Jesus Christ as the culmination of God’s revelation.  He masterfully writes:

As in His person, in which dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily, He rises above all classification and is sui generis; so the revelation accumulated in Him stands outside all the divers portions and divers manners in which otherwise revelation has been given and sums up in itself all that has been or can be made known of God and of His redemption.  He does not so much make a revelation of God as Himself is the revelation of God; He does not merely disclose God’s purpose of redemption, He is unto us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption (96).

Warfield then contends that the traditional view of inspiration is the biblical view of inspiration.  He explains that a strong church doctrine of inspiration exists, a “settled faith of the universal church of God” (106).  This church doctrine would claim that whatever the Bible says, God says.  And this view was presupposed by the early church fathers and the Reformers in their doctrinal creeds (e.g. Nicene, Westminster Confession).

Examining the scriptures also produces the same doctrine.  In one of the strongest chapters of the book (“The Real Problem of Inspiration”), Warfield shows how abandoning the doctrine of inspiration means abandoning the authority of Jesus and the Apostles.  Jesus and the Apostles consistently viewed Old Testament scripture as God’s very words.  If we discard their view on inspiration, we also unravel their authority to teach on every other subject.  All Bible doctrines, including the doctrine of inspiration, are formed by careful exegesis and depend on the authority of Biblical writers.  Warfield astutely asks:  “If we do not accept [the Bible’s] account of itself, why should we care to ascertain its accounts of other things?” (209)

Not only does Warfield tackle the big picture issues of the Bible, he also ventures into exegesis and word studies.  In a lengthy exposition of 2 Timothy 3:16, Warfield explains how the Holy Spirit inspired men to write God’s words.  He shows how God’s role in scripture-writing is primary, though the human element is present and uncoerced.  He discusses the Holy Spirit’s “preparation” of the Biblical writers (shaping their ancestry, historical situation, education etc.) so that writing Scripture is a natural outcome (155-157).

The last few chapters are the densest and most demanding for the reader.  Warfield, the thorough investigator, does meticulous word studies on “Scripture,” “God-Inspired Scripture,” “It says,” “Scripture says,” “God says,” and “the Oracles of God.”  These studies further establish his doctrine of the Bible.  For example, he concludes that the use of “Scripture” in the New Testament was an inheritance, not an invention (229).  The idea of “Sacred Scripture” was handed down to Christianity from Judaism, not created by the New Testament writers.

In the longest chapter of the book, Warfield argues against Hermann Cremer’s attempt to recalibrate 2 Timothy 3:16’s use of “inspiration” as “inspiring the reader” (active sense) instead of the traditional “inspired of God” (passive sense).  To accomplish this, he launches a fifty page defense of the traditional usage, tracing the Greek word in several works contemporaneous to the New Testament. He concludes that the word bears “a uniformly passive significance rooted in the idea of the creative breath of God” (275).

Evaluation and Significance

It’s not difficult to see why Warfield’s tome is a classic.  His doctrine is not developed mechanically or purely academically; rather it is formed within God’s overarching story which makes it compelling and interesting.  His arguments are clear and winsome.  His exegesis is judicious and thorough.  While I may not recommend his word study chapters to any old Joe, I would highly recommend the first four chapters to every Christian interested in learning about inspiration.

Before concluding, I want to share a few weaknesses of this book.  Surprisingly, Warfield hardly touches on the formation of the New Testament canon.  In a book about the Bible’s authority, you would think that at least one tangent would be dedicated to this.  Inspiration and Authority also lacks coherence, because it is a collection of Warfield’s previously written articles.  As a result, sometimes the book was unnecessarily repetitive.  To get the most out of Warfield’s word study chapters, the reader should know Greek, Hebrew, Latin, and German.  And most of us don’t.

Despite these small weaknesses, I warmly recommend Warfield’s classic – perhaps in small doses – to those eager to know why the Bible is authoritative.  Warfield is a voice we cannot forget, and his Inspiration and Authority is perhaps where we hear him the loudest.

This is the kind of book that is difficult to immediately apply because Warfield’s ideas are so heavy and vast.  Perhaps the first “application” is to sit back and be in awe of our God, because He has carefully constructed and preserved the Bible for our eternal well being.  As Warfield discusses the progression from general to special revelation, he leads us to praise the God who prepared Israel and sent the Messiah:

By slow steps and gradual stages God at once works out His saving purpose and molds the world for its reception, choosing a people for Himself and training them through long and weary ages, until at last when the fullness of time has come, He bares His arm and sends out the proclamation of His great salvation to all the earth (76).
 
 

For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live. Romans 8:13

Keep in mind that Paul here is speaking to mainly Christians, or those who think themselves as Christians.  We could paraphrase this verse like this:  Those who don’t regularly fight and kill sin aren’t real Christians.  They will experience spiritual death, now and in the next age.  But real Christians consistently fight and kill sin by the Spirit’s power.  They will experience eternal life, now and in the next age.

Reflecting on this verse the Puritan John Owen said “be killing sin, or it will be killing you.”  Indeed, there are only two options with regards to sin.

sinAs I examine my own heart, I’m tempted to opt for an imaginary third option.  Sometimes I nurture the perspective that sin ought to be managed but not killed.  It’s impossible to kill the sin of lust.  It’s impossible to kill the sin of pride.  It’s impossible to kill the sin of selfishness.  So as long as I don’t let these get out of hand – as long as I make some progress, occasionally – I’m good-to-go.  And if I don’t make progress, I’m ok because of the Cross.  I’m under grace after all.  Whew!   

This a dangerous perspective.  Believing that we ought to control our sins instead of killing them leads to countless problems, including spiritual inoculation and lethargy, ineffectiveness in the ministry etc. Most importantly it grieves our Heavenly Father.  Yes, we may not be prodigal sons, throwing ourselves into all kinds of gratuitous sins.  Still our Enemy relishes the fact that he has incapacitated us with complacency.

Besides this, hiding behind the Cross and managing sin doesn’t make sense of Paul’s teaching in Romans 6:1-23 and 8:13.  We are commanded to kill sin because we are new creations in Christ.   The power of sin has been broken.  Christians are no longer slaves to sin (Romans 6:15-23).  Will we choose to step away from our former chains and live in freedom?  Or will we choose to live the shackled life, even though the manacles have been smashed by Christ?

Now of course I’m not saying that we can achieve perfection this side of heaven.  But making real, lasting progress against particular sins is not only possible but necessary for Christians.  Therefore, Christians need to nurture a new perspective regarding sin.  Christians must think of the sins they are presently fighting with their death in view.

Some questions I am wrestling with that I commend to you…

  1. What specific sins am I presently fighting with their death in view?
  2. How will I draw strength from the Spirit to fight and kill these sins today and this week?
  3. How will I strategically kill these sins today and this week?  Keep in mind the progression of temptation and sin in James 1:14-15.
  4. How can I lean on other Christians to help me fight and kill these sins today and this week?

A Responsive Prayer

Father, even though I know you and love you, there are heaps of sins I have not put to death.  Forgive me.  Give me eyes to see your magnificent holiness and my subsequent unholiness.  Give me eyes to see my sin for what it is – a rupture in my relationship with you and a rupture in my relationship with others.  Help me go to war today with my sins.  Grant me the Spirit-wrought resources to fight sin today, so that I may enjoy my new life in Christ.  Help me believe that true life is not found anywhere else except in unencumbered fellowship with You.  Amen.