Part 2: Practice
There’s probably no better example of where the leaders of the Christian religion make incorrect assumptions about what the Bible teaches than the ideas they hold on the topic of morality. Because many are under the mistaken impression that the Mosaic law is applicable to the body of Christ, and also because they themselves have been taught that certain things are sins that Scripture never actually calls sinful, they’ve got all sorts of mixed up ideas of what is right and wrong today. This causes them to teach others to try to be more “moral” than God Himself, acting just like modern-day Pharisees, becoming morality police who teach that any number of actions, many of which are never even mentioned in the Bible, are forbidden.
Before getting into some of the specific actions that the religious mistakenly think we need to avoid, it should first be noted that the Bible does tell us plenty of things that God actually would prefer people not do without us needing to add to it (even if the list differs depending on which dispensation one is living under; it’s perfectly fine for members of the body of Christ to eat a BLT, for example, even though it would be a sin for others). In fact, Scripture even provides a list of things that God hates. But there’s nothing at all about most of the things the morality police dislike on that list, including some of the biggest hangups religious conservatives have (although there are a number of things on that list which many of them do seem to enjoy). What He does hate, however, is dishonestly (which is brought up twice in that list, after all), and I suspect that religious lies are the worst sort of dishonesty since they’re lies about God Himself. Basically, if a particular action isn’t on one of those lists, insisting that it’s sinful and making new rules that God Himself never made is really lying about what God wants, just like the religious leaders in Jesus’ time did. And remember, it was those very same people who opposed Jesus, and who conspired to have Him (and, later, His followers) killed. That’s right, it wasn’t the pagans, atheists, or liberal theologians who tried to eliminate Christ and His followers. Rather, it was the religious conservatives of His time who tried to squash Him and His teachings (and any others who taught them as well), just as they do today (as it was then, the greatest enemies of Christ and His true followers are still religious conservatives, but these “ministers of righteousness” call themselves Christians now instead).
All of that aside, though, worrying about morality (at least the way conservative Christians understand morality) is a huge red herring. What followers of Churchianity don’t seem to realize is that all of the “thou shalts” and “thou shalt nots” causes them to completely miss the point of Paul’s teachings to begin with (since, again, it’s Paul’s teachings that the body of Christ is supposed to concern itself with in the dispensation of grace). Starting with a flawed presupposition about doctrines like sin and grace will cause one to think that they’re supposed to be concerned with religious rules, when being a member of the body of Christ is actually about something else altogether. Basically, as I’ve now pointed out repeatedly, Paul’s Gospel isn’t a religious proposition (“do this or else!”); rather, it’s a proclamation (“it’s already been done by Christ, so why not believe this good news and stop trying to please God yourself?”).
While most religions are a set of rules that people need to follow in order to A) live an enjoyable life, B) avoid suffering negative consequences (either imposed by followers of said religions in this life or by God or other beings in an afterlife, or by being reincarnated to live another mortal life again on earth after death), and C) make God happy, Paul promised that A) believers of his teachings are less likely to have a fun life than those who don’t believe his message since they’d be persecuted by those who do prefer religion (including the Christian religion) to the truth, B) explained that we don’t have to do anything to avoid suffering a negative afterlife since we’ve already been justified regardless of what we do, and C) told us that God is already happy (“blessed” literally means “happy” in the original Greek). Instead of following a bunch of rules the way followers of various religions (including the Christian religion) do, members of the body of Christ don’t have to actively try to avoid sinning by their own strength at all (and, in fact, should actually not ever try to), since they are justified (and living) by faith (although it’s not their own faith but the faith of Jesus Christ that they’re justified by), and are walking according to spirit and not according to flesh.
To hear most Christians talk about it, you’d think that sins are something we should actively be trying to avoid committing. Following rules is basically the foundation of their entire religion, and so when they read Paul teach about walking according to spirit rather than according to flesh, they’ll tell you Paul was explaining how we need to try to do good, spiritual acts while trying to avoid “fleshly,” sinful acts.
But, while Paul is indeed telling his readers they shouldn’t be walking according to flesh — and what the consequences of doing so might be — in some of those passages, that he isn’t telling people to try to actively avoid sinning should be very obvious to anyone who considers the context of the passages. Unfortunately, most Christians are so obsessed with religious rules that they’ve actually made Sin their lord, which keeps them from being able to grasp what Paul actually taught about the topic of sin at all.
So what was Paul talking about in those passages? Well, if you ask any Christian who has studied Paul’s epistles to the Romans and to the Galatians, they should be able to tell you that a large part of both books is about how we’re not under the law, and how we shouldn’t allow ourselves to be placed under it at all. The problem is, when they get to passages that talk about ”the flesh,” most Christians immediately forget this fact and proceed to completely ignore the context of the passages, reading their love of religious rules into the passages instead. Following religious rules isn’t even close to what Paul was talking about when he wrote warnings about walking in accord with the flesh, however. In fact, the exact opposite is true. Even though the context of those passages should make it obvious, it can help to read an entirely different passage written by Paul, one which can serve as the key to understanding the other times he writes about the flesh. In Philippians 3:1-11, Paul is warning his readers against having confidence in their flesh — by which he means trying to be righteous by following rules — telling them they should instead be trusting in the faith of Christ for their righteousness rather than in their own actions (or even in their own faith, as discussed in a previous chapter).
This, along with the context of not being under the law, should make it clear that Paul was actually telling people to stop trying to follow (and enforce) any religious rules at all, because trying to follow religious rules is what it actually means to walk according to flesh, not to mention letting Sin be reigning in your mortal body, and obeying its lusts. So if you are actively trying to avoid (or even trying to do) specific actions in order to please God, you’re actually walking according to flesh, and hence allowing Sin to reign over you, obeying its lusts, since trying to purposely avoid sinning is putting just as much of a focus on Sin as purposely committing sins would be (Sin doesn’t care how you place your focus on it; all it “lusts” for is that you do put a focus of some sort on it). Paul then contrasts the concept of walking according to flesh with the concept of walking according to spirit. But what does it mean to walk according to spirit? Well, if walking according to flesh means trying to follow religious rules, walking according to spirit must necessarily mean we aren’t trying to follow religious rules. Those who are walking according to spirit are instead trusting that Christ will live the life He wants us to live through us, and will end up doing the things God wants us to do and avoiding the things God wants us to avoid Himself through us. It’s only when we start walking according to flesh, meaning we start worrying about religion and trying to follow rules and prohibitions, that we begin doing the very things that God doesn’t want us to do, because trying to follow religious rules (including the Mosaic law) only leads to more sin.
At this point most Christians will protest and say that, while we aren’t under the Mosaic law itself, there are still other rules in the Bible we need to follow, but in making such claims they’re ignoring everything Paul taught throughout his epistles. You see, the reason we don’t follow the Mosaic law isn’t because there’s anything wrong with the specific rules in the law themselves. The commandment which says “thou shalt not murder” is not a bad rule. Which means that it isn’t simply the specific rules in the Mosaic law we aren’t supposed to follow, but rather it’s religious rules in general that we aren’t supposed to follow, instead letting Christ in us keep us from sinning through us.
Which brings us to the next protestation most Christians will make. “What about the long list of sins Paul mentioned in some of those passages? Wasn’t he telling his readers to do their best to avoid those specific actions?” The answer to this will shock most people, but no, he most certainly wasn’t. If walking according to flesh means trying to follow religious rules, how could Paul possibly then turn around and say, ”but make sure you don’t break these specific religious rules”? Instead, if you look at the context, it becomes clear that he’s warning his readers what will happen if they try to avoid sinning. Instead of becoming the holy, righteous people they hope that avoiding those specific actions will make them, those actions are instead exactly what they’ll end up doing. Just as positive attributes like love, joy, and peace are the fruit of walking according to spirit, the various negative actions Paul listed there are the fruit of walking according to flesh, meaning those actions are the fruit that will come forth from trying to follow religious rules.
And so Paul’s condemnation in Romans 10:2-3 can equally be applied to Christians today: “For I am testifying to them that they have a zeal of God, but not in accord with recognition. For they, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, were not subjected to the righteousness of God.”
Bottom line, never trust a teacher who tells you to avoid the appearance of evil, or that the “natural man” is evil. And if you hear someone espousing “traditional family values” or telling you to follow the Mosaic law in any way (at least if you’re in the body of Christ), don’t walk; run! It means that they are very likely a wolf in sheep’s clothing, trying to lure you into their religious trap. At the very least, they are extremely confused and likely have nothing useful to teach you (at least from a spiritual perspective). Remember that, while not all things are a good idea, all things are technically permitted, and also that to the pure all things are pure (but those unbelievers in Paul’s Gospel who are pretending to be believers — likely lying even to themselves about their faith, telling themselves that there’s really only one Gospel while also completely failing to understand what Paul’s Gospel actually means in the first place — have a defiled mind and conscience that causes them to consider pretty much nothing to be pure). Yes, if someone doesn’t have faith that something is allowed, then it would be a sin against their own conscience to do it (although not because the action itself is necessarily actually sinful in and of itself), but the corollary of this verse must be true too: if that which is not out of faith is sin, then that which is out of faith is not sin. It is true that Paul used food and holy days as specific examples, but the principle still applies to everything.
Remember also that we should think of our “old humanity” as dead, and that we are to reckon ourselves dead to sin, which means that sin has no more power over us. To reckon isn’t to try make something a fact, meaning to try to avoid sinning in this case, but rather it means to simply look at it as if it’s already a fact and stop letting Sin reign over you by trying to avoid it or by trying to “crucify your flesh,” which is something that’s already been done once and for all time for the body of Christ rather than something that has to be done again and again anyway. When Paul said, “I die daily,” he didn’t mean he died to sin daily, which would be a ridiculous thing for him to be implying since he’s told us to consider ourselves as already being dead to sin. The context of that passage was physical death, and was simply speaking of how he risked physical death regularly thanks to the various persecutions and perils he faced in his ministry. Similarly, Jesus’ command to “take up one’s cross daily” doesn’t refer to this either. Aside from the fact that this was directed specifically to those under the Gospel of the Circumcision instead of to the body of Christ, even if it could be considered a trans-administrational truth, it wasn’t talking about avoiding sin, but rather about being willing to face death like He was about to do.
To be fair, the Bible does seem to teach that those believers who happen to be saved under the Gospel of the Circumcision do have to be careful to avoid rejecting what they’ve believed and falling back into sin so as to not “lose their salvation,” so to speak, or they’ll miss out on the Millennial Kingdom, if not more (although the “more” just refers to living in the New Jerusalem during the eon of the eons, not to the immortality that everyone will eventually experience by the consummation of the eons). But as far as those of us in the body of Christ go, while we might not all get to reign, we are safe, as far as our salvation goes, regardless of what we do, because we’ve been justified from Sin rather than just forgiven of our sins (which isn’t to say that we aren’t necessarily also “forgiven,” but our “forgiveness” or “pardon,” just like our justification, isn’t conditional the way it is for those in the Israel of God, so it can never be lost). In fact, from an absolute perspective, it can be said that everyone has actually been justified from sin, since everyone is said to have died in Christ (at the very least from a proleptic perspective, if not in actuality at present). And since Christ died for our (meaning everybody’s) sins, we know that sin has been taken care of for everybody already anyway, but since not everyone has been conciliated to God in their own minds yet, most won’t come to a realization of this truth until the very end of the eons (and judgement for one’s works or actions can still occur, of course, with “payment” for each act or work performed, but this is referring to “payment” for evil rather than “payment” for sin — one should never make the mistake of thinking sin and evil are the same thing — since sin has already been “paid for” by Christ).
Now please don’t get me wrong. I don’t want you to think I’m telling you to commit sins here (at least not actual sins; I’m not talking about the innocent actions that many Christians confuse for sins), or that we shouldn’t walk worthy of the Lord (although it’s imperative to remember that the pace at which we walk is entirely in God’s hands). I’m the last person who would want to encourage anyone to actually sin (although, if you aren’t accused of encouraging people to sin, you probably aren’t teaching the same things Paul taught about sin and grace, since this false accusation was also levelled against him, and those who aren’t accused of being a “hyper-grace” teacher or an antinomian, probably aren’t either). The problem is that, while nearly everything conservative Christians think is sinful actually isn’t anyway, almost all of the actions and attitudes that they live by are extremely wrong (and often quite evil, all the while calling their actions and teachings righteous and good). As anyone looking in from the outside could tell you, greed, fear, paranoia, hunger for power, peer pressure, envy, hypocrisy, arrogance, prejudice, intolerance, anti-intellectualism, malice, spite, and all manner of other actual sins are the hallmarks of most of Churchianity. That said, where sin increases, grace superexceeds, so even Christians can technically experience God’s grace (but as far as those who don’t embrace His grace go, I really wouldn’t want to be a conservative religious leader at the final judgement, and those who willingly follow these leaders are in for a world of sorrow at that time as well; yes, it’s likely that most Christians will actually end up at the Great White Throne Judgement due to their believing a false “gospel”). If the citizens of the cities that rejected Jesus’ disciples are going to be judged more harshly than those of Sodom because they had the light revealed to them, how much more severely are those in Christendom who have the completed Scriptures going to be judged for ignoring, and even rejecting, the truth found therein, following the myths of their religious leaders instead because they prefer to have their self-righteous ears tickled?
Still, while worrying about sin is not something those of us in the body of Christ are meant to do, it can be helpful to know why some of the activities that conservative Christians think are sinful really aren’t, and how one responds emotionally to what they read in the rest of this chapter is a good test of whether one is walking according to spirit or walking according to flesh. Those who aren’t walking according to spirit will feel their pharisaical flesh crawling, and their self-righteous souls getting stirred up against some of the things that are about to be covered. And, as such, they would be wise to consider reevaluating themselves, spiritually-speaking, and also question whether they’re more interested in holding fast to the traditions they’ve been taught by their denominations and religious leaders, or in what Scripture actually says.
Perhaps the best examples of unscriptural traditions when it comes to sin are the twin topics of sex and lust. You’ve almost certainly been taught that premarital sex is a sin, and the primary reason that most conservative Christians are so against premarital sex is one little word: fornication. Depending on your English Bible translation, you’ll find fornication criticized as a very bad thing that one should flee from, and if you look fornication up in an English dictionary you will indeed find that it can mean sexual intercourse between unmarried partners (although that isn’t its only, or even its original, meaning). The thing is, the word translated as “fornication” in some English versions of the Bible is the Greek word πορνεία/“porneia,” which does not literally mean “premarital sex” at all (that’s not to say that premarital sex by certain people can’t fall under the umbrella of πορνεία under very specific circumstances, but that isn’t what the Greek word itself actually means).
Of course, some English Bible versions use the term “sexual immorality” to translate the word πορνεία instead, but you have to be just as careful with this translation, since it’s really just a broad and general term that doesn’t tell us anything on its own about what sexual acts would actually be considered to be immoral, and to assume “sexual immorality” means “premarital sex” is obviously eisegesis, since it isn’t based on the original Greek at all, considering the fact that πορνεία just didn’t refer to the act of simply having sex outside of marriage at the time the Greek Scriptures were written. And it isn’t what the Hebrew word translated as “fornication” — זָנָה/“zānâ” — meant either, since that word literally just meant “prostitution,” very often referring specifically to temple, or cult, prostitution when used in Scripture, which is why πορνεία and זָנָה are often translated as “prostitution,” or “whoredom,” depending on your Bible version.
In fact, even the English word “fornication” itself originally meant something similar, since the word literally meant “to meet a prostitute under an arch” (the word originated from the Latin word “fornix,” which means arch or vault; prostitutes used to wait for their customers in ancient Rome under vaulted ceilings where they’d be safe from the elements, and “fornix” became a term for brothels, with the Latin verb “fornicare” referring to a man visiting a brothel). And so, if your English Bible version uses the word “fornication” (or even “sexual immorality”), it’s important to avoid assuming that the term is referring to premarital sex the way most Christians do, since it’s often referring to prostitution of some sort instead. That said, one has to remember to be careful here too, because the words πορνεία and זָנָה don’t necessarily just refer to the concept of trading money for sex as practiced by regular sex-workers, but generally imply a more illicit affair taking place when used in Scripture (it’s important to keep in mind that sex work on its own — not to mention paying for sex — wasn’t always considered to be the shameful act that it’s considered to be by most people today), which is backed up by the fact that it’s generally agreed upon by scholars that the most literal meaning of πορνεία is closer to “illicit sexual intercourse” than anything else.
If we take the term “illicit sexual intercourse” literally, it means sexual intercourse that breaks the law. Generally, here in the western world at least, premarital sex doesn’t break the law, and it certainly wasn’t against the law among the Gentiles Paul wrote to when he told believers to avoid πορνεία either (and this tells us that πορνεία simply can’t be referring to premarital sex on its own, at least not when it’s used in Paul’s epistles; remember, he was primarily writing to Gentiles when he used that word, which means that whatever the Jewish uses of the word might have been at that time was mostly irrelevant in his epistles, outside of very specific cases where he referred to actions performed by certain Israelites as an example of forms of πορνεία to avoid when he used the word). But even if one does dig into the Mosaic Law, they’ll see that it wasn’t ever spelled out as being illegal there either. While there were potential civil consequences for men who had premarital sex with female virgins back in Bible times (note that there’s no indication that the premarital sex itself in that passage was considered to be a sin, and the woman in question isn’t actually punished at all, as she would have been if premarital sex were a sin, because this was simply a property violation against the woman’s father, since fathers would get less money for selling their daughters to husbands if the daughter wasn’t a virgin; sadly, women were considered to be property in ancient cultures, including that of Israel, and were often basically sold from one “owner,” her father, to a new “owner,” her husband, through marriage), and deceiving someone into thinking a woman was a virgin when she wasn’t could also result in harsh penalties, premarital sex on its own was never specifically forbidden or called sinful in the Hebrew Scriptures. Of course, premarital sex (or sex outside of marriage) technically could fall under the broad label of πορνεία in some parts of the world (and still can today), but it could (and can) only legitimately do so in regions where this actually was or is considered to be illegal (such as in parts of the Middle East today, for example). Outside of those more conservative regions of the planet, however, it wouldn’t be considered to be wrong by the law and hence wouldn’t be a sin to do so since it wouldn’t be a crime.
So what sexual acts would be considered illicit when the word πορνεία was used in Scripture? Well, it would, of course, cover the specific sexual prohibitions that actually were mentioned in the Mosaic Law, or at least it would for those who were required to follow said law (specifically, members of the Israel of God). And without even having to go any further, the passages I just linked to prove that premarital sex is not a sin all on their own, because if it were a sin, God wouldn’t have had to have gone to the trouble of forbidding sex with animals — or even with other people’s wives — since all He’d have to have said is, “Don’t have sex with anyone you aren’t married to,” something He never actually said anywhere in Scripture. (I should also quickly point out that you won’t find masturbation, enjoying the way someone’s body looks, or fantasizing about someone in a sexual manner listed anywhere in that list of sexual prohibitions either, which is something important to keep in mind as well.) The fact that God also never forbade men from having concubines, who were not wives but who were women that men had sex with, and in fact never once condemned the many men in the Bible who were considered to be righteous (relatively speaking) yet had concubines, also makes this quite clear, since sex with those concubines would have been “premarital” sex (or really “extramarital” sex, but that’s basically what Christians mean when they refer to “premarital” sex, since otherwise they’d be okay with a divorcee having sex with someone they’re not married to). It also makes it obvious that those Christians who claim having sex with someone means one is automatically married to that person haven’t thought things through particularly well either, I should add, since concubines would have then been called “wives” in Scripture instead, if that was the case, considering the fact that God considered polygamy to be acceptable and men to legitimately be said to have multiple wives in the Bible.
As far as those of us in the body of Christ go, however (since we aren’t under the Mosaic law), while the word πορνεία literally means “illicit sexual intercourse,” we have to look at context to determine what sort of sexual activity is being called illicit in Paul’s epistles (and not just automatically jump to the conclusion that it’s premarital sex being referred to, the way most Christians do), and the Hebrew Scriptures actually do help us here because they reveal that it largely referred to sexual idolatry (meaning sleeping with temple — or cult — prostitutes) when Paul used the term, as demonstrated by 1 Corinthians 10:8 where Paul used the word to refer back to the cult prostitutes of Moab mentioned in Numbers 25:1-9 (who used sex as a part of worshipping other gods since, in Bible times, Satan used sex to lure people into idolatry, although, now that cult prostitution is basically no longer a thing, he now uses sex as the new circumcision instead; and just to quickly get the supposed discrepancy between Paul’s 23,000 in 1 Corinthians 10 and the 24,000 in Numbers 25 there out of the way, it’s simply that Paul chose not to include the “heads of the people” of verse 4 who were hung — amounting to 1,000 people — but referenced only the 23,000 common people slain with the sword, as mentioned in verse 5). Paul would presumably have also been speaking against the rape of the women forced to participate in temple prostitution in his time when he spoke against πορνεία, not just the idolatry aspect of it (or at least one would hope so), but the connection to idolatry was a large, if not the largest, part of it.
That said, it could also be used in reference to sexual practices that actually were considered illicit by the culture in question, practices such as incest, for example, which Paul also spoke against in 1 Corinthians 5:1 using the same Greek word. This particular instance of πορνεία also demonstrates quite conclusively that premarital sex was not considered to be a sin. If it were, the Corinthian believers would never have even considered letting things go this far; they would have stopped long before accepting, and seemingly even taking pride in, this relationship happening among their church members if Paul or anyone else had previously taught them that sex outside of marriage fell under the category of πορνεία-based sins, and he also apparently forgot to tell them it was a sin in this epistle as well when he was telling them to avoid such forms of πορνεία, so anyone who claims it is sinful is just eisegeting their own preconceived moralistic bias based on their religious traditions into their interpretation of the word πορνεία in this and other parts of Scripture rather than exegeting what Scripture actually means by the word.
Of course, some try to argue that Paul did tell them to avoid premarital sex a couple chapters later when he apparently tells them, “And concerning the things of which ye wrote to me: good [it is] for a man not to touch a woman, and because of the whoredom let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her proper husband,” supposedly telling them to get married rather than have premarital sex, but that’s not what he’s actually trying to get at there at all. It would take a much longer study to get all the way into the full meaning of this chapter, but along with actually taking the context of the passage into consideration, there are also idioms in the original Greek text that aren’t obvious if you’re not aware of them (for instance, the phrase “not to touch” was a figure of speech that literally meant “not to have sex with,” and the word “have” was euphemistically referring to having sexual intercourse in that passage as well), so a more informative paraphrase of the first couple verses of that passage, which is more in line with the actual meaning of these verses, would be, “Now, regarding what you wrote to me, you said: ‘It is ideal for a man to avoid having sex with a woman.’ Whether or not that’s true, in order to avoid the temptation that would almost certainly arise to have sex with temple prostitutes instead, let every man continue having sex with the wife he’s already married to, and let every woman continue having sex with the husband she’s already married to.” Basically, this passage is talking about Corinthian believers who had come to the conclusion that it would be more righteous or holy to avoid sexual intercourse with their spouses altogether (quite possibly because of outside Gnostic influences), but Paul warned them that they should not stop sleeping with their already existing spouses or they could end up inadvertently committing idolatry, as their biology would very likely lead the men to sleep with temple prostitutes instead (because they were the easiest people to find sex with aside from with one’s spouse, since people generally didn’t have romantic relationships back then as we do today; marriage was more of a business arrangement until very recently, so outside of marriage and adultery, the easiest and most common way for a man to have sex in that time and place was with a temple prostitute), and the women could even end up committing adultery. Yes, avoiding marriage is honourable if one can handle it (the reason for this isn’t because sex is somehow dirty or less than righteous and something that should be avoided in general, however; it’s simply because it helps one hold lightly to the things of this earth so one can focus solely on the things of God instead of the concerns of one’s spouse), but as the writer of Hebrews put it (even if this is a Circumcision writing, this is one of those trans-administrational truths that applies to those under both Gospels), marriage (and sex in marriage) is just as honourable, and one shouldn’t defile their marriage bed by sleeping with temple prostitutes or by committing adultery (both of which would be temptations if a married couple stopped sleeping with each other in an attempt to keep each other and themselves pure).
Contrary to what most have been taught, Paul wasn’t telling single people to find marriage partners rather than commit the supposed sin of having premarital sex in this passage (they generally didn’t have boyfriends and girlfriends like we do today anyway, so the idea of unmarried, romantic “couples” having sex probably wouldn’t have even crossed Paul’s mind); the context of this chapter and the previous chapter makes it pretty clear in the original Greek that he was talking to people who were already married in the first seven verses, telling them that the husbands risked going to temple prostitutes if married couples stopped sleeping with each other, which would result in idolatry since sex with temple prostitutes would necessarily involve worshipping other gods in the process.
As for those who were once married and wished to remarry (even if this might also be perfectly valid advice for those who haven’t ever been married yet, it’s clear that the word “unmarried” in this passage actually refers specifically to widowers, not only based on the patterns throughout this chapter in the original Greek text, but also because to say, “the unmarried and the widows,” and to be referring to everyone who is currently unmarried would be entirely redundant, making about as much sense as saying “the dogs and the beagles,” so obviously that isn’t what Paul meant; and if it simply referred to those who have never been married, then widowers would have been left out of this instruction, so the only logical way to read this is as meaning ”the widowers and the widows”), while he’d prefer for them to remain unmarried like him rather than get re-married, so they can focus on the things of the Lord rather than on a spouse, he does still say that getting married is better than burning with the desire to be married if they can’t control their desire for marriage (it’s unlikely that he was talking about burning with sexual desire here; based on the context of the topic of marriage in general throughout this part of the chapter, and the fact that he was saying it would be good for them to remain unmarried like him, it seems far more likely that he would have simply been referring to the desire to be married — particularly since sex outside of marriage hadn’t actually been condemned anywhere else in Scripture prior to his writing this, at least as long as it wasn’t illegal or idolatrous, and there’s no reason to believe Paul would have been suddenly adding a new sin that had never been mentioned previously in Scripture to the list of already existing sins mentioned there, although even if he was talking about burning with sexual desire, remember that they didn’t have romantic relationships back then, so sex with a spouse or sex with a temple prostitute were the two main ways to have sex at the time Paul wrote to this particular audience, and Paul certainly wouldn’t have wanted them to choose the latter option). And as far as those of us in this day and age go, at least here in the western world, there are other ways for unmarried people to have sex without resorting to visiting temple prostitutes, although if they are “burning” to get married, they certainly should.
In addition to these more literal interpretations of πορνεία, there was also a figurative meaning to the word (and its Hebrew equivalents in the Hebrew Scriptures), having nothing to do with physical sex at all, but simply being a metaphor referring to outright idolatry. The one thing it never meant, however, is premarital sex, or at least by now it should be obvious that there’s quite literally zero scriptural basis for claiming it did, despite the fact that your parents and pastor might prefer you believed it did. Of course, they likely only think they want you to. If they understood just how many STIs and unwanted pregnancies this teaching is responsible for, they might change their minds (unless they’re the vindictive sort who want those they consider to be sinners to be punished physically for defying their rules; there are Christians out there with this mentality). The idea that premarital sex is sinful causes many parents to actively make sure their kids don’t learn about protection and birth control, but since pretty much an equal number of Christians have premarital sex as non-Christians (the religious can’t fight nature and biology any more than the rest of the world can), only without any knowledge of how to minimize the potential risks, young people in conservative areas or with religious parents tend to end up with more diseases and unwanted pregnancies than those who don’t, and if you’re going to judge a doctrine or religious teacher by its or their fruit, it’s easy to see that the conservative Christian view on sexuality is rotten to the core.
Even with all that being said, many Christians will try to defend their indefensible claims about premarital sex based on Jesus’ comment about “lust” and “committing adultery in one’s heart,” attempting to convince us that this makes premarital sex sinful by default since you wouldn’t have sex without sexual desire (they like to use this argument to condemn masturbation and pornography too). However, because so few understand right division, not to mention what Scripture says in its original languages, they don’t realize that He was actually speaking about something else altogether in that passage from what most people assume. In fact, when you discover what “lust” really refers to in Scripture you’ll realize that it’s actually often encouraged, and that it’s also time to reconsider your thoughts on porn as well (and, really, anyone who cares about women at all should actually be encouraging the spread and consumption of pornography because, contrary to the claims of the morality police who, as it turns out, appear to be wrong about basically all of their assertions about sexuality, when porn usage increases, sexual assault decreases — unless they don’t actually care about reducing sexual assault, which would be quite sad, yet telling).
To put it plainly, to “lust” in Scripture, in its original languages (חָמַד/“chamad” in Hebrew, with ἐπιθυμέω/“epithymeō” being the verb form of the word in Greek, and ἐπιθυμία/“epithymia” being the noun), doesn’t simply mean to have sexual attraction to someone, but is rather a synonym for “coveting” something, or “strongly desiring” to own or obtain something or someone, and sometimes lusting/desiring is a good thing (the Lord’s statutes and judgements are to be lusted for/desired more than gold, and even Jesus “lusted/desired” according to Luke 22:15; in fact Paul himself encouraged ἐπιθυμέω at times as well, such as in 1 Timothy 3:1, for example). What Scripture does condemn when it comes to ἐπιθυμία is desiring to take something that already “belongs” (so to speak) to someone else, such as someone else’s property (or wife, since, again, women were considered to be property back then, unfortunately), which is what the 10th Commandment is all about. But to enjoy the way someone looks, or even to fantasize sexually about someone, isn’t what is being criticized when ἐπιθυμέω actually is spoken against in Scripture; intent to take someone else’s “property” without permission also needs to be there for the coveting to be wrong (otherwise, accepting something you desire as a gift, or even finding your own spouse sexually appealing, would also technically be wrong). So for ἐπιθυμέω over a woman to be considered “committing adultery in one’s heart,” in addition to needing to have intent to actually possess her, she would have to also belong to someone else already, which is, thankfully, not possible in the western world today since women are no longer considered to be property. And, of course, that passage only applied to Israelites, and even then only to some of them (it was a part of the Sermon on the Mount, which was all about elaborating upon the Mosaic law, something that never applied to Gentiles, and doesn’t apply to Jews saved under Paul’s Gospel either, so even if Jesus did mean what most Christians assume He did here, it wouldn’t apply to most people anyway).
But even if those saved under the Gospel of the Uncircumcision did somehow fall under this particular point in Jesus’ sermon (which they don’t, but for the sake of argument, let’s pretend they do), the word “adultery” in that passage really tells us everything we need to know about the context of the passage. By definition, a man (even a married man, which should be obvious by the fact that Scripture allows for Jewish men to have concubines) couldn’t “commit adultery” with a woman who wasn’t married (or at least betrothed) back then, since in Bible times the word translated as “adultery” in our English Bibles (μοιχεύω/“moicheuō” in the original Greek, and נָאַף/“nā’ap̄” in the original Hebrew) didn’t have the same meaning as the English word “adultery” does today, and was actually a property violation rather than a purity violation back then (which is why Jesus didn’t condemn women for lusting after men in that verse, sexually or otherwise, because a woman couldn’t own a man through marriage since a wife was always the property of a husband and never the other way around at that time). In fact, while “adultery” by its modern, English definition is certainly possible to commit (and is something one should avoid, since it isn’t a loving action), it’s quite impossible for anyone today in the western world to ἐμοίχευσεν (“commit adultery” in the manner the Bible uses the term) because women are no longer considered property. So no Gentile (or Israelite in the body of Christ) has to worry about even accidentally committing this particular sin here in the western world, or anywhere else that women are no longer considered to be property, today. (Just as a quick but related aside, this also means that, in most parts of the world today, married couples with “open marriages” technically aren’t committing the sin of μοιχεύω either, since the wives in a modern marriage aren’t “owned” by their husbands, and so as long as it’s completely consensual for everyone, and also not against the secular law where they live, of course, there’s no scriptural reason to say it’s forbidden.)
Few Christians seem to remember, especially when reading passages about sexuality and lust, that it’s extremely important to interpret a passage of Scripture using the definitions of the time it was written rather than basing our interpretations on modern definitions of English words (using modern definitions rather than the definition of a word at the time it was written is how we ended up with all of the confused and unscriptural doctrines of the Christian religion in the first place). It’s also important to remember that, prior to this sermon, neither sexual fantasy nor enjoying the way someone looks (sexually speaking) had ever been condemned anywhere in the Hebrew Scriptures (or anywhere else in the Greek Scriptures either, for that matter; and before someone brings up Job 31:1, they need to remember that this was spoken during his defence of his self-righteousness, which isn’t an example anyone should be following). When one realizes all this, it becomes apparent that Jesus wasn’t creating a new law for Israelites to follow (or informing them of a sin that God had somehow forgotten to inform them of until that point), but was simply expanding on on a rule His audience was already familiar with (the 10th Commandment), pointing out that for a Jewish male to covet his neighbour’s wife with the intention of having her would basically be the equivalent of breaking the 7th Commandment as well, but there’s absolutely no reason to believe He was even hinting that finding other people sexually appealing, or admiring their bodies (or even fantasizing about them) was at all wrong.
In fact, those who do try to force sexual desire out of their (and others’) lives are actually demonstrating a symptom of a far more pernicious form of lust than any mentioned already, one which affects (and infects) Christianity to a fatal degree. This, of course, would be the religious lust known as self-righteousness. So if a religious leader tries to convince others that simple sexual attraction and fantasy (or even premarital sex) is sinful, it would be wise to question any and all of their teachings since they’re demonstrating how little they likely know about Scripture, and it seems unlikely that they’ve even been saved yet (relatively speaking, of course), since they probably don’t even understand what it means to rightly divide the word of truth. Of course, another reason that religious conservatives are so opposed to “lust” (and anything even related to premarital sex) is simply basic erotophobia. Thanks to the horribly harmful purity culture that conservative Christianity has inflicted upon the world, too many people grow up with the idea that sexuality (anything from simple sexual desire to any form of sexual activity itself) is inherently dirty and shameful. Most Christians will deny this and claim that sexual thoughts and acts are only “dirty” or sinful when they’re outside the context of a monogamous, heterosexual marriage, but they themselves don’t realize just how deeply the effects of purity culture have rooted into their subconscious, eventually blossoming into full-blown erotophobia, which in turn forces them to have to believe that their misinterpretations of Scripture are true because anything else could allow the sexuality they so fear to enter their lives.
It’s also important to keep in mind that something generally has to be spelled out as a sin in the Hebrew Scriptures or else it’s very unlikely to actually be a sin. Neither Jesus nor Paul (nor anyone else writing any of the Greek Scriptures, for that matter) were adding new sins to the list of sins when they wrote or spoke about these topics, so these passages in the Greek Scriptures have to be interpreted in light of what came before (and while the cultural context at the time does need to be considered as well, aside from the fact that Paul wouldn’t have been adding new actions to the definition in the first place, especially not without explaining exactly what the precise actions were and why they were sinful, it’s not like premarital sex was considered wrong by the Gentile culture of those he was writing to anyway, so there’s literally no reason to assume it was suddenly being included in the definition of πορνεία in Paul’s epistles). And since the Hebrew Scriptures didn’t call premarital sex a sin, but did call idolatrous sex and incest sins, it stands to reason that one or more of these have to be what Paul was actually talking about (especially since, for Paul to suddenly add new sins that had never been included in the definition of the word πορνεία into its definition would mean he’d have to be very careful to explain what these new sins are, exactly, that were now being included in its definition, if he expected anyone to understand that these actions were now considered to fall under its definition and be sinful, which is something he didn’t do in any of his epistles). Likewise, Jesus said His yoke is easy and His burden is light, and since we know that A) “lusting” the way religious conservatives interpret the word (enjoying the way someone looks, and even fantasizing about them sexually) had never been condemned in the Hebrew Scriptures, and B) there’s no way that avoiding “lusting” in the manner that religious conservatives understand the concept could ever be considered to be easy, or a burden that is light in any way whatsoever (anyone who isn’t asexual or doesn’t have a hormonal imbalance — and no judgement to anyone who is or does — who is being truly honest with themselves knows I’m right), it has to mean something else than what most people assume (which it does, as I’ve already covered). This also means that those who try to avoid — as well as try to convince others that they need to avoid — their completely normal biological drives are perverting not only what Scripture actually teaches, but the natural instincts God gave us as well, and this is why those who teach the conservative religious perspectives on lust and sexuality are the true perverts.
There is a lot more that can be said about this complex topic (which has admittedly been simplified a great deal here), but the bottom line is that modern conservative Christians are following in the footsteps of the fourth century Institutional Church (so many of the errors of the Christian religion find their roots in that time period) and are making the same mistake of reading their own biases into the original text just as those so-called “Early Church Fathers” did, although it’s even worse today since so much time has passed and most Christians are now unaware that, in the first century, sex among the people Paul taught almost never took place between people who were considered equals, and this included sex within marriage. As already mentioned, the idea of a boyfriend and girlfriend, as we understand them today, in love with each other and sleeping with each other probably wouldn’t have ever entered into Paul’s mind since that wasn’t how relationships between the sexes generally worked back then, but there’s literally no reason to think he’d have a problem with consensual sexual relations between a couple in love today as long as no worship of other gods was involved, and it wasn’t actually illegal where they lived.
Premarital sex isn’t the only thing religious leaders have insisted that people shouldn’t participate in, however. There are so many other traditional religious ideas that aren’t in the Bible but that you’ve no doubt been told you must abstain from as well. For example:
• Modesty means not revealing too much skin or the outline of your body. Modesty is the opposite of vanity, not nudity. Nudity was extremely common in Bible times, yet never called a sin in the Bible. God did not condemn Adam and Eve for being naked (in fact He created them naked and saw them as “very good,” and if nudity wasn’t inherently sinful before the fall then there’s no reason to claim it suddenly became sinful after the fall), but rather asked them who told them they were naked after they sinned and realized they were. He didn’t say, “Oh no, your nakedness has been exposed! How could this have happened?!” since He made them that way and left them to enjoy the garden that way. The reason they sewed and put on clothing was because they were suddenly ashamed, not because they were suddenly naked (and the reason God made new clothes for them out of animal skins was because the dead animals covering them were a type of Christ covering sin, not because they suddenly needed clothing — they already had clothing at that point, after all). The truth is that sin distorts our perceptions and makes people feel ashamed of their bodies, just as it makes them feel guilt and shame over all sorts of innocent things. Puritanism over our physical bodies is not a scriptural virtue, but it is a form of gnostic dualism, which is enough to tell us we should be avoiding that kind of prudishness. In fact, God even sent Isaiah out to prophesy naked, so obviously nudity just can’t be considered sinful or else God would have been commanding Isaiah to sin. Modesty is still important, but it’s about not showing off, not about not showing skin or curves. When Paul called for modesty in the ecclesia, and asked women to dress modestly, he meant to dress “with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.” It had nothing to do with their bodies and everything to do with their attitudes. Basically, he was telling them not to wear fancy outfits that would make them appear more important than those who weren’t able to appear as wealthy as them. Similarly, Peter wrote that “beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.” Nobody in their time would have looked twice at somebody showing a bit of skin, or even at being completely naked, and Scripture certainly didn’t condemn it, so neither should we. But Scripture is clear that we should not try to make ourselves look better or more important than those around us with expensive clothing and lavish hairdos, so true modesty (humility) is something we should certainly aim for. And as for the concern that not dressing like a prude might cause men to lust, we’ve already covered what “lust” really means, and that the idea of “lust,” as religious conservatives understand the concept, isn’t actually a problem at all. So if someone tries to use that argument, they need to go back and learn that.
• Homosexuality is forbidden. Homosexuality is definitely never forbidden in Scripture. In fact, Scripture says nothing about the topic of being gay at all. That might seem like a strange statement, since I’m sure you can think of plenty of verses which you believe talk about the topic, but like many of the things discussed in this book, this is an assumption based on a misconception. Remember, “homosexuality,” or “being gay,” is simply the state of being attracted (sexually and/or romantically) solely to members of the same sex, and doesn’t inherently have anything to do with actually having sexual intercourse with — or even touching in a romantic or sexual manner — someone of the same sex at all (someone who is gay might never have sex with anyone of the same sex, and someone who is heterosexual or bisexual very well might — in fact, I’ve been told that a lot of gay porn is actually filmed with straight actors, who do it not because they have any attraction whatsoever to people of the same sex but rather do it for the money), and simply being attracted to somebody isn’t a sin in and of itself (even if same-sex relations were sinful, temptation itself is not a sin). That said, as far as same-sex relations go, the absolute most one could possibly argue is that the Hebrew Scriptures might forbid anal sex between males outside the context of rape and/or idolatrous prostitution (which is always wrong, and quite possibly what it’s actually forbidding according to many scholars, although there are other possible interpretations of the passages generally interpreted as forbidding it too), but even if so, this would only apply to those who are under the Mosaic law since the Hebrew Scriptures are the only part of the Bible where it might have forbidden it on its own outside the context of rape and/or idolatry; it’s never forbidden on its own anywhere in the Greek Scriptures, as I’ll discuss shortly. And regardless of whether it does forbid anal sex between men, it doesn’t say anything about love, romantic relationships, or other forms of sexuality between males. The passage about a man lying with a man in Leviticus would have to be strictly referring to anal sex — presuming it’s referring simply to sexual intercourse between men at all, and not referring to temple-prostitution or something else altogether, as many believe it does (for those who disagree with me here, if it were including other forms of sexuality, such as oral sex, for example, there would have also been a verse forbidding women from lying with other women or from performing oral sex on other women, and since there isn’t, there’s literally no good reason to believe it’s including that particular act between men either) — and it should also be pointed out that just because something is forbidden, or even called “an abomination,” in the Hebrew Scriptures doesn’t make it wrong in and of itself, or else we Gentiles wouldn’t be allowed to eat bacon or shrimp or play Pick-up Sticks on Saturdays. Many of the “abominations” and other prohibited (and even required) actions in the Mosaic law were there simply to make sure Israel was set apart from the other nations, and had nothing to do with something being inherently right or wrong at all. On top of that, the Bible definitely never says anything anywhere about love, romantic relationships, or sexuality between females. The passage in Paul’s epistle to the Romans about idolatry that some mistakenly use to argue against homosexuality does not actually condemn women lying with women as many believe, and may in fact be talking about women lying with animals (an action that actually was forbidden in the Hebrew Scriptures) when the context of worshipping the creature in that passage is taken into consideration, although it could also be argued that it instead refers to women participating in a certain sort of shrine prostitution. Either way, the idea of women lying with women had never previously been forbidden in Scripture, so there’s no justification for claiming it was all of a sudden being forbidden at that point (again, Paul didn’t make up new sins that were never previously mentioned in the Hebrew Scriptures). And, of course, there’s also the fact that the actions mentioned here were actually negative “consequences.” Paul’s point in this passage wasn’t that he was telling people to avoid certain sexual sins, but rather that the sin of idolatry would lead, or more likely led (past tense, quite possibly referring to “sacred orgies” that included same-sex intercourse performed in worship of Baal-Peor in “Old Testament” times), certain people to certain negative consequences, such as performing acts that went against their nature. And the fact that the passage talks about men going against their nature is very telling as well. The phrase “the men likewise gave up natural relations with women” implies that these men were, by nature, heterosexual. You see, the word translated as “gave up” is ἀφέντες/“aphentes” in the Greek, which means to leave behind, forsake, neglect, or divorce. Simply put, the men in question divorced themselves from their own heterosexual nature when they were consumed with passion for one another. “Passion” for other men is the nature of a man who is already gay, so this passage can’t possibly be talking about men who were already gay prior to this act or else it would have said they were consumed by passion for women instead when they gave up their “natural relations.” The only way one can use the phrase “natural relations” in order to declare that same-sex relations are unnatural is to ignore both the Greek and the context of the passage and simply assume that one’s preexisting doctrinal bias has to be correct because it’s too difficult to let go of. As far as the rest of the passages in the Greek Scriptures that people normally use to argue against same-sex relations go, those passages are also horribly misunderstood. I don’t have room to get into all the details here, but when Paul wrote about same-sex relations in his other epistles, it’s very likely only idolatrous prostitution between males that he’s specifically condemning (much like the πορνεία issue between men and women was in many cases when he wrote about it). Most versions say things like, “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind … shall inherit the kingdom of God.” That translation makes it somewhat confusing if you aren’t aware of the Greek words it’s translated from, since the word “fornicators” there is πόρνος/“pornos” in the Greek, referring simply to a man who has illicit sex with a woman, specifically a man who has sex with a female temple prostitute (a πόρνη/“pornē” in the Greek) in this particular case, based on the context of the latter part of the chapter (the context of a passage is always extremely important when trying to determine the meaning of a part of Scripture, or even of a specific word within it), which is men committing idolatry and worshipping other deities by joining themselves with a temple prostitute (or a “harlot,” which is what the KJV translates the word πόρνη as, actually getting it pretty right in this case, as long as one realizes that Paul wasn’t referring to simple sex-work apart from idolatry). With that in mind, and based on the fact that sexual intercourse on its own was never forbidden between unmarried men and women, apart from specific circumstances primarily involving idolatry, as we learned earlier in this chapter (which tells us there’s basically no reason to assume there’s something wrong with sex between just men either, and definitely not between just women), it stands to reason that the two Greek words that are used for same-sex relations in this passage are also referring to an idolatrous form of same-sex relations. When we again consider the context of the rest of the chapter, it suggests that the two words are almost certainly referring to temple prostitution, just like πόρνος and πόρνη are. The first word is μαλακός/“malakos,” likely referring, at least in this case, to a male temple prostitute (the word can technically be used to mean other forms of same-sex relations as well, which is likely why it was translated as “effeminate” in the KJV, but based on the context of the passage it seems pretty likely to be what Paul meant when he used the word in his epistles), and the second word being ἀρσενοκοίτης/“arsenokoitēs,” which the KJV rendered as “abusers of themselves with mankind,” and is a word some people believe that Paul actually had to make up (it doesn’t appear to occur in any Greek writings prior to Paul’s use of it in his epistles) because there didn’t seem to be an equivalent word to πόρνος for a man who slept specifically with male temple prostitutes. So, to break it down, in Paul’s epistles a πόρνος would almost certainly be a male who sleeps with female temple prostitutes, a πόρνη would be said female temple prostitute, an ἀρσενοκοίτης would likely be a male who sleeps with male temple prostitutes, and a μαλακός would then be said male temple prostitute. Bottom line: it’s all about committing idolatry (at least in the Bible; knowing how some of these words might have been used outside of Scripture can be helpful, but considering consistent context — not only of the specific section a word is used in, but of Scripture as a whole — can be even more important when it comes to interpretation, since words can mean different things in different parts of Scripture, as we’ve already learned, as well as mean different things from the way they were used outside of Scripture at times too) and doesn’t seem to have anything to do with simple sexual desire or same-sex relations outside of temple prostitution and the worship of other deities. Even if someone does decide to ignore all of the above, however, they should be warned that Scripture is very clear that it’s the anti-gay conservatives who are actually guilty of “the sin of Sodom” (which had nothing to do with homosexuality at all) today, and I wouldn’t want to be in the shoes of these religious conservatives at the final judgement. Even if only indirectly, homophobic (and transphobic) conservatives are responsible for many homeless youth, as well as for numerous suicides, not to mention all the assaults against, and even murders of, people who are different from them when it comes to their sexuality and gender identity, and pretty much each and every conservative (whether they’re religious or not) is going to have to answer for their culpability in these horrors when they’re standing at the Great White Throne Judgement. Because even if they’re only indirectly responsible, they all still have a responsibility for all of this suffering nonetheless.
• Abortion is condemned by the Bible as murder. Regardless of one’s feelings on abortion (and whether it happens to actually be wrong or not, which I’m not taking a side on either way in this section), it isn’t ever mentioned in the Bible; and since murder is a legal term, it can’t legitimately be defined as murder in places where it’s not illegal (abortion might involve killing, but killing can only be classified as murder if the killing is unlawful under one’s human government, since otherwise capital punishment and the killing of enemy combatants in war would also have to be called murder, as would killing in self defence). Now, some have tried to get around this fact by saying, “It doesn’t matter how humans define the word. The only thing that matters is how God defines it.” Well, “murder” is a human word, and like all words, if we aren’t all using the same definition when we use a word, the word becomes entirely meaningless as far as a discussion goes and there’s no point in even using that word to begin with. Most Christians today also aren’t aware that abortion (at least if performed during much of the first two trimesters) was not actually considered to be wrong by most Christians throughout much of history either (at least among Christians who hold to Sola scriptura, and the theological perspectives of those who don’t hold to Sola scriptura are rarely even worth considering). This doesn’t necessarily matter as far as one’s consideration of the morality of abortion goes, since those of us in the body of Christ don’t base our theology on what Christians have historically considered to fall under the purview of “orthodoxy” or “orthopraxy” anyway (because we consider the doctrines of the Christian religion to be entirely wrong about nearly everything), but it is still useful for us to know that until relatively recently evangelicals and other Protestants have actually been mostly okay with abortion, and that it was only due to the machinations of certain conservatives who decided to join forces with the Roman Catholics in their fight against abortion (although it appears that even Catholic opinions on abortion have changed over the years) in order to create the movement now known as the Religious Right so they could fight against desegregation and continue to promote racism that nearly everyone has been swayed into incorrectly assuming abortion has always been thought to be a sin by all Christians. All that said, there are some facts that are important to be aware of when it comes to abortion. The brain physically cannot have a consciousness (and so a fetus can’t be said to have a soul, because “soul” involves consciousness and feeling, as we learned in a previous chapter) until at least 24 weeks of gestation have passed (and likely more; maybe much more) because it does not have the structures necessary to develop consciousness or sentience. Therefore, since only about 1% of abortions take place after week 21, abortion in the overwhelming majority of cases definitely does not kill a living soul (it might kill something that is biologically human — or at least something with human DNA — but it’s not a “person” or a “soul”). In addition, scientists believe that it takes even longer than that — not until at least the 29th week — before a fetus could feel pain, in case that’s a concern you might have. It’s also important to note that abortions in the third trimester basically only ever take place because something has gone horribly wrong and the baby is going to die anyway (often in an extremely painful manner), and often because the pregnant mother will jeopardize her health if she continues with the pregnancy as well. No woman goes through months of pregnancy only to abort it near the end unless something is very wrong, and it’s almost certain that no doctor would do so for any other reason either, so these are all facts to keep in mind whenever someone insists that abortion is definitely wrong. Of course, it’s also important to note that a large number of Christians who today claim the “Pro-Life” label are only actually against abortion when it comes to other people’s abortions, thinking that the abortions they themselves have had are somehow okay, but that everyone else’s abortions are wrong and should be illegal, basically telling us that they believe the only moral abortions are the abortions they have, as well as that a large reason they’re fighting against abortion is actually because they want to punish other women for enjoying sex, and to ensure that those women suffer long-lasting consequences for their actions (they’ll argue that it’s actually because they think abortion is immoral and that they believe in “the sanctity of life,” but their hypocrisy, along with the way they treat those who have been born, reveals the real truth about them to the rest of us: that they don’t actually believe in “the sanctity of life,” or in ethical practices at all, for that matter).
• Monogamy is the only acceptable form of romantic relationship. Honestly, nearly every Christian is likely aware of the fact that polygamy and other forms of non-monogamy were considered to be an acceptable practice for people by God in the Bible, with the possible exception of local church overseers and deacons (depending on how one translates/interprets those particular passages; there’s good reason to believe they’re actually just saying that an elder or deacon should have at least one wife — meaning they should not be single — not that they can’t have more than one wife), but you’d never know it to hear Christians talk about it. God even told David that if he had wanted more wives, rather than taking someone else’s wife, he should have just asked God for more (and if polygamy is a sin, that would mean God would have been offering to help David sin). So basically, those conservatives who claim they’re fighting to promote “traditional marriage” really aren’t (if they were, they’d be promoting polygamy at the very least), and if monogamy was actually natural, cheating wouldn’t be so common in so many relationships (yes, even in Christian relationships).
• Swearing is shameful. The only thing that looking down on profanity does is demonstrate what an unspiritual (and likely hypocritical) snob one is. I’m not going to exegete all the passages in the Bible about language, though I will quickly point out that saying “oh my God” isn’t taking the Lord’s name in vain, since “God” isn’t even close to being the Lord’s name (His actual name is pronounced as either Yahweh or Jehovah in English, or something along those lines anyway), but is actually just a title, similar to the title of “President” (and the commandment isn’t talking about profanity anyway; it’s basically referring to perjury after swearing not to while using the Lord’s name in your oath). Instead I’ll point out the hypocrisy, not to mention haughtiness, of having trouble with profanity. All profanity means is “outside the temple,” i.e., anything that isn’t sacred. I won’t get into the problems with the secular/sacred dualism most Christians hold to, but technically anything non-religious (such as eating a hamburger) is “profane,” not just certain words. However, pretending for a moment that certain words are more profane than others, the idea that words can be bad in the first place quickly becomes comical when you begin to deconstruct the idea. I mean, it’s not like the Bible has a specific list of “forbidden words” included anywhere in it, so what makes a specific word wrong to say? Is it the particular combination of letters, or the specific sound the word makes when spoken, that makes a word wrong to use? It’s obviously ridiculous to think so, since otherwise the words “damn,” “hell,” and “ass” shouldn’t be read in the Bible, or spoken aloud in a sermon, as they’d be just as inherently bad in Scripture or sermon as when used in everyday parlance. But maybe it’s the meaning behind the word that makes it wrong? Well, if so, simply saying “have sexual intercourse” or “sleep with” (or “rats” or “ouch” any other number of expressions) would be just as bad as saying “fuck”; and saying “crap” or “faeces” would be just as bad as saying “shit,” as would saying the word “droppings,” or even “dung” (which is a word actually used in the Bible itself). But maybe it’s the intent behind the words. For instance, is it okay to say “fuck” if you’re referring to sex with your partner, or just using it as a playful adjective, but wrong to use in anger against another person? I’m okay with this, but only inasmuch as I am with the idea that we shouldn’t be saying anything with the intention of hurting another person (whether in anger or not), regardless of what words we’re using. And on top of all this, there are many words that are considered “swearing” in one part of the world that wouldn’t even be blinked at in others, so is it wrong to use a word in one location simply because it’s traditionally considered “vulgar” in that area, while not wrong to use it in other parts of the world where nobody is offended by the word? If so, that means it’s the act of offending people that would be the actual sin there, and we could never do anything that might offend another person (including evangelism, which offends all sorts of people). Just as the existence of so-called “swear words” in the Bible proves, this also means that no word is inherently wrong to use in and of itself, but is instead only considered wrong by certain people because they’ve decided the words are wrong, meaning these people have created an extrabiblical doctrine making it immoral to use words they don’t like. The reality is, getting offended by these “vulgar” words implies that you think you’re too good to hear everyday, common language, and that you probably need to be brought down a peg or two. Honestly, the old childhood saying about sticks and stones is true, and words can only hurt you if you let them. But, if you really insist on being offended by certain words, how about choosing to be offended by those words intended to hurt people who don’t happen to share your particular values or preferences instead of words that simply add a bit of colour to everyday speech. But I’ll make a compromise. Get offended by the many injustices and atrocities being committed not only around the world but even in your own backyard, and I mean offended enough to actually do something about it, and I’ll try to pretend you’re not a snob when you turn up your nose at everyday language. And I won’t even say the word uterus around you if that helps.
• Drinking alcohol is not allowed. While it might not be pro-drunkenness (and it’s certainly not in favour of over-drinking), the Bible actually recommends, and in some places even commands, the consumption of alcohol for certain people. And in fact, under the Old Covenant, wine was considered to be a blessing, with the absence of wine being considered to be a curse. Besides, as we all know, Jesus’ first miracle was turning water into wine (and yes, it was wine, not grape juice, as John 2:10 makes pretty clear, not to mention as the fact that the Greek word for wine in this account — οἶνος/“oinos” — is the exact same word used in Ephesians 5:18 where Paul warns against getting drunk on wine also makes clear, unless you think he was warning against getting drunk on grape juice). And, of course, Jesus used wine to represent “the new testament [covenant] in my [His] blood, which is shed for you,” so it should be pretty obvious that drinking alcohol in moderation is certainly allowed.
• Dancing, movie theatres, certain music, card games, and various other “worldly” activities should be avoided. Some Institutional Churches are worse than others, and most aren’t this extreme, but these, along with the various other so-called “sins” that have already been covered in this chapter, are a great example of how many religious leaders like to add rules to the Bible that were never mentioned in there to begin with, or twist teachings that are in there to try to make them say things they never actually meant, sometimes because they misunderstand the meaning of the passage that supposedly tells us to “avoid all appearance of evil,” sometimes because they actually, albeit mistakenly, think these things really are sinful, and sometimes because they don’t know what “worldly” or “not being of the world” really means (hint: “the world” at the time the Scriptures were written was very religious and conservative, particularly “the world” that Jesus was speaking against; Jesus didn’t spend His time condemning those the religious thought were sinners, but rather those religious conservatives who were doing the condemning of everyone who wasn’t living up to their so-called standards of righteousness, which should make it pretty obvious what “the world” He was against referred to).
All that being said, I’m not actually writing this to tell you that you should participate in any of the activities I’ve discussed in this article. After reading everything I wrote above, the most important thing to remember is that, regardless of the conclusions you’ve come to as far as whether it would be sinful for you to participate in any of the actions I just discussed, if you’re in the body of Christ, you are not called to condemn the rest of the world for what they do, or to try to influence it to straighten up their walk. Nor are we meant to get involved in politics to try to enforce our own preferences on the rest of the world (politics and moralism are the domain of the unbeliever, and are not activities those of us in the body of Christ are called to participate in). All you’re called to do is walk in accord with spirit, and let the rest of the world make their own decisions about morality. And so, if you have concluded that it would be a sin for you to participate in some of the actions discussed in this article, by all means, avoid doing so. Just don’t judge your brothers and sisters in Christ for doing whatever they decide to do.
Still, if you really want a general principle of morality to live by under the dispensation of grace, I can give you the philosophy of morality I myself live by (just don’t take this as a rule; it’s simply my own principles that my conscience and common sense led me to). In no particular order, I ask myself a number of questions, such as, “is it loving to do so?” If it’s done (or avoided) out of actual love or compassion, odds are high that it’s fine to do. I’ll also consider whether it’s harming anybody unnecessarily against their will. This is because certain actions can harm people without being sinful, actions such as defending someone against an attacker, for example, or a doctor amputating a limb to protect against the spread of a disease, so sometimes harmful/evil actions are necessary (and the “against their will” part is because something such as piercing someone’s ears when they want it done is technically causing them “harm,” or is at least damaging their body — even if only the tiniest bit — but it’s not to a fatal or even serious degree, and it’s their desire to have it done, so a professional piercer can rest assured that they aren’t sinning by causing this sort of harm or damage). But if an action would result in unnecessary harm to somebody against their will, it should likely be avoided. Another consideration is whether an action would get one in trouble with the police or break a secular law of the land. If it would, it’s probably best do something else instead. Of course, I also look to Scripture to see whether Paul has spoken against a specific action I might be wanting to do. While his teachings were exhortations rather than commandments (meaning they were good ideas to follow, but not required of us, for the most part), it’s still a good idea to see what he had to say about things if you’re in the body of Christ (for those who are in the Israel of God instead, they should be looking to what the Circumcision writings say they should do and not do). And last (but definitely not least), I think about whether it’s an idolatrous action that would result in the worship of another deity (or the worship of anything/anyone other than God). If so, I definitely don’t do it. But if something is loving, isn’t harming others unnecessarily against their will, isn’t illegal, doesn’t go against (properly translated and interpreted) Scripture, and isn’t idolatrous, I have the faith that it’s generally perfectly fine to do so. If you don’t have the same sort of faith about a specific action, however, it would be a sin for you to do it, and you should avoid any action that would go against your own conscience until you have legitimately changed your mind about it being wrong (just don’t judge another person for their actions — presuming these aren’t actions that harm others unnecessarily against their will, aren’t illegal, and aren’t idolatrous — if it isn’t going against their conscience).
And before moving on, I should reiterate something I wrote earlier in the chapter, which is that some people who have made it this far will have felt their pharisaical flesh crawling, and their self-righteous souls getting stirred up against some of the things they’ve just read. If that’s the case for you, it means you really need to reevaluate whether you’re more interested in holding fast to the traditions you’ve been taught by your denomination and religious leaders, so that you can continue walking in accord with flesh, or in what Scripture actually says, so that you can begin walking in accord with spirit instead.