Sunday, February 04, 2024

Semi-Random Musings (33)

Mark’s list of the twelve apostles includes the names of two fathers: Zebedee and Alphaeus. Matthew includes the same two fathers, and Luke includes Alphaeus.

If you wonder why, look no further than their sons, both of whom are called James. To distinguish between them, the gospel writers use the names of their fathers as what are called disambiguators, phrases that clarify the author’s intended meaning.

Good thing too, or the New Testament could get pretty confusing.

After all, not only were there two Jameses among the Lord’s twelve chosen disciples, he also had a brother named James. The father of Judas was named James as well. There may even have been a fifth, James the younger, though it’s also possible “the younger” was a secondary designation for one of the other Jameses. It doesn’t end there. The NT also has five Johns (the brother of James, the Baptist, Peter’s father, John Mark and John the son of Annas) and no end of Marys, so disambiguators are a common feature throughout all the historical books and the epistles.

Disambiguators take different forms. Sometimes it’s the father’s name, sometimes it’s a child’s name and sometimes it’s a brother. When Luke pairs James with John, or includes him as one of the Peter-James-John trio of “insider disciples”, he doesn’t stop to disambiguate because nobody is likely to be confused as to which James he means; the context tells us. Yet despite the variety of ways disambiguation is approached, I can’t find a single passage in any of the gospels in which it is unclear which James did what.

In fact, the only time in the New Testament when the identity of a specific James is less than screamingly obvious is in the introduction to the epistle of the same name. Here, the writer does not bother to disambiguate. Evidently, he didn’t think it was important we know. As a result, scholars still debate the authorship of his letter, though the majority concede the writer was probably the Lord’s half-brother. James simply calls himself a “bondservant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ”. Even assuming he could claim an earthly genetic link to the Lord Jesus through Mary, the relationship by which he chooses to identify himself is that of his servant.

May we all have that spirit.

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In every gay or lesbian relationship dynamic I’ve ever observed for more than a few minutes, one partner assumes a more stereotypically male or female role than the other. Relative attractiveness usually appears to play a part in this. For this reason, the Hollywood movie pairing of Jake Gyllenhaal with Heath Ledger struck a false note. You never see two manly men or two gorgeous, equally feminine women holding hands on the subway during Pride week. If nothing else pointed to the wisdom of God in distinguishing the sexes, or to the inevitability of the biblical sex roles in any remotely functional partnership, that observation alone would do it for me. But of course we also have the explicit teaching of scripture on the subject, which is remarkably uncomplicated unless you are desperate to make it that way.

For all that Robby Lashua’s post entitled “Why a Same-Sex Couple Could Never Practice Christian Marriage” is spot-on with respect to analyzing the sex-specific marriage roles taught in scripture, his argument still feels a little beside the point to me. Robby is making the kind of detailed, thoughtful case against homosexual marriage that only a believer thoroughly committed to seeking the will of God would be remotely able to process.

Lashua writes:

“Christians who hold to pro-gay theology have a practical problem. How can same-sex couples obey the biblical commands for marriage? Which partner takes on the role of the husband, and which takes on the role of the wife? How are these roles decided? Are they fluid? Who is the head of the relationship? Whose prayers are hindered by mistreating the other? Who dishonors the word of God by not being submissive?

Trying to live out a biblical marriage while engaged in a same-sex marriage is impossible. It’s like trying to have a biblical relationship with your mistress. The biblical advice for homosexuality and adultery are the same: Don’t engage in them.”

Good points all, Robby, but who’s your audience? Consider two groups: (1) people acting on homosexual desires, and (2) people seeking the will of God. The intersection set of those two groups looks like a lot of the American Midwest: pretty much unpopulated.

Here’s a principle that pervades scripture: insight begins with obedience. “If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether I am speaking on my own authority.” The presentation of our bodies precedes discernment of God’s will. The determination to do the will of God whatever it may be precedes our understanding of it. The reasons why God has commanded some things and forbidden others become transparent to us only in the measure we are already ordering our lives in accordance with God’s word.

I believe a Christian committed to life-long, obedient self-control rather than potential personal defilement may soon come to learn why God has ordered his world in a manner contrary to some of his children’s personal desires; the Lord will show it to him in gracious ways that you and I have no need for and will never experience. But a pro-gay theologian is incapable of parsing Robby’s argument, since he has already committed himself to a sinful outcome and is only looking to justify his or someone else’s preferred lifestyle. From such a starting point, spiritual insight is quite impossible.

Obedience is not only the key to understanding, but also the key to contentment with the lot God has given me. The fear of loneliness so frequently expressed by the advocates of pro-LGBT theology finds its answer in the life of a man who, while living in perfect chastity, could say, “He who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to him.”

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