Tuesday, December 22, 2015

History of Christmas

Matthew 1:18 “Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit”

As Christmas is nearing, I would like to discuss the history behind the Christmas holiday.  When people think of Christmas, they think of winter, snow, a Christmas tree sprung out with decorations and lights glowing with presents underneath, people singing Christmas carols, exchanging gifts, good cheer and good will to our fellow man.  Children think of Santa Claus riding in his sleigh of reindeer coming down the chimney with bag full of gifts. However, most people think of December 25 being the birth of Jesus Christ in a barn in a town of Bethlehem.  However, I wonder how many people know how the holiday of Christmas really got started, and about the truth surrounding Jesus birth, that he wasn’t really born December 25 as perceived.  These things will be answered. 

It what surprise many Christians that some Christians don’t celebrate Christmas at all because of its supposed Pagan roots.  I couldn’t imagine at all the holiday that celebrates the birth of Christ to have pagan origins but there is some truth to it. During the Ancient times, centuries before Christ was born, European pagans celebrated during the winter solstice when the shortest days and longest night of the year when the sunlight is extended. A festival is held to worship the birth of the sun between December 21-25.  The Scandinavian norses celebrated Yule in which a festival was held in honor of the return of the sun, and fathers and sons would bring in logs and set them on fire feasting until the logs burned out. This celebration lasted from December 21 until January.  In Rome, pagans celebrated a holiday known as Saturnalia in honor of the God Saturn between December 17-25. 

Some Roman soldiers also celebrated December 25th as the birth of Mithra, a Persian sun god.  During this time, courts, schools and businesses were closed, slaves would become masters and peasants would rule the city. People could run around and damage property or inflict injury without the fears of being punished.  A festival was held that included drinking, gambling, gift-giving, role-playing etc.  Human sacrifices also took place on the 25th, when a victim was selected to represent the Lord of Misrule as the Romans believed murdering the victim, they were destroying the forces of darkness.  During the early days of Christianity, Easter was only celebrated as a main holiday.  It wasn’t until the 4th century that the birth of Jesus Christ was celebrated as a holiday. 

The problem was the bible never mentions the month or day of Jesus birth.  In fact, new scholars now conclude that Jesus birthday was not in December at all but likely in September because due to certain facts. That the shepherds were outside in the fields with their flock when Jesus was born yet shepherds wouldn’t be out during the winter season because it would have been too cold. Also the fact that Joseph and Mary arrived in Bethlehem to register in the census, but that wouldn’t take place in the winter season either.  Also, in the bible it states that the Virgin Mary’s cousin Elizabeth whom Mary was visiting was already in her sixth month of pregnancy of John the Baptist when Mary conceived which was likely in December making September likely the time she gave birth.  Pope Julius I declared December 25th, the birthday of Jesus Christ around 350 AD as a way to absorb it with the pagan holidays, rituals and customs. It was originally called the Feast of Nativity and spread out all over throughout the continents over the centuries. In 529 AD, Emperor Justianian declared the holiday a civic one.

The word Christmas came from the old English word Cristesmaesse coined in 1038 and later Cristes Messe in 1131 meaning the Mass of Christ.  By the medieval era, Christmas contained some of its pagan customs too an extant. People would go to church then celebrate afterwards by engaging in drunken raucous. Also a beggar would be crowned as the Lord of Misrule with the others as his subjects.  The poor would go the home of the rich demanding food and drink and if the owners refused, they would cause mischief upon the owners. The wealthy folks would pay their dept to society by entertaining the poor.  By the 17th century, Oliver Cromwell and his puritan followers decided to ban Christmas altogether until Charles II took the throne and restored it.  When the pilgrims arrived in America colonies, Christmas wasn’t celebrated and even outlawed in some parts of the country including Boston during the later part of the 17th century. 

Even after the revolutionary war, Christmas still wasn't widely celebrated as a holiday in fact, Congress held its first session on Christmas Day in 1789.  Christmas would become a federal holiday in 1870.  By this time Americans even adapted the current traditions of Christmas such as the custom of the Christmas tree that was started in Germany during the 16th century.  Other customs included giving gifts or putting presents under the Christmas tree, stockings, mistletoes, etc. For children, the legend of Santa Claus also known as Father Christmas in the United Kingdom riding on his sleigh of reindeer climbing down the chimney to bring toys for them emerged. 

Today Christmas is holiday celebrated all in many countries around world as secular holiday where people decorate their Christmas tree, go shopping for presents, host fancy dinners and exchange presents, sing Christmas carols etc.  However, real meaning of Christmas is so much more as it is about celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. Another important factor is love.  Christ love for all God’s children and we as children of God should follow Christ example by extending love, kindness and goodwill to all our fellow men and women.  It doesn’t matter if what kind of gift you buy how expensive or not it matters is in the heart, and mostly remembering Jesus Christ came into this world where he gave  to many people the biggest gift was Him dying for all our sins on the cross.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

The Truth About The Visits Mary Magdalene Made To The Tomb

John 20:1 “Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance”

In my last post, I discussed the four gospels detailing the life and death of Jesus Christ. I now want to discuss the truth about Mary Magdalene’s visits to His Tomb and just how many visits she made.  In each of the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, is a different account on Mary Magdalene’s visit to the tomb, where it was daylight or dark, how many other women were with her, if she saw one or two men at the tomb, whether she was alone when first saw that the stone had been removed in the tomb or was she with the other women.  All these details I will analyze.  

In Matthew 28: 1-10, mentions only Mary Magdalene and the other Mary(possibly Mary the mother of James) heading to the tomb where it mentions an earthquake and an angel comes down and rolls back the stone sitting on it and greets the two women has they arrive.  The angel then informs them that Jesus has risen telling them go inside the tomb to see that he isn’t there anymore and to tell the other disciples that Jesus is headed to Gallilee.  As they prepare they flee from the tomb, the women are greeted by Jesus and they soon ran to him and clasped his feet in worship as he instructs them to his disciples to go Gallilee where he will be.  In Mark 16: 1-8, mentions Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Salome purchased some burial spices to anoint Jesus’ body Saturday evening after the Sabbath and on Sunday morning just at sunrise they headed to the tomb discussing who will roll away the stone at the entrance of the tomb.  However when they arrived, the stone was rolled away and as they entered the tomb, the saw a man clothed in white sitting on the right side telling them that Jesus had risen and showing where he used to lay.  He instructs the women to tell the disciples, including Peter that Jesus will be ahead of them at Gallilee.  The women leave the tomb and don’t say anything to anyone out of fear.  There is an added text of the gospel Mark 16: 9-20 where it mentions that the first person Jesus appears to is Mary Magdalene who tells the other disciples who don’t believe her.  Jesus also appears in different form to two disciples headed from Jerusalem to the country who also tell the others but they are not believed either.  Then Jesus finally appears to the eleven remaining apostles. 

Luke 24:1-12 mentions a group of nameless women headed to the tomb on Sunday early dawn to carrying the burial spices they prepared only to find the stone rolled away.  Inside the tomb, they see Jesus corpse is gone and instead there are two men who tell them that Jesus is not there anymore as he has risen.  The women flee the tomb and return to tell the eleven remaining apostles and the other disciples what they witnessed. The names Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joanna are mentioned among those who tell the disciples as well as other nameless women.  Peter headed to the tomb and found the linen clothes by themselves and returned home amazed.  Finally in John 20:1-18, details only Mary Magdalene arriving at the Tomb early while it was still dark to find the stone rolled away at the entrance and later told the what she saw to Peter and John( referred as the disciple that Jesus loved) claiming that they had taken Jesus’ body out of the tomb.  Then both Peter and John head to the tomb and once inside see that his body is gone find just linen clothes.  After they leave, Mary Magdalene stands outside the tomb crying and looks inside to see two angels clothed in white sitting where Jesus was lain one at the head and the other at the foot who ask her why she is crying to which she tells them that Jesus body has been taking away and she doesn’t know where he is placed.  Then she turns around and sees Jesus standing there but doesn’t recognize him thinking he’s the gardener even when He asks her why she’s crying and asks him where Jesus’ body is. It’s only after he calls her name that she recognizes him and cries out rabboni(meaning teacher).  Jesus tell her not to touch him since he’s not ascended to the Father yet and instructs her to go tell the other disciples that He’s ascending to the Father, God to which she flees and finds the other disciples and repeats what he said to her. 

These accounts somewhat similar and slightly different leaves it very confusing to the real truth what happened at Jesus’ Tomb. Mary Magdalene is mentioned in each of the gospels of being present when the Tomb is discovered empty but did she visit the tomb more than twice, like three or four times and what about her witnessing Jesus resurrection?  The gospel John puts where alone standing outside the tomb when she saw Jesus who wouldn’t allow her to touch him yet the gospel of Matthew has her with another Mary(possibly Mary the mother of James) when seeing resurrected Jesus after an angel removed the stone from entrance of the tomb and sat on it telling the women about Jesus haven risen from the tomb.  The gospel of Mark mentions Mary the Mother of James and Salome with Mary Magdalene finding the tomb empty and one man inside the tomb to tell them about Jesus.  The gospel of Luke only mentions a group of women at the tomb and two men greeting them to tell them about Jesus and later mentions the name other than Mary Magdalene, Joanna and another some other women telling the disciples about what they saw in the tomb.  The gospel on John only mentions Mary Magdalene going to the tomb implying she went alone and only mentions the names Peter and John as the disciples she told also implying the other disciples weren’t there besides she was alone when she first saw Jesus unlike in the gospel of Matthew. 

With some different details regarding Jesus tomb and his resurrection how can anyone know for sure what truly happened, what is true and what is false?  This doesn’t mean that four gospels are not truthful, taking into account that they were written by four different people and told from different point of views.  It’s possible that in each gospel, some details where left out that were added in the other gospels and not told in chronically order can make it quite confusion.  For example, the gospel of John may only mention Mary Magdalene going to the tomb but that doesn’t mean she went alone.  The gospel of Mark may only mention three women, but more women could have also been with the group heading to the tomb including the female disciple Joanna.  As for Mary Magdalene, she is mentioned on all four gospels and appears to be an important presence as she found the tomb empty and witnessed Jesus resurrection.  Also, considering the different accounts in the gospels regarding her presence, leads a possibility that she made more than two visits to the tomb.  In fact, many scholars have theories that Mary Magdalene made at least three or four visits to the tomb each giving their own perspective of what happened.  I will not dwell on their theories in this topic but come with theories on my own based on my understanding of all four gospels. One theory is that Mary Magdalene visited the tomb at least three times. 

From what we do know from Mark and Luke is that Saturday evening after the Sabbath, Mary Magdalene and other women that included Mary the Mother of James, Salome and probably Joanna, purchased burial spices to anoint Jesus’ body. Sometime later an earthquake occurred and the tomb was pulled aside.  I theorize that Mary Magdalene and the group of women, headed to the tomb early Sunday morning when it was still dark discussing among each other how they were going to move the tomb. By the time they arrived it was dawn and they discovered the tomb was empty went inside and saw two men dressed in white robes.  Although Mark 16: 5-7 mentions only man in the tomb who speaks to them, this doesn’t mean there wasn’t a second man with him as mentioned in Luke 24: 1-7.  The women leave and later tell the other disciples what they saw. What is interesting is the verse John 20:2 “So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” This implies that Mary Magdalene believed that Jesus’ body was taken away despite the men in the tomb telling her and the other women that He had risen.  Perhaps the women were not aware that the men were angels and didn’t really believe their claims of Jesus rising from the dead despite it being predicted earlier.  Then it took Jesus appearing to the apostle Thomas the second time he appeared to the apostles for Thomas to truly believe he had risen from the dead.  Anyway, Peter and John were the only ones who went to the tomb and saw for themselves that it’s empty. 

Mary Magdalene makes her second visit to the tomb either following after Peter and John or arriving some time after they left which isn’t exactly clear.  Either way, by the time Peter and John left to tell the others, Mary Magdalene stands outside the tomb crying and looked inside only to see the two men again each sitting at the head and foot of where Jesus lain.  They asked why she was crying to which she told them that Jesus’ body was taken away and when she turned around, she saw Jesus standing there but she doesn’t recognize him at first and thinks he’s the gardener.  It isn’t until Jesus says her name that she releases who he is, however, when she is about to grasp his feet, he informs her not to touch him since he has not yet ascended to the Father.  Mary Magdalene runs to tell the other disciples.  I can only speculate that she didn’t find they disciples yet, or she told them and they wouldn’t believe her right away, as Thomas didn’t believe it until he saw Jesus for himself the second time He appeared before the apostles. Either way, it possible that sometime later, she returned to the tomb for the third time with the other Mary, possibly Mary the Mother of James to witness Jesus resurrection for herself. When they arrived, they found a man sitting on the stone telling them again about Jesus rising from the dead and when they turn away from the tomb to find the others, they both see Jesus which is the second time for Mary Magdalene and this time they are allowed to touch him as they clasped at his feet.  

Another theory is that Mary Magdalene visited the tomb four times with her first visit she went alone when it was still dark.  It doesn’t say if she entered the tomb but only found the stone rolled away but she would have later entered the tomb with the other women since in John 20:2 she tells others “we do not know where they have laid him”.  Anyway, her second visit would have happened when she and the group of women she was with headed to the tomb at dawn and the women discussed among each other who would roll away the tomb, implying Mary Magdalene didn’t say anything about what she witnessed maybe fear she wouldn’t be believed and wanted the women to see it for themselves. A third theory could possibly be that only Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Salome visited the tomb and were confronted only by one man as mentioned Mark gospels, and perhaps another group of women headed the tomb the Luke gospels that consisted of Joanna.  The possibility for this theory is that Mary Magdalene and the other two women left the tomb and told what they saw to another group of female disciples who decided to visit the tomb to see it for themselves that morning taking spices for anointing his body only this time they found two men inside the tomb.

Nobody can know 100% for sure exactly what really happened and may never know as I mentioned before these are all just speculations.  What really is important is the faith and belief that Jesus did rise from the tomb showed himself to Mary Magdalene and later the other disciples before meeting them in Galilee in the mountains before finally ascending to heaven for them all to see.  What is also important is Mary Magdalene played in important role in Jesus life as she was present during his crucifixion, was present at the tomb when his corpse was gone and was the first person witness His resurrection.  The four gospels each tell a story of Jesus life to his death, his rising from the dead and appearing to his followers that Christians hold valid today.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Should Christians Celebrate Halloween And The True History Behind This Holiday

Psalm 101:3-4 “I will set no wicked before my eyes, I hate the work of them that turn aside; It shall not cleave to me”

Since Halloween is coming up this month I wanted to take the time analyze this holiday that is still quite controversial among the Christian community. There has been huge debate among Christians regarding the Halloween whether Christians should take part in its celebration or not. Whenever anyone normally thinks of Halloween, they think about people dressing up in scary costumes such as ghosts, witches, goblins etc., children going trick n’ treating in costumes at night and getting candy handed to them. Attending Halloween parties, or the haunted house to be scared, telling scary ghost stories or watching horror movies.  The fact remains, Halloween is just chance to do fun things like being scared, dressing in frightening costumes getting candy etc. 

Still for many Christians, they question if they should being participating in Halloween at all, with many rejecting the holiday altogether writing it off was ungodly and a devil’s holiday.  Others refuse to wear any costumes that they consider unsuitable like ghosts, witches, goblins or anything frightening. While others attend alternatives such as harvest parties or fall festivals.  For these Christians, Halloween such be avoided as it is dangerous and unholy and corrupts of Satan.  The Pope Francis himself has spoken out against Halloween as evil and anti-Christian and should be replaced with Holyween where children dress up as saints and pray. My own experience of Halloween growing up was nothing more than dressing up in costumes scary or non-scary and going around the neighborhood at night trick n’ treating and getting lots of candy.  I’ve even attended a Halloween party at a local church with friends and went enjoyed the haunted house where we got spooked by people dressed up in scary outfits trying to frighten us.  It was all fun and memorable so I can’t really comprehend why so many Christians are hung up on Halloween? 

Maybe it’s has with the fact many see it as a pagan holiday and therefore unbiblical.  I think maybe to get to the route of all of things I decided to research the origins and history behind Halloween.   Halloween’s roots goes way back in the ancient times 2,000 years ago in BC, as a Celtic holiday called Samhain celebrated that marked the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter.  It was believed that the spirits of the dead returned to earth on this night to be among the living. A festival was held at sunset on October 31 until sunset on November 1 by the Celtic pagans called druids in Europe.  The druids would light bonfires on these nights where they would sacrifice animals, bring harvest food, tell each other’s fortune and guide the souls of the dead to the underworld.  They would dress up wearing animal skins and heads to keep the evil spirits away, while they also left their doors or windows open for their spirits of their departed kinsfolk.

By the eighth century when Christian missionaries converted many of the druids to Christianity, the Roman Catholic Church decided to Christianize the Celtic holiday. Pope Boniface IV established All Saints Day in honor of the Christian saints and martyrs on May 13 in 609 A.D.  Then somewhere in 800s A.D., Pope Gregory III moved the holiday to November 1, the same day of the Samhain holiday also known as All Hallows Day or Hallowmas.  October 31, the evening before All Saints day became All Hallows Eve, called Halloween by the 16th century.  Pope Gregory IV put all All Hallows Eve and All Saints Day in the church calendar making it a universal celebration in the Catholic Church.  All Souls Day was later added on November 2 in 998 A.D. This holiday celebrated the remembrance of departed loved ones who have not been cleansed of their sins and in which people would pray for them to pass from Purgatory onto Heaven. 

By the medieval times, Halloween, a Christian holiday preserved some of the Celtic traditions of the past, continuing holding bonfires.  Other customs came about including a practice called “souling” which consisted of poor people and children going out at night to the homes of the wealthier people praying dead relatives of the home owners in exchange for treats called soul cakes.  Another custom was called mumming where people dressed up in scary costumes of ghosts, demons, witches etc. and performed antics such as singing, chanting, play-acting and mischief in exchange for food and drinks. This later evolved to singing a song, reciting a poem, telling a joke or playing a trick for fruits, nuts or coins.  During the colonial America, Halloween took form from customs of various Europeans and Native Americans which included celebrations of the harvest, play parties, telling ghost stories, telling each other’s fortune, dancing and singing and mischief making.

By the 19th century, more Irish, Scottish and British folks emigrated to America taking more of their traditions and customs with them.  Halloween began to be celebrated where people dressed up in costumes going to homes asking for food or money. By the turn of the century, Halloween less about ghost, witches, goblins and other scary superstitions, and more about people getting to together to celebrate with costume parties, apple bobbing and other games.  By the 1920s, Halloween had moved away from its religious roots becoming a more secular celebration that consisted of parades, parties and other featured entertainment. It also became more geared towards children as the trick or treating custom became known having evolved from the old rituals of mumming souling.  By the 1950s, Halloween became widely known as it is today, with children dressing in costumes and going trick or treating as the annual custom. Today, Halloween doesn’t have any relations to its Celtic Druid origins nor its later Christian roots it’s just a holiday for trick n treating for kids or attending Costume parties for adults. 

Other practices include carving pumpkins into jack-o-lanterns, going to spooky haunted houses for fun, watching scary movies or telling scary stories etc.  Some churches have also participated in celebrating Halloween hosting costume parties or haunted houses and even a trick or treat alternative called trunk or treat where people park their cars with their trunk full of candy to pass out to children. Some churches continue to celebrate All Saints Day, the day after Halloween where children dress up as Christian Saints who where martyred at a party.  In Eastern Europe, candles are lit and placed on the graves of loved ones in honor of them. Some churches like the Catholic and Anglican Church also celebrate All Souls Day.  My personal conclusions, is that Halloween has nothing to do with the devil, spirits or anything evil. It is simply a holiday but mostly a tradition of fun where for children they go out dressed up for tricking n-treating and getting lots of candies and sweets and for adults it’s for costume parties and celebration.  Ghost stories, Haunted houses and scary movies are also part of the fun and there is nothing wrong with that. Children amd youths especially enjoy dressing up and spooky costumes getting scared in fact the scarier the more fun. 

Of course, there are downsides like those who use the holiday to justify destructive and criminal actions such as vandalism, harming others and any other destructive behavior. These are definitely reasonable concerns but for the most part Halloween can be an enjoyable experience for all people to enjoy. Christians can decide for themselves if they want to participate in the holiday but they shouldn’t be ashamed or condemned if they do as if it makes them less godly then ones who don’t.  It also doesn’t matter what type of costumes they wear whether they dress as witches, ghost, goblins or other scary costumes, whether they watch scary movies or not since they certainly don’t worship such things and children don’t take them seriously anyways and doesn’t necessarily interfere with their walk with Christ.   

Also, some can still choice to celebrate both Halloween and All Saints Day the following they day and teach their children about the martyred saints and honoring the departed loved ones.  Halloween comes only once a year and after it’s all over, people can get on with their lives with work, school, church, prayer and their devotion to Our Lord and then look forward to next year when they can enjoy Halloween again.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Who Really Wrote The Four Gospels of Jesus Christ?

John 1:17-18 “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.  No one has ever seen God, but the one and only son, who himself is God and is in closet relationship with the Father, has made him known.”

This topic deals with the details and analysis of the four gospels of Jesus life, death, crucifixion and resurrection as the different visits to his tomb.  These four gospels consists of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John with each giving slightly different accounts on certain details especially his resurrection and how many witnesses \who saw this miracle .  Because of this, there had been many speculations about the historical accuracy surrounding these events leaving some scholars confused.  Some scholars question who actually wrote these gospels, was it the name of the titles mentioned or was these gospels written some time later by other sources. 

The majority acknowledge that the gospels are not written in chronically order and because they’re written by different authors, that could play a role in why some of the accounts are different. The origins of the four gospels begin with 2nd century early church father and apologist Irenaeus, the Bishop of Lugdunum in Gaul(now Lyon, France) who was a hearer of Polycarp, an actual disciple of the Apostle John.  According to Irenaeus, Papias of Hierapolis, another early church father and author who was also a companion of Polycarp and hearer of two of Jesus disciples, John the Presbyter and Ariston wrote down five books called “Expositions of the Oracles of the Lord”. 

These books contain reports on people he encountered who had known some of the members of the twelve apostles and of elders John the Presbyter and Ariston. The five books no longer exist but there are fragments preserved by Irenaneus and Eusebius, a Roman historian with citations taken by Eusebius on Papias’ report on what John the Presbyter recalled on both Matthew and Mark’s works.  First, Matthew, one of the twelve apostles had written a logia on Jesus’ teachings that Eusebius stated was written in a Hebrew dialect known as Aramaic. Eusesbius quoted “But concerning Matthew, he writes as follows ‘So then Matthew wrote the oracles in the Hebrew language, and everyone interpreted them as he was able”.  Some scholars believe Papias was claiming Matthew wrote two gospels the first one in Aramaic and the later one he translated in Greek since the Gospel of Matthew was written in the Greek language. Others believe Papias was referring to another author used some sources from Matthew’s logia and authorize the Gospel of Matthew. 

Eusebius also mentions Pantaenus, a 2nd century Greek theologian and leader of the Catechetical School of Alexandria who traveled to India as a missionary and found the Gospel of Matthew written in the Aramaic language which was left by Saint Bartholomew, another one of the twelve apostles who was also a missionary in India.  However, some scholars believe that Pantaenus had difficulty with the translation of the Saint Thomas Christians, a Christian community in India and confused the reference Mar Thoma(Bishop Thomas) with Bar Tolmai, which was the Hebrew name for Bartholomew.  It is believed that the Apostle Thomas traveled to India and was the one to spread the Christian faith there. Other scholars believe that Eusebius simply confused India with Arabia or Persia, however there is no clear certainly to that fact.  Regarding, Mark’s writings, it is claimed that he was a interpreter and traveling companion of Apostle Peter, who wrote down what he remembered about Peter’s teachings, although not necessary in order.

Ireneanus and other early Christian theologians and apologists including Justin Martyr and Clement of Alexandria also clamed Mark wrote down Peter’s teachings.  Mark is identified as Mark the Evangelist, who founded the Church of Alexandria, whom he became bishop, Coptic Orthodox Church and the Church of Africa.  Early Greek priest, theologian and historian St. Jerome also claimed he founded the Catechetical School.  Other sources identify Mark the Evangelist as also both John Mark who also traveled with Apostles Paul and Barnabas and assisted in their works and is mentioned several times in Acts of the Apostles, Acts 12:12, Acts 12:25, Acts 13:5, Acts 13:13-14 and Acts 15:37-40, and Mark cousin or nephew of Barnabas who is mentioned in Col. 4:10 and Philomon 24.  Mark is also mentioned in 1 Peter 5:13 as his son although more likely his spiritual son and 2 Timothy 4:11.  This is does become unclear as some sources also identify Mark cousin or nephew of Barnabas also as Mark of the Apollonias a Bishop of Apollonia. 

Furthur sources claim that Mark the Evangelist was also the naked man who ran during Jesus arrest mentioned in Mark 14:51-52, although other theories is he was Lazarus or Joseph of Arimathea.  He has also been claimed to be the man who carried water to where the Last Supper was taking place in Mark 14:13.  He is also thought to be one of the servants at the Wedding of Cana where Jesus transformed water into wine.  Another claim was that he was one of Jesus 70 disciples mentioned in the Gospel of Luke.  In fact, in 1854, two writings of Hippolytus of Rome a 3rd century theologian was discovered in the monastery in Mount Athos in Greece called “On The Twelve Apostles” and “On the 70 Disciples of Christ”.  The latter lists all the names of the 70 disciples including, Barnabas and Mark and the Evangelist, John Mark and Mark cousin or nephew of Barnabas.  

The problem with these theories, is that it would also contradict Papias’s report that Mark never heard or followed Jesus himself. They also list the three Marks as separate people.  These findings however, have been regarded as false and unreliable. There is no real evidence that Mark the Evangelist ever knew Jesus himself.  What is really interesting is the ending of the Gospel of Mark, Mark 16:9-16 wasn’t in the earlier manuscripts of the text and seemed to be added much later which would mean Mark the Evangelist didn’t write it. It isn’t known who wrote the longer version of the Gospel but its speculated the author/authors got there sources from the three other Gospels.  Regarding the Gospel of Luke, it is claimed the author is Luke the Evangelist, a Hellenistic gentile from the city of Antioch of Syria and the only gentile to have written one of the four gospels.  He was also physician as well as Paul’s disciple and companion who traveled with him on his missions.  He is also believed to have written the Acts of Apostles as well since in both these books, the author mentions Theophilus whom he’s writing the stories to.  

Irenaeus and Justin Martyr mentioned him in “The Apostolic Fathers” as a follower of Paul.  Others including Eusebius and St. Jerome also believe him to be the gospel’s author.  According to Epiphanus, a 4th century Bishop of Salamis, Cyprus, he was also one of Jesus 70 disciples.  Theophylact, a 11th century Greek Archbishop of Ohrid, named him one of the two disciples who meet a resurrected Jesus while traveling to Emmaus while 14th century Greek historian Nicephorus Kallistus claims him to be a painter who painted Jesus and his mother. Of course, there isn’t any evidence that any of these claims are true and in fact, it is very unlikely Luke ever met Jesus Christ himself.  It is claimed that he wrote down the gospel and the book of Acts from accounts of many eyewitnesses to Jesus ministry and from other documents including the gospel of Mark. 

The fourth gospel known as the Gospel of John, according to Irenaeus it is written by the Apostle John himself. It is also reported that the Apostle John wrote the gospel while he was in Ephesus some time after Paul’s death.  In his book “Against Hearsies”, Irenaeus refers to John as the disciple whom Jesus loved and also the disciple who leaned on Jesus breast.  This phrase is also mentioned in the Gospel of John in few verses, John 13:23, John 13:25 and John 21:20.  Irenaeus sends two letters one to the Florinus and another Victor the Bishop of Rome where he mentions Polycarp who knew John the Apostle and interacted with the other Apostles too and to whom Irenaeus received his sources.  Eusebius quotes passages from Irenaeus letters mentioning Polycarp.

However, there are some scholars who believe Irenaeus confused John the Apostle with John the Presbyter who was the true author of the Gospel of John but there isn’t any real evidence of this theory and many evidences point to the Apostle John. It also opens to debate by numerous scholars if the Apostle John also wrote the Epistles of John and the Book of Revelations.  Further discoveries of the four gospels lies within the reports of findings of ancient papyruses throughout history.   There was the discovery in 1901 in Luxor, Egypt of what is known as the Magdelen Papyrus three fragments of papyrus believed to be portions of the Gospel of Matthew, were written on both sides indicating they were written on codex rather than on scroll.  These fragments were purchased by a Rev. Charles Bousfield Huleatt who brought them to the Magdalen College Library, Oxford in England and classified as Papyrus 64.  In 1953, author Colin H. Roberts published the fragments.

Some years later, Roberts and other scholars discovered that these fragments were part of the same manuscripts of Papyrus 67, another fragment of the Gospel of Matthew located in Barcelona, Spain and Papyrus 4 a fragment that’s part of the Gospel of Luke located in Paris, France.  Another discovery was when a team of researchers found a papyrus wrapped as a mummy mask in Egypt though to a fragment of the Gospel of Mark made around 90 AD which will eventually be published. Then in 1952, was the discovery of an ancient Greek papyrus in Egypt at the headquarters of the Pachomian order of Monks known as the papyrus 75.  These writings were codex that consisted of part of the Gospel of Luke(Bodmer Papyri X1V) and the Gospel of John(Bodmer Papyri XV) possibly 3rd century old.  These writings were purchased by a Swiss Scholar Martin Bodmer and later sent to the Bodmer Foundation in Cologny, Switzerland and later published in 1954. 

Other ancient papyrus consists of the Rylands Papyri, a collection of thousands of Greek and North African fragments and documents in which includes the Rylands Papyrus 52 also known as the St. John’s fragment.  This first or second century fragment is a codex which contains small portions of the Gospel of John which is now located at the John Rylands University Library in Manchester, England.  This fragment was purchased in Egypt in 1920, and in 1934 it was translated by Colin H. Roberts.  Despite variations of the authors of the gospels, there are some who don’t believe that neither of the gospels were written by Matthew, Mark, Luke or John.  In fact, some debate that true authors were anonymous who wrote them some time in the second century. Their evidence, they claim is due to the fact that the Apostolic fathers including Clement of Rome, Barnabas, Hermas, Ignatius and Polycarp who wrote early Christian writings don’t mention any of the Four Gospels. 

Another evidence, is the claim that Justin Martyr who made 300 quotations from the books of the Old Testament and 100 from the Apocryphal books but he doesn’t mention any quotes from any of the Four Gospels, although other scholars have contradicted this.  They also believe the Gospel of Mark received its main sources from the Gospels of Matthew and Luke and the fact that neither of Gospels were mentioned until the later part of the second Century.  Despite these claims, there isn’t any real basis for these speculations, and there is plenty of sources and documents to support the true authorship of the Four Gospels that I’ve mentioned. 

The fact remains is that the Four Gospels all varying accounts of Jesus life from his birth, his ministry, crucifixion and resurrection in which we Christians are familiar with throughout tradition.  What really matters is that we use these Gospels as our source about Jesus teachings, follow his example to grow more Christ-like and show honor the man who gave up his life for our sins.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Should Christian Teens Date?

2 Timothy 2:22 “So flee from youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace and along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.”

After discussing both dating and marriage in the Christian community, I now like to analyze the topic of dating among teenagers of the Christian faith.  There has been debating arguments about whether Christian teens should be allowed to date, when they should date or should they date only in groups or not.  Many Christians had various attitudes on this subject with some believing teen dating should be banned altogether until they are adults.  

The more conservative groups want to replace dating with courtship among youths. The popular perception is that dating his harmful for teenagers or they need special restrictions placed upon them. These can include dating only in groups even in college, never allowed to be alone together and that parents should never let them out of their sight for a moment. These kinds of restrictions can surely be daunting and some has to wonder where does such strict attitudes come from.  Especially since teen dating isn’t some new thing of this era bout been going on for many decades. 

By the 1950s, high school students even did was called multi-dating where they dated more than one person usually encouraged by their parents who may have felt they were too young to get so serious with just one person. Then if they really liked someone and wanted to get serious they go steady.  Sometimes going steady didn’t last too long during high school if they meant someone else they liked and decided to go steady with them.  Of course, during these time periods sex until marriage was still the accepted norm and the biggest step in a relationship was necking or petting.  People also tended to get married much younger as the common ages to marry were between the ages of 18-22.  It wasn’t just high schoolers having romances but children in middle school/junior school and even as young as elementary school were forming unofficial relationships. 

These type of relationships were usually innocent and not taken very seriously.  Middle school/junior high school students idea of “dating” considered mainly to pass notes, send love letters or valentine cards, holding hands, talk on the phone, wearing friendship pins, rings, or bracelets.  The boy may boy a girl a ring or bracelet from a vending machine.  They usually hanged out with each other and still did typical kid stuff and went steady which would last for a few months.  Their biggest step was having their first real kiss on the lips.  There have been plenty of classic TV shows and films involving childhood romances often portraying them as sweet and innocent.  So if teen dating has been popular for decades, why has the attitude changed these days?  Why do many Christians get so uptight about it now?  I think it has to due with the cultural norms and customs changing since the sexual revolution of the 1960s and 1970s. 

In today’s more hypersexual society, premarital sex has become more the norm even among teenagers.  In the U.S. 16 is the most common age that teens lose their virginity.  Teen pregnancy, Aids and STDS are quite high among teenagers.  To combat all of this, the more ultra-conservative Christian community has taken another extreme with the “I Kiss Dating Goodbye’ and “True Love Wait’s culture encourages courtship rather than dating which I mentioned a previous post about Christian dating.  Some of these groups even discourage friendships with the opposite sex out of fear it would be too tempting.  Just like with dating among adults, these types of extremes can actually hinder teenagers especially when they get older and have to deal with the dating world and are so unprepared to what to do and who relationships work. 

I can’t help but feel perplex when teenagers aren’t considered old enough to date yet are encouraged to engage in courtship when they are barely out of their teens which could also cause some problems in their marriages.  I personally think that dating among teenagers is not only appropriate but should be embraced as just a one of the many life experiences of growing up.  These experiences can be quite beneficial contrary to what many believe.  One benefit of dating is learning  how to form bonding relationships with the opposite sex with all it entails, the emotions, the ups and downs, the sacrifices etc.  Another one is discovering what he/she needs and desires in a partner, learning to draw boundaries in what is right for them and what isn’t.  Finally, dating can help teens learn more about themselves even if it means being challenged and stepping out of their comfort zone. They can find out what they can bring to the table, how much they can endure and what it really means to truly care for someone.  These skills can help teenagers in the dating word once they leave their teen years behind and reach full adulthood and enable them to find their future spouse. 

The many arguments against teen dating also consists of getting their hearts broken since dating at such a young age often doesn’t last.  However, sometimes relationships don’t last even for adults and people still often get their hearts broken.  Breakups in a dating relationship can be painful but it is also part of life and one of the pitfalls of dating and can happen to any single person. Unfortunately pain itself is a part of life in that a relationships but we can overcome pain. In a breakup we can recover from by starting to heal and learn to move on in time and even learn from the experience.   Just because something didn’t last doesn’t mean it was all bad or that it wasn’t beneficial.  Sometimes God could bring someone in your life even temporary and could even benefit you before you find the person you’re meant to spend the rest of your life with.  The most common concerns for youths dating so young is the sexual activity. 

In this modern society, saving sex for the sanctuary of marriage is less common and it could be particularly problematic  for teenagers who inexperience what to do with their raging hormones, easily led astray by peer pressure and getting  the wrong information from peers and sometimes well-meaning adults alike about sex.  But there are other solutions on how to deal with this problem than banning dating altogether which is mostly done out of fear.  Acting out of Fear doesn’t often help the teen even if it may ease the parent’s state of mind it may even stifle them and/or cause resentments causing them to rebel especially after they leave for college and get out under their parent’s roof where they had much more options and may want to compensate for all the restrictions that were placed on them.  Besides there are so much better solutions to the problems in dating.  First it’s the parents job to give reasonable and fair rules, standards, and boundaries regarding their child’s dating by setting an age requirement. 

For younger teens there can be group dating, or mixed group outings however typically when the teen is between the ages 16-17, it’s probably best to allow single dating, so the they can get the experience.  Other boundaries can include going out only in public places, no parking in secluded areas, in fact parents may want to ban car dating until they feel their teen is mature and can be trusted to handle these situations on their own, maybe anywhere between ages 16-18(just my personal opinion) until then the parents can chauffer their kids around.  Also not allowing their child to bring his/her girlfriend/boyfriend to the house unless under parental supervision and the same rules can apply at their girlfriend/boyfriend’s house.  Banning the bedroom or any secluded rooms with a door or insisting either a third party has to present in the room or the door remains open at all times. Although some churches will say that teen couples shouldn’t ever be allowed alone together, I don’t recommend chaperoning their every move to the point of hovering over them. 

There needs to some form of trust between child and parent and just as kids need their own space to be around their friends they need space with their dating partner as well.  It’s unlikely the teen will do anything too far knowing their parents are under the same roof in another room who could hear them and walk in on them any moment.  Then there is the thing parents most fear, the sex thing itself.  Some churches and parents alike just feel they can just install to them that sex is saved for marriage and don’t want to dwell more on it.  Others even inflict shame or guilty over teen’s sexuality which causes them to fear sex or any intimate moment in a relationship.  It’s natural that parents don’t want to think about their kid’s sexuality and raging hormones but the reality is they do exist and parents can’t control these aspects of their children no matter how much they try.  Instead of trying hard to control their kid’s sexuality it’s best to le their kids know that there is nothing to be ashamed of.  It’ is important for them to know that their sexuality is normal with all the sexual desires and hormones and that we all have them but how they are responsible how they handle and control these desires ensuring they don’t allow themselves to give n to sexual sin. 

As for physical affection, it’s unrealistic to not expect teenagers not to engage in some form of intimacy including kissing, touching, holding hands, hugging etc.  It’s important that they are aware that physical affection is a normal and healthy ways caring couples express their feelings but that their needs to be some boundaries so they won’t be led to stray.  Rather than a long list of what not do, it may be better to help them come up with reasonable boundaries of what is appropriate and what isn’t.  Mostly importantly is encouraging them to control their hormones rather allow their hormones control their impulses by making wise judgments, showing self-restraint and will power which will also help make wise decisions during their adulthood when they are on their own.  Last but not least, dating should be a fun experience where boy meets girl and they go out, spend time together and have good time and the rest is history. 

Teenage years are the most exciting, frustrating, challenging and stressful but teens can make the most of them in whatever they do which includes experiencing the joy sand hard ache of romantic relationships for the first time.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Purity Movement Part 4 Modesty Movement

1 Timothy 2:9-10 “likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works.”

In this post, I want to analyze a final topic of the purity culture within the Christian community now focusing on the new modesty movement.  The modesty movement is a new phenomenon that started during the new millennium where women and girls combat the hyper-sexualized society in provocative fashion by dressing more modestly yet stylish. 

It all began when an Orthodox Jewish author and speaker Wendy Shalit published a book in 1999 at the age of 23 called “A Return To Modesty: Discovering The Lost Virtue”.  In this book, she encourages sexual modesty where women save their sex  until marriage, something that considered no longer relevant in the post-sexual liberation society where random hookups and friends-with-benefits has become more the norm.  Then in 2007, she published a sequel “Girls Gone Mild” where she encourages women and girls to take a stand against the sexualization females in the fashion industry by embracing a more modest fashion stance.  In 2005, she founded an online community for women called “Modesty Zone” and is the blogger for the blog “Modesty Yours”.  Since then the modesty movement emerged, as dressing less revealing and provocative started becoming more desirable for young women and girls alike. 

This movement became quite prevalent in the Christian community.  Brenda Sharman, a Catholic former and beauty pageant became the founder and national spokesperson for the Pure Fashion Show in 2005. This a faith-based international program that targets teenage girls who learn that they can retain their dignity, by dressing modest and still stylish, as well as value their inner beauty, through fashion shows, modeling training, etiquette courses etc.  This program had since become successful and performs in several states in the U.S.  Other programs similar include Secret Keeper Girl.  There are also several modest fashion websites and modest clothing magazines, modest clothing lines being sold at stores, self-help books by Christian authors.  Even other religious and non-religious groups are also contributing to the Modesty movement that caters to Jewish, Muslim and secular women. 

The fact remains is more women and young girls are starting to realize they don’t need look sexy or dress provocative in order to be stylish or look attractive.  Dressing less revealing is now seen as classy, attractive and more appealing to both men and women alike.  More men are becoming attracted to females who cover up rather than those who need to where skimpy clothing in order to look attractive.  In this way the modesty movement has helped both genders as it has helped boost self-confidence and self-worth in women and girls against the society that is everyday sexualizing them with sometimes unrealistic or demeaning body image in society.   I do believe the modesty movement is  has been a positive thing new generation in decades. 

However, just like all new phenomenons that start off as positive and well-meaning, there can be some downsides when it becomes taken too extreme that can hinder than help.  One downside seems to be the shaming of females’ bodies similar to the slut-shaming.  The attitude is that it’s the female’s responsibility to cover up in order to keep males from lusting after her or having any impure thoughts at all.  Christian writer Sharon Hodde Miller clarified this type of shaming in her article in which she states that it treats women’s bodies as a temptation and a distraction that needs to be hidden or else it causes males in Christ to stumble.  Another Christian writer Elrena Evans shared the same view in her article.  They both are concerned that in shaming female bodies, that the modesty movement is objectifying women and girls just in a different way than the sexualized society does by reducing females to sex objects. 

This type of shaming resorts to policing women and girls’ wardrobes based on rigid standards among the ultra conservative Christian community.  Rules from no tank tops, spaghetti straps, strapless outfits, skirts above the fingertips, shorts, bikinis, etc are often imposed of women and girls in what is modest and what wasn’t. The problem is various communities and individuals have different ideas on modesty which can make it quite difficult for some to apprehend what is appropriate and what isn’t  What is considered modest some folks may not be considered modest for others.  Another factor is the idea that both women and girls are installed the idea that it’s on them to honor respect men depending on how they dress as to not be tempting the male’s lust.  I have found a few examples of this ideal on the internet.  One forum I found a few years back that I can’t remember when a Christian mother admitted how she told her nine- year old daughter she couldn’t have a certain bathing suit in order show respect to men. 

I found it quite disturbing that nine-year little girl is taught that she has respect men based on how she dresses as if a grown male may have impure thoughts about her.  Such a male would be considered a pedophile plain and simple.  I recall Christian author and speaker Shaunti Feldhahn wrote book in which she describes how teenage boys when looking at girls in bikinis are tempted to have lustful thoughts and picture the girls naked.  These guys tend to believe the girls are purposely trying to get attention when dressed in bikinis or short skirts or shorts and wish girl would cover up more in order to make it easier on them.  Shaunti Feldhhan herself seems to confirm this theories even if the girl isn’t intentionally trying to get the guys attention, girls still need to be aware of tempting they can be to the boys on how they dress that could lead to direction they don’t want. 

The most disturbing thing I read on the very conservative blogs it that some women may at least in part bring it on themselves when they get sexually assaulted or raped based on their attire, behavior and conduct.  These mentalities are quite bothersome indeed for various reasons. They can be quite chauvinistic and patriarchal dating back to when Eve tempted Adam with the fruit declaring women as seductive and tempting creatures.  After all, there isn’t a whole lot a views on male modesty to protect female lust.   Although some do occasionally bring up legalistic views on modesty of men and boys such as no going topless even at beaches or swimming pools dressed only in swimming trunks.  My point is that despite these myths, the fact remains that female bodies are not source of shame that need to be hidden away to block male temptation. 

Our bodies also bare the image of God.  Of course both males and females should be conscious on how they dress and not be dress to revealing but not for the reasons that is usually taught.  For women and girls they should dress more modesty not out of respect for the males but out respect for themselves as way of honoring their bodies as God’s temple. (John 2:21, 1Corinthians 6:19).  In this way, both women and girls use their bodies to glorify god not unhealthy self-gratification.  They do this be not cheapening their bodies in order to lure and attract lust or as an object for male self-gratification. This doesn’t mean women can’t still try to look pretty, stylish and beautiful but have reasonable standards and boundaries on what is appropriate.  As for men, their responsible for having self-control and restrain, but they should also understand having physical attraction to the female body and even some desires are not itself sinful, but how they handle these feelings and not allow them to a point to objectify females as mere sex objects, desire cheap self-gratification built on lust. 

Men and boys also have the responsibility to dress more modesty, not for the women’s sake but for their own self worth as image bearers of God.  Their bodies are equally not to an objects for unhealthy lustful desires for female self-gratification.  As for the modesty movement, I don’t wish to see it end as it can impacts millions of women and girls on a positive light, but it can use some improvement and revamping by letting go of the negative ideals of female’s bodies as a source of shame and stop focusing too much on their long lists of rigid rules of what not to wear. 

Instead, it should focus on female bodies beautiful images of God and with that their bodies are God’s temples that should be respected and valued rather than be cheapened or tarnished.  How we dress will certainly play a role on how our bodies are valued with decency and self-respect

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Purity Movement Part 3 -Physical Intimacy, What is Going Too Far and Premarital Sex?

1 Corinthians 7:1-2 “Now concerning the matters about which you wrote:  “it is good for man not to have sexual relations with a woman.  But because of the temptation of sexual immorality each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband.”

Since the last post, I discussed about sexual desires among Christians, in this post would like to discuss physical intimacy among Christians.  Among the Christian community are different views how just what type of physical affection is allowed in Christian relationships.  The popular question just how far is too far? 

For almost all Christians, premarital sex is a sin.  God designed Sexual intercourse as a pleasurable expression saved for marriage.  However, outside of sexual intercourse just what is acceptable  among non-married couples.  Should Christian couples engage in kissing, light kissing or French kissing, necking, making out, heavy petting etc?  For almost all Christians The purity culture has held on the ideal that no kissing until the wedding.  Other Christians and churches discourage little physical contact as possible warning the dangers of sexual temptation, from kissing, French kissing, hugging, touching, making out since any of these will lead to sin.  The main premise is to keep sexual purity which is in the scripture.  Psalm 119:9 “How can a young person stay on the path of purity? By living according to the word.”  1 Timothy 4:12 “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.”  

The Greek word for purity is “hagneia” verb form of “hagnos” which means undefiled, not contaminated, sinlessness of life.  It’s true as Christians, we should strive to remain pure and not just sexual purity, and flee from sinful behavior, although this is not always easy and we will stumble from time to time.  When it comes sexually purity, how is that really defined?  Christians have different ideas on how to be sexually pure, from no kissing until marriage, to not having sexual thoughts or desires, to only hold hands, etc.  To combat, sexual impurity, both the churches and Christian communities have decided to delegate their own various man-made rules on what is acceptable and what isn’t when it comes to physical affection.  From no passionate kissing, no French kissing, necking, touching, making out on a couch, being alone together, play.  Some churches even goes as far as to police people’s behavior, giving them the rundown on just how much they can do as the relationship grows.  The moral behind this that in this sexualized world, Christians need to be told what is best for them as they can be so easily led astray. 

After all, we can’t help ourselves as we are so weak that once we become physical, we can easily lose control like sexual beasts.  But with so many different ideas from different Christian circles and churches as to what is permissible or not, we had a hard time defining exactly what the boundaries based on biblical principles are.  One thing I like to point out his although Christians believe premarital sex is a sin and goes against the bible, the reality is bible doesn’t actually forbid premarital sex.  There isn’t a verse that definitely says premarital sex itself is wrong.  The bible  does have numerous scriptures that speaks against sexual immorality.  In 1 Corinthians 7:1-2, the Greek translation for sexual relations or touch is “hapto/haptomai”.  These words mean to fasten oneself to, kindle, set on fire, clinging, to light, carnel intercourse with a woman or cohabitation. 

Other verses are 1 Corinthians 6:18 “Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.”  1 Thessalonians 4:3-5 “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God;.”  Ephesians 5:5 “For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.”   Colossians 3:5 “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.”  Galatians 5:19-21 “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” 

It is very clear that sexual immoral behavior is forbidden in the bible but what does the bible exactly mean by “sexual immorality”?   The Greek translation is “porneia”.   This word means harlotry, prostitution, illicit sexual intercourse and fornication(sexual intercourse between two unmarried people) and idolatry.  In the Septuagint usage, the word only refers to prostitution and illicit sex.  In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word “zanah” is translated as fornication meaning harlotry or having sexual relations outside of a covenant marriage including adultery. The Septuagint(Greek translation) of the Old Testament, fornication is translated as porneia. There are some more progressive Christians and churches who argue against the word porneia including fornication at all. Their argument is that porneia only included prostitution since during Ancient times there were Pagan temple prostitutes and adultery on the woman’s part since women were considered property and men could have more than one wife and take concubines.  In 1 Corinthians 6:9 the word Greek word for fornicator is “pornos” which means male prostitutes. 

Yet these progressive Christians who don’t condemn premarital sex also use biblical scriptures to support their reasoning including Exodus 22:16-17 “If a man seduces a virgin who is not betrothed and lies with her, he shall give the bride-price for her and make her his wife.  If her father utterly refuses to give her to him, he shall pay money equal to the bride-price for virgins.  A similar verse is found in Deuteronomy 22:28-29 “If a man meets a virgin who is not betrothed, and seizes her and lies with her, and they are found, then the man who lay with her shall give to the father of the young woman fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife, because he has violated her. He may not divorce her all his days”.   This is considered proof by some that premarital sex is allowed as it was allowed in the Old Testament of the bible.  However, others view Deuteronomy 22:28-29 referring to rape and the consequences of the man who raped a woman. Then there is the story of Jacob and his marriages to two sisters Leah and Rachel in Genesis 29:16-30 which describes him having sexual relations first Leah, then Rachel in exchanged for working for their father his uncle Laban. 

None of these verses are actual proof that bible doesn’t condemn premarital sex.  In fact, the first two verses are actually a consequence for the man who has sex with a woman, as the custom was for a man to ask for her father’s permission to marry his daughter offering a bride-price, then take her as his wife.  However, since he didn’t he is has no choice but to pay a bride price to the father and take her as his wife, and even if the father refuses to allow his daughter marry the man, the man is still obliged to pay a bride-price anyway for he has defiled her.  Also, some scholars claim under Ancient Jewish law if couple had sexual intercourse they were considered married or the man had shamed the woman.  Another factor in Ancient Israel, is that men could take more than one wife or take slave women as concubines. What was considered adultery was when a married or betrothed woman had sexual relations with a man.  However, in the New Testament, in the Greco-Roman society polygamy was condemned although it was still practiced by the Jewish people.  In 1 Timothy 3:2, Paul declares a church elder has to be a husband of only one wife.  Paul speaks numerous times against any sexual immorality(porneia) even declaring a sexual union as becoming one flesh.  1 Corinthians 6: 16 “Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.” 

This is mentioned again in Genesis 2:24 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” which repeated in Ephesians 5:31.  The “one flesh” is the sexual union between the husband and wife which bonds them beyond just physically but spiritually and emotionally.  Paul is condemning the sexual union to a prostitute since such a union should be sacred preserved between a husband and wife not cheapened with a prostitute.  In 1 Corinthians 7:1-2, the Greek city of Corinth sexual immorality was rampant with promiscuous behavior including men engaging in sexual activity with temple prostitutes, slaves living together as tent companions rather than being legally married.  In fact promiscuous behavior was the norm and even encouraged.  However, to combat this, Paul was encouraging believers to marry rather than engage in such immoral behavior.  He mentions something similar in 1 Corinthians 7:8-9 “To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single as I am.  But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.”  1 Corinthians 7:36 “If anyone thinks that he is not behaving properly toward his betrothed, if his passions are strong, and it has to be, let him do as he wishes: let them marry—it is no sin.”  This goes back to the question if the Greek word porneia also includes fornication. 

In Greek translation the word fornication means illicit(forbidden) sexual relations between people.  In that time period of Paul’s teachings, sexual relations outside of marriage were forbidden, but in the 21st century today, such behavior has become the norm.  Although we have to consider the cultural issues and customs of that era, that doesn’t mean that some standards still doesn’t apply today.  Having to consider the verse Genesis 2:24, I’ve decided to concur that a sexual union is preserved in marriage only.  I also concur that avoiding sexual immorality is still applies but this meaning goes beyond just fornication, or prostitution, but any sexual deviancy that includes adultery, incest, rape, bestiality(sexual relations with animals) and pedophilia behavior(sexual relations with children).  Even in marriage in should include threesomes, orgies and rape.  What about other sexual activity such as oral or anal sex? Although these acts aren’t actually considered sex, I personally consider any actual sexual relations between to unmarried people that causes penetration a sexual act.  With that being settled, then what exactly is acceptable between non-married couples?  I have read in different forums were Christians have different standards of what is appropriate and what isn’t in a relationship. 

These standards are from no touching until marriage, no kissing until marriage or unless they plan on getting married or not being alone together at all.  I’ve read from teenage girls who follow purity culture author Leslie Ludy berating themselves for kissing their boyfriends because they don’t think they are pure anymore. Also, from a college girl getting in panic because she dared kissed her boyfriend in their car while lying down on the seat although nothing further happened. I also read from Christians chastising others who engaged in kissing, holding hands, hugging and cuddling with their boyfriends/girlfriends insisting that they shouldn’t be doing such things unless they are planning on getting married.  Many Christians just don’t seem to know where to draw the line in physical relationship and often seek out advice or validation from others who sometimes give well-meaning but misguided advice. These mentalities have caused more harm than good, causing many Christians to feel fear, shame and guilt over intimacy.  Christian therapist and author Dr. Stephen W. Simpson has mentioned counseling young married couples who avoided any intimacy before marriage only to have problems with sexual intimacy after marriage. Then there are couples who do cross the boundaries and engage in sexual intercourse outside of marriage only to be left feeling guilt, shame and even ostracized by their churches, family and friends and peers. 

In fact, despite what the churches attitudes about sex, sexual activity is going on in the churches. Many young Christian couples are almost as sexually active as their secular counterparts, mostly due to the peer pressure in the modern sexualized times.  The only differences is that Christian couples are more likely to be in serious committed relationships when becoming sexually active than their secular counterparts yet less likely to use protection or go to the doctor to get tested which leads to many unplanned pregnancies.  Although I’m aware there needs to be reasonable boundaries on what Christian couples should engage in regarding physical affection going to the other extreme among the purity movement isn’t helpful either.  Instead, I think is important for Christians to be aware that sexual and physical intimacy isn’t something to fear. Sexual intimacy is pleasurable and beautiful thing designed by God for marriage which is built on mutual love, emotional connection and commitment.  As for physical intimacy that doesn’t involve sexual intercourse, this type of display is not only okay but quite healthy and important as it is just an expression of two people in a relationship who truly care for and are devoted to each other. 

Even experts including psychologists say that physical affection including, kissing, holding hands, hugging and cuddling are important in a relationship as they release the feel good and love hormones known as dopamine and oxytocin which in turn decreases stress and lower the blood pressure.  Also, couples who engage in many forms of physical affection(minus sex) feel more satisfied in a relationship.  As for what is acceptable and what isn’t in physical relationship, the truth is besides saving sex for marriage, there aren’t any biblical rules on what else you are allowed to do in a physical relationship.  Even the bible chapter Song of Solomon mentions a physical affection in a romantic relationship between a Shulamite woman and a shepherd boy in verse Song of Solomon 1:2 “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth! For your love is better than wine;”.  As for what could lead to sex, anything basically could anything could lead to sex from kissing to being alone together, but that doesn’t mean it will lead to sex.  People can have a some will power and self-restraint especially if they understand the boundaries, and the fact people have different sex drives with some being higher and lower than the other does play a role. 

What couples decide to do regarding physical affection in a relationship is totally up the couple and what they feel they’re comfortable with and will vary for different couples as each couple is different.  The type of physical display will also differ depending on the different stages of that relationship, for example maybe only light kisses on the lips in the beginning of the dating process to more physical affection of holding hands, passionate kissing, embracing, caressing etc in a more serious committed relationship.  Of course, if a couple chooses on their own to save their first kiss until their wedding day or at least an engagement ring that is their right and their business as well.  There shouldn’t be any type of judgment on what couples do that don’t violate the bible nor should we create legalistic rules on what we should or shouldn’t do based on misinterpreting the bible.  However, I will say I personally wouldn’t recommend engaging in heavy petting, foundling each others genitals, breast, or buttocks even though such acts aren’t actually forbidden, they still can be too temping and pushing the boundaries a bit, but in the end it’s the couple’s choice.  

Even if a couple does cross the line and engage in sexual intercourse, it doesn’t mean that they should be forever condemned, treated like they committed the ultimate sin, branded to slut-shaming(on the female’s part), any type of shaming or damaged goods. There is room for repentance and forgiveness and understanding as we are all sinners and sometimes we will stumble not out of being immoral but out of weakness. 

The main issue is in relationship there should be mutual trust and respect, knowing the boundaries and having a sense of will power while doing what the couple feels is comfortable for them without fear or anxiety over what is appropriate.