Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Head Coverings For Christians?

Question: Some accuse Christians of being hypocritical in their attitude toward Muslim women wearing burkas, since 1 Corinthians
7:2-16 seems to teach that Christian women should also wear head coverings: But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is the same as having her head shaved” (1 Cor. 7:5).

What does the Bible teach concerning head coverings for men and / or women?

Answering this question requires that we look not only at the content of 1Cor. 7:2-16, but also at the context and culture surrounding this instruction to Christians.

1 Corinthians 7:2 – 14:40 gives teaching and instruction specifically concerning the church in worship: (Head Coverings, 11:2-16; The Lord’s Supper, 11:17-34; and using the Spiritual Gifts, 12-14). Since that is the focus, the instructions do not necessarily become principles for Christian behavior beyond the worship setting.

Verse two distinguishes between “traditions” passed on and the principles behind those traditions. A tradition is not a Law. A specific “tradition” may change over time while still faithfully communicating the principle it represents. With the Lord’s Supper, for example, the “bread” and the “cup” shared by believers across time and cultures changes in various ways, yet without losing their significance in memorializing Christ’s sacrificed body and shed blood.

The use of a veil or head covering by NT women in the worship setting (v.5) is one such “tradition.” Veils (head coverings) were a common practice among Jewish women, especially during public worship, as a symbol of respect to their husbands and to God. This was not the case among the Gentile women. Consequently, when the Gentile believers mingled with the Jewish believers for worship the Jewish women would be easily offended by Gentile women who prayed and prophesied without veils. To Jewish eyes, these unveiled women were flaunting their sexuality rather than showing modesty and humility in worship.

1Cor. 11:2-16 teaches a three-fold spiritual principle:
(1) Headship: God has established an administrative hierarchy of roles:
         1Cor. 11:3 But I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.

(2) Equality Under God:
         1Cor. 11:11-12 Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God.

(3) As Male and Female, Honor God:
         1Cor. 11:14-15   Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering.

Out of respect and honor to God, women should neither hide their femininity nor seek to look male (“have her hair shaved”, v. 6)—that would be a “disgrace” (v.6)—nor flaunt their femininity in corporate worship (her long hair is her God-given glory—v. 15).

That’s why, in that cultural setting, “…if a woman does not cover her head…it is a disgrace” (v.6). For the same reason, men were to keep their heads un-covered during corporate worship, and not have feminine-looking hair (“it is a disgrace to him” — v.14).

For men and women alike, worship is about honoring Christ, their head, even as Christ honors God who is His head (vv. 3-5). Both the context and content show that the “tradition” of women wearing head coverings was not required outside of the corporate worship setting, nor was it intended as a “law” for all time.

Likewise, the tradition of a head covering during corporate worship was an appropriate means in that culture for reinforcing the spiritual principles of headship, equality, and giving glory to God. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The Shape of The Earth

Biblegems # 287

Earth: NASA files (public domain)

Question: Science has clearly proven the earth is a sphere, but does the Bible contradict this by describing it as a flat disk?

The question goes to the issue of biblical accuracy and authority. If the Bible is indeed to be treated seriously as scientifically and historically reliable, then it should line up with the facts.

So…what does the Bible teach regarding the shape of the earth?

The Bible clearly states, repeatedly and in a variety of ways, that God brought the earth and the universe into existence in its present, mature state.
Ps. 33:6  By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, their starry host by the breath of his mouth.

Genesis 1:1-2 presents what is intended to be an accurate account of the formation of the earth in the larger context of the creation of the entire universe. Verse two specifically describes the first moments of earth’s existence as “unformed and uninhabited” (“formless and empty”—NIV), with the basic elements of water (Heb. Tohum—“the deep”) and the chemical properties of the material universe (Heb. eretz—“earth”) swirling in the darkness of newly created space (Heb. shamayim—“heavens”), even before the formation of the stars (see vv. 14-19).

This formless mass of water and earth’s elements is next described in Genesis 1:2 as having been acted upon by the Holy Spirit and sent into a highly energized motion (Heb. rachaph: “to shake” or “flutter”—“hovering” [NIV]). The book of Proverbs also speaks to this early shaping of the earth into its current form:
         Prov. 8:24  When there were no watery depths, I was given birth, when there were no springs overflowing with water

“No watery depths” (NIV) means before the oceans were formed. The passage goes on to read:
Prov. 8:27  I was there when he set the heavens in place, when he marked out the horizon on the face of the deep

“Marked out” (NIV) in Proverbs 8:27 translates the Hebrew word “chug,” which literally means to inscribe or trace a circle.[i] This same word is used in Isaiah where God is described as looking upon the earth and space from a distance, seeing earth as a “circle” or "sphere" in space, and space itself as stretched out like a vast canopy:
         Is. 40:22 He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers. He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in.

Way ahead of the times scientifically, the Bible accurately describes the earth as shaped by God, who applied powerful waves of energy to the formless glob of the universe’s basic elements, into a a circular sphere He then suspended in space:
         Job 26:7 He…suspends the earth over nothing.

[i].trace, mark out, a circle, c. lo over the face of deep. BDB, 3.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The "First" And "Second" Heavens

Biblegems # 286

Question: Are there a “First” and “Second” heavens? If so, what are they?

Gen. 1:1  In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

The Hebrew word “heavens” (Heb. shamayim) is a plural noun. The Bible pictures “the heavens” as one complex reality comprised of three components: the sky (Gen. 1:6-8) and space (Gen. 1:14-17) in the visible creation, and the environment God created for the angels (Matt. 18:20; 24:26) and for His “throne” in the spiritual realm (Gen. 28:17).
Is. 66:1   This is what the LORD says: “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. Where is the house you will build for me? Where will my resting place be?  

The Scripture calls this “heavens” beyond sky and space as the “highest” form of heaven:
Ps. 148:4 Praise him, you highest heavens and you waters above the skies.

The first heaven is the visible sky of earth’s atmosphere, even though the Bible does not specifically use the term.
         Gen. 1:6-8   And God said, “Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.” So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it. And it was so. God called the vault “sky.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the second day.

The second heaven, space, is an extension of the first heaven. God began with the “vault” of earth’s sky (v. 6), including a vast envelope of water, and stretched it to the outer limits of the universe on the fourth day of creation.
         Gen. 1:14-18   And God said, “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years, and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.” And it was so. God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. God set them in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth, to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness.  

When Jesus as ascended “into heaven” from the Mount of Olives (Acts 1: 11), His followers witnessed the first part of that journey as Jesus “passed through” the first and second heavens:
         Hebrews 4:14  “Therefore, since we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us cling to the faith we confess…” (translation mine).

God’s incredible creation is full of mystery, especially when it comes to the interweaving of the spiritual and physical heavens. The “third heaven” is “above” the physical heavens (Ps. 148:4), not in a geographical sense of location, but “above” even as the name of Jesus is “above” every other name (Phil. 2:9), so that God is present everywhere.

         Acts 17:28For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’