Tuesday, June 23, 2015

An OT Theology of Family and Community

IGoldingay3 am continuing to work through Volume 3 of Goldingay’s, Old Testament Theology, Israel’s Life. In this volume Goldingay is looking at how Israel was to live, “not the life Israel actually lived”, but “the life the First Testament reckons it should have been and should be.” I continue to post quotes from Volume 3 on my Facebook page on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturdays. There will be a link to this blog post on my Facebook page where you can comment. Please comment there. I love how Goldingay wrestles with the text and is willing to let the textual tensions remain without simplistic resolution. So let’s wrestle together with the biblical text and have a good discussion of this post on Facebook.

Chapter 4 of Volume 3 is entitled Family and Community. Goldingay warns us that we need to be careful to not assume that the Torah reflects what Israel actually did since it is laws were designed to deal with problems. He draws heavily from the instruction about community in wisdom literature. He also emphasizes that the real concern in the OT is with what God is doing and the OT teaching on family and community is designed mainly to reveal God, not a “how-to” for family life.

The first section of chapter 4 deals with the question of how do we discover what the Old Testament has to say to us about Thinking About Life With One Another. First we must think theologically, that is we must hear the voice of God in the text, not our own. We must read the OT attentively, noting its tensions, and exegetically letting its agenda inform our own. We also need to read hermeneutically and paradigmatically setting up a dialog between the text, which did not have our situation in mind, and our contemporary situation to get to the best application within our culture. We need to read critically recognizing the tensions and chronological development in the scriptural story. We need to allow the canon to comment on the canon and have the whole context of scripture guide the interpretation of each part. We need to allow scripture to critique us and our communities. Finally we need to read scripture in the light of who Jesus is and what he has done for us. 

It is not we who decide what is right in life situations. It is God, the God who commands...We need to "discern" what God's will is. It is not a matter of pure intuition without reflection. "The voice of the heart is not to be confused with the voice of God." 327

We can spot our agenda by noting the "isms" that preoccupy us. An "ism" will be a preoccupation of ours that may find more or less confirmation or disconfirmation of elaboration in scripture, but by definition it constitutes our agenda rather than scripture's. 331

The torah is both the agent of divine order and the locus of underlying tension. It is the nature of law to involve such compromise, and being divinely inspired does not change this. 337

Yhwh is always concerned to pull Israel toward realizing the vision of how things were at the beginning, but is always starting where people are. The torah's vision is not so much eschatological as restorative; the fulfillment of God's final purpose, the arrival of the reign of God, comes about through the realization of God's creation purpose. 339

If we assume the scriptures might have a positive ethical contribution to make to our understanding and lives, this opens us to change and ethical development. "None of us should lose the suspicion that our sophistication concerning the cultural and theological qualifications about 'biblical morality' often hides a profound unwillingness to have our lives guided by it." 347

The First Testament is the first story of the building; the New Testament is the superstructure. It is no wonder that Christians get into trouble because they try to live in a second story that has no first story. 349

Section 2 provides an Old Testament theology of Marriage. He defines marriage as "a relationship of lifelong mutual commitment between a man and a woman whereby they take on a shared, egalitarian vocation in connection with subduing the earth and serving and enjoy a romantic and sexual relationship." (350) Of course this is damaged by sin and much of the OT describes God's protection of the exclusivity of the sexual relationship and the woman in the relationship. The OT talks little about what is involved in a wedding (the word is used only once in the OT) but reports the different ways the husband and wife are bound to each other. The emphasis is that marriage is a shared vocation in which the genders have some overlapping and some specific roles. Romance is a factor in marriage, and can also be a great danger in relationships, but mutual commitment is seen as the greater factor. The OT "demythologizes" sex as a religious act, although it is still under the rule of God. The OT also focuses on marriage in the context of the whole community. Unfaithfulness, not only damages the couple, but also the community while faithfulness is a blessing and concern of both and need to be safeguarded by both. This was true of both male and female unfaithfulness. Divorce and polygamy are allowed in the OT, but only because of human "hard hearts" and reflect realities in a human culture that has fallen far away from the Genesis 1-2 ideal. 

Men and women are thus involved in a relationship of authority, yet it is not an authority they exercise over each other but one they exercise together over the world. 356

God's command...sanctifies us by including our sexuality within our humanity, and challenging us even in our bodily nature and therefore in our sexual lives to be true people: "to be a body, but not only a body," to be also the spirit-impelled soul of our body and to be in spirit-impelled bodily relationship with this other person in his or her totality. 364

In Western marriage the starry-eyed couple starting a new family "is being left alone on hard and unforgiving terrain. Only the strong or lucky will survive." Israelite marriage had more chance of realizing the ideal of Christian marriage, which makes sense only on the assumption that it "is not a whole communion of two, but a particular kind of grace-filled friendship within the fellowship of the church. 368-369

Circumcision suggests the cutting down to size or disciplining or surrendering to Yhwh of the part of the body that will be the means of begetting progeny...One thing circumcision represents is "a controlling of sexuality." Genesis has already made clear that male sexuality needs such discipline; the sign of the covenant underlines the fact, and succeeding stories involving circumcision will emphasize it further.  375

Same-sex marriage parallels divorce/second marriage and polygamy in the way it falls short of the ideal that emerges from Genesis 1-2, that monogamous lifelong heterosexual marriage is the context for sexual activity. All fall short of that ideal at some point, and all might thus be reckoned to have parallel theological and moral status. 382

Section 3 deals with the Old Testament presentation of the Family. The household or the "kin group" was the basic structure for life in traditional cultures and provided the way to deal with economic and cultural issues, and thus, needed ways of "safeguarding its stability" when it became dysfunctional. The family is seen in the OT as much wider than the nuclear family and a household would include multiple generations and people like servants who were dependent on the household. The family is seen as the main structure for accomplishing God's mandates to serve and bless the world. There was no separation between work, ministry and family life. The family was expected to be the main worshipping and teaching unit to develop the world view of its members. It also provided the structure and organization for work and economic stability as well as being a place of generosity and hospitality for the poor and needy. Though the OT makes it clear that the traditional family was just as dysfunctional as our modern families, Goldingay advocates that modern society would benefit from a more holistic view of family in society.  Though all the land belonged to Yhwh, the family unit (clan) was responsible for it and were to work together to use it for feeding each other and to help those who had needs. Thus, the land was to be kept in the family and the jubilee laws were designed to inhibit land speculation that enriched some at the expense of many. Though this was never really practiced in Israel it becomes the vision for the messianic kingdom. Family could be the place of conflict though it was designed to be the place of safety and support for the weak, poor and strangers.

What we are as individuals depends for better or worse on the community in which we are nurtured...The household celebrations are the context in which the community's story is told, dramatized and sacramentally expressed, and thus shapes who the people are; family life is the chief countercultural educational agent. 391

The point about work is not merely that it should be creative or fulfilling for the individual but that it is a way of serving the earth and serving other people. Family is then the context in which human beings fulfill that creation commission and thus can be themselves, because work is integral to being human. 395

The integrity of the household is the key to the nation's integrity and its relationship with God; regulations relating to children and parents are "safeguards of the national well-being." 400

Leviticus recognizes that human selfishness means people would resist the jubilee principle. They would be tempted to try to make a profit out of other people's need...The jubilee regulations constitute the fullest exposition of the Tenth Commandment...Leviticus 25 thus remind them to keep God in mind, to "revere God." 410

The Torah assumes that sexual activity is not merely private, "between consenting adults"; it has social implications. Many of Yhwh's expectations with regard to sexuality focus on the integrity and stability of the family. 414

Someone who oppresses a migrant has forgotten or has never understood the nature of their own story and thus their own identity, and certainly cannot tell anyone else about it. 420

A major theme of the OT is that God designed people to live in Community. This often extends beyond the family unit as villages join multiple kin groups and urbanization produces highly structured communities. All of these assign authority and responsibilities for the well-being of everyone in the community. Beyond that "neighborliness," taking care of the needy in your community, including enemies, is a core value of the OT. Friendship, mutually committed relationships outside the family group, are also advocated and celebrated in the OT, although one must be careful in choosing friends. Another major theme of the OT is the responsibility to help one's neighbor economically by lending to the needy without interest and forgiveness of debt in the Sabbath and Jubilee years. While commercial lending at interest was approved, growing rich at the expense of the needy through usury was seen as a despicable evil. Goldingay advocates a "third way" between capitalism and collectivism "in which more responsibility and power rest with the local community, the kin group and the household, than with the state or the individual." We have a responsibility to care for each other and for each other's property. 

In the First testament the community needs to be one where people live in proper relationships with one another, support one another when they get into difficulties, handle property questions, resolve conflicts and deal with wrongdoing in their midst. 420-421

The family had responsibility to support someone when they got into difficulty; Deuteronomy (15.11) extends this to the nation...The result will be that there are indeed no needy among the people. The responsibility lies within the community, with the family. 432

The Western world came to make scientific progress, economic growth and technical advance the ultimate social goods, with everything subordinated to these; they are "their own justification." But this practice looks like our worship of a false god. 438

The second half of the section deals with the issues of involving foreigners in the community and resolving conflict and crime. Outsiders were regularly assimilated into the community and Israelites were encouraged to do business with them. The response to crime focused on redress for the victim and restoration for the offender. Execution was a maximum penalty that was rarely carried out in history, even God does not carry it out with Cain or David. Nevertheless, murder defiled the land and the "one (or culture) who lived by the sword" often "died by the sword." Ultimately, the OT is not there so we can emulate the structures of ancient Israel's society; it didn't produce a stable, just society, but its principles: care for the needy, local community participation, equal application of the law, concern for restoration, peace and order should be goals for us today.

Deuteronomy's ethnic concern was much more establishing of a sense of ethnic kinship among Israelites and Judeans than it was in the excluding of foreigners from participation within the community, as is indicated by its willingness to include foreigners who wanted to be fully part of the community. 440

A second significance of the prescription in Exodus 21.22-25 is that it does put the emphasis on the offender making restitution to the offended person rather than the offended person's getting revenge. Human justice seeks to mirror God's justice, which "redeems, reconciles and restores." As well as making decisions fairly, it requires restitution that will restore the victim and contribute to reconciliation. 446

Yhwh is not merely predicting the consequence of murder (in Gen. 9.5-6) but affirming it, because it unwittingly affirms the enormity involved in murder, the attack on God's image. Murderers will pay for their deed with their life, but this can come about in more than one way, and Yhwh is not laying down a law for capital punishment for murder. 452

The final chapter in this section on Living With One Another deals with the issue of Servanthood. We often read the passages about this in light of the more Western institution of slavery and misunderstand. This kind of slavery was rare in ancient Near East and the passages in the Torah are meant to limit and regulate what the master's could require. The master-servant hierarchy was not the original intention of creation but is part of the post-Edenic curse. The vision of restoration is that each household "works its own piece of land." Israelite servants were to be released every seventh year and could only become permanent servants voluntarily. That the nation mostly ignored this regulation was one of the reasons for the exile. Servanthood could provide a way to get out of debt or become a means of economic security and was supposed to be regulated to insure the human rights of the servant. It was often a means of honor to work for an honorable master. In many ways it was less oppressive than modern "wage slavery." Foreign servants has less rights but their well-being was also provided for in the Torah. That this instruction was ignored and abused is a revelation about the hard hearts of human beings and the need for Jesus. The New Testament provides less instruction about this issue (Goldingay attributes this to the "allowance for the hardness of Christian hearts.") on a societal level but, in my opinion, totally undercuts any kind of slave-owner mentality in Christians with its emphasis on love, unity and equality on a personal and church community level.

The First Testament ideal is that the family is the structure for work and that servanthood is all humanity's vocation. The notion that some people become other people's servants in a long term or one-way fashion is thus an odd one, but it provides ways of dealing with some problems that arise in the real-life world, and it can work in a satisfactory fashion for servants and masters. Such servanthood is very different from slavery as modern readers understand it, but it is open to abuse, and it requires safeguards. 458

The situation with people is the same as with the land. Both belong to Yhwh. They therefore cannot belong to someone else, except on a temporary basis. They can be leased but not sold. 464

It is once again typical of the Torah's instructions that they start from how things work out in the real world. They focus on the practicalities of the compromise between the interests of the impoverished and the interests of the people who might help them. So they allow servitude, even on the part of wives and children, because this can be in the interests of both the impoverished and the master. 470

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