Regrettably, we had a computer crash this week, so I've been without my laptop while old files were transferred to a new laptop and applications were installed. I will not be including a Torah portion teaching this week, but I would like to acknowledge Tisha B'Av with an excerpt from the revised Creation Gospel Workbook Three: The Spirit-filled Family:
Paul writes some things difficult to be understood in I Corinthians 7. There are many explanations for the letter, but history gives a glimpse into Paul's Jewish mindset. Among some other similar statements, he writes:
Now concerning virgins I have no command of the Lord, but I give an opinion as one who by the mercy of the Lord is trustworthy. I think then that this is good in view of
the present distress, that it is good for a man to remain as he is. Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be released. Are you released from a wife? Do not seek a wife. But if you marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned.
Yet such will have trouble in this life, and I am trying to spare you.
A wife is bound as long as her husband lives; but if her husband is dead, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord. But in my opinion she is happier if she remains as she is; and I think that I also have the Spirit of God.
From the outset, it should be acknowledged that Paul and the First Century believing community lived in a precarious time. The persecution of believers, of which Paul took part in his early years, was increasing. The persecution of Jews in general was increasing. Zealots were drawing the wrath of Rome and local puppet rulers as well as Jewish leaders.
By the time of Paul's death around 66 AD, the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple was only four years away, and believers had seen "the writing on the wall." Into this milieu of military, economic, political, and religious chaos, Paul attempted to write wise instructions to the believing communities, but each community was different! The only thing they had in common was their common belief in Yeshua as the Messiah and the chaos of the age.
The utter despair of Jews and believing Gentiles at the destruction of the Temple would have been difficult to address no matter how strong the writer's faith in the eventual restoration of all things. Since the grief over the loss of the Temple in one's own generation is so difficult to comprehend, perhaps a glimpse of the hopelessness recorded by the Jewish sages in the Talmud will give some insight into the ethos of Paul's final letters, for Paul unequivocally states that he is a Pharisee and the son of a Pharisee in Acts 23:6. From the more compassionate Pharisaic School of Hillel, Paul predicts the despair of his Jewish contemporaries.
In Bava Batra 60b, the Jewish sages who witnessed the destruction of the Temple wrote the following:
By right we should issue a decree that Jews should not marry and have children so that the seed of Avraham will come to an end of its own accord.
While there are other considerations in studying the context of the passage (see Appendix F), the point of including it is to capture the moment of Jewish grief over the destruction of the Temple and City that had stood in some degree of holy function since the return from Babylon. The American governmental and religious foundations have stood less than a few hundred years, but imagine losing the focal point of worship that had stood for over six hundred years, excluding a space of the seventy years of exile in Babylon, and the legacy of the first edifice that had stood hundreds of years after being established by King David.
The apostles and Yeshua had prepared believers for a day when they would become little Temples, taking the Torah to the four corners of the earth, but just as Yeshua prepared his inner circle for his death prior to the actual day, they nevertheless sank to the depths of fear and despair when that day finally arrived.
In like manner, the believing communities were prepared for the destruction of the Temple, but the actual day they received news of that destruction would have been a sad one, for it was from that Holy City that the apostles and Jewish believing community had laid down their worldly goods for common use so that the Gospel could go forth. The beneficiaries of that selfless devotion to the Word now received word of that community's deportation and destruction.
Neither Paul nor the Jewish sages of the First Century encouraged transgression of the Torah by discouraging marriage; instead, they expressed the grief of displacement with which most Americans cannot identify. A refugee from a war-torn country, however, would be able to describe that despair from experience.
The good news was that there was a precedent in Scripture that could give the believing communities, including the Corinthians, hope. In spite of the impending invasion of the Babylonian army and the reality of the soon-to-be-destroyed City and First Temple, Jeremiah receives a prophetic Word in the mire of his prison. His cousin Hanamel confirms that Word, and he says, "Buy my field!" Jeremiah agrees to buy the field and signs the contract, burying the deed in an earthenware jar, a symbol of the human body. Although buried in despair, it will be resurrected, for once again the Jewish people will return to the Land and rebuild the City and Temple.
It is utterly astonishing that under the terrible circumstances in which the Jews lived at that moment, one simple Jew had the nerve to walk up to the very prophet who persistently predicted that utter disaster was imminent and dared to offer to sell him a piece of land! No doubt this piece of land was full of corpses and located in a war zone that prevented the new buyer from visiting his property. Who would think of trying to sell, let alone buy, in such a market? (Cardozo, 2008, p. 40)
With this despair, Paul writes to the Corinthians concerning the advantages and disadvantages to remaining single or marrying. Like Jeremiah, his words seem heavy with sorrow for the impending fall of the Temple, but like Jeremiah, he concedes that hope must remain for return, and only if people marry and bear children will there be anyone to return and rebuild, whenever the return may be:
Thus says the Lord of Hosts, the God of Israel: houses, fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land. (Jeremiah 32:15).
In the meantime, those in covenant will be scattered in the earth to keep the commandments. Paul must speak to these Spirit-filled married couples, sons, daughters, widows, widowers, divorcees, and singles consistently with the commandments of the Torah as well as the understanding of the perilous time in which they were living and were dying.
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What is the Torah?
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