A Luther Picture Gallery

For Reformation Day, some of my photos from the Wittenberg Castle Church, Luther’s house in Wittenberg,  Schloss Wartburg in Eisenach and the city of Worms.

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Crossing the Red Sea and the Jordan

Israel’s crossing of the Jordan recapitulates its crossing of the Red Sea, except now the crossing is closely associated with elements of the temple cult. Instead of Moses and his staff (Exodus 14:16) opening the way for Israel to cross through the waters on dry ground, at the Jordan we get priests and the ark of the covenant:

 And the Lord said to Joshua, “Today I will begin to exalt you in the eyes of all Israel, so they may know that I am with you as I was with Moses. Tell the priests who carry the ark of the covenant: ‘When you reach the edge of the Jordan’s waters, go and stand in the river.’” (Joshua 3:7-8)

“See, the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth will go into the Jordan ahead of you. Now then, choose twelve men from the tribes of Israel, one from each tribe. And as soon as the priests who carry the ark of the Lord—the Lord of all the earth—set foot in the Jordan, its waters flowing downstream will be cut off and stand up in a heap.” (Joshua 3:11-13)

The priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord stopped in the middle of the Jordan and stood on dry ground, while all Israel passed by until the whole nation had completed the crossing on dry ground. (Joshua 3:17)

So that we don’t miss the parallelism, we even get the same word describing the parted waters – “heap” (נֵד) in Joshua 3:13, 16  and Exodus 15:8.

A Military Order Against Buying Juice

Stars and Stripes reports that the commander of U.S. Forces in Korea has prohibited service members from paying for companionship in bars. I suspect that those unfamiliar with the Korean business environment near military installations will read “companionship” and think “prostitution.” Military policy already prohibited service members from patronizing prostitutes and made violations punishable under military law.

Rather, the new order relates to establishments known as “juicy bars” and an exploitive practice that on the surface appears to fall short of prostitution.

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Sexual Ethics in 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8

From October to November of this year, Cycle A of the Revised Common Lectionary presents us with five consecutive readings from Paul’s short, first letter to the Christian church at Thessalonica. You will not find 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8 among the included readings. Here is my structured translation, beginning with verse 2.

For you know what instructions we gave you 
   through the Lord Jesus.
For this is God’s will, your holiness --
  for you to abstain from sexual immorality
  for you to know how to practice self-control
     in holiness and honor
     not in the passion of improper desires
        like the nations who don’t know God
  for you not to 
     step over the line
     and give excessive desires free rein 
        in this matter
        against your brothers and sisters
     because God is an avenger
        concerning all these things
        just as we 
           previously told you
           and testified
For God did not call us
   to uncleanness 
   but in holiness
Consequently, the one who rejects this 
   is not rejecting human authority
   but God who gives his Holy Spirit to you

1 Thessalonians 4:3-8 is mostly about bad Greek sexual mores, and how Christians should avoid them.

A Summary in Context

The topic is important to Paul and this passage plays a central role in the letter. Paul’s “sex talk” comprises the longest single ethical teaching in the document.

Paul’s concern about the Thessalonians’ sexual practices is rooted in his proclamation of a gospel which required people to turn from idols and wait for God’s son from heaven (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10). In chapters 2 and 3 of the letter, Paul recounts the history of his dealings with the Thessalonian Christians. The benediction at the end of chapter 3 marks a return to the subject of the parousia, which Paul introduced at the end of chapter 1:

May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones. (1 Thessalonians 3:12-13)

At the parousia, the Lord will look for love and holiness. These are Paul’s two primary topics in 4:1-12. Holiness is the topic of 4:3-8, while love occupies 4:9-12. Together, love and holiness describe a life that pleases God (4:1) and which is based on the authority of Jesus (4:2). From the end of chapter 4 through the beginning of chapter 5, Paul discusses the significance of the parousia itself.

Holiness (or sanctification) is God’s will for Christians (4:3). And while the general definition of sanctification or holiness encompasses every aspect of a Christian’s life, in these verses Paul focuses specifically on sex.

For this is God’s will, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality, so that each of you knows how to control his own body in sanctification and honor (1 Thessalonians 4:3-4)

To be holy is to abstain from sexual immorality (porneia) and to hold one’s own body (skeuos, vessel) in a way that is holy and honorable. Abstention from sexual immorality is the negative side of sanctification; holy and honorable self-control is the positive side.

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A Christian pastor in Caesar's army