Previous chapter: Deception
Part 2: Practice
There’s probably no better example of where the leaders within Churchianity make incorrect assumptions about what the Bible teaches than the ideas they hold on the topic of morality. Because many are under the mistaken impression that the Mosaic law is applicable to the body of Christ, and also because they themselves have been taught that certain things are sins that Scripture never actually calls sinful, they’ve got all sorts of mixed up ideas of what is right and wrong today. This causes them to teach others to try to be more “moral” than God Himself, acting just like modern-day Pharisees, becoming morality police who teach that any number of actions, many of which are never even mentioned in the Bible, are forbidden (a good test to determine whether one falls into this category is to find out how one responds emotionally to what they read in this section; those who feel themselves getting upset by some of the things mentioned would be wise to consider reevaluating themselves, spiritually-speaking, and also question whether they’re more interested in holding fast to the traditions they’ve been taught by their denominations and religious leaders or in what Scripture actually teaches).
For instance, you’ve probably been taught that premarital sex is a sin. The primary reason that most religious Christians are so against premarital sex is one little word: fornication. Depending on your English translation, you’ll find fornication criticized as a very bad thing that one should flee, and if you look fornication up in an English dictionary you will indeed find that it means sexual intercourse between unmarried partners. The problem is, the word translated as “fornication” in some translations of the Bible is the Greek word porneia (πορνεία), which does not literally translate to “premarital sex” as many Christians believe it does. Of course, some modern versions of the Bible now use the term “sexual immorality” to render the word porneia, which is somewhat better than “fornication” as a translation, but it’s still quite problematic since it’s just a broad and general term that doesn’t tell us anything on its own about what sexual acts would actually be considered to be immoral. Some of the better translations of the word are “prostitution,” “harlotry,” or “whoredom,” but even there one has to be careful not to confuse this with consensual sex work as these English words would currently be used, since the Greek word actually had to do with sex that women who were basically slaves would be forced to do, not with the voluntary trading of sex for favours (which had a different Greek word that one would use when referring to that concept: hetaira [ἑταίρα]). Whatever translation of this word one uses, though, the most important thing to ask is what the word means, and the best Bible scholars (see Vine, Thayer, Knoch, etc.) agree that the English meaning of porneia is closer to “illicit sexual intercourse” (or “unlawful intercourse between the sexes”) than anything else.
If we take the term “illicit sexual intercourse” literally, it means sexual intercourse that breaks the law. Generally, here in the western world, premarital sex doesn’t break the law, and it certainly wasn’t against the law among the Gentiles Paul wrote to when he told believers to avoid porneia either. And if one digs into the Mosaic Law, they’ll see that it also wasn’t ever spelled out as being illegal there. While there were sometimes civil consequences for premarital sex among Israelites back in Bible times without first getting the permission of (and likely paying a brideprice to) a woman’s father (sadly, women were considered to be property in ancient cultures including that of Israel, and were often basically sold from one “owner,” her father, to a new “owner,” her husband, through marriage), and deceiving someone into thinking a woman was a virgin when she wasn’t could also result in harsh penalties, premarital sex on its own was never specifically forbidden or called sinful in the Hebrew Scriptures. Of course, premarital sex (or sex outside of marriage) technically could fall under the broad label of porneia in some parts of the world (and still can today), but it could (and can) only legitimately do so in regions where this actually was or is considered to be illegal (such as in parts of the Middle East today, for example). Outside of those more conservative regions of the planet, however, it wouldn’t be considered to be wrong by the law or the dominant culture and hence wouldn’t be a sin to do so since it wouldn’t be a crime.
So what sexual acts would be considered illicit (or immoral) when the word porneia was used in Scripture? Well, it would, of course, cover the specific sexual prohibitions that actually were mentioned in the Mosaic Law (at least it would for those who were required to follow said law). But it primarily spoke of sexual idolatry, referring to sleeping with temple prostitutes (Paul would presumably have also been speaking against the rape of the women forced to participate in prostitution when he spoke against porneia, not just the idolatry aspect of it, but the connection to idolatry was a large, if not the largest, part of it) who did so as a part of worshiping other gods (in Bible times, Satan used sex to lure people into idolatry; today, now that temple prostitution is no longer a thing, he uses it instead as the new circumcision), although it could also be used in reference to sexual practices that actually were considered illicit by the culture in question, practices such as incest, for example (this particular instance of porneia actually demonstrates quite conclusively that premarital sex was not considered to be a sin. If it were, the Corinthian believers would never have even considered letting things go this far; they would have stopped long before accepting, and seemingly even taking pride in, this relationship happening among their church members if Paul or anyone else had previously taught them that sex outside of marriage fell under the category of porneia-based sins, and he also apparently forgot to tell them it was a sin in this epistle as well when he was telling them to avoid such porneia, so one who claims it is sinful is just eisegeting their own preconceived moralistic bias into their interpretation of the word porneia in this and other parts of Scripture). In addition to these more literal interpretations, there was also a figurative meaning to the word (and its Hebrew equivalents in the Hebrew Scriptures), having nothing to do with physical sex at all, but simply being a metaphor referring to outright idolatry.
The one thing it never meant, however, is premarital sex, or at least by now it should be obvious that there’s zero reason to believe it did (some will claim that Jesus’ comment about “lust” and “committing adultery in one’s heart” makes premarital sex sinful by default since you wouldn’t have sex without sexual desire, but as will become clear shortly, He was actually speaking about something else altogether there from what most people assume), despite the fact that your parents and pastor would probably prefer you believed it did. Of course, they likely only think they want you to. If they understood just how many STIs and unwanted pregnancies this teaching is responsible for, they might change their minds (unless they’re the vindictive sort who want those they consider to be sinners to be punished physically for defying their rules; there are religious Christians out there with this mentality). The idea that premarital sex is sinful causes many parents to actively make sure their kids don’t learn about protection and birth control, but since pretty much an equal number of Christians have premarital sex as non-Christians (the religious can’t fight nature and biology any more than the rest of the world can), only without any knowledge of how to minimize the potential risks, young people in conservative areas or with religious parents tend to end up with more diseases and unwanted pregnancies than those who don’t, and if you’re going to judge a doctrine or religious teacher by its or their fruit, it’s easy to see that the traditional “Christian” view on sexuality is rotten to the core.
There is a lot more that can be said about this complex topic (which has admittedly been simplified a great deal here), but the bottom line is that modern religious Christians are following in the footsteps of the fourth century Institutional Church (who gave us many false doctrines that Churchianity never recovered from; so many of the errors of the Christian religion find their roots in that time period) and are making the same mistake of reading their own biases into the original text just as those so-called “Early Church Fathers” did, although it’s even worse today since so much time has passed and most Christians are now unaware that, in the first century, sex among the people Paul taught almost never took place between people who were considered equals, and this included sex within marriage. The idea of a boyfriend and girlfriend, as we understand them today, in love with each other and sleeping with each other probably wouldn’t have ever crossed Paul’s mind since that wasn’t how relationships between the sexes generally worked back then, but there’s literally no reason to think he’d have a problem with consensual sexual relations between a couple in love today as long as no worship of other gods was involved, and it wasn’t actually illegal where they lived.
Premarital sex isn’t the only thing religious leaders have insisted that people shouldn’t participate in, however. There are so many other traditional religious ideas that aren’t in the Bible but that you’ve no doubt been told you must abstain from as well. For example:
• Lust is always wrong. When you discover what “lust” really refers to in Scripture you’ll realize that it is actually often encouraged, and that it’s also time to reconsider your thoughts on pornography as well. In fact, anyone who cares about women at all should be encouraging the spread and consumption of pornography because when porn usage increases, sexual assault decreases (unless they don’t care about reducing sexual assault, which would be quite sad). To put it plainly, to “lust” in Scripture, in its original languages (chamad [חָמַד] in Hebrew, with epithymeō [ἐπιθυμέω] being the verb form of the word in Greek, and epithymia [ἐπιθυμία] being the noun), doesn’t simply mean to have sexual attraction to someone, but rather it just means to “covet” or “desire” something or someone, and sometimes lusting/desiring is a good thing (the Lord’s statutes and judgements are to be lusted for/desired more than gold, and even Jesus “lusted/desired” according to the Bible. In fact Paul himself encouraged epithymia at times as well). What Scripture does condemn when it comes to epithymeō is coveting something that already “belongs” (so to speak) to someone else, such as someone else’s property (or wife, since, again, women were considered to be property back then, unfortunately), which is what the 10th Commandment is all about. But to enjoy the way someone looks, or even to fantasize sexually about someone, isn’t what is being criticized in the instances that epithymeō actually is spoken against in Scripture; intent to take someone else’s “property” without permission also needs to be there for the coveting to be wrong (otherwise, accepting something you desire as a gift, or even finding your own spouse sexually appealing, would also technically be wrong). So for epithymia over a woman to be considered “committing adultery in one’s heart,” in addition to needing to have intent to actually possess her, she would have to also belong to someone else already, which is, thankfully, not possible in the western world today since women are no longer considered to be property. And, of course, that passage only applied to Israelites, and even then only to some of them (it was a part of the Sermon on the Mount, which was all about elaborating upon the Mosaic law, something that never applied to Gentiles, and doesn’t apply to Jews saved under Paul’s Gospel either, so even if Jesus did mean what most Christians assume He did here, it wouldn’t apply to most people anyway). But even if those saved under the Gospel of the Uncircumcision did somehow fall under this particular point in Jesus’ sermon (which they don’t), the word “adultery” in that passage really tells us everything we need to know about the context of the passage; a man (even a married man) couldn’t commit adultery with a woman who wasn’t married (or at least betrothed) back then, since adultery in Bible times wasn’t defined the same way we do so today (adultery was a property violation back then, not a purity violation, which is why Jesus didn’t condemn women for desiring men, since a woman couldn’t own a man through marriage — a wife was always the property of a husband and never the other way around at that time). It’s also important to note that nowhere prior to this sermon had sexual attraction or fantasy, or sexual desire in general, ever been condemned anywhere in the Hebrew Scriptures (or anywhere else in the Greek Scriptures either, for that matter). When one realizes all this, it becomes apparent that Jesus wasn’t creating a new law for Israel to follow, but was simply expanding on one His audience was already familiar with (the 10th Commandment), pointing out that for a Jewish male to covet his neighbour’s wife with the intention of having her would basically be the equivalent of adultery, but He wasn’t even hinting that finding other people sexually appealing, or admiring their bodies (or even fantasizing about them) was at all wrong. In fact, those who do try to force sexual desire out of their (and others’) lives are actually demonstrating a symptom of a far more pernicious form of lust than any mentioned already, one which affects (and infects) Churchianity to a fatal degree. This, of course, would be the religious lust of self-righteousness, so if a religious leader tries to convince others that simple sexual attraction and desire (or even premarital sex) is sinful, it would be wise to question any of their teachings since they’re demonstating how little they likely know about Scripture, and there’s a good chance they haven’t even been saved yet (relatively speaking, of course).
• Homosexuality is forbidden. Like the topic of porneia discussed previously, this is a tricky topic, but whatever Scripture does say about homosexuality, at most one could argue that it might forbid anal sex between males outside the context of rape and/or idolatrous prostitution (which is always wrong, and quite possibly what it’s actually forbidding according to many scholars). Regardless of whether it does, however, it doesn’t say anything about love, romantic relationships, or other forms of sexuality between males, and it definitely never says anything about love, romantic relationships, or sexuality between females (the passage in Paul’s epistle to the Romans about idolatry that some mistakenly use to argue against homosexuality does not actually condemn women lying with women as many believe, and may in fact be talking about women lying with animals [an action that actually was forbidden in the Hebrew Scriptures] when the context of worshipping the creature in that passage is taken into consideration, although it could also be argued that it instead refers to women participating in a certain sort of shrine prostitution. Either way, the idea of women lying with women had never previously been forbidden in Scripture, so there’s no reason to assume it was all of a sudden being forbidden at that point — and, of course, there’s also the fact that the actions mentioned here were actually “punishments,” so to speak, themselves; Paul’s point in this passage wasn’t that he was telling people to avoid certain sexual sins, but rather that the sin of idolatry would lead people to certain negative consequences). As far as males go, there are some who make persuasive arguments that it’s only idolatrous prostitution and rape between males that’s forbidden (much like the “porneia” issue between men and women), but I haven’t studied this issue enough myself to be dogmatic about it either way. What I will say, however, is that Scripture is very clear that it’s the anti-gay conservatives who are actually guilty of “the sin of Sodom” (which had nothing to do with homosexuality at all) today, and I wouldn’t want to be in the shoes of these religious conservatives at the final judgement. Even if only indirectly, homophobic (and transphobic) conservatives are responsible for many homeless youth, as well as for numerous suicides, not to mention all the assaults against and even murders of people who are different from them when it comes to their sexuality and gender identity, and pretty much each and every conservative (whether they’re religious or not) is going to have to answer for their culpability in these horrors when they’re standing at the Great White Throne Judgement. Because even if they’re only indirectly responsible, they all still have a responsibility for all of this suffering nonetheless.
• Abortion is condemned by the Bible as murder. Regardless of one’s feelings on abortion (and whether it happens to actually be wrong or not, which I’m not taking a side on either way in this section), it isn’t ever mentioned in the Bible; and since murder is a legal term, it can’t legitimately be defined as murder in places where it’s not illegal. Most Christians today also aren’t aware that abortion (at least if performed during much of the first two trimesters) was not actually considered to be wrong by most Christians throughout much of history (at least among Christians who hold to Sola scriptura). It’s only extremely recently that certain conservative Christians gained enough political power to sway nearly everyone to suddenly assume it was always thought to be a sin (not that we should base our theology on what religious Christians have historically considered to fall under the purview of “orthodoxy” or “orthopraxy,” of course, but it is still something interesting that anti-abortion Christians should be aware of), primarily because they wanted to punish women for enjoying sex and to ensure that they suffer long-lasting consequences for their actions (they’ll argue that it’s actually because they think abortion is immoral and that they believe in “the sanctity of life,” but the way they treat those who have been born reveals the real truth about them to the rest of us: that they don’t actually believe in “the sanctity of life,” in good morals, or in ethical practices at all).
• Monogamy is the only acceptable form of romantic relationship. Honestly, nearly every Christian is likely aware of the fact that polygamy and other forms of non-monogamy were considered to be an acceptable practice for people by God in the Bible, with the possible exception of local church overseers and deacons (depending on how one translates/interprets those particular passages), but you’d never know it to hear them talk about it. God even told David that if he wanted more wives, rather than taking someone else’s wife all he had to do was ask God for more. So basically, those conservatives who claim they’re fighting to promote “traditional marriage” really aren’t (if they were, they’d be promoting polygamy [or at least polygyny] at the very least), and if monogamy was actually natural, cheating wouldn’t be so common in so many relationships (yes, even in Christian relationships).
• Swearing is shameful. The Bible actually has plenty of profanity in it in its original languages. In fact, the only thing that looking down on profanity does is demonstrate what an unspiritual (and likely hypocritical) snob one is.
• Drinking alcohol is not allowed. While it might not be pro-drunkenness, the Bible actually recommends the consumption of alcohol in some places.
• Dancing, movie theatres, certain music, card games, and various other “worldly” activities should be avoided. Some Institutional Churches are worse than others, and most aren’t this extreme, but these, along with the various other so-called “sins” that have already been covered in this book, are a great example of how many religious leaders like to add rules to the Bible that were never mentioned in there to begin with, or twist teachings that are in there to try to make them say things they never actually meant.
Look, the Bible already tells us plenty of things that God would like people to avoid without us needing to add to it (even if the list differs depending on which dispensation one is living under; it’s perfectly fine for members of the body of Christ to eat a BLT). In fact, Scripture even gives us a good list of things God hates. But there’s nothing at all about most of the things the morality police dislike on that list, including the biggest hangup religious conservatives have (it seems the creator of sex is, understandably, a lot more liberal about sexuality than most humans are). What He does hate, however, is a lying tongue (lies are mentioned twice in that list, after all), and I suspect that religious lies are the worst sort of dishonesty since they’re lies about God Himself. Basically, if a particular action isn’t on one of those lists, insisting that it’s sinful and making new rules that God Himself never made is really lying about what God wants, just like the religious leaders in Jesus’ time did. And remember, it was those very same people who opposed Jesus, and who conspired to have Him (and, later, His followers) killed. That’s right, it wasn’t the pagans, atheists, or liberal theologians who tried to eliminate Christ and His followers. Rather, it was the religious conservatives of His time who tried to squash Him and His teachings (and any others who taught them as well), just as they do today (as it was then, the greatest enemies of Christ and His true followers are still religious conservatives, even if these “ministers of righteousness” call themselves Christians now).
All of that aside, though, worrying about morality (at least the way conservative “Christians” understand morality) is a huge red herring. What followers of Churchianity don’t seem to realize is that all of the “thou shalts” and “thou shalt nots” causes them to completely miss the point of Paul’s teachings to begin with (since, again, it’s Paul’s teachings that the body of Christ is supposed to concern itself with in the dispensation of Grace). Starting with a flawed presupposition about doctrines like sin and grace will cause one to think that they’re supposed to be concerned with religious rules when being a member of the body of Christ is actually about something else altogether. Basically, Paul’s Gospel isn’t a proposition (“do this or else!”); rather, it’s a proclamation (“it’s already been done by Christ, so why not believe this Good News and stop trying to please God yourself?”).
While most religions are a set of rules that people need to follow in order to A) live an enjoyable life, B) avoid suffering negative consequences (either imposed by followers of said religions in this life or by God or other beings in an afterlife, or by being reincarnated to live another mortal life again on Earth after death), and C) make God happy, Pauline Christianity (the Christianity that the body of Christ is concerned with) isn’t even a religion to begin with, and Paul promised that A) believers of his teachings are less likely to have a fun life than those who don’t believe his message since they’d be persecuted by those who do prefer religion (including the Christian religion) to the truth, B) explained that we don’t have to do anything to avoid suffering a negative afterlife since we’ve already been justified regardless of what we do, and C) told us that God is already happy (“blessed” literally means “happy” in the original Greek). Instead of following a bunch of rules the way followers of other religions (including the Christian religion) do, members of the body of Christ don’t have to actively try to avoid sinning by their own strength at all (and, in fact, should actually not ever try to), since they are justified (and living) by faith (although it’s not their own faith but the faith of Jesus Christ that they’re justified by), and are walking according to spirit, not according to flesh. Those who are walking according to spirit are trusting that Christ will live the life He wants us to live through us and will end up doing the things God wants us to do and avoiding the things God wants us to avoid Himself through us. It’s only when we start walking according to flesh, meaning we start worrying about religion and trying to follow rules and prohibitions, that we begin doing the very things that God doesn’t want us to do because trying to follow the (Mosaic) law only leads to more sin.
Bottom line, never trust a teacher who tells you to avoid the appearance of evil, or who says you should “touch not; taste not; handle not.” And if you hear someone espousing “traditional family values” or telling you to follow the Mosaic law in any way (at least if you’re in the body of Christ), don’t walk; run! It means that they are very likely a wolf in sheep’s clothing, trying to lure you into their religious trap. At the very least, they are extremely confused and likely have nothing useful to teach you (at least from a spiritual perspective). Remember that, while not all things are a good idea, all things are permitted, and also that to the pure all things are pure (but those unbelievers in Paul’s Gospel who are pretending to be believers [likely lying even to themselves about their faith, telling themselves that there’s really only one Gospel while also completely failing to understand what Paul’s Gospel actually means in the first place] have a defiled mind and conscience that causes them to consider pretty much nothing to be pure).
To be fair, the Bible does seem to teach that those Christians who happen to be saved under the Gospel of the Circumcision do have to be careful to avoid rejecting what they’ve believed and falling back into sin so as to not “lose their salvation,” so to speak, or they’ll miss out on the Millennial Kingdom, if not more. But as far as those of us in the body of Christ go, while we might not all get to reign, we are safe, as far as our salvation goes, regardless of what we do, because we’ve been justified from Sin rather than just forgiven of our sins.
Now please don’t get me wrong. I don’t want you to think I’m telling you to commit sins here (at least not actual sins; I’m not talking about the innocent actions that many religious Christians confuse for sins). I’m the last person who would want to encourage anyone to actually sin (although, if you aren’t accused of encouraging people to sin, you probably aren’t teaching the same things Paul taught about sin and grace, since this false accusation was also levelled against him). The problem is that, while nearly everything religious Christians think is sinful actually isn’t anyway, almost all of the actions and attitudes that they live by are extremely wrong (and often quite evil). As anyone looking in from the outside could tell you, greed, fear, paranoia, hunger for power, peer pressure, envy, hypocrisy, arrogance, prejudice, intolerance, anti-intellectualism, malice, spite, and all manner of other actual sins are the hallmarks of most of Churchianity. That said, where sin increases, grace superexceeds, so even religious Christians can technically experience God’s grace (but as far as those who don’t embrace His grace go, I really wouldn’t want to be a conservative religious leader at the final judgement, and those who willingly follow these leaders are in for a world of sorrow at that time as well [yes, I believe most Christians will actually end up at the Great White Throne Judgement due to their believing a false Gospel]. If the citizens of the cities that rejected Jesus’ disciples are going to be judged more harshly than those of Sodom because they had the light revealed to them, how much more severely are those in Christendom who have the completed Scriptures going to be judged for ignoring, and even rejecting, the truth found therein, following the myths of their religious leaders instead because they prefer to have their self-righteous ears tickled?).
Next chapter: Politics