David Roach

About David Roach

David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press in Nashville, Tennessee, and a contributor to both BibleMesh and Kairos Journal. He holds a philosophy degree from Vanderbilt University and earned his PhD in church history at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. His writings have appeared in academic journals and various Southern Baptist denominational publications.

The Bible and Sports

olympicsWhen you tune in to the Olympics, do you realize that the Bible has shaped what you’re watching? It’s a little known fact that in the 19th century, Christian principles, informed by Scripture, helped shift the West’s attention from cruel sports like cock-fighting and bear-baiting to mass spectator sports like rugby, soccer, cricket, and tennis. A result of this development is the popularity of the modern Olympic Games. As one British historian put it, the rise of spectator sports together with the widespread establishment of new public parks and sports grounds “contributed to the emancipation of the body and mind of millions.”

The evangelical revival of the late 18th and early 19th centuries created a new social and sporting ethic based on the idea that vigorous outdoor recreation was not only vital to the mental and physical health of Britain’s growing urban population, but that it also provided an opportunity for improving moral and social attitudes by developing an ethos of “team spirit” and “sportsmanship.” Sports, it was argued, could be used as a vehicle for inculcating self-discipline, combating personal selfishness, and transcending class divisions. Influenced by these ideas, Christians were actively involved in the development of sports both as patrons and players.

By the 1800s, a new attitude about sports emerged as part of a worldview that came to be known as “muscular Christianity”—popularized by British Christian writers Charles Kingsley (1819-1875) and Thomas Hughes (1822-1896). Hughes wrote in his novel Tom Brown at Oxford that “a man’s body is given him to be trained and brought into subjection, and then used for the protection of the weak, the advancement of all righteous causes, and the subduing of the earth.” Clearly this was an attitude drawn from the Bible, for Hughes echoes  1 Corinthians 9:27 (“But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway”) and Genesis 1:28 (where God told man to “subdue” the earth). Additionally, protecting the weak and advancing righteousness are themes scattered across the Old the New Testaments.

Buttressed by a biblical understanding of recreation, sports like soccer, cricket, rugby, and golf took off in the UK. Following Britain’s example, muscular Christianity spread to other countries, appearing in the US, for instance, first in the private schools and then in the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) where it led to the invention of basketball and volleyball.

Modern sports may not have attained their honorable and prominent status in society if not for a group of British Christians who took their Bibles in hand as they thought about athletic competition. Yet sad to say, few who watch or participate in sports around the world today realize how much they owe to Scripture’s influence.

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Note: A version of this article was originally published in Kairos Journal and posted on the BibleMesh blog in August 2012.

Transgenderism in the Ancient World

As Clement looked around his cosmopolitan city, the open displays of transgenderism broke his heart. Grown men wore bleach-blonde feminine hairstyles, donned see-through women’s clothing, smelled of perfume, and had their bodies shaved in public salons where passersby could observe the spectacle. Though males biologically, these men “detest[ed] the bloom of manliness,” as Clement put it.[1]

world_missionsClement might well have lived in 21st-century London, Amsterdam, New York, or Los Angeles. But he didn’t. Clement was a theologian along the Egyptian coast during the second century AD, and his experience was not atypical. Though the term “transgenderism” was not coined until the 1960s,[2] the phenomenon has existed for millennia—individuals who feel drawn to present themselves as the opposite gender. At times such behavior in the ancient world was coupled with homosexual acts, and at other times it was practiced by those who would be described as bisexual today.[3] Yet from ancient Mesopotamia to the Greek and Roman Empires, instances of gender confusion are well documented.

During Old Testament times, the Mesopotamian text Erra and Ishum described men “who changed their masculinity into femininity” as part of worshiping the fertility goddess Ishtar.[4] In the intertestamental period, the Greek playwright Aristophanes dubbed one character in his play Women at Thesmophoria a “man-woman”—presumably reflective of people he had encountered in real life—and noted, “What contradictions his life shows! A lyre and a hair-net! A wrestling school oil flask and a girdle! What could be more contradictory? What relation has a mirror to a sword? And you yourself, who are you? Do you pretend to be a man?”

By the first century AD, the Jewish philosopher Philo, who lived in Egypt, could point to “men-women” who “altered the impression of their natural manly appearance into the resemblance of a woman” and were “willingly driven into the appearance and treatment of licentious women.”[5] The first- and second-century Roman satirist Juvenal spoke of “the effeminate,” who “in their homes put long fillets [hair ribbons] round their brows” and “swathe themselves with necklaces.” Some used “damp soot” as eye makeup and tied up “long locks” in hairnets.[6] Priests of the Roman cult of Cybele were initiated through a ceremony involving self-castration.[7]

The second-century Stoic philosopher Epictetus remarked to one young man, “Are you a man or a woman? A man. Then adorn yourself as a man, not as a woman.” He added that a “man to be seen who would rather be a woman” is “a scandalous show.”[8] Clement of Alexandria’s prescription for such behavior was representative of many Christian, Jewish, and pagan writers of his time: It “must be driven as far as possible from our society.”[9]

In light of these ancient sources, contemporary followers of Jesus should not be fooled by claims that transgenderism marks the advancement of society or the culmination of movements to celebrate diversity. Of course, some might turn this around and argue that being ancient makes the practice normative. Yet such an argument falls short logically and biblically, for murder and slavery were also ancient practices, and few would claim they are morally legitimate. Far from demonstrating the moral virtue of transgenderism, its ancient roots underscore the reality that with sin, there is truly nothing new under the sun. Since Old Testament times, some men and women have responded sinfully to a psychological struggle related to their gender. Just as in Clement of Alexandra’s day, Christians today should grieve over the spiritual and emotional brokenness of these people and compassionately invite them to repent and experience the renewing grace of Christ.

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Endnotes

[1] Clement of Alexandria, Paedegogos 3.3.16, 21. Quoted in S. Donald Fortson III and Rollin G. Grams, Unchanging Witness: The Consistent Christian Teaching on Homosexuality in Scripture and Tradition (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2016), 290-91.

[2] See John F. Oliven, Sexual Hygiene and Pathology (Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1965), 514.

[3] Fortson and Grams, Unchanging Witness, 291.

[4] Erra and Ishum IV. Quoted in Fortson and Grams, Unchanging Witness, 234.

[5] Philo, Special Laws 1.325. Quoted in Fortson and Grams, Unchanging Witness, 286.

[6] Juvenal, Satire II, lines 82-99. Quoted in Fortson and Grams, Unchanging Witness, 288.

[7] Fortson and Grams, Unchanging Witness, 288.

[8] Epictetus, Discourses 3.1. Quoted in Fortson and Grams, Unchanging Witness, 290.

[9] Clement of Alexandria, Paedegogos 3.3.19. Quoted in Fortson and Grams, Unchanging Witness, 291.

Male and Female He Created Them

So God created man in his own image,CoupleDating
in the image of
God he created him;
male and female he created them.

Genesis 1:27 (ESV)

In April 2016, the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held that public schools may not discriminate against students on the basis of gender identity. Ruling in favor of a Virginia transgender student identified in court documents only as G.G., two judges on a three-judge panel held that schools may not segregate students into separate restrooms and locker rooms on the basis of biological sex alone. Within their ruling, the judges noted the supposed “limitations of a nonmalleable, binary conception of sex.” They also criticized the alleged limitations of “connot[ing] male and femaleness . . . by reference to the factors . . . termed ‘biological sex,’ namely reproductive organs.” [i] Standing in stark contrast to the judges’ opinion is Genesis 1:28, where gender is defined in a strikingly biological, “binary,” and “nonmalleable” way.

This verse employs Hebrew words for male (zakar) and female (neqeba) with distinctly biological connotations. Zakar likely had an original meaning of being sharp and thus came to reference the male anatomy, and by extension, the male gender.[ii] Neqeba, in contrast, derives from a term referencing a hole or cavity and thus came to signify the female gender.[iii] The anatomical references of the terms are intentional here, for they speak of sexual distinction among humans and set the stage for God’s command in the following verse to “be fruitful and multiply.” Indeed, humans are the only creatures whose binary gender distinction is noted in Genesis 1. This does not deny or obscure gender distinctions among animals but highlights the goodness and God-given character of human gender. In fact, gender helps constitute humans in the image of God in humankind.

For this reason, Scripture elsewhere condemns the blurring of gender distinctions. For example, Deuteronomy 22:5 states that “a woman shall not wear a man’s garment, nor shall a man put on a woman’s cloak, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the LORD your God.” The abiding principle, with different applications in various cultures, is that women should not attempt to look like men and vice versa. Similarly in the New Testament, Paul tells the Corinthians that when praying or prophesying in public worship, men and women should don attire appropriate to their respective genders (1 Corinthians 11:4-10). The norm for God’s people is to celebrate and not obscure God-given gender distinctions.

The biblical teaching is a marked departure from modern notions that gender is merely chosen, felt, or can be “reassigned” surgically. Gender is assigned by God, and it displays His marvelous creativity. Of course, in a fallen world there are tragic instances in which people experience feelings of dissatisfaction regarding their God-given genders. And some are born with both male and female sex organs or with irregular configurations of their sex chromosomes. But far from overturning traditional classifications of gender, these unfortunate conditions underscore the goodness of the God-assigned norm: “Male and female he created them.”

Given the pervasive challenge to this conception of gender, Christians have a responsibility to educate themselves regarding the biblical and medical realities, and take a stand when governments or businesses attempt to dismiss biological gender distinctions as discriminatory or degrading. Human happiness and even survival depend on embracing maleness and femaleness.

[i] G.G. v. Gloucester County School Board, Case No. 15-2056 (4th Cir. 2016).

[ii] The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1906), s.v. “zakar.”

[iii] Ibid., s.v. “nequeba.”

Was Jesus Omniscient During His Earthly Life?

The short answer to this question is an unequivocal yes. But a longer answer may be more helpful in processing the biblical data. That’s because Scripture, at first blush, appears to make contradictory statements about Jesus’ knowledge. On one hand, He knew people’s thoughts (Mark 2:8), was able to distinguish true believers from non-believers (John 6:64), knew “from the beginning” Judas would betray Him (John 6:64), and in fact knew “all things” (John 16:30). On the other hand, He “increased in wisdom” (Luke 2:52) and did not know the day or hour of His second coming (Mark 13:32). How do we put these statements together? How can one who knows all things also not know the time of His return? How can one who knows all things also increase in wisdom?

BiblepagesThe answer lies in a doctrine articulated some 1,500 years ago at a gathering of Christian leaders known as the Council of Chalcedon. That meeting yielded a now-famous statement declaring Jesus to possess “two natures . . . the property of each nature being preserved and concurring in one Person and one Subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons.” In other words, Jesus possessed (and continues to possess) both a divine nature and a human nature. But He doesn’t somehow have a split personality or, like the Trinity, possess distinct persons who interact with one another within the same essence. No, the single, unified person of Jesus is both fully God and fully human.

Scripture, while making it “perfectly evident that only one person is intended,”[1] makes some statements that seem to apply specifically to one nature or the other. For instance, Romans 1:3-4 says Jesus “was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness.” Similarly, Philippians 2:6-8 says He “was in the form of God” and also was “found in human form.” Someone might be tempted to ask, “Which is it? Was Jesus in the form of God or in human form? Was He descended from David or the Son of God?” But the doctrine of His two natures in one person allows us to respond, “It’s both.”

This truth is instructive when it comes to understanding Christ’s knowledge. Statements of omniscience during His earthly ministry reference His divine nature while statements of limited knowledge reference His human nature. Theologian Wayne Grudem explained it this way: “Jesus learned things and had limited knowledge with respect to His human nature but was always omniscient with respect to His divine nature, and therefore he was able any time to ‘call to mind’ whatever information would be needed for His ministry.”[2]

If this seems confusing or even fanciful, consider an analogy: You and I have a body and a soul yet within one undivided person. The body is material, with all the properties of physical matter and, in itself, none of the properties of an immaterial soul. The soul, on the other hand, is non-physical and has properties like eternality, consciousness, and intelligence. Some statements predicated of a single, undivided person are made with singular reference to either body or soul. For instance, “Bob got burned” references Bob’s body while “Bob is intelligent” references his soul. “Bob craves pizza” references his body while “Bob is morally virtuous” references his soul. At times, statements about Bob may appear contradictory because of his body-soul union within one person. For instance, “Bob is eternal” yet “Bob will die and decay.” Obviously, analogies have limits, but you get the point.[3]

If the interplay between Christ’s omniscience and His limited knowledge still seems a bit fuzzy to you, don’t worry. As with, many of the Bible’s great doctrines, our job is to trust God, and then give praise for “the depth of the riches and wisdom of God,” whose judgments ultimately are “unsearchable” and whose ways are “inscrutable” (Romans 10:33).

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Endnotes

[1] Louis Berkhoff, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1938), 323.

[2] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 561.

[3] This analogy is drawn from Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, vol. 2 (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, [1871]), 378-80.

Was Jesus Born on December 25?

It has been common since at least the time of the Puritans to claim Christians began celebrating Christ’s birth on December 25 in an effort to change the emphasis of a day associated with a pagan festival—much like some Christians today hold “fall festivals” in lieu of Halloween. American Puritan Increase Mather, for instance, said “the early Christians who first observed the Nativity on December 25 did not do so thinking that Christ was born that month but because the heathen’s Saturnalia was at that time kept MaryJospehin Rome, and they were willing to have those pagan holidays metamorphosed into Christian.”[1] But a group of contemporary scholars, drawing on ancient writings from as early as the second century, suggests that December 25 is well within the realm of possibility as the real date.

Holding a pagan festival December 25 may have originated with the Roman emperor Aurelian, who in AD 274, built a temple and established games every four years to honor the pagan sun god to whom he attributed military victories. An ancient calendar for the year AD 354 notes such games on December 25 in celebration of the “birthday of the inconquerable sun” (Sol Invictus). [2] The timing made good sense, for, with the winter solstice, the sun had just hit its “low water mark” in the northern hemisphere. The days were short, the weather cold, the leaves fallen, the crops idle—a perfect time for superstitious people to schedule a hopeful rally for the return of summer.

This sort of thing had been going in Rome since centuries-ago BC in the form of winter-solstice parties for Saturn, the god associated with agriculture and light, parties characterized by candles and gift giving. Some suggest other pagans throughout Europe employed evergreens and yule logs in their own December observances, hoping to stimulate the restoration of greenery and warmth. But all these similarities could be coincidental. Or, to put it otherwise, December might have been both the real birth month for Jesus and the time of traditional solstice observances, supplanted by Christmas, albeit with some of the accoutrements retained. (Similarly, Jesus’ resurrection could have been in the spring, happening to coincide with fertility festivals—hence, the tradition of Easter eggs.)

The same codex (book) containing the aforementioned calendar also marks Christ’s birthday on December 25 in a section likely dating to AD 336—the earliest undisputed evidence Christians commemorated the nativity on that date. Some have concluded from the notation of both holidays in the same codex that the celebration of Christ’s birth on that date derived from the celebration of Sol Invictus’s birth as an effort to Christianize the pagan holiday.[3] But if Roman Christians were seeking to supplant the festival of Sol Invictus with Christmas, it’s fair to ask why they would have continued to note the former. It seems reasonable to say that an effort to change the significance of December 25 would have dropped the reference to the pagan observance.

Further, writings of church fathers before AD 274 mention the celebration of Christmas on December 25. Most manuscripts of a commentary on Daniel likely written between AD 202 and 211 by Hippolytus of Rome state, “The first advent of our Lord in the flesh, when he was born in Bethlehem, was December 25, a Wednesday.” The Greek scholar who translated Hipploytus’ commentary into English believes the reference to December 25 was part of the original rendering.[4] Similarly, Clement of Alexandria (c. 150-c. 215) seemed to situate Christ’s birth in late fall or early winter in his Stromata.[5] Two centuries later, Augustine and Jerome both reported tradition placed Christ’s birth on December 25.[6]

Finally, a Christian tradition likely dating to at least the second century held Jesus died on the same date He was conceived, March 25. Adding nine months to that date would place His birth around December 25. Among the church fathers to advocate a March 25 conception date were Julius Africanus (160-240) and Gregory Thaumaturgus (c. 213-270).[7]

Of course, we cannot know the date of Jesus’ birth with certainty, and it’s not critical that we do as we follow the discussion through the years. Some have argued shepherds would not have kept watch over their flocks by night (Luke 2:8) during the winter months, and therefore Jesus could not have been born on December 25. But that argument is inconclusive.[8] And claims to know the date of Jesus’ conception seem dubious. And again, some Christian holidays did, in fact, assume dates previously reserved for pagan festivals.[9] Still, the evidence gives ample reason to question the common claim that the exact date of December 25 was devoted to a pagan festival before it marked a Christian holiday.

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Endnotes

[1] Lenny Esposito, “No, Christmas Is Not Based on a Pagan Holiday,” Come Reason Ministries Website, December 16, 2015, http://apologetics-notes.comereason.org/2015/12/no-christmas-is-not-based-on-pagan.html (accessed December 19, 2015).

[2] Kurt M. Simmons, “The Origins of Christmas and the Date of Christ’s Birth,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 58/2 (2015): 301.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Thomas Schmidt, “Hippolytus and the Original Date of Christmas,” Chronicon Blog, November 21, 2010, http://web.archive.org/web/20130303163053/http:/chronicon.net/blog/chronology/hippolytus-and-the-original-date-of-christmas (accessed December 19, 2015). Schmidt notes that “most scholars believe that the date of December 25 was added by a later scribe and that Hippolytus did not record it himself.”

[5] Clement of Alexandria, Stromata, 1.21.145-146.

[6] Augustine, Sermon 202; Jerome, Homily 88: On the Nativity of Christ, as cited in Simmons, “The Origins of Christmas and the Date of Christ’s Birth,” 310n26.

[7] Ibid., 303-310.

[8] Andras Kostenberger and Alexander Stewart, The First Days of Jesus (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015), 146.

[9] Simmons, “The Origins of Christmas and the Date of Christ’s Birth,” 301.

Is Art Appreciation Part of the Christian Worldview?

The subject of artwork has caused its fair share of controversy among followers of Jesus. From opposition to religious images by Byzantines in the eighth and ninth centuries to debate among the Reformers over what forms of art were acceptable, StainGlassCHistoryChristians have long differed over the role of artwork in a Christian worldview. But amid the debate, believers have almost always agreed that art appreciation is part of a Christian worldview. That belief stems from the Bible itself, which says much related to aesthetics, artwork, and creativity. Consider the following:

God is the ultimate artist. There can never be a creative act more magnificent that God’s fashioning of the universe. Genesis 1-2 provides details related to color and light and notes that the trees God created were not present merely for food but as objects “pleasant to the sight” (Genesis 2:9). Imaging God, Christians have contended, surely includes imitating His creativity through artwork.

In the Old Testament, God assumed there would be visual artists among His people. At the construction of the Tabernacle, He appointed Bezalel and Oholiab “to devise artistic designs” (Exodus 31:4). Again at the building of the Temple, artists were required to fashion the intricate particulars of the design, from carving 15-foot cherabim of olivewood (1 Kings 6:23) to engraving “all the walls of the house” (1 Kings 6:29). When God commanded Moses in the wilderness to fashion “a fiery serpent and set it on a pole” (Numbers 21:8), He presumed there was a metalworker to craft the bronze serpent.

Scripture celebrates all five senses as means of experiencing God’s good creation. Song of Solomon 1:1-5 illustrates this well, with the Shulamite woman extoling the touch, taste, smell, sound, and sight of her lover. The God who created all five senses intended for His people to use them all, including the viewing of artwork, to appreciate His handiwork.

— Although the New Testament isn’t as explicit in its commendation of artwork, Paul commanded the Philippians to set their minds on “whatever is lovely” (Philippians 4:8). Surely that command includes the appreciation of artistic beauty.

Revelation’s descriptions of heaven assume God’s people have cultivated a taste for things that are aesthetically beautiful. Foundations “adorned with every kind of jewel” (Revelation 21:19) and the “river of the water of life, bright as crystal” (Revelation 22:1) clearly appeal to mankind’s desire for artistic beauty.

Of course, the Bible warns against using artwork for idolatrous purposes. That is made explicit in the Second Commandment (Exodus 21:4), and the harmful effects of ungodly artwork are illustrated in the account of Israel’s making a golden calf (Exodus 32). Further, Scripture’s emphasis on the word as God’s primary means of communicating with humans (e.g., Romans 10:17) precludes using art as the only expression of our faith.

Still, Augustine of Hippo was right when he argued that the good, the beautiful, and the true are really one in the same—and they are all of God. Christians have taken that reality to heart through creating artistic expressions as diverse as Sistine Chapel frescoes painted by the Roman Catholic Michelangelo, the Reformation’s simple Bible illustrations and depictions of “secular” life, and the countless paintings, ceramics, and sculptures created by believers today. So the next time you take brush, pencil, chalk, clay, or any other artistic tool in hand, remember that you’re participating in a rich Christian tradition.