Saturday, 10 March 2012

Biblical teaching on marriage and sexuality – a quick overview for Guardian readers

I was amused to read an editorial in the Guardian today titled ‘Gay marriage: torn asunder from reality’. It made the extraordinary claim that ‘it is surprisingly hard to find in the Bible a consistent endorsement of heterosexual marriage as we now understand it’.

I will return to a full fisk of the editorial piece later (now available here) but for the benefit of Guardian readers here is a quick overview of biblical teaching on marriage and sexuality.

Marriage is a divine invention. It was God who first said that it was ‘not good for man to be alone’ and who created the unique complementarity of the marriage relationship for companionship, pleasure, procreation and the raising of children – ‘one man, one woman, united for life’ (Genesis 2:24).

Marriage is also in this way illustrative of Christ’s own self-giving abandonment to his bride the church (Ephesians 5:31, 32) and points to a greater richness of human relationships beyond the grave of which the very best on earth are but a pale shadow (1 Corinthians 2:9, 10).

The Bible is full of references to sex and marriage -from the first chapter of Genesis to the last chapter of Revelation (Gn 1:28, Rev 22:17).

The one man and one woman for life pattern is an Old Testament creation ordinance, upheld by Jesus and Paul in the New Testament (Gn 2:24; Mt 19:3-12; Eph 5:22-33).

Sex in the context of marriage (Gn 2:24, Mt 19:3-12)
...is viewed as the good gift of a good creator (Pr 5:15-20, Song 4:11-16)
...and a sign of Christ’s coming marriage with the church (Eph 5:32, Rev 19:7)

Anything outside this context is seen as a disaster (2 Sa 11, 2 Sa 13, Gn 34)
... offensive to God (Lv 18:6-30, 20:7-21; 1 Cor 6:12-20)
... and accordingly judged (Lv 18:29; Dt 22:20-22, Rev 21:8)

All wrong patterns are spelt out specifically in detail (Lv 18:1-30; Lv 20:1-27; Ex 22:16-19; Dt 22:13-30) and include all homosexual acts (Lv 18:22, 20:13; Gn 19:1-29; Jdg 19:1-30; Rom 1:24-27; 1 Cor 6:9-11; 1 Tim 1:8-11)

God’s people are called to be ‘set apart’ in sexual behaviour (1 Thes 4:3-8; Mt 5:27-32)

Scripture is accordingly replete with love stories which affirm marriage: Isaac and Rebecca (Gen 24), Jacob and Rachel (Gen 29:16-30), Boaz and Ruth (Ru 3)… and similar narratives about how sex and marriage can be distorted – some examples:

Shechem and Dinah (Gen 34) - rape
Judah and Tamar (Gen 38) - prostitution
Amnon and Tamar (2 Sa 13) - incest
David and Bathsheba (2 Sa 11) – adultery
Zimri and Cozbi (Nu 25) – fornication
Sodom and Gibeah (Gn 19; Jdg 19) – homosexuality

Polygamy, whilst tolerated and permitted in Old and New Testament times (but with strict rules of faithfulness), was never endorsed or commanded and I am struggling to think of a single instance where it did not have serious consequences for the families involved in terms of jealousy, favouritism, rivalry, apostasy and family breakdown.

Lifelong, heterosexual monogamy is the consistent pattern.

Guardian readers are of course entitled to their opinions about what they think of biblical teaching but they should be aware of what the Bible actually says and similarly aware that Guardian editors are about as adept with scripture as 'a fool is with a proverb' or 'a paralysed man is with his legs' (Proverbs 26:7).

41 comments:

  1. I hope you have sent the Guardian a copy

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  2. I am not permitted to post on the Guardian's website (all my comments are 'pre-moderated' - what GK Chesterton called 'censorship by the press') and I suspect they are not particularly interested.

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    1. Inquiring regarding masturbation of a female that is no longer married but do not find any reference to it in your writings here or the bible. Please enlighten me.

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  3. Margaret Elward10 March 2012 at 12:55

    Good article. I hope many people will see the importance of marriage as being between a man anđ a woman anđ ordained by God himself.

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    1. Margaret,

      There is nothing to say that marriage is exclusively between man and woman - after all it is a man made concept (much like your "god"). If you look at the history of marriage you will see same sex marriage was common in times of Ancient Greece before Christianity decided to hijack and redefine it (if it was done once, I don't see what it can't be done again).

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  4. Peter, once again you pretend that your Bible is very clear cut on things when in fact it completely contradicts itself on marriage in many places. I shall for now though just discuss one specific case you mentioned, that is:
    Amnon and Tamar (2 Sa 13) - incest

    Yet God was ok with Abraham and his sister:

    Genesis 20.
    20 From there Abraham journeyed toward the territory of the Negeb and lived between Kadesh and Shur; and he sojourned in Gerar.
    2 And Abraham said of Sarah his wife, "She is my sister." And Abimelech king of Gerar sent and took Sarah.
    3 But God came to Abimelech in a dream by night and said to him, "Behold, you are a dead man because of the woman whom you have taken, for she is a man's wife."
    4 Now Abimelech had not approached her. So he said, "Lord, will you kill an innocent people?
    5 Did he not himself say to me, 'She is my sister'? And she herself said, 'He is my brother.' In the integrity of my heart and the innocence of my hands I have done this."
    6 Then God said to him in the dream, "Yes, I know that you have done this in the integrity of your heart, and it was I who kept you from sinning against me. Therefore I did not let you touch her.
    7 Now then, return the man's wife, for he is a prophet, so that he will pray for you, and you shall live. But if you do not return her, know that you shall surely die, you and all who are yours."


    So which is it. You highlight the part of the book you agree with, what about the part which contradicts it?

    Why was your God ok with Abraham having his sister as his wife?

    I have about 2 dozen other contradictions to discuss with you, but I thought I could start with just this one. I am looking forward to your reply.

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    1. Incest is wrong but Sarah was not Abraham's sister. If you knew the wider context rather than just plucking this out of context (?from some book you have read) you would know this. Abraham lied about it to Abimelech because he was a coward trying to protect himself at the expense of his wife.

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    2. How about God impregnating Mary while she was married to Joseph. Adultery?

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    3. They weren't married at the time, that's why it says Joseph was prepare to leave her but then the angel told him to take her as his wife.

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    4. Peter, the 'wider context' you speak of also includes Abraham taking Hagar as his concubine (Genesis 16), which is at no point explicitly condemned by God. I fail to see how this is consistent with your assumption (I won't call it an argument, because it isn't) that the Old Testament broadly endorses monogamy.

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  5. The only two Gospel references here are Matthew, and both say that a man may divorce a fornicating wife; and say it is adultery to sleep with a woman who is divorced. I'd say in this regard the Guardian is certainly right; marriage as we now understand it does not consider a woman chattel.

    You state that marriage is 'a divine invention'; whether or not you believe that the writing of Genesis predates the institution of marriage, your fair appeal to Guardian readers should not assume that they do too. In fact I expect you'll find most readers of most papers do not.

    Your letters from Paul I've not checked through; but again, if your test is Guardian readers and 'marriage as we now understand it', I don't think I need to. Believing that Paul is a reliable voice for God is one thing; believing he understands marriage as we do is quite an other.

    newsengland above has pointed out that you have chosen examples that suit your case - which is very much to the point here, since the Guardian editorial's claim is that there is no 'consistent' endorsement. I would specifically ask what you make of Tobit's endorsement of incestuous marriage.

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    1. 1. The Bible does not consider wives chattel. Adultery was equally serious whether committed by husband or wife. In fact under OT law it was a capital offence for either partner.

      2. Which is why the Guardian editorial writers should check their facts before sounding off.

      3. Paul was an apostle commissioned by and speaking with the full authority of Jesus Christ. His understanding of marriage was that of Jesus.

      4. I have answered newsengland's point above and Tobit is not canonical.

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    2. 1. The punishments prescribed for adultery have nothing to do with whether or not the bible considers wives chattel. Taking women as the spoils of war, then sharing them out among your allies (reserving a proportion to the Lord) as is done with the Midianites, does.
      ...
      3. I suggested we leave aside the question of whether Jesus and Paul agreed on marriage, to ask instead whether Paul's understanding of marriage is the same as _ours_, which is what you say your article is about. Women who no longer see their relationship to their husbands as like their husbands' to God, for example, would probably say that it isn't.
      4. Tobit has been canonical for most of the history of the church. It remains canonical in the church's largest traditions. Are the Catholic and Orthodox bibles less consistent endorsements of heterosexual marriage than the Protestant bible? That's a piece of luck.

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  6. Newsengland, you are an idiot. Abraham LIED about Sarah being his sister. Read the rest of the story.

    JJB, what are you on about? Be more precise, man.

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    1. hah! You're a bigger idiot for not continuing to read where I left off...

      8 Early the next morning Abimelek summoned all his officials, and when he told them all that had happened, they were very much afraid.
      9 Then Abimelek called Abraham in and said, "What have you done to us? How have I wronged you that you have brought such great guilt upon me and my kingdom? You have done things to me that should never be done."
      10 And Abimelek asked Abraham, "What was your reason for doing this?"
      11 Abraham replied, "I said to myself, 'There is surely no fear of God in this place, and they will kill me because of my wife.'
      12 Besides, she really is my sister, the daughter of my father though not of my mother; and she became my wife.
      13 And when God had me wander from my father's household, I said to her, 'This is how you can show your love to me: Everywhere we go, say of me, "He is my brother."'"


      Are you going to try and dodge this one too? We'll see.

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    2. You are correct. It was thereby a half lie in that the intent was to deceive as Abraham was implying that she was not his wife. The law of Moses (Leviticus 17:9) did later forbid such half sibling marriages.

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  7. So Peter, I read about Sodom and Gibeon (Gen 19; Jdg 19) which you said was about homosexuality and I find to my horror that it is actually about 'Christians' offering their own daughters up for gang rape.

    Judges 19:
    23 The owner of the house went out and said to them, "No, don't do this evil, my brothers. After all, this man has come into my house. Don't do this horrible thing.
    24 Here, let me bring out my virgin daughter and the man's concubine now. Use them and do whatever you want to them. But don’t do this horrible thing to this man."


    I wont paste the bits from Gen. 19 as its almost the exact same story (I have noticed the bible does that a lot)

    Would you offer your virgin daughters up for a bit of gang rape to protect a stranger, is this what Christian's do?

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    1. Christians did not exist until after Jesus Christ's resurrection and these incidents date from ~2,000 and ~1,200 BC. The people involved are not upheld as role models for this action.

      The offering up of one's own daughters for gang rape was a despicable and cowardly act which is nowhere endorsed in Scripture but on each occasion it was done on fear of death to protect equally innocent guests.

      This of course does not justify it - but does highlight the depths to which the inhabitants of Sodom and Gibeon had sunk. Both towns were as a result wiped off the map.

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    2. Sorry Peter, that isn't good enough.

      The Bible is the book that Christians say they follow and it suggests that it is ok to offer innocent girls up for gang rape to prevent a man being attacked. There is no suggestion in your book that there is anything wrong with this.

      As an atheist I find it abhorrent that your book contains this suggestion and in no way chastises those who do so.

      You must be in favour of this, you cannot choose which parts of your Bible you follow and which to ignore, if you do then all your arguments become moot.

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    3. If you read the Bible from cover to cover you will find that much of it is historical narrative which shows the human condition at its very worst - murder, sexual immorality, idolatry, lies and deception - and many of them carried out by God's own chosen people.

      It is also a book that contains considerable moral teaching of a very high standard.

      These two things underline both the moral goodness and perfection of God and also the moral depravity of man and provide the foundation for the biblical metanarrative which is one of redemption.

      Human beings, created by God for relationship with him, live in rebellion against him and deserve judgement. But because of his great love he seeks to rescue them at great cost to himself.

      The endpoint is Christ's death and resurrection on our behalf. God himself becomes a man who is abused, rejected and murdered but whose death pays the price for our sin and paves the way for our forgiveness and redemption.

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    4. If you read the Bible from cover to cover you will find that much of it is historical narrative which shows the human condition at its very worst - murder, sexual immorality, idolatry, lies and deception - and many of them carried out by God's own chosen people.

      I have read the Bible from cover to cover, it is why I became an atheist. Additionally the majority of the characters are one dimensional, the plot line wanders and the main character (God) is vengeful, mean and contradictory. The Book of Dave by Will Self was also a religious book, I would put it at least 9 points ahead of the Bible on a score from 1 to 10.

      It is also a book that contains considerable moral teaching of a very high standard.
      As I already highlighted, Judges 19 and Genesis 19 both tell a tale where a man offers up a virgin to a gang so they can rape her. You god shows no wrath towards those who do this.

      ... perfection of God and ... moral depravity of man ...
      I don't think your God is perfect, certainly the Bible shows him as fallible, jealous and unkind, for example:
      Meanwhile, the LORD instructed one of the group of prophets to say to another man, "Strike me!" But the man refused to strike the prophet. Then the prophet told him, "Because you have not obeyed the voice of the LORD, a lion will kill you as soon as you leave me." And sure enough, when he had gone, a lion attacked and killed him. 1 Kings 20:35-36
      That is just one of hundreds within the Bible that show your God to be thoroughly unpleasant. The moral depravity you accuse men of having is encouraged by your God!

      The endpoint is Christ's death and resurrection on our behalf. God himself becomes a man who is abused, rejected and murdered but whose death pays the price for our sin and paves the way for our forgiveness and redemption.
      Why would anyone want forgiveness from such an unpleasant being? It's exactly like a sheep asking the butcher to forgive it.

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    5. "It is also a book that contains considerable moral teaching of a very high standard. "

      Are you seriously talking about the bible? It is far from a book that teaches morals of a high standard. It is full of misogyny, hatred, homophobia, abuse, murder, rape, incest, slavery, etc. Most of it condoned (and encouraged) by your "god". If you think that it is a moral book, to go by, you need to take a hard look at your morals (or lack of them!)

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  8. I'm glad you've given up on this bloke Peter. Obviously only the supernatural will ever convince him of the supreme love of Christ and the sacrifice He made for us on the Cross. Newsengland, your reading of the Bible must have been very cursory, and blinkered in the extreme, if you managed to exclude the magnificence, omnipotence, and aweinspiring love of God throughout your entire read. How long did it take you?

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    1. It's because I wasn't blinkered in my reading of that book that I was able to reach the conclusions which I did. Maybe if you weren't so blinkered you wouldn't believe in supernatural beings which don't exist.

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    2. Jesus divided people. By claiming identity with the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of the Old Testament, he evoked either worship or hatred.

      Some believed his claims, loved him and gave their lives to serve him. Others rejected and despised him and nailed him to a tree.

      It is still so. We either acknowledge him as the creator and sustainer of the universe, our judge and saviour, or we turn our backs and go our own way.

      In other words we either accept his supreme right to judge us and seek his forgiveness, or we judge him by our own standards as you have chosen to do and take the consequences.

      It is not too late now to change sides and I urge you to reconsider your position and be reconciled to God.

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    3. Been there, done that. Then I grew up, realised it was all hocus pocus and moved on.

      I don't hate the fictional characters you mention, I just think you are foolish to believe a book which was written by people who would now be classified as mentally retarded.

      As a Doctor you must know that humans get smarter with each generation, something we refer to as the Flynn effect http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flynn_effect - so, if you were to jump back 2000 years you would find that the people you met would be extremely ignorant with poor reasoning and a high amount of superstition, this is an indisputable fact. And yet you rely on a book written by these superstitious people and you take it as being the word of God, you do so because "that's the way its always been".

      Unlike you, I will not try and tempt you away from your faith or beliefs, I think some people need to believe in something as they would not be able to cope with the truth. I will, however, keep pointing out how irrational your talking snake book is

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    4. Bless you. The serpent's best deception of course is that he does not actually exist :-) Psalm 14 says it all.

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    5. >> As a Doctor you must know that humans get smarter with each generation

      Well, YOU haven't old chap - that's for sure!

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    6. That last remark was to Newsengland who seems to have lost the plot.

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    7. It's worth wondering whether intelligence is always a positive thing. I mean, very clever people do some very horrible things. And even if they don't, since when was intellect more important than love, mercy, justice, and many other attributes? What if trust in God is the highest attribute?

      I tihnk the phrase 'a little knowledge is a dangerous thing' is relevant; some people think that because they know quite a few things, have read some books, have heard about various religions, that they are now without need of God, are above Him, and can pick and choose what they believe to suit themselves. That's their choice. I'm just not sure it's a wise one.

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    8. @newsengland, while I understand your frustration at an apparently blind following of morals and commands from a very distant time and culture, the Flynn Effect is so controversial that to make claims based upon it suggest a similar blind following of ideas spoken by others.

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    9. To NewsEngland:- the accounts written about in the bible are trying to show us that people make mistakes but contrary to what God ordained is the reason these accounts are made. To show how man sins. If the bile only contained only good stuff then God would not be fair or just. Just because men and women in the Bible made mistakes like we all do does not undermine the truth or principle of what is Gods design for mankind and what are His commandments for us all. It is understandable that reading the bible it seems contradictory but if you ask any Christian to explain what they believe and why it all becomes clear as you need to take into account the whole Bible and not a scripture here and there just like any speech or current books. Culture and the norms of life in Biblical times needs to taken into account as the Middle East does not have a western mindset and ours is not always right. God did not condone what many men and women did in the bible. So you see as has been said previously you need to understand the whole context of scripture. If you read with a negative attitude trying to find fault you will as your terms of reference are only what you know. I hope the above text will explain some of the scenarios and the wider issues in the Bible. David should not have committed adultery and murdered a man but it shows he was fallible like us all but God forgave him just like He has forgive us when David came with a repentant heart realising what he had done was terrible. Raymond Clements

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  9. @Newsengland - "humans get smarter with each generation" - you serious?!

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  10. corporate greed,widening incomes less equality, high unemployment (1 million under 24)record debt, relationship breakdown,abortions, teenage pregnancies, S.T.Is,increased obeisity, eating disorders,depression and anxiety,suicide,less trust between people, increased fear of crime,increased actual crime ,homicides, violence,city riots with no particular political cause.Alcohol and drug abuse increases in liver disease in the under30 age group.Addictive behaviours, gambling, pornography, Work insecurity and bullying,internet bullying higher stress levels,unhealthy psychological attitudes.Dissatisfaction with body image. Is this a christian rant ? no just the findings of 200 socialogical studies performed in advanced western countries. Humans getting smarter- Discuss

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    1. ....and a greater degree of peaceful co-existence than at any other time, except for people of faith.

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    2. I think I'd rather have a lot less peaceful co-existance if it meant those other things were sorted out? Who wants to live in tolerance of a world that is groaning and falling apart, where no one has contentment, purpose, fulfilment of any real depth?

      In fact, Jesus himself said he came not to bring peace but a sword. This wasn't literal - i.e. didn't condone violence - but was about saying I'm not going to stand-by and condone sin, watch the world fall apart, say it doesn't matter as long as everybody gets along. Rather he said he do something about it. Something costly, something loving, something sacrificial. He didn't tolerate the world. He died for it. He doesn't just tolerate you Bill. He loves you and He died for you.

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    3. And most importantly he rose again and defeated death (I'm not laying on a guilt trip saying he died for you and what are you going to do in return - He doesn't want us to do anything, except to follow Him. He's good, very good, and He has conquered death, so He really is the most reliable thing in the universe and reality to put your trust in). Best wishes

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  11. Peter, I suggest to you that the story of Jacob and Rachel cannot truly be said to 'affirm marriage' - at least not heterosexual monogamy of the kind we are familiar with in the modern Western world.
    Firstly, the story is evidently not concerned with monogamy in the slightest. Jacob and Rachel, as we all know, find themselves in a polygamous marriage, not a monogamous one, as a result of Jacob's determination. Whilst there does appear to be some tension in the family situation afterwards (Genesis 30-31), the writer does not seem to intend this as being a consequence of their polygamous practices. (Notice that Rachel declares herself 'vindicated by God' when she persuades Jacob to marry her servant girl, who manages to conceive.) It is also interesting to consider that family troubles in the book of Genesis are certainly not limited to polygamous situations (viz. Rebekah's favouritism of Jacob over Esau, Genesis 27).
    The same logic applies to all of the Old Testament, I would argue. Polygamy is not portrayed in either a positive or a negative light; it is simply recognised as a normal part of life within the culture in which the stories are set. Therefore, to assert that the Old Testament, or even the Bible as a whole, is inherently supportive of heterosexual monogamy is quite unjustifiable.

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    1. Another couple of interesting points you might like to note about the story of Jacob and Rachel as recorded in Genesis:
      - Jacob and Rachel are in fact known to be cousins [29:9-14], and, far from being vilified as incestuous, this appears to be seen as a good thing [29:19].
      - Jacob and Laban initially agree that Rachel's hand in marriage is equivalent to 7 years' wages [29:15-19]. But, of course, women were in no way treated as a commodity in the Bible...

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    2. You all the comments made about the bible trying to say that there were mistakes made and things contrary to what God ordained is the reason these accounts are made. To show how man sins. If the bile only contained only good stuff then God would not be fair or just. Just because men and women in the Bible made mistakes like we all do does not undermine the truth or principle of what is Gods design of mankind and what Hid is commandment for us all. Your emotional wording of commodities shows a lack of understanding of the culture and norms of life in Biblical times which included all of the worlds population. God did not condone what Jacob did and that is why his name became Israel as his name Jacob meant deceiver. So you see as has been said previously you need to understand the whole context of scripture. If you read with a negative attitude trying to find fault you will as your terms of reference are only what you know. I hope the above text will explain some of the scenario of Jacob and the wider issues in the Bible. David should not have committed adultery and murdered a man but it shows he was fallible like us all but God forgave him just like He has forgive us when David came with a repentant heart realising what he had done was terrible. Raymond Clements

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