“For the Perfecting of the Saints”
LDS manual: here
To encourage readers to live this life, instead of following a false hope for a better one.
Here we see Paul’s words to the Ephesians. This lesson is kind of a quick flyover of two terrible things God apparently didn’t have a problem with: misogyny and slavery.
Paul also mentions two issues that have divided Christianity for centuries. The first one is predestination vs. free will.
Eph. 1:4 According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love:
1:5 Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will,
If Paul doesn’t believe that God chose some people to be Christians and to hell with everyone else, then he sure sounds like he believes it. Or perhaps he’s just getting more creative in his explanations for why people don’t believe him. He used to say they were wicked and blind. Now he’s softened that a bit — it’s just that God didn’t choose those people.
The second divisive issue is faith vs. works.
Eph. 2:8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:
2:9 Not of works, lest any man should boast.
As an atheist, these are two things that I no longer have to pay any attention to, and this alone is worth becoming an atheist. I’m serious. Believers pull up Pascal’s Wager on me, and it usually goes like this:
Believer: If you believe and you’re wrong, you lose nothing. But if you don’t believe and you’re wrong, you lose everything.
Me: Yeah, but if you believe, then you have to waste years of your life sorting out absurd and unclear ideas like predestination and faith vs works. And wouldn’t it be worth an eternity of torture not having to think about that stuff?
Believer: You’re right. Torture would be much better. I’ve decided to become an atheist now.
Main ideas for this lesson
Is there hope in atheism?
Paul thought that being an atheist was the worst thing in the world.
Eph. 2:11 Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands;
2:12 That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world:
The Greek word used for “without God” is ἄθεοι (a-theoi), which is etymologically identical to atheist. What do you know — atheism appears in the Bible.
Ask: Is Paul making an accurate characterisation of atheists as ‘having no hope’?
Well, hope in what? If you want hope in angels coming down and helping you on your exams, of sailing up into the clouds to meet Jesus while the rest of doomed humanity dies horribly, or of living forever, then no, atheism doesn’t offer that kind of hope. But considering that these are false hopes — well, I think I could do without that kind of hope, couldn’t you? And while trying to maintain those hopes might seem comforting, there’s ultimately not much utility in believing them.
Sam Harris made a good point at the Global Atheist Con of 2012.
At about 11:30
We are locked in the present moment with our thoughts and our iPads. So what does atheism have to offer people in this circumstance? People like ourselves and people more fearful and self-deceived than us — a great body of humanity that recoils at the mere suggestion that a first century carpenter may not be able to hear their thoughts, much less answer their prayers. Well, atheism as mere disbelief in God, doesn’t have much to offer. It’s a corrective to a whole raft of bad ideas, but it doesn’t put anything in place of bad ideas. It’s a necessary corrective, but what what fills the void is science, and art, and philosophy. Atheism is just a way of clearing the space for better conversations, and the problem we face, of course, is a problem of convincing the better part of humanity to have those better conversations.
As for me, my “better conversations” include discussing language with my students, news and (occasionally) philosophy with my friends, life experiences with my sons, and having a wonderful life full of love with my wife. These things are what feed us.
The danger of accepting a false promise of eternity is that it could make us miss this life, the only life we’re sure we’re going to get.
We’ve already treated Paul’s misogyny in a previous lesson. Paul continues the theme here.
Eph. 5:22 Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.
5:23 For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body.
5:24 Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing.
5:25 Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it;
As a believer, I tried to ignore these verses. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people who don’t ignore them. For them, these are God’s pattern for how women should act. Here’s a report of a sermon from Marc Driscoll, the former pastor of Mars Hill.
Read with me in Ephesians 5:22–33. We’re just going to read it and then talk about it. “Wives” — what’s the word, ladies? Boy, it didn’t take long, did it? One woman quietly said, “Submit.” So, not arousing, enthusiastic, joy-filled response. “Wives, submit.” “What does that mean in the Greek, Pastor Mark?” You can always tell a rebellious Evangelical. They do word studies. They try to go to the Greek and figure out if it perhaps means something else. I’ll just read, OK. “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the” — men, what’s it say? — “head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything” — seems like a lot — “to their husbands.
I have a better idea — let’s have partners be partners, instead of trying to force everyone into a preordained mold.
Here’s a long list of other misogynistic quotes in the Bible, in case you missed them.
It’s not just women Paul wants to submit — it’s slaves. Or servants; the Greek doesn’t draw much of a distinction.
Eph. 6:5 Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ;
6:6 Not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart;
But why would Christianity be against slavery, when it really is a desperate desire to become an eternal slave? Christopher Hitchens points out the connection.
It would have been easy for a god to say, “Don’t have slaves.” Especially when you consider all the other stuff he prohibited.
It’s an easy moral decision. Yet the Bible muffs it. This is why I say that the Bible should be disqualified from being considered a good source for moral instruction. Any book that condones slavery has pretty much forfeited this claim.
Additional lesson ideas
The prince of the power of the air
Paul held to a then-prevalent belief that the devil had control of the air.
Eph. 2:2 Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience:
Silly Paul; everyone knows the devil actually has control over the water.
During the Middle Ages this doctrine of the diabolical origin of storms went on gathering strength. Bede had full faith in it, and narrates various anecdotes in support of it. St. Thomas Aquinas gave it his sanction, saying in his all authoritative _Summa_, “Rains and winds, and whatsoever occurs by local impulse alone, can be caused by demons.” “It is,” he says, “a dogma of faith that the demons can produce wind, storms, and rain of fire from heaven.”
So it seems that Satan has control over air and water. Fire would also seem to be in his court. Looks like earth is the only safe element left.
Until next week.