Ask Ivor

Marco asks:

"Is there any place in the Bible where it says you're not supposed to sleep with the person you get married to before you get married? I don't think there is. I think that's just another example of control freaks institutionalizing an arbitrary interpretation of the Bible."

IVOR: The Bible says to "flee from porneia," the best translation of which is "sexual immorality." That's not very definitive though, is it? What's immoral, and what's not? Some morals remain constant, others change from generation to generation, or culture to culture. How do you determine what's right? I know of two ways, and I recommend both:

1) Listen to your community. There is often wisdom in numbers, wisdom that an individual cannot arrive at alone. Plus, community standards are one of the glues that unite people, and unity is a good thing.

On the other hand, groups tend to reduce morality into oversimplistic, legalistic blacks and whites....

2) Listen to your heart. In many instances, one's personal conscience is necessary to arbitrate a moral question, to ascertain not the letter of the law, but the spirit. Often, it is not the act, but the intent, which is the crux of the matter, and it takes a heart to measure intent.

On the other hand, sometimes your heart can be fooled, and you need your community to help guide you through the mystery....

Some things just don't have easy answers. They're not meant to. Sexuality is complex. Sexual morality is equally complex. It's a balancing act. "I'm up on the tightwire... one side's ice, and one is fire...."

MARCO: The Bible takes an ambiguous position on the subject, if not flees from it as if from porneia. Like the so-called moralists, the inanimate collection of pages knows it when it sees it, and knows it doesn't like it, but doesn't want to think about it except to, perhaps, examine it in private and warn lesser lights away from it.

IVOR: I prefer to think that "the inanimate collection of pages" was clever enough to realize that sexual morality is too often too complicated to be simply legislated, but instead needs to be ascertained more wholistically, more creatively, more spiritually. Licentiousness will get you into trouble. Prudishness will get you into another kind of trouble. Flee from both.

CHUCK: In today's world we all belong to many different communities. There's school, church, our groups of friends, family, work, clubs and organizations and the community of our own minds. Which one are we supposed to listen to? Which one should dictate our conscience?

IVOR: Listen to them all, but don't let any of them dictate to your conscience.

DANIEL: About 2200 years ago, Rabbi Hillel, who was renowned for his compassion and patience, was asked to teach Torah (the first five books of the Bible) to an impatient man. Hillel's famous reply: "Do not do unto others as you would not have them do unto you... the rest is commentary." I think Hillel's formulation of biblical wisdom applies as much to sexual behavior as it does to any other moral/ethical question.

CHRISTY: Listen to your heart? Why? Why would you turn to yourself for the answers when you're the one that's confused? I never really was able to appreciate that bit of wisdom. Only comes in handy on tests... almost certainly your first impulse is the correct one. But in things like sex, drugs, religion? Nope. I'd rather go by a standard outside of myself that is set and rigid. I'm too apt to make mistakes, being the fallible person that I am.

IVOR: It's certainly easier to only listen to an external standard, but it's not necessarily more right. The community is fallible too. And if your response to that is something like: "I'm not talking about the community's standard; I'm talking about God's standard," then I say: Yes, but how do you know what God's standard is? And then we're right back to the two ways: the community tells you, and your heart tells you. Both are fallible. Listen to both. Listen to the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit speaks to you through the community, and through your heart.

CHRISTY (to Marco): Got out the ol' concordance and looked up yer sex-outside-of-marriage question. It's not as ambiguous as you might think... here's something: 1 Corinthians 7:1-2: "Now concerning the things about which you wrote, it is good for a man not to touch a woman. But because of immoralities, let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband." I think that's purty clear, but if you're really curious, look up "fornication" in a concordance and get out a good Bible. Preferably a King James. The one I'm using, New American Standard, tends to be a little weak on the subject of sex.

IVOR: The English word "fornication," which specifically means sex other than between a man and his wife, is not the correct translation of the Greek porneia. Porneia was a general term, with a variety of possible meanings: prostitution, licentiousness, fornication, unchastity, adultery, unfaithfulness, apostasy, idolatry, incest, sodomy, unlawful marriage, sexual intercourse in general, paganism, mixed marriage, polytheism.... The best translation of porneia is, as I stated before, "sexual immorality," and it is ambiguous.

BOB: Where did you come from? I have never seen so much principle spoken in so few words here on the FreeNet.

CHRISTY: How do I know what God's standard is? I read the Bible, of course.... God wrote it, yes? It's His book, yes? ...I KNOW the Bible says in NUMEROUS places (trust me, I spent about an hour looking up references out of the thirty or so listed in my concordance) that, specifically, fornication is wrong. Maybe you disagree.... But if I want to live the most happy and healthy life I possibly can, I'm going to listen to the Creator who made life to begin with. It's that simple.

IVOR: God did not write the Bible. The Bible is a collection of writings written by 40 different authors over 16 centuries. The early Christian community decided that these particular writings, and not others, were inspired by God. I happen to agree with that. What I don't agree with is that the Bible specifically says fornication is wrong. (Nor does it say that it's not wrong.) I completely support and encourage your desire to "listen to the Creator who made life to begin with." What I oppose is your conclusion that the faulty English translation of the Bible that you have in your hand is the very word of God. Don't sell God short like that. It's not that simple. Sex outside of marriage isn't necessarily wrong. Nor does sex within marriage automatically guarantee that that sex is not immoral. Think about it....

CHRISTY: I wanted to say one other thing about what Ivor was saying about how the way you view sex should come from listening to your heart and your community. 'Cause, see, I was thinking about this and I realized that MY community, (i.e. the school) is telling ME that sex is fine just so long as you know the risks and use a condom.... Do you get my point? My community says "free sex! free sex!" My heart ends up absorbing what my community says to the point that it's screaming, "free sex! free sex!" ...I just don't buy your idea, Ivor. It sounds very lofty and grand and all that... very much like what all of my peers and influences try to tell me every day. But it's not practical.

IVOR: My advice is fine, as long as you don't narrowly interpret "community." Your community includes not only your school and your peers, but your family, your church, your Bible....

ELBERT: Christy writes: "Why would you turn to yourself for the answers when you're the one that's confused?" Christy, Congratulations! You have said more in one question, than most people have been able to say in an entire book.... I believe in the Bible as the Word of a living God who is actively interested in our lives here and who through His Spirit is able and willing to communicate truth to us within His Word, the Bible. So... there is my "absolute truth" source.

IVOR: Can it be true that people like Christy and Elbert, who identify themselves as Bible-believers, don't really know what the Bible teaches? Sadly, yes.

The Bible says that the Holy Spirit lives with you and will be in you. It says we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code. It says we speak in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. It says your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you. It says that God put his Spirit in our hearts. It says that we are a letter from Christ... written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. It says that we are ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. It says where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. It says to live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. It says if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law. It says that in Christ you are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. It says that God will strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. It says do not put out the Spirit's fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt.

The Bible does not teach that the only source of truth is the Bible! When I suggest that people listen to their hearts, Christy and Elbert think that's poor advice. If they were more familiar with their Bibles, they would realize that by not listening to their hearts, they are helping close themselves off to God. That's a very dangerous and unhealthy practice, and it's also exactly what Satan wants them to do....

MORGAN: Ivor, you never cease to amaze me.

IVOR: I hope that's a good thing.