Included in the category of black and white Christians is a very large percentage of people who profess the Christian religion. It includes an even higher percentage of those who are historic Seventh-day Adventists. There are also, in this category, a very large number of Roman Catholics and people of other religions.
The Pharisees had terrible trouble when they got into discussions with Jesus. They would ask questions, expecting certain answers, but when they would ask Question A, expecting either Answer B or Answer C, they were given Answer R. The reason they were expecting certain answers was because they were black and white in their thinking. They considered an issue to be either black, of the devil, or white, of the Lord. Only these two alternatives were possible. When Jesus answered the question, He showed that there were other possibilities of which they had never even thought.
This is a very common problem, not just with the Pharisees, but with Christians as well. It has been a common problem all through Christian history, and it is a problem today.
Let us look at an example from Matthew 19:3: “And they came to Him, the Pharisees, testing him, and saying, ‘Is it allowed, or is it permitted, for a man to divorce his wife for any cause?’ ” If you have studied the nature of this question and that about which they were speaking, you know that this question caused endless disputes among the Jews, because their rabbis taught that a man could divorce his wife for any reason. They defended this view from the Bible.
This is always one of the biggest problems in dealing with black and white Christians; they defend their positions from the Bible. They are so sure that they are right; it is difficult to even talk to them or reason with them. They know they are right, because they read it in the Bible.
The Pharisees read their answer right out of the Bible. Deuteronomy 24 is the Scripture they used to defend their beliefs. It says, “When a man takes a wife and marries her, and it happens that she does not find favor in his eyes because he has found some uncleanness in her . . . .” Verse 1. What has he found in her? The Hebrew word is `ervah. The translators have had great difficulty trying to decipher the meaning of this word.
The linguists have given us five different possibilities for translation of the word, ‘ervah. Following are the various definitions of this Hebrew word from those who specialize in the study of languages:
- a situation or condition of nakedness;
- the pudenda—the secret parts or the sexual parts of a person, especially when naked;
- something that is shameful or something that is filthy;
- any physical defect; or
- ignominy or something that is dishonorable.
The Pharisees knew this word, and they argued about its meaning. Some of the rabbis held the position that if, after his marriage, a man found any defect in the woman whom he married—anything in her body, anything physically that he thought was defective, anything that he did not like—he could divorce her. In this case, the man was able to write a bill of divorcement, put it in his wife’s hand, and send her out of his house. This was the position of many of the Pharisees, based on their understanding of this word, ‘ervah.
The Pharisees were involved in endless arguments over this condition. There were some Pharisees who said, “No, this is an extreme position. You are making this text say something very extreme. It does not mean that just because the person does something you do not like, you can get rid of them.” But other Pharisees said, “Oh, no, this is what the word means. It means you can divorce the woman for anything you find to be defective.” They were involved in endless controversy over this.
Perfect Test Question
Of course, this was a perfect test question to present to Jesus. Either way He answered would involve Him in instant controversy with the opposition, because there were two sides to this issue, as there are in most controversies, and there were a number of opinions in between, as there are in most controversies. The Pharisees thought that they would instantly entangle Jesus in their religious controversies, because they thought in black and white. “Lord, which is it? Is it this way, or is it that way? Is it black, or is it white? Which is it?”
“In answering, Jesus said, ‘Have you not read that the One who created them from the beginning made them male and female,’ and, He said, ‘For this cause a man shall leave his father and his mother and shall cleave to his wife, and they shall be the two unto one flesh’? So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore, what God has yoked [or joined] together, let not man separate.” Matthew 19:4–6. This, friends, is a clear, simple, unequivocal explanation of the question.
What is the answer to their question? Can a man divorce his wife for any cause? Jesus answered the question with more than, “No.” A man is not to divorce his wife, period. Is that what you see in Jesus’ response? Is there an exception? Yes, there is an exception. The one exception is if she commits adultery against her husband. But the rule given is not to divorce at all.
The Pharisees thought for certain that Jesus was a false teacher, because He was contradicting what Moses wrote in Deuteronomy 24:1. They thought they had Him! They could show to all the people that Jesus did not agree with Moses, and everyone knew that Moses was from God. They thought they had Him, and they were going to pin Him to the wall! They were going to quote the Scripture to prove that He was wrong.
Continuing in Matthew 19:7, the Pharisees said to Jesus, “Why, therefore, did Moses give commandment to give a writing of divorcement and to put her away?” Notice Jesus’ answer to them: “Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not like this. And I say to you that whoever shall divorce his wife, except for the cause of fornication, and shall marry another, commits adultery.” Verses 8, 9.
Jesus is here teaching that some things are in the Bible because of the hardness of hearts. God allows us to do some things, not because it is His will, but because of the hardness of our hearts. If we really want to find the answer to what God’s plan is for our lives, we need to go back to the beginning of this world when God revealed His plan for humanity.
In the Beginning
Let us review a few of the things that happened at the beginning. Later, we will look at a few more things from the Book of Genesis. By way of introduction, think about these few facts.
In our world today, people are so confused that in Protestant churches there are those who cannot decide whether or not there should be clergy who are homosexuals. Now, think this through. When we look back to the beginning, how many people did God create? He created two, a man and a woman. He did not create two men, nor did He create two women, so there was no provision made at the beginning for homosexuality. (See Genesis 1:27; 2:20–22.) By looking back to the beginning, we can reason out what God’s will is and what His plan is. He did not make two men; He did not make two women; He did not provide for homosexuality.
Not only that, but as a result of sin, there have been men who have had more than one wife. We call that polygamy. There have also been, even in America, women who have had more than one husband. We call that polyandry. Did God make provision for either polygamy or polyandry when He created the world? God did not make two wives for Adam—or three or four or six; He made just one.
It is not essential to have all of the rest of the Bible to figure out what God’s plan is. God made for Adam one wife. Did God provide for divorce at the beginning? Did the Lord say, “Well, Adam is going to get tired of this one wife after a few hundred years, so We need to create two or three?” No, He made no provision for divorce. God created for Adam only one wife. He created for Eve only one husband. He made no provision for polygamy, polyandry, homosexuality, or divorce at the creation of the world. Those were not part of the divine plan.
Jesus reminded the Pharisees, “If you want to find out what God’s will is, you have to go back to the beginning. Moses allowed you to do some things that were wrong because of the hardness of your hearts.”
Ezekiel 20:25 records the words God spoke: “Also I gave to them statutes that were not good, and judgments where they should not live in them.” Why? Jesus explained that it was because of the hardness of their hearts. You see, there are a lot of things recorded in the Bible which men did that were not right. Even godly men made mistakes and did things that were not right.
How can you find out what is right? You look first of all, Jesus said, at the beginning. What was God’s plan, which He revealed in the beginning? This is one escape for us, one way to keep away from this black and white thinking which is so common in our society and among Christians today. One way to escape is to go back to the beginning and say, “How did God plan for me to live my life? When He created the world, what did He reveal as His plan?”
Steps to Life is currently recording a series of studies on the subject of health for its television broadcast. In this series, I have returned, over and over again, to the theme of God’s original plan. When you are trying to figure out how God wants you to live, so you will have good health, the quickest way to find out is to go back to the beginning of the world and study how God planned then for man and woman to live.
Have you ever heard someone say, “God wanted us to eat meat; that is why he created cattle”? Oh, really? Do you know that, in the very first chapter of the Bible, God considered your diet important enough to put down what He wanted the human race to eat? In Genesis 1:29, God specified this diet in detail. The fact that, later, people ate all other kinds of things does not change what Genesis 1:29 says, and it does not change what the ideal diet is. Just so no one will be confused, we need to be sure to include the fact that, after sin entered the world, God did change man’s diet.
I have studied nutrition, and there are many things that are of great interest to me regarding the diet God gave to Adam and Eve. One of the things I have learned is that the first diet in Eden was a very low sodium diet. After sin entered, God added foods to their diet whereby they would get more salt, because they were going to have to earn their bread by the sweat of their face. (Genesis 3:19.)
If you want to understand what God’s original plan was for exercise, for diet, for health, for living, for social structure, and for family structure, it is all right there in the first few chapters of the Bible. Those chapters are loaded with information that we need to study on how to live.
Another lesson from God’s plan, when studying the Garden of Eden, is where God placed the man and the woman. Did He place them inside a building, or did He place them outside a building? He placed them outside. We should learn from that! One of the biggest causes of all kinds of health problems we have today is that we are so much indoors; we are rarely outdoors. Even invalids in wheelchairs should be taken outside for a brief period of time each day.
In lands where women have been taught the custom of purdah—the wearing of the berka robe, hood, and veil common in Muslim countries, whereby the body is covered except for a slit for the eyes—those women suffer terrible health problems, especially during childbirth, as a result of maldevelopment of their skeletons. Their bodies were never exposed to the sunlight all the time they were growing and maturing. As a result, they have terrible, terrible problems.
We need to study the original condition in which God placed man and woman, and we need to learn from it. In fact, Ellen White instructed men and women to, “Get outside; get outdoors every day.” (See Medical Ministry, 225, 232.)
There are a lot of things that we can learn from going back to the beginning. This is how Jesus directed the people who asked, “Can we divorce our wives for any cause?” He said, “Go back to the beginning.” God made no provision for Adam to divorce his wife. He made no provision for polygamy, polyandry, homosexuality, or any of those things. Jesus said, “If you want to find out what God’s plan is, go back to the beginning.” Going back to the beginning can save us from a lot of black and white thinking.
By What Authority
The cleansing of the temple is described in Matthew 21:12–17. After the temple was cleansed, verse 23 says, “And He, coming into the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to Him as He was teaching, saying, ‘By what authority do You do these things, and who gave You this authority?’ ” They wanted to know what He was doing, chasing people out of the temple. They wanted Him to prove that He had lawful authority to do this.
This was a question that caused endless dispute then and, for some interesting reason, is causing endless dispute today. People frequently want to know, “Do you have a right to preach?” As you are no doubt aware, there are many Seventh-day Adventist churches in which I cannot preach, because I do not have any right, authority, or invitation to preach in them. Of course, I am not forcing myself into places where I am not invited.
Jesus was in a very similar dilemma. He had been shut out of the synagogue. In fact, the leadership had already decided that if anyone chose to follow Him, they would be disfellowshipped from the Jewish commonwealth or synagogue. It is very clear in the Gospel of John that they had made this decision a few months before this event. They hoped that they would be able to prove that Jesus had no authority to do what He was doing; therefore, He was a false teacher. They were going to discredit Him among the people.
The same thing happens today. People come to us at Steps to Life, saying, “What authority do you have to do what you are doing? You do not have any authority to build a church. You do not have any authority to organize a church. You do not have any authority to ordain a deacon or an elder or a minister. You do not have any authority to baptize.” All of those questions and statements are based on the same kind of thinking.
Look at Jesus’ answer. When, as a teenager, I first studied this text, I thought Jesus was playing a trick on them. But as I studied more, I found He was not playing a trick at all. He was giving them a very straightforward answer to their question, and there, actually, was nothing tricky about it.
In verses 24–27, we read what was happening and what Jesus was doing. It says, “And Jesus, answering, said to them, ‘I will ask you also one thing, which if you tell Me, I also will tell you by what authority I do these things. The baptism of John, whence was it? Was it of heaven or of men?’ They reasoned with themselves saying, If we shall say, ‘Of heaven,’ He will say to us, ‘Why, therefore, did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘Of men,’ we fear the multitude, for they all hold John as a prophet. And answering Jesus they said, ‘We do not know.’ He said to them also, ‘Neither do I tell you by what authority I do these things.’ ”
Providence of God
What was Jesus doing? He was taking them back in the providence of God. Do you believe the providence of God has worked in the second advent movement? Do you believe the providence of God has worked in your church? Do you believe that the providence of God has worked in your family? Do you believe that the providence of God has worked in your life? Can you look back and see that God has led you? I hope you can.
If you cannot look back and see that God has been leading in your life, you had better surrender your life to Him right now. Pray, “Lord, I want you to lead and guide and direct me on a plain path, so I can see that You are directing the way I should go.” This is what God wants to do for you. He wants to lead you on a path that is plain enough for you to see that He is guiding and directing you. When you look back, if you have surrendered your life to Him every day, you should be able to see that God has been directing and guiding in your life. You should be able to see that God has been leading and guiding and directing in what has been happening in the second advent movement.
So Jesus took them back a few years in the providence of God.
I developed a sermon, about 15 years ago, based on this passage of Scripture, entitled, “Has God Authorized Self-supporting Work?” Has God authorized people who are working for Him but who are not working with the organized conference? Some people cannot understand that. The way to figure it out is to go back in the providence of God and see how God has been leading in the second advent movement. Has God directed that this should happen or not?
Jesus took them back in the providence of God to the baptism of John the Baptist. He said, “John the Baptist was baptizing thousands of people in the Jordan River.” “They came,” it says in Matthew 3:5, “from Jerusalem, and they came from beyond the Jordan”—that is, on the east side where the two and one-half tribes settled—and were baptized by John the Baptist. So, Jesus said to them, “John the Baptist was baptizing these people. Was God leading in this or was it just the leadership of men?”
Think through the answer for a moment. If you believe that the ministry and the baptism of John the Baptist was merely human, that God was not leading, would you believe that Jesus was the Messiah? Absolutely not! But if you believe the ministry and the baptism of John the Baptist was something inspired of heaven, would you believe that Jesus was the Messiah? Yes, you would, because John the Baptist testified publicly that he was. He said, “I have seen the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on this Person. I did not know Him, but the One that sent me to baptize, He told me, ‘Upon whom you see the Spirit of God descending, and remaining upon Him, that is the One that baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and I am bearing testimony that this is the Son of God.” John 1:32–34.
So, if you believe that the baptism of John the Baptist was inspired by heaven, what would you believe about Jesus? You would believe that He was the Son of God, and that was the authority by which He was doing these things. The evidence was overwhelming, even to these people.
The whole multitude believed that John the Baptist was a prophet. They could not deny it, but they did not like John the Baptist, because he was an independent worker. He was not under their authority. He was not credentialed by them. He was not educated by them. He did not have permission from them, so they did not like him.
They could not deny the work of John the Baptist, but they did not want to acknowledge it either, so they said, “We cannot tell.” Jesus said, “Then I do not tell you either by what authority I do these things, if you do not know.” That is the answer we have to give to some people too.
To be continued . . .
[Bible texts quoted are literal translation.]
Pastor John Grosboll is Director of Steps to Life and pastors the Prairie Meadows Church in Wichita, Kansas. He may be contacted by e-mail at: email@example.com, or by telephone at: 316-788-5559.