Posted by: mattcolvin | August 21, 2014

Retraction on “Quiverfull”

On April 29, 2008, I wrote this retraction on my old Upsaid blog Fragmenta. It was deleted along with the rest of the blog when Upsaid abruptly disappeared. I dug this entry up via Wayback Machine. Since some have been asking for it, I am reposting it here.

The older I get, the less I know.

When Sora and I were first married, we espoused a “Quiverfull” position. This was partly because I had grown up in a church with several large families that I admired; partly because Sora had come to Christianity through the influence of Christian women who were reacting against feminism and everything else. Steve Schlissel’s position on the matter was also an influence.

We talked a pretty hard line against contraception. We were young and arrogant and thought we had all the answers. And of course, I enjoy a good argument, so I didn’t hesitate to stake out the extreme ground and defend it online. I argued with Jon Barlow and Joel Garver. Barlow’s argument was the closest to persuading me out of my position, as he fisked our “QuiverFAQ” and urged that Sora and I were “making the blessing of children into a good unlike any other good.” At the time, I didn’t let on that Barlow had made any dent. But I’m sure that that exchange, and others like it, contributed to my change of mind like water wearing away a rock.

I still respect the Quiverfull position, and am, ironically, grateful that we held it for 8 years, since we got a bunch of lovely children out of it. I have tremendous respect for Steve Schlissel and Valerie Jacobsen and the numerous families we know who are doing a wonderful job with more children than we have. But several considerations have made us change our minds on the issue.

David Daube’s analysis of the issue in his article “The Duty of Procreation” (CWDD 3, p. 951-969 is persuasive to me. His main point is that Onan is not the rule:

[The story] brings out an exceptional situation where you must do your best to produce offspring… To infer from this a basic obligation to procreate is fallacious. Had Onan begotten a child for the deceased and then practiced coitus interruptus, with the widow and ten more women, forgoing the perpetuation of his own name, he would have incurred no reproach. There is nothing strange in this. It is in the very nature of a boon that, while as far as your own person is concerned, you are free to take it or leave it, you must not withhold it from others. a sufficiency of food or a donkey in good shape is a pleasant thing to have. Yet there is no injunction in the Bible against starving myself should I be so minded or against saying good riddance if my own ass break down; indeed I may shoot it even when it is in perfect condition and sell its hide or make a bonfire with it. But – note the analogy to Onan’s case – Biblical law does call on me to allow a corner of my field to be harvested by the poor and to help up another man’s ass that has fallen.

I have also lost a lot of confidence in one of my main arguments: namely, that the church taught against contraception for 1900 years. I’ve come to believe that the church is fully capable of making colossal errors of interpretation, and then hanging onto them for centuries. So I’m now more willing to entertain the idea that Jim Jordan might be right on this issue.

A third factor was Grandpa Mickey, who ever so gently pointed out that the more kids we have, the less time we have with any of them. This rankled like a burr under the saddle, and didn’t seem very persuasive when we only had four. And we answered it by saying that time spent with siblings is a good of which children have more when they’re in a full quiver. But now we have six, and while we’re delighted with all of them, we are feeling the time crunch and recognizing that the maintenance and opportunity costs of many more children will preclude a lot of things we also want to do.

It also seems to me that there are some people who have vocations, even within marriage, that require them to forgo more children. For many years, I was not able to imagine any such vocation, but my imagination has improved with time.

Some parents are uniquely gifted to do a really good job with a large number of children. Our assumption when we only had 2 or 3 or 4 was that if God was willing to keep giving children to a given set of parents, and those parents weren’t doing a very good job of parenting them, then it was ipso facto a result of the sinfulness of those parents: impatience, selfishness, materialism, etc. It was easy to say that they should just get their act together, stop sinning, and keep having kids. But some men are better builders than others, and the Bible says we are to evaluate our resources and act wisely. Saying “just stop being selfish” is not a solution to the problem.

We still think children are a blessing. We still think that the modern birth control mindset should not be the default modus operandi. But we’re no longer willing to say that everyone who uses birth control is sinning.

I am grieved that I was wise in my own eyes, and rejected the counsel of older and more prudent men in the faith. (Doug Wilson’s position comes to mind.) I am sorry that I accused faithful brothers and sisters of sin without Biblical grounds. And I am especially sorry that I bound heavy burdens for other families. I ask your forgiveness.

Posted by: mattcolvin | August 21, 2014

David and Jonathan’s Arrow Code

OK, exegetes, disciples of James Jordan, and Bible scholars. I have a question. It’s about the story of David and Jonathan in 1 Samuel 20. Why is it that Jonathan resorts to this elaborate code-acting, shooting arrows and telling his lad “Look, the arrows are beyond you!” while David hides… and then Jonathan and David come out and talk face to face without any concealment or coded actions? I could understand the arrow-code without the subsequent conversation. But as it is, it makes no sense to me.

The whole point of the coded action, with its two pre-arranged alternatives, is for Jonathan to communicate clearly to David while seeming, to any other observer, to be speaking only to his servant lad. Then to openly meet with David in the same field seems to throw away all advantage gained by this device.

Google book search turned up nothing terribly enlightening. Robert Polzin, in Samuel and the Deuteronomist, p. 189, says that “In the coded message of the arrows, the only matter that David did not already know is that now, finally, Jonathan is no longer ignorant of affairs.” True enough, but no help to my puzzlement.

David Daube has nothing on the topic, even though it’s precisely the sort of puzzle he likes to solve. Anyone got a commentary that addresses it?
My father suggested, in a comment on this post on August 9, 2006:

One commentator has suggested that Jonathan, after the angry confrontation with his father the king, suspected that even his own servant might be spying on him. Once the servant left the field, he was no longer worried about being spied on. I suppose the implication was that Jonathan and David devised a coded method of communication, in case there was no opportunity to talk out of others’ earshot; in the event, such an opportunity did arise, but only after they had already used their code.

Still not sure about this one.

Posted by: mattcolvin | August 21, 2014

Brothers Serve for Nought

We’re reading Genesis in family worship right now [note: Oct. 6, 2006], so I was especially excited to have my understanding of Gen. 29:15 corrected and expanded by Daube:

“Laban receives Jacob with the words “Surely thou art my bone and flesh,” a recognition of ties in kinship. Upon this, Jacob “dwelt with him for a month.” “To dwell together,” yashabh yachadh, technical of the remaining together of coheirs as a united family; “to dwell with somebody,” yashabh ‘im, presumably implies a measure of inequality — Jacob is a full member of the family, but Laban is still its head. At the end of the month, however, something curious happens. Laban makes a declaration commonly translated thus: “Because thou art my brother, shouldest thou therefore serve me for nought?” But this rendering is objectionable both from the philological point of view and considering the character of Laban, anything but openhanded. The correct rendering is: “Art thou my brother, and shouldest thou serve me for nought?”, meaning, “Thou art not my brother and shouldest therefore not serve me for nought.” Laban, that is, repudiates the relationship; and Jacob, instead of serving for nothing as any junior member of a family has to, undertakes service for a reward — degraded. (Of service within a family, the parable of the prodigal son offers an illustration, the elder son saying to his father: “Lo, these many years do I serve thee.”)…

“The similarity to the exodus story is striking: the Israelites for a while resided in Egypt as welcome guests, to be subjugated by an arbitrary decision of their hosts. Later on, it is the hostility of Laban and his sons, caused by the uncanny increase in Jacob’s wealth despite all their precautions, which brings about the ultimate crisis: just as the Egyptians cannot stop their slaves from multiplying and only lose them by their excessive harshness…”

- D. Daube, “The Exodus Pattern in the Bible”, in C. Carmichael, ed. Biblical Law and Literature, Berkeley, 2003

Daube goes on to point out many further similarities, but that’s enough for a teaser.

Posted by: mattcolvin | August 21, 2014

Purify Yourself From…?

Genesis 35:2:

Jacob told his household and all who were with him, “Get rid of the foreign gods you have among you. Purify yourselves and change your clothes.”

Who among his household was known to have foreign gods? And how did she keep from being found out with them when her father came looking?

Victor Hamilton (New International Commentary on the Old Testament, Genesis, vol. 2, p. 375) notes that “The verb used for the gods’ burial… is taman (see Exod. 2:12), rather than the more common qabar. This verb choice may have no special significance…” He then suggests tentatively that “Job 3:16 uses the root to refer to a miscarriage, literally, “a hidden abortion” (nepel tamun); perhaps some such connotation is present here?”

The connection between menstrual blood and idolatry — either using the former as a metaphor for the pollution of the latter, or else mentioning both in close connection — continues in the rest of the OT (Isaiah 30:22, 64:6, Ezekiel 18:6, 36:17, etc.). But whether it is really present in Gen. 35:2, I leave an open question.

(Originally posted on my old Fragmenta blog, Oct 7, 2006.)

Posted by: mattcolvin | August 18, 2014

On Jephthah’s Daughter


Above: Pietro Vecchia, Sacrifice of Jephthah’s Daughter (c. 1650-1660)

Some friends of mine have been discussing Jephthah’s daughter. I regret that I have loaned out my copy of Jon Levenson’s masterful Death and Resurrection of the Beloved Son: The Transformation of Child Sacrifice in Judaism and Christianity. I will consult it next month when I get it back next month. In the meantime, here are some thoughts:

Judges 11:31 says that Jephthah promised to “cause to ascend” (העליתהו) as “an ascension”  (עולה) “the comer-forth that came forth from the doors of his house.” Some people, hoping to avoid finding a human sacrifice in the passage, say that this means only that she “went up” to the tabernacle to be a perpetual servant of YHWH there. But this is fanciful. We may ask, is the installation of any other perpetual tabernacle-servants of YHWH described in such words? The Gibeonites in Joshua 10, perhaps? Samuel in 1 Samuel 1? The answer is, no, they are not. Hannah merely “brings” or “causes Samuel to go” (והבאתיו). While it is true that we have a hiphil ותעלהו in 1:24, it is not accompanied by the cognate noun עולה, and thus it is unlikely to differ from the use of the same verb when it is used (in the qal) of the entire family of Elkanah, including, of course, those who do not remain perpetually at the tabernacle. It thus denotes only the pilgramage for the purpose of worship; after the young Samuel has made this journey, his mother still has to “bring him” into the tabernacle and “loan him” to YHWH in fulfillment of her vow.

The Gibeonites likewise are not spoken of in terms appropriate for a sacrifice. Joshua 9:27 says that Joshua “gave” or “appointed” them (ויתנם) as woodcutters and water-drawers for the tabernacle. Thus, we have some Hebrew idioms for expressing the act of conveying someone into perpetual service to YHWH, and these idioms are not at work in Judges 11, which instead uses the apparently sacrificial העליתהו with the cognate direct object עולה.

Is there any parallel to this construction? Why, yes there is. It is Genesis 22:2: “Take now your only son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and cause him to ascend (והעלהו) there as an ascension (לעלה).” Exactly the same construction. Shall we now be told that there was an otherwise unknown shrine to YHWH where Isaac was to be enrolled? Or is the mention of the knife and the command of the angel sufficient to compel us to the conclusion that this is the language of actual sacrifice?

But was Jephthah a righteous man or not? Surely he knew the commandment of God against human sacrifice, didn’t he? How then could he be so wicked? Once again, theology without philology drives exegetes to wrong conclusions: in this case, the assumption that such a sacrifice would certainly have violated the Law. Here’s a helpful comment from Lauren Monroe:

“The term עולה never occurs in biblical prohibitions against child sacrifice (e.g. Lev. 18:21, Lev. 20:2-5, Deut. 12:31; 18:17; 2 Kgs 23:10), setting the practice represented in the narrative texts of Genesis 22; Judges 11; and 2 Kings 3 apart from the legal prohibitions. Many interpreters take the tension between Jephthah’s actions and the legal prohibitions as evidence that he acts in violation of biblical law, but this assumes that the type of sacrifice Jephthah makes is the same as that prohibited in the legal texts. Given YHWH’s willingness to accept Jephthah’s offering, and that the offering of an heir as an עולה specifically is attested elsewhere in the Bible, I would suggest that although certain types of child sacrifice were widely rejected by the biblical authors, namely, MLK offerings and other sacrifices made at the Tophet in the Hinnom Valley, under the right circumstances a human עולה constituted a viable sacrifice…

“Many have noted parallels between this text [sc. Judges 11] and the story of the binding of Isaac… Among these are the identification of Jephthah’s daughter as his only child (יהידה היא) [This is a powerful, perhaps even conclusive point, when seen in the light of the evidence which Levenson adduces in the case of other child sacrifices in Scripture and elsewhere. - MC], her reference to her father as אבי, “my father,” and her resignation to her fate. By modeling her on Isaac, who is remembered in postbiblical Judaism as the quintessential martyr, the biblical authors redeem Bat-Jephthah’s death.” (- Lauren A.S. Monroe, “Disembodied Women: Sacrificial Language and the Deaths of Bat-Jephthah, Cozbi, and the Bethlehemite Concubine”)

A desperate alternative has been urged by some: it is alleged that Jephthah’s daughter was devoted to a life of perpetual virginity. Rabbi Moshe Reiss has some choice words for this idea:

“In the Middle Ages, many highly respected Jewish commentators were unwilling to tolerate the concept of a human sacrifice in the holy Scripture and they struggled to find an acceptable alternative. Many accepted a refashioning and re-sculpting of the text to conclude that Jephthah in fact consecrated his daughter as a perpetual virgin and anchorite rather than take her life as a sacrifice. This was considered a preferable alternative, despite the fact that this ideal of perpetual virginity and asceticism had never previously appeared in Jewish texts and in fact lay outside the Jewish belief system and cultural milieu.”

R. Reiss goes on to note that the “vow of perpetual virginity” interpretation was put forward by Abraham Ibn Ezra (1089-1184), David Kimche (1160-1235), and Gersonides (1288-1344). He notes that “the period 1080-1170 was the time of greatest growth of monastic life for women in Spain, England, France and Italy” and suggests that “The cultural adoption of a Christian idea by these Medieval-Renaissance Jewish commentators is remarkable. All were and remain leading exegetes.  To extol a celibate woman appears nowhere in the Tanakh… Given that these Jewish commentators lived in areas where women’s  convents were established, it is difficult to believe that they were not influenced by Christian women’s monastic ideals.

Posted by: mattcolvin | August 5, 2014

John Adams, Latin, and Ditches

“As a boy, John Adams found the study of Latin to be boring and grew to hate it. He went to his father to see if there was not something else he could do instead. Deacon John, who had been a laborer, told his son, ‘You might try ditching; my meadow yonder needs a ditch.’ So young John went about the task of digging the ditch and soon found it to be arduous work. By the end of the day, he was ready to return to the study of Latin; but being too proud to admit it, he spent one more day in digging the ditch before admitting he preferred the study of Latin. Adams said ‘toil conquered my pride’ and ever after claimed ‘ditching’ had played an important part in building his character.” – Paul Boller, Presidential Anecdotes.

Posted by: mattcolvin | July 1, 2014

Cranmer on Local Presence

(From A Defense of the True and Catholic Doctrine of the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of our Saviour Christ, Book III, CHAP. II: The difference between the true and the papistical doctrine concerning the presence of Christ’s body)

And although we do affirm according to God’s word, that Christ is in all persons that truly believe in him, in such sort, that with his flesh and blood he doth spiritually nourish them and feed them, and giveth them everlasting life, and doth assure them thereof, as well by the promise of his word, as by the sacramental bread and wine in his holy Supper, which he did institute for the same purpose, yet we do not a little vary from the heinous errors of the papists.
The first comparison
For they teach, that Christ is in the bread and wine 1: but we say, according to the truth, that he is in them that worthily eat and drink the bread and wine.

1 Id est, sub speciebus panis et vini.

Cf. The REC’s Declaration of Principles, which denies “Fourth, That the Presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper is a presence in the elements of Bread and Wine.”

Posted by: mattcolvin | July 1, 2014

Cranmer on Confirmation

From The Remains of Thomas Cranmer, vol. 2

[Some Queries and Answers concerning Confirmation]

1. Whether confirmation be institute by Christ? (Cotton lib.)
Responsio. (Cleop. E. v. fol. 83.) There is no place in Scripture that declareth this sacrament to be institute of Christ.
First, for the places alleged for the same be no institutions, but acts and deeds of the apostles.
Second, those acts were done by a special gift given to the apostles for the confirmation of God’s word at that time.
Third, the said special gift doth not now remain with the successors of the apostles.
2. What is the external sign?
The church useth chrisma for the exterior sign, but the Scripture maketh no mention thereof.
3. What is the efficacy of this sacrament?
The bishop in the name of the church doth invocate the Holy Ghost to give strength and constancy, with other spiritual gifts, unto the person confirmed: so that the efficacy of this sacrament is of such value, as is the prayer of the bishop made in the name of the church.
Hæc respondeo, salvo semper eruditiorum et ecclesiæ orthodoxæ judicio.

Posted by: mattcolvin | June 20, 2014

Perriman on the Problem with a Particular Parousia

I am on an Andrew Perriman kick, having finished his book on Romans, The Future of the People of God, and more recently having devoured his book on women in the church, Speaking of Women: Interpreting Paul. The latter is the best book I have read on women’s ordination from either perspective, pro or con. Perriman defends the practice; I still reject it. Nonetheless, I found his exegesis impressively careful, responsible, honest, accurate, and helpful. I hope that Bp. Hicks and the ACNA committee on Holy Orders will study the book. I will write a review of Speaking of Women later.

I have just started a third Perriman book, The Coming of the Son of Man, subtitled “New Testament Eschatology for an Emerging Church”. I am not now, nor have I ever been, one to call myself “emergent”, and I see little in Perriman’s work that strikes me as squishy or radically heterodox in the way that the “emergent church” movement is usually characterized (think Brian McLaren). I found his work on Romans highly stimulating, and I am enjoying his take on eschatology so far. Here’s a choice quotation:

“[Jesus warns] against being misled by false declarations about the presence of the Messiah (Mark 13:21-23; Matt. 24:23-26; cf. Luke 17:23). The fear, quite clearly, is that in a time of great suffering and confusion his followers might easily be persuaded to run after any prophet or demagogue brandishing the hope of salvation or escape. The fear was not unfounded. Both Menahem, son of Judas of Galilee, and Simon Bar-Giora presented themselves in Jerusalem during the course of the war as Israel’s rightful king (J.W. w.17.8 §433-438; 4.9.3-8 §503-544)…

“What should alert the disciples most clearly to the spuriousness of such claims is the knowledge that the Christ, when he comes, will not be found in any particular location, whether out in the wilderness or in a private room. The parousia of the Son of Man, Jesus tells them, will not be spatially restricted in this way – as the presence of an individual in some place or other – but will be like lightning, which illuminates the whole sky (Matt. 24:27; Luke 17:24). This powerful image has usually been understood to describe the effulgence of Christ’s bodily coming at the end of the age. The contrast, however, is not with the ordinariness of these imposters – after all, they will “perform great signs and wonders” – but with the false announcements about a concrete, localized and embodied mode of being. A more careful reading of the simile suggests that it signifies the immaterial and universal nature of Christ’s presence. The significance of the lightning is not so much that it is bright – though that is certainly a connotation – but that it “comes from the east and shines as far as the west.

“A similar contrast is made at the beginning of Luke’s displaced apocalyptic discourse: the kingdom of God is said not to be a matter of physical observation, but is “in the midst of you” (Luke 17:21). Jesus tells his disciples that they will long to see “one of the days of the Son of Man.” But he will not be present in such a way that people will be able to point him out: “‘Look, there!’ or ‘Look, here'” (17:23). “For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be [in his day]” (17:24). What the form of the simile emphasizes is not the particular point at which the bold travels from heaven to earth, the place of a physical descent, but the illumination of the whole sky. Again, it is the extent of the presence of the Son of Man that is at issue here. Jesus’ argument directs the disciples’ imagining away from the idea of a localized and material manifestation of the Son of Man to something global and intangible.”


Posted by: mattcolvin | April 19, 2014

First Time Reading the Saga of the Volsungs

Tonight I started reading the Saga of the Volsungs aloud to Ezekiel and Sora. It is my first time reading this classic. I cannot believe I have never experienced it before now. This is powerful myth, and Jesse Byock’s understated prose translationn is a great way of drinking that myth straight: there are no frills to get in the way; the stories strike the audience more forcefully in this naked state. I can see why C.S. Lewis became addicted to them.

We’re only 1/3 of the way through, but already there are some unforgettable images: the Volsung brothers being eaten by the she-wolf night after night; Sigmund escaping the same fate when Signy coats his face with honey and he bites the wolf’s tongue off; the sword that Odin(?) puts in the tree Barnstock, which only Sigmund can remove — an episode that combines elements of the Arthurian Excalibur story with Homer’s contest to string the bow of Odysseus.

The character of Signy is awe-inspiring. She is like Jocasta, Medea, Rizpah, Antigone, Electra, Maeve, and Dierdre all rolled into one. Her life was absolutely hellish, and she must have been a woman of iron to tame the inner demons that came with all the traumatic and terrible things she both saw and committed: witnessing her father’s murder by her husband, her brothers’ deaths by the she-wolf, being wife to the murderer for long years, cold-heartedly killing her sons by that husband, committing incest with her one surviving brother and giving birth to a son trained to take vengeance on his unwitting stepfather. But all the emotional anguish of such a life is only implied, not described, by the Saga. All it tells is the events. Truly Signy’s death — walking of her own will into the burning house of her hated husband — is worthy of her.

I can’t wait to read the rest.


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