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Jesus, Paul, Sex and Family Values

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First and foremost Jesus was a Messiah, an apocalyptic Jew, a king to be -- like Caesar. As one Gospel tells us, a Man who "brought a sword, not to unite, but to divide brother with brother." His words reflect this battle and God's reign, and like the Apostle Paul, he saw the world as rushing toward this end.

Jesus, in light of this looming heavenly clash, warned that it was better for a woman not to be pregnant for in those "last days" she would have a more difficult time to escape the war and violence. He cautioned a man desiring to honor his father with a burial to "let the dead bury the dead."

As for his family -- his brothers James, John and the others -- they thought him a bit crazy. Jesus publicly ignored their blood relationship by claiming that "he had no family" and that his "brothers and sisters were only those who believed in him." Not exactly the nuclear ideal.

His views continued with his first Apostles in Jerusalem who formed a commune, giving away their riches to help the poor. Being "poor" also meant strict Temple devotion awaiting the Messiah's return. Marriage, procreation and the ongoing pleasures of life were not the focus.

After the religious zealot Paul had his Damascus experience, he too expanded on the apocalyptic program. He believed that God's count down had begun for that final day when men and women would not be concerned about marriage and children, or even sex, for the end was near.

In fact, in the case of his Letter to the Corinthians, Paul must restrain a group of people having unbridled sex, in light of the fact that the end was coming, even to the point of one man sleeping with his step-mother! Marriage was only a temporary remedy to prevent "end time" lust.

So, in light of these persistent facts, how has Christianity come to be understood as the harbinger of traditional family values? Why do political parties or religious groups, still invoke Jesus as leader of these traditional ideas, when He, Paul and the other apostles never embraced them?

To begin to understand, we must first crack open our monolithic ideas of the "canon" of Scripture, as "one" revelation, in "one" book, with "one" purpose. Catholic New Testament scholar Raymond Brown wrote, "we will never know all the details of how the twenty seven books were written, preserved, selected, and collected."

A canon of books that were fashioned with various political and theological agendas over the centuries, and with a cultural and geographical makeover from East to West witnessed in Paul's letters and beyond; in other words, a change from Judean cult to Roman religion.

By the second generation -- without the return of Christ -- a church had been born. Thanks to Paul's followers, like Timothy and Titus (Gentile converts) the church found its new home in the honor system embodied in the Roman Patriarchal family (paterfamilias) as expressed in their pastoral letters.

And though Jesus had fellowshipped with women and appeared to them at his resurrection, and Paul had used the homes of business and political women of his day, like Lydia and Phoebe, and worked with Prisca as partners, now elders, preachers and teachers had to be men.

God had forbidden women the same duties once the mission shifted from a cataclysmic redemption to a proper life through Roman civic order. Augustus, dating back to 31 B.C.E., won his rule with a mandate to reverse the moral decline of the past century, passing reforms directed at the restoration of "family values."

Professor of New Testament, David Balch, quoting ancient sources, writes, "Greco-Roman handbooks were written by doctors to advise on sexual intercourse and childbearing," "warning that an excess of sexual activity, produces physical and spiritual weaknesses."

Augustus made adultery a crime and forced Romans to marry and have a certain number of children, by establishing financial penalties for failure to do so. In short, the Latin authors were warning of the breakdown of the "traditional" "paterfamilias" in which the men held authority over their wife and children.

It is to this world that the failed Messianic movement was invited to move beyond its Jewish roots and become a recognized and functioning Gentile "religion." And it was largely through this new model that public and private (marital) roles were defined, as a new Christianity emerged.

Sudden, apocalyptic time lines were traded for 1,000-year eclesiastical reigns so that the Heavenly Kingdom could become the Kingdom on earth. For this purpose, the church needed sustainable doctrines that could encourage lasting institutions, including the family.

And with this paradigm shift and the subsequent growth of Christianity, there arose the need to secure Christian family legacy in infant baptism, marriage and the other sacraments, as did the mainstream Jewish family through circumcision and the law earlier.

As Theologian Hans Kung reminds us, "paradigm shifts in the religious sphere in particular do not normally take place suddenly," but "need a long time to mature before it establishes itself historically."

We can't say that Jesus or Paul had no interest or even love for traditional family values, but in their "believed" Messianic Age there was simply little to no focus on long-term cultural reform, as demonic forces peered through the Gates at the Temple from which Christ would soon reign.

Understanding the origins of these changes requires us to re-evaluate any ideas of a "one time" divine revelations that leave out the human improvisations and contingencies that recruit God to reinforce a distant or unrelated perspective.

After a 2,000-year-old effort by the church to meld this tumult of views into a one seamless narrative, shaped largely by the Canon, we can conclude that for billions of believers, Jesus (through his surrogate Paul) and Caesar have been a marriage "made in heaven."