Thursday, September 29, 2011

Thoughts on the “Yom” of Creation Part #2

So in my last entry I attempted to demonstrate that the Hebrew word “yom” can quite literally mean a period of time of indeterminate length. Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean that’s how it’s being used in Genesis 1 & 2. To make a determination we need to explore context and see if there are any textual clues.

CLUE #1

Our understanding of a natural day is related to rotation of the earth relative to the position of the sun. Put more observationally, a natural cycle of day and night is related to the apparent movement of the sun. Moses does not specifically mention the sun or the natural cycle of day and night as we understand it until the fourth yom. So whatever the first, second, and third “yom” might be, they are something different than how we would ordinarily define a natural day.

CLUE #2

Moses, in the original Hebrew sets up a stylistic poetic pattern, bookending each yom with “ereb” and “boqer”, usually translated as “evening” and “morning”.  This is not how Hebrews counted 24 hour days. Hebrews viewed a day as being evening to evening. It is also not the common colloquialism for indicating a natural day. Just a few chapters later Moses uses the common colloquialism for a natural day which is to use “yom” and “layil” (day and night, not evening and morning). This certainly isn’t conclusive, by any means, but it appears that Moses is using ereb boqer in an unusual fashion that is different than what we would expect if he meant a 24 hour day. He seems to be using these Hebrew words to indicate that the first six yoms had beginnings and ends. So a reasonable understanding of what is being said in the Hebrew might possibly be, “There was a beginning and an end: a first period”. Why might this unusual syntax be important? See clue #3 for the answer.

CLUE #3

As already stated, Moses’ creation narrative has a poetic rhythm in the Hebrew. Moses sets up this highly repetitive pattern where he again and again says something like, “evening and morning, a first yom, evening and morning a second yom, evening and morning a third yom, evening and morning a fourth yom, evening and morning a fifith yom, evening and morning a sixth yom”.   Then, he suddenly shatters that rhythym with the seventh yom. When faced with pattern and repetition in Hebrew poetry and narrative, interpretively we are always called to ask “why” when a pattern is broken. There is almost always a point to doing so. It is self evident in this passage that God’s work is done and that He is now resting from that work, but did God’s rest have an end like the other yom? The answer from Hebrews chapter 4 is that God is still in that seventh yom rest today and that we are being invited back into His rest through faith in Christ. Those who are in Christ are living in the seventh yom rest today, each and every day. So Moses, appropriately indicates that God’s rest does not end by intentionally failing to bookend it with ereb boqer. He leaves the seventh yom wide open. So not only does it appear that the first, second, and third yom were something other than what we would normally define as natural days, but it seems abundantly clear from Hebrews 4 that for God the seventh yom has lasted from creation until now. However, long that might be, we can at least conclude that the seventh yom is a long period of indeterminate length. So already in chapters 1 and 2 we have at least four uses of the word yom that do not appear to be referring to normal days.

CLUE #4

This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day [yom] that the Lord God made earth and heaven.
Genesis 2:4 (NASB)

This says “in the yom that the Lord God made earth and heaven”. I don’t know of anyone who believes God chose to create everything in one 24 hour period. This is not a question of power. God could create everything in 24 nanoseconds if He wanted to. That would be no problem for God. The question is, “What did He choose to do?” and nobody believes he chose to create everything in 24 hours and yet this text says, “in the yom that the Lord God made earth and heaven”. So clearly yom means something longer than 24 hours here. At the very, very least, yom is being used to refer to a 144 hour period here. So now we have five examples in the creation narrative where yom refers to something other than what we understand to be the natural definition of a “day”.

CLUE #5

This is the account [toledoth] of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made earth and heaven.
Genesis 2:4 (NASB)

Here is how the very literal NASB translates “toledoth”:

Transliterated Word: toledoth (410a)
Root: from 3205;

Definition: generations:--

List of English Words and Number of Times Used
account (1),
birth (1),
genealogical registration (12),
genealogies (3),
generations (21),
order of their birth (1).

, New American Standard Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, (Anaheim, CA: Foundation Publications, 1998), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, Under: "8435".
  
Here is the definition from a well respected lexicon:

‏תּוֹלֵדוֹת‎ [See Stg: ]
tôlēd̠ôt̠: A feminine noun meaning a generation. This key Hebrew word carries with it the notion of everything entailed in a person's life and that of his or her progeny (Gen. 5:1; 6:9). In the plural, it is used to denote the chronological procession of history as humans shape it. It refers to the successive generations in one family (Gen. 10:32); or a broader division by lineage (Num. 1:20ff.). In Genesis 2:4, the word accounts for the history of the created world.

Warren Baker and Eugene Carpenter, The Complete Word Study Dictionary – Old Testament, (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2003), WORDsearch CROSS e-book.

This is the same word used a few chapters later by Moses in the Genesis genealogies. We’ve already seen that yom is being used here in 2:4 to describe a period of time and it appears that Moses is also saying that this period of time covered something long enough to be described as “generations” so “age” (a literal meaning for the word yom) seems contextually appropriate.So a reasonable understanding of Moses is saying in Genesis 2:4 might be:

“These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the age that the Lord God made earth and heaven.”
Genesis 2:4 (NASB)


In all this I am not suggesting that modern English translators have erred. I would not advocate for altering the English words that most translations use. I think to do so would be to lose some of the beauty, majesty, and imagery of Moses’ poetic narrative. I don’t think we need a “flat” translation to properly interpret as long as we pay attention to the clues Moses gives us as to the meaning he is conveying. I am also not suggesting that what I have outlined here is the only possible explanation. It may not even be the best explanation, but it is entirely orthodox, faithful to the original text, and respectful to the author’s intended meaning.

I’m not at all concerned if anyone is swayed to this way of thinking. That’s simply not important as this is a non-essential. I am only concerned that we understand that we have faithful brothers and sisters who might think differently from us on some non-essentials and yet they are every bit as committed to the Word of God. In fact, it’s just possible that they have spent enormous amounts of time really digging in deep and trying to understand how the original hearers speaking the original language would have understood things. If we can keep this in mind, even if they are wrong, I think we will show much more love and unity in our discourse. Thanks for reading.

Thoughts on the “Yom” of Creation Part #1

In writing this post, I at no time wish to give the impression that the direction I lean on this subject is the only acceptable one.  I’ve changed my mind before and may change it again. Rather, I hope this to be an appeal to extend a great deal of liberty, love, and grace to our brothers and sisters who may differ on non-essential secondary issues. Specifically, I would like to demonstrate that contextually interpreting “yom” (usually translated as "day") in Genesis 1 and 2 may not be so dogmatically one-sided as we may have been led to believe. If this is true, then we should be a bit humble about our particular view and avoid labeling differing views as heretical or based on compromise. There have been scholars throughout history, prior to the advent of modern science, who took differing views on “yom” in Genesis 1 and 2 based solely on the context of this passage. I think that’s okay. I’m going to present one particular literal contextual interpretation because it may be one you haven’t really heard before, but it is orthodox and has a long history in both Jewish and Christian thought. It may or may not be correct, but we should certainly refrain from condemning brothers and sisters who hold it. It’s an entirely possible, and literal, understanding of the actual Hebrew text of Genesis 1 and 2.

MYTH BUSTERS:

MYTH #1

Let’s get this out of the way right away. There is an oft repeated myth in some Christian circles that goes something like, “Yom with an ordinal number always means a 24 hour period”. I find it extremely unfortunate that these kind of things get repeated to the point that they are accepted as fact when there is no basis for it. Here are a few things to keep in mind about this myth:

1. There is absolutely no such rule in Hebrew. There is nothing in the Hebrew language that necessitates such a claim and you can search any Hebrew lexicon in vain for such a rule. It just doesn’t exist.

2. Appealing to something that may seem to usually be the case, does not require that it is always the case. This is just not good logic.

3. Hosea 6:1-2 uses yom with ordinal numbers in a prophetic way that clearly isn’t referring to 24 hour periods so we can see that this is not always the case, even if we look only at the Bible and not at the all other Hebrew literature.


MYTH #2

I’ve heard people insist that the only “literal” way to translate yom into English is as a 24 hour “day” and that all other interpretations are considered to be something less than literal. I don’t understand where this is coming from and why someone would say this, but I assume they are not familiar with some of the basic principles of translation. Here are a couple of things to keep in mind.

1. Nearly all words have a range of meanings. Some have a very large range indeed. One that pops to my mind at this moment is the English word “can”. Look it up in a dictionary and you will see a long list of numbered meanings. All of these meanings are real uses of the word with real distinct definitions. For that matter, even the English word “day” has meanings and uses that are something other than “a 24 hour period” (e.g. “Back in George Washington’s day...”)

2. When translating, you may find a word in the receptor language that has a meaning which is more or less the equivalent of the a word in the host language, but you will almost never find a word in the receptor language that has the exact same range of meanings as a word in the host language. This is why it is said that all translation involves compromise. When we spend a lot of time arguing about the range of literal meanings of an English word in an English translation we are totally missing the point and engaging in a truly useless conversation. The question is not what the English word can literally mean, but what the underlying Hebrew word can literally mean and what is best supported by the context.

3. The NASB is considered to be one of the most conservative, literal English translations of the Bible. Here are just a few of the ways that it LITERALLY translates the word yom (I’ve only included ones that you might be less familiar with):

age (8),
age* (1),
all (1),
always* (14),
amount* (2),
battle (1),
birthday* (1),
Chronicles* (38),
completely* (1),
continually* (14),
course* (1),
each (1),
entire (2),
eternity (1),
ever in your life* (1),
fate (1),
first (5),
forever* (11),
forevermore* (1),
full (5),
full year (1),
future* (1),
holiday* (3),
later* (2),
length (1),
life (12),
life* (1),
lifetime (2),
lifetime* (1),
live (1),
long (2),
long as i live (1),
long* (11),
now (5),
older* (1),
once (2),
period (3),
perpetually* (2),
present (1),
recently (1),
reigns (1),
ripe* (1),
so long* (1),
some time (1),
survived* (2),
time (45),
time* (1),
times* (2),
usual (1),
very old* (1),
when (10),
whenever (1),
while (3),
whole (2),
year (10),
yearly (5),
years (13),

New American Standard Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, (Anaheim, CA: Foundation Publications, 1998), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, Under: "3117".

All of these are literal meanings of “yom” because yom has a very large range of meanings that surpasses any similar word we might have in English. Simply put, it can be considered a period of time of indeterminate length. Because we’ve always read English translations, this fact has been masked to us. We’ve often read the word yom when it was translated as some period of time and didn’t even know that it was the same word as in Genesis 1 & 2. So the question is not whether or not it can mean an age or a period, it most certainly can literally mean either of those. The question is what is the meaning of yom in Genesis 1 & 2? Next time, I will go over a number of contextual indications in Genesis 1& 2 that suggest that Moses is using “yom” to mean a period of time of indeterminate length.

Monday, August 1, 2011

I Agree with Seventh-day Sabbatarians

I agree with seventh-day (Saturday) sabbatarians, at least on a number of basic points. This may come as a shocking statement to those who know I believe the weekly Sabbath day was a shadow pointing to Christ, that Jesus fulfilled the shadow, and that the substance or reality is now found only in Him. So obviously I have some marked disagreement with those who believe observance of the Old Covenant shadow is still a requirement for New Covenant Christians. Having said that, there are at least nine points I have identified where I think seventh-day sabbatarians and I can agree. Oh sure, we would still have significant disagreement on various details related to these points, but at a bare minimum I think we could agree in principle upon the most basic thoughts expressed below. See if you agree:

  1. Obedience and holiness are not optional for the Christian, but are a normative expectation of the Christian life.
  2. Grace is never a license to sin.
  3. Teaching and following what God has commanded us is not legalism.
  4. Sunday is not the Sabbath and there is no biblical command to transfer the 4th command of the Decalogue to any other day.
  5. The Sabbath of the Decalogue is not merely a principle of keeping one day in seven, but rather specifies one very specific day, the seventh-day (Saturday).
  6. Sabbath-keeping on the seventh-day was not optional for Israel, but was commanded them and was a sign of obedience and holiness.
  7. If keeping the Sabbath day of the Decalogue is commanded to Christians, then neither the day or the practice is optional and should not be considered legalism, but a normative part of the Christian life and a sign of obedience and holiness.
  8. At least some of the things commanded to Israel are not commanded to New Covenant Christians and should not be considered normative or signs of obedience (examples might include animal sacrifices, annual Sabbath festivals, and monthly new moon Sabbaths).
  9. Christians should biblicaly answer the question of whether or not New Covenant believers are commanded to keep a Sabbath day, then live  according to God’s teaching to the Church on this matter.
Number nine really gets to the heart of the matter. If Christians are commanded to keep the seventh-day Sabbath, then we should certainly being doing so. Period. I agree with Sabbatarians on that.  All too often though, our conversations and debates don’t really focus on this most crucial question. Rather we tend to get caught up going back and forth about points that we all already agree on. So we spend a lot of time talking about obedience when we all already agree that obedience is not optional. Or we spend a lot of time looking at texts commanding Israel to keep the Sabbath when we already agree on that point and also would all admit that not everything commanded to Israel is commanded to Christians. Arguing about things we agree on is really a waste of time and energy. We don’t spend nearly enough time looking at the specific instructions (plural) given by God to the Church regarding holy days and the New Covenant. This issue came up in the early Church and the Holy Spirit addressed it in God’s Word. We don’t have to guess what we as New Covenant Christians are taught about this, we merely need to read and accept the instruction we’re given. To be truly productive, that’s where our discussions should be centered and not on those things we already agree with.


Look, if I am misunderstanding the instruction that God gave to the fledgling Church on this matter, then I want to know and I want to change my practice accordingly. I really mean it!  unfortunately, I’ve found most of my friends and family are more comfortable going back over (and over) the first eight points listed. I hope that someday we’ll be able to really biblically address the ninth point. We all agree that we need to know what the Bible has to say to New Covenant Christians on this matter, so why don’t we focus on the specific teaching given to the New Covenant Church on this matter? Until then, can we at least agree to agree on that with which we agree?

Friday, July 22, 2011

Sex and Violence: A Double Standard?

This last week I was listening to a commentator discuss a recent Supreme Court Ruling regarding the sale of video games containing violence to minors. In a nutshell, the Court ruled against the California law stating that video games are a form of free speech akin to movies or books and that there is a long tradition of violence being a part of our collective story telling. The decision intimated that if the question at hand had dealt with the sale of sexually oriented media to minors, then the approach might be different. The commentator took this as an opportunity to opine about what he considers to be a double standard for sex versus violence in our culture. A co-host chimed in to decry the sexual repression that he believes exists in America and to humorously suggest that we’re okay with killing people, but not with people having sex.

I found myself pondering their comments and tentatively disagreeing that there is necessarily a double standard. We live in a society that has many Judeo-Christian ideas underlying its culture and thought. While many, maybe even most within the culture have rejected these values, there is at least an echo of these principles still rebounding within the fabric of our country. I think we see these echoes of morality in how we respond to violence and sex in the media. From a biblical world view we could even go a step further and say that because each of us bears the imago dei, each of us has at least some residual innate sense of right and wrong, albeit suppressed and fallen. I think it’s possible that there is not so much a double standard in how we view sex and violence as there is a single standard that is highly dependent on context, even if subconsciously.

Let’s be up front about something, the Bible is full of sex and violence. If you don’t believe that, do what I’ve been doing and read through the Old Testament with your kids. There’s some hardcore stuff in there folks. About the time you get to Judges you find yourself tempted to begin editing the Good Book to more of a PG standard, or at least maybe PG-13. I’ve long said that if anyone ever made a faithful cinematic adaptation of Judges, or much of the rest of the Old Testament for that matter, that Christians would boycott it in droves. While I say this at least partially in jest, I sometimes wonder if I’m very far off. It’s quite clear that the Bible uses sex and violence in its story telling so we can’t very well make a blanket statement that all sex and violence in our story telling is wrong. It’s all about context and what is being conveyed  and taught by the story.

Let’s take violence. If a movie depicts war in such a way that we are able to more fully appreciate the devastation of armed conflict than the depiction of violence may serve a positive purpose. If we are convicted that war should only be employed as an absolute last resort and are inspired to work tirelessly to avoid war, then a good and correct principle has been taught. If a book depicts the ruination of the soul who commits violence, such as Crime and Punishment, then we have a cautionary morality tale. If media presents the use of force so that it is understood that sometimes it is the only remaining means by which evil in a fallen world may be restrained, then we are able to see an echo of the biblical principle set forth in Romans 13. So there are some legitimate uses for violence in our storytelling.

Here’s where I’m going to get really controversial and make a lot of people angry. I would argue that, when it comes to violence, our modern media doesn’t always get this wrong. Oh sure, there are tons of egregious examples of glorification of violence for violence sake and increasingly a blurred line between what is good and what is evil. Still, a surprising number of books, TV shows, movies, and even video games portray police officers and soldiers doing their duty in restraining evil, evil individuals reaping the just rewards of their violent acts, protagonists scarred by their exposure to violence, and good over coming evil. Perhaps the media gets this right a little more often than we give them credit for. After all, very few in the media would say they think that violence is a good thing, quite the contrary. Certainly there are many exceptions, but media types are more likely to portray violence in a negative light than to blatantly condone violence in any and all context. Even in the media, most content creators do attempt to draw some lines and hold on to a morale sense regarding violence. In fact, it’s quite popular in Hollywood to associate with various causes to stop war or eliminate various forms of violence, so it shouldn’t surprise us that quite a bit of the content produced reflects this aesthetic.

Now compare this to sex in the media. I am straining to think of any examples where the media gets this right, except perhaps for stories where cheating on one’s spouse has a negative impact as in Fatal Attraction. From a biblical viewpoint, all sexual relations outside of a covenant marriage between one man and one women are offensive to God. I think I can come very close to using an absolute word in saying that the mainstream media “never” communicates such a viewpoint. In fact, the media only rarely presents sex in a monogamous marital context at all. As Christians we can rightly reject nearly every message that the media sends on sex. Nearly every message is counter to a Christian world view and is offensive to God.

So are Christians exercising a double standard when they decry most sex in the media, but seem less concerned about at least some violent content? I would suggest that the answer is, “Not necessarily”. Rather I think that in many cases there is a somewhat more consistent standard at work which is evaluating content in context and making judgments about what is consistent with a biblical world view. Now I realize that I am being idealistic here and that many Christians are not as intentional in exercising discernment as they should be, myself included. However, I do believe the Holy Spirit is at work in every believer renewing their mind and causing them to be conformed to Christ. This process of sanctification will inevitably affect our media consumption and how we parse and contextualize the stories we are exposed to. If our culture still has a dim collective memory of biblical ideals and if each individual retains the imago dei, however tarnished, then it stands to reason that their perception of media content is somewhat affected at least subconsciously. So I submit to you that it’s not so much that Americans parse violence one way and sex another, but that the media is capable of sometimes portraying violence in a moral way, but is rarely if ever capable of doing the same for sex.

Just a few thoughts bouncing around my head today. I may be way off and may completely rethink this tomorrow, but would like to hear your thoughts.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Resurrection and the Life: Why Easter is a Big Deal

If you're just interested in the biblical reasons why Easter is a big deal to Christians you can just read the first half of my article at the link below. If you want to know why it's not a big deal to Adventists, then check out the second half.

Why Easter is a Big Deal

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Grace: You Don't Deserve It

God has never needed anything. He is complete in Himself and lacks nothing. He is one single being and yet He has never lacked relationship or needed love. His very being has always been defined by relationships of love. God did not need to create us and yet He did. God created us so that we might share in the love and relationships which exists within Him. The One Being, Yahweh, has always existed in an eternal dance of love between the Father, Son, and Spirit. Those who are in the Son have been adopted into that eternal dance. Both our creation and our redemption are acts of pure grace. That's grace, something given as a free gift where the giver has no obligation to do so and the recipient has no merit and deserves none of it. If both our creation and our redemption are entirely the work of God, based upon His sovereign choice, then why should we ever for moment fear for our salvation. We don't deserve it and never will. It is Him who freely gives it without cause. Through no merit of our own, we have been ushered into the dance.  

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Balancing Yoga

I watched my eleven year old daughter as she followed the commands of the virtual yoga instructor in her WiiFit game.  First the Crane, then the Cobra, finishing with the Lotus as the Wii balance board measured her stillness. I found myself vaguely conflicted. My sister had recently sent me a vide outlining the religious origins of Yoga and the dangers of Christians involving themselves in such practices. Several Hindu clerics interviewed in the video strongly stressed their opinion that yoga cannot be separated from Hindu spirituality and that people in the West who try to do so are deluding themselves.  Yet here was my daughter, a dedicated Christ-follower, happily stretching and exercising with her Wii completely oblivious to any Hindu connection. There is no doubt in my mind that worshipping Hindu “gods” or partaking in a religious ritual was the farthest thing from her mind. So was the video right? Was she really opening herself up to dangerous spiritual influences?   

In the past few years there has been a growing debate within the Church, to yoga or not to yoga.  A practice with roots in Eastern mysticism has found its way to the West, and in a big way. No longer is it an obscure discipline practiced by a few avant-garde types on the coasts, but by a wide stratum of socioeconomic groups in nearly every city, town, and suburb in America. In fact, it today’s culture it would be considered highly unusual to find a health club or fitness center that didn’t offer Yoga classes. So given the origins of yoga and its ubiquitous presence in our culture, how should Christians interested in maintaining a Christian world view respond?

I found myself thinking about this question recently after being commissioned to write an article on why certain cults-of-Christianity do not celebrate Easter. Invariably, members of these groups will cite pagan origins for the timing of the celebration, some of the traditional symbols, and even the name.  Most of these groups will say very similar things about Christmas. In doing research for the piece, I believe it is fair to say that there is a certain amount of truth to some of these claims.   However, to eschew Easter or Christmas because of ancient links to paganism would be missing the point. The Church developed and grew in the midst of a pagan Roman world, but rather than join in pagan worship, the Church was a counter-culture force that focused its celebration and worship on the incarnate Christ and His resurrection.  Regardless of some distant link to pagan celebrations or symbols, what was being celebrated by Christians was the birth and resurrection of Jesus so the symbols were given new meaning in that context. It doesn’t much matter where the dates came from or why Christmas trees and Easter eggs are used if the object of the days and the symbols are now focused on Jesus. Whatever pagans may have celebrated in winter and spring has been supplanted by new traditions, a new focus, and new meaning.  The links to paganism have been broken and the celebrations redeemed. Simply put, Christianity triumphed over paganism.   Few people today have any idea that these holidays ever had any link to paganism and many have even separated them from their Christian traditions and now celebrate them as secular holidays.

I see a parallel with yoga in Western culture.  Many Americans who participate in yoga as an exercise regime have no idea that there ever was any underlying spiritual connection. The overwhelming majority are probably much like my daughter and see yoga as a purely secular exercise. Most would be surprised, and perhaps even incredulous, if someone were to tell them yoga was at one time linked to religion. Simply put, these individuals are exercising not worshipping.  However, some may object to drawing such a comparison to how ancient pagan festivals were transformed into something positive. After all, those festivals are now completely dead traditions with no counterpart in today’s culture. The transformation of Easter and Christmas is a fait accompli, while in the case of yoga there are still currently millions of people in eastern religions practicing various forms of yoga as a spiritual discipline. Unlike the holidays of Easter and Christmas, yoga is far from being completely and permanently transformed worldwide. While somewhat rare in the west, it must be admitted that certain strains of yoga still have ties to Hinduism. So is it possible for a Christian to simply enjoy the physical benefits of yoga while rejecting any practices and beliefs associated with Hinduism?

In answering the question above, I found it helpful to turn to a similar dilemma facing the early Church in Corinth. The Corinthian believers were living in a culture saturated in polytheistic idolatry. It was common practice in the pagan temples to slaughter animals and offer the meat to the gods with a certain portion of the offered meat being sold in the marketplace. Evidently, some within the Church were concerned that purchasing and eating meat offered to idols was either spiritually dangerous or at least made them complicit in something associated with pagan practices. The apostle Paul addressed this concern in his first letter to the Corinthians.

Hence, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that "no idol in the world really exists," and that "there is no God but one." Indeed, even though there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as in fact there are many gods and many lords— yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist. - 1 Corinthians 8:4-6 (NRSV)

Paul is essentially saying that the origin of the food doesn’t really matter because believers know that pagan gods are false gods and there is only one true God. Believers can divorce the food from its origin because their faith is in Jesus, not the so-called gods that the food was offered to. Paul goes on in chapter 10 to assure the Corinthian believers that they can eat anything in the market place with a good conscience.


  Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience, for "the earth and its fullness are the Lord's." If an unbeliever invites you to a meal and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience. But if someone says to you, "This has been offered in sacrifice," then do not eat it, out of consideration for the one who informed you, and for the sake of conscience— I mean the other's conscience, not your own. For why should my liberty be subject to the judgment of someone else's conscience?  If I partake with thankfulness, why should I be denounced because of that for which I give thanks? So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God. - 1 Corinthians 10:25-31 (NRSV)

Paul’s basic message is that there is nothing wrong with the meat itself, only the significance that some might give to the meat.  A Christian who rejects paganism can enjoy the meat as food and glorify God. The principle would seem to be applicable to westernized yoga. Westernized yoga has been divorced from its Hindu origins and is marketed as a healthy fitness routine. Certainly it is true that much research backs up the health benefits of yoga. So, like meat offered to idols, there is nothing wrong with yoga in and of itself, only in the significance that some might give to the exercise. Many Christians participate regularly in yoga exercises and stretching as a way of maintaining their health while utterly rejecting Hinduism. They are enjoying the health benefits of yoga while glorifying the one true God.

To be sure, both chapters 8 and 10 contain a great deal of instruction from Paul about not using our freedom and knowledge about such things in a way which might cause others to stumble or to injure their own consciences. We must take these commands to be cognizant and respectful of our weaker brothers and sisters seriously.  Our personal health and fitness must be secondary to loving our fellow believers. However, Paul also appears to bristle at the idea of being denounced by those who might try to use the issue in a judgmental way. So how do we balance the voluntary restriction of our liberty for love’s sake while avoiding the trap of uniformed legalism? Perhaps the best approach is to go out of our way to inform, educate, and studiously avoid any unnecessary offense or misunderstanding. Perhaps we could do a better job of stating up front that while some yoga may have ties to Hinduism that is not something we embrace or participate in. We need to explore ways to explain, label, and define our exercise regime as just that, a program for gaining increased flexibility, reducing stress, and promoting health and fitness. Perhaps it’s time for westernized yoga to have its own name that clarifies the break with its past.   There are no doubt a myriad of ways that we can protect our brothers and sisters from error while benefitting from a wonderfully healthy practice. Given the totality of the Apostle Paul’s instructions, we should expend effort in doing so prior to completely eschewing a good thing.

This topic will no doubt remain controversial. Honest concerned Christians will take various views depending on their conscience. That’s okay. These things are worth having a dialogue about, just as they were in first century Corinth.  In my case, I’m no longer worried about my daughter doing yoga on the Wii. I am convinced she is exercising with thanks and giving glory to God in everything she does.