by Al Maxey

Issue #328 ------- December 7, 2007
The jealous are troublesome to others,
but a torment to themselves.

William Penn {1644-1718}

The Law of Jealousy
Ordeal of Bitter Water for
Wives Suspected of Adultery

A minister in Texas recently sent me a most interesting email, which reads in part -- "Dear Al, I really enjoy and am blessed by your Reflections ministry. Thank you! For nine years I worked for a Christian adoption agency in Texas, and as part of my work I spoke at many churches and other gatherings on the superiority of adoption over abortion in dealing with the problem of an unplanned pregnancy. Recently, a brother who had heard me speak on this, emailed me a question. Apparently someone had challenged his stance against abortion by citing Numbers 5:11-31. They said that this passage clearly gives divine approval for abortion in certain situations. Of course you know this passage, Al. It is a strange one, if I may reverently say so. However, in all the English translations that I had access to, I found no reference to pregnancy in this passage. Since that time, though, I have learned that the New English Bible makes this an issue of settling the question of whether or not the husband is the father of the unborn child. I've looked through your archives and did not find any reference to this passage. Would you take a look at it and write something about it? And while you are addressing the hard question about whether or not this text deals with abortion, please explain also what is meant by the woman's thighs wasting away."

Those who suggest the Bible is "boring," obviously haven't read it very carefully ... if at all. It is filled with adventure, intrigue, suspense, mystery, and even romance. It presents to our wondering view the Creator and His marvelous works. We behold the human spirit at its best ... and also at its worst. And above all, we behold the matchless grace and infinite love of our God, who stepped powerfully into this earthly realm and secured for us eternal redemption, thus bringing to us the gift of everlasting life. These inspired writings are a masterpiece, revealing the peace our Master would instill within each of our hearts. Nevertheless, having said that, there is still much within these writings that befuddles our finite minds. Echoing the words of Peter, as he contemplated the writings of Paul, there are simply some things in the Scriptures which are "hard to understand" [2 Peter 3:16].

On the surface, and following only a cursory perusal, the reader is indeed left with the impression that Numbers 5 is a rather bizarre, even troubling, presentation of divine precept. It is the depiction of what is known as a Trial by Ordeal, a rather common event among ancient and primitive peoples. It was far more common among the pagan nations than the people of Israel, and yet here in this text we find a perfect example of just such a trial by ordeal. Does this mean the Jews adopted pagan judgment rituals and rites? Some believe they did. Albert Barnes, for example, in his classic work Barnes' Notes on the Bible, suggests, "This mode of trial, like several other ordinances, was adopted by Moses from existing and probably very ancient and widely spread institutions" [from e-Sword]. Others see a deeper spiritual significance to the event described, and doubt that Moses is merely adopting and adapting pagan rites. The overall context of the text (indeed, the focus of God's law as given to the people through Moses) was the concept of purity and holiness. The Lord God is a holy God; He expects His people to be holy as well. Transgression and unfaithfulness are serious affronts to our Sovereign; they always have been. Whenever such impurities are discerned among His people, steps are to be taken to purge this evil from their midst. Many times such godless acts are evident to others. At times, however, these acts are committed away from the eyes of the public; they are secret sins (secret to men, not to God).

In our text for this study -- Numbers 5:11-31 -- we have just such a scenario. It refers to a husband who suspects his wife has been unfaithful to him: that she has had a sexual encounter with another man. The problem is: there is absolutely no proof; there are no witnesses; the wife denies the charge. "She has not been caught in the act" [vs. 13]. And yet, the husband in convinced in his heart that she has given herself to another. Thus, "a spirit of jealousy comes over him" [vs. 14]. What is he to do? What recourse does he have? If there is no hard evidence and no witnesses, and if his wife denies the accusation, how will he make his case? Or, is he left to fume silently within his heart and mind, becoming more and more suspicious and incensed until he finally explodes? Such unresolved stress can, and has, led to the destruction of a marriage, and even the physical harm of a spouse. Sometimes such suspicions and allegations are true, but at times they are not -- being merely the overwrought surmising of a mistrusting mind. In the latter case, an innocent spouse can very quickly be destroyed by the imaginings of their mate, for such attitudes eventually display themselves in action, and those actions are rarely benevolent in nature. God provided a remedy for just such situations as this, not only to protect the purity of His people, but also to protect the lives and reputations of innocent spouses. "This is the law of jealousy" [Num. 5:29].

It is important for us to note, when examining this trial by ordeal, that it was far from a lopsided event designed with the sole good of the accuser in mind. It was, in fact, also a means whereby the one falsely accused could find exoneration before both God and society. "The trial of jealousy was by no means so one-sided as some writers would have it, for the innocent wife, outraged to the quick by the suspicions voiced by her husband, could insist upon this public justification of herself, to the deep humiliation of the man unjustly accusing her" [Dr. Paul E. Kretzmann, Popular Commentary of the Bible, vol. 1, p. 246]. The biblical text very clearly makes this distinction, stating this trial by ordeal is not just for those who are guilty of the infidelity of which the spouse is suspicious, but it is also for those who are not guilty of the act alleged against them [vs. 14]. Indeed, in the words spoken to the woman by the priest, the assumption of innocence is stated prior to raising the allegation of guilt [vs. 19-20]. Therefore, this event should not be viewed as being entirely about punishment, but equally about vindication. In it we perceive both the severity and mercy of Jehovah. The apostle Paul spoke of this very same principle, although in a much different context: "Behold then the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God's kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off" [Romans 11:22].

The law of God could not have been clearer: "You shall not have intercourse with your neighbor's wife" [Lev. 18:20]. Indeed, the penalty for such an offence, for both the man and the woman, was death [Lev. 20:10]. One of the Ten Commandments is: "Thou shalt not commit adultery" [Ex. 20:14]. God has always taken such transgressions of His law very seriously, even if most men and women do not. Let us not forget, however, that another of the Ten Commandments is against "bearing false witness" [Ex. 20:16]. If the wife was innocent of infidelity, but the husband merely sought to rid himself of her through a false charge of adultery, then he was the one guilty of sin. Being genuinely suspicious of adultery in one's spouse, and voicing this suspicion, is not bearing false witness. Much of the distinction lies in knowledge and motivation. For those ancient Israelite wives who were being victimized by heartless husbands who simply sought to cast them out, and who plotted to do so by a charge of infidelity, there was this recourse to trial by ordeal. For those who just wanted to restore their relationship with their husbands who had for whatever reason become suspicious, there was also, for the wife, this trial by ordeal. But for those husbands who truly were the sad victims of adulterous spouses, but who had no actual proof, this trial by ordeal could prove quite effective in exposing the godlessness of a faithless wife. Oddly, there was no such law to which wives could appeal who might be suspicious of unfaithful husbands. Some scholars suggest that in that time, when polygamy was common, even among the men of God (Abraham, David, Solomon, and numerous others all had multiple wives, and in many cases with what appears to be God's blessing), that there was quite apparently a double standard. Most today struggle with such "unfairness" and "inequality," and yet we know from history that this was the reality within which these people existed, whether right or wrong by our estimation today.

Regardless of cultural differences, however, one truth remains constant -- God does not take kindly to those who are unfaithful to their covenants, either with Him or with their spouses, and, unless such behavior is abandoned (repented of), the consequences will be harsh! "Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge" [Heb. 13:4]. There is mercy for those who turn from their sin; there is judgment for those who refuse. We may fool those around us in this life, and we may think we're "getting away with it," but no sin goes undetected by God, and a day of judgment is coming. Fleeting pleasures will wilt before the reality of eternal punishment. The cost is too high, and only fools are willing to pay it. And yet, these words of warning will fall on countless deaf ears ... as they have for thousands of years. The lust of the flesh is powerful, and it claims many victims ... even among those who thought themselves wise. Therefore, God provided for His people a means whereby husbands who suspected their wives of unfaithfulness could bring this matter before HIS court, and where wives wrongfully accused could seek HIS acquittal. Behold, then, the severity and kindness of our God ... and take warning!

The Ordeal of Bitter Water

Returning to our text (Numbers 5:11-31), let's begin an examination of this most fascinating trial by ordeal described in God's Word. Again, let it be said that God takes seriously His expectation that His people lead lives of holiness and purity. "As the law of marriage lies at the very foundation of the civil commonwealth, it was of the greatest importance that stringent measures should be adopted for the detection and punishment of the sin of adultery" [Dr. Charles Ellicott, Commentary on the Whole Bible, vol. 1, p. 498]. Dr. Albert Barnes, in Barnes' Notes, concurs: "The crime of adultery is especially defiling and destructive of the very foundations of social order" [e-Sword]. Drs. Keil & Delitzsch, in their voluminous study of the OT Scriptures, declare, "As any suspicion cherished by a man against his wife, that she either is or has been guilty of adultery, whether well-founded or not, is sufficient to shake the marriage connection to its very roots, and to undermine, along with marriage, the foundation of the civil commonwealth, it was of the greatest importance to guard against this moral evil, which was so utterly irreconcilable with the holiness of the people of God, by appointing a process in harmony with the spirit of the theocratical law, and adapted to bring to light the guilt or innocence of any wife who had fallen into such suspicion, and at the same time to warn fickle wives against unfaithfulness" [e-Sword].

In Numbers 5 we find a husband overwhelmed with the suspicion that his wife has been unfaithful, and yet he has no solid evidence against her. The mere suspicion, and the fact that it is so troubling to him that he has sought to bring this matter before the priests of God, demonstrates that the situation has become critical, and the marriage itself is in jeopardy. Something must be done to decide the matter one way or the other. This is where the Mosaic law of jealousy allows a trial by ordeal -- specifically: the ordeal of bitter water. Since the truth of the matter is obviously in doubt (there being no actual evidence or witnesses, and the wife has denied the charge), the husband "shall bring his wife to the priest, and shall bring as an offering for her one-tenth of an ephah of barley meal; he shall not pour oil on it, nor put frankincense on it, for it is a grain offering of jealousy, a grain offering of memorial, a reminder of iniquity" [Num. 5:15]. This is an offering the husband brings on behalf of the wife he suspects. Thus, it is an offering he brings for her, not an offering that she herself has brought. The offering symbolizes his suspicion in several ways, although clearly the woman's guilt has not yet been determined. Barley was worth only half as much as wheat (the grain of the poor; used as fodder by the more prosperous), thereby representing "the questionable repute in which the woman stood, or the ambiguous, suspicious character of her conduct. Because such conduct as hers, if shown to be true, did not proceed from the Spirit of God, and was not carried out in prayer -- oil and incense, the symbols of the Spirit of God and prayer, were not to be added to her offering" [Keil & Delitzsch]. Through this offering of memorial (remembrance), the troubled husband sought to "bring to God's remembrance" the crime of this woman (i.e., the crime of which the husband suspected her) and allow the Lord God Himself to adjudicate the matter. This offering, then, was symbolic of the husband's suspicions of his spouse, and was not an admission of guilt on the part of the wife (a fact that some interpreters have misunderstood).

At this point, the priest of God takes charge and "shall bring her near and have her stand before the Lord" [Num. 5:16]. Some suggest this means the priest was to bring her into the inner areas of the tabernacle (and later the temple) and stand her before the ark of the covenant. This is highly unlikely, however, as women (and even most men) were not allowed anywhere near this highly restricted area. Most likely the phrase "bring her near" simply meant to bring this accused wife to "the door of the tabernacle" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 2, p. 40], the Jewish rabbins later describe the area as the east gate of the temple court, and there to call upon the Lord to judge this matter. She was to stand there with the hair of her head loosened, holding within her hands the barley offering brought by her husband [Num. 5:18]. The loosening of the hair has been the subject of some debate among scholars. "The word rendered 'uncover' (in the KJV) is thought to denote not only the removal of the head-covering, but also letting the hair become loose and disheveled" [Ellicott's Commentary on the Whole Bible, vol. 1, p. 498]. Many scholars view this removal of the woman's head-covering, thus allowing her hair to fall free, as "a symbol of the loss of the proper ornament of female morality and conjugal fidelity" [Keil & Delitzsch]. Thus, it becomes "a sign of her shame" [Holman Bible Dictionary, p. 195]. Other scholars take exception to this view since the woman denies the charges against her, and, in point of fact, has not at this point been shown to be guilty of anything. "This action may be a sign of openness on her part. In the solemn place she found herself in, with holy priests and holy drinks, the tendency for this woman might be to shrink away, to cover herself with her garments. She is not to do so, however. She is to be presented in a manner of openness before the Lord. This loosening of the hair would be for the guilty woman an expectation of judgment and mourning (see -- Lev. 13:45: 21:10). For the innocent wife, who had nothing to fear, but the glory of the Lord to demonstrate, the loosening of her hair is a strengthening action of feminine personhood in the Holy Place" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 2, p. 746]. In other words, the falsely accused wife stands boldly before the Lord, saying, in effect, "I have nothing to hide. I stand fully exposed before You, O Lord. You can see my innocence."

"In the hand of the priest is to be the water of bitterness that brings a curse" [Num. 5:18]. The making of this drink is described in the previous verse: "the priest shall take holy water in an earthenware vessel; and he shall take some of the dust that is on the floor of the tabernacle and put it into the water." Again, there is significant symbolism in these actions, articles and ingredients. This is the only place in Scripture where the phrase "holy water" ever appears, although one would almost think, from its frequency in Roman Catholic ritual, that it must assuredly be found on virtually every page of Scripture. This water "was probably taken from the laver of brass which stood between the tabernacle and the brazen altar -- Ex. 30:18" [Ellicott, vol. 1, p. 498]. The Pulpit Commentary concurs that this "holy water" was "probably from the laver which stood near the altar," however it also points out that "the Septuagint has 'pure running water'" instead of "holy water" in this passage [vol. 2, p. 40]. To this holy water was to be added a measure of dust from the floor of the tabernacle. Some feel this was to give the water a bitter taste, whereas others see it as adding to the holiness of the water (dust from the tabernacle + water from the laver = double holiness). "This is the only place where the floor of the tabernacle is mentioned. As no directions were given concerning it, it was probably the bare earth cleared and stamped" [ibid].

"On the very same ground, an earthen vessel was chosen; that is to say, one quite worthless in comparison with the copper one" [Keil & Delitzsch]. Again, this goes along with the idea of shamefulness and sinfulness. Other scholars, though, suggest that an "earthen" vessel is "supposed by the Jews to be such as had never been previously used" [Clarke's Commentary, vol. 1, p. 632], and thus it also was pure and holy, like the dust and the water. Whatever the true symbolism may have been, and we may never know for sure, the text makes it clear that the woman and the priest stood before the Lord -- he holding this earthen vessel containing holy water mixed with dust from the floor of the tabernacle, and she, with her head uncovered, holding the barley offering brought by her husband. At this point they are ready for the next phase of this trial by ordeal.

The priest then has this accused wife swear an oath before the presence of the Lord God. Two great possible outcomes are enumerated, and she must "swear with the oath of the curse" [Num. 5:21] that she accepts the judgment of the Lord as true and just, whatever it may prove to be. The priest shall say to her: "If no other man has slept with you and you have not gone astray and become impure while married to your husband, may this bitter water that brings a curse not harm you. But if you have gone astray while married to your husband and you have defiled yourself by sleeping with a man other than your husband, then may the Lord cause your people to curse and to denounce you when He causes your thigh to waste away and your abdomen to swell. May this water that brings a curse enter your body so that your abdomen swells and your thigh wastes away" [Num. 5:19-22, NIV]. To this the woman must say, "Amen. So be it" [vs. 22]. These words are then written upon a scroll and the ink washed off into the holy water inside the earthen vessel [vs. 23]. The offering of barley is taken from the woman's hands, waved before the Lord, and a portion offered up in smoke unto the Lord upon the altar [vs. 25-26]. Then "afterward he shall make the woman drink the water" [vs. 26], the "water of bitterness that brings a curse, so that the water which brings a curse will go into her and cause bitterness" [vs. 24].

There has long been debate as to the nature of this bitterness, and whether it is emotional or physical. Most scholars do not feel the water itself was bitter tasting, or that there was anything in the dust or ink that might turn the water deadly. Rather, the negative impact upon the woman's body, if there was to be one, was the work of God. "Of itself, the drink was not noxious; and could only produce the effects here described by a special interposition of God" [Barnes' Notes]. "This water had the potential of bearing with it a bitter curse. That this potion was neither simply a tool of magic nor merely a psychological device to determine stress is to be seen in the repeated emphasis on the role of the Lord in the proceedings. The bitterness of the water was potential, not actual; the cursing associated with the water was also potential, not essential. Therefore, the phrase may be rendered: 'the water that may result in bitterness and provoke a profound curse'" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 2, p. 746]. Yes, there was potential for a very harmful outcome to this ordeal. But, on the other hand, there was also the potential for a very beneficial outcome for her. The outcome was within God's hands, and would be determined by her guilt or innocence of the charge against her. There was no actual power inherent in the water, dust or ink; the power to either harm or help came from the Lord. It was HE who rendered judgment in this matter, and He made that judgment known to all by the physical effects produced upon the woman's body.

What exactly was the physical impact on this woman? Again, there were two possibilities. If she was innocent of adultery, she would "be immune to this water of bitterness that brings a curse" [vs. 19]. In other words, it would not harm her in any way. "If the woman has not defiled herself and is free from impurity, she will be cleared of guilt and will be able to have children" [vs. 28, NIV]. The NASB says she will be able to "conceive children." The implication is that the judgment of God would fall upon that part of her body that had to do with reproduction. If she had been sexually unfaithful to her husband, she would be afflicted with some condition that would prevent her from ever conceiving. If she was innocent, her ability to conceive would not be affected. With regard to the guilty woman, however, there are some expressions used that have greatly puzzled the commentators and interpreters, leaving them to speculate fiercely as to the nature of this physical affliction that would come upon her. This curse is mentioned three times (Num. 5:21, 22, 27]. Notice how the following translations render it:

  1. "abdomen swell" ... "thigh waste away" --- NASB, NIV
  2. "belly swell" ... "thigh rot" --- KJV, NKJV
  3. "miscarriage" ... "untimely birth" --- NEB
  4. "belly swell" ... "womb shrivel" --- The Message
  5. "womb swell" ... "thigh fall away" --- ESV
  6. "never able to give birth to a child" --- CEV
  7. "body swell" ... "thigh fall away" --- ASV
  8. "belly swell" ... "thigh shrivel" --- HCSB

More examples could be given, but these should suffice to give the general drift of interpretive theory. The KJV and NKJV employ the word "rot," which doesn't actually mean to us today what it did several hundred years ago. These verses "may indicate a miscarriage -- rot literally means 'fall'; see Job 3:16, where a similar Hebrew word refers to untimely birth" [The Ryrie Study Bible, KJV, p. 217]. Many biblical and linguistic scholars believe these two expressions convey the idea of a miscarriage, especially the idea of "the falling of the thighs," which they firmly believe suggests the fetus falling out of the mother between the thighs. The NIV has a footnote to Numbers 5 which states that these terms may mean: "cause you to be barren and have a miscarrying womb." There is significant debate as to whether the women undergoing the trial by ordeal were all pregnant at the time. Frankly, it seems extremely unlikely to believe that in every case the accused woman was pregnant. Nevertheless, it is certainly probable that in some cases she most likely was, and that perhaps the husband had doubts that the child was his. In such cases, the impact of the bitter water would be to abort the pregnancy, and she would be unable to conceive thereafter. If she was guilty of infidelity, but was not pregnant at the time, then she would be unable ever to bear children in the future. In the former case, however, please keep in mind that the water itself was not the agent of termination ... God was!! This in no way suggests God's approval of abortion, but rather shows that this was to be a horrible and deadly consequence of the woman's sin. Would God actually permit the death of such an innocent life as a consequence of another's sin? One only has to think of the death of the child of David and Bathsheba to find the answer [2 Sam. 12:14-15], which should serve as an example to His people of the costliness of one's rebellion against Him. It can be quite costly. Such a divine punishment, however, is certainly not even remotely connected with the godless notions pertaining to the mind-numbing slaughter of millions of fetuses today. For anyone to appeal to this passage as justification for the practice of abortion in certain circumstances is appalling. For further thoughts about the murder of the unborn, I would refer the reader to my article: Aborting the Miracle of Life: Does Mankind Have That Right? (Reflections #155).

The harsh punishment of the guilty woman in Numbers 5, however, does not need to consist of the miscarriage of a viable fetus within her womb. That is certainly a possibility, of course, but it is not the only explanation for the phrases in question. Most scholars take the view that the awful affliction that comes upon the woman is some debilitating disease that would then prevent her from ever becoming pregnant, or if she does then she will always miscarry the child, a condition that would have genuinely been perceived by the women of that day (as well as the society in which they lived) as a horrible curse indeed. "It cannot be determined with any certainty what was the nature of the disease threatened in this curse" [Keil & Delitzsch]. Josephus believed it to be dropsy, whereas some ancient medical writers speculated it might be hydrops ovarii: dropsy of the ovaries. Whatever it might have been, the mere thought of experiencing such a devastating curse was designed to instill fear in the hearts of those women who might be tempted to engage in adultery. Hopefully, they would realize the potential price they might be called upon to pay was not even remotely worth the fleeting pleasure of an illicit affair. Indeed, such a dire threat from the Lord may very well have been quite effective, for "there is no instance in the Scriptures of this kind of ordeal having ever been resorted to, and it probably never was" [Clarke's Commentary, vol. 1, p. 634]. Although the Jewish rabbins speak of it, there is no actual record of this ordeal of bitter water ever actually taking place. "For a woman in the ancient Near East to be denied the ability to bear children was a personal loss of inestimable proportion. It was in the bearing of children that a woman's worth was realized in that culture. This was a grievous punishment indeed!" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 2, p. 746].

Concluding Thoughts

As previously noted, God takes seriously the sin of marital infidelity. Those who engage in such transgression against God and their fellow man will pay a fearful price for their sin unless they come to their senses and repent. It is literally a matter of life and death, both here and hereafter. In His law delivered to Moses, God provided a means whereby a husband who suspected his wife of unfaithfulness, but who had no actual proof, could take his case before the judgment seat of the Lord. At the same time, He provided a merciful recourse to His Throne for the wife who was unjustly accused. In this latter sense, "the chapter has a strong and serious thrust to it that is designed to prevent a childish, self-centered charge of unfaithfulness. As in Babylonian law, this text was not to be used as a pretext by a capricious, petty, or malevolent husband to badger a good woman. Without limiting legislation such as this, presumably the husband might have done her physical harm -- or even killed her -- on the sole basis of private feelings of jealousy, real or imagined. The function of law in the ancient Near East was to limit private acts of vengeance and retribution while maintaining propriety and civil order" [ibid, p. 743]. Once again, even though this trial by ordeal may seem very strange to our culture, we behold the love, mercy, grace and compassion of our God for the innocent, as well as His just severity toward the guilty. May we never find ourselves among the latter group!! Nothing this life has to offer is worth what it will ultimately cost you!

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Readers' Reflections

From a Minister in Ukraine:

Dear Brother Al, Greetings from Donetsk. Let me say thank you once again for all your studies, and for sharing your insights with us. Brother, please send me the article by Marion Owens -- Church of Christ Doctrines: Facts and Assumptions. I am looking forward to reading it. Blessings to you, Bro. Al, from your co-servant in the Lord's Kingdom.

From a Director at Herald of Truth:

Amen, Bro. Al, with respect to your last issue of Reflections. I've long sustained that the "maturity view" is the one interpretation that takes seriously the context of 1 Corinthians. As usual, your research is well done and your results well presented. God bless and thanks!

From a Ph.D. in Texas:

Dear Al, my fellow servant of Jesus! I really appreciate your weekly Reflections. It is so sad that so many are looking for a "pattern" when there is none! Hopefully, they will learn to focus on Jesus. You may be aware of some books which I think eliminate this "pattern" theology easily. My dad's two books [I have autographed copies of both -- Al Maxey] -- From Sinai to Calvary and From Golgotha to Heaven -- give a former Jew's clear concentration on Jesus alone. Another book is Christ on the Jewish Road by Richard Wurmbrand, a former Jew who became a Christian in Romania. He tells of the great obstacle of baptism to Jews (as my dad also did in his two books). His wife, who is a former Jew, likewise tells her story in The Pastor's Wife. Wurmbrand also wrote Tortured for Christ, which is about his 14 years in prison and some great stories of the Underground Church. May His grace be upon you, Al. Greet all who know us. Also, I've enclosed one of about 30 articles I have written on various subjects. Duplicate this one if you wish. I still have several copies of my dad's books, if you know of anyone who would like to purchase them. By God's grace, at the age of 84, I can still teach and study!!

From a Minister in Kentucky:

Dear Bro. Al, Well done! Although I always read and appreciate your essays -- and agree with most of them -- I don't always say "thank you" for your hard work and scholarship, but I simply had to do so regarding your analysis of the meaning of "the perfect" in 1 Cor. 13:10. I became convinced some time ago that the usual "conservative" interpretation was a misinterpretation. To use that conclusion to "whip up" on folks with whom we disagree about spiritual gifts, when the context has nothing to do with the writing of the Scriptures, is really a sign of immaturity! With the Corinthians it was like they were chanting a childish taunt, "nyah, nyah, nyah, I've got a better gift than you do!" Too many of our "conclusions" sound very much like that today! If we were really mature, we would not only not boast of our "gift," but would help others become more mature in their outlook on both the Scriptures and the Christian life! Bro. Al, I would like to receive the essay by Marion Owens. I have told you something about my own pilgrimage out of legalism. Now, I would like to read his story also.

From an Author in Arizona:

Brother Al, My view on Paul's remarks is that he was alluding to the young and tender redeemed community laying aside supernatural gifts after reaching a state of maturity. Just like a young child, the early body of believers needed special help. Once a child reaches a certain stage of maturity, then that special help is gradually withdrawn. So it was with the society of the saved.

From a Reader in North Carolina:

Bro. Al, Thank you for this well-thought-out explanation about "the perfect." It is amazing how the simplest and most obvious answer can elude us. It is now clear to me that since 1 Corinthians was written to encourage maturity among the folks in this church, that this is what Paul must have meant.

From a Reader in Arkansas:

I agree with you, Bro. Al, on the subject of spiritual maturity. This week's Reflections was another great lesson for us all. May God continue to bless you, and may the Holy Spirit continue to guide you in your Reflections ministry. May the peace, joy, love and hope of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you always.

From a Reader in Oklahoma:

Dear Bro. Al, I really enjoyed your most recent issue of Reflections. It seems to me that your theory stands the test of logic, and it presents a view I had not heard before. Al, there is a newsletter called Gospel Minutes, which my wife receives. I was surprised to see in the current issue that they approved inviting women to business meetings.

From a Christian Church Pastor in California:

Bro. Al, Your exposition of 1 Cor. 13:10 is another bell-ringer. I too was taught in Bible college that "the perfect" was the completed NT canon. But in time it just didn't ring true. Too simplistic. Too "perfect" a proof text. The mature position certainly fits in view of the larger context, and it makes "perfect" sense. Thanks.

From a Reader in California:

Brother Al, As always, I really enjoyed this week's Reflections. And I also enjoyed the readers' comments on various baptisms, and the twisted thinking of their critics (always there are critics!). Since I was raised in the Church of Christ, and I am almost 70 years old, needless to say I have a few "baptism" stories myself. But, the story of the woman who was deathly afraid of water especially touched my heart, as I too am deathly afraid of water, and have never learned to swim. I, along with my twin sister, was baptized on a cold winter night, in a canal as dark as pitch, lined with snails, which I have always had a morbid dislike for. Later in life there came up the question as to whether or not some of us were "true candidates" for baptism, since perhaps we hadn't truly given our hearts to the Lord Jesus. It was suggested that perhaps we should do the whole thing all over again (some did, including my aged mother). I assured everyone that if I, given my fears, had gone into a dark canal, with the sides covered with snails and slugs, that they could rest assured that I was indeed a believer at the time!!

From a Well-Known Author/Church Leader:

Brother Al, Thank you for your excellent study of "when that which is perfect is come" -- a favorite text for argument among us. Even a casual reading of the total context should leave little doubt that Paul is saying that "mature love" will solve all their divisive attitudes; why wouldn't it, since it is the greatest. It would make no sense to the Corinthians to be told that when the NT canon comes, then their problems will be solved. These people wouldn't even live to see that happen.

From a Reader in North Carolina:

Brother Al, Your writing and teaching skills are obvious and very impressive to me. These weekly Reflections that you produce show a depth of knowledge and understanding of the Gospel that stands out in a world of mediocrity. God bless you and your ministry.

From a Reader in Arizona:

Brother Al, "When the Perfect Comes" was an excellent study, and one with which I agree completely! Also, the baptism story by the minister in New Mexico -- "Ho-dee-Ho, Under you Go!" -- left me with tears of joy and laughter! Have a blessed weekend, and please say hello to Shelly for us.

From a Minister/Elder in Missouri:

Dear Brother Al, I haven't communicated with you for quite a while, but when I read your last Reflections on "the perfect" I just had to respond. Many years ago, while at the preachers' school I attended, we were asked to write a paper on 1 Corinthians 13:10. We were, of course, supposed to conclude the same thing that the school taught. After reading all the commentaries at my disposal (at least 8 or 9 different ones), I decided that none of them were really getting the gist of what Paul was conveying. My own conclusion was (and still is) very similar, if not the same, as what you have concluded in your article -- teleios in 1 Cor. 13:10 refers to the spiritual maturing of those in the church. I found this interpretation in none of the commentaries, thus my paper reflected a rather "novel" approach to this text (at least for this particular school). To be fair to them, however, my instructor gave me an "A" on the paper, writing a note on it saying that what I had written was interesting and very thought-provoking. Wow! Was I ever surprised! Hang in there, Al. You have a wonderful ministry. Keep up the great work. We wish you and Shelly a very Merry Christmas.

From a Reader in Texas:

Thanks, Bro. Al, for a clear statement of belief. I had not considered that meaning of 1 Cor. 13:10 before, but it certainly does make good sense -- both as to the Greek and the context. Again, thank you -- for that article, for all your Reflections, and for your efforts to get all of God's people working in love and grace to do the will of God.

From a Reader in Tennessee:

Brother Al, I appreciated your insights into the 1 Corinthians 13 passage regarding "the perfect." Your conclusion does seem to flow with the context much better than other positions.

From a Minister/Author in California:

Dear Brother Maxey, As I have said before, when I was preaching and teaching with the One Cup brethren (which I did for 38 years), I was never during all that time surrounded with men who could teach me as you have done in just the short time I have been associated with your weekly Reflections!! I praise God every day for the fact that He has brought you into my life, now that I am in the sunset years.

From a Reader in Mississippi:

Dear Bro. Al, Your Reflections have answered so many of my questions, as well as providing me with encouragement that I have not felt in a great many years! A highlight of every week now is getting your Reflections. Thank you!

From a Minister in Michigan:

Bro. Maxey, I am really impressed with your writings!! I just wonder if you would care to share your background (as far as education, where you went to school)? You've got me curious. Again, I'm really impressed with the diligence so evident behind your articles.

From a New Reader in [Unknown]:

Greetings, Brother Maxey! I'm not sure just how I stumbled upon your web site, but I have been here for hours!! What a gold mine! In all of my searching of the Internet, I have never found a place with so much inspiration!! Oh ... I am so glad I have found your web site! As is usually the case when I find a sound resource, I started looking through your articles for information on a topic that has brought great division and pain to my family. This is the topic of "One Cup." I searched and searched through your Reflections and never found this issue addressed directly. I only found indirect references to "our One Cup brethren." If you have ever taken on the One Cup argument (and I hate to call it that), I would be very grateful if you would direct me to that study. This is an ongoing issue in my family that has even divided me from my own wife in worship. I would have no problem at all with any group that simply "preferred" one cup, and in fact I don't mind attending with her and participating with just one cup. The thing that causes the problem with me is that they "bind" one cup and make it a condition of fellowship. That's where I get off the boat! I just can't in good conscience go along with that. In fact, Don King just gave a week long meeting at this group a couple of weeks ago, which should tell you what I'm up against! You should have been there! It would have made you crazy! They are so quick to bind and disfellowship. They are destroying all hope of unity among God's people, and I think that is a far greater sin than multiple cups ever could be!! I find all of this so sad, and so contrary to the will of God. Thank you so much for your tireless work, brother, and for all the common sense and good Christian doctrine exhibited in your writings. God be with you, Al.

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