St. Paul says we should put passion to death. Really?

Some months I pick a short passage from the Bible to meditate on every morning. Last month I tried to marinate in Colossians 3:5-15. Verse 12 is a beautiful call to a life of love.
12 So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience;
Paul sets up this idea of putting on a new life with a putting off, a putting to death of a different life, which begins in verse 5.
5 Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry.
The first few weeks of reading this passage, I focused on the positives in this passage, but towards the end of the month I noticed the third thing Paul asks me to put off, passion. In my culture, passion is esteemed. We are encouraged throughout our lives to find our passion and make a career for them. In church we sing songs encouraging our passion for God. There are even annual evangelical conferences named Passion. Is Paul really saying passion is ungodly?

Before I survey how the Bible translators have responded, I think it's important to zoom out of my American, western culture. In Asian cultures, passion is not a good thing. The Buddha has had tremendous influence on the East. He would have no disagreement with Paul's statement. In fact it is attributed to him this saying, The hunger of passions is the greatest disease. Paul, writes as a Middle Easterner, someone who grew up in the intersection between East and West. It's not a surprise then that after Paul, many Christians took this admonition literally. Justin Martyr wrote, "To yield and give way to our passions is the lowest slavery, even as to rule over them is the only liberty." The Catholic Church teaching on marriage teaches that sexual passion in marriage is something that is out of place when separated from fecundity, making babies.
2363 The spouses' union achieves the twofold end of marriage: the good of the spouses themselves and the transmission of life. These two meanings or values of marriage cannot be separated without altering the couple's spiritual life and compromising the goods of marriage and the future of the family. The conjugal love of man and woman thus stands under the twofold obligation of fidelity and fecundity.
One sect of the church, the Waldensians, thought intercourse in marriage without the hope of pregnancy was wrong. The Roman Catholic church opposed this teaching. The early church, and the church sects with direct ties to the early church, the Catholic and Orthodox churches still highly value virginity, taking Paul's admonition in his first letter to Corinth that not touching a woman is better. Like Paul, they also recognize not everyone has this gift of celibacy, and marriage is better than burning with passion. (1 Cor. 7). Passion - there's that word again.

Hopefully, my readers will see that some cultures and churches and sects can fully embrace Paul's command to put to death passion. One of Paul's own solutions for that is to get married. Now I want to show how English Bible translators have handled Paul's command. Here is a link to a big list.

Instead of passion some Bibles say, lust, evil passions, inordinate affection, lustful passion, vile passions, inordinate affection, unnatural lust, unholy desire, and lechery. Paul uses a simple and common greek word, pathos. It's not the word used by him in 1 Cor.7:9 either. His greek word is just about burning. Translators add "passion" for their readers. Although it's a common word, it only appears three times in the Greek New Testament. The context of the passages may justify words other than "passion" by itself, but what is "plain reader" of the Bible supposed to do? How is Colossians 3:5 to be literally read? As I tried to show above, it can be and has been literally read differently across eras and cultures. My American evangelical culture values passion. We are encouraged to be passionate in our vocations, in our worship of God and in our marriages. I am perfectly fine with that.

Does our culture and era affect how we read scripture? That should be obvious. Is there only one way to read the Bible? I think certain parts have much less wiggle room than others. The ecumenical councils of the early church locked down a couple things. The three person of the Trinity. The full divinity and humanity of Jesus. Salvation by grace. Despite the firmness of the worldwide and faithful church on these topics, the space for vigorous discussion and debate is still plenty large. Yet we still manage to have huge fights about things other than these topics.

I am guilty of doing this as well. I'm trying to do better. Let love be a uniter instead of looking for what divides us.

At one time, the church felt the earth's center in the universe was not negotiable. Some still think the Catholic church compromised when they admitted Galileo was right. If these groups still exist, I don't think Darwin's theory will ever be received by all of the church. The influential early American philosopher/theologian, Jonathan Edwards owned slaves till the day he died without any sense of guilt thrown his way by abolitionists. Some well-known Christians today defend American slavery since the Bible permitted it! The offices in church allowed to women is still an issue of serious contention, though not pertaining to the main creeds of the church. Have these people faithfully read the Bible? I can't judge their faithfulness. I think their interpretations are wrong though. They think I'm wrong. Can I fellowship with them though? I have. I will, in heaven. When I commune with the church, our agreement is on Jesus, God and Savior. Everything else is gravy, some of it is chaff. Some churches focus much more on the gravy than on the meal. Some gravy varieties are more appealing to me than others.

I hold some inclusive interpretations of the Bible because I am trying to read the Bible with a hermeneutic of love because God is love because Jesus changes everything. I seek to be open-handed and generous. I can think of many worse things to be known for. I'd like to be known as someone passionate for a culture of love.


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