The Most Important Thing–Love

Grandfather Laney

My thoughts take me back to a conversation I had with my grandfather when I was a young man preparing for the ministry. Grandfather Laney was a strong Christian and taught Sunday School at the United Methodist Church in Kennewick, Washington. My conversation with him on this occasion centered on what was the most important thing for a Christian. Grandfather argued that the most important thing to believe and practice was Christ’s law of love. As a young seminary student I agreed that Christ’s command to love one another was important, but a notch above that was sound doctrine. I argued that knowing and teaching the truth of God’s Word was the highest and ultimate priority for a Christian leader. Well, I didn’t convince grandfather of my viewpoint, and he didn’t convince me of his. But over the last 40 years of my teaching career, I have wondered if grandfather Laney might have been right.

What is love?

Love means different things to different people. In fact, there are four different words for love in the Greek language. The Greek noun eros is used to refer to a love between lovers—a sexual love. This is the kind of love we read about in the Song of Solomon. A different Greek word is used to describe the relationship between parents and children. The Greek word storge speaks of a family affection. The Greek word philia is the most common word for love in the Greek language and refers to the affection between friends. It is a friendship kind of love. This word describes the love that Jesus had for his friend Lazarus.

The most frequent word for love in the New Testament is agape. This word is used 120 times in the Bible as a noun and 130 times as a verb. Writers of the New Testament pretty much abandoned the other words for love in the Greek language and focused on agape. This is the love described in John 3:16, which reads according to the Laney paraphrase: “For God loved the world in such a manner as this, that he gave His unique, one of a kind son, so that everyone who trusts and relies on Him might not perish forever, but have abundant and eternal life.”

The reason that the early Christians fastened onto the word agape is that it describes a love not just for lovers, family, or friends. It is a love which extends beyond the most familiar relationships to our neighbors, to our enemies and to the whole world.

Agape love is God’s kind of love because it is from Him and characterizes those who know Him (1 Jn. 4:7). I define agape as an unconditional acceptance; a deliberate and sacrificial commitment to the ultimate good of another person. Jesus commanded his followers to demonstrate this agape toward one another. Using the verbal form of the word, He said, “agape one another, just as I have agaped you” (John 15:12).

Jesus further explained that this agape love would be the distinguishing mark of the Christian. He said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have agape for one another” (John 13:35). My study of this Greek word and its use in the New Testament returned my thoughts to the words of Grandfather Laney. Was Christ’s law of love the highest Christian priority? Could grandfather have been right?

The Priority of Love

I thought of my grandfather again as I studied 1 Corinthians 13. In this classic text on agape love, Paul informs us that whatever gifts one has and sacrifices one endures, it all adds up to zero if agape is lacking (1 Cor. 13:1-3). In describing the nature of agape, Paul uses 14 descriptive statements to demonstrate that love is not just an emotion or feeling. Agape love is a sacrificial commitment to the ultimate good of another person (1 Cor. 13:4-7).

Contrasting the permanent gifts with the temporal gifts, Paul informs us that agape love is the only thing that never fails or fades (1 Cor. 13:8). Paul concludes in 1 Corinthians 13 by declaring that while tongues will cease and prophecy will come to an end, agape love is to be expressed throughout eternity. And while love will share a place with faith and hope, the greatest of these three virtues is agape. Chalk up another point for Grandfather Laney!

The Pattern of Love

Since agape love is so important, we need to know how to practice it. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians provides us with some helpful instruction on the pattern for agape love. In Ephesian chapter 4 Paul gives the believers a series of imperatives on how to live a God honoring life. Then he sums it all up with an exhortation, “Walk in agape love, just as Christ loved you and gave Himself up for us as an offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:2). Paul is telling believers to practice the pattern of love exhibited in Jesus Christ when he laid down His life as a sacrifice for our sins. Once again, we see that this agape love is not a mere feeling or even an affection.

Agape love is a sacrificial love—a sacrificial commitment to the ultimate wellbeing of another person. And Paul emphasizes that those who have benefited from Christ’s sacrifice, are called to sacrifice themselves for others. Grandfather Laney, I am beginning to see a theme here.

The Goal of Love

Another text came to my attention as I was reflecting on my grandfather’s words. Paul left his young protégé Timothy to lead the church at Ephesus he went on to Macedonia. But Paul’s concerns for Timothy led him to write the young pastor a letter. And in First Timothy 1:5 Paul told Timothy, “The goal, (the telos) of our instruction is agape, from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.”

Now Paul, isn’t the goal of our instruction “sound doctrine”? Certainly with all the false teaching going on at Ephesus, sound doctrine has to be the number one priority. But for Paul, this is not his number one objective! While sound doctrine is certainly important and should not be neglected, Paul’s ultimate goal—the telos of his instruction—is agape.

Notice that Paul’s goal is not that his disciples will become expert exegetes. Now I hope many of my students will become expert exegetes and won’t be saying ten years from now, “I have forgotten all my Hebrew and most of my Greek!”

And notice also that Paul’s goal is not that you all become powerful preachers. Now I hope that some of my students will become powerful preachers. I hope they will be preaching sermons that are exegetically based, expositionally delivered and practically applied.

Notice too that Paul’s goal is not that seminary graduates become mission minded. But of course I hope that all Christians will be mission minded, seeing the world as God sees it, with an attitude of love, compassion and the offer of forgiveness.

And finally, Paul’s stated goal is not that Western graduates will be caring and compassionate counselors. But I certainly hope all those trained in Western Seminary’s counseling program will be caring and compassionate as they listen to their clients, offering them support and understanding.

All these skills and abilities I have mentioned are good and can be useful in the ministry. But they are not Paul’s stated goal. They are not his ultimate objective. For Paul, the goal of his instruction is agape love – a sacrificial commitment.

Paul wants us to know something of the source and character of agape love. Paul knows that this kind of agape love can come only from “a pure heart, a good conscience and a sincere faith.” A pure heart is one that has been cleansed by the “washing of regeneration” (Tit. 3:5). A good conscience is a conscience that is unfettered by an unconfessed accumulation of sin (1 John 1:9). A sincere faith is a genuine faith, a faith that is without hypocrisy, reflecting an attitude of the heart, not merely the movement of the lips.

I have been thinking about these words: a pure heart, a good conscience, a sincere faith. What Paul is talking about here is character. My colleague, Dr. Norm Thiesen commented recently that with some people their talent exceeds their character. Don’t let that be said of you. Character always trumps talent over the long haul.

Whom shall we love?

If the goal of Paul’s instruction is love, to whom should this love be expressed? Jesus taught, “Love God with heart, soul, and mind” (Matt. 22:37). Paul wrote, “Husbands, love your wives” (Eph. 5:25). Christians are called to love one another (John 13:34-35). And we are to love our neighbor as yourself (Lk. 10:27) And Jesus taught that we should love our enemies, and pray for those who persecute us (Matt. 5:44).

I spent my career at Western Seminary teaching the Bible. And I’m confident that my students will remember some of the things I have shared with them. But I hope they always remember, that the telos, the ultimate goal of our instruction is love. Tops on the list of course objectives and curricular competencies is agape love. And while there are many gifts and virtues we honor in our Christian community, I join my grandfather Laney in saying that the greatest of them all is love.

St. Jerome records that in his old age the Apostle John used to be carried in the arms of his disciples into church. And the only thing he would say to the congregation was, “Little children, love one another.” Finally, they asked the aged John, “Master, why do you always say this?” He replied, “Because it is the Lord’s command, and if this only is done, it is enough.” Wherever God leads you in your life and ministry, take with you God’s love with you.

And as Paul wrote to Timothy, the goal of our instruction has been, and will always be agape love, from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith.

An Interview with Retired Western Seminary Faculty Member, J. Carl Laney

J. Carl Laney

Carl, How did you happen to come to Western Seminary?

It was the fall of 1970 when I drove into the parking lot on the east side of Milliken Hall, then a men’s dormitory, and unloaded my typewriter, a few books and a picture of my sweetheart to begin my studies at Western Seminary. I completed my Master of Divinity in 1973 and headed for Israel with my wife, Nancy, where we spent the summer studying at the Jerusalem University College. It was life defining experience for both of us! Returning to Western for further studies, I wrote thesis on “The Geopolitics of the Judean Hill Country,” graduating with my Th.M. in the spring of 1974.

I longed to dig deeper into the Bible and was accepted into the Th.D. program at Dallas Seminary. My studies in Bible Exposition commenced in the fall of 1974 with Dr. J. Dwight Pentecost as my major professor. During my program at Dallas I was given the opportunity to develop my teaching skills as an Instructor Bible Exposition.

Approaching the end of my doctoral program, I began wondering about where I might use my seminary training. One summer afternoon while visiting Portland, I stopped by the office of Dr. Robert Cook, Western’s academic dean. He graciously invited me into his office for a visit. Then he asked, “Would you be interested in returning to Western to teach biblical literature?” Wow! I couldn’t say “yes” fast enough! After faculty interview in the early spring of 1977, I received a letter from President Earl D. Radmacher inviting me to join the faculty as an Instructor in Biblical Literature. One year led to two, and two to three, and a lifetime later I am looking back on an amazing, forty-year career at Western Seminary!

You have been teaching the Bible at Western for forty years. Do you have a philosophy of education that has guided you as a faculty member?

Yes, the verse in Scripture that describes my philosophy of teaching is Ezra 7:10, “For Ezra set his heart to study the law of the LORD, and to practice it, and to teach His statutes and ordinances in Israel.” First, note that Ezra made the study of the Word his priority. He “set his heart” to seek God’s truth. But he was not content with mere head knowledge. Ezra put the lessons he discovered into practice. He was a doer of the Word, not merely a self-deluded hearer (James 1:22). Finally, I see that Ezra taught God’s Word to the people of Israel. Is significant that Ezra applied the truth personally before teaching publicly. You can’t teach what you haven’t studied, and you can’t teach effectively what you have not first applied in your own life. So my philosophy of education is to follow the example of Ezra. I seek God’s truth, apply in to my own life, and then share it with others.

What have you enjoyed most about your teaching career?

I have certainly enjoyed the opportunities my faculty position has given me to research, write, and prepare lectures and resources for my students. But what I have enjoyed most is the privilege of taking students to Israel. In Western’s Israel Study Program, we spend three weeks in the Land of the Bible hiking, swimming, exploring, studying and sharing meals together. This program provides opportunity for biblical discipleship which I define as “companionship in preparation for leadership.” The Israel Study Program is a life defining experience for students, and I have been privileged to share that experience with them.

In addition to teaching, what other ministry activities have you enjoyed?

In addition to my class room ministry at Western, it has been my privilege to serve as interim pastor in a dozen different churches. The longest interim assignment was three years in a Chinese church where my sermons were translated into Cantonese! I love to preach God’s Word and to shepherd God’s people. Weddings, funerals, baptisms and hospital visitation have provided me with a breadth of ministry experience to help my students prepare for their future opportunities. I have also had the privilege of ministering overseas, teaching in seminaries in the Philippines and the Netherlands, and of course, the Jerusalem University College.

What part has your wife, Nancy, played in your seminary career?

Besides being my number one encourager, Nancy has been involved in Western’s women’s ministry, meeting with seminary wives and hosting students in our home. And before our children were raised, she “kept the home fires burning” when I was teaching for Western in Seattle or ministering overseas. There have been three great women in my life—my mother, my mother-in-law, and my wife Nancy. I am who I am today because of their love, their support and their prayers.

What was the most difficult time for you as a prof?

My first year as a prof was undoubtedly the most difficult year academically. I was preparing lectures on material I had studied, but never taught. And the difference between studying and teaching is huge! I remember one night during my first semester after hosting a group of students in our home. I stepped outside alone, looked into the night sky, and wondered if I could really do this. It was the closest thing to a panic attack I had ever experienced. Standing in front of a classroom of student and trying to intelligently and practically teach God’s Word is harder than it looks! I have often left my office for the classroom remembering Psalm 34:4, “I sought the LORD, and He answered me, and delivered me from all my fears.”

Do you have a favorite book of the Bible to teach? What has been your favorite class to teach?

I have often been asked, “What is your favorite book of the Bible?” My answer is, “Which ever book I happen to be teaching!” They are all my favorites! I love the Torah where God introduces Himself to humanity. I love the historical books where God is at work among His people. I love the Poetic books where God’s truth is revealed through rich imagery and metaphor. I love this Prophets where God addresses His people through his spokesmen. I love the Gospels which introduce us to Jesus. I love the history of the advance of the Kingdom of God in the book of Acts. I love the Epistles have enriched my life through sound doctrine and application of principles. And I love the Book of Revelation which gives me hope for the future. I am a Bible guy. It’s all my favorite! I just love teaching the Bible!

Do you have any advice for seminary students today?

My advice to seminary students who are preparing for pastoral ministry is to dig deep into your language studies. One of the best things that seminary offers you is an opportunity to study Hebrew and Greek, the original languages of the Bible (along with Aramaic). There is no need to be fearful of the languages. If I can learn and use the languages, anyone can. There is nothing that has enriched my personal study of the Word more than the ability to read the Bible in Hebrew and Greek. If you are going to teach the Bible to others, you don’t want to go through life just reading about what someone else has discovered from the original languages. With the biblical languages, you can make those discoveries yourself! And if you know Hebrew and Greek, you won’t need as many commentaries. You will be writing your own commentary as you study the original text.

One other suggestion for students is to get to know at least one prof in a more personal way during your seminary career. Stop by a prof’s office and introduce yourself. Invite prof to lunch or to your home for dinner. Ask a prof if you can ride along with him or her on their next ministry trip. Not only will a personal relationship with a prof enrich your seminary experience, you will have someone who knows you well enough to write a reference letter when you are applying for a ministry position!

Is there anything in your career that you wish you had done differently? 

When I was finishing my doctoral program at Dallas Seminary, I thought about the possibility of being an overseas missionary, a church pastor, or a Bible/Seminary professor. Honestly, I wanted to do all three. But in the providence of God, I was led to return to Western Seminary. But as a faculty member at Western, I have had opportunities to serve as a short term missionary and an interim pastor. God gave me my heart’s desire to minister the Word in a variety of contexts and opportunities. The only thing I might have done differently is to have spent more time with my children while they were growing up. I was busy writing books, traveling and teaching. All of a sudden, my kids grew up and left home! I cherish the times we had together and only wish it had been more.

How is retirement? What are you doing to keep busy?

I really don’t like the word “retirement” because it seems to suggests leaving the ministry. As long as God gives me breath, I want to be serving the Lord! But reaching the age of seventy, Nancy and I agreed that it was time for a transition. I wanted to step aside from Western and give the younger profs the opportunities the Lord had afforded me. And so I concluded my career at Western on July 31, 2018. I felt that I had prepared myself financially for this transition. But I realize now that I had not prepared myself emotionally for the separation from Western.

People ask me, “How do you like retirement?” Honestly, I don’t like it. I love to teach and I miss the opportunities I had to mentor students and interact with them in the classroom. Retiring from Western left me without an office, without a position, and without fellowship with seminary colleagues and staff whom I have grown to love. “Retirement” is harder than you think! And yet, God is graciously meeting these needs in other ways. I have been invited to Seminary events, new student dinners, and to lunch with faculty friends. I have established an office in my basement and am busy writing a new book (“A Short History of Israel”). I am teaching a Sunday School class on Genesis 1-12 and preparing for two Israel trips this spring. I have had a wonderful career teaching the Bible at Western Seminary, and for that I am very thankful. And by God’s grace, I will continue to enjoy a full life with travel, ministry, recreation and visits with friends and family.




Biblical Creation: Interpreting Genesis 1:1-3


Carl Laney, Th.D.

The Gap Theory       (Thomas Chalmers; George H. Pember, Earth’s Earliest Ages; Scofield Reference Bible; Arthur C. Custance, Without Form and

Statement of Theory: This theory is motivated by the desire to harmonize the Genesis account of creation with the vast time periods of earth history demanded by uniformitarian geologists.

Genesis 1:1 — An independent, narrative sentence describing an original perfect creation.

Gap — A gap following the fall of Satan in which the earth underwent a cataclysmic change as a result of a divine judgment on a pre-Adamic race.

Genesis 1:2 — An independent, narrative sentence describing the chaotic condition of the universe (Jer. 4:23-26; Isa. 24:1, 45:18) after the fall of Satan (Ezek. 28:12-15; Isa. 14:9-14).

Genesis 1:3 — An independent, narrative sentence describing the first step in the process of reconstructing and reforming the judged earth.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth perfect and beautiful, but at some subsequent period the earth passed into a state of utter desolation as a result of divine judgment. Genesis 1-2 describes the refashioning of the earth after a vast geologic period.

Objections to Theory (see Whitcomb, Early Earth, pp. 116-34).

  1. The Hebrew syntax links verse one and two and does not allow for a gap between these verses.
  2. The theory must redefine the “very good” of 1:31 for the earth would be the domain of a fallen, wicked being, Satan (2 Cor. 4:4).
  3. The theory assumes that death prevailed before Adam in contradiction to the fact that the curse came after Adam’s fall (Gen. 2:17, 3:19; Rom. 5:12).
  4. The theory leaves us with no clear word from God concerning the original perfect creation.  This would seem unusual in light of the Scripture’s emphasis on God as creator (Jn. 1:3; Col. 1:16; Heb. 11:3).
  5. The theory contradicts Exodus 20:11 which states that within six days (not before the first day) God made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and all that is in them.
  6. The theory diminishes the significance of the world flood since it assumes that the major fossil bearing formations were laid down by the catastrophe of Genesis 1:2.
  7. The verb “was” (hayetha) should not be translated “became” implying a chronological development after creation for the waw disjunctive in 1:2 is used to describe circumstantial information (cf. Zech. 3:1-3; Jonah 3:3; Gen. 2:25) relating to the preceding clause, not something which happened subsequently.
  8. “Waste and void” (tohu wa-bohu) do not necessarily indicate divine judgment (Isa. 24:1; Jer. 4:23). The empty space (tohu) of the heavens (Job 26:7) is not something evil. Rather the earth was originally created “unformed and unfilled” but God fully intended for it to be inhabited (Isa. 45:18).
  9. “Darkness” is not always a symbol of sin and judgment (as in Jn. 3:19 or Jude 13) for Psalm 104:19-24 and 139:12 makes it quite clear that physical darkness is not inherently evil. The evening of each day included darkness and was a positive blessing providing for man’s rest and refreshment.
  10. While “created” (bara) does not in itself demand the idea of creatio ex nihilo, it certainly allows for it, and this doctrine is confirmed by Hebrews 11:3. ‘asa (‘to do or make”) stands as a synonym for bara in Genesis 1, and does not signify a reforming of preciously existing materials as in the case of yasar, Genesis 2:7. The occurrence of ‘asa in Exodus 20:11 is devastating to the Gap Theory.

The Recreation Theory (Unger, Bible Handbook; Barker, Waltke)

Statement of Theory: Original creation is not recorded in the Genesis account. The “gap” during which Satan fell and the original creation passed under divine judgment occurs before Genesis 1:1. The refashioning of the earth (Gen. 1:1) from its judged and chaotic state took place at a much later period in geological history.

Gen. 1:1      An independent summary statement of that which is unfolded in the following verses. It describes a relative, not an absolute beginning.

Gen. 1:2      These three clauses are circumstantial to verse 1 describing the condition of the earth at the time of the principal action of verse 1 or when God first spoke.

Gen. 1:3      An independent narrative sentence describing the first action in the process of bringing the earth into its present order.

Genesis 1:1 does not refer to an original creatio ex nihilo but to a reforming or refashioning of the earth after the divine judgment resulting from the fall of Satan and some angels.  The theory posits a more aged earth and claims to solve the alleged conflict between the Genesis account of creation and modern science.

Objections to Theory

  1. The objections to the Gap Theory (except for 1 and 7) hold true as objections to the recreation theory.
  2. The theory arbitrarily distinguishes between John 1:3 and Hebrews 11:3 as describing original creation and Genesis 1:1-3 as recreation.
  3. The theory leans heavily on hypothesis and is founded more on what is not revealed than on that which is revealed.
  4. The principle of preference for the clearest interpretation would direct the interpreter away from such a hypothetical reconstruction of creation events.  Interpreters should choose the clear over the obscure.

The Original Creation Theory (Leupold; Whitcomb, The Early Earth; Weston W. Fields, Unformed and Unfilled)

Statement of Theory

Gen. 1:1      An independent narrative sentence giving the record of the first part of God’s work on the first day of original creation. This verse reveals that God the Creator first made the material heavens and earth.

Gen. 1:2      Three circumstantial clauses describe the condition of the earth as it was until God began to form the original material into its present form. The earth was in a perfect yet unfinished state during the first part of the first day of creation.

Gen. 1:3      An independent narrative sentence showing the manner in which God worked — by His word — and the first step in the process of bringing the well-ordered universe into its present form.

This view accepts Genesis 1-2 as the account of God’s original creation of the universe creatio ex nihilo (“creation out of nothing”). The clauses in Genesis 1:2 imply no imperfection but merely describe the earth as unformed and unfilled early in the first day of creation. The earth was not imperfect, but only unfinished until the completion of creation on the sixth day.

Objections to the Theory

  1. The verb “was” (hayetha) in 1:2 should be translated “became” inplying a chronological development after creation.
  2. “Waste and void” (tohu wa-bohu) are terms which indicate divine judgment (Isa. 24:1, Jer. 4:23).
  3. “Darkness” is a symbol of sin and judgment (Jn. 3:19, Jude 13).
  4. The word “created” (bara) does not in itself demand the idea of creatio ex nihilo. 

These objections are answered under “Objections” to the Gap Theory (# 7-10), p. 2.

Support for Theory

  1. The view avoids the tenuous hypothesis of an original creation, divine judgment, and cosmic chaos which allegedly antedates the creative activity of God as recorded in Genesis 1-2. There is nothing explicitly revealed in Scripture which lends support to such a theory.
  2. The view avoids arbitrary distinctions between John 1:3 and Hebrews 11:3 as original creation, and Genesis 1:1-3 as a recreation.
  3. The view avoids the obscurities of the Gap Theory and Recreation Theory. It is definitely the most clear and simple interpretation of the text.
  4. The view is advocated by such careful scholars as Leupold, Keil, E.J. Young, Umberto Cassuto, John C. Whitcomb, John Davis, and Weston W. Fields.


Weston W. Fields, Uniformed and unfilled, Nutley, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing House, 1976.

Gerhard F. Hasel, “Recent Translation of Genesis 1:1,” The Bible Translator (October, 1971): 154-67.

Merrill F. Unger, “Rethinking the Genesis Account of Creation,” Bibliotheca Sacra (1959): 27-35.

John C. Whitcomb, The Early Earth, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1972.

E.J. Young, Studies in Genesis One, Philadelphia: The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1964.

Note also the articles in Christianity Today, October 8, 1982, February 1, 1985, and August 19, 1988.

The Most Important Question

At the end of July, I will complete forty years of teaching at Western Seminary and transition into a new phase of life commonly known as “retirement.” I don’t like that word and prefer to think of myself as “repositioning” for the next decade of my life and ministry. I look forward to some new and different opportunities of ministry, travel, and time with family.

As a Bible prof at Western, I have enjoyed the privilege of teaching each book of the Bible, from Genesis through Revelation—many, many times. What a privilege it has been to study God’s Word and to share the fruits of my study with young men and women who are preparing to serve the Lord. I have learned a great deal from my own study and research, but I have also learned a lot from my students! The questions they have raised in class have challenged me and stimulated me to dig deeper in my search for understanding and to provide biblically based answers to their questions.

There is one question which stands out among all the others which were asked during my tenure at Western Seminary. And this question wasn’t even asked by a student. It was asked by our academic dean, Dr. Jim Sweeney, during an annual faculty interview. I recall that Jim asked a number of questions about my teaching, my family and my overseas ministry. Then before my interview concluded, he asked one more question. “Carl, is there anything going on in your life that would bring embarrassment to Western Seminary if it were known publically?”
It was a question I had not expected. But it may be the most important question I was asked during my career at Western Seminary. It was a personal question. It was a caring question. It was a question of accountability. Jim was telling me that he was concerned not only about my academic life as a prof, but my personal life as a Christian leader. Jim’s question reflects the fact that Western Seminary is more than an academic institution and a training center for students of Bible and theology. Jim was acknowledging that Western Seminary is a Christian community where discipleship and accountability takes place not just with students, but among the faculty and staff as well.

By God’s grace I was able to provide the dean with a “no” answer to his question. Thankfully, there was nothing going on in my life that would bring dishonor to Jesus Christ or to Western Seminary. But this question has lingered in my mind over the years. It was the anticipation of having to answer that question at my next faculty interview that helped me to say “no” to the temptations I faced during that year.
As Christian leaders, we want to live God honoring lives. We want to be the holy men and women that God has called us to be. As Peter writes, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9).” God has given us the resources to live holy, sanctified lives (Romans 6-8). But we can’t do this alone. We need each other. We need the Christian community to hold us accountable, hear our confession when we fail, and pray for us when we are weak.

One of my former students visited my office to give me an update on his ministry. We had a wonderful visit as he told me of how God was opening up a new opportunity for Christian service. Before he left my office I put my hand on his shoulder asked him the most important question that had been asked of me. I asked him if he was keeping pure and steering clear from those sins that are so damaging to our Christian character and ministry. I asked because I cared. I asked because we need accountability in the body of Christ. I asked because we are at war with an enemy who is seeking to destroy us. I asked because I wanted to intercept sin before it could wreak havoc in a brother’s life. I hope my question had the same impact on my former student as the dean’s question had for me.
Asking a Christian leader or someone we admire a question about their personal, spiritual life may not be easy. We tend to put such people on a pedestal, forgetting that they are just like us—men and women of flesh, with the potential for temptation and sin. But it is time for us to begin asking the hard, accountability questions of our friends, colleagues, pastors and Christian leaders. We will do so if we really love them and truly care.

Maintaining Marital Faithfulness

God’s Word is quite clear: “You shall not commit adultery” (Exod. 20:14). Yet we read so frequently of Christian leaders who have become involved in immorality. I will never forget the heartache our faculty experienced many years ago when a colleague confessed at a faculty meeting that he had gotten involved in an illicit affair. He lost his faculty position, his marriage and his family. Although he later repented and returned to a God-honoring way of life, his sexual sin brought great grief to his family, friends and the faculty of Western Seminary.

The fact is, these moral tragedies don’t have to happen. Nobody has to commit adultery. God, by his grace, always provides a way for us to avoid sin. The Apostle Paul reminded the Corinthians that with every temptation God provides “a way of escape” (1 Cor. 10:13). With this in mind, many years ago my wife, Nancy, and I agreed on some precautions that we would take to keep our marriage strong and avoid sexual compromise.

  1. We have committed ourselves to marital faithfulness. We have made this commitment in a time of strength to protect us in a time of vulnerability.


  1. We make our relationship a sacred priority. While there are lots of demands on our time and attention, our marriage is at the top of our list of shared priorities.


  1. We strive to dress and look our best. Recognizing that appearance is important, we work to keep ourselves healthy, fit, and attractive to each other.


  1. We make each other feel needed and appreciated. We contribute different things to our marriage and value each other’s contributions to this relationship.


  1. We are committed to strengthening our marriage. We recognize that the 2nd law of thermodynamics applies to marriage and we work to prevent deterioration in our relationship.


  1. We have Christian friends and family who pray for us and hold us accountable. We are so thankful for moms, dads and friends who have prayed for us over the years.


  1. We take care not to “sexualize” friendships with members of the opposite sex. We enjoy friendship with both men and women, but never allow those friendships to become fantasy or physical.


  1. We recognize the spiritual aspects of our physical union. While we enjoy the physical relationship of marriage, we recognize the priority of our spiritual relationship as a brother and sister in Christ.


  1. We are available to one another for intimate times. We don’t allow busy schedules, travel, and late night television to infringe on the special oneness that is exclusively ours in marriage.


  1. We keep the sparkle in our physical relationship. Thoughtful cards, gifts, comments and little surprises keeps the romance in our marriage.


  1. We know that times of separation offer opportunities for temptation, so we plan carefully for the times we are apart. We take special care during periods of separation to avoid potentially compromising situations.


  1. We take responsibility for our own sexual response and have determined to be “safe” persons with those who might be vulnerable. We are committed to protecting, rather than exploiting, any naïvely available person we may encounter.


  1. We recognize that the delights of illicit sex are mere fantasy and illusion. We refuse to believe Satan’s lie that the most exciting and satisfying sex is outside of marriage.


  1. We refuse to entertain sexual fantasies involving friends or acquaintances of the opposite sex. We know that purity in mind is essential to maintaining purity in heart and body.


  1. We recognize the deep pain and permanent damage caused by adultery. While God is always willing to forgive and restore a repentant person, we have chosen to be faithful to each other and avoid bringing unnecessary hurt and pain to ourselves and our family.


This past June Nancy and I celebrated our 47th anniversary. And I am happy to say that taking these precautions has enabled us, by God’s grace and the Holy Spirit’s enablement, to remain faithful to each other these many years. We hope these guidelines will help other Christians maintain marital faithfulness for their own good and for God’s glory.





Remembering Joseph of Arimathea

Joseph of Arimathea is a relatively minor figure in the New Testament. We don’t think much about him except around Easter when believers remember the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. Yet Joseph’s importance is evident by the fact that he is mentioned in all four gospels (Mt. 27:57, Mk 15:43, Lk. 23:51, Jn. 19:38). And much can be learned from his example.

To distinguish him from other “Josephs” in the Bible, he is identified by his home town, Arimathea. The Gospel of Luke records that Arimathea was a “city of Judea,” or more literally, “a city of the Jews” (Lk. 23:51). In his Onomasticon (144:28-29), Eusebius identifies this city with Ramathaim-Zophim and locates it near Diospolis (near Modern Lod). The Crusaders identified it with Ramla on land which had once been allotted to the tribe of Dan. Geographers have not been able to identify Arimathea with certainty, but Luke’s reference suggests that Joseph was from “the city of the Jews” was therefore representative of the Jewish theological tradition. Yet he is clearly a follower of Jesus We’d call him a messianic Jew—a “Jew for Jesus.” What else do we know about Joseph?

Joseph was a rich man (Mt. 27:57). Matthew, the former tax collector, points out that Joseph was a “rich” man. While riches can be a hindrance to one’s spiritual life and development, this is not always the case. Both Joseph and Zaccheus (Lk. 19:1-9) are examples of rich men who possessed wealth, but didn’t let their wealth possess them.

Joseph was a prominent Jewish leader (Mt. 15:43). Joseph was a recognized and prominent leader in the Jewish community—a member of the Sanhedrin, the body that ruled the Jews in matters of their religion. As a member of the Sanhedrin, he would have enjoyed the respect of his peers and honor in the Jewish community.

Joseph had a kingdom hope (Mk. 15:43, Lk. 23:51). Both Mark and Luke point out that Joseph was “waiting for the kingdom of God.” Like most Jews of his day, he expected that God would soon establish His kingdom rule on earth by sending the Messiah to lead a military revolt that would expel the Roman occupiers from Jewish lands. But his understanding of God’s kingdom was no doubt modified by the teachings of Jesus who preached that the kingdom was a present spiritual reality (Mt. 13) that would have a physical consummation at His return (Mt. 24-25).

Joseph was a disciple of Jesus (Jn. 19:38, Mt. 27:57). Like other Jewish people in the early first century, Joseph was a student of the Torah as well as the Jewish traditions found in the Mishnah. He had studied the prophecies about a coming “prophet like Moses” (Dt. 18:15, Jn. 1:45, Acts 3:22-26). Joseph had embraced Jesus as the promised prophet and had become a disciple of Jesus. A disciple is a “learner.” Joseph was a student of both the Messianic prophecies fulfilled by Jesus as well as the teachings of Jesus. However, because of his position as a leader of the Jews, Joseph was unwilling to let his faith in Jesus be known publicly. John tells us that he was a “secret” follower of Jesus “for fear of the Jews” (Jn. 19:38).

Joseph was a courageous man (Mk. 15:43). Although Joseph was fearful for his own reputation and relationship with other Jewish leaders in the community, he was able to overcome his own fears after the crucifixion of Jesus. Mark records that Joseph “gathered up courage and went in before Pilate, and asked for the body of Jesus.” Someone has said that “courage if fear under control.” It must have taken tremendous courage to go before Pilate to ask for the body of Jesus, especially so soon after his colleagues in the Sanhedrin had demanded His crucifixion. Perhaps the words God spoke to Joshua, “Be strong and courageous” (Josh. 1:6), were ringing in his ears as he entered the Praetorium (the governor’s residence) to make his appeal to Pontius Pilate.

Joseph was a generous man (Lk. 23:53). Joseph’s generosity is evidence by the fact that he freely offered his new, rock cut tomb, as a burial place for Jesus (Mt. 28:60). The bodies of common criminals were often simply tossed into a ravine to be scavenged by wild dogs and carnivorous birds. Joseph was not going to let that happen to the body of Jesus. It took courage to intervene and generosity to provide a decent burial for his honored rabbi. His generosity actually fulfilled a prophecy, “His grave was assigned with wicked men, yet He was with a rich man in His death” (Isa. 53:9).

Joseph was engaged in sacrificial service (Lk. 23:53-54; Jn. 19:38). Lastly, Joseph was a man who was willing to sacrifice his own ceremonial purity to remove the body of Jesus from the cross and transport it to his tomb for burial. Touching a dead body would render Joseph ritually impure and mean that he would be unable to participate in Passover with his family (Lev. 11:24-25). For Joseph, there was something more important that enjoying the food, fun and festivities of the Passover Seder. He was willing to forgo all this for the sake of honoring the body of Jesus.

Joseph wasn’t a perfect man. He was fearful and slow to let others know of His faith in Jesus. Yet, as a disciple of Jesus, Joseph of Arimathea was able to overcome his fears to honor and serve his Savior. May his example of courage, generosity and sacrificial service inspire us as followers of Jesus today.

A New Year–A New Beginning with God

A new year often provides new opportunities and new beginnings. And like many of the biblical characters, Christians often need a new beginning of obedience with God.

Second Samuel 11 records a sad and sordid story in the life of David. While his army was off at war, David was back in Jerusalem with time on his hands. One night while gazing down on Jerusalem from the roof of his palace, he saw a woman bathing. Although it was dark, David could see by the light of the night sky that she was a beautiful woman. Instead of turning from this temptation, David yielded to his own lust.

He inquired about the woman and learned that her name was Bathsheba and that her husband, Uriah, served in his army. It was not too late for David to say “No” to sin and turn from his temptation. But instead, he invited Bathsheba to his palace and had sexual relations with her. Later, when David learned that Bathsheba was pregnant, he attempted to cover up his sin. When this failed, he had his faithful soldier, Uriah, killed on the battlefield. He then married Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba.

God was not pleased with what David had done. 2 Samuel 12 records how David was confronted and convicted about his sin. This chapter illustrates five steps to a new beginning with God.

Commission (2 Sam. 12:1)

The first step in David’s new beginning with God took place when God raised up and commissioned the prophet Nathan to confront David with his sin. God frequently uses another believer to help us get back on the right path when we have fallen into sin. When a brother or sister is struggling with sin and being deceived by the Devil, we must be willing to be God’s instrument to encourage revival and restoration.

Confrontation (2 Sam. 12:2-8)

The second step in David’s new beginning with God was when Nathan confronted David with his sin. Nathan lived in an oriental culture where a face to face confrontation would have been difficult. And so Nathan used an indirect approach. Nathan told the story of a rich man who had many flocks and herds, but he took the lamb of a very poor man and slaughtered it to feed his guest. David was quick to recognize that a great injustice had been done! When Nathan applied the parable to David, the king realized that he was the one who had done a grave injustice to Uriah and Bathsheba. David had complained that the rich man in the story had shown no compassion. In reality, David was the one who had shown no compassion on Uriah!

Commandment (2 Sam. 12:9-10)

In the third step of David’s fresh start with God was when Nathan pointed out how David’s actions had violated the Word of God. David was guilty of coveting, adultery and murder. In bringing the Word of God before David, the Lord provides a good pattern for those situations in which we must confront others. It doesn’t matter what we think about a person’s actions. What matters is what God says about them.

 Consequences (2 Sam. 12:11)

The fourth step in David’s new beginning of obedience was to recognize the awful consequences of his sin. Nathan’s predictions of the consequences of David’s sin were literally fulfilled in years that followed David’s sin with Bathsheba. David’s two sons, Amnon (13:38-39) and Absalom (18:15), died violent deaths. Tamar, David’s daughter, was raped by her brother, Amnon (13:1-14). Absalom rebelled against his father and publicly appropriated David’s royal concubines (16:22). David experienced a biblical principle known as “the law of the harvest.” David sowed the seeds of sin and immorality, and he reaped a harvest of sin and immorality in his own family.

Confession (2 Sam. 12:12:13)

Although David sinned in a grievous way against the Lord, his heart was sensitive to Nathan’s rebuke. David immediately confessed his sin. Confession of sin is the fifth step in beginning again with God. David confessed his sin and God immediately forgave him. The more complete, poetic version may be found in Ps. 51. David’s confession of his sin resulted in God’s forgiveness. And this led to a restoration of his spiritual vitality.

A new beginning of obedience in our relationship with God is called “revival.” And the essence of revival is a revitalized walk with God. Spiritual revival reestablishes the believer’s highest priority–our relationship with God. The beginning of a new year is a great time for new beginnings—especially a new beginning with God!

A Biblical View of Marriage and Divorce

Answers to Questions About Remarriage and Divorce
by the author of The Divorce Myth

The History of the Issue

All the church fathers except one (Ambrosiaster) agreed that remarriage after divorce, whatever the cause, constitutes adultery. Even in the case of adultery, the faithful spouse did not have permission to remarry. This remained the standard in the church until the 16th century when Erasmus suggested that the “innocent” spouse not only had a right to divorce an unfaithful spouse, but could also contract a new marriage. This view was accepted by the Reformers and is the standard Protestant evangelical position on divorce and remarriage today.

The Crucial Questions

1. Does the exception in Matthew 5:32 and 19:9 allow for remarriage after divorce in the case of porneia? No. There are three possible places the exception clause could appear: at the beginning of Jesus’s statement (making separation mandatory in the case of porneia), in the middle (allowing divorce only) and at the end (sanctioning both divorce and remarriage). If the exception clause in Matthew 5:32 and 19:9 applies both to divorce and remarriage, these are the only two places in the New Testament where such an exception appears in the middle of the sentence and modifies both the preceding and following verbs.

2. What is the meaning of porneia in Matthew 5:32 and 19:9? Many evangelicals have mistakenly equated porneia with “adultery.” But there is another word (moicheia) which Jesus would have used if He had intended to allow for divorce and remarriage in the case of adultery. It has been argued that porneia refers to (1) any kind of sexual misconduct, (2) unfaithfulness during betrothal, or (3) incestuous marriage as forbidden in Leviticus 18:6-18. Each of these views is possible. Which would best fit in a Jewish context in a Jewish gospel? Since porneia does refer to incest in the New Testament (1 Cor. 5:1; Acts 15:20, cf. Lev. 17:8-18:16), and was a serious problem in the lives of the Herods (Archelaus, Antipas and Agrippa II), it is quite possible that Jesus was arguing the permanence of marriage except in the case of an illicit or illegal (ie. incestuous) marriage. John the Baptist had recently lost his life due to his condemning the incestuous marriage of Antipas to his brother’s wife who was also his niece. The questioning of Jesus by the Pharisees was probably motivated by a desire to see Jesus get into similar trouble. See The Divorce Myth, pp. 71-78, for complete argumentation.

3. Why was no exception recorded in Mark 10:1-12 and Luke 16:18? In Jesus’ teaching as recorded in the other Synoptic Gospels no exception to the permanence of marriage is given. There is no “exception” clause. Divorce and remarriage is said to constitute adultery in every circumstance. It has been suggested that Mark is a summary of the more complete record of what is found in Matthew, thus he leaves out the exception. But take a close look. Mark gives us details which are not found in Matthew. Mark’s account is actually the fuller or more complete account. Because the laws of Leviticus 18:6-18 did not apply to Gentiles, Mark saw no need to include the exception in his gospel to Roman readers. The exception is not found in Mark or Luke because it had no application to Romans or Greek Gentiles.

4. How did Paul understand the teaching of Jesus regarding marriage and divorce? Paul definitely regarded marriage as permanent (Rom. 7:2-3; 1 Cor. 7:39). According to Paul, death and death alone could end a marriage. He has a word from Jesus that divorce is not allowed (1 Cor. 7:10-11). Paul, a first century theologian and Greek scholar, interprets the words of Jesus as not allowing for divorce or remarriage. Only two alternatives are presented those who have been divorced: (1) reconciliation to one’s spouse, or (2) the single life. One who has been divorced should seek reconciliation or actively pursue the single life. A new marriage is simply not an option which Paul recognizes.

5. What is the meaning of Paul’s words, “not under bondage” (1 Cor. 7:15)? While many have interpreted these words as allowing for remarriage in the case of desertion, Paul doesn’t mention remarriage in this verse at all. He knows of the concept of remarriage, but sees it as applying only to widows (1 Cor. 7:39). It is quite unlikely that Paul would prohibit divorce and remarriage in 1 Corinthians 7:10-11 and then allow it in 7:15. The words “not under bondage” mean “not enslaved.” A deserted believer is not so bound to preserve the union that he or she must follow the deserter around like a slave seeking to maintain the marriage. Being enslaved is contrasted with being at peace. Rather than being a slave to an unwilling spouse, the believer can be at peace in the midst of a difficult situation.

6. What is the meaning of the words, “but if you marry, you have not sinned” (1 cor. 7:28). The key to any verse is its context. Paul is speaking about engaged virgins in 1 Corinthians 7:25-38. He has been arguing the advantages of the single life. Some people who had plans to marry were wondering if it was s sin to go ahead with the marriage. Paul is simply saying that those engaged virgins (parthenoi) who are in a state of marital freedom (lelusai, v. 27) commit no sin should they go ahead and marry.


Marriage was designed by God to be a permanent relationship (Gen. 2:24, “cleave” implies a permanent bonding). Divorce is a sin that God hates (Mal. 2:16). While divorce was regulated in the Old Testament (Deut. 24:1-4), it did not originate with God and never meets with His approval. Both Jesus and Paul forbade divorce (“What God has brought together let no man put asunder,” [Matt. 19:6] and “But to the married I give instruction . . .that the wife should not leave her husband . . . and that the husband should not send his wife away” [1 Cor. 7:10-11]). Why should Christians evangelicals approve what Scripture disapproves? To approve divorce and remarriage may well in fact to encourage it for it allows people to anticipate a way out of an unhappy relationship. If there were no loop-holes most people would commit themselves to making their marriage work.

Marriage is a picture of the believer’s relationship with Christ (Eph. 5:31-33). Is our relationship with Christ temporary or permanent? Can a true believer ever be separated from Christ (Rom. 8:35-39; Jn. 10:28)? If marriage were a dissoluble relationship, it would be a less than accurate representation of the indissoluble relationship between Christ and His church.

For further study see my book, The Divorce Myth (Bethany House 1981).

About Carl

J. Carl Laney

Family Background

I  was born in the state of Georgia, the first child of Carl and Clyde Laney. When I was two years old our family moved west and I grew up in Eugene, Oregon. It was there at the University of Oregon that I met the love of my life, Nancy Lilly.  We were married a year after graduating from college  and have four grown children and six  grandchildren.

Spiritual Experience

I was raised in a Christian home and expressed my faith in Jesus as a child. But it was not until my student days at the University of Oregon that I entered into a more personal with God. This was due in large part to the influence a fraternity brother, Bill Hansell, who was active with the ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ. It was the late sixties and a time of radical student activism which included protest marches, demonstrations  and sit-ins.  Everyone was seeking a worthy cause to which to devote their lives.  After much thought and reflection I concluded that the only cause
worthy of lifetime commitment was helping others find peace with God through the Good News of the Bible. It was during my college years that I became a serious minded follower of Jesus. During my junior year at the U. of Oregon I began to sense God’s leading to Christian service and enrolled at Western Seminary after graduating from the University of Oregon.

Personal Interests

Lots of fun catching brook trout in a mountain lake

I enjoy outdoor activities including camping, hiking, fishing, skiing, gardening and canoeing. On a Saturday afternoon you may find me in my garage working on my WWII military jeeps–a 1944 Ford and a 1942 Willys.


Nancy and I graduating from the U. of Oregon (1970)

Educational Background

After graduating from the University of Oregon (B. S. in Public Administration), I enrolled at Western Seminary where I earned my Master of Divinity (M.Div.) and Master of Theology (Th.M) degrees.  From Western, I went to Dallas Theological Seminary where I earned my Doctorate of Theology (Th.D).



Western Seminary, Portland, Oregon

I served as a Bible teacher at Western Seminary in Portland, Oregon from 1977 to 2018.  I have also served as interim-pastor in a dozen different churches including a Bayview Baptist church on the island of Guam.

I have been privileged to author a number of books, some of which are out of print, but can still be found on or in used book stores. My articles have been published in theological journals and Christian magazines. Some of them can be found on this web site.

My favorite traveling partner, my wife Nancy

My travels have taken me to Asia, Europe, and the Middle East. I have spent many summers in Israel studying, teaching and participating in archaeological excavations. I enjoy teaching the Bible classes and specialize in courses dealing with the historical, geographical and cultural backgrounds of the Bible.

Teaching my students in Israel

Home Page

Are you looking for a holiday gift?
Check out my two new books–Biblical
Wisdom and Essential Bible

I am happy to introduce my new book, Essential Bible Background! This is a project I have been working on for most of my career as a teacher. The book contains an introduction to each of the sixty-six books of the Bible including author, date, historical setting, theme, purpose and theology.

In addition to the introduction to each book, there are appendices which include articles on How to Study the Bible, Essential Dates in the Bible, Whose Who in the Bible, and Definitions of key biblical and theological Words. There is even a section on humor in the Bible.

The book is available on for $19.95. Just click on the link below. I hope you find this to be a helpful resource



Everyone enjoyed the Cinnamon Bear Cruise on the Portland Spirit, but Ilan didn’t care for the Cinnamon Bear!
Ultra Runner David Laney took 1st place in
the Lithia Loop Marathon (11/4/2017)
through the hills around Ashland, Oregon,
with a time of 2:51:26.