Stress-testing the
mind of Christ

Where a recovering ex-atheist rams the Bible into other worldviews to see what breaks (note: Scripture cannot be broken)


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What does the Lord say about homosexuality?

A response to a friend’s questions on Facebook.

Would I be safe in assuming that the text of Leviticus in the Old Testament is no longer relevant in this modern time? Especially because this text refers to very specific actions and rituals of paying homage to God, and not fulfilling these rituals is, in fact, going against the word of God? And if not relevant because of the New Testament, what of the men who wrote these books, (Paul etc.) who were that of just men and hence inherently flawed (judas)? the word of God must be that of the lord himself right? So where in the New Testament does the word of God persecute homosexuality? The only reference from Paul (Romans 1:26-27) seems to be an interpretation from his perspective (possibly inherently flawed) as opposed to the word of God.

Great questions. You’re quite right to suggest that the laws of Leviticus (and the other books of law) were written specifically for theocratic Israel. Which is why Christians don’t stone adulterers etc; we’re not living in a nation-state under direct rule of Yahweh any more.

That said, it’s important to distinguish between:

  1. Ceremonial rules
  2. Judicial laws
  3. Moral principles

So as you know there were a lot of rules about, say, not eating pigs, and not mixing fabrics, and that kind of thing. Those are part of what we call cultic holiness, which wasn’t a moral law, but rather a ceremonial one. This was designed to point to God in some way, and to remind the Israelites of their special status as a people set apart by God. So it’s not that there’s anything intrinsically wrong with (eg) mixing fabrics; but God used that rule as a way to remind his people not to mix with the nations, etc.

Then there are judicial laws, like stoning adulterers, having cities of refuge, etc. These are really rules about how Israel as a nation was to deal with different forms of immorality. You can get more nuanced than that, but that’s the gist. It’s a situation of, “If someone does bad thing X, then the punishment is Y.”

But judicial laws presuppose moral principles. To have a law about how to punish X, you have to have some underlying reason to believe that X is bad. X is sin. X is immoral. X goes against God’s design for people. Or X is affront to God’s infinite honor. (That sounds strange because we’ve almost lost the idea of honor, but think about if someone disses you unfairly—you feel a natural outrage. Ancient peoples would say you’ve lost face, and to make the situation right you have to do something to redress the insult.)

The upshot is that while we don’t live by Israel’s law, so we don’t put practicing homosexuals to death as per Leviticus 20:13, we do think that the underlying moral principle is unchanging throughout history: it is a “detestable act” as the Hebrew puts it. That’s a moral principle that remains the same throughout time.

(Btw, notice that this isn’t singling out homosexuals in a vindictive way; Leviticus 20:10 onward is concerned with all kinds of sexual sin, and the first one listed, adultery, also carries the death penalty for both parties. Israel’s law usually lists only one penalty for a crime, but from what we know of their history, it seems they understood this to be the maximum penalty, not necessarily the “default” punishment.)

The other issue you raise is whether (and where) the Lord himself condemns homosexuality. It’s true that Jesus in the gospels doesn’t talk about homosexuality specifically. But there are several ways to track this question…

(1)

The elephant in the room, I’d say, is that Leviticus 20 starts with “The Lord spoke to Moses saying…” So Leviticus 20 itself claims to be the actual words of God/Jesus.

(2)

Another key approach is to ask what Jesus said about the whole law of Israel…

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not a stroke, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:17-19)

The comment about heaven and earth passing away is confusing because it is apocalyptic language, but the overall point is obvious: Jesus has the highest possible regard for the law. He wouldn’t remove even the smallest stroke of the pen. Which means, logically, he has the highest possible regard for specific parts of the law like Leviticus 20:13.

(3)

Another important approach is to note that Jesus explicitly affirms the view that God’s design for sexual union is exclusively in heterosexual marriage (Mark 10:2-10). But obviously if God’s design for sexuality is in the complementarity of monogamous heterosexual marriage, then any kind of deviation from that design is sin—and in fact Jesus condemns both adultery and divorce in Mark 10:2-10 for precisely that reason (bear in mind that “adultery” in Jewish thought was generally a synecdoche for any kind of non-marital sexual relations; see Matthew 5:27-28 for instance).

(4)

One other way to get at your question is to come at it in reverse: if you think that, say, Paul in Romans 1:26-28 or 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 or 1 Timothy 1:10 is just expressing his opinion about what God thinks of homosexuality, rather than God’s actual thoughts, then why can’t you say the same thing about anything that the gospels record Jesus saying? Why can’t you say, “Well, John records Jesus saying X, but that doesn’t seem right to me, so it was probably just John putting his own opinion in Jesus’ mouth to give it more weight”?

But then, doesn’t that basically reduce down to writing your own Bible according to your own opinions? If so, there is no word of God any more.

From a Christian point of view, “all Scripture is breathed out by God” (2 Timothy 3:16). It’s true that it is written by men, but they literally “spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:20).

Ok then, I appreciate the clarity you have given into this subject of the word of God. But what of the concept of divorce? The point you made was Jesus was not here ‘to abolish the law or the prophets, but to fulfill them’. This doesn’t seem to the the case with divorce. Moses essentially permits a man to divorce his wife on just about any grounds, just write her a divorce certificate and send her out of the house (Deuteronomy 24:1-4), but then Jesus says that Moses said this ‘with a heavy heart, and continues to correct the Old Testament with ‘the creator made them male and female’, ‘what God has joined together, let man not separate’ (Matthew 19:4-6). Matthew clearly disputes what Deuteronomy has written, so if ‘all scripture is breathed out by God’, then God has either changed his view, or contradicted himself? Either way, Jesus seems to have corrected the Old Testament. Hence, if nothing is specifically stated about homosexuality been immoral by Jesus in the New Testament as you have stated, there is a chance that through logic, this view could also now be different?

I guess the problem I’d have with what you say is that you’re making a lot of inferences from Deuteronomy 24:1-4 which aren’t justified by careful reading of the text.

The main thing is that Moses is not actually sanctioning divorce at all. This is not a law about when and why a man may divorce; rather, it is a law about what he may and may not do if he is already going ahead with divorce. It presupposes the reality of divorce, and then sets guidelines around it to protect women (which, btw, is a wild notion when you look at case law from other ANE cultures). But presupposing the existence of something doesn’t imply approval of it, as becomes obvious if you look at a passage like Numbers 35:11-12. Moses obviously isn’t approving or sanctioning manslaughter by placing boundaries around how manslaughter is to be dealt with in order to prevent blood feuds!

That said, I think Deuteronomy 24:1 implies that “indecency” is legitimate grounds for divorce, although it doesn’t say it directly. That sounds very vague to us, but in a high-context society like Israel, it is a clear reference to sexual indiscretion. On the other hand, verse 3 seems to imply that “hating” your wife is not legitimate grounds; it’s a bogus reason, but Moses makes a law to deal with it because he knows it’s going to happen anyway.

Moreover, it was Moses himself who wrote Genesis and explained in the creation account itself how man and wife become “one flesh”, and how this is the design of God in marriage. So that sets the initial context for understanding anything he says about divorce.

All that to say, I think it’s very far-fetched to imagine that Jesus is correcting the OT here. He is certainly correcting the Pharisees’ highly legalistic and lawyer-like interpretation of the OT, because they’re basically observing the letter of the law at the expense of its spirit. But it seems to me that his comments are exactly in line with OT teaching, and not contrary, nor corrective to it, at all.

Ok, so in my view we have reached an important point in our discussion, ‘interpretation’. It would seem that any more ‘interpreted’ inferences of supportive text to question morality, would simply result in counter point using the same text, but a different ‘interpretation’. As such, I no longer see any way to continue this discussion on your terms.

There are institutions with a far greater knowledge of the scripture then I could ever hope to possess & I would sight the continuing debate on the morality of any persons regardless of sexual orientation in Christianity for any further argument you wish to consider : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christianity_and_homosexuality

Don’t you think the interpretation issue is kind of overblown though? I mean, if the mere fact that people disagree on the meaning of something implies that we can’t reliably discover that meaning, wouldn’t we have to be extreme skeptics about everything? Some people interpret Machiavelli as a proto-feminist treatise! Does that mean we can’t discover what Machiavelli actually intended to say?

Surely the real question is what the text actually says? And if what it says is disputed, then isn’t the real question, who has the better argument? I think it’s also important to dig behind the scenes a little and ask questions like, when did this interpretation first arise? Is is motivated by a genuine belief that the text actually says something different or is it motivated by a belief that the text can’t say what it seems to say? Etc. 2 Peter 3:16 explicitly talks about people who twist the Scriptures. I think we have to recognize that if God really did write the Bible, it would actually be pretty surprising if every single thing it said fitted perfectly into our preconceptions, right? Surely if God’s ways are higher than our ways, and his thoughts are higher than our thoughts, there will be things in the Bible that are hard to understand and accept?

even though there are two differing views on this topic (the morality of homo/bi sexuality), only one encompasses what I believe to (what you refered to before) the ‘spirit of the text’, and this would be love & acceptance for all things that represent love & acceptance for human kind. After all, what is love if not love?

I’m really glad you raised this, because it’s a key issue. What is love? In Christianity, love is defined in God. But because God is holy, God’s love for some things is also the same thing as his hatred for other things. God loves good things, God loves things that reflect his character and his design; but he also hates evil things, things that pervert or oppose his character or design. But if God designed people to relate to each other sexually in a certain way that reflects his own character, then relating sexually in other ways is really a perversion or subverting of that design.

I think people are a little hasty to jump on the love card, as if love is a free pass to do anything. But when you think about it, we know that love is not a free pass to do anything. For instance, if I happen to fall in love with another woman, I can’t use that as justification for leaving my wife and children. Not only would I be wrong to abandon them, but I would actually be wrong to fall in love with someone else in the first place, because I am committed by covenant to loving only one woman; namely my wife. I think Hollywood has popularized “following your heart”, as if that can never be a bad thing; but clearly it is a bad thing in many cases. It can be very selfish and destructive. Many kinds of human love are actually perversions of what God wants for us. God doesn’t approve of or accept love that is selfish or destructive or a deviation from his design. So it really assumes exactly what you need to prove to say that God will love and accept all things which represent love and acceptance.

If you have the time and inclination, you may find this quite interesting: http://bnonn.com/what-is-love-2/

Earlier, you wanted a distinction between homo/bisexuality and other immoral acts? I would say that to answer the question, you would need to ask yourself this: what spreads love?, and what spreads hate?

I don’t see this. I think you’re forcing these categories onto the question because that’s the narrative which the media and political correctness has created, rather than because they actually fit naturally. You know me well enough to know that I am not a hateful person; I don’t hate homosexuals at all. The issue isn’t whether one view is loving and accepting, or hateful and intolerant, but rather, whether one view is right or wrong. To give an analogy (and although this seems extreme, from what I’ve read it’s actually a live question in academia right now), we could make the same argument about pedophilia. Pedophiles really do argue that opposing pedophilia is hateful and intolerant; that pedophilia is just another form of love, and is therefore legitimate. Now, surely you wouldn’t feel convinced that pedophilia was okay just because someone said that it was hateful and intolerant to think otherwise, right?

Obviously I’m not saying pedophilia and homosexuality are completely analagous, or that homosexuality is as bad. I’m not. I’m just giving an example.

the ‘traditional view’ of morality on this for human kind, has left nothing but suffering and pain in its wake, period.

Well again, supposing this is true, the same can be said about pedophilia, right? It’s a red herring. This just isn’t a valid way to decide whether something is right.

That said, I think it’s true that many Christians have failed very severely to love homosexuals in the way we are called to love all people. There is some kind of weird issue there, and I have no intention of defending behavior that tries to ostracize people rather than bring about unity with them. But unity is not unconditional. To continue with the pedophilia analogy (and again, I’m not remotely suggesting that homosexuality is as bad as pedophilia; it’s just an extreme example to help illustrate the point), you can genuinely desire unity with a pedophile, and wish to help him and serve him and have friendship with him, but if he insists on you accepting his pedophilia in the process—because to do otherwise is deny “who he is”—then no matter what you do, eventually you are going to have to draw a line.

Or to take a less extreme example, there is an adulterous man in our church right now. We all want to have fellowship with him, and be supportive of him—but we cannot do that if he doesn’t acknowledge that his affair is wrong, and break it off, and try to be reconciled to his wife. And it would just be silly for him to then leave the church in a huff and say that our backwards attitudes toward adultery are causing him nothing but pain and suffering.

So if homosexuality really is wrong, then the “pain and suffering” objection is just a non-starter. And by the same token, trying to prove that homosexuality cannot be wrong because of the pain and suffering objection is just assuming the exact conclusion which is in dispute.

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