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On Gay Marriage and Shellfish…

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A few days ago, I saw this meme on a friends Facebook page, and I posted under it, “This is a very uninformed perspective on Christianity.” Amongst the other comments my post evoked, I also received a comment as follows: “Than that means being gay is ok since it was only condemned in the Old Testament. And Jesus never said anything about condemning gays. So in that case why are Christians saying gay is a sin?

This is actually a very good question, which could be rephrased as: “If the Bible condemns both shellfish and homosexuality in the Old Testament, why do Christians only believe that homosexuality is wrong? Isn’t that a double standard?

This question has a two-part answer. 1) how do we resolve the double standard issue? 2) does the Bible really condemn homosexuality/LGBT?

Stated another way:

“How can a Christian say gay sex is wrong, but eating bacon-wrapped shrimp is ok?”

MEET JESUS

Incase you didn’t catch it, Jesus Christ is kind of important to Christians. That’s why we call ourselves by His name, and even capitalize pronouns assigned to Him. For the purposes of this article, you need to know at least two things about Jesus: 1) He was Jewish, 2) He was God.

Jesus the Jew

Jesus was dedicated in the temple as a baby, and raised in the local synagogue. When He started teaching at around 30, and was accused of changing the Jewish religion (which He was) he responded that He did not come to abolish the Law and the Prophets (Old Testament) but to fulfill them (Mat. 5:17). And so what does it mean for Jesus the Jew to fulfill the Old Testament?

Jesus as God

Jesus claimed to be more than just another faithful Jew: He claimed to be God (John 8:58). As such, He claimed the right to re-interpret Scriptures. He said often, “You have heard it said, but I say…” Not erasing the Old Testament, but re-interpreting it.

Some things Jesus clearly shows or says are not a big deal anymore. He says that “all foods are clean” – which was kind of a big deal for a Jew to say! (Mark 7:19) He also worked on the Sabbath, another biggie for Jews (John 5:17). So in some ways Jesus is more lenient than His Jewish teachers. But then some things are a bigger deal. Adultery isn’t just about sleeping with another man’s wife: it’s also about swimming in a mental space of lust and pornography. Murder isn’t just about taking a life: hatred is just as bad. And so on. (See Matthew 5-7)

When you stop to think about it, most of this makes sense. Intuitively, we all know that hatred and lust are wrong on some level, and that bacon and shellfish just don’t seem like a big deal.

But this leads to two very serious questions.

  1. Why did God prohibit shellfish/pork/clothing with mixed threads/etc. in the first place?
  2. How can Christians know which commands to take, and which to leave?

MEET MOSES

The Purpose of the Law

Galatians 3:24-25 state that the law is like a tutor (in the Greek culture, kind of like a live-in nanny, who also teaches k-12) which is meant to lead us to Christ. And so the Law had a specific, short-term, directional goal. Once a student graduates, they don’t have an ongoing need for their nanny.

God met His people the Israelites in the desert and they were a bit of a mess. Recently delivered from 400 years of slavery, they didn’t really know who they were or what a society needed to look like. And so God gave them rules, laws and commandments. (I hope you don’t see this as a negative thing. Stop and think where our society would be without commandments? Without speed-limits, laws against murder, etc.?) One can see at least three reasons for the Law that God gave to His people:

  1. Civil: To provide a basic legal and civil system, so the strong wouldn’t dominate the weak
  2. Ceremonial: To provide a religious system, to lead them to God
  3. Moral: To lay out some basic moral commandments on right and wrong

Taken together, these three types of commandments distinguished the Jewish peoples from the other peoples of the land. They developed a rich and beautiful culture. They lifted the religious aspirations of a people from orgies (1 Cor. 10:7) and child-sacrifices (2 Kings 17:31) to the writing of psalms and ethical principles such as forgiveness, hard-work and fidelity in marriage and family.

Once we realize that there are different types of commandments, which are given for different reasons, we can start to understand how Jesus “fulfilled” the Old Testament, and how Christians can take some things from the Old Testament and leave others, without a double standard.

TAKE IT OR LEAVE IT

Civil Laws: leave ’em

During the days of David and Solomon, the nation of Israel was a nation-state, governed by a King under religious laws. That is, it was a theocracy. However, Jesus was not interested in re-creating this situation – much to the dismay of many of his early followers. He said, “My kingdom is not of this earth,” (John 18:36) and that His Father is Spirit, and is seeking those who will worship Him in “Spirit and in Truth,” (John 4:22-23) rather than in a geographical location. For Christians, then, most of the Civil Laws do not apply: they do, however, provide some great ideas for building a legal system. You’d be surprised, in fact, at how many of the laws which are pillars of Western Civilization are based on the “out-dated, archaic” Bible that we are now discussing.

Ceremonial Laws: leave ’em

In the New Testament, the book of Hebrews is written specifically to the Jewish people, to explain the new situation brought about by Jesus. The author (who is anonymous) explains that all of the sacrifices, ceremonies, celebrations, and even the Temple itself were all shadows and symbols which pointed forwards to Jesus (Hebrews 10). But what becomes of a sign once the real thing comes?

An “Exit” sign could become a very important – the most important thing – in a burning building. But once one has passed it, what value does it have? Do you want to go back, gaze at it? Take it down, frame it? No. It was helpful to get you to where you needed to go: now you just want to go there and save your life! Similarly, the writer of Hebrews explains that “these things” (speaking of the temple, sacrifices, and the whole Jewish religious system) are now “obsolete” and “passing away” (Hebrews 8:13).

There is a lot that could be discussed here. Some of the ceremonial aspects of the Jewish religion look very strange from our Modern perspective: but all you need to know for the moment is that in Christ, that all has passed away.

And that is why we Christians have almost never been concerned with eating Kosher, wearing special clothes, religiously celebrating festivals, etc. That belonged to a bygone era: now, we have Christ and that is far better.

Moral Laws: keep ’em!

Mixed in with the Ceremonial Laws and the Civil Laws are quite a few Moral Laws. The most famous of which are the 10 Commandments:

  1. You shall have no other gods before Me.
  2. You shall not make idols.
  3. You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain.
  4. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.
  5. Honor your father and your mother.
  6. You shall not murder.
  7. You shall not commit adultery.
  8. You shall not steal.
  9. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
  10. You shall not covet.

We know that these laws still apply because, for one thing, it just makes sense. In our God-given conscience (Romans 2:15) we know very well that adultery, theft, lying, etc. are all wrong.

Other things which are prohibited are: kidnapping, bestiality, prostitution, rape, lending at interest, and yes, homosexuality or LGBT actions.

Which leads us to our conclusion.

So…what about homosexuality?

Leviticus 18:22 says, “Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable.”

So what do we do with that? Well, what kind of a commandment is it? In his weak attempt to explain this passage away, Tony Campolo seemed to imply that this commandment should be brushed away along with the Ceremonial and Civil commandments. But why? Sex is not Civil, nor is it Religious: it fits squarely in the “Ethical” or “Moral” realm. Which is, as we have seen, the portion of the Old Testament which we Christians have always kept and respected as still holding on us.

If a Christian began engaging in prostitution, kidnapping, or bestiality, we would all expect fellow Christians to gather around that man and say, “Look buddy – what you’re doing is wrong. Look here – there’s a chapter and verse for it and everything.” That chapter and verse would need to be in the Old Testament, because prohibitions against these, and a host of other sins, do not appear in the much shorter New Testament. But that would not be a problem for Christians, who still believe that the moral principles of the Old Testament apply to them. That is just basic, and you didn’t need this article to explain that to you.

But if Christians would like to say – as many now are trying to say – that it is now perfectly acceptable for “a man to have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman” then it seems that the accusation of a double standard would fit. How can you continue to agree that the Bible prohibits kidnapping, adultery, etc., but not homosexuality? It prohibits them both, in the same books, in the same language. They both fall into the same category. The commandment against homosexual sex is quite clear, and is restated in numerous places in both testaments, and alluded to in many more places. It is clearly ethical, and it really doesn’t seem like there is a way to side-step the issue without side-stepping all of Scriptures.

This is why I wrote elsewhere that the issue of Homosexuality has rightly become a Litmus Test of Orthodoxy in our day and age: that on this issue, one decides whether to keep or lose their faith.

CONCLUSION

Well, this post ran away from me a bit. I meant to keep it to a paragraph or two. But let’s try to summarize for anyone still reading, shall we?

  1. God gave the Old Testament to the Jews to create a people who would seek after Him
  2. Jesus came as God-in-the-flesh to “fulfill” the Law
    1. The civil laws no longer directly apply, since Jesus taught the separation of Church and State
    1. The ceremonial laws no longer apply because they all pointed to Christ
    1. The moral laws all very much apply to us
  3. The commandments against homosexuality are clearly moral laws, and thus apply to us
  4. (oh and by the way) homosexuality is clearly identified as a sin in the New Testament as well, making this one fairly clear-cut. (See Romans 1:18-321 Corinthians 6:91 Timothy 1:10

I hope that clears it up for my mystery-friend on Facebook, and perhaps for some other readers and friends out there. God bless!

9 Comments »

  1. (Copied from FaceBook)

    Rebecca: Out of curiosity: an argument I have heard in the whole New Testament vs Old Testament, is that in the old, God allowed multiple wives, allowed slaves to be kept and a whole lot of other things that we consider human rights issues today. How do we reconcile that? This is honest curiosity. I’ve muddled that in my head as well

    Josiah Meyer
    Briefly, He allowed it, but never commanded it. (See Jesus on divorce to grasp this principle Matthew 19:8) He was taking people from where they were to where they needed to be. I actually just shared on this in our church a few weeks ago. If you’re interested, I have the audio link here. http://wp.me/p1sTrF-LG

    Josiah Meyer
    Great questions, by the way. keep asking! God can take it!

  2. (copied from FaceBook)

    Wayne
    Mention of shellfish, and the prohibition of garments using mixed fabrics, is part of the common stock of arguments by analogy advanced by LGBT advocates. These defensive arguments are problematic, in part because the death penalty is not prescribed for the dietary and clothing prohibitions as it is for male homosexual conduct in Leviticus 20.

  3. I do not expect to change your views but you have not considered the Leviticus verses fully. The correct translation of that 18:22 is that male gay sex is “taboo”.
    Please go here:
    http://religiondispatches.org/does-the-bible-really-call-homosexuality-an-abomination/
    You claim it is obvious that it’s a moral law – well maybe if you include cultural mores in that statement. Otherwise not. And there is a parallel in Classical Greek society, which we think of as so liberal towards homosexuality: they too nonetheless actually felt that it was a taboo specifically for a man to be treated as a woman (though if you were an adolescent, watch out). So you could argue it both ways. Is that taboo timeless because biology is timeless, or is it subjective and applying only to the society that adopts it as a taboo, including the ancient Israelites. The verse does not say “make it a taboo”, it recognizes that it already was one, and says to hold on to it in the land of Canaan.

    A little later there is a far more problematic verse Lev 20:13, stone them to death, which is far more problematic. You can take it as relevant to entering the land of Canaan which is how people will take it that are trying to say it had a limited application, and the context does lend itself to that. There hasn’t been this punishment hitherto under the Mosaic law: it’s just been taboo. Only in the emergency situation of entering the land of Canaan, where homosexual acts are a part of the worship of Molech, does this kind of unfair capital punishment start to apply. So why should it not also end when that episode ends.
    If you do _not_ believe that, but instead believe that because it says so in Lev 20, gay man should be stoned to death … well that’s just not very friendly. I am not gay and I do not feel strongly about debates over gay, but I do feel strongly about Nazis, and so should you.

    You are certainly right that Paul had a low opinion of both male and female homosexuality. But no epistle claims to be the dictated word of God. It’s the first Christian’s take on what he witnessed. Nothing more, nothing less. If female homosexuality was bad it’s strange that in the times of patriarchs having multiple wives, no one saw fit to write it down until the New Testament. That alone reflects how much it is just Paul’s own subjective feeling so I wouldn’t worry too much about his comments on the matter.

    • Hi! Thank you for your comments!

      You ended your comment by saying that the New Testament is just “Paul’s subjective feelings.” Do you think that God had any role in writing any of Scriptures? If so, how and which parts? It seems like this is the important thing to settle before delving too deeply into the issue of homosexuality.

      Thank you!

  4. Hi. I replied sooner, but it ate my reply. I did not say that. I said that “no epistle claims to be the dictated word of God”, and that Paul’s condemnation of lesbianism despite it quite clearly being no problem up until that point, ie the fact that he is making up additional proscriptions based on his own reasoning and naturalism (he spells this out), shows that he’s just expressing his own feels. Maybe he thinks God is backing him up, maybe he doesn’t, but hopefully wasn’t so unwise as to have a dogmatic certainty in his own conclusions. The OT verse is clear, the ‘taboo’ is making a man take on the sexual role of a woman. Lesbianism doesn’t do that. Hence why Paul’s condemnation of it is based on naturalism, not the law.

    And for those who believe in elevating “natural” to “moral”, there is now an abundance of evidence that bisexuality is pretty natural to most human females, and has never prevented procreation; historically the opposite. If we want to appeal to what’s “natural” we’re talking about evolution, about what makes someone have reproductive fitness, and we understand now why bisexual females can be better off in those terms. In fact even if you look at the description of adultery, it always involves a man and a woman; sexual interactions between harem wives isn’t mentioned as a problem for an accumulated wife and almost certainly would have taken place, for the same reasons gorillas do it. I am not sure exactly how and when Israelite/Judean society moved from parallel wives to serial wives that could be abandoned and exchanged at will. But around 0 AD, it was the impact of Jesus and Seneca that brought us out of polygyny in a meaningful way. Too bad decivilization is now taking place.

    To recap then, even if you accept naturalism, his assumption that it was unnatural, was flawed. So he was flat wrong. Did he believe God was backing him up? Did he have a dogmatic certainty about his conclusions? He doesn’t say and we don’t know, and he probably didn’t think very long about it. It’s his gut reaction.

    I think God had a role in writing the whole Bible, and more besides. But Paul is not Mohammed. The Koran claims to be the dictated word of God, and it even spells out the contrapositive: if you can find one falsehood or contradiction (spoiler: you can) then the whole thing is rubbish. The Bible doesn’t claim to be the dictated word of God, because its authors didn’t even know what the Council of Nicea was going to stick in a volume. Was the Council divinely inspired? Fine. Was it MIRACULOUS? I doubt it.

    2 Timothy 3:14–17
    “14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it 15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. ”

    When Paul talks about “scripture” here, he’s not arrogantly talking about his own writing, although he does claim elsewhere to be inspired by wisdom from God and not human wisdom. He’s certainly including the Old Testament. It’s possible he would have known about a gospel being written down but doesn’t say so, and there were various non-canonical gospels circulating when the epistles were written. Whatever it is, it’s “sacred writings” with which “you have been acquainted [from childhood]”. So that depends when the epistle was written. Revelation is probably the first written book of the NT because it talks about “if anyone call himself a Jew” but I don’t know that it was written already in Timothy’s childhood.

    • Thank you for your reply! I am very sorry that the internet “are” your post. It happens, and it always sucks. I feel your pain!

      The reason why I asked about your view of Scriptures is that before debating what they say, it is imperative that we agree on what they are. Otherwise, we may be disagreeing on an interpretation, but the real problem lies much deeper.

      As a conservative, orthodox, Evangelical Christian, (whatever you want to call me) I will just lay out my beliefs.

      The Bible is the inspired, inerrant word of God. It is inspired NOT because the whole thing is dictated. You are right to point out the difference here between the Koran and the Bible. No, I’m the case of Scriptures, they are all “breathed out by God” 2 Tim. 3:16. How does this work, exactly? “But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but **men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.”** (2Peter 1:20-21) so Scriptures are real people, living in a time and place, with a culture, and ideas, and stories…but when they write scriptures, the Holy Spirit is inspiring them to speak from God.

      Do Paul’s writings count as Scriptures? I believe they do, for the following reasons:
      1) Paul claims to be speaking from the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 7:40, 1 Tim. 4:1)
      2) Paul opens every epistle claiming to be an “apostle” (messenger) of God
      3) Paul wants his letters to be read not just by one audience, but shared amongst the churches (Col. 4:16)
      4) The Apostle Peter calls Paul’s writings Scriptures (2 Peter 3:16) and mentions the importance of rightly understanding them, and not distorting them
      5) The earliest church Fathers such as Ignatius, Clement of Rome, and Papius all quotes Paul as Scriptures
      6) When the early heretic Marcion created the “Marcionite Cannon” (a list of Bible books that fit his heretical ideas) in around 144, the early church responded by creating their own lists of approved books. These lists did not all match: and many debates were had about books with no author, such as Hebrews, and about books written later, such as the Shepherd of Hermas and the letters of Papias. This long discussion was finally resolved at the council of Carthage (not of Nicaea, btw) in 393 in North Africa (not in Rome). Why is any of this good news? Because **throughout all of this discussion, neither the four Gospels, nor the Epistles of Paul were ever questioned.** Rather, these two have always been the “Scriptures” of the earliest Church: the question has always been what to add to them?
      7) Paul’s letters have always been treated as Scriptures by the Christian Church, and have made such a profound impression on her that it can safely be said that without Paul, there is no church. If you remove Paul from Christianity, the result would be something other than Christianity. He’s that important.

      I say this not to try to argue this point. But I say this so that you will understand where I am coming from. When Paul speaks about an issue, he is not giving us a “gut reaction” that he “didn’t think about very long.” He very much seems to have “dogmatic certainty” that what he writes in his letters is true (Gal. 1:8-9) He very much believed that “God was backing him up” in everything he wrote (as mentioned above) and on this specific issue — which is why the passage of Romans 1 begins and ends by talking about the terrible wrath of God in sin.

      If we can’t agree on what Scriptures are, I don’t think there will be much point in debating what they say. But we could definitely talk about science and this issue.

      Thank you for taking the time to interact with me! God bless.

    • (Some other points)
      1. “The Word of God”
      I do agree that there is complexity surrounding the phrase “Gods word.” This phrase may refers to Jesus (John 1), 2) a prophetic retelling of the actual words of God (Jer. 13:8), 3) or they may refer to Scriptures (Deut. 4:2). One needs to look at context to determine what sense is being used, and this is not always clear because, of course, there is some overlap. This is an interesting discussion, but perhaps not as important for what we are discussing today.
      2. Historians have been studying the authorship and dating of the New Testament books for well over two centuries, and are quite convinced of their dating and authorship. Feel free to do a google search if this. The book of Revelation was written last, (or next-to-last, if you think 2 Peter was written very late), around 95-125 AD. The apostle Paul died in AD 63, so his undisputed books — including Romans and 1 Corinthians — were obviously written before this date. In fact, Paul is recognized as being the earliest portion of the New Testament, with sources dating to within 7 years of the death of Jesus, and his first book (Galatians) being written a mere 17-20 years after the death/resurrection of Jesus (established as AD 30 or 33). They are I credibly important documents: not just for Christians, but for historians too!

  5. You won’t mind if I ask.

    Traditionally a lot of people assume Acts of the Apostles was written by Luke, doesn’t that qualify as Scripture? So, we have a simple example of a contradiction in the Bible, the death of Judas Iscariot. You may say this doesn’t contradict your idea of inerrancy if both versions communicate a moral truth, who cares how Judas died. Or maybe both stories are apocryphal traditions and maybe he went away, bought the Field of Blood, hanged himself, THEN fell down and exploded! Whereas Paul’s aversion to lesbians — let’s just focus on them and leave the OT proscription of male homosexuality aside — is a moral aversion, he finds them unnatural [a contradiction to biology: female bisexuality is biologically natural]. So that is different, a moral claim in Scripture can’t be wrong. Is that what you would say?
    Why does the Old Testament nowhere mention lesbianism as bad? In the space that it finds to mention all the wrong shellfish you might eat, all the wrong wardrobe combinations, all the necessary purification rituals, all of who begat whom, there just wasn’t room for even one verse to warn women about touching other women, including the ones they were intimately acquainted with that shared their husband. The Exodus has been placed by some at 1400 BC, and the Pentateute is 600BC or older, so we’re looking at at least hundreds of years where the Mosaic law tries to legislate every single thing that could be encountered, but people were supposed to just guess that girl-girl action was in any way bad.
    Is there absolutely no threshold where it could start to seem unlikely that Paul was correct?

    • As I said, I believe that Scriptures are inspired (meaning God motivated the action of writing, and the contents of their writing) and inerrant. Being inerrant means there is nothing in them which the original readers would have considered an error (for more, you can see my five part series on the Chicago Statement of Inerrancy https://nolongerbechildren.com/2016/07/04/inerrancy-1-whats-the-big-deal-about-inerrancy/)

      As to the issue of Judas’ death…you’re in luck! It just so happens that I have studied that issue in depth! I actually went into the study fully believing I would have to abandon or significantly revise my belief in inerrancy. Turns out the superficial differences point to a deeper unity. (https://nolongerbechildren.com/2012/06/11/how-did-judas-die-and-did-he-buy-a-field/)

      When it comes to other Bible difficulties — and I know there are many — there are also many people who have studied them, and even written dictionaries about them. A lot of them are addressed at gotquestions.org

      But most of these difficulties dry up, honestly, when we remove our modern preconceptions, such as the assumption that numbers must be exact (not rounded up/down), that stories must be told strictly chronologically, or that scientific language just always supersede phenomenological language (eg “sunrise” is not technically “true,” but…is it really an error..?) Again, I addressed these issues st length in my podcast in the subject.

      But this discussion is rather aside from our main issue. I believe that Scriptures are inspired by God. I have not yet met any evidence to make me believe that they contain errors: but even if they did, I would still believe that as “coming from God,” they give us authoritative information on how to live our lives.

      Do you believe this? If not, that’s fine. I respect that. But to me, when looking at the issue of “what the Bible says about LGBTQ,” it makes a fairly large difference on *what the Bible actually is* to our discussion.

      Looking forward to your reply.

      Peace.

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