On Gay Marriage and Shellfish…
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?”
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.
- Why did God prohibit shellfish/pork/clothing with mixed threads/etc. in the first place?
- How can Christians know which commands to take, and which to leave?
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:
- Civil: To provide a basic legal and civil system, so the strong wouldn’t dominate the weak
- Ceremonial: To provide a religious system, to lead them to God
- 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:
- You shall have no other gods before Me.
- You shall not make idols.
- You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain.
- Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.
- Honor your father and your mother.
- You shall not murder.
- You shall not commit adultery.
- You shall not steal.
- You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
- 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.
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?
- God gave the Old Testament to the Jews to create a people who would seek after Him
- Jesus came as God-in-the-flesh to “fulfill” the Law
- The civil laws no longer directly apply, since Jesus taught the separation of Church and State
- The ceremonial laws no longer apply because they all pointed to Christ
- The moral laws all very much apply to us
- The commandments against homosexuality are clearly moral laws, and thus apply to us
- (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 1:18-32, 1 Corinthians 6:9, 1 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!