The Conversation Goes Forward (Guest Post)
I have entered into a conversation with Mark, surrounding the issue of scriptural interpretation, specifically around the issue of homosexuality. After I offered my coments, I offered to host his response. This is it.
We are entering dangerous territory. If I were to try to respond to every point you made one by one, this would be an incredibly long post indeed (and it is already QUITE long!). So with that disclaimer in mind, let me respond to your primary points (you made some great ones by the way) and you can reiterate any I fail to answer to which you would want to hear my response. I think in the interest of brevity (after all, we want people to read our points right?) it makes sense to try and capture your best points as I understand them and respond to them.
As I see it, one of the primary issues we need to get ironed out here at the beginning of this discussion is our own views of Scripture. Apart from some sort of cohesive approach to interpretation we could easily be debating past each other due to wildly different presuppositions. Rather than me try to guess yours, I will lay mine out and you can let me know where we part company or if we are on the same page or not.
I do see Scriptures as the Word of God and understand the law, as expressed in the Torah, to be perfect and true....yet somewhat arbitrary. I don’t mean that in a negative way because as far as I am concerned God is allowed to be as arbitrary as He wants. I mean it as a descriptive statement of how I perceive some of the laws. Perhaps as time progresses I will understand some of the laws that seem “arbitrary” in ways that will help me remove that classification, but I still don’t understand why someone with “crushed gonads” was not able to serve before God in the Old Testament (although I do have some interesting ideas, but that would be a huge tangent). So when I approach laws about conduct and sexuality, I come to them assuming that they are correct and even good. In fact, the same goes for dietary laws and kosher laws.
In light of that perspective, it would take a fairly radical agent or messenger for me to change my commitment to those laws. Thankfully, we have that in Jesus Christ. But I don’t see this as a carte blanche overturning of all laws, but a “fulfillment” of the laws as well as a new standard of law that both raises the “old” to a higher level as well as postponing (and that is a hugely deliberate use of a word) of the judgment against sin that will be realized in the eschaton. I referenced John 8 because it was merely one place where Jesus’ attitude about judgment is revealed as being different and his judgment being postponed. Actually the Johanine record has much to say about this starting with John 1 as I understand it. For instance in verse 29 of that chapter we read: “The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!“ To be clear, I don’t see any justification for interpreting that to mean that Jesus changed something that was sinful into being not sinful (except for you and me and “all who called on his name”). In other words, sinful acts have not become righteous. Rather, verse 29 is suggesting that Jesus has taken my sinful acts on himself and called me clean (i.e. imputed righteousness ala 2 Corinthians 5:21). This theme continues in John 3 where Jesus says to Nicodemus “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
The awkward truth is that Jesus spoke of judgment MUCH during his earthly ministry. In fact, no one spoke of hell more than Jesus (something that is damning for both mainliners and evangelicals as it seems we all want to mention that as seldom as possible if at all) yet his references to judgment and retribution are with a look towards the eschaton. He not only rescued the lady caught in adultery in John 8 (yet never excused her sin or said it was no longer sin), but he cautioned us to “judge not lest you be judged” (Matthew 7:1, although that deserves a richer treatment because it is not saying what people often want to claim it is saying). We also find that in John 5:22 it is reported of the Father that “The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son.” Thankfully this is the SAME “Son” (Jesus) who “came not to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” There could be MUCH more said about this, but I suspect we both agree that Jesus ushered in an era of grace under which we now are privileged to live. Yet this does not mean that sins cease to be sins.
Getting back to the subject at hand, I see no reasonable hermeneutical grounds for suggesting that the prohibition in Leviticus 18 against homosexuality is within the context of child sacrifice. There is nothing within the verse itself that would suggest that and the verse immediately following it says nothing of the sort unless there is some ancient practice of worship that includes bestiality. But if that is true, then does bestiality get a clean bill of health if we extricate it from the evils of idol worship? But to make the critique a bit more damning, 2 chapters later virtually all of the same laws are reiterated but this time homosexuality is completely set apart from both bestiality and idol worship by 6 verses and the context is now merely the already mentioned various examples of sexual immorality. In short, your suggestion of homosexuality being tied to idol worship appears to fail on several grounds. Furthermore, we see prohibitions against homosexuality reiterated explicitly by Paul in Romans 1, 1 Corinthians 6 and 1 Timothy 1 as well as by Jude. Jesus does nothing to overturn the sexual laws of Moses so we are left with strong reasons (in my opinion overwhelming reasons) to believe that homosexuality is still seen as sinful by the authors of scripture.
So revisiting Leviticus 18:22 and the issue of homosexuality I am absolutely convinced that as with the other 18 laws (depending upon how you count them I suppose) listed, the prohibition against homosexuality is true and firm and still applies to us today. I am also convinced that it comes out of God’s heart of love for His people and for those who are not yet His people. To be even more clear, I am convinced that God is absolutely good and loving and that His laws are intended for our health and happiness. As for the question of sexual relations with a woman during her period, you made a few assumptions about my position. I have been married for over 8 years and have never violated that law either. Frankly, I have never wanted to and have done so without any struggle or compunction. I do think it may be possible in the case of menstruation to understand it as being covered under kosher law and consider God’s words to Peter in Acts 10 about not calling “that which is clean unclean” as applying to this as well. But I feel no need to work out some lengthy exegetical framework to try and establish that one way or another. So as far as I am concerned, every law in Leviticus 18 still applies to us as believers (with the possible exception of the one just mentioned for the reasons given) and we are not at liberty to dispense with them unless some greater revelation trumps them in a clear and specific way.
Thanks for hosting me, I will try to continue this discussion as long as you would like to. I always wanted to have this discussion in seminary, but at my seminary it was a foregone conclusion that my position was oppressive, hateful and homophobic so it was not a terribly safe place to discuss my views.