Thursday, May 29, 2008

Homosexuality and the Bible (Part 5)

The Holiness Code found in Leviticus urged all Israelites to keep themselves and the land unpolluted through holy obedience to the commands. In Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 we find explicit references that prohibit homosexual behavior:

With a male you shall not lie as though lying with a woman; it is an abomination.
- Leviticus 18:22

And a aman who will lie with a male as though lying with a woman, they have committed an abomination, the two of them; they shall certainly be put to death; their blood be upon them.
- Leviticus 20:13

Most scholars have long assumed an obvious meaning of these verses, however, revisionists (biblical liberals) have come along an tried to suggest a new understanding of these verses. Their argument rests on the interpretaion and object of the word "abomination" (in the Hebrew "Toebah"). Revisionists will suggest either or both arguments that the "abomination" referenced in each of these verses is 1, in relation to ritual purity (not sin) and/or 2. idolatrous cult practices (not homosexual practice as we understand it today).

1. Revisionists will suggest that "abomination" points to homosexuality as something unclean and against the purity laws on par with eating pork or engaging in intercourse during menstruation. They would argue that the "abomination" is being ceremonially unclean, not inherently sinful. There are three good counter arguments to this suggestion.

First, for the jew ceremonially unclean was synonomous with inherently sinful. The two were not separated in the minds of the Jewish people. One of the major reasons Leviticus exists is to show that God is holy and humanity isn't. Even through ceremonial purity, the Jews (and the rest of humanity) could not live up to God's standards.

Second, the fact that homosexuality is singled out as a form of sexual misconduct that is particularly worthy of the designation "abomination" suggests a seriousness to it that not all sins carry. It reminds me of 1 Corinthians 6:18 where Paul writes "Free from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside of his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body." Its not that sexual sin is worse than any other sin, but it is in a class of its own.

Lastly, the punishment of death found in Lev. 20:13 demonstrates the significance of the degree to which homosexuality is abhorrent.

2. The second argument revisionists use is that the "abomination" is a reference to the way homosexuality was practiced in the culture around the Israelites. They suggest that "abomination" in this context relates to Canaanite idolatry and the rituals - sexual or otherwise - practiced in it. They relate the sin not to homosexuality, but to the diety being worshipped while the sexual practice was engaged upon. The natural application is that the context does not speak to homosexuality as we understand it today: as two loving men or women who consensually engage in homoerotic behavior.

The majority of biblical scholars give this argument very little creedence. It is obvious from the text that it is not the cultic or idolatrous element that makes homosexual practice an "abomination" it is the sexual element. All one has to do is look at the context. These Levitical prohibitions fall within a greater pericope of all types of sexual prohibitions. Also, in the Ancient Near Eastern Culture, to ban cult prostitutes was to ban all homosexual intercourse. It wasn't just the sexual misconduct of prostitution, but also the type of prostitution practiced. One scholar (Robert Gagnon) wisely observes "the Levitical rejection of same-sex intercourse depends on Canaanite practices for its validity about as much as the rejection of incest, adultery and bestiality."

It is clear that these two verses clearly name homosexual practice as an abomination and against God's will for humanity.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Homosexuality and the Bible (Part 4)

I'm going to speed up our discussion a little bit and look at two New Testament verses that reference Sodom and Gomorrah.

1. In Luke 10:10-12 Jesus says:

"But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, 'even the dust of your town that sticks to our feet we wipe off against you. Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God is near.' I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town."

With these words, Jesus prounounces a greater judgment on any town that is unwelcoming to his messengers (and the message itself that the Kingdom of God is near) than that incurred by Sodom. So why wouldn't Jesus talk about homosexuality in his mention of Sodom? First, as we have seen, homosexuality is just a symptom of a greater sin. It is likely that if Jesus were to speak of a sin of Sodom, it would be the "disease" of idolatry, not necessarily the symptoms of that idolatry.

Second, Josephus and Philo (two first century historians and writers) assume that Jesus' reference to Sodom is a reference to an awareness of the homoerotic dimension of their sins. I'm well aware that this is a weak argument, however, as with Ezekiel, just because homosexuality is not mentioned doesn't mean it wasn't associated with the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah.

2. In Jude 7 we find this reference to Sodom and Gomorrah:

In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrouding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire.

In the original text, that phrase "sexual immorality and perversion" is literally "prostitution and going after strange flesh." "Sexual immorality" can mean any type of sexual misconduct and "going after strange flesh" denotes homoesexual behavior. It is explicit in this example that part of the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah was homosexual behavior. It is unlikely that Jude's author was the only first century writer to assume homosexual sin as part of the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah. He was most likely naming something that was already obvious in the minds of his readers and hearers.

In my next post I will write about Homosexual sin in the book of Leviticus.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Homosexuality and the Bible (Part 3)

In Ezekiel 16:49-50 we find a list of the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah.

49Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. 50They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen.

In chapter 16 of Ezekiel an allegory comparing Jerusalem to that of an unfaithful wife (an allegory often used for idolatry throughout scripture) is employed. This is the context. Also, it is interesting that the word "detestable" is used in verse 50. This is the Hebrew word toebah and literally means "abomination." It is the word used in Leviticus regarding homosexual sin. A male lying with a male is called toebah (an abomination) in Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13.

While there is no explicit mention of homosexuality in the list of sins of Sodom and Gomorrah in Ezekiel 15:49-50, one scholar, Robert Gagnon states "On the level of allegory, Jerusalem's 'abominations' are sexual sins; on the level of reality, Jerusalem's 'abominations' are idolatrous practices." Gagnon connects toebah from Leviticus and states "in all of the Holiness Code (the book of Leviticus is often referred as the Holiness Code) only homosexual intercourse is singled out for special mention within the list of 'an abomination'." He concludes by suggesting "In Ezekiels view, the overarching rubric for the sin of Sodom is not inhospitality or homosexual behavior but human arrogance in relation to God. The focus is theocentric."

As I wrote earlier, the attempted homosexual rape found in the account of Sodom and Gomorrah is a symptom of a greater sin, that sin being idolatry. Their idolatrous practices naturally led them away from Yaweh and towards other sins (another theme in scripture) including social injustice, inhospitality and homosexual behavior. While it isn't crystal clear that verses 49 and 50 of Ezekiel 16 reference homosexuality as part of the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah, it is curious that the word toebah is used as a description of the things done before God. Would Ezekiel's readers make a connection between the word toebah (abomination) and homosexual sin since homosexual behavior is singled out for special mention as an abomination in the Levitical prohibitions? It might be a weak argument, but it is a very good possibility that the connection would have been automatic in the minds of Ezekiel's contemporaries.

Lastly, just because homosexual sin is not explicitly named as part of the list in these verses does not mean it wasn't a part of the reason for the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Obviously, Ezekiel was more concerned about the sin of idolatry than the individual sins that resulted as part of the symptom of idolatrous practices. An explicit absence of a word does not necessarily mean that the idea isn't present.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Homosexuality and the Bible (Part 2)

While there are many references to Sodom and Gomorrah throughout scripture, four texts that stand out for our purposes are: Isaiah 1:10-17, Ezekiel 16:44-50, Luke 10:8-12 and Jude 7. I'll spend time on each in the following blogs.

Isaiah 1:10-17
10 Hear the word of the LORD, you rulers of Sodom; listen to the law of our God, you people of Gomorrah! 11 "The multitude of your sacrifices—what are they to me?" says the LORD. "I have more than enough of burnt offerings, of rams and the fat of fattened animals; I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats. 12 When you come to appear before me, who has asked this of you, this trampling of my courts? 13 Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations— I cannot bear your evil assemblies. 14 Your New Moon festivals and your appointed feasts my soul hates. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. 15 When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you; even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood; 16 wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight! Stop doing wrong, 17 learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.

Isaiah relates the impending destruction of Judah to that of Sodom and Gomorrah. In verse 10, he explicitly references Sodom and Gomorrah. Isaiah then proceeds to label their offerings and incense as an abomination and accuses them of having blood on their hands because they have not given justice to the oppressed, the orphan, and the widow. While there is no explicit reference homosexuality, there is an obvious notion that Sodom and Gomorrah has a negative connotation in Isaiah's mind and in the mind of his contemporaries. Is it possible that attempted homosexual rape in the Sodom story is just a symptom of a greater evil? That evil being more general than even social injustice or inhospitality. In this passage, the focus seems to be idolatry. Isaiah's point is that the sins committed have a theocentric focus. God is the one sinned against. Biblical liberals are accurate to point out that in this passage, Isaiah fails to mention homosexuality as part of the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah, however, failure to name a specific sin is not reason enough to assume the sin is not inferred. While I know this is a weak argument, it is just as weak as saying the primary sin was social injustice or inhospitality, when clearly, in Isaiah's mind the primary sin of Sodom and Gomorrah was idolatry.

While it is possible that homosexuality is assumed as a part of the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah from this text, it is not explicit. If you just read this without any knowledge of Sodom and Gomorrah you would not know that attempted homosexual rape was a part of the story. While Isaiah's contemporaries would have probably been familiar with the Sodom and Gomorrah account including the attempted rape, it just isn't obvious to us. However, we will see that there is clearer implicit and/or explicit references to homosexuality as part of the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah in the next three texts.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Homosexuality and the Bible (Part 1)

The first occurrence of an explicit reference to homosexuality in the Bible is found in Genesis 19:1-29. Its the account of Sodom and Gomorrah, which is a popular story because of why it was destroyed: attempted homosexual rape as the height of their sinful behavior. However, biblical Liberals (generally those who affirm the practice of homosexuality) will claim that homosexuality is not a part of the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah that led to its destruction, they will claim their sin was inhospitality and social injustice. The debate rests on the meaning of the hebrew verb yada. Yada means "to know," it can either mean "to get acquainted with", or "to have sex with." The quetsion is wether or not it shouldbe interpreted specifically "to have sex with" in Genesis 19:5. Context should always dictate how a word is translated in a particular passage of scripture, so lets look at the context of the story.

Lot is hosting two angels in his house, after providing dinner for them, men from the city surround Lot's house and say "Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can know them ("have sex with them" or "get acquainted with them.") (Gen. 19:5). Lot goes outside to meet them tells them no and offers his two virgin daughters who had never "known" (yada) a man (Gen. 19:8).

Obviously, the men of the city are not just asking to "get acquainted with" the two angels. They are wanting to do more than just hang out with them. The context here is clear: Lot offers his virgin daughters who had never known a man to the men of the city in order to protect the angels. Obviously, the meaning of yada here is sexual. The men's motivation for the angels was more than just shaking hands and having a conversation. The men wanted to rape the angels; and these aren't the standard female angels of pop religion, their men!

Also, biblical liberals are quick to point out that yada is used in the OT 943 times and it means "to have sex with" in only 15 of those occurrences. What they fail to mention, is that 6 of the 15 times it is used in a sexual connotation is in the book of Genesis. Also, for Lot to use the word yada in reference to his virgin daughters dictates the sexual meaning in that instance. If Lot meant to offer his daughters so that the men of the city could "get acquainted with them," first: why did he specifically mention they were virgins and second: why did he feel it was necessary to protect the angels if the men of the city just wanted to talk? Context clearly dictates the sexual connotation of yada in this account. It could be said that inhospitality was part of the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah, but obviously, part of how that inhospitality manifests itself is attempted homosexual rape.

To be fair, biblical liberals will also use other texts of scripture that refer to Sodom and Gomorrah to support their claim that social injustice and inhospitality are the sins of the cities, not homosexuality. This will the topic of my next couple of posts.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Homosexuality and Methodism

Well, I haven't posted since April 7th. I know its not smart to start a blog, then not post anything for over 3 weeks. I do have an excuse, I was writing a paper for the Methodist class. The good thing is that the class was a Methodist class and the paper is on homosexuality. So I get to write about a hot topic.

The governing book of the United Methodist Church is the Book of Discipline. Under the Social Principles, there is a statement that says "The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and consider this practice incompatible with Christian teaching." This has come to be known as the "incompatibility phrase." Notice that the practice is what is not condoned. This is an important point. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with someone having a homosexual orientation or even homosexual temptaions. Its homosexual practice that's the issue. Homosexual behavior is one among many other practices that are incompatible with Christian teaching. While the majority of Methodists (lay people and clergy) support the "incompatibility phrase," many Methodists do not agree with it and are trying to change the wording.

I oppose homophobia and "gay bashing." I agree with the Book of Discipline when it claims "Homosexual person no less than heterosexual persons are individuals of sacred worth." The prhase often applied to homosexuality (and many other sins) is: "hate the sin love the sinner." That prhase is an unwelcoming, overused and unhelpful platitude. The main reason is that the person saying it never says it about themselves. Shouldn't we hate all sin, including our own? Orientation is not the sin, but "hate the sin love the sinner" implies that it is.

A Homosexual orientation creates temptation in certain individuals that can lead them into sinful behavior, but it does not have to. Any temptation can be resisted. Genetic or social presupposition to sinful behavior does not authorize that behavior. Someone presupposed to drinking too much alcohol can choose whether or not guzzle down too many beers to get drunk. Someone presupposed to theft can choose whether or not to steal that candy bar at Walmart. A heterosexual male can decide whether or not to engage in sexual sin (before, during or after marriage) just as a homosexual person can decide whether or not to engage in sexual sin.

Over the next few blogs, I'll share more about what the Bible says about homosexuality.