This is the final post of a three-part series.
In conclusion, as I have shown in Part 1 & 2 of the “Seeds, Seafood, Beards & Sex” articles, there are historical, cultural and religious reasons behind these often debated verses. Most of them related to various distinctive identity purposes to separate the Jews from other religious practices, cultural customs or impure or immoral activities.
The work of biblical interpretation helps us show what was fulfilled in Christ and what of the moral law passed through Christ in his example, teaching and instructions through the apostles. Many of the commands of the Old Testament are found in the apostolic teaching of the New Testament. One of those laws is regarding homosexuality. An honest, non-biased reader, cannot deny the obvious continuation of the prohibition of homosexuality as practiced in the Old and New Testaments. The important interpretive work is defining what God ‘originally intended’ in the Old Testament and how does the NT interpret or continue that intention in life, marriage and community.
Jesus, Marriage and Original Intent:
For me I always start with Jesus and examine what he said about marriage and sexuality. He did continue the OT understanding of marriage and his authority for the original intent from the beginning was ‘Scripture’.
“Haven’t you read the Scriptures?” Jesus replied. “They record that from the beginning ‘God made them male and female.’” And he said, “‘This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.’ Since they are no longer two but one, let no one split apart what God has joined together.” “Then why did Moses say in the law that a man could give his wife a written notice of divorce and send her away?” they asked. Jesus replied, “Moses permitted divorce only as a concession to your hard hearts, but it was not what God had originally intended.” (Matthew 19:4-8)
For progressives, I see no other option than ignoring or mythologizing the Scripture since Jesus and the apostles continue the Torah tradition of marriage and sexuality. The ability to say it’s a story-book vs authoritative Scripture, allows anyone to become the final court of interpretation. I get that desire, but for me that method of handling what I consider sacred Scripture, falls too far from the actually way people in the Bible handled Scripture. Strange that for progressives, the people of torah are not the example of how to handle Torah.
But, unfortunately, people often give up on the work needed to understand Torah and refuse to commit to the truth behind the teaching being presented. It’s unfortunate that these biblical conversation so easily devolve to modern snickers instead of actual historical and cultural explanations of the seeds, clothing and beard laws.
What About Monogamous Homosexual Relationships?
As a follower of Jesus, the law has a beautiful place within the gift of community as a fulfilled covenant by Christ, undergirding the understanding of the royal law in James 2:8. “If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well.” This royal law informs and guides how I approach the issues that are difficult, confusing and possibly misunderstood. For many people the costs of this discussion are far more steep than the ones arguing against it. We should walk in grace and humility with any topic that deeply impacts the lives of vulnerable young people and the relationships, self-identities and self-acceptance of people we love and care for in our communities.
The main argument being presented by progressives today revolves around the idea that the prohibition of homosexuality in the OT and NT was related to how it was practiced. The claim is made that modern, monogamous, gay relationships don’t fall into the category of the prohibited practices of temple/cult prostitution, pederasty(older man/young boy sex), cultural proclivities of power related to passive and dominant sex roles or unrestrained sexual lasciviousness.
For me this is where there is currently room for debate and disagreement and it’s here where I try to assume a humble posture in the process of learning. We must allow the work of professionals in textual criticism, historical and cultural studies, experts in biology, science and sociology, and the broad and time tested work of psychologists help us in our cultural and biblical conclusions about the place and definitions of modern homosexuality.
For me, the civil legal issues of rights and responsibilities of marriage in a secular state are different discussions than the biblical exegesis of the right or wrong practice of homosexuality. We allow for these differences in how we legally and religiously apply law and practices to heterosexuality. We recognize various right or wrong practices related to adultery, fornication, under-age sex etc. We allow for a religious understanding related to heterosexuality and a secular understanding related to civil law. Sex before marriage isn’t illegal in civil law but in religious communities it’s commonly prohibited as an expression of intimacy reserved for marriage. My point is we already slice up sexuality and practices and call some things right and wrong depending on the context of those activities.
Evangelicals & Divorce & Remarriage:
Can we honestly talk about how the general attitude and acceptance of divorce and remarriage has dramatically changed in the church? Why is it that us evangelicals who hammer the issue of faithfulness to God’s word, have evolved in the application and interpretation of an issue that is far more clear and defendable since Jesus himself said it:
“But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” (Matthew 5:32)
Why is acceptable for evangelicals and conservatives to embrace a faith culture that sees itself shifting, de-emphasizing and sidelining some views of scripture in response to growing cultural disconnect with the position of those verses? Is that apostasy, is it a rejection of the authority of God’s word or is it reflective of tensions between interpretation, application and cultural realities?
Right now, these debates are taking place regarding same-sex, monogamous marital relationships. There are serious theologians and pastoral leaders that don’t condone irresponsible, outside of marriage, sexual relationships. This is a debate about the possibility of working to remove the religious and cultural stigma of a growing population of people who don’t fit the former biblical understandings of a type of sexual immorality. The comparisons of women’s rights and slavery hold very similar examples of the very difficult work of exegesis in matters of history, culture, tradition, the bible and the growing understanding and practice of human rights.
We must answer why we don’t continue to ostracize disobedient heterosexual couples and re-marrieds with the same appeal to the clear reading of Scripture. If we find grace and acceptance for people who continue to live in direct contradiction to the clear teaching of Jesus in the word of God, what is our ‘Bible’ defense?
Heretics or Hermeneutics?
One could conclude that both gays and re-marrieds are to be handled with the same severity of the letter of the word of God, or we can approach the real life situations with pastoral care and a commitment to biblical ministry that reflects the way and words of Jesus. The verdict for many isn’t conclusive enough to reject, excommunicate, divide or damn one another.
This ongoing secular and sacred exegetical work shouldn’t be done under the threat of heretic trials and denominational excommunications. We should handle the scripture and people’s lives with a sense of divine responsibility and loving care. We should wrestle with our understanding of scripture and always be committed to practicing mercy over judgment as we attempt address the challenges and opportunities of the post-modern era.
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