Hopefully tomorrow we’ll get back to the Scriptures; I want to look further at what Jesus and Paul say about the Christian’s relationship to the Law to see if there is a consistent standard by which we can determine what is acceptable behavior for a Christ follower. Today, though, I wanted to respond to a Facebook message I received from a friend. He says,
“Matt, I will be praying for you in your struggle. In response to your recent blog posts attempting to justify homosexuality in the Word, I ask that you read this article:
As always, I appreciate anyone’s prayers, and certainly the polite expression of concern. I would say, however, that this is no longer a struggle for me. Not at this point anyway. Unless someone comes forward with something I hadn’t considered or read regarding Christian faith and homosexuality, I would say most days I am at peace over the issue for the first time in my life. The struggle seems to be on the part of some of my past acquaintances who are scratching their heads at how Matt Rogers could have so lost his mind. I can understand that. If a friend had done this a couple years back, I would have been scratching my head at them too.
As requested, I read the article I was sent. It’s by some guy named Kirby Anderson at PROBE Ministries (I think it’s okay to snicker, I did).
Of the Sodom story in Genesis 19, Anderson writes,
“One of the keys to understanding this passage is the proper translation of the Hebrew word for ‘know.’ Pro-homosexuality commentators point out that this word can also mean ‘to get acquainted with’ as well as mean ‘to have intercourse with.’ In fact, the word appears over 943 times in the Old Testament, and only 12 times does it mean ‘to have intercourse with.’ Therefore, they conclude that the sin of Sodom had nothing to do with homosexuality.”
Anderson goes on to say that statistics alone should not determine the meaning of a word in Scripture. I think he’s right. And in the few thousand pages of reading I did on this topic over two years I heard other anti-gay commentators suggest that some pro-gay theologians make the claim that “to know” in the Sodom story doesn’t involve sex. However, I never found any pro-gay theologian who in fact argued for this interpretation. I sometimes wonder if Anderson and others of a similar mind float these ideas to discredit pro-gay folks, but that’s my cynicism talking. At any rate, I don’t know of anyone who seriously supports the idea that Sodom is not about sex. Of course it is. But it’s about gang rape, not sex within a committed relationship. To treat Genesis 19 as a blanket prohibition against gay sex, given the brutal nature of what’s happening in the story, is terribly dishonest. And I think most theologians would say Jude’s mention of “strange flesh” references the fact that the Sodom visitors were angelic beings, not that the men of the town were desiring gay sex.
Next, Anderson takes on the Levitical proscriptions and the assertion by many people, not just gay theologians, that Christians are not bound to keep the Old Testament Law.
“If the Mosaic law is irrelevant to homosexuality, then it is also irrelevant to having sex with animals or having sex with children. More to the point, to say that the Mosaic law has ended is not to say that God has no laws or moral codes for mankind. Even though the ceremonial law has passed, the moral law remains.”
Anderson is getting to the heart (though he doesn’t seem to realize it) of what confuses many, many Christians. How do we determine what we keep from the Old Testament Law and what we set aside in the New Testament era. That’s where we’re headed next, to see what Jesus and Paul say about this. For the first time in my life, I feel like I have a consistent standard for making those judgments. Anderson’s standard seems to be the old “moral law versus ceremonial law” argument. The problem with that approach is two-fold. One, it is unclear whether ancient Israel made any such distinction. Quite likely, this is a contemporary invention we created to try to settle this very question: what of the Law do we follow? Second, since the Bible contains no guidelines for determining what is moral (eternal) law and what is ceremonial (temporary) law, it is left to folks like Anderson to decide for us. Convenient for Anderson.
As for Romans, Anderson deals only briefly with it, taking a decidedly traditional approach to the passage but never once addressing the questions and objections of those who hold a differing view. And I think those questions and objections are good ones worthy of an honest treatment. Anderson offers none.
Anderson moves on to the 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy passages. He does not address (or, indeed, even acknowledge) the uncertainty of interpretation inherent in the words malakoi and arsenokoitai. Is he even aware of this debate among scholars? It’s impossible to tell from what he has written. At any rate, he offers no response. Anderson says,
“Pro-homosexual commentators make use of the ‘abuse’ argument and point out that Paul is only singling out homosexual offenders. In other words, they argue that the Apostle Paul is condemning homosexual abuse rather than responsible homosexual behavior. In essence, these commentators are suggesting that Paul is calling for temperance rather than abstinence. While this could be a reasonable interpretation for drinking wine (don’t be a drunkard), it hardly applies to other sins listed in 1 Corinthians 6 or 1 Timothy 1. Is Paul calling for responsible adultery or responsible prostitution? Is there such a thing as moral theft and swindling? Obviously the argument breaks down.”
Anderson misses the point that every other sin in the vice lists involves some exploitive, deceitful, or otherwise harmful characteristic. If malakoi and arsenokoitai do not, then they are alone in the passages and rather out of place, since gay sex within a committed relationship doesn’t seem to cause any demonstrable harm. And since Anderson doesn’t tell us how he arrived at his interpretation of these two Greek terms, we have no way of knowing why he thinks they do not involve an abusive aspect of the sexual culture in which Paul was living.
Anderson then goes into a lengthy rebuke of the “born this way” argument. I don’t believe I have ever suggested people are born gay because, honestly, I have no idea what causes homosexuality. Could be nature; could be nurture; could be some mix of factors; could be different in different people. Who knows? I don’t, and neither does Anderson, and since I’ve never argued that people are born gay, I’ll pass on responding to what he says.
Okay, back to the Scriptures next time …