Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Homosexuality and the Bible:
A Response to the Discussion

A few weeks ago there was a discussion on “The Narrow Mind” radio broadcast between Gene Cook Jr. (host and pastor of Covenant Baptist Church, San Diego CA) and Richard Brentlinger (author of “Gay Christian 101 - Spiritual Self-Defense For Gay Christians”) concerning whether or not homosexuality is a permissible according to the scriptures. I think that it is important to point out that by “permissible” I do not mean whether or not secular societies should allow men and women to engage on those activities freely, but I am referring to God’s Holy Word and what it has to say about such relationships. During the discussion, Rick affirmed that casual or non-committed sex between any persons is not permitted by Scripture, but he argues that committed same sex couples (who would marry each other if they could) are outside of that prohibition.

Gene Cook did a great job of walking through the various passages in the Bible, beginning with creation, showing God’s standard for sexual relationships. One of the initial objections to the ideas espoused by Mr. Brentlinger that was raised was the text from Leviticus 18.

21 'You shall not give any of your offspring to offer them to Molech, nor shall you profane the name of your God; I am the LORD. 22 'You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination.’ 23 'Also you shall not have intercourse with any animal to be defiled with it, nor shall any woman stand before an animal to mate with it; it is a perversion (Leviticus 18:21-23)

Mr. Brentlinger argued that this passage (specifically referring to verse 22) is referring to the practice of worshiping pagan gods. He also makes the distinction, using Leviticus 18:1,3, that these commands are, “not for Bible believing Christians in the age of grace, this is addressed to the children of Israel who were about to enter the land of Canaan.”1 He then refers to both Molech and Ashtoreth (the fire and fertility gods of the Canaanites) and that worship to these gods was done in the form of sex, whether homosexual or heterosexual, and often using shrine prostitutes. And it was against these practices that the commands of Leviticus 18 were being addressed. He then argued that since the context of Leviticus 18 is dealing with pagan worship practices, then this passage says nothing about committed and loving relationships between two people of the same sex.

I thought that the response to this argument by Pastor Cook was outstanding because it both was a quick reaction to Mr. Brentlinger’s point as well as it basically destroyed any “contextual” basis that was used. Basically, Pastor Cook asked if it was acceptable to sacrifice children or to have sex with animals as long as it was not done as worship to a pagan deity. And when the response was that there was a difference and that Pastor Cook was using incorrect hermeneutics, Pastor Cook, after quoting Leviticus 18:21, 23, replied with, “Are you saying then that it is o.k. to sacrifice your children as long as it is not done in pagan worship?” Mr. Brentlinger replied with a quick, “No.” Pastor Cook then asks if bestiality (v. 23) is o.k. as long as it is not done in pagan worship. Mr. Brentlinger responds with another “No,” and then goes on to say that it is not correct to understand these two verses (v. 21 and 23) in this way. He said, basically, that these things are always wrong.
“I’m simply applying the same contextual argument to verse 21 and 23 that you are applying to the verse that is sandwiched between those two. And you’re saying that the context…is in the form of idol worship or pagan worship. I’m saying that if you’re going to interpret verse 22 that way, then you would also be forced to interpret verse 21 and 23 that way. Isn’t that a fair assumption?”2

Well, obviously he did not because this effectively destroys his whole contextual argument. Because if Brentlinger’s hermeneutic is applied consistently, then Leviticus 18 is only condemning these things when done to worship false gods, and only then if it is the nation of Israel that does it.

What actually went through my mind was a scene from “Liar Liar” where Jim Carrey is arguing a case in court. In this story, Carrey (Reede) is a scrupulous trial lawyer who lies in order to win. At one point in the movie, the opposing side is presenting some key evidence against his client. He attempts to intervene, but he is incapable of lying and the following interchange occurs:
Reede: “Your Honor, l object!”
Judge: “And why is that, Mr. Reede?”
Reede: “Because it's devastating to my case!”
Judge: “Overruled.“3

There were many other exchanges during the radio discussion, but it was pretty much the same story. For example, Mr. Brentlinger said that the evil in Sodom and Gomorrah was not just homosexual sex, but it was homosexual sex as an act of worship to a pagan god.

The more exciting part of this exchange for me came about when I was able to interact (after a fashion) with Mr. Brentlinger on another blog. During his comments, he made some pretty revealing statements about what lens he looks through when he interprets the Bible.

For example, Mr. Brentlinger wrote,
“The point Paul made in Romans 1:27, was aimed at prohibiting idolatry and shrine prostitution, (precisely the same rationale as Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13), but not a loving, committed, same sex relationship as we understand that today.”4

The phrase "as we understand it today" seems to be a dolled up way of saying that people in biblical times were dumb about this type of thing (sexual orientation), but now we're more intelligent.

It is impossible to "explain away" the overwhelmingly clear principle that sex is only acceptable in marriage, and that marriage is only between man and woman, not man and man or woman and woman. From creation to Sodom and Gomorrah to Christ’s teaching about marriage and divorce to the writings of the apostles, it is clear that God abhors homosexuality. The Bible is clear in it’s depiction that this is a perversion of what sex is and should be.

There is great hope for anyone who is homosexual, a liar, a thief, a drunk…anyone. The hope is in Christ, and once we are in Christ we are then in the company of people that Paul was thinking of when he wrote to the Corinthian church, “Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.” (1 Corinthians 6:11)

Its interesting that EJ brings I Cor 6:9 into the discussion. The Greek words at issue in I Cor 6:9 are malakoi and arsenokoites. John Wesley, 1703-1791, conservative founder of the Methodists, remarks on malakoi/effeminate in his notes on the Bible. “Nor the effeminate - who live in an easy, indolent way, taking no cross, enduring no hardship. But how is this? These good-natured, harmless people [effeminates]... John Wesley was not gay nor was he a gay apologist. He did not interpret malakoi to mean homosexual.

John Gill, 1697-1771, famous English Baptist pastor and expositor, in his Exposition of the Bible, understood malakoi to refer to those who commit the sin of Onan, Genesis 38:8-9, which in Gill’s day, signified masturbation, not homosexuality. "Nor effeminate “or "soft," or, as the Syriac renders it, "corrupters;" that is, of themselves, by voluntary pollution, such as are guilty of the sin of Onan, (Genesis 38:8,9).”

John Gill disagreed with every poster in this thread (except me) and with almost every modern preacher who uses I Corinthians 6:9 to preach against homosexuals. My point is that, for most of the last 2000 years, Christians of any denomination, did not understand I Cor 6:9 to be referring to homosexuality. That anti-gay 'spin' on the passage only became popular in the last 100 years.”5

Richard quoted Gill and Wesley in response to my earlier statement of hope, for all sinners that we can be freed from the sin that we’re in, citing them as saying that these passages are not referring to homosexuals. Now, while I haven’t yet done the word study on the two words brought up here, let me make one comment on how he is using John Gill and John Wesley (both of whom I respect, and I use Gill’s commentary regularly). I wonder if we could find any commentary these men affirm that the Bible condones and blesses (for lack of a better word) homosexual unions? I have never read anything from Wesley or Gill (not to mention Spurgeon, Edwards, Owen, Calvin, Luther, Augustine, or others) that even comes close to that kind of an affirmation. Without an affirmation that the act of homosexuality in “committed relationships” is approved of, discussions of the best understanding of a particular verse’s primary meaning is important and most edifying, but picking and choosing various sources to argue against the idea that any homosexual relationship is wrong while misrepresenting the same authors’ full view on homosexuality is dishonest and it doesn’t lend credit to the scholarship involved..

If Mr. Brentlinger is going to use men like the ones above to argue against an understanding of particular passage, I wonder if he also uses their understandings on the other passages dealing with homosexuality as well? I highly doubt it. Ultimately, tradition doesn’t form our theology, but it can help to guide it. But even as helpful, but fallible, guides, these men do not affirm any homosexual lifestyle.

Later in the conversation, Richard takes another shot at trying to water down the Biblical president of marriage by the following thoughts:
“I think it is always better to get married before beginning a sexual relationship.

I would point out however, that Judah had a brief sexual affair with his daughter in law Tamar, which produced twin boys, Pharez and Zarah.

Judah and Tamar were not married and there is no indication in the Bible that they ever got married.

Nevertheless, God saw fit to legitimate their relationship by placing their twin boys, Pharez and Zarah, in the genealogy of Christ, Genesis 38:11-26 and Matthew 1:3.”6

Aside from trying to figure out exactly what is meant by the phrase, “I think it is always better to get married before beginning a sexual relationship,” I would like to begin answering this attack by asking a question of my own. Does God legitimize the practice of incest (father with daughter)? Based on the above logic taken from Christ’s genealogy, He would. Ruth is also in the messianic line and she was a Moabitess. The Bible tells us that the Moabites were the descendents of Lot by the product of an incestual relationship between him and his daughters. So, based on the logic of Mr. Brentlinger, God must have “legitimized” the sexual relationship between Lot and his daughters by placing Ruth in the line of Christ.
“Jewish historians like Josephus and philosophers like Philo reinterpreted the Sodom story, in the first century, to make it a warning against pederasty, instead of a warning against inhospitality.

Jesus rejected the Jewish “reinterpretation” in Matthew 10:11-15 and Mark 6:11, when He pointed out that inhospitality was the sin of Sodom.”7

I have heard someone use Ezekiel 16:49 to say that the sin of Sodom was inhospitality. Based on the text in Ezekiel, it is proper to understand that inhospitality was a sin of Sodom, but it is a stretch beyond belief to say that it was the sin of Sodom. However using the Ezekiel passage in conjunction with Matthew 10 and Mark 6 to say that the sin of Sodom was inhospitality is just plain ridiculous.
14 "Whoever does not receive you, nor heed your words, as you go out of that house or that city, shake the dust off your feet. 15 Truly I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city.” (Matthew 10:14,15)

The key to understanding this passage and its main implications correctly is not to equate the way that the different towns treated the apostles with the treatment (inhospitality) of the angels or other travelers by Sodom and Gomorrah. If the towns did not receive the apostles, that was not the main issue. The main issue was the fact that by not receiving the apostles or the message that they were preaching, they were not receiving Christ.
"The one who listens to you listens to Me, and the one who rejects you rejects Me; and he who rejects Me rejects the One who sent Me." (Luke 10:16)

The clear implication from the Genesis text of Sodom and Gomorrah is that their sin (at least against the angels) was a widespread perversion including “both young and old, all the people from every quarter“ (Genesis 19:4) that was homosexual sex. There is no mention of pagan religious practices (temple prostitutes), just the deviant sexual behavior. Jude (v.7) agrees with the Old Testament and indicates the sexual perversion is the reason that these cities were treated in this fashion. They “indulged in gross immorality and went after strange flesh, are exhibited as an example in undergoing the punishment of eternal fire.” They are set up as an example for how much God detests this kind of sexual perverted practice.

Basically, to alter the message of Christ in Matthew 10 to mean that Sodom & Gomorrah were destroyed because of their inhospitality is torturous to the Word of God. The point in that passage is that the judgment of those who reject the gospel and reject Christ will be worse than those hideous pagans who are judged for all of their wickedness but did not hear the gospel.
If we actually believed that logic is valid [if homosexual marriage is not in the Bible, then it’s not scriptural and we shouldn’t do it], we would immediately stop meeting in church buildings. No New Testament Christian congregation met in their own church building. They met in fields and homes.

No heterosexual couple in the Bible ever got married in a church building.

No heterosexual couple in the Bible was ever married by a denominationally affiliated pastor.

If your logic about gay marriage is valid, then it is unscriptural to meet in church buildings, get heterosexually married in church buildings and have denominationally affiliated pastors perform your wedding ceremony.

The general rule stating that if something is not in the Bible then Christians should reject it is true and I would hold to that principle, but it is not true in the lawnmower type way (i.e. destroying anything and everything in its path) that Mr. Brentlinger wants to apply it to make this point. The New Testament talks about Church activity, but it doesn’t refer to the type building that believers should congregate in. The structure of church leadership, not the structure of the building, and the qualifications of those leaders is described in the Bible (1 Timothy 3; Titus 1). To make the claim that since the Bible doesn’t talk about the specific type of church building that we are to meet and that this is equivalent to the Bible being silent on same sex marriages is a mistake. If anyone can show me where the Bible describes and reaffirms the location and type of building that a body of New Testament believers should gather in, then we may have an issue equivalent to the homosexual marriage idea that Mr. Brentlinger was making.

The Bible doesn’t institute the marriage ceremony (i.e. what is said or where it is said or who officiates it) that men and women are to go through in order to get married, but it does institute who is to be married. And it is to this explicit teaching that we must hold fast. If sex is only okay inside of a marriage covenant relationship, then it also makes homosexual sex of any kind a sin, no matter how committed the two same sex parties are to each other.

1 Interview 2.19.07 19:45 into the discussion
2 Ibid. 23:20
5 Ibid.
6 Ibid.
7 Ibid.

No comments:

Copyright © 2005-2010 Eric Johnson