Tuesday, June 30, 2015


i) One way some folks defend homosexuality and sodomite marriage is to accuse faithful Christians of hypocrisy. Christians are allegedly hypocritical because they "cherrypick" Scripture. 

For instance, they quote Leviticus on homosexuality, but eat shellfish and wear polyester. 

Yes, there really are people who raise that objection. In fact, on Facebook, I encountered a Jew who majored in philosophy of religion, who calls himself a "Jewish Biblical scholar," who brought up the polyester objection.

Now, when I run across objections like that, my eyes roll. But I guess it's something we need to address.

ii) The folks who say this pride themselves on their tolerance. They regard faithful Christians as bigots. 

So the first thing I'd point out is that folks who level that objection are guilty of bigotry. Now, I'm sure it's never occurred to them that they are bigots. It's always the other person who's the bigot!

Why do I say they are bigots? Because only someone who suffers from prejudice would raise that objection in the first place. 

You see, they could only level an objection like that because they are ignorant of Christian theology. They have a hostile, uninformed, preconceived opinion about Bible-believing Christians.

Well, folks, that's a textbook definition of prejudice. And a synonym for prejudice is bigotry. 

Bigots commonly accuse Christians of bigotry. Their prejudice blinds them to their own bigotry. That's something we should draw their attention to.

iii) I'd add that even if some Christians are inconsistent in how they appropriate the OT, that doesn't automatically make them hypocrites. Most Christians aren't theologians or Bible scholars. Laymen don't necessary have the time or aptitude to work out a consistent position on everything.

Indeed, even philosophers find it challenging to be consistent across the board. 

iv) Furthermore, Christians shouldn't be put in this position in the first place. We shouldn't even have to disprove absurd, immoral positions like transgenderism or sodomite marriage. The fact that most Christians don't have ready-made arguments for every whacky new depravity that decadent academics dream up is hardly a judgment on Christians.

v) Now let's turn our attention to the substantive issue. Anyone with a decedent knowledge of Christian theology can tell you that the relationship between OT theology and NT theology involves both continuities and discontinuities. There's partial carryover between OT law and NT ethics. It's not an all-or-nothing proposition. It's not as if you must either reaffirm OT law in toto or disaffirm OT law in toto. For that's not how the NT frames the choice. The NT stakes out a middle ground.

vi) Let's take a few examples:

a) One of the issues which cropped up very early in NT times was the question of whether Gentiles needed to become Jews in order to become Christians. Did they need to undergo circumcision? Practice a kosher diet? Observe the other purity codes? 

The council of Jerusalem (Acts 15) was convened to address that question. And there were different aspects to the question. 

One aspect concerned the issue of theological principle. As a matter of principle, were Gentiles obligated to be circumcised or observe the purity codes? And the answer was no.

In addition, the council reaffirmed OT sexual ethics.

b) But there was also the policy question. Even though, in principle, that was defunct, the NT church was a missionary church. In that respect, Christians should be tactful. Avoid giving unnecessary offense to Jews.

So the council staked out a compromise position. On the one hand, Gentile converts could forgo circumcision. On the other hand, they should only consume exsanguinated meat. And even that probably has reference to Christian Gentiles residing in mixed communities (i.e. Jews and Gentiles).

For an exegetical defense of this interpretation, read the commentaries by Bock and Peterson on Acts 15:19-21.

c) Another instance is the Book of Hebrews. As the author makes clear, the atonement of Christ abrogates the Levitical priesthood and the sacrificial system. 

d) Those are examples of discontinuity. There are, however, examples of continuity. For instance, 1 Tim 1:9-10 paraphrases the Decalogue. For a detailed analysis, read Towner.

So that's a case where OT law carries over into NT ethics. 

vii) Apropos (vi), it is not hypocritical for Christians to be selective where the NT is selective. If the NT is selective in it's appropriation of the OT, then Christians ought to be selective in the same way. We should align our position on the OT with the NT position on the OT. 

At the risk of stating the obvious, the NT is our frame of reference for judging how much OT theology carries over into the new covenant. To be a Christian is, among other things, to take your cue from the NT. That supplies a normative filter for how we view the OT.   

viii)  It's tricky to say in general how much carryover there is between OT theology and NT theology. Different Christian theological traditions give different answers to that question. Indeed, that's a major reason why we have different theological traditions. They give different answers to that question.

ix) However, we don't need to have a general answer to that question to address the issue of homosexuality, for the NT specifically reaffirms the OT position in that respect. We don't have to say, in general, how much OT theology is obsolete under the new covenant to answer this particular question, for the NT already answers this particular question.

x) Apropos (ix), the NT specifically and explicitly reaffirms OT heteronormativity.

a) Jesus reaffirms Gen 1-2 in reference to marital norms (Mt 19:4-5).

b) Gen 1 is the presupposition for Rom 1. God's identity as the Creator (Rom 1:20,25) goes back to the Genesis creation account (Gen 1:1). In Rom 1, Paul's discussion of homosexuality is grounded, not in OT law, but OT history–just like Christ's appeal (see above).

c) In addition, Rom 1:23 alludes to Gen 1:16-17,22-25.

d) Likewise, Rom 1:26-27 alludes to Gen 1:27. 

There are other literary allusions in Rom 1. For detailed analysis, see commentators like Jewett and Schreiner. 

e) 1 Cor 6:9 & 1 Tim 1:10 allude to Lev 18:22 & 20:13. So in these passages, Paul reaffirms the Levitical condemnation of homosexuality. 

And, of course, Leviticus is a part of the Pentateuch. The Levitical condemnation of homosexuality has its basis in Gen 1-2. 

f) Yet Paul is famous for denying that circumcision is a new covenant requirement. Therefore, Christians are quite consistent when they selectively prooftext their position on homosexuality from the OT. They simply repeat the NT. 

xi) This isn't arbitrary. The Mosaic code contains different kinds of laws. Some laws concern behavior that's intrinsically right or wrong.

Other injunctions are laws of utility rather than morality (e.g. put a parapet around your roof, cover an open well).

And some laws are essentially symbolic. Circumcision and the purity codes had an emblematic significance. They were never moral absolutes. Rather, they were a means to an end. Temporary pointers to a greater reality. 


  1. As usual great article Steve, but I've been struggling with a question

    In the holiness code of Leviticus 18 part of the condemnations come down in Leviticus 18:19 against a man having sex with a woman who is Menstruating, this is right in the middle of the passages in which after God says in verse 24"'Do not defile yourselves in any of these ways, because this is how the nations that I am going to drive out before you became defiled" which is the basis that we use to determine that passages on homosexuality are universal. So what do we make of this? This is a counterargument used against seeing Leviticus 18:22 as applying today

    1. Kenneth, couldn't we just acknowledge that, as the most plain reading of Leviticus 18 seems to be, it is immoral to have sex with a menstruating woman? Similar to how it may be sinful to practice anal penetration. There are ways the body is meant to be enjoyed and ways it is not. There are things that are repugnant whether individuals find them so or not. Perhaps intercourse lubricated by blood is disgusting in the same way as intercourse lubricated by feces.

      The same sort of "But what do we do about _______" argument is used regarding women and head coverings. Sure, we can say that women shouldn't be pastors, but as my liberal professors would say, we'd also have to require women to wear head coverings! Well, yes, they should wear head coverings, and even 100 years ago and in many countries and churches today, they still do.

      Any interpretation that would make this list anything other than universal moral commands would come up against the use of "toevah" to describe the acts, and would contradict the most plain reading.

    2. Good question. Hard to give a definitive answer, given loose ends in Leviticus.

      i) If all we had to go by was Leviticus, I don't think that God expelling the Canaanites for such violations would be the basis we use to determine that the Levitical passages on homosexuality are universal.

      That's suggestive, but apart from the creation account (Gen 1-2), or Paul's appropriation of these passages (1 Cor 6:9 & 1 Tim 1:10), I'm not sure we'd regard them as universal.

      ii) I wouldn't begin with Lev 18:19. Rather, I think Lev 15:24 supplies the frame of reference. There, intercourse with a menstruating woman is a minor infraction. It carries no penalty. It requires no sacrifice. The contamination will automatically resolve itself in seven days. At most, the husband must bathe himself–and even that's not specified in this particular case.

      That alone suggests this is not intrinsically wrong. The husband contracts ritual defilement rather than moral guilt.

      iii) In addition, the 7-day period of contamination is symbolic rather than natural. That's a stock numerological figure.

      iv) This, in turn, raises the question of how to harmonize Lev 15:24 with 18:19, where it carries a harsh penalty. Since Leviticus itself doesn't tie up these loose ends, we are left to speculate.

      a) One explanation is that 15:24 refers to an inadvertent violation whereas 18:19 refers to an defiant violation.

      b) The fact that the emission in question is blood may intensify the significance of the infraction, given the emblematic importance of blood in Pentateuchal theology. Blood is a complex symbol, for it can signify either purification and defilement–depending on the action.

      All told, I think intercourse with a menstruating woman was never inherently immoral or sinful. Rather, the agent contracted ritual impurity.

      As such, I seriously doubt this carries over into the new covenant.

    3. Unknown

      "Kenneth, couldn't we just acknowledge that, as the most plain reading of Leviticus 18 seems to be, it is immoral to have sex with a menstruating woman?"

      No, we can't just acknowledge that, for we can't isolate Lev 18 from Leviticus as a whole, or the Pentateuch as a whole, or the new covenant. We must ask how Lev 18 functions in relation to larger literary and theological units.

      "There are ways the body is meant to be enjoyed and ways it is not."

      True, but that proves too much in this context inasmuch as seminal emissions are defiling, too.

      "Well, yes, they should wear head coverings, and even 100 years ago and in many countries and churches today, they still do."

      So this was just a pretext to ride your hobbyhorse?

      "Any interpretation that would make this list anything other than universal moral commands would come up against the use of 'toevah' to describe the acts, and would contradict the most plain reading."

      That's very atomistic.

    4. >>we can't isolate Lev 18 from Leviticus as a whole, or the Pentateuch as a whole, or the new covenant. We must ask how Lev 18 functions in relation to larger literary and theological units.

      As Kenneth said, Leviticus 18 sets its standards apart as binding on the other nations.

      >>seminal emissions are defiling, too.

      Not in Leviticus 18.

      >>So this was just a pretext to ride your hobbyhorse?

      Dismissal instead of engagement.

      >>That's very atomistic.

      You haven't responded to it. Strange how that works.

    5. Thanks for the answer Steve, I heard an interpretation that Lev 18:19 that suggests that here the woman is prostitute which would help explain the much harsher infraction here than in 15:24,

      Here's what the Expositors commentary on Leviticus says on the issue

      "There may be, however, a question whether the situation at 15:24 is actually the same as here and at 20:18. The terms are slightly different, and the context and the penalties are considerably different. At 20:18 (not 15:24) the phrase גִּלָּה אֶת־עֶרְוָתָהּ (gillāh ʾeṯ -ʿerwāṯāh, KJV, “uncover her nakedness”) is used. This is obviously a euphemism for sexual intercourse in some degree and is translated by the NIV as “have sexual relations.” It is also used in Ezek 16 and 23 in regard to the spiritual prostitution of Judah. It is used in Lev 18 and 20 of various incestuous connections but never of normal marital relations. It is possible that 18:19 and 20:18 refer to some kind of prostitution complicated by menstrual impurity. The penalty, as previously mentioned, is probably excommunication."
      Expositor's Bible Commentary

      In 20:18 the command is expanded on with a rationale that they have "exposed the source of her flow" I think it might be linked to the sacredness of blood found in Leviticus which is fulfilled by Christ. In any case isn't comparable to homosexuality as that command is carried over to the new testament.

      Unknown what do you think of the fact that this isn't mentioned in Acts 15 for the gentiles? And what do you think of the discrepancy in severity of punishment between Lev 18:19 and 15:24?

    6. I don't think we need to figure out how to harmonize Lev 15 with Lev 18 & 20 to address the particular issue at hand. So long as Lev 18 treats intercourse with a menstruating woman as a matter of ritual impurity, and a minor infraction even in that respect, rather than something that's naturally improper or inherently immoral, then that's not comparable to homosexuality.

      I'd add that in the REBC, Hess has a useful discussion of the homosexual passages.

  2. Something that should be pointed out is that critics of Christianity on this issue do the same thing they're objecting to. We all recognize that traditions, rules, and laws are often meant to serve only a temporary purpose or are meant to be applied only to some people or some circumstances, not universally. If a parent gives his five-year-old child a 9 o'clock bedtime, but doesn't require the child to go to bed by 9 o'clock when he's fifteen, is the parent an inconsistent hypocrite if he treats the five-year-old and fifteen-year-old the same way in other contexts (e.g., requiring the child to go to school or requiring him to clean his room at both ages)? The people who criticize us for supposedly being inconsistent, hypocritical, and such engage in the same sort of behavior in other contexts (e.g., parenting).

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  4. I always wondered whether Lev. 18:19 was a moral or ceremonial issue. I wondered whether it was moral because it could cause abortions. That is, the egg could get fertilized during a time when the zygote wouldn't be able to attach to the uterine wall. But that was just speculation. For all I know by that time the egg can no longer get fertilized. I never took a stand on the issue. But Steve made a good point about Lev. 15:24. It does seem most likely that Lev. 15:24 does refer to sexual intercourse rather than merely having laid down on the same bed in which a menstruating woman was laying or had lain. Compare with Lev. 20:18; Num. 5:13; Gen. 26:10; 34:2; 35:22; 1 Sam. 2:22.