Tuesday, July 07, 2015
More on the theology of homosexuality
A few days ago I put up here a coverage of the claims by mainstream Christian clergy that homosexuality is permissable to Christians. That permissiveness may be kindly meant and it may provide solace to some tormented souls but it clearly flies in the face of both the Christian teachings in the New Testament and the Jewish teachings of the Old Testament. Christ was a devout Jew living in a very orthodox Jewish community and, if you read Matthew chapter 19 in full, you will see that he was even more restrictive about sexual morality than were the very orthodox Pharisees.
I am therefore pleased that one of my Jewish readers has sent in some comments on the matter too. See below. He obviously has a searching knowledge of his own religion so I am impressed that he knows Christian thinking very well too. I had always imagined that only the most searching Protestant exegetes used the wonderful "Strong's Exhaustive Concordance to the Bible" but I see that he uses it too. I myself always have a copy on my desk in front of me
I read your recent post, "Homosexuality and Christian apologetics" with considerable interest. You are of course entirely correct in what you say.
I would like to offer a couple of footnotes.
Your note that Paul refers to a chastisement - "kolasin" - that you translate as "cutting off" interested me, because a frequent consequence for a variety of transgressions in the Jews' Bible is "kareth" - which is translated as to be cut off. This is a chastisement from Heaven, rather than a punishment to be imposed by an Earthly court, and it is usually interpreted as meaning a life that is cut short - although I think the implications are more serious, involving being cut off from the Divine, and so on.
That Scripture forbids homosexual acts was, as you note, very clear to the early Christians from Leviticus 18, which proscribes and condemns a variety of possible sexual liaisons, including a variety of forms of incest.
It is surely of interest, that the vast majority of prohibited relations are simply listed as being forbidden, without further "editorial" content. In the wonderful King James version:
7 The nakedness of thy father, or the nakedness of thy mother, shalt thou not uncover: she is thy mother; thou shalt not uncover her nakedness.
8 The nakedness of thy father's wife shalt thou not uncover: it is thy father's nakedness.
9 The nakedness of thy sister, the daughter of thy father, or daughter of thy mother, whether she be born at home, or born abroad, even their nakedness thou shalt not uncover.
10 The nakedness of thy son's daughter, or of thy daughter's daughter, even their nakedness thou shalt not uncover: for theirs is thine own nakedness.
11 The nakedness of thy father's wife's daughter, begotten of thy father, she is thy sister, thou shalt not uncover her nakedness.
12 Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of thy father's sister: she is thy father's near kinswoman.
13 Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of thy mother's sister: for she is thy mother's near kinswoman.
14 Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of thy father's brother, thou shalt not approach to his wife: she is thine aunt.
15 Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of thy daughter in law: she is thy son's wife; thou shalt not uncover her nakedness.
16 Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of thy brother's wife: it is thy brother's nakedness.
17 Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of a woman and her daughter, neither shalt thou take her son's daughter, or her daughter's daughter, to uncover her nakedness; for they are her near kinswomen: it is wickedness.
18 Neither shalt thou take a wife to her sister, to vex her, to uncover her nakedness, beside the other in her life time.
19 Also thou shalt not approach unto a woman to uncover her nakedness, as long as she is put apart for her uncleanness.
20 Moreover thou shalt not lie carnally with thy neighbour's wife, to defile thyself with her.
21 And thou shalt not let any of thy seed pass through the fire to Molech, neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God: I am the LORD.
Remarkably, alone among so many prohibited relations, are homosexual acts labeled an "abomination."
22 Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination.
23 Neither shalt thou lie with any beast to defile thyself therewith: neither shall any woman stand before a beast to lie down thereto: it is confusion.
24 Defile not ye yourselves in any of these things: for in all these the nations are defiled which I cast out before you:
25 And the land is defiled: therefore I do visit the iniquity thereof upon it, and the land itself vomiteth out her inhabitants.
26 Ye shall therefore keep my statutes and my judgments, and shall not commit any of these abominations; neither any of your own nation, nor any stranger that sojourneth among you:
27 (For all these abominations have the men of the land done, which were before you, and the land is defiled;)
28 That the land spue not you out also, when ye defile it, as it spued out the nations that were before you.
29 For whosoever shall commit any of these abominations, even the souls that commit them shall be cut off from among their people.
30 Therefore shall ye keep mine ordinance, that ye commit not any one of these abominable customs, which were committed before you, and that ye defile not yourselves therein: I am the LORD your God.
Bestiality is denounced as "confusion," and collectively, all of these sexual liaisons are considered "abominations," but only lying with a man as one would lie with a woman is an "abomination." (It occurs 117 in Scripture.)
"Abomination," or "to-evah" (Strong's 8441) is used in many different situations and I am not sure that we can be sure of all of its connotations today. The word for confusion, "te-vel" (Strong's 8397) is also translated as "perversion." (It occurs only twice in Scripture, in Leviticus 18 and 20.)
It is as if the Bible knows, that in the future (as I am sure it was contemporaneously, in some parts of the ancient world) homosexual liaisons would be regarded as normal, and therefore an extra emphasis is needed.
The recent recognition and sanction given to same-sex marriage by the Supreme Court of the United States, a judicial body that had never defined or opined on traditional heterosexual marriage, suggests that same-sex liaisons have a cachet and status even better than the status of traditional marriages today. In the "Reform" Jewish congregations, the rule has been for many years, that "anything goes." (If - in the last words of the founders of the Assassins, to mix creeds, "nothing is true," then "everything is permitted," is it not?)
Some 7 years ago or so, the governing body of the "Conservative" Jewish movement's Jewish Theological Seminary agreed that it would ordain as a "Rabbi" or "Cantor" a practicing homosexual, so long as he promised not to engage in anal intercourse, which the governing committee of the Conservative movement's scholars determined was the only act prohibited by Leviticus. A traditional marriage ceremony for a same-sex couple would remain beyond the limits, however.
Thus a curious situation would be possible: no Conservative congregation would employ a man as Rabbi who openly lived in a sexual relationship with a woman with whom he was not married, but a homosexual Rabbi would be employable if he openly lived in a sexual relationship with a man with whom he was not married.
It is as if the Conservative movement sees same-sex relationships as benefiting from an inherent sanctity and propriety not possible for traditional, heterosexual couples without a formal marriage.
In contrast, the traditional Jewish Weltanschauung sees the splitting of the primordial Adam into Adam & Eve as a clear depiction of what the Bible sees as the proper and inevitable sexual relationship - one man and one woman.
Finally, with respect to divorce, and the Christian Church's teaching against it - you quote Matthew 19:
“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh'. So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
I would put this teaching in the context of the Sermon on the Mount. The entire Sermon on the Mount is of great interest in the history of Jewish religion, and as a lengthy example of the preaching and teaching of Jesus. I don't think there is any part of it that would be incongruous if preached by an orthodox Jewish preacher to an orthodox Jewish audience - as of course it was.
17 Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.
18 For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.
19 Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
20 For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.
Jesus is proceeding along the same work that the Rabbis were engaged in - building a fence around the Law - although in a different way.
That is, the Rabbis were concerned to enact additional practical restrictions, so that one's behavior would be circumscribed well before one came into danger of violating God's commands. Jesus seeks to accomplish a similar goal, but by extending the prohibitions concerning actions, to the realm of thoughts and feelings.
27 Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery:
28 But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.
Jesus does not counsel that the way to avoid the frank sins and transgressions forbidden by God is to give in to the zeitgeist. He teaches a thoroughgoing rectification of the individual's inner nature, to bring it into conformity with the Divine plan. The early Christian Church surely stood up against the world, and all of the powers that were arrayed against it.
In contrast, I am amazed by the extent to which ostensibly believing Christians -and Jews!- are willing to abandon the time-proven practices and principles of their religions (practices and principles which many real martyrs have died in order to uphold against a hostile World) - in favor of the latest shibboleths of, for example, the editorial board of the New York Times.
Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.).