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Homosexuality and the Authority of Scripture

My presbytery, St. Augustine, voted Saturday to remove language from our denomination’s Book of Order that was inserted in 1997 to prevent the ordination of gays and lesbians.  It is being voted upon by all of the PCUSA’s presbyteries and we will know in a few weeks whether the language is removed or stays. This is the fifth time in the last fifteen years we have voted on this subject.

What bothers me the most in these debates is the attempt by my evangelical brothers and sisters to turn this from a difference in biblical interpretation to a debate about the authority of scripture itself, which strikes me as overblown.

For one thing, every Deacon, Elder and Minister of Word and Sacrament takes an ordination vow affirming the authority of scripture:

Do you accept the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be, by the Holy Spirit, the unique and authoritative witness to Jesus Christ in the church universal, and God’s Word to you?

This is the standard that everyone who is ordained affirms– the standard every time they are ordained as well as when they are installed into new position.  So most of us affirm this repeatedly across a lifetime.

But, opponents of gay ordination say, the refusal to abide by clear biblical teaching on the matter is an explicit denial of the authority of scripture which proves that the pro-ordination side has crossed the line into heretical belief.

Now it must be stated that the opponents of gay ordination require something like this kind of a “violation” in order to justify the breach they are trying to create in our church’s ecclesiology.  Some of them are contemplating the start of a new denomination, which they cannot justify unless they can establish the heretical nature of the church they are in schism with.  So this tactic of elevating the issue of a difference in interpretation to a difference in orthodoxy serves such a purpose nicely.

The problem is that it is disingenuous, for which I can provide at least two examples.  It’s really a parlor game, and there are scores of such examples, but these two illustrate the point well enough.

The first involves the death penalty as the prescribed  punishment for same sex behavior in Leviticus 18 and 20.  This is only place in scripture where the community is told what to do with someone who is practicing same sex behavior, and it is nowhere rescinded.  So how is it that Presbyterian congregations can welcome gay members if the scripture says we are supposed to kill them?  How does one separate the crime from the punishment and still claim to be living under the authority of scripture?  The Bible doesn’t support “reparative therapy,” or trying to “heal” someone of their gayness, so on what grounds would the PCUSA encourage such a Freudian response?  Furthermore, until the end of the 19th century, homosexuality was an executable offense in the English speaking world because of these Levitical texts, so why would not the evangelicals who rightly point out their hospitality to gays by allowing them to join their churches, not be susceptible of the same charge that they are levelling at the left today, namely that they don’t just have a difference of opinion about the scripture but are plainly ignoring its authority in not executing gays, or at least advocating for such in civil society, as did earlier Christians?  Surely the modern day evangelicals would bristle at the charge made by their forebears that they were forsaking the authority of scripture, just the left bristles at the same charge today.

Secondly, there is the prohibition of the consumption of blood in Acts 15.  In many ways this is the most destructive point to the evangelical case, for it shows them doing what they say must never be done, which is to ignore an ethical proscription form scripture and to treat it as unnecessary.  This is a clear biblical proscription, it is on point in that this, like the homosexuality question, has to do with standing in the community.  It is in the New Testament so it cannot be claimed to be part of another dispensation (the law).  And nowhere, like the execution of gays, in the scripture is the prohibition ever rescinded.  But what church or presbytery holds this to be a standard for either church membership or ordination?  I don’t know anyone who believes this–most people laugh at me when I tell them the prohibition is there.  But it isn’t followed even by the evangelical congregations who are insisting that the sky will fall if we don’t follow their understanding of scripture on the gay issue.  How is it that they can ignore this prohibition and at the same time arguing that they are the defenders of the authority of scripture?

What we have here is a simple disagreement over scriptural interpretation, not a great theological crisis.  If conservatives try to blow this out of proportion, it seems to me that they can be hoisted on their own petard.  They have clearly done the same thing that all mdoern Christians have done, and at best can only be claim to a difference in degree, rather than kind.

Pot, meet kettle.

(20) Comments

  1. Tim, your scripture references are taken far out of context. Refer to the scholars as to how to seperate the conversation between “obstaining from blood” and “sexual immorality”. The scholars clearly reference these as seperate and discinct. To say otherwise is clearly your own interpretation.

    Evangelicals have never called homosexuality a “crime”. Sin, yes. Crime, no. Poor reference. If sin applies, where does repentance come in? Not “healing”, but repentance…

    And so if Homosexuality is “permissible” by your comments and support, then you’re saying that all of the other sexual misconduct mentioned in Lev. 18 should be permissible as well? Lev 18 says ALL of those offenses are “detestable”.

    For clarity – a definition.

    From PC(USA)…

    Authority of Scripture

    The Scriptures of the Old and New Testament are God’s uniquely revealed and written Word, inspired by the Holy Spirit, and are the church’s first and final authority in all areas of faith and life including, but not limited to, theological doctrine, mission, church order, character, and ethical behavior.

    The Bible speaks to us with the authority of God himself. We seek to understand, love, follow, obey, surrender, and submit to God’s Word—both Jesus Christ, the living Word of God, and the Scriptures, the written Word of God, which bear true and faithful witness to Jesus Christ.

    Scripture

    Matthew 4:4; 1 Thessalonians 2:13; 2 Timothy 3:16-17

    Book of Confessions

    Second Helvetic Confession 5.001, 5.003, 5.010

    Westminster Confession of Faith 6.006, 6.009

    Larger Catechism 7.113-114

    What is Not Affirmed

    Any doctrine—

    • that seeks to invalidate or subvert scriptural teaching concerning what is to be believed or how we are to live;

    • that attempts to subordinate biblical authority to any human authority, cultural norm, or ideology— whether religious, ecclesiastical, governmental, political, economic, psychological, sociological, scientific, historical, philosophical, or other—as though the church should listen primarily to another voice than the voice of the Lord Jesus Christ as expressed in Scripture;

    • that seeks or asserts a revelation from the Spirit of God which contradicts the Bible as Word of God, or that attempts to separate the Spirit from the Spirit-inspired words of Scripture, or that elevates the authority or modernity of the Spirit’s revelation above the revelation of Scripture.

    Tim, you are my friend and I love you. Neither of us know how to answer the question of homosexuality and the church. Given that FACT, why are we changing anything unless is for some sort of AGENDA.

    • From the Confession of 1967
      “The Bible is to be interpreted in the light of its witness to God’s work of reconciliation in Christ. The Scriptures, given under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, are nevertheless the words of men, conditioned by the language, thought forms, and literary fashions of the places and times at which they were written. They reflect views of life, history, and the cosmos which were then current. The church, therefore, has an obligation to approach the Scriptures with literary and historical understanding. As God has spoken his word in diverse cultural situations, the church is confident that he will continue to speak through the Scriptures in a changing world and in every form of human culture.
      God’s word is spoken to his church today where the Scriptures are faithfully preached and attentively read in dependence on the illumination of the Holy Spirit and with readiness to receive their truth and direction.”

      • Your quote of 9.29 cannot come without considering 9.27 and 9.28 else it be quoted out of context.

        “The one sufficient revelation of God is Jesus Christ, the Word of God
        incarnate, to whom the Holy Spirit bears unique and authoritative witness
        through the Holy Scriptures, which are received and obeyed as the word
        of God written. The Scriptures are not a witness among others, but the
        witness without parallel. The church has received the books of the Old
        and New Testaments as prophetic and apostolic testimony in which it
        hears the word of God and by which its faith and obedience are nourished
        and regulated.
        The New Testament is the recorded testimony of apostles to the coming
        of the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth, and the sending of the Holy Spirit
        to the Church. The Old Testament bears witness to God’s faithfulness in
        his covenant with Israel and points the way to the fulfillment of his purpose
        in Christ. The Old Testament is indispensable to understanding the
        New, and is not itself fully understood without the New.”

        • 2nd Helvetic Confession

          “Reflecting the theological maturity of the Reformed churches, the Second
          Helvetic Confession is moderate in tone and catholic in spirit. From
          the opening paragraphs it emphasizes the church and its life and affirms
          the authority of the Scriptures for the church’s government and reformation.”

          Westminster Standards

          “The Westminster Standards represent the fruits of a 118 Protestant scholasticism that refined and systematized the teachings of
          the Reformation. The standards lift up the truth and authority of the Scriptures,as immediately inspired in Hebrew and Greek, kept pure in all ages,and known through the internal witness of the Holy Spirit. Divine sovereignty and double predestination are also emphasized. In appealing to
          Scripture to formulate a covenant theology, the standards had important
          implications for political thought and practice, reminding both ruler and
          people of their duties to God and to each other.”

          Westminster Confession of Faith

          “The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed
          and obeyed, dependeth not upon the testimony of any man or church, but
          wholly upon God (who is truth itself), the author thereof; and therefore it is to be received, because it is the Word of God.”

          The Confession of 1967

          “Confessions and declarations are subordinate standards in the church,
          subject to the authority of Jesus Christ, the Word of God, as the Scriptures bear witness to him.”

          • No one is arguing what the scripture says. At issue is what it MEANS, and what priority a given text has over another. You, for example, interpose the concept of mercy between the crime and the punishment of Leviticus 20, substituting your modern judgment for the scripture, which provides no mercy for the offense. I agree with this completely, mind you, but you seem utterly unaware that you are doing the very thing you complain about liberals doing. You can see it when anyone else does it but are blind when you yourself do it. That’s my objection.

    • The construction that you have created of God, David, seems to have him stuck in the Bible. Where is God’s sovereignty? Where is the wind that is Holy Spirit? You have subjected God to some kind of Aristotelian law of non-contradiction, which is great for Greek philosophy but has nothing to do with the God of the Bible, who does what he wants.

      It is helpful to remember that the big problem in biblical faith is not that people weren’t following the Bible, but that they made idols which they believed captured the essence of the divine for their own purposes. But God isn’t any more stuck in the Bible than he is in a statue, which is why everyone in scripture who tried to insist that God could not do a new thing because of something said previously in the story got smacked down. Read the story of Judah in 2 Kings and Jeremiah as the Judeans tried to insist on the inviolability of Jerusalem and the eternality of the Davidic monarchy, even as Jeremiah told them that God was abandoning the promises. Or read Peter resisting the Holy Spirit in Acts 10, trying to tell God what was clean or unclean or whom the kingdom was meant for.

  2. The thing that has always perplexed me is how it seems like most churches are much more lenient toward heterosexual infidelities (like adultery or divorce) that may be interpreted as “sins”, yet homosexuality somehow is some greater “sin” that cannot be allowed.

    I think it’s rooted more deeply in human nature to point out the flaws we see in each others (along with a tendency of religious leaders telling us why we are all going to Hell) and forgetting not to cast the first stone.

  3. Samuel, you do have a valid point in that some Christians wrongly elevate one sin or another to “unforgivable” status while seemingly tolerating others. This is a very incorrect approach; sin is sin. However, remember also that in asking someone “without sin” to “cast the first stone,” Christ accepted the adulteress in that passage–but did NOT accept her behavior. His final words to her were “now go and sin no more.”
    Timothy, you and I have gone round and round a few times on this subject, and I still take issue with the false dilemma which you tend to force the topic into whenever you discuss it. While God may not prescribe the same level of punishment for certain sins, that does not diminish the fact that he calls homosexual behavior detestable in His sight.
    More importantly, just as David said above; the changes you are so adamant about making to church doctrine seem very driven by the pressure of “social correctness” than by any “difference in interpretation” of Scripture. God calls His church to be separate from the world in our behavior, meaning we call sin what it is, as Christ Himself set the example. Absent any new Scripture He has chosen not to reveal until now, He clearly condemns homosexual behavior in His Word. To change church doctrine because society says something is acceptable which God does not–what witness is that? It renders the Church pointless.
    I am always struck by one thing in your comments on this matter–and that is your continued confusion of the idea of “compassion” with that of “acceptance.” God calls all–but to be born again in Christ is to be a NEW creature–not the same creature with the same habitual, unrepented sin as the world, with the new tag of “Christian” added on.
    This proposal is not a freeing of God’s sovereignty, as you are arguing above to David. This proposal is an affront to God’s holiness.

    • Anthony, I think you are missing the logic of the code and thus are failing to grasp what’s at stake here. This is not about social correctness. It’s about the avoidance of hypocrisy. The Holiness Code of Leviticus 17-26, and more broadly the Torah passages in Gen-Dtr, is of a piece. You are right in that it is about the holiness of God, but that holiness is construed by Israel to mean everything from the wearing of fabric made of more than one kind of fiber to the consumption of cheeseburgers (mixing meat and dairy) to the lending of money at interest. The “default” state of things, or how they normally appear, is declared clean, while anything else is unclean. So a bird that flies (the default state) is clean, while a bird that swoops or dives is not. A fish that swims in the water via fins is clean, while anything in the sea that crawls is not–the same word translated “abomination/detestable” in English versions is also used in Leviticus 11:40-41 with regard to the eating of shrimp.. A cheese sandwich is fine and a hamburger is fine, but a cheeseburger isn’t. You can give money to someone in need but you can’t lend it at interest. You can wear a cotton shirt or you can wear a wool shirt, but not a cotton-wool shirt because that’s not how it appears in nature. You can have sex with a non-menstruating woman, but she is off limits when she is bleeding.

      If you live like this, then perhaps it would be normal for you to take seriously the prohibitions in Leviticus 18 and 20 about same sex behavior. But for the vast majority of those Christians, like me, who don’t live according to the code, it would be the utmost of hypocrisy to be using these texts to point out the inadequacies of someone else’s behavior. I certainly would not want them used against me. particularly when I am about to eat a cheeseburger for lunch!

      • The cheeseburger argument is getting a little old…..I suppose Sodom was destroyed because they used swiss instead of cheddar? I’ve seen you revert to making those who disagree with you seem to be ridiculous in many instances on this subject. Usually a common debate tactic by those who know their point of view depends upon splitting hairs. The “you’re ridiculous” argument has a difficult time holding up against Romans, Corinthians, and Jude, however.
        Being passionate for or against this particular is fine, but I do wish that you would cease with the tagging of those who disagree with you as “hypocrites,” bigots, unjust, or insinuating that our point of view, that our interpretation of scripture, is somehow stupid and/or ridiculous simply because it disagrees with yours.

  4. Anthony, if you re-read what I said, I was referring to myself being a hypocrite if I used the Levitical texts to judge anyone because I am in violation of the myself. If you live by Leviticus then fine, you can with consistency use those texts to judge others. But I don’t, so Jesus’ dictum that we should avoid judging others because we will be judged by God using our own standard against us comes to mind.

    Sodom was destroyed for failure to care for the needy. See Ezekiel 16:49.

    The only reason you can consider cheeseburgers “hairsplitting” is if you, too, don’t find the code to be in force. And then you have to explain why it is wrong, if it is wrong. The church doesn’t just find a Bible verse and build an ethic around it. It has to make sense from generation to generation. If it doesn’t, we don’t enforce it. See my cheeseburger comments, or you can address the consumption of blood prohibition in Acts 15. It’s the same issue. When the church becomes unable to explain why something forbidden in scripture is wrong, it considers the matter “adiaphora,” or inessential. Many of us believe that this is the case with homosexuality. It may be wrong, as I have said, but if it is, it has be for reasons more in-depth than the fact that someone can find a peripheral biblical passage that seems to speak to the matter. But this cannot be done without resort to principles that the church has already rejected such as some kind of role requirements for men and for women. That may work among Catholics who still believe this kind of thing, but it doesn’t work for Presbyterians who have been ordaining women for fifty years.

    I used to think the way you do. Then I studied the matter and asked myself whether I would think it just if I were to be convicted of anything based on such a paucity of evidence that in fact I had done something wrong. It was atthat point the Spirit convicted me that I was simply using my own prejudice against gay people to justify my judgment against them.

    And you are wrong about the New Testament texts as well. They are no more “on point” than the Levitical code.

  5. Shellfish Logic and the Defense of Homosexual Marriage
    By Gary DeMar | Published: July 6, 2010
    I was asked the following question by a Facebook friend: “How do you argue against gay marriage when pro-gay marriage activists say that gay [sic] marriage is forbidden in the Old Testament, but so is [eating] shellfish. They try to say that along with gay marriage that other stuff like shellfish is also forbidden. How do we as Christians respond?
    Arguments like the “shellfish game” fill the internet, and many people are duped by them. Even Christians. In an interview published in Christianity Today magazine, Christian music artist and self-avowed lesbian Jennifer Knapp used the shellfish argument. (The interviewer did not challenge her on it.) There are several ways to argue against this false analogy. First, sexual relationships are defined in the earliest chapters of Genesis. Adam’s solitude was remedied with the creation of Eve, a female, someone designed specifically for him (Gen. 2:18–25). God didn’t create another man and also a woman so Adam could choose. He created a woman, a human complement designed sexually literally to fit with Adam. This is why Paul described homosexuality as “unnatural” (Rom. 1:26–27). The physical side of homosexual is unnatural, like trying to pound a square peg into a round hole. The shellfish argument has no validity since sexual identity (male and female) and the definition of marriage (man and woman) are creation ordinances. There is no prohibition in Genesis regarding shellfish (Gen. 1:28–31).
    Second, the New Testament follows the Old Testament creation ordinance of marriage defining it as between a man and a woman. Jesus confirms this in Matthew 19:4–6: “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? ‘So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate’” (also see Eph. 5:25–33; cf. 1 Cor. 7:2–3, 10–16; 1 Tim. 3:2, 12). There is no homosexual option. Jesus does not go to Leviticus to make His case; He goes back to Genesis.
    Third, Leviticus, in addition to prohibiting homosexual relationships (Lev. 18:22; 20:13), also prohibits eating certain foods (Lev. 11:2–31). Unlike homosexuality, there are no civil penalties attached to eating from the prohibited food list. It’s obvious, in terms of the sanctions, that eating shellfish is not the same as engaging in homosexual relationships. With the coming of Jesus, the Second Adam, we are back to the creation ordinances where all foods are once again “clean” because the gospel is for the world (John 4:42; Acts 1:8):
    And He said to them, “Are you also as lacking in understanding? Don’t you realize that nothing going into a man from the outside can defile him? For it doesn’t go into his heart but into the stomach and is eliminated.” (As a result, He made all foods clean.) Then He said, “What comes out of a person—that defiles him. For from within, out of people’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immoralities, thefts, murders, adulteries, greed, evil actions, deceit, promiscuity, stinginess, blasphemy, pride, and foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a person.” (Mark 7:18–23)
    Other passages address the same issue (Rom. 14:2-3, 6, 14-23 and Col. 2:16-23). Why are once prohibited foods now considered “clean”? We learn from Peter’s encounter with the “unclean foods” that he was told by God to eat that they represented the nations (Acts 10:9–48; 11:5–9): “What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy” (10:15; 11:9). To eat foods that were set aside as unclean is an acknowledgment that the gospel is not just for Jews: “‘Therefore if God gave to them [Gentiles] the same gift as He gave to us [Jews] also after believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?’ When they heard this, they quieted down and glorified God, saying, ‘Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life’” (11:17–18).
    Fourth, from Jesus’ comments in Mark 7 and God’s instructions to Peter in Acts 10, there is direct special revelation given that changes a number of laws from the Old Testament. In addition to unclean foods, there is no longer any use for the temple, animal sacrifices, and circumcision. How do we know this? Because we are told that these ordinances and laws no longer apply or are fulfilled in the person and work of Jesus Christ. We’re even told that there needed to be a change in the law, but in this case only as regarding who can be a priest (Heb. 7). Anyone familiar with the Bible knows these things.
    Fifth, like the laws prohibiting homosexuality found in Leviticus, the New Testament prohibits homosexuality (Rom. 1:26–27; 1 Cor. 6:9–11; 1 Tim. 1:8–11), and if it prohibits homosexuality, then it prohibits homosexual marriage. Notice what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6:9: “And such were some of you.” Some might claim that the Bible does not use the word “homosexual.” The definition is inherent in the Leviticus passages (18:22; 20:13): “You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female.” That is, it is forbidden to engage in sexual relations with someone of the same (Latin: homo) sex. Paul uses similar language: “woman . . . burned in their desire toward one another, men with men [same sex with same sex]. . .” (Rom. 1:26–27).
    Sixth, the same “Holiness Code” that condemns homosexuality also prohibits adultery (Lev. 18:20), child sacrifice (v. 21), and sex with animals (v. 23) and promotes loving your neighbor as yourself (19:18), a law repeated numerous times in the New Testament (Matt 19:19; Mark 12:31; Luke 10:27; Rom 13:9; Gal 5:14; James 2:8). Are the “shellfishers” telling us that adultery, child sacrifice, and sex with animals are now acceptable alternative lifestyle choices that should be protected by law? If his answer is yes, then let them say so. The New Testament promotes the Holiness Code law regarding loving one’s neighbor as well as laws prohibiting homosexual activity (Rom. 1:26–27; 1 Cor. 6:9–10; 1 Tim. 1:8–11). It seems that the New Testament writers do not have problems applying the Holiness Code legislation in the New Covenant.
    Leviticus 19 (still part of the Holiness Code)—between the anti-homosexual passages of Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13—prohibits stealing and lying (v. 11), oppressing neighbors and robbing them (v. 13), withholding wages from a laborer (v. 13), cursing the deaf and tripping the blind (v. 14), showing partiality in judicial matters (v. 15), slandering (v. 16), and taking vengeance (v. 18). Leviticus 20 repeats prohibitions against child sacrifice (vv. 2–5), adultery (v. 10), homosexuality (v. 13), and bestiality (vv. 15–16). Are we to conclude, using shellfish logic, that these laws no longer apply today because they are found in the Holiness Code?
    Some Christians will argue against the “shellfishers” on the basis that under the New Covenant we are not “signatories to the Sinaitic Covenant.” On the surface, this might seem like a good approach to take, but in practice it breaks down since the New Testament writers appeal to laws found in the covenant given at Sinai. Jesus quotes Leviticus 19:18 (Matt. 19:19; Mark 12:31; Luke 10:27) and 20:9 (Mark 7:10). Paul also quotes Leviticus 19:18 (Rom 13:9; Gal 5:14), as does James (James 2:8). Paul took the Old Testament law seriously enough to apply a law that seemingly was only applicable to animals (Deut. 25:4) and applied its principles twice to humans (1 Cor. 9:9; 1 Tim. 5:18). If Paul could find contemporary application of a law that applied to oxen, then certainly the rest of the legal corpus has similar applicational force, even if we might not always know how to apply it.

    • Gary DeMar? That guy actually advocates the execution of homosexuals! He wants to replace democracy with a theocracy. the Constitution with the Bible! He is a Christian Reconstructionist, nutball of nutballs. Is this whom you are going to hold up as a legitimate interpreter of scripture?

  6. Tim, I posted this because it lays out all the corresponding Scripture which I feel eliminates your continual references and jabs about “cheeseburgers and polyester shirts” as justification for no longer calling homosexuality a sin.

    It is unfortunate that this was written by Mr. DeMar, because yes, he has advocated some views with which I definitely do not agree with. However, it is also unfortunate that pointing this out is your only response. Would your response be different, I wonder, had I not included the first line crediting the author of the article? I have found several very similar articles by other authors whom we would all find less objectionable, I suppose, but the bottom line is that the argument is the same as what I posted above. it is unfortunate that it happened to be Mr. DeMar’s work.
    I know that no matter what I say to you, you will continue in your beliefs, and I respect that even though I strongly disagree with them and I am loathe to allow your statements to go unchallenged. But I will attempt to challenge them respectfully and fairly.
    That said, I honestly am interested to know–ASIDE from your opinion of the author of the article–what are your thoughts about the explanations presented in it?

  7. ANTHONY–A few quick thoughts in response:

    The Genesis text that he cites regarding marriage is descriptive of the creation, but he reads it as an ethical norm. The fact is that one man and one woman was not the biblical standard at all—it was one man and as many women as he could afford. DeMar doesn’t explain how that one man/one woman came to be the norm, because it would undercut his case. Nowhere does the scripture prohibit polygamy; you’re going along just fine in the OT with your wives and your concubines and then—poof!—you’re in the NT and everybody is monogamous. But you aren’t told how that happened. The reason is that Greco-Roman culture, in which the Judeans were situated at the time of the NT, considered polygamy to be barbarous. It wasn’t banned at all, but the community of faith, over time, taking it’s cues from the culture, adopted that norm. So that by the time you’re in the NT, EVERYBODY is monogamous. But he doesn’t tell you any of that, probably because he doesn’t know it (he only has an MDiv, so he is not a specialist in the period), but even if he did, telling you about an instance in which the culture‘s position drove the faith community’s sexual ethic is not exactly going to bolster his argument, which is that the culture can’t teach the faith community anything.

    And it just goes downhill from there.

    The other problem with reading the creation story as prescriptive for marriage is that it denies the reality of what God has actually created. In the ancient world, everybody is created in this or that bin, male or female, and that’s the world that DeMar prefers. But the real world as we know it—and the truth of what we know comes from the Holy Spirit, as does all truth—is that male and female are not two bins into which everyone can be sorted, but are rather two points on a continuum on which each of us can be plotted. The fact is that people are born with both sets of genitals. Some are born with the chromosomes of one gender and the genitals of another. Since modern genetics is less than 200 years old, the biblical writers can’t have been expected to have included any of this in their reflections, any more than they would written about the electric dishwasher. But weDO know about them, and they don’t fit DeMar’s simplistic categorization. And we can’t play dumb as if we don’t know what we know. The technical term for such persons is intersexed, and they comprise about one percent of live births.

    http://www.isna.org/faq/frequency

    Likewise, we know a great deal about sexual orientation, and how same gender attraction occurs all over creation in both people and animals, including in societies where all attempts have been made to suppress it.

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/06/090616122106.htm

    DeMar can make quips about square pegs in round holes, but the natural/unnatural argument collapses upon even the most cursory scientific investigation. In the Presbyterian Church USA, in which learning is prized it is increasingly difficult to maintain an adherence to the primitive science of the Bible and to equate that with an acceptance of biblical authority. The Bible is not a science book. It is a book about God’s revelation of Jesus Christ, so finding this or that Bible verse that prohibits this or that behavior from antiquity is not enough. If something is wrong, it has to be established as such by means of the community’s understanding of the proper norms of behavior in the setting in which the community finds itself. Reading the Bible the way that DeMar does requires people to accept a view of science that it rejects in every other sphere of its life, which many in the church are increasingly less inclined to do.

    And we also know a lot about gender roles and the way that society, and not nature, establishes these. DeMar is part of a theological tradition that still lives in that world in which there are established roles for males and females, so he can of course advocate a world that is sorted into two bins. But in denominations such as the PCUSA in which we ordain women, where there are no fixed expectations for what men are to do and what women are to do, this kind of thinking seems ridiculous. In denominations in which women DO have such clearly defined roles and expectations, they aren’t having the ordination question about gays. But we Presbyterians settled that matter more than fifty years ago and have moved on.

    These are just some thoughts about his understanding of sexuality as rooted in the creation story, with which I heartily disagree. I would love to take more time to dismantle this piece, but I am teaching tonight at Riverside PC and have to get ready for that. I would still love to have lunch with you if you are free sometime. I can talk faster than I can type so I would be glad to give you a line by line response to DeMar.

  8. Its not about just obscure Levitical codes. I have to agree that I didn’t think either of the texts Tim used were very persuasive, though I agree with his point of view.

    I guess I would ask: do you handle snakes as a sign of faith? (Mark 16:18) I do not, I choose that this is not in MY (flawed human choice) canon.

    Do you leave the dead to bury themselves? (Luke 9:60) metaphorical? I’m sure.. but then thats making an interpretive move that makes my life more convenient.

    Do you sell all you own and give the money to the poor… before you even begin to follow? (Luke 18:22) I willing choose to fall short of that commandment… and yet do not feel like an impostor as an PC(USA) ordained pastor.

    Do you have anger for a brother or sister, look with lust at a women or do you ever fail to turn the other check? (All Matthew 5) Because I’m constantly a step away from breaking all three of those… and always feel truly convicted when Jesus ends the chapter telling me to be perfect… and loving me all the same.

    Do you believe in divorce? (not to mention what do we do with all those polygamist “Father’s of the Faith” in the Old Testament) or women clergy (or teachers… like say Priscilla) All of these required some movement of interpretation and a shifting canon within the canon.

    Forget for a moment whether those six or so citations truly condemn what we understand as homosexuality or if its really a sin… even if they did and it is, how is it that they are inflexible boundaries of faithfulness and so many other commandments (even attributed to Jesus… which none of those are) are flexible?

    That is the point being made here (I believe). And it doesn’t require shellfish and cheeseburgers.

  9. Tim and Andrew,
    Thank you for your perspectives and for explaining why you believe what you do. Tim, I honestly think that is the first time you have ever explained your position without the overbearing, condescending tone which frustrates me so often, and I truly appreciate that.
    I’m very much in disagreement with the conclusions which each of you have drawn, particularly in relegating the Bible to a curiosity due to “antiquated science.” I am reminded of a quote concerning the Essential Elements of the Reformed Faith, in describing the Truth of God’s Word….”Scripture tells us why things happen–science can explain how they happen. God’s Word is not ‘a’ resource, it is THE source.” (slightly paraphrased because I don’t have it in front of me, and emphasis added by me). So again, this entire discussion comes down to personal differences in the way we interpret the scriptures and apply them to our own lives, and I don’t believe that is something we will ever agree with one another on. But I thank you for the rational and respectful discussion. God bless both your ministries.

    • Anthony,
      I gratefully receive your good will and return it. Just to clarify – I never ever would agree that the Bible is a simply (it does make me curious but it is far more than that) curiosity. In fact I fully believe it is a unique and authoritative witness. I spend more time in the Bible than any other book – and probably come close to spending more time with it than all other books combined (and thats a lot of books if you peaked in my office). I commend this question to you inspired by this book:

      “What explains this disparity between Americans’ absolute faith in the Bible and their evident ignorance of it?”

      The Rise and Fall of the Bible: The Unexpected History of an Accidental Book by Timothy Beal.

      I think thats a fascinating question. If we believe in the Authority of Scripture (and I do) it cannot simply be the the Authority of the parts of Scripture I actually know.

      I agree that you and I understand that authority differently. I’m challenging you (and myself) to be consistent with how we apply our individual understandings of that authority. And because I do not know you – you may already do that. And I commend you for it.

      Blessings brother and friend in Christ.

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