Today we want to take a rather different look at Leviticus 18 and Acts 15. Rather than do an in depth exegetical analysis, we want to look at some of the typical responses to the text.
Leviticus 18:22 bans sex between men among other prohibited sexual practices. The Council of Jerusalem recorded in Acts 15, sets aside much of the Old Testament regulations.
28 It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: 29 You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things.
How do we handle this?
There are two responses at either end of the spectrum.
Response 1: The Bible doesn’t matter. It has no meaningful application to my life. Therefore what it says about homosexuality is irrelevant.,
Response 2: This is a sin of significant concern. The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it. (And yes I once had an interim Pastor who used to say the latter part of this just about every sermon.)
There are a whole lot of other responses in between these two in which someone who “believes the Bible” might find some concordance.
I will itemize a number of the possibilities here. I do NOT hold to all of these, but they are listed for your rumination. Many of them overlap. Some you will in fact find contradictory. For brevity’s sake I will list them as short summary statements. Readers can elaborate on them, add other ideas, and discuss validity or lack thereof in the comments. I expect lots of “yes, but” and “no, because”, along with some level of agreement. I will discuss my own positions at the end.
Here then are some of the other responses.
Response 3: This is one sin among many. It is usually listed with other sins like greed, envy, and disobedient children. It should not be singled out for special attention.
Response 4: This is not a universal prohibition. The context of Leviticus 18 is narrow. The command is location limited (Canaan), time limited (while living there), race limited (Jews), and gender limited (only males are mentioned.)
Response 5: The tag line: “You will do well to avoid these things” is interesting because it only speaks of positive consequences of following, and does not list negative consequences for not following. Are these to be understood now as guidelines rather than outright prohibitions?
Response 6: Sexual morality is not defined in the Acts passage. Based on other passages, Paul seems to include hair length, and the wearing of jewelry as some of the prohibited things that show that you are sexually immoral. Yet today, Christians in general (with a few exceptions) do not have a problem with either hair length or jewelry.
Response 7: The Holy Spirit allowed believers in Acts 15 to reinterpret Old Testament laws based on new circumstances. The church today could be similarly led.
Response 8: Neither the Old Testament writers nor the New Testament writers had the scientific knowledge available to them that we have today. Had they had that knowledge, the laws would have been different.
Response 9: The sciences of genetics and immunology are both in their infancy. I include both here because we are just starting to learn how big a role the immune system plays in shaping our brain. We are just beginning to gain understanding about how we are wired and why we do the things we do. While our knowledge is not complete, it seems to be heading on a trajectory that says God made me this way.
Response 10: ‘Their writing was based on what they knew of the natural world, and God communicated with them in terms they could understand.
Response 11: The church has frequently reinterpreted scripture based on new scientific knowledge/revelation. The church eventually came to accept the findings of Copernicus and Galileo even though initially they seemed to be clearly contrary to scripture. The Catholic Church’s acceptance of evolution would be another example.
Response 12: Homosexuality is not a choice, it is the way they were made by God. A loving homosexual relationship then, cannot be considered sin, rather it is showing love in the way that God intended.
Response 13: From Romans 1 we see that Paul clearly didn’t understand how someone becomes gay. His admonitions can be rejected based on a faulty premise.
Response 14: Paul’s interactions with homosexuals was in a very different context than we have today. What Paul seems to have been cognisant of is a lustful hedonism.
Response 15: Gay marriage, when people lovingly commit to each other, was not known in Biblical days, and as such the Bible does not speak to it directly.
Response 16: We tend to take our modern idea of marriage and project it back onto the Bible. In reality the church wedding is a rather modern invention and has no real bearing on the discussion.
Response 17: What is deemed acceptable in marriage or sexual relationships changes over time. Polygamy was once deemed acceptable, but no longer is by society. Homosexual sex was deemed unacceptable by society, but now is recognized.
Response 18: Laws are based around revulsion. When we don’t understand something we condemn it, even if it may not be intrinsically wrong. Consider for example how much food practices vary from culture to culture. In various cultures, horse, dog, pigs, rodents, and insects are staples. In other cultures they are condemned.
Response 19: Some things that were considered repulsive are now considered high cuisine. We somehow have managed to sneak rare steak into a list of food that is now acceptable, ever desirable, even though the Council of Jerusalem specifically forbid it. (Blood)
Response 20: Jesus’ new commands are focussed on love. Love for God, love for one another, love for neighbor. If Jesus was telling the story of the good Samaritan (someone despised by the Jews) today, would his example instead include a Transgender person?
Response 21: Jesus’ greatest condemnation was for religious hypocrites. Paul warns in Romans 2 to be careful when you judge because you too will be facing condemnation.
Response 22: Paul in other passages emphasizes that Christians should be above reproach. That is, the outside world should be able to look in and not find fault. Yet this in an area in which the world is reproaching the church and saying that we are not showing love.
Response 23: If we are not sure of our position it is better to err on the side of grace, and err on the side of love.
So where do I stand in all of this?
Up to this point I have not said much beyond the idea that the bibilical texts we have tackled so far have been badly interpreted. Most, but not all, of the responses from 5 through to 23 have some level of resonance and agreement with me. My position has been in flux over the years, and things that I believed 10 years ago I might not hold today, and things I hold today. I might not hold 10 years from now. Response 23 is probably my fall back position. If I am going to err I at least want to err on the side of grace and on the side of love.
Next week I will be publishing my interview with Geoff, and you will see that some of the responses listed here (along with some others) will come up in our discussion.
To keep things fair, and to keep us on topic,I will conclude with an open forum two weeks from now, where you can raise concerns, ask questions of each other, and generally fill in some of the gaps that I have missed.
For now however, your comments and thoughts are welcome. Be remember to be nice, and be generous with one another as you comment.