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Sunday, July 23, 2017

The Bible, Marriage and Homosexuals

As with some of the other topics related to religion and morality, many folks have wrongly assumed that the Judeo-Christian scriptures teach things about homosexuality and gay marriage which simply are not there! However, for those who are truly interested in what God's perspective on this issue might be, the traditional understanding of what those scriptures teach can be demonstrated to be too simplistic and clearly flawed.

The following statement by Focus on the Family is typical of that traditional view of the subject:
"As an evangelical Christian ministry committed to the authority of Scripture as the inspired Word of God, Focus on the Family believes that sex is given by God as an expression of love to be shared and enjoyed exclusively between a husband and wife. Further, we are convinced that the Bible leaves no room whatsoever for confusion or ambiguity where homosexual behavior is concerned. The Scripture both explicitly and implicitly regards it as falling outside of God's intention in creating man and woman as sexual beings who bear His image as male and female."
-- https://www.focusonthefamily.com

Well, that seems like a fairly straightforward statement of belief about what Scripture teaches on the subject, but I hope that the promulgators of that statement won't mind if we take our own look at what is explicitly or implicitly taught in Scripture. After all, if we are truly seeking to know God's will on the matter (as revealed in the pages of the Bible), then we shouldn't mind a thorough and impartial review of what that collection of documents has to say about it.

First of all, I think that we would find wide agreement among students of the Bible that the appropriate place to begin this study is in Genesis. In the account of creation related there, we are told that "God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him, male and female created he them." (Genesis 1:27)

As we look at this verse, several questions come to mind:  Isn't this an explicit statement that both men and women were/are created in God's image? Doesn't that imply that both genders reflect God's persona? Does this story suggest that God has characteristics that we associate with both genders? In other words, is God masculine and feminine - strong and tender? And, if so, does that preclude the male gender from having any characteristics that would "normally" be associated with the female one (and vice versa)?

In the following chapter, we are told that God observed that it wasn't good for the man to be alone and decided to make a suitable companion for him. (Genesis 2:18) The author goes on to inform us that God created many different kinds of animals and brought them to Adam "to see what he would call them." (verse 19) Alas, however, we are informed that no suitable companion for the man was found among the animals. (verse 20)

As a consequence, we learn that God decided to create a woman for Adam. (verses 21-22) In other words, the solution to Adam's loneliness was another human being. Moreover, this other human being was taken from him - was literally and figuratively a part of him. (verse 23) The story concludes with the author drawing this conclusion:  "Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh." (verse 24)

Once again, in analyzing and interpreting the meaning of these verses, several questions come to mind:  Was this story intended to explain the phenomenon of marriage? Is the story an explicit statement about suitable human companionship? Does the story suggest/imply that man is made whole when he is reunited with that which was taken from him? or Does it imply that it is the humanity which they share that makes them suitable companions for each other? Does the story suggest that the physical act of sex makes two people one in God's sight? Is gender the critical component of the story? or Is it the fact that two individuals unite to form one? And, if gender is an essential component of the story, does that mean that it is OK for homosexuals to be alone? If so, doesn't that contradict God's original observation that it wasn't good for man to be alone? And, if this story is an explicit statement about God's view of marriage, doesn't that mean that a person is married in God's sight when he/she 1) leaves his/her parents' home, 2) commits to living with his/her spouse, and 3) engages in sexual intercourse with that person? or Does this scripture only apply to males?

It should also be noted that Jesus Christ is reported to have quoted this particular passage in his answer to a question from the Pharisees about divorce. (Matthew 19, Mark 10 and Luke 18) In that connection, it is interesting to note that Christ emphasized the fact that two people figuratively become one person as the reason that it is impossible for humans to dissolve a marriage. In other words, how can one person become two separate individuals?

Of course, my friends on the more traditional side of this question will argue that this story implies that marriage should be defined as one man and one woman. However, if that is truly what this story is suggesting, then we are faced with explaining a number of subsequent passages about marriage. In short, what are we to do with all of the scriptures which imply or explicitly talk about plural marriages? Doesn't Moses' prohibition of a man bedding/marrying both a woman and her mother or sister imply that polygamy was practiced by the Israelites? (see Leviticus 18:17-18) What about Jacob's, David's and Solomon's multiple marriages? (see Genesis 29 and 30, I Kings 11 and I Chronicles 3) And, what about Christ's parable about the ten virgins? (see Matthew 25)

Sure, we can say that God only tolerated this practice (polygamy), and that it did not represent "His" original intent for the institution. Even so, it does make us wonder what else God might be willing to tolerate for the sake of "His" people? After all, Jesus reportedly told the Pharisees that Moses had been permitted to included a provision for divorce in the law "because of the hardness of your hearts." (Matthew 19:8) Hence, while most of us would agree that the weight of scriptural evidence available to us strongly implies that God favors monogamy, it is also clear that polygamy was considered to be an acceptable practice among the ancient Hebrews.

Now we come to what my friends on the more traditional side of this question would say is the most compelling reason for characterizing gay marriage as illegitimate from a biblical perspective:  The fact that there are numerous explicit condemnations of homosexual behavior in the Judeo-Christian scriptures. They would point to Genesis 19 (Sodom and Gomorrah), Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13, Deuteronomy 23:17, I Kings 14:24, 15:12 and 22:46, II Kings 23:7, Romans 1:26-27 and I Corinthians 6:9. That's an impressive list, but the next question is obvious:  Is it accurate to portray these passages as explicitly condemning homosexual behavior?

Most biblical scholars would characterize Genesis 19 as a story about a complete moral breakdown amongst the people of these two cities. Also, the story fits into the recognized genre of stories dealing with failed hospitality that are found in numerous places in the Bible. Finally, the story is quite explicit in its account of an attempt by the men of the city to gang rape two angels - something that most theologians would have no trouble condemning. It is, however, neither implied or explicitly stated anywhere in this story that these cities were destroyed because of homosexuality.

The passages in Leviticus are very interesting in terms of the context in which they find themselves in relation to other laws. First of all, homosexuality is a modern notion - a concept that was unknown to the people of ancient Israel and the authors of these passages. These two scriptures clearly deal with sex between two men and are also clearly related to that society's notions about sex.

To the people of ancient Israel, a woman was "humbled" by a man when he had sexual intercourse with her. Thus, the notion that a man could be so "humbled" by another man was abhorrent to them.

It is also interesting to note that many of the other prohibitions which surround these two passages are no longer considered applicable in modern society (e.g. instructions pertaining to planting crops, wearing clothing and getting tattoos). Hence, one is forced to ask:  Do these passages reflect eternal spiritual principles or the societal norms of a people who lived three thousand years ago?

Likewise, a quick glance at Strong's Concordance (Blue Letter Bible - https://www.blueletterbible.org) would reveal that the scriptures in Deuteronomy and I and II Kings are dealing with male temple prostitution (another feature of life in the ancient Middle East). Check it out for yourself. Ask anyone who is knowledgeable about ancient Hebrew and the history of the people who used it. None of these passages state or imply anything approaching a blanket condemnation of homosexual behavior. Moreover, once again, most Judeo-Christian theologians would not have any problem condemning any kind of prostitution - especially any manifestation of that practice that also involved idolatry.

As for the passages from Paul's letters to the saints at Rome and Corinth, we must again look at the context - both within scripture and the times in which they were written. In his letter to the Romans, it is important to understand that Paul was speaking to them about Gentile failure to acknowledge God. This, he said, had led God to abandon them to their lusts. (1:24) People who sincerely wish to understand this passage would do well to read the entire chapter to get the proper context to the reference about same sex behavior. Likewise, the passage from I Corinthians involves a general condemnation of unrighteousness and lists numerous behaviors which would disqualify an individual from inheriting the kingdom of God.

And, before we move off of the subject of Paul's comments, we should note that what comes naturally to a heterosexual does not come naturally to a homosexual. If one is not attracted to a female, that person's perspective on the "natural use" of a female would be very different from someone who was attracted to that gender. Are the advocates of the traditional Judeo-Christian view of this subject suggesting that homosexuals should deny what is natural to them?

Finally, we would all do well to remember that Paul was not averse to giving his own opinions about social norms (appropriate dress, hair length and the role of women).  Is it reasonable to assume that his views on these subject were unaffected by having lived in the Jewish society extant in the First Century? Does anyone truly believe that Paul's views on these topics reflect God's views, and that they are applicable to life in 21st Century America?

What about the apostle's views on the institution of marriage? He wrote to the Corinthians that it would be "good for a man not to touch a woman." (I Corinthians 7:1) Nevertheless, to avoid sexual sin, he said that it would be better to marry. (verse 2) He then went on to say that married people were obligated to have sexual intercourse with each other on a regular basis so as to avoid the temptation to have sex with other people. (verses 3-5) Paul went on to say that he wished everyone could be celibate - like him (verse 7-8), but he generously concludes his comments with:  "But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn." (verse 9) Does that mean that it is better for homosexuals to burn? Thankfully, Paul interjected into his commentary on marriage that he was speaking "by permission, and not of commandment." (verse 6)

To this student of the Bible, the "bottom line" on God's view of things sexual appears to be contained in the fundamental law known as the Ten Commandments. It is there that we read "Thou shalt not commit adultery." (Exodus 20:14) Does this instruction against infidelity only apply to heterosexuals? or Does God also expect homosexuals to be faithful in their commitments to other people?

In the book of Hebrews, we read that "Marriage is honorable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whore-mongers and adulterers God will judge." (Hebrews 13:4) Does that mean all heterosexuals? Are homosexuals excluded from the "all" in this verse? And, if they are excluded, doesn't that constitute a catch-22 situation for them? or Do advocates of the traditional view expect homosexuals to deny their own natures and marry someone of the opposite sex anyway? If so, how fair would that be to the individual they end up marrying?

Is marriage (and the sexual intimacy which is a natural part of it) the melding of two individuals into one? Does the institution of marriage provide a suitable companion/partner so that an individual doesn't have to navigate this life alone? or Was marriage instituted solely for the purpose of procreation? And, if so, why do some heterosexual marriages/relationships remain childless?

Hence, to say that the Bible explicitly or implicitly labels homosexual marriage as a sin is not supported by a thorough review of those scriptures which touch on the subject. In fact, I would say that the weight of the evidence demands the same standards of commitment and fidelity which are expected of heterosexuals - and that includes the institution of marriage.



  

7 comments:

  1. That’s a long post probably requiring a long reply, but my slightly briefer one shall have to suffice. My view of the issue is that its resolution lies somewhere between the opinion of “friends on the more traditional side of the question” and your take on it.
    I agree that the proscription on the male temple prostitutes is not about homosexuality, but about the abuse of sexuality: prostitution and the use of sex in worship. I do believe that everything we do should be an act of worship, and in that general sense sex should also be, but the notion of sex as the way to God in a culture that knew that the way was to be humble and of a contrite heart, expressed through accepting a sacrifice, is a repugnant one.
    I am not prepared to accept that the big issue against Sodom and Gomorrah was only their inhospitality as cited in Ezekiel 16:49. Jude 7 insists that their sexual appetites were a problem.
    I am not prepared to attribute the proscriptions of Leviticus 18 and 20 to cultural bias. I still believe the text is the word of God and that something described is “an abomination” as the text says, although one then has to define that word. Is it an issue of uncleanness as Lv 18:24, 27, and 30 can seem to imply? Or, is it more weighty than that?
    I Corinthians 6:9 uses an interesting word that is translated as homosexuals in some versions: arsenokoites. “Interesting” because a few centuries later, a guy called John the Faster said that some men commit arsenokoites with their wives. The implication is that this is a specific act that is not only done between men, and is not a condition or attribute. I suspect that the prohibitions in Leviticus were not as explicit as they might have been in another language because Hebrew is a small language in which some thoughts are hard to express for lack of sufficient words.
    I do agree that the principle of togetherness and not being alone is not just for heterosexuals. And I do agree that the issue at Romans 1 is being true to one’s nature. There is a difference between sexual orientation and sexual preference. The first has to do with romantic interests. If a guy normally falls in love with a guy and not with a girl, then his orientation is for guys. I doubt that Paul had this in mind. There are guys whose hearts get attached to women generally but who prefer men for the basic physical aspects of sex. That is a sexual preference and not a basic orientation. Paul is against that because the purpose of sex is romantic bonding, and people that naturally romantically bond with women should only have sex with women.
    Jesus acknowledges that not everyone is born straight (Mt 19:12). He appears to be answering the comment at verse 10 that “it is better not to marry” by saying that this is true of what he calls eunuchs and which I think refers to anyone who can’t sexually perform with a woman. Of course that one shouldn’t marry (a woman) because it would lead her to unhappiness. But should he not marry a man? Should he think it’s better for him to be alone?
    In short, I think that the design is for a man to marry a woman, but that just as babies are born with crooked backs and dogs go mad, malfunctions occur and some come from their mother’s womb as a eunuch (Mt 19:12). I have never heard of anyone being born already castrated, but we know now that a depletion of testosterone in a woman pregnant with a boy significantly increases the odds of that boy being gay. This is not genetic, but it is to do with the mother’s womb just as Jesus said. Not all boys from this situation will become gay just like not all people with a genetic propensity for cancer will develop it. It needs an environmental trigger, in this case usually an emotionally absent father and an over-involved mother.

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    1. Gordon,
      Thank you for your comments. I am pleased to see that we agree on so many points. That is very gratifying to me; because I respect your biblical knowledge, and I know how deeply considered your opinions are on these matters.
      As for the points where we disagree, I wanted to offer a few thoughts for our readers' consideration:
      1. I did not say (nor did I mean to imply) that what happened at Sodom and Gomorrah was only related to hospitality. That was one issue of many (as the scriptures you cited in your remarks clearly indicated. In Jude, we read: "And don't forget Sodom and Gomorrah and their neighboring towns, which were filled with immorality and every kind of sexual perversion." (verse 7, NLT) I would say that this language clearly demonstrates that the people of these cities had a lot of issues relative to morality. I also think anticipating gang raping two angels constitutes perverse thinking and behavior. Were there other issues? Is it possible that there were male temple prostitutes in some of those cities? Do you believe that homosexuality constitutes a perversion? (Your comments about sexual orientation suggest to me that you do not)
      2) Are you saying that all of the proscriptions found in Leviticus 18 and 20 are universally applicable spiritual principles? Weren't they clearly intended for the people of ancient Israel, and as components of the covenant God made with them? Are you saying that cultural bias never influenced the human authors of Scripture? Don't Paul's referenced writings prove that they did influence him? Are you saying that time and place have no bearing on the Word of God?
      3) If Jesus is talking about homosexuality in Matthew 19 (as you suggested in your comments), it isn't at all clear to me that he is saying that homosexuals shouldn't marry. And, if he is saying that, doesn't that contradict God's observation in Genesis that it isn't good for the man to be alone?
      Finally, I'm not sure (and neither is science at this point) the respective roles of nature and nurture in someone being a homosexual. I am, however, certain that we don't have any choice in whether we are heterosexual or homosexual.

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  2. Apparently, some are born ambidextrous in their sexual orientations. So, where do bisexuals fit into this whole picture? Any opinions?

    BB

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    1. Of course, those with the more traditional view of this subject would say that bisexuals should ignore their same-sex attraction and only indulge their "normal" appetites. I would say that the same standard applies to bisexuals that applies to heterosexuals and homosexuals. In other words, God expects them to be faithful to whomever they fall in love with and decide to make a commitment to.

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  3. If homosexuality is a birth defect (as Gordon seems to suggest in his comments), wouldn't that imply that the person with the disability must learn to live with their impairment. If a child is born without feet or legs, aren't they normally fitted with prosthetics or given a wheel chair? In other words, we don't expect them to lie in a bed for the rest of their lives. In fact, that is the standard approach to all disabilities. The focus is on helping that individual to navigate this life with as much grace and finesse as is humanly possible. For those who cannot hear, we make hearing aids, teach them sign language and offer captioning for movies and shows. We don't tell blind people that they can't read because of their impairment - we give them books written in braille.

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  4. I wrote a response to you, but it won't post. I am restricted to 4096 characters. I'll email you.

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    1. Gordon's response:
      “Do you believe that homosexuality constitutes a perversion?” Depends what you mean by “perversion”. I do believe that God’s basic plan of family is a man and a woman. And I believe that some are born “eunuchs”, incapable of fitting into that scheme. I also believe it is not good for them to be alone. Very few people are fit for the single life. People need a romantic connection --- someone to whom they are the most important person on earth. People blossom when they have that. In the same way that a congenital defect is a perversion of God’s plan for good health for us, so is homosexuality a perversion of his plan for family. BUT, the more I study and meditate on how God works, the more I believe that life is NOT just God allowing things to happen, but is about God CAUSING them to happen. Exodus 4:11: “who makes the mute, the deaf, the seeing, or the blind? Have not I, the Lord?” Maybe he is saying that he made those people who have those disabilities, or maybe he is saying he made those disabilities. I think it’s the latter because the context is that he can make a mouth speak what it ought; likewise he can cause it not to speak. 1 Kings 22:19-23 is illuminating: here God chooses to have lying spirit deceive Ahab. There is a reason he says in Isaiah 45:7 “Behold I create evil”. I am just scratching the tip of the iceberg here. There are numerous other scriptures that convince me that God has designed our days. (I might write about that in my theology blog sometime.) If he has designed what happens to us, then he designs our experiences.



      “Are you saying that all of the proscriptions found in Leviticus 18 and 20 are universally applicable spiritual principles? Weren't they clearly intended for the people of ancient Israel, and as components of the covenant God made with them?”

      Why would he intend this as a principle for one people but not for another? And if ancient Israel, why not modern Israel? And, the ONLY way we partake of the Promises is by being grafted into Israel --- being adopted into her --- and participating in the covenant, except that the covenant is written in our hearts instead of on tables of stone. In short, I think that the point of Romans 9-11, admittedly a very difficult essay, is that we only gain access to God’s promises by being part of Israel, and Israel has a covenant with God. Unless you can offer me a good reason why God would proscribe this action for those people, which reason does not seem to be relevant to today’s population, I have to think that it is universal. I will say though that I am puzzled about why some male anal canals have pleasure receptors that are capable of orgasmic responses unless they were intended to be so used. At least, if I understand some of the stuff I have read, this is the case.



      “Are you saying that time and place have no bearing on the Word of God?”

      There are commands given to people that relate to their circumstances, and we particularly see that in the epistles. I am hard pressed to think of an Old Testament command that only related to the immediate receivers of it.

      “it isn't at all clear to me that he is saying that homosexuals shouldn't marry. And, if he is saying that, doesn't that contradict God's observation in Genesis that it isn't good for the man to be alone?”

      I think that since the context of verses 11 and 12 is verse 10, the implication is that they should not marry. In fact, I think that is the main meaning of verses 11 and 12. BUT marry whom? Verse 10 is speaking of marrying a woman. Y’shuah is saying homosexuals or any other “eunuch” should not marry a woman. I do not think he is speaking yay or nay about marrying a man. It doesn’t seem to have been on his mind.

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