Monday, June 9, 2014

Homosexuality and Hermeneutics

I recently came across the following picture on my Facebook feed, but refrained from commenting on it for various reasons. A couple weeks later, my brother-in-law posted it on my wall and asked for my thoughts regarding it. So I decided that I would use this post to respond to it.

While this pastor gives the impression that he knows and affirms what the Scriptures teach regarding the subject of homosexuality, he makes some critical mistakes. After reflecting on his monologue, I have identified four mistakes and attempt to correct them. My goal is not to be condescending, but rather to graciously correct his misunderstandings about this very important topic.

But before I do that, I would like to mention one area where we agree. The Scriptures, indeed, make it exceedingly clear that both homosexuality and divorce are a violation of God’s moral law (i.e. sin). The reason these acts are sinful is because they are both contrary to God’s original design for marriage.

This is made clear in Genesis 2 and also reaffirmed in the teaching ministry of Jesus. When questioned about his views on marriage and divorce, Jesus pointed to the first marriage as the paradigm for all other marriages.
"But from the beginning of creation, 'God made them male and female.' 'Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.' So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate." (Mark 10:6-9)
Many people in America would be upset with Jesus' narrow definition of marriage. But contrary to popular opinion, Jesus explains that God's original intention for marriage is a heterosexual, monogamous, and lifelong union. Any type of deviation from these God-established parameters are considered sinful by Jesus and the Scriptures that he holds to. This would include homosexual activity as well as the act of divorce. It also includes other types of sexual sin such as adultery, premarital sex or cohabitation, and polygamy. Any type of sexual activity outside the permanent bonds of marriage is a transgression of God's Law.

With that point of agreement stated and that foundation for marriage laid, let me address the four mistakes made by this pastor.

Divorce is not a crime punishable by death in the Bible.
There is no place in the Bible that says a wife should be stoned for getting a divorce. According to the English Standard Version the word “divorce” occurs a total of thirty-one times. In none of these instances is throwing rocks at a divorcee prescribed. This pastor is simply mistaken regarding the consequences of divorce in the Bible.

This pastor misinterprets how the Mosaic Law applies to today’s audience. 
This is a common mistake many people make when they read the Old Testament. The Mosaic Law, which was given by God through Moses to the nation of Israel, is a special legislation that does not apply to everyone. These ceremonial and civil laws, which includes their punishments, were designed specifically to govern Israelites, not Americans.

It is important, however, to remember that embedded within the Mosaic Law are moral laws, which apply universally. So while the punishment of a particular crime would not apply to a 21st century American (because we have our own civil law), the moral principle behind the particular law still applies to all people, everywhere. This is why Christians are consistent when they affirm that homosexuality is a sin, but not advocate the same punishment for this particular sin.

I encourage you to read a really helpful article written by Greg Koukl entitled "How Does the Old Testament Law Apply to Christians Today?" In the article, he gives a better and more detailed explanation of this common misunderstanding. He summarizes it this way:
"Today, we do not live under the Mosaic covenant. We don't have all the laws that pertain to dietary and sacrificial things because Jesus did away with those laws. We don’t have the punishments proscribed in the law because that was for their judicial system in that nation. Just as the punishments for laws in other states don’t apply to us in California (even if we have the same law), we don’t apply those punishments since we aren't under that system of laws."
So, while we are not mandated to follow the ceremonial and civil aspects of the Mosaic Law, we are obligated to keep the universal moral standards prescribed by the Mosaic Law.

The Bible does describe the consequences of homosexual behavior.
This pastor says, "the bible doesn't say anything about the consequences of a homosexual lifestyle." Again, he is seriously mistaken. Below are just a couple examples of the detrimental consequences of homosexual behavior that are outlined in the Bible.
“For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.” (Romans 1:26-27)
In this passage, not only does the Bible condemn the act of homosexuality, but it makes it clear that there is punishment for this kind of sexual deviance.
“Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10)

In this particular passage, the Apostle Paul explains the eternal consequences of those who habitually act on their homosexual desires (as well as other sexual sins and transgressions). Both of these passages show there is not only temporal, but also eternal consequences for practicing a a homosexual lifestyle.

This pastor confuses love with condoning immoral behavior.
Loving your neighbor does not mean you must accept and support his lifestyle. I can show care, kindness, and dignity to a prostitute, but still disagree with the way she makes a living. In the same way, I can love, value, and respect a homosexual as a valuable human being made in the image of God and still not approve of her homosexual behavior. This is not a campaign to ruin their lives; this is the true definition of tolerance.

Jesus is a perfect example of this. In the gospel of John, there is an account where Jesus addresses a woman who is caught in the act of adultery. Most are familiar with this account, but if not you can read about it in John 7:53-8:11[1]. What we see in this scene is that Jesus shows love and compassion for this adulterer, but he does not approve of her adulterous act. In fact, his last words to her are, “from now on sin no more.”

As Christians, it is completely consistent with Jesus’ example and the Bible to love our homosexual neighbor, while not approve of their homosexual behavior.

Much more could be said about this topic, but it is already longer than I intended. What do you think? Do you see any other mistakes or would you like to push back on what I have presented here? Your comments are always welcome.

[1] While many of the earliest manuscripts do not include this account in John’s gospel, it is very likely that it occurred during Jesus’ ministry. Many scholars point out that it bears all the marks of an actual historical event.

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