“Rebuke your neighbor frankly so that you will not share in his guilt” (Leviticus 19:17b, NIV 1984).
This column is the first in response to a man named Donald who wrote some replies to my column entitled, “Should a Christian Attend a Homosexual Wedding?” In light of recent events, I believe it would be best to answer Donald’s comments in a more visible way, not only in the response section of my previous column.
Two things first: 1. If this column appears to start in the middle of a conversation, it does not; it simply follows from the above mentioned column. 2. I have slightly edited the responses to make them easier to read.
I begin with Donald’s first comment:
Homosexual acts always a sin? Submitted by Donald
Steve, I agree that all Scripture was inspired by God and is authoritative for a believer's faith and practice. I agree that all the verses that may allude to homosexual acts of any nature are negative, but I do not see Scripture as saying that every homosexual act is a sin, although some translations may say this; this means I think those translations are flawed.
Reply to Donald
I am interested to see your reasoning behind the statement, "I do not see Scripture as saying that every homosexual act is a sin" and "I think those translations [that say as much] are flawed."
Please always consider what the majority of Christians throughout the ages have understood the biblical passages to mean. When moderns think they have a better understanding than those throughout the previous two millennia (four actually), it is a dangerous thing because it implies one or more of the following:
1) That the Church of God, not any establishment church, in whom the Spirit of God lives, has conspired to change and cover up the message that God gave to mankind, or 2) that God has changed His mind as to what is righteous and holy and best reflects His nature and character and 3) that God communicated what He wanted to say in such a bad way that no one understood Him properly until our "enlightened" age.
Bible interpretation Submitted by Donald
I do not think those 3 choices are the only options. My take is that each book of Scripture was written to an original audience in the culture of that audience, this is how they would know how to understand it. But time marches on and that culture is not our culture. In other words, the Bible was written FOR us but it was not written TO us, to read it as if it was written TO us is to risk making major mistakes, as their culture is not our culture.
I think each group reading Scripture after the original audience is trying to do it as best they can, but they can also make mistakes. For example, I can make mistakes and have done so in the past; when I learn more I can see mistakes I made by misunderstanding something, often by not using the original culture in which the text was written in order to understand it as the original readers would have. That is, I think the Protestants were correct in claiming there is no infallible teaching authority AKA church magisterium as the Orthodox and Catholics claim (but note that their magisteriums are different).
If you understand things differently, please say where you differ.
"For Us" and not "To Us"?
I do not have any major disagreement with what you have said, especially in light of 1 Corinthians 10:11, also 2 Timothy 3:16-17, etc.
Scripture Interpretation Submitted by Donald
Another principle I use in Scripture interpretation is that it is a progressive revelation. That is, the foundation is the Pentateuch AKA Torah, then books were added and it can be important to know the approximate time order in which they were written or what time period they cover, as they can build on what was before. For example, a later book can assume things written in an earlier book.
Others are that Scripture interprets Scripture and the more clear helps us understand the less clear. Some of the laws found in Exodus-Deuteronomy serve as identity markers for being a member of Israel and this group is later called Jews, so they are typically known as Jewish identity markers. This includes circumcision, eating kosher, keeping Sabbath, etc. Gentiles were not required to keep these laws, although they might have chosen to keep them in some form. However, Jews were to keep them and any gentile converts were considered Jews once they converted and they then needed to keep them all.
It turns out that the prohibition of male homosexual relations is a Jewish identity marker. This is because such acts for an Israelite/Jew are called an abomination, just like for a Jew eating unclean animals like pork or shellfish is called an abomination. See "The Bible Now" Chapter 1 on Homosexuality by Friedman and Dolansky for more info. One can see their response to some questions and infer some of their arguments at a Huffington Post article that can be found via Google. It is also worth doing a word study on Hebrew “toevah” translated as abomination throughout Scripture and see that something can be an abomination for one group of people and not another and that there is something that is called an abomination to God, which no one should do.
Another thing to see is that the Pentateuch/Torah only explicitly forbids male homosexual acts (as an abomination to Jews). Female homosexual acts are not mentioned. Now one might think they are implied, but that is a decision to make on interpretation and goes beyond what is explicit in the text. One cannot just make a wholesale assumption that anything that relates to male Jews somehow automatically relates to female Jews, otherwise we would have seen Jewish female priests at the temple. My point is that IF one thinks this prohibition also relates to female Jews, then one needs to explain what criteria one is using to decide when laws relating to males apply to females and admit that others may see things differently. The next thing to see is that Jesus and Paul were both practicing Jews that followed Torah. Jesus did it perfectly as he never sinned and Paul says he "follows Moses" in Acts 21 which is near the end of the book. That is, Paul remained Jewish after his acceptance of Jesus as Messiah, he not only claims he is Jewish in his defense, he claims he is a Pharisee (still) in Acts 23.
So the point is that given what Torah says and given that Paul followed it as he followed Jesus, whatever he wrote in the NT could not contradict that. So it remains for us to do our best to try to understand what he did write and what he meant, but certain things can be excluded. Recall that Paul opposed the Judaizers who tried to say that some Jewish identity marker type things were required for gentiles, such as getting circumcised and needing to obey the whole Law/Torah.
I can go over how I understand the NT verses that likely refer to homosexual acts in some way if you wish or discuss anything I have written previously if you have questions.
Questions before continuing
1. Are you saying that before God only the Jews were (are?) expected to refrain from homosexual behavior and that this command was specifically for male Jews only?
2. Are you saying that before God there is nothing wrong with male homosexual behavior for non-Jews and there is nothing wrong with female homosexual practice at all?
3. Lastly, do you think that a man (or woman) giving/receiving sexual pleasure from someone of the same sex accurately reflects and honors God's holiness and character, God's created order, and His will for humankind?
Here the words of Donald ended. Now unless something happened to Donald, it seems as though he either did not want to answer the questions or he realized that his verbal gymnastics were not persuading me. It is obvious that Donald was a smart and learned man. Unfortunately, sprinkled within some correct things he said were some gross inaccuracies (falsehoods) leading to deadly errors.
I did, however, post one more reply:
First Detailed Response to Donald Johnson
I hope you’re still reading. I was waiting for you to answer my questions (above) in order to completely clarify your beliefs. You haven’t yet answered; so I will begin my detailed response with several installments to follow.
First, in your initial response you wrote, “I do not see Scripture as saying that every homosexual act is a sin, although some translations may say this; this means I think those translations are flawed.” I would be interested in seeing which translations you believe are flawed. In your opinion, are they filled with flaws or are they only flawed in regards to homosexuality?
You eventually write of “Jewish identity markers” (something I plan to address in my next response.), including “circumcision, eating kosher, keeping Sabbath, etc.”. You write that “Gentiles were not required to keep these laws…. However, Jews were to keep them”. Then you write (and I find this telling), “It turns out…”
I underscore your wording, “IT TURNS OUT…”
“It turns out that the prohibition of male homosexual relations is a Jewish identity marker.”
Why would you use the words “it turns out”? These words are most often used when something that was thought to be one way, ended up being another way. So this returns us to my very first response to you in which I wrote, “Please… consider what the majority of Christians throughout the ages have understood the biblical passages to mean. When moderns think they have a better understanding than those throughout the previous… millennia… it is a dangerous thing….”
So your response, in essence, appears to be saying, “It turns out…” the Church has been incorrect in its interpretation of the biblical verses about homosexuality for a long, long time. But “it turns out”, we now understand the original language and meaning intended by the author (Author) much better than Christians did for the last 2000 years. (Or Jews did prior to that, by the way.)
This, of course, is very dangerous ground on which to tread. If Scripture is “God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16 NIV) and if God has warned that no one should mess with it (Deuteronomy 4:2, Deut. 12:32, Proverbs 30:6, etc.), then looking for ways to re-interpret it based on what our hearts might want and desire, current social trends, or whatever else, would be going against God. Donald, I hope and pray that you turn back from the dangerous path you appear to be following.
As I was contemplating my responses, my daily readings were in Isaiah, where I came to the following passage:
The Lord says: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men. Therefore once more I will astound these people…. the wisdom of the wise will perish, the intelligence of the intelligent will vanish.” Woe to those who go to great depths to hide their plans from the Lord, who do their work in darkness and think, “Who sees us? Who will know?” You turn things upside down, as if the potter were thought to be like the clay!” (Isaiah 29:12-16, NIV 1984).
See my column "Should a Christian Attend a Homosexual Wedding?"
Read my other Bible.org columns here: http://blogs.bible.org/blog/26077