‘God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean’ (No. 2)

Slowly, but surely, we’re winning this argument. Slowly, gradually, more and more Christians are coming around to understanding the Apostle Peter’s rooftop vision from God the same way that Peter understood it.

On Wednesday, evangelical theologian Scot McKnight shared a guest post by Jeff Cook.

It’s a kind of personal testimony in which Cook — who serves as pastor of an evangelical church in Greeley, Colo. — describes “What I Have Learned From the Lesbians in My Church.”

That’s where Cook begins, with his sometimes-awkward personal account from how his faith and life have been enriched by two women at his church whom he describes as “an absolute treasure” to him and to the congregation. But Cook goes on from there, beginning, apprehensively, to question whether this experience ought to lead him to rethink his thinking.

Here is Cook’s conclusion:

In the early church, the Jewish Christians became convinced that God desired to save Gentiles through faith in Christ alone, because they saw the Holy Spirit at work in the lives of the Gentiles. The common understanding of conversion in the first century was that one needed to physically change — to be circumcised and give up certain foods in order to be acceptable to God. But the early church shifted its perception of this entire group of people, not because of the Bible (the Bible was clear that all males needed to be circumcised and eating shellfish was a no-no), but because they saw the work of the Holy Spirit bursting forth from the lives of these Gentile believers.

After seeing the Spirit’s work, they changed the rules of inclusion.

I do not have a clear conviction from Christ on this point, but I wonder if that same lesson is being offered to the American Church, who so clearly sees the Holy Spirit alive and awake in some of our gay friends. I wonder if empirically we might make the same move as the first Christians who disregarded the many verses on circumcision and food laws, disregarded traditional mores, and embraced the present activity of God’s Spirit in their midst as authoritative.

I think if we did, we would not only begin to see God in new ways, we might gain many new sisters, many new brothers — just as the early church did.

This makes me very happy. Scot McKnight is a respected and influential theologian in evangelical circles, and while he doesn’t quite endorse the conclusion Cook doesn’t quite come to, I’m very pleased to see both of them giving some serious, thoughtful consideration to this argument.

It also makes me very happy to see another mainstream evangelical blog, Internet Monk, with a follow-up post titled “Is Jeff Cook on to something here?” IMonk, like McKnight, has the attention and the respect of the evangelical mainstream establishment, and it’s good to finally see that establishment beginning to contend with the parallel between the early Christians’ inclusion of us unclean Gentiles and the imperative for the church today to include LGBT Christians as full participants.

The Apostle Peter was against including Gentiles in the beloved community. He wasn’t a bigot, necessarily — it was simply a matter of the authority of scripture. He could recite dozens of clobber-verses to show that such inclusion would have been “unbiblical.”

“It is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or to visit a Gentile,” Peter said. The Bible said it. He believed it. And that settled it.

Until a vision from God and a knock on the door unsettled it.

“It is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or to visit a Gentile,” Peter said, “but …

That, right there, is what will get you in trouble with the evangelical tribe every time. If the scripture says something is “unlawful,” the tribe insists, then there is no “but” about it. It is unlawful. Period. Full stop. No excuses. No exceptions. No buts.

“It is unlawful,” Peter said, “but God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean.”

See earlier:

• The Abominable Shellfish: Why some Christians hate gays but love bacon

• Al Mohler says the Apostle Peter was wrong and that’s why evangelicals should ‘focus on homosexuality’

• Slavery, seafood, sexuality and the Southern Bible

• Slavery and same-sex marriage (cont’d.)

• P.S.: Please don’t eat the chimpanzee

• Selfish Gentiles and ‘Shellfish Objections’: Timothy Dalrymple vs. the Apostle Peter

• God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean

• Evangelical Alliance responds to Simon Peter’s dangerous sermon in Acts 11


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  • So, why did you call Rastafarians “flat-out wrong” four posts ago? They believe in Christ, and His sacrifice…

  • hrudbeck

    A few years ago here in Denmark where I live, the law that prohibited shops from doing business on a Sunday was revoked. This prompted a bishop in the State Church (Lutheran) to ask why people were much less agitated by this than by the legalization of gay civil unions. After all, the opposition to gays rest on a handfull of debatable verses scattered across the Bible, while doing business on a Sunday is a direct violation of the ten commandmends. Go figure …

  • I agree that this kind of shift is good news and we should be glad to hear it, but…

    Part of me wonders, “What the hell took them so long? Are they so blind that the obvious is opaque to them?”

  • LoneWolf343


    Catholics also believe in Christ and his Sacrifice, but that doesn’t mean that we have to believe they are right about Papal Infallibility…

  • But I don’t hear Fred calling Catholics “flat-out wrong”, and that’s kind of the point.

  • LoneWolf343

    *headdesk* *headdesk* *headdesk*

    When he said he said Rastafarians were “flat-out wrong,” he was talking about the divinity of Haile Selassie. If were paying close enough attention, you would have seen that.

  • I was paying plenty of attention. What Fred specifically said was:

    He was no theologian, and much of what he at times believed
    was, frankly, flat-out wrong. (Haile Selassie was, alas, nothing
    more than Haile Selassie.)

    Yes, that referred to the divinity of Haile Selassie. but was not definitely and specifically defined to that claim. He said that Marley was, in his theology “flat-out wrong”. How is this different to Wicca, or Buddhism, or Zoroastrianism? All of those religions feature theologies that are contradictory to mainstream Christianity, yet Fred does not claim that those faiths are “flat-out wrong”.

  • Depending on if you consider the Gospel of Thomas to be genuine, Peter had an awful opinion of women, too. :P

  • markedward

    Doing business on Saturday (the sabbath day) would be a violation… but then again half of everyone does think Sunday is ‘the Christian sabbath’, so…

  • markedward

    I asked it on the last ‘God has shown me’ post here, but I’m seeing others asking it as well on the blog posts Fred has linked to… so that prompts me to ask it again here, in hopes that Fred might hit up a blog post in response, and/or that others could lend their thoughts. All ears here.

    The NT authors tend to use a catch-all term: ‘sexual immorality’ in the typical English translation, ‘porneia’ (πορνεια) in the Greek. They almost never set out to define this term, but they prohibit it all the same and assume their audiences will understand them? What was it they used to define it, if not how the Law seems to define it?

    The few times we actually do find examples of what are or might be considered ‘porneia’, come from Paul, the guy who was the most inclusive of Gentiles out of all the apostles. When he calls sleeping with one’s father’s wife ‘porneia’ (1 Cor 5), is it because he’s looking back to the Law, or because of another reason? … and was he wrong? And hence, when Paul apparently condemns the act of same-sex relations (Rom 1, following Sirach 13-14), is it because he’s looking back to the Law, or because of another reason? … and was he wrong?

    Thanks in advance for replies.

  • jdmartinsen

    “I wonder if I were in someone else’s shoes, would I be like them or would I still be me?”

  • Baby_Raptor

    The bible has not made it through all the years and retranslations without political bias. Fred discussed this concept RE abortion in “The biblical view that’s younger than the Happy Meal.” The bible wasn’t originally anti-abortion; but when abortion became the popular whipping boy for religion, biblical translations suddenly started changing to show that view.

    It’s not unlikely that the same was done with homosexuality. After all, there’s evidence that the early church celebrated same sex relationships, and only stopped due to outside pressures.

  • The_L1985

    So? I know Fred probably doesn’t agree with me about my religion. But he is kind to people of different faiths, and to atheists, and that’s what matters to me.

  • “[…]and much of what he said at times was, frankly, flat-out wrong[…]”

    How can this be in any way interpreted as Fred saying that Rastafarianism is, in its entirety, “flat-out wrong” given the qualifiers?
    Fred cited a specific example of what he views to be incorrect theology. That he didn’t go on to provide a litany of examples doesn’t indicate that he believes Rastafarian theology to be wrong across the board. That was a faulty assumption on your part.
    Beyond that, even if he had said that Rastafarianism is flat-out wrong, which, again, he didn’t do, that does nothing to invalidate the point of this post, because he certainly didn’t go on to accuse Rastafarians of being unclean or profane.

  • Abigail Nussbaum

    Cook may have come around on gays, but his understanding of Judaism is woeful:

    The common understanding of conversion in the first century was that one
    needed to physically change — to be circumcised and give up certain
    foods in order to be acceptable to God.

    I don’t know about the first century, but from everything I was taught this is completely backwards. To be acceptable to God, one has to follow God’s laws. Jews have lots of laws – including circumcision and kashrut – and gentile only have a few, but either way, a person who keeps them is OK with the lord. A gentile doesn’t need to convert to be acceptable to God. The core shift between Judaism and Christianity is the one from religion-as-law to religion-as-faith, -works, or -love. Cook is starting from the assumption that these latter definitions encompass all religions, and thus ends up interpreting Judaism from a Christian perspective. It’s not an uncommon mistake (see, for example, the various Christians who joke that we Jews believe that they are going to hell), but it’s a very frustrating one, because it expresses Christianity’s hegemony and privilege even as it tries to refute them.

  • Dash1

    This is reminding me of those bad movie reviews, in which the advertiser grabs a sentence from a pan and rewrites it to change the meaning (says Ebert, “the filmmakers hope these few exciting reveals at the end of the movie will keep you on the edge of your seat”; the advertisement reads: “Ebert: ‘exciting reveals . . . will keep you on the edge of your seat”).

    Fred: “much of what [Marley] at times believed was, frankly, flat-out wrong.”

    DH: “Fred said Rastafarianism is ‘flat-out wrong.'”

    I’m having trouble believing someone as intelligent as you really doesn’t understand that there’s a difference between “much of X is flat-out wrong” and “X is in its entirety flat-out wrong.”

  • Dash1

    I am not a theologian, but I understand that the word commonly translated “homosexuality” is arsenokoite, which doesn’t appear elsewhere in the NT, and is, at best rare elsewhere. (I’m not sure it actually does occur elsewhere, come to that). The result is that we can only make educated guesses at what it was referring to. One way of figuring out what a word in an ancient text refers to (unless a grammarian from the period is kind enough to comment on it explicitly enough to cross cultures and eras and convey the meaning to us, which hasn’t happened in this case) is to see how it is used in other texts. We don’t have that with arsenokoite, so people have made educated guesses, usually based on what they think ought to be prohibited, combined with etymological information and, in some cases, etymological assumptions (which can be dangerous–if the etymology were clear, we wouldn’t have a problem).

  • Original Lee

    One of my NT professors said that arsenokoite was pedophilia. I don’t remember offhand why he drew this conclusion, but it had something to do with looking at other Greek writings and word choice in those.

  • Agreed 100% with all of this.

    Also, kashrut law is not typically understood as a method for physical transformation, but rather as an acknowledgment that certain foods are considered unclean (in a ritual sense) and therefore to be avoided.

  • Yeah, the sentence clearly implies that the divinity of Haile Selassie is one example of something Marley believed that was clearly wrong. I’m sure there were others; Rastafarianism can get pretty damn weird – even for a religion. IFAIK, there’s at least one strain that rejects the physical world about as much as the Gnostics.

    I don’t know why other ‘clearly wrong’ beliefs get a pass. There’s a lot of Mormonism that has been conclusively disproven – their entire history of the Americas, for instance.

  • JustoneK

    Ya notice a lot of the alleged “hard and fast” Judeo-Christian rules get bent and broken in favor of the almighty Free Market…

  • Matthias

    While I accept your expertise on contemporary judaism, I’m not sure if it can be extrapolated back to the first century and further. Several Israeli kings seem to have forced other peoples to be cirumcised as part of their conversion and wheter it was necessary or not was a point of contention between Hillel and Shammai.

  • They certainly no longer seem to think usury is a sin.

  • Abigail Nussbaum

    Do you mean that these kings forced people who wanted to convert to be circumcised, or that they forced people to convert and thus to be circumcised? The first isn’t necessarily a contradiction of my point – if you want to become a Jew you need to follow the laws of being Jewish, and it’s still fairly common for circumcision to be part of the conversion process. The second is more so, in that it expresses intolerance towards the gentiles that isn’t in the spirit of Judaism, but it would hardly be the first time that a leader, religious or secular, erred on the side of authoritarianism and control in the name of a religion that actually called for the opposite.

  • LL

    This. If there’s money to made from it, religious people (in America, at least) often seem to be surprisingly flexible. That flexibility when it comes to making a buck off something can be good or bad, I guess. Like most stuff.

  • LoneWolf343

    Well, of course people refer to religions they don’t believe in as wrong. Are you going to argue that religions you don’t believe in are absolutely right?

  • Except that Fred never said Marley’s theology was “flat-out wrong”. You quoted what Fred said, so you know that he said “much of what he at times believed was frankly flat-out wrong”, not “his theology was wrong”. Those sentences mean different things.

  • markedward

    Would you mind pointing me to said evidence?

  • markedward

    If I recall correctly, ‘arsenokoite’ is first used by Paul; usages in later literature tend to be quotations of what he wrote, but none of them set out to define the word. It appears in contexts of theft, adultery, murder, rape, etc., so it’s difficult to get an accurate reading of what it meant. I think the reasoning the word is today understood as ‘homosexuals’ could be that the two root words, ‘arseno’ and ‘koite’, happen to appear together in the Septuagint version of Leviticus 18.22

    I appreciate the response, but it doesn’t exactly address my original question regarding the word ‘porneia’, and how the NT writers intended it to mean (i.e. what did ‘porneia’ consist of to them).

  • Mostly unrelated, but kinda-sorta considering it involved being maligned. :p

    Annoyed! I was just banned from a page on FB for being a “troll” and “unsubstantiated lies” because I quoted articles on Mother Teresa’s “suffering is close to Jesus” stance.

  • Baby_Raptor

    Gotta watch those fact, Sam. They’ll get you in trouble sometimes!

  • markedward

    Thanks, but I should have been more specific. I was asking where I could find the latter thing mentioned (‘evidence that the early church celebrated same sex relationships’).

  • Well, I’ve found several sites with variations of this: http://www.christianity-revealed.com/cr/files/whensamesexmarriagewasachristianrite.html

    I think this is what Wikipedia is referring to by this: Historian John Boswell argued that Adelphopoiesis, or brother-making, represented an early form of religious same-sex marriage in the Orthodox church. Alan Bray saw the rite of Ordo ad fratres faciendum (“Order for the making of brothers”) as serving the same purpose in the medieval Roman Catholic Church.

  • Lori

    They should be glad that you didn’t point out that Mother Teresa clearly meant other people’s suffering.

  • I did also point out that she wasn’t keen on education. :p

  • Alix

    Not just the Gospel of Thomas, either. That shows up in a number of the Gnostic gospels.

  • With the same vehemence as “Women are not worthy of life”?

  • Yes!

  • Nick

    I’m not so optimistic that McKnight is going to be accepted on this (I can just see someone like John Piper tweeting, “Farewell, Scott McKnight” any day now). The reason is that Evangelicals still seem to be pretty firmly in the “it’s a choice” camp. It’s a lot easier to make an “unscriptural-nevertheless-right” argument against exclusion based on ethnicity because we all agree that Gentiles are not at fault for being Gentiles.

    It’s still an uphill battle to get people to 1. accept that gays are not at fault for being gay and 2. to get those that already do to then go on to see gayness as an identity comparable to ethnicity and not some kind of mental illness to be quarantined via enforced celibacy.

  • Nick

    Boswell is pretty discredited and I wouldn’t trust *any* source that quotes from the forged “Secret Gospel of Mark.” The Adelphopoiesis is actually still practiced in the Syriac Church from time to time and from what I understand they see it in nonsexual, albeit fiercely intimate, terms similar to the secular custom of blood-brotherhood. It’s not like that isn’t an extant thought category, either. See, the entry marked “bromance.”

    I’m not saying that the Adelphopeiesis was *never* used as a sort of covert same-sex marriage (especially in some backwoods parish in Eastern Europe where people get away with all kinds of things then as now), but the evidence that the Church leadership ever thought of it like that is pretty lacking and/or argued from silence.

  • For my own part, I prefer to fight that battle, since it’s a hill worth climbing.

    That said, I acknowledge this is in part a reflection of my having enough power/status/privilege that I can more or less choose when to fight it and when not to.

    I also acknowledge this is in part a form of personal self-protection, in that I’m one of those people for whom same-sex relationships are a choice (I can form romantic and sexual bonds with women, I’ve done so in my life, it’s just that the person I ended up marrying is a man) and I therefore don’t feel suitably protected by the “excluding same-sex couples is bad because they aren’t at fault for their error” argument. (Put another way: I agree that my relationship is a choice, I deny that it’s a wrong choice.)

    And I accept that a larger community for whom that isn’t true might prefer to make the “not at fault” argument, rather than attempt to make the more difficult “not actually a bad thing in the first place” argument.

  • Aaaaaaaaaaaargh

    To be a little more charitable, this represents a pretty radical shift in thinking from where they used to be. At least it was in my case. When you’re raised to read the Bible literally, the “obvious” seems pretty clear. A better hermeneutic reverses that obvious to what I assume is your position, but better hermeneutics aren’t arrived at without a lot of struggle, rethinking, and cognitive dissonance. I truly believe that we’re seeing a sea change in evangelical thinking on this issue, though.

  • kc1253

    Well, I think he’s possibly being transformed. For me “the Holy Spirit is not interested in transforming her sexuality YET,” is a big marker that some change in orientation is still, to some degree, expected.
    His talk of seeing “the Holy Spirit alive and awake in some of our gay friends” is very good, but also shows lack of exposure to gathering of Christians who have long embraced gays and lesbians as, shall we say, spiritual equals.
    Still, it’s good he’s open. It’s good he’s learning. I hope his journey progresses to inclusion that embraces the sexually “other” without ever even thinking in terms of changed orientation.

  • kc1253

    Actually, doing business on Saturday is in violation of the commandments.
    legalistic. You can’t switch the Sabbath to Sunday, and then claim a violation of the law.
    Yes, that’s being legalistic. But the law is, well…
    That’s why it’s so great to not live by it.

  • Lee Carlton

    Having the courage to go down to the House of Cornelius and witness the Holy Spirit at work has an amazing effect on those who do. Many Evangelical and Pentecostal believers have said after attending worship at a MCC (the world’s oldest and first Christian body to embrace LGBT people) congregation, “I do not understand all of this but I cannot deny the Holy Spirit at work when I see it.”

  • Alix_A

    (Way late, but..) Yup. There’s an interesting passage in the Gospel of Mary where she’s relating secret teachings of Jesus, and while Andrew’s just all “those are weird, he totally didn’t say that,” Peter’s all “and why would he tell those things to a woman, anyway?” And then Levi takes Peter to task for being “wrathful” and “contending with women like with Adversaries.”

    The interesting question is whether that preserves historical information about the actual Peter, or if it’s a rather pointed statement about the Roman Church.