The Silence of Jesus (on Homosexuality)

I’ve been thinking more about the post I wrote last week about Daniel Kirk‘s new book, Jesus Have I Loved, but Paul?: A Narrative Approach to the Problem of Pauline Christianity.

Daniel takes a generous but conservative posture toward homosexual behavior in chapter nine of his book, the chapter that I was asked to review. He gets there by doing three things:

    J.R. Daniel Kirk
  1. He basically discounts the passages from the Hebrew Scripture that relate to homosexuality. Because the Christian church doesn’t consider other Old Testament prohibitions binding on us today, it’s unreasonable to take the sexual prohibitions at face value. I agree.
  2. He argues that the silence of Jesus is meaningful. More on this below.
  3. He argues that the Pauline mentions of homosexuality in Romans 1 and 1 Corinthians 6 develop a normative, Christian sexuality — which is heterosexuality. I expressed my disagreement with him in this regard last week.

But here’s another sticking point with Kirk’s logic. He writes that it’s often difficult to make an argument from silence. Yet he notes that many of us who argue for the full acceptance of GLBT persons in the church like to say that if Jesus didn’t want gays in the church, he would have said something. Fair enough.

Kirk goes on to argue that Jesus’ silence on this matter does just the opposite: Jesus silence on the issue of homosexual behavior is, in effect, an implicit endorsement of the Jewish teaching of his day; namely, that homosexual behavior is a sin. In other words, if Jesus had wanted to overturn the teaching if his day, he would have spoken out against it, as he did with several other behaviors.

But here’s the rub: apply that logic to any number of other moral or ethical issues, and I’ll bet that Kirk and his fellow evangelical biblical scholars don’t agree. For instance, Jesus was silent about:

  • Slavery
  • Abortion
  • The death penalty
  • Corporal punishment
  • Racism
  • Rape

I could go on. Does that mean that we should argue that Jesus was implicitly endorsing each of these? Of course not.

You just cannot argue, one way or the other, from Jesus’ silence. Which leaves us, according to Kirk’s thinking, with two passages from Paul that are keeping practicing gays out of the church. And, if you ask me, that’s not enough biblical weight to disqualify millions of people from leadership in the church.

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  • Scot Miller

    As a recovering Southern Baptist and ordained Southern Baptist minister, I am shamefully aware of how Christians can use what the Bible says (and doesn’t say) to harm other human beings. The Bible may emphatically support the practice of slavery, giving us rules on how to treat our slaves, but slavery is immoral. Period. The fact that abolitionists couldn’t quote chapter and verse to condemn slavery did not mean that slave holders must be right because they had the Bible on their side.

    Jesus was once condemned by the Pharisees for breaking the law by picking up grains of wheat on the Sabbath. The Bible and the tradition clearly forbade defiling the Sabbath by doing work, which is what Jesus and his disciples did by picking up the grain. What did Jesus say? “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” The rules and laws are to help us live, but we are not to be slaves to that law, because faithfulness to real human beings is more important than faithfulness to the law (or one’s interpretation of the law). The Bible does not clearly support homosexuality, but it does clearly support the worth of each individual. If I’m going to make a mistake, I’d rather make the mistake in favor of real people and not in favor of beating up “sinners” with the Bible. Being supportive of LGBTQ people and being opposed to slavery is just more Christlike.

    • But here is the thing, the Bible does say. The NT does say.

      Paul tells people to turn away people from the church who are found to be in bad sexual behavior.

      This is why Tony has for the longest time not liked Paul. I bet he thought for the longest time for some angle to de-cannonize Pauline scriptures. Pretty hard to do though.

      • Scot Miller

        Paul’s not silent about slavery, either. He said runaway slaves should return to their owners (although owners really should treat their Christian slaves nicely).

        Paul was wrong about slavery…. probably because his understanding about slavery was historically conditioned by his culture. The same thing is true of his objection to homosexuality.

        • He was not wrong about slavery. Paul was not in the business of overturning the institution of slavery within the Roman Civilization, he was in the business of spreading the gospel and managing churches within reality.

          Paul leading an insurrection against slavery was not within his means, nor within the Church’s means at the time. Controlling your sexual behavior while you are a member of a Christian assembly is both in your means then, as it is today, Soct.

          Again, I can fall in love with more women than my wife. Sex is an behavior, it isn’t a characteristic that cannot be changed like someone’s race.

          • DJ

            Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, WAIT! Overturning an institution and calling evil what it is are two separate things. The former is (admittedly) quite difficult, but the latter is rather easy, as Paul is not shy about calling out various other cultural norms. Let’s consider an institution that Paul found it rather easy to address:

            Marriage. He had the audacity to say it was better not to marry for the Kingdom’s sake, but – as a concession – the feeble and lust-burners could if they HAD to…

            So the more-established institution (pre-dating slavery, and far more firmly established) Paul had plenty to say about, but saying “you know, it’s really not good for another human being to own another one” is oh so difficult?

            That’s got to be the poorest defense of Paul I’ve ever heard…

  • Frank

    Tony you were right to delete my first comment. It was full of snark!

    Let me be more substantive.

    Jesus did speak on marriage using the masculine and feminine, male and female, husband and wife in Matthew 19. He had a great opportunity to remove gender from the discussion but he does not.

    He was not silent on marriage and sexuality.

    • Mat 19:3-9 is in reply to a question about divorcing a wife, so the reply can be taken to be limited to the case. But in 10-12 He advises best to leave it hanging in your wall locker, although He understands that this is not possible for most. He doesn’t qualify this advice as being only for homosexuals, apparently it applies to everyone.

      Jesus does condemn sexual immorality in Mark 7:21, and I don’t see immorality being limited by gender preference either.

      • Frank

        Yes it was a reply about divorce and in the process He reaffirms the intent of marriage and sexuality. You cannot discuss the dissolution of something without understand the basic structure of it.

        I agree sexual immorality in all its forms, including homosexuality, is something we should avoid.

        • Scott

          “…. including homosexuality …” is dishonestly begging the question. “I agree sexual immorality in all its forms is something we should avoid. I include homosexuality as one such form” is straightforwardly stating your position.

          In Jesus’ reply, he reaffirms the ontological effect of sexual relation: they are “made one flesh.” He does not specify that this occurs only in heterosexual sexual relation, he merely joins the questioner in that presupposition, while expanding on it: doing so is not an endorsement of that presupposition. Remember that the Pharisees asked him the question in order to trick him, not in order for him to instruct them, or us. But he instructs us nonetheless: the nature of marriage is faithfulness.

          • Frank

            Yes faithfulness is one take away and in giving us that Jesus affirms God’s and therefore His intention for man and woman, male and female, husband and wife.

            One flesh is only possible between man, woman and God.

            Jesus had a wonderful opportunity to expand this definition in His answer but He did not.

  • Tony, I think that you are wrong about Jesus’ silence on the issues of “Slavery, Abortion, The death penalty, Corporal punishment, Racism (The OT doesn’t affirm racism, so this one doesn’t count) [and] Rape” doesn’t reflect his acceptance of these institutions. Jesus was also silent about pedophilia and necrophilia, but this silence could not possibly argue in favor of these practices.

    If we are going to appeal to God’s Word, we have to be careful against violating it to support our own pet ideologies.

  • Scott, You argue in favor of homosexuality by claiming, “The Bible does not clearly support homosexuality, but it does clearly support the worth of each individual.”

    Instead, based on the “worth of each individual,” I would argue against self-destructive behavior – whether mainlining heroin or homosexaul practice.

    You claim the moral high-ground by claiming that those who disagree with you are, “beating up “sinners” with the Bible.” How pejorative! Instead, we are warning because we care.

    • Scot Miller

      Daniel, since I’m not gay, I haven’t experienced what it’s like to be shown the “care” of Christians for whom homosexuality is a great sin. However, some of my gay friends report they feel beaten up by such “care,” and I know some who wouldn’t darken the door of a church because of the way they’ve been “cared for” by Christians. I can only imagine it would feel better to be ignored than “cared” for by some Christians. (For what it’s worth, I don’t question your motives. I’m sure the Pharisees who condemned Jesus for picking up wheat on the Sabbath and healing on the Sabbath were just “caring” for him, too.)

      I’m also opposed to “self-destructive behavior,” which, of course has nothing to do with one’s sexual orientation. Everyone regardless of their sexual orientation can be self-destructive: straight, gay, bisexual, etc. Some of the most self-destructive people I know are heterosexuals and faithful church members. On the other hand, I know a lesbian couple who are one of the most loving, joyous, and mutually fulfilled couples I know. Their lesbian relationship obviously leads to their flourishing as human beings. It’s too bad that some Christians can’t accept them as they are. Maybe a little less “caring” and a little more acceptance would be in order.

      • Frank

        There is a difference between flourishing as human beings and flourishing as Christians. One of the problems with your position is that it is worldly not Godly so you measure by the worlds standards not Gods. One way to ensure failure!

        • Scot Miller

          Frank, you’re right, as usual. It must be terrible for someone to be a flourishing human being. Much better to be a miserable human being and a flourishing Christian.

          • Frank

            Actually yes and if you read the bible you would know that to be true.

            Here is just a small sampling:

            1 Peter 2:19, 21
            Romans 8:18-39
            John 16:33

      • Scot,

        I too wouldn’t enter a Bible-believing church if I were gay. However, this might not be because of the bad treatment that I might receive – Personally, I have never seen a gay person treated badly in a church, although I’ll willing to concede that it might happen – but because I am provoked to feel guilty and therefore rejected by the message and the people.

        I think that you mis-characterize the church. Legends of Christians rejecting their gay offspring are tossed around ubiquitously. However, I have never seen this. Instead, I seen much of the opposite – gay children keeping a distance from their Christian parents because these parents don’t accept their gay lifestyle. Sadly, they feel condemned. However, I think that this begins with a sense of SELF-condemnation. Intuitively, they know that what they are doing is wrong, as many have later admitted.

  • JT

    Having closely watched family members and close friends who struggled with being force to accepted the homosexual reality of their genetic recipe, I can’t for one second agree with anyone who suggests that either being or not being homosexual is a choice about what kind of sexual experience they prefer. That said, I would argue with Daniel that while I admit I don’t have the gospels memorized, I am unaware of any passage of scripture where Jesus “warned the sinners because he cared.” But I am very aware of multiple passages where Jesus condemned the church leaders for following and enforcing legalistic doctrine that breeds hypocrisy and placing a heavy legalistic burden on the people. “Their teachings are merely human rules” (Matt 15:9) NIV. I just think we do no good for the kingdom by “warning because we care” because first, the purpose of the law was not for us to believe that we were actually supposed to be able to follow it, but to lead us to Christ. And now that we are in Christ, our purpose is to love as Christ taught us to love, and to worry more about the log in our own eye than the spec in our brother’s. Second, we’re not exactly appealing to the hearts of homosexuals by ostracizing them. Jesus didn’t hang on the cross and say, “Ok you sinners, look up here and see that I am bruised and bleeding so that you will feel really guilty and repent from your homosexuality and your drinking and your other wicked ways! I am only dying once and after this it will be up to you to live clean, sin free lives or you will be condemned to hell.” Nope. He said, “Father, Forgive them. For they know not what they do.” And he wasn’t talking about the “sinners”. He was talking about the church leaders.

    • L Paris

      What you wrote was beautiful, thank you.

  • KimG

    I believe in a living God who continues to create and continues to speak into our world. The Bible is incredibly valuable as a guide to help us interpret God’s living message to us today. There are also living witnesses to God acting in our world. Are we to discount these witnesses because they are not mentioned in scripture?
    God’s message and God’s standards are there to hold up against an ever changing world. I believe that God wants the world to continue living and changing and growing to become even more like Christ than were the first followers. How can we do that if the message we hear from God is static in a dynamic world?
    Mankind did not have it right in Jesus’ day and we still do not have it right today. Are we not all called to bring forth God’s kingdom?

    • Amen and amen. The Word did not stop speaking 2000 years ago. Looking at the scriptures without a passionate search for the heart of God is looking at a bear and seeing a cabin rug; that is, we look at the scriptures to know Christ intimately, now. The only way I can make sense of the barbarism and chaos and horrors of the old testament is to look, like you say Kim G, for the character of God. His mercy reigns…

  • JT

    I might would add that the section of the Old Testament that describes homosexuality as an “abomination” is the section describing clean and unclean acts and foods. Unclean is not the same thing as “sin”. I could easily accept that this section of law was added by a human pen, thus, the “human rules” conviction Christ levied.

  • Jay

    Jesus was silent about polygamy, an institution that was accepted in his day and one that was not condemned by the Old Testament. So I am not sure why polygamy is being condemned by the Church. (of course serial polygamy seems not to be condemned by the Church, at least not by the fundies that voted for Gingrich in South Carolina) Ironically, Jesus did seem to condemn divorce and remarriage, but never did he specifically condemn polygamy. Not that it really adds anything to this discussion, but I don’t think Jesus was silent about racism. At least by his comments to the gentile woman seem at least a bit racist by any standard. “Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”

    • JT

      I don’t see that Jesus “condemned” divorce and remarriage. He simply was explaining that because people were human and their hearts were hard, Moses’ law allowed for it, but that it wasn’t the original intention. I think Jesus does actually address polygamy with this example. Since remarriage caused one to sin, it would be impossible to separate out that multiple spouses (spice?) would somehow be different. One other thing that doesn’t come into play here is that all marriages were arranged. I saw or read something funny the other day. I believe it was an Indian who commented about us being able to choose our own wife, but only being allowed to have one. The guy who was able to choose his own wife said he loved her very much. The Indian said, “I have four wives, and I don’t like any of them.”

      • JT

        But then, Jesus called David “A man after God’s own heart”. David had many wives and concubines. Jesus seemed to have an affection for those who had more sins than fewer.

    • Larry Barber

      Actually, polygamy was illegal in Jesus’ day, under the Code of Augustus. Single adult men had to pay a yearly fine. Polygamy wasn’t a “live” issue at the time, so it is not surprising that Jesus had little to say about it. Paul’s “husband of but one wife” and the like is probably referring to what we would call serial monogamy.

      • jim davis

        Code Augustus did not apply to non-Romans. The Roman Empire wisely allowed its subjected peoples the right to use their own laws unless the greatly interfered in the operation of the Empire or collecting its taxes. Polygamy is usaually associated with warrior cultures that had lots of male deaths leading to female to male rations being off whack. Judea had long ceased being a warrior culture so female to male rations were probably pretty close to 1 to 1

  • Frank

    That is the failing of those who hold to Tony’s position. They don’t like what scripture says and they think they should like it so they try (and fail miserably I might add) to ignore it, add to it or change it. In other words they either remake God or declare themselves god.

    This why we will never see any substantive scriptural support that homosexual behavior is not a sin.

    • JT

      The Old Testament places it in the section of “unclean” acts and foods. “Unclean” and “sin” are not the same thing. Jesus criticized the Pharisees whose teachings were “but human rules”. This implies that the “clean and unclean” laws could have been of human creation rather than divine.

    • Scot Miller

      Amen, Frank!

      That is also the failing of those so-called Christian abolitionists. They don’t like what scripture says about slavery and they think they should like it so they try (and fail miserably I might add) to ignore it, add to it or change it. In other words they either remake God or declare themselves god.

      This is why we will never see any substantive scriptural support that slavery is a sin.

      • Frank

        Scot your attempt to be clever, while admirable, falls short as no one is arguing FOR slavery but you are arguing FOR homosexuality. See the difference?

        You might want to look up indentured servitude.

        • Scot Miller

          So you have some scriptural support saying that slavery is a sin? Book, chapter, and verse, please. (You’ll probably find it right next to the verse that says homosexuality isn’t a sin.)

          By the way, if you start trying to say that the Bible’s understanding of slavery isn’t a modern understanding of slavery (the Bible is “only” speaking of indentured servitude), then you need to admit the possibility that the Bible’s understanding of homosexuality may not be a modern understanding, which only weakens your case. It’s either the “plain meaning of scripture” or it isn’t. Because if you have to take the historical context of the Bible seriously, it is very likely that the Bible isn’t really objecting to the idea of same-sex couples living in committed relationships, but activities where men would use other men for their sexual gratification. (The Bible objects to “men lying with men,” but is strangely silent about lesbians, bisexuals, transgendered persons, or committed same-sex relationships.)

          • Frank

            No Scot I don’t have to do that because it wouldn’t be intellectually honest, nor theologically honest for that matter.

            I can show you where it says that homosexuality is an abomination. I can show you what Paul says. I can show you how Jesus affirms heterosexual marriage. Would you like that?

            So let me give you the opportunity to clarify: are you saying that in biblical times there were no committed homosexual couples?

          • Scot Miller

            Frank, here’s the problem I have with your approach to scripture. You are inconsistent. I don’t think for a moment that you believe God is in favor of slavery (or even indentured servitude). You probably consider slavery an evil to be resisted. Unfortunately, you can’t quote the Bible to say that “slavery is a sin,” because the Bible doesn’t say that anywhere. So you correctly look to the historical context of the Bible and you correctly appeal to scriptures which don’t directly condemn slavery, but lead us to condemn slavery (“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” “In Christ there is no male or female, slave or free…,” etc.). When you do this, you are correctly dividing scripture.

            But then you turn around and say that the verses where the Bible condemn the sin of homosexuality mean exactly what they say, we can ignore the historical context and the linguistic etymology, and it must say what we think it means. (Or at least when anyone says that the historical context or the linguistic etymology really matter, you say that they don’t.) Your approach to what Paul or Jesus said about marriage and homosexuality is not consistent with your approach to slavery in the Bible.

            I think I would have more respect for you if you would REALLY speak where the Bible speaks and remain silent where the Bible is silent. That would mean you would support slavery and condemn men lying with men, but shut up about lesbians and bisexuals and transgendered people, etc. , since the Bible says nothing about these alternative sexual orientations.

            It simply makes more sense to recognize that Leviticus and Paul have a historical situation that is not identical to our historical situation, that the horizon of meaning of the text is not our horizon of meaning, and that when the Bible speaks about slavery or homosexuality (or infanticide), it may not mean what we think it means. It’s also possible that Paul and Leviticus were just flat out wrong about slavery and homosexuality because they were expressing their historically conditioned understanding of the world.

  • Frank

    Scot why should each issue be scrutinized in the same way? That’s just nonsensical. Not everything has the same weight. All throughout scripture things are elevated above something else. All throughout life too! There are hierarchies and to try to deny that fact or to level the playing field so you think its fair is a dead end effort.

    In no way am I saying we should ignore historical context or linguistic etymology. What I am saying is that there is absolutely no case to make scripturally that God condones homosexual unions. Instead of just admitting that you obfuscate and try and muddy the field in the hopes that no one notices. Well we do notice and you are going to have to do better than that if you wish to make your case.

    And two asides:

    1. You ignored my question
    2. I don’t need nor desire your respect

    • Larry Barber

      Yes, Scot, why evaluate each issue the same way. It is far more satisfying to evaluate scriptural issues in such a way so that the answers you get align with your a priori beliefs. Why would anybody ever do it any other way? Consistency is, after all, the hobgoblin of little minds.

      • Frank

        Oh Larry! That’s exactly what those who say homosexual behavior is not sinful do. Decide after several millennia of accepted interpretation that their opinion is actually the truth so how can they debunk what’s accepted and clear. Play wordgames, introduce fictitious relationships, dismiss Paul, confuse OT laws, build strawmen, catch red herrings, etc….

        Meanwhile Gods truth stands!

        • Larry Barber

          Frank, in addition to being logically falacious, this is one of the arguments used by those trying to scripturally justify slavery. Traditional does not equal right.

        • Frank

          Larry what’s fallacious is your assumption that for millennia Christians accepted slavery. They did not. Just because some people tried to use the bible to justify slavery does not mean that the bible condones slavery was the accepted interpretation.

          What those who tried to justify slavery by turning to scripture is no different than what those who try to claim that God condones homosexual behavior are doing now.

          Still waiting for ANY scriptural support that Gid condones homosexual behavior. I will be waiting forever I know as it just does not exist.

    • DJ

      Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, WAIT! Are you seriously insinuating that more weight should be given to the proscription of homosexuality than to slavery???

      Or perhaps a better question, and more to the heart of what I think Frank is getting at: caan you make a case Scripturally that God condemns slavery?

      • DJ

        That should have read: “…more to the heart of what SCOT is getting at…”

      • Isaiah 61:1, Luke 4:18

  • Charles

    The last statement:
    “That doesn’t sound anything like Christianity.”
    No it doesn’t. Thank God!

    • Charles

      Oops! Meant for the Mockumentary post…

  • Scot Miller

    Frank, I suppose nobody has to be consistent with how they read the Bible. It’s much more fun to pick and choose and read into the Bible whatever you want, I suppose. But then you aren’t really taking the Bible very seriously. And you’ll be more likely to make huge mistakes (like the Christian slave holders did).

    You overstate your conclusion when you falsely claim “… there is absolutely no case to make scripturally that God condones homosexual unions.” Of course there is a case, but you don’t accept it. It’s the same kind of case you would probably have to make about slavery being wrong, the kind of case that requires careful interpretation of scripture. But then, why would you want to scrutinize scriptures about homosexuality when you already think that they agree with what you believe?

    And I don’t think anyone can accuse me of obfuscating. I think my argument is quite clear. Either you can’t or don’t want to understand it, because you would have to back off of your absolute condemnation of homosexuality if you did.

    As for your two “asides:”

    1. I think a good case can be made that David and Jonathan had a long-term relationship, as did Ruth and Naomi; however, I don’t think any of the “abominations” or condemnations of homosexuality in scripture are directed toward long-term same-sex relations.

    2. My comments are directed toward your arguments, not to you personally. You could say that I must have a lot of respect for you since I spend so much time responding to your arguments. The fact that I don’t respect your arguments doesn’t mean I don’t respect you. But don’t be surprised or hurt when your bad arguments are exposed in a public forum. If you don’t want the criticism, you could keep your ideas to yourself.

  • Frank

    Scot I respect you as a person but you have in no way hurt me or my position. In fact you have done nothing but support it. So thank you!

    I am a little surprised that you continue to put more and more unsupported positions out there. David and Jonathan, Ruth and Naomi, really? That has been so thoroughly debunked that it’s surprising anyone has the courage publicly bring it up.

    You really have no argument at all except love which you have an incomplete shallow view of.

    So keep responding it only exposes the weakness of your position.

  • april caballero

    if anything, the silence of jesus just means that there are more important things to spend so much time and energy on than sexuality. that is something for individuals to work out for themselves in a way that is healthy and makes each of us better people. but as a christian people, i think jesus would want us to talk about it about as much as he did…

  • jim davis

    There is a strong case that eunuchs in the ancient world were gay males. In such a case the whole debate can be framed differently since eunuchs are mentioned in the N.T. positively

  • ben w.

    Tony, I’ve read your post a couple times now and still don’t follow. I think Kirk’s hermeneutic is the consistent evangelical approach for matters which we have no word from Jesus. (Having not read Kirk’s book, here’s my understanding: “1) Look for teaching from Jesus; 2) otherwise look for clear teaching from his apostles; 3) finally look to the OT and see if valid inferences can be made that would apply to the NT church.) Maybe I’ve misunderstood Kirk’s hermeneutic, but this then is how that would consistently apply to the other examples you mention:

    No word from Jesus;
    No word from the disciples;
    Inferences from OT Scriptures (Psalm 139:13ff, 2 Sam 12:23) remain normative.

    Death Penalty:
    No word from Jesus;
    Some indications from Apostles (Romans 13);
    OT clearly presents it as a valid act for the governing authorities.

    Corporal Punishment:
    No word from Jesus;
    No word from apostles;
    OT teaching (Prov 13:24) remains pertinent.

    No word from Jesus (? – inferences of a multi-ethnic community from various condemnations of those trusting in being Jews);
    Clear words for the Church from Paul (Romans, Gal 3:28),
    Inferences from OT creation account remain valid for all (all man is made in God’s image).

    No word from Jesus;
    Some word from Apostles (condemnations of “sexual immorality in general”, Paul’s repetition of “do not covet”);
    Clear OT prohibitions remain valid (7th & 10th Commandments).

    Again, certainly others will disagree with many of these positions and the exegesis required to get there – but I think the hermeneutic that you’re describing Daniel K. using is consistent with how evangelical scholars argue for moral ethics biblically in the other matters you presented.

    *I readily admit slavery is the toughest topic, but there are differences that separate from the other issues you present: 1) There is no clear prohibition against it or command for it – just guidelines for improving its practice (actions commanded for Israel as a nation-state don’t ever apply to NT individuals (murder, capturing lands, etc), and 2) it’s hard to understand and compare ancient “slavery” to 17-19th Century American slavery.

    • Scot Miller

      Ben, I’m not so sure that the “consistent evangelical approach” is as consistent as you suggest. I’ve already argued that Christian slave-holders are actually more consistently faithful to the words of scripture than Christian abolitionists, since the slave holders could cite multiple scriptures to support the practice of slavery, whereas abolitionists had to go beyond scripture and make inferences that conflict with the plain meaning of scripture. All that tells me is that simply quoting scripture is insufficient for moral guidance.

      But even take the issue of abortion. You claim that the “inferences” from the OT remain normative, and cite 2 Samuel (which says absolutely nothing about the moral status of a fetus or the issue of abortion, as far as I can tell) and Psalm 139. What about Ex. 21:22-25, where the Law makes a difference between the loss of a fetus (for which someone should pay a fine) and the harm or death of the mother (for whom the lex talionis is applied, “…a life for a life… an eye for an eye…”)? And what about Gen 2:7, which was interpreted in the Talmud as meaning that someone does not become a living being (a human soul) until she takes her first breath? Exodus 21 and Genesis 2 seem to treat a pre-born individual as not quite a person. (Of course, if the fetus is not a person, then killing a fetus would not be the moral equivalent of killing a person.)

      And what about Psalm 137:9, which says of God’s enemies, “Happy shall they be who take your little ones and dash them against the rock!” Does this mean that God is opposed to abortion but thinks infanticide is morally permissible (see also Deut 3:3-6, 1 Sam 15:1-3, where God commands the Israelites to kill men women, and children)? If one says, “Psalm 137:9 shouldn’t be taken literally because it’s poetry expressing the rage of people in captivity,” then that person would have to treat Psalm 139 as poetry as well, which means that it is not literally true that God beheld my unformed substance when I was in the womb.

      My point isn’t that abortion is permissible or not, only that “consistent evangelicals” are really “selective evangelicals.” They ignore the parts of the Bible that they don’t like and then absolutize those parts of the Bible they do like. The Bible is a far more complicated text, and it’s a mistake to think we can quote a few scriptures and say, “God said it, and that settles it.” Faithfulness to the revelation of God may require us to critically assess what the Bible says (e.g., about slavery and homosexuality, etc.) and ask if the Bible itself is consistent with what we know about the supreme revelation of God in Christ. Would it be more Christlike to condemn or to support slavery? Would it be more Christlike to block an abortion clinic or to hold the hand of a woman having an abortion? Would it be more Christlike to reject homosexuals or welcome homosexuals as brothers and sisters in Christ?

      *If it’s important to put the concept of slavery in the correct historical context and say there is a difference between the practice of slavery in biblical times and in 19th century America, then it’s equally important to put the concept of homosexuality in its historical context, too. Paul and Leviticus are obviously not responding to the 21st century understanding of “homosexuality” but to an ancient understanding.

      • ben w.

        Scot – as I said in my original post, I assume others will disagree with the exegesis of various passages and their inferences. My argument was simply that, contra Tony, Daniel Kirk is using the standard evangelical hermeneutic. That is, 1) OT passages don’t apply directly to the NT Church, 2) but without a clear word from Jesus (or His Apostles), 2) Evangelicals look to the OT for moral norms (while taking into account the differences of Israel’s theocratic status and the NT church’s independence of the state, food laws that have been revoked, ceremonial laws finding their fulfillment in Christ, genre, negative examples in the OT, etc, etc, etc.).

        I find your suggestion that an amorphous understanding of Jesus’ character is better for determining the will of God in moral matters, even if that means rejecting clear statements in God’s revelation (which Jesus Himself upheld!) And are you really willing to accept ALL that he says in the Gospels? If not, who gets to pick and choose the “real” sayings of Jesus? By what standard or measure?

      • Casey

        Since both divorce and homosexuality have been mentioned on the blog, it should be recognized that the will of God is to be the guiding star of our identity and self- determination. What this means for sexual behavior can be seen in Jesus’ teaching about divorce. In order to answer the Pharisees’ question about the admissibility of divorce, Jesus refers to the creation of human beings. Here he sees God expressing his purpose for his creatures: Creation confirms that God has created human beings as male and female. Thus, a man leaves his father and mother to be united with his wife, and the two become one flesh.

        Jesus concludes from this that the unbreakable permanence of fellowship between husband and wife is the Creator’s will for human beings. The indissoluble fellowship of marriage, therefore, is the goal of our creation as sexual beings (Mark 10:2-9). Since on this principle the Bible is not time bound, Jesus’ word is the foundation and criterion for all Christian pronouncement on sexuality, not just marriage in particular, but our entire creaturely identities as sexual beings. According to Jesus’ teaching, human sexuality as male and as female
        is intended for the indissoluble fellowship of marriage. This standard informs Christian teaching about the entire domain of sexual behavior.

        Jesus’ perspective, by and large, corresponds to Jewish tradition, even though his stress on the indissolubility of marriage goes beyond the provision for divorce within Jewish law (Deut. 24:1). It was a shared Jewish conviction that men and women in their sexual identity are intended for the community of marriage. This also accounts for the Old Testament assessment of sexual behaviors that depart from this norm, including fornication, adultery, and homosexual relations.

        The biblical assessments of homosexual practice are unambiguous in their rejection, and all its statements on this subject agree without exception. The Holiness Code of Leviticus incontrovertibly affirms, “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination” (Lev. 18:22 NRSV). Leviticus 20 includes homosexual behavior among the crimes meriting capital punishment (Lev. 20:13; it is significant that the same applies to adultery in verse 10). On these matters, Judaism always knew itself to be distinct from other nations.

        This same distinctiveness continued to determine the New Testament statement about homosexuality, in contrast to the Hellenistic culture that took no offense at homosexual relations. In Romans, Paul includes homosexual behavior among the consequences of turning away from God (1:27). In 1 Corinthians, homosexual practice belongs with fornication, adultery, idolatry, greed, drunkenness, theft, and robbery as behaviors that preclude participation in the kingdom of God (6:9 10); Paul affirms that through baptism Christians have become free from their entanglement in all these practices (6:11).

        The New Testament contains not a single passage that might indicate a more positive assessment of homosexual activity to counterbalance these Pauline statements. Thus, the entire biblical witness includes practicing homosexuality, without exception among the kinds of behavior that give particularly striking expression to humanity’s turning away from God. This exegetical result places very narrow boundaries around the view of homosexuality in any church that is under the authority of Scripture. What is more, the biblical statements on this subject merely represent the negative corollary to the Bible’s positive views on the creational purpose of men and women in their sexuality.

        These texts that are negative toward homosexual behavior are not merely dealing with marginal opinions that could be neglected without detriment to the Christian message as a whole. Moreover, the biblical statements about homosexuality cannot be relativized as the expressions of a cultural situation that today is simply outdated. The biblical witness from the outset deliberately opposed the assumptions of their cultural environment in the name of faith in the God of Israel, who in Creation appointed men and women for a particular identity.

        Contemporary advocates for a change in the church’s view of homosexuality commonly point out that the biblical statements were unaware of important modern anthropological evidence. This new evidence, it is said, suggests that homosexuality must be regarded as a given constituent of the psychosomatic identity of homosexual persons, entirely prior to any corresponding sexual expression. (For the sake of clarity it is better to speak here of a homophile inclination as distant from homosexual practice.) Such phenomena occur not only in people who are homosexually active. But inclination need not dictate practice. It is characteristic of human beings that our sexual impulses are not confined to a separate realm of behavior; they permeate our behavior in every area of life. This, of course, includes relationships with persons of the same sex. However, precisely because erotic motives are involved in all aspects of human behavior, we are
        faced with the task of integrating them into the whole of our life and

        The mere existence of homophile inclinations does not automatically lead to homosexual practice. Rather, these inclinations can be integrated into a life in which they are subordinated to the relationship with the opposite sex where, in fact, the subject of sexual activity should not be the all-determining center of human life and vocation. As the sociologist Helmut Schelsky has rightly pointed out, one of the primary achievements of marriage as an institution is its enrollment of human sexuality in the service of ulterior tasks and goals.

        The reality of homophile inclinations, therefore, need not be denied and must not be condemned. The question, however, is how to handle such inclinations within the human task of responsibly directing our behavior. This is the real problem; and it is here that we must deal with the conclusion that homosexual activity is a departure from the norm for sexual behavior that has been given to men and women as creatures of God. For the church this is the case not only for homosexual, but for any sexual activity that does not intend the goal of marriage between man and wife particular, adultery.

        The church has to live with the fact that, in this area of life as in
        others, departures from the norm are not exceptional but rather common and widespread. The church must encounter all those concerned with tolerance and understanding but also call them to repentance. It cannot surrender the distinction between the norm and behavior that departs from that norm.

        Here lies the boundary of a Christian church that knows itself to be bound by the authority of Scripture. Those who urge the church to change the norm of its teaching on this matter must know that they are promoting schism. If a church were to let itself be pushed to the point where it ceased to treat homosexual activity as a departure from the biblical norm, and recognized homosexual unions as a personal partnership of love equivalent to marriage, such a church would stand no longer on biblical ground but against the unequivocal witness of Scripture. A church that took this step would cease to be the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.

        Would it be more Christlike to welcome homosexuals as brothers and sisters in Christ or to cease to be the one, holy, cahtolic, and apostolic church?

        • Scot Miller

          Casey, when you put the question that way, of course it’s more Christlike to welcome homosexuals (all LGBTQ persons) as brothers and sisters in Christ. Maybe the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church needs to be reformed so that its practices are consistent with the entire narrative of redemption as mediated in Scripture. “In Christ there is no male or female, slave or free, straight or gay….”

          • ben w.

            Scot, did you read Casey’s post? He actually presents substantial evidence from “the entire narrative of redemption as mediated in Scripture” to support his argument. You proof-text 1 partial verse, out of context, as your rebuttal? It would be better (i.e. -more intellectually honest and a better line of reasoning) to just admit that you disagree with the clear teachings of the Bible on these issues. Your position is neither in line with with plain propositions nor the so-called trajectory of the Bible on this issue. Please don’t an attempt to claim biblical authority while you are arguing for the rejection of it.

          • Scot Miller

            Sorry, Ben. I thought I was clear in my other comments on this post that I totally disagree with the clear teachings of the Bible on slavery, but also believe that Christian abolitionists in the 19th century could claim biblical authority for rejecting the otherwise clear teachings of the Bible on slavery. The fact that Christian slave holders could quote chapter and verse to defend what they believed was their God-given right to enslave a people cursed in the Bible to be slaves (Gen. 9:20-27) does not mean they were right. In the same way, the Christian condemnation of homosexuality as a “sin” today is the moral equivalent of 19th century Christian slave holders defending the practice of slavery from “biblical authority.”

            I actually think that Daniel Kirk (who inspired this blog post) is moving in the right direction when he talks about the narrative approach to Pauline Christianity. I just think he needs to take the next step and admit that the biblical narrative is one of redemption and acceptance, and that the biblical condemnations of homosexuality are as historically and culturally conditioned as the biblical support for slavery.

          • Frank

            Nice try adding words to scripture Scot. Whatever credibility you may have had you just lost it. Is that how you justify your position by changing Gods word?

        • Bill S.

          Good rules for Eden often aren’t good rules for today. The scriptures themselves set the precedent for altering the rules to better suit the conditions of our fallen and ever-changing world (including rules about marriage and divorce). Therefore, I don’t see how the cited Bible verses are in any way decisive about, e.g., how we should regard a loving marriage commitment between two of our gay contemporaries.

          When we convince ourselves that the Scriptures are decisive on this matter, we run the danger of closing our hearts to the ways of Christ and to that ordinary appreciation for justice that even non-Christians can clearly apprehend. That is, we run the danger of being a lot like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day. Better to err on the side of humility and love. Watch out if your greater passions are rather for maintaining orthodoxy, avoiding heresy, and defending “the church”.

          • “When we convince ourselves that the Scriptures are decisive on this matter, we run the danger of closing our hearts to the ways of Christ…”
            – Bill S.

            “[We should] give in and yield our assent to the authority of holy Scripture…to the authority and truthfulness of the inspired pages.”
            – Augustine

            Bill, the dichotomy you’ve discovered between the ways of Christ and the words of Christ is historically uncatholic. I find Augustine and his ilk more reliable than your confused semi-Hegelian authority principle.

            Watch out, lest you divorce orthopraxis from orthodoxy. True love of neighbor is based upon true love of God. You speak of justice, but what is justice apart from the proper contemplation of God, who alone is just and the justifier of the wicked?

    • OK, Ben, how about divorce? Jesus is not silent, to be sure, but the church today — even the conservative church — does not practice what he taught.

      • ben w.

        Tony – as with Scot’s reply, that wasn’t the point. I’m arguing that evangelicals scholars follow a pretty standard hermeneutic for determining ethical norms – and Daniel is following closely in that stream. Yes, as a social block evangelicals have a mediocre record for implementing those norms, but they generally agree on the method of ethical argumentation, and even on the conclusions, even if they fail to keep those norms. I agree that such failure is troublesome, but that’s separate discussion.

  • Richard

    The death penalty
    Corporal punishment

    But we do have other texts in the NT where these conversations are taking place, and they’re working it out in light of Jesus’ life, work, and teachings. After all, some see all the references to “male-sex” as being instances of rape that Paul is condemning (Sarah Rudem takes this approach even as she allows that Paul would have had an aversion to homosexual practice as a devout Jew). We don’t have those texts in the case of homosexuality/homosexual behavior.

    It stands to reason that if the early church was so affirming of homosexuality and homosexual practice, we would have witnesses to those same sorts of conversations and debates within it. Do we have any record of practicing homosexuals being affirmed as leaders in the early church? Do we have reason to believe that the Ethiopian eunuch was homosexual? That seems like it’d be a powerful example of a homosexual in ministry leadership in the early church but “eunuch” =|= “homosexual,” correct?

    If you posit that an argument from silence is useless to both sides in this discussion, what is there from the text to stand on in affirming homosexual orientation and/or behavior as normative and as God intends it?

    As far as I’m aware, there isn’t anything to stand on in church practice and history. I think if those wanting to openly affirm homosexual orientation and behavior as being the way God intended some folks to be (i.e. not sin or a byproduct of sin), then the only approach is to affirm and advocate a new movement of the Spirit. And that necessitates us saying the we modern/postmodern 21st century folks understand Jesus and His Spirit better than the ones that literally lived and talked with him. That takes some compelling evidence for me to make that shift.

    There’s a pretty big difference between accepting someone as a fellow traveler on the road who’s sins are atoned for by Christ and is being led into greater freedom vs just acting like none of us are limping.

    • Frank

      Thank you Richard! You say it much more eloquently than I ever could.

  • Thanks, everyone, for your thoughtful engagement of Tony’s summary critique of my chapter. And thanks, Tony, for bringing up once again the substantive issue of biblical interpretation that swirls around the debate.

    I have posted a response over on my blog:

    • ME

      What does everyone think the outcome of this debate in the church universal will be?

      This is how I see it. People who are gay will decide for themselves what they think God’s stance on the issue is and behave accordingly.

      Some churches will ordain practicing homosexuals and it will probably end up leading to more splits of denominations, not much different than we already have it. It will be interesting to see if anyone will be able to discern the Spirit working in one church more than another.

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  • I could go on. Does that mean that we should argue that Jesus was implicitly endorsing each of these? Of course not.

    There is a big hole in that logic. The argument is not that silence would be an implicit endorsement of rape, etc. The argument is that Jesus’ silence was an implicit endorsement of the Old Testament.

    I don’t agree with that argument, but I think it’s important to get the opposing argument right.

  • Helen

    Given that the word “homosexuality” wasn’t even used until the 19th century, it is silly to discuss Jesus’s opinion on the subject. It is a modern concept, not an ancient concept. Which doesn’t mean to say that there were no homosexuals in Jesus’s time, just that it wasn’t an issue until modern times.

    So get over it.

    Gay marriage should be allowed.

    Gays are fully included in the church where I minister.

    Rape was discussed in ancient times, and a woman was required to marry her rapist! There is no mention of overturning that rule by Jesus. But it would be terrible if that law was enforced now.

    It is time to think beyond the box that is the Bible. As with slavery, there can be no hard and fast rule for all time about things that weren’t an issue in ancient times. Instead, we should use those spiritual ways of discerning where is God in this.

    Rules of discernment:

    1. Does it bring light, love, joy to those concerned? (gay marriage could bring these as much to LGBT people as to straight people)
    2. Does it bring people together? (yes, when people marry their partners)

    and so on.

    • Frank

      Yes let’s all just throw the parts of the bible that we do not like or understand or prevents us from the life we feel we want to live. That’s what many are doing so lets just all do that.

      • Jeremy

        Frank, sarcasm aside, but isn’t there already a long list of bible “parts” that you and/or your faith community don’t apply for various exegetical reasons?

        • Frank

          Jeremy, while true, different people choose to ignore different parts of the bible that do not jive with the god they created, it in no way invalidates someone else’s picking and choosing. Nor does it make it correct. Nor does it change that homosexuality was not created or condoned by God ever.

  • Jeff Straka

    I’ve been reading a fascinating new book by Michael Wood titled “Paul on Homosexuality”. It is quite possible that translators have totally screwed with Paul’s theology by not making a critical distinction of “Justices of the Torah” (which Jesus boiled down to “love your neighbor as yourself”) and “Jobs of the Torah” (which Jesus seemed to say was superseded by that Golden Rule). Incredibly, Paul seems to align with Jesus instead of coming off as a bi-polar moralist! Jesus’ apparent “silence” on homosexuality makes sense because he wasn’t teaching in the heart of the Roman sexual culture of prostitution and young male slaves as was Paul in his travels (especially in Corinth). This book helping me fall in love with Paul!

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