A commenter on this blog recently left this pithy query:
“Lev 18:22. Or is the bible lying?”
In case you’re not an expert on Levitical law, or if you’re not so obsessed with homosexuality that you’ve memorized every supposed biblical prohibition against it, Leviticus 18:22 reads:
“You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.”
Though the original comment is ostensibly a response to the (blasphemous!) idea that the Bible does not actually condemn homosexuality, and though it lacks a developed argument, it’s a fine example of the sort of mindset that drives many conservative Christians, especially regarding contentious moral issues.
If I can be so bold as to guess at what the commenter is driving at, I think it’s something along these lines:
- Lev 18:22 is an explicit condemnation of (male) homosexual activity.
- The Bible is either true and homosexual behavior is indeed “an abomination,” or else the Bible is “lying” and homosexual behavior is not morally wrong.
- Therefore those who believe that homosexual behavior isn’t inherently immoral believe that the Bible is not true — that it’s lying — in this verse (and probably many others).
I’m not particularly interested in the veracity of the claim made in Leviticus 18:22. Yes, on its own it seems to be a clear condemnation of homosexuality. But the important point is that the verse can’t be taken on its own. To extract that verse from the Bible and use it in the way this commenter — and many other like-minded Christians — does, is to express blatant disrespect for the Bible itself, and, in a very real and very meaningful way, to turn one’s back on the very essence of what it means to be a Christian.
It is incumbent on anyone who claims to take the Bible seriously — and this should include every Christian — to acknowledge and engage with the complexities of the Bible, to treat it as it is, and not as we want it to be.
The Bible isn’t a collection of discrete facts that can be neatly slotted into binary categories of true or false. Rather, the Bible is a complex collection of texts representing multiple voices writing across centuries from different perspectives and for different purposes.
It is in this diversity of voices that we can find meaning. It is in the biblical difficulties that we can learn to wrestle with truth, rather than merely blindly asserting it. It is in the gray areas between truth and lies that we can discover subtlety and nuance and profundity that transcend simple binary distinctions.
The assumption of those who proffer proof-texts to protect the boundaries of their carefully conceived walls of orthodoxy is that the Bible is flat: that it is nothing more than thousands of pages monotonous “truths,” each marching in perfect synchrony with the next, each waiting patiently for its turn to speak directly into our lives. One need only sift through the verses to find the answer to every one of life’s important questions. Don’t like the idea of homosexuality? There stands Leviticus 18:22 ready to do battle on your behalf!
The alternative to this simplistic approach is far messier and far less satisfying, because it rarely offers easy answers. If we honestly recognize the textual, linguistic, sociological, literary, historical, and theological issues that are implicit in every single word of the collection of writings that we call the Christian Bible, we risk being overwhelmed with uncertainty. Where are the straightforward answers? Where are the rigid guidelines and absolute declarations by which we can claim moral certitude? Where is the comfort and safety of a text transmitted directly from God with perfect clarity and absolute infallibility?
But if we’re serious about pursuing truth and not just defending our theological presuppositions, we must be open to the possibility that the Bible does contain truth and untruth. That when we encounter ideas that strike us as questionable — whether morally, historically, or scientifically — it doesn’t mean the Bible is “lying,” it simply means that the Bible presents a reflection of specific times, circumstances, and viewpoints that don’t necessarily merit universal application.
Being a Christian isn’t a matter of accepting the truthfulness of the Bible, it’s a matter of accepting the possibilities — and the hope — that can be found within the complex narrative of Christian scripture and tradition. So, to answer the question posed at the outset: yes, no, maybe so.
Dan is the Executive Editor of the Unfundamentalist Christians blog. He is a writer, graphic designer and IT specialist. He lives in Montana, is married and has two cats.