From John Ray's shorter notes

July 05, 2015

Homosexuality and Christian apologetics

Derision is my normal response when people claim to be Christian and then go on to countenance homosexuality.  Both the Old and the New Testaments are crystal clear that it is an abomination to the Lord and must therefore be avoided or repented.  And yet the mainstream churches go as far as having homosexual clergy.  How do they do it?  What conceivable excuse can they have for disobeying their Lord?

In the case of the Church of England and its various offshoots the answer is clear. They DON'T believe in their Lord -- and many clergy are closeted homosexuals themselves. The present Archbishop of Canterbury does appear to believe in something but, as far as I can tell, he is a rarity among the Anglican episcopate. The Anglican clergy like gracious old buildings, gorgeous vestments, "bells and smells" and the occasional bits of respect that they get -- but proclaiming the Gospel is a very low priority for them. Even their Easter sermons are often very wishy-washy, with at best a passing mention of redemption. With honourable exceptions (as in Sydney diocese) The Anglican clergy are mostly just poseurs, atheists in drag.

Some mainstream clergy, however, do make some sort of a fist of justifying their heresy and I want to say a few things about that. Unlike Leftists, I do take an interest in what "the other side" are saying so I do know their main lines of argument. I have no fear of being tripped up by awkward facts -- and hearing both sides of any question is in principle the safest way towards a reasonable judgement about it.

And I note that real Christians generally seem to be a bit slack about countering the pseudo-Christian arguments about homosexuality. Real Christians think it is sufficient to quote the relevant texts and leave it at that.

But the pseudo Christians do have some real arguments to offer and they are good enough to lead some people astray -- so somebody needs to point out the sophistry in the pseudo-Christian arguments.  It is rather crazy that I as an atheist should take on that job but I have never lost my early interest in exegesis and theology so am reasonably positioned to do so

Argument from the first century environment

One argument I see is that homosexuality is condemned only about three times in the New Testament so they cannot really have meant it seriously.  If it really was a serious concern it would have been mentioned more often.  And Christ himself did not mention it at all.  Allied to that is an argument that Christ and the apostles lived in a Greco-Roman world where homosexuality was normal, common and unquestioned so it cannot have been seen as very wrong or it would have been condemned out of hand.

That is the sort of argument you might get from the U.S. Supreme Court -- one that completely ignores what the documents actually say -- and it seems to me to be an argument of desperation.  But let me point out the simple and major flaw in it anyway.

Christ and the early Christians lived in an environment that  was overwhelmingly Jewish.  And Jews had always stood out in their rejection of homosexuality (Leviticus 18:22 etc.).  They did indeed live in a Greco-Roman world and pedophilia had been routinely practiced by the Greeks for centuries -- something that the unfortunate Chris Brand got fired for after he pointed that out once too often.

But Israel was not Greece then any more than it is today.  Regardless of what other subjects of the Roman empire might say or do, Jews lived in a society where homosexuals risked being stoned to death.  Rejection of homosexuality could be taken as read in that environment so needed only incidental mention.  And when the apostle Paul did in fact comment directly on Roman civilization, he absolutely ranted and raved in his condemnation of it.

Paul started travelling very early on and so came into much more contract with Greco-Roman civilization than one would have done in Israel.  Most of his missions were at least initially to congregations of the Jewish diaspora so he still lived in something of a Jewish bubble.  But when it came to Rome itself he could not restrain himself.  He condemned just about everything Roman.

Read what he says about Roman practices in his epistle to the Christians in Rome, chapter 1, from verse 21 onwards.  Being a good theologian, Paul puts his condemnation in the context of what Jewish backsliders in the past had done but there is no ambiguity about the general applicability of what he says. And he is clearly motivated by what he has observed of Roman civilization, which is why he felt the need say it when writing to the congregation in Rome.  So on occasions when it was needful to condemn homosexuality, the Bible writers did just that.  I quote from verse 27:

"And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet".

And in the final verse of the chapter Paul moves into the present tense,  indicating that it is the malign influence of then-current Roman civilization on Christians that he has particularly in mind:

"Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them"

What did Christ say?

A related argument is that Christ never mentioned homosexuality so it was only that old puritan Paul who thought it was a bad thing.  Since Paul's writings form a large part of the New Testament, that is simply a repudiation of the Bible and is, if anything, an anti-Christian argument and reveals those who put it forward for what they are:  Disciples of Satan maybe but certainly not disciples of Christ.

But, that aside, context again is explanatory.  Because Christ was a devout Jew in a Jewish society, the question never arose. It was not an issue.  The Jewish law still unquestionably applied.  Let me quote the only thing that Christ said about marriage -- in Matthew 19.  He specifically put his teaching in the context of a debate about Jewish law:

"Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?” 

“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh'.  So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

Clearly, for him, marriage was between a man and a woman and it was only they who could become "one flesh". And his authority for that was what was found in the Jewish scriptures.  So there is no doubt whatever about his view of sexual relationships. Only male/female marriage was on his horizons.

Universal salvation?

A remaining argument from the pseudo Christians is that God is a God of love so therefore he must love homosexuals too. That is also an amazing argument. The Bible repeatedly makes clear that God loves his children but, like any parent, he also has rules for his children.  And just as children can be disinherited, so God can sentence unrighteous people to everlasting "kolasin" (cutting off).  Let me quote  Matthew 25.

"When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world ...

Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels. And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal"

The word translated as "punishment" above is in Greek "kolasin" and it simply means "cutting off". It is the word a Greek gardener might use to describe the pruning of a tree. So it would be a proper  translation to say that the goatish ones will be cut off and thrown away like the unwanted branch of a tree.

So the argument that the love of God is unconditional is utter rubbish.  You have to do your best to obey his rules if you want salvation from death.  There is no universal salvation.

So those are the arguments that the pseudo-Christians use. They are so weak that you could only accept them out of desperation. You could only accept them if you wanted to use Christianity as a false front.  They are arguments that mock the Bible, not arguments from the Bible -- JR.


More on the theology of homosexuality

A few days ago I put up here a coverage of the claims by mainstream Christian clergy that homosexuality is permissable to Christians.  That permissiveness may be kindly meant and it may provide solace  to some tormented souls but it clearly flies in the face of both the Christian teachings in the New Testament and the Jewish teachings of the Old Testament.  Christ was a devout Jew living in a very orthodox Jewish community and, if you read Matthew chapter 19 in full, you will see that he was even more restrictive about sexual morality than were the very orthodox Pharisees.

I am therefore pleased that one of my Jewish readers has sent in some comments on the matter too.  See below.  He obviously has a searching knowledge of his own religion so I am impressed that he knows Christian thinking very well too. I had always imagined that only the most searching Protestant exegetes used the wonderful "Strong's  Exhaustive Concordance to the Bible" but I see that he uses it too.  I myself always have a copy on my desk in front of me

By Willem

I read your recent post, "Homosexuality and Christian apologetics" with considerable interest. You are of course entirely correct in what you say.

I would like to offer a couple of footnotes.

Your note that Paul refers to a chastisement - "kolasin" - that you translate as "cutting off" interested me, because a frequent consequence for a variety of transgressions in the Jews' Bible is "kareth" - which is translated as to be cut off. This is a chastisement from Heaven, rather than a punishment to be imposed by an Earthly court, and it is usually interpreted as meaning a life that is cut short - although I think the implications are more serious, involving being cut off from the Divine, and so on.

That Scripture forbids homosexual acts was, as you note, very clear to the early Christians from Leviticus 18, which proscribes and condemns a variety of possible sexual liaisons, including a variety of forms of incest.

It is surely of interest, that the vast majority of prohibited relations are simply listed as being forbidden, without further "editorial" content. In the wonderful King James version:

7 The nakedness of thy father, or the nakedness of thy mother, shalt thou not uncover: she is thy mother; thou shalt not uncover her nakedness.

8 The nakedness of thy father's wife shalt thou not uncover: it is thy father's nakedness.

9 The nakedness of thy sister, the daughter of thy father, or daughter of thy mother, whether she be born at home, or born abroad, even their nakedness thou shalt not uncover.

10 The nakedness of thy son's daughter, or of thy daughter's daughter, even their nakedness thou shalt not uncover: for theirs is thine own nakedness.

11 The nakedness of thy father's wife's daughter, begotten of thy father, she is thy sister, thou shalt not uncover her nakedness.

12 Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of thy father's sister: she is thy father's near kinswoman.

13 Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of thy mother's sister: for she is thy mother's near kinswoman.

14 Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of thy father's brother, thou shalt not approach to his wife: she is thine aunt.

15 Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of thy daughter in law: she is thy son's wife; thou shalt not uncover her nakedness.

16 Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of thy brother's wife: it is thy brother's nakedness.

17 Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of a woman and her daughter, neither shalt thou take her son's daughter, or her daughter's daughter, to uncover her nakedness; for they are her near kinswomen: it is wickedness.

18 Neither shalt thou take a wife to her sister, to vex her, to uncover her nakedness, beside the other in her life time.

19 Also thou shalt not approach unto a woman to uncover her nakedness, as long as she is put apart for her uncleanness.

20 Moreover thou shalt not lie carnally with thy neighbour's wife, to defile thyself with her.

21 And thou shalt not let any of thy seed pass through the fire to Molech, neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God: I am the LORD.

Remarkably, alone among so many prohibited relations, are homosexual acts labeled an "abomination."

22 Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination.

23 Neither shalt thou lie with any beast to defile thyself therewith: neither shall any woman stand before a beast to lie down thereto: it is confusion.

24 Defile not ye yourselves in any of these things: for in all these the nations are defiled which I cast out before you:

25 And the land is defiled: therefore I do visit the iniquity thereof upon it, and the land itself vomiteth out her inhabitants.

26 Ye shall therefore keep my statutes and my judgments, and shall not commit any of these abominations; neither any of your own nation, nor any stranger that sojourneth among you:

27 (For all these abominations have the men of the land done, which were before you, and the land is defiled;)

28 That the land spue not you out also, when ye defile it, as it spued out the nations that were before you.

29 For whosoever shall commit any of these abominations, even the souls that commit them shall be cut off from among their people.

30 Therefore shall ye keep mine ordinance, that ye commit not any one of these abominable customs, which were committed before you, and that ye defile not yourselves therein: I am the LORD your God.

Bestiality is denounced as "confusion," and collectively, all of these sexual liaisons are considered "abominations," but only lying with a man as one would lie with a woman is an "abomination." (It occurs 117 in Scripture.)

"Abomination," or "to-evah" (Strong's 8441) is used in many different situations and I am not sure that we can be sure of all of its connotations today. The word for confusion, "te-vel" (Strong's 8397) is also translated as "perversion." (It occurs only twice in Scripture, in Leviticus 18 and 20.)

It is as if the Bible knows, that in the future (as I am sure it was contemporaneously, in some parts of the ancient world) homosexual liaisons would be regarded as normal, and therefore an extra emphasis is needed.

The recent recognition and sanction given to same-sex marriage by the Supreme Court of the United States, a judicial body that had never defined or opined on traditional heterosexual marriage, suggests that same-sex liaisons have a cachet and status even better than the status of traditional marriages today. In the "Reform" Jewish congregations, the rule has been for many years, that "anything goes." (If - in the last words of the founders of the Assassins, to mix creeds, "nothing is true," then "everything is permitted," is it not?)

Some 7 years ago or so, the governing body of the "Conservative" Jewish movement's Jewish Theological Seminary agreed that it would ordain as a "Rabbi" or "Cantor" a practicing homosexual, so long as he promised not to engage in anal intercourse, which the governing committee of the Conservative movement's scholars determined was the only act prohibited by Leviticus. A traditional marriage ceremony for a same-sex couple would remain beyond the limits, however.

Thus a curious situation would be possible: no Conservative congregation would employ a man as Rabbi who openly lived in a sexual relationship with a woman with whom he was not married, but a homosexual Rabbi would be employable if he openly lived in a sexual relationship with a man with whom he was not married.

It is as if the Conservative movement sees same-sex relationships as benefiting from an inherent sanctity and propriety not possible for traditional, heterosexual couples without a formal marriage.

In contrast, the traditional Jewish Weltanschauung sees the splitting of the primordial Adam into Adam & Eve as a clear depiction of what the Bible sees as the proper and inevitable sexual relationship - one man and one woman.

Finally, with respect to divorce, and the Christian Church's teaching against it - you quote Matthew 19:

“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh'. So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

I would put this teaching in the context of the Sermon on the Mount. The entire Sermon on the Mount is of great interest in the history of Jewish religion, and as a lengthy example of the preaching and teaching of Jesus. I don't think there is any part of it that would be incongruous if preached by an orthodox Jewish preacher to an orthodox Jewish audience - as of course it was.

He says:

17 Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.

18 For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.

19 Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

20 For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus is proceeding along the same work that the Rabbis were engaged in - building a fence around the Law - although in a different way.

That is, the Rabbis were concerned to enact additional practical restrictions, so that one's behavior would be circumscribed well before one came into danger of violating God's commands. Jesus seeks to accomplish a similar goal, but by extending the prohibitions concerning actions, to the realm of thoughts and feelings.

27 Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery:

28 But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.

Jesus does not counsel that the way to avoid the frank sins and transgressions forbidden by God is to give in to the zeitgeist. He teaches a thoroughgoing rectification of the individual's inner nature, to bring it into conformity with the Divine plan. The early Christian Church surely stood up against the world, and all of the powers that were arrayed against it.

In contrast, I am amazed by the extent to which ostensibly believing Christians -and Jews!- are willing to abandon the time-proven practices and principles of their religions (practices and principles which many real martyrs have died in order to uphold against a hostile World) - in favor of the latest shibboleths of, for example, the editorial board of the New York Times.

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