May 7, 2015

The Bible and Homosexuality VI: Immorality Is A Violation of Moral Law

Unlawful Sexual Relations

Okay, this should be a no-brainer but I guess emotion clouds rational thought. I believe it is time for a logic lesson. In actuality, its just a commonsense lesson.

Said simply:

Immorality is a violation of morality.

Sexual immorality is a violation of moral law, hence the word moral embedded in immorality. The truth is that any immorality is a violation of moral law by definition. Said even more simply...being immoral or doing immoral things makes you an immoral person. This isn't just biblical. It is pure honest-to-goodness reasoning. A simple understanding of logic and a proper understanding of words dictates/requires it.

Leviticus 18:22 - You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination.

This is a succinct and straight-forward statement but a proper understanding of what it means is not. It should be noted before discussing Leviticus 18:22 (and 20:13) that there is a mixing of different types of laws in the Pentateuch of Moses. In other words, there are some chapters within the Bible that intermingle different types of laws (Enns 59). We need to understand that there were three different types of laws: Moral, Civil/Judicial and Ceremonial law. Moral law has to do with God’s very character. God is holy, unchanging and moral. It is founded primarily in the Ten Commandments but is not restricted to them. God’s holy attributes then become the measuring stick by which we are to live or lives. Civil or judicial law reveals social concerns in that they showed the Israelites how to live in relation to their neighbors and within the kingdom. These deal more with things like property rights and how to deal with orphans and widows. Ceremonial law dealt with the tabernacle, duties of priests, sacrifices, etc. (Enns 59).

The Leviticus passages noted here fall under the Holiness Code and are emphatic about what constitutes purity and therefore fall under theological grounds (Seow 18-19). When we say holiness we mean a separation or distinctness from the other nations that surrounded Israel (therefore their behaviors too). It is holiness or the idea of being set apart for God’s use through His covenant with them which they agreed to at Mt. Sinai (Bellinger 125, Wenham 280). One must be careful how they categorize these laws as the penalties for each vary greatly. The Holiness relates to purity, which inter-species breeding or sexual abomination destroys …i.e.: Gen 1:24-25, "of the same kind." 

If sacrificial animals (or even people) are in view here these laws could have been put in place in order to stop inter-breeding between acceptable sacrificial animals and those that were not so that the offspring which would’ve been unacceptable for sacrifice wouldn't be inadvertently used for sacrifices. This would've been an unacceptable or polluted sacrifice and would've been considered cheating God (Malachi 1).  In the case of interbreeding of people we would see things like birth defects.  Plants/seeds were not to be mixed either. Mixture of seeds and the resulting mixture would be hard to separate at harvest, so it was better to keep them separate from the beginning (Baker 147).

Then when we come to our homosexual passages we see a breakdown of the ordained biblical family unit and further degradation of society at-large (Bellinger 111, Wenham 278). At a more spiritual or allegorized level, banned mixtures symbolize the holiness of God's covenant people, who are to keep themselves separate from their pagan neighbor’s behaviors (Canaanites, Egyptians), maintaining the demarcation between clean and unclean as regards people. What we see here are people that are supposed to be set apart from the other nations for use by God. If we follow the line of reasoning elsewhere in Scripture, the Israelites (like Christians) are to be a nation of priests among the people of the world. To be engaging in sexual immorality we become polluted sacrifices instead of living sacrifices (Romans 12) for God.

In these situations under the Law (before Christ) God has stipulated a capital punishment to prevent this type of behavior and act as a deterrent (Deut. 19:19-20) (Grudem 509, Wenham 283). Any illicit sexual relationship outside marriage was unacceptable (Leviticus 20:10) because the participants were breaking a covenant or covenantal relationship and the death penalty was required by God for both parties (Baker 154).

In the cases of mixing fabrics or seeds in Leviticus 19, there is no death penalty as these are examples of intermingling of laws in the same passage. In the case of Leviticus 19:19 these laws fall under the ceremonial law as they are directed towards priestly boundaries (Bellinger 119). Mixtures of cloth like those mentioned in Leviticus 19:19 were banned except, apparently, for a priest of God or the intercessor or intermediary with God, whose ephod in Exodus 28:6; 39:2 and breastplate in Exodus 28:15 and 39:8 were of mixed material. We even see that the curtains of the Tabernacle were of mixed material Exodus 26:1. Therefore the ban was restricted to what? It was restricted to laity, with the fabric mixture only being permissible for the divine realm or holiness realm (Wenham 148). As such they did not warrant capital punishment.

When looking at Leviticus 18:1-30 what is seen is a list of improper sexual relations (Wenham 255). In a metaphorical sense, these relations also should be understood as illicit relations (idolatry) between Israel and foreign gods (Baker 135, Jenni 1429). People that God had brought out of Egypt are not to do like the Egyptians and nor are they to be like the Canaanites whose land God is leading them to.

Moses then starts listing out the prohibitions clearly related to sexuality. These prohibitions are directed to אִ֥ישׁ אִישׁ֙ / ‘iysh ‘iysh or “every man.” The prohibitions that follow are directed to males as this would’ve been the practice of giving the Law to the head of the family that would’ve been a man (Baker 128-129). The males addressed were to “not approach” לֹ֥א תקרבו (Hebrew euphemism for sexual relationships), the בְּשָׂר֔וֹ “kin or blood relative” or the “שְׁאֵ֣ר “flesh of him.” Understood properly it translates to: The men being addressed were not to have sex with close relatives in incest and the Scripture then lists them (v.7-18). There is a comment about Molech (v.21) and then the passage climaxes in prohibition against homosexuality and bestiality (v.22, 23) as below (again for reference):

Leviticus 18:22 ~ You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination.

The prohibition is directed at men (v.6) and they are told to not lie with a male as one does with a female. This implies that lying with a female is proper (within the confines of marriage which is biblical) as the prohibition is against a same-sex lying down with. The word lie (down) here תִשְׁכַּ֖ב/ shakab is of course a less subtle euphemism for sexual relations. What is also interesting is the use of words here if we use the Greek Septuagint that would’ve been familiar to Paul the Apostle. In the Septuagint we see the use of the  words ἄρσενος / arsenos / male and  κοίτην / koiten / bed which we will later see used as a compound Greek word by Paul in 1 Corinthians 6:9 in the form of ἀρσενοκοῖται or homosexual (Brenton 153).

The next statement from the Scripture is distinct and unambiguous. For a male to have sex (lie) with another male as if he is a woman is תּוֹעֵבָ֖ה /an abomination (to abhor, to hate) or a disgusting thing to God. God literally hates this sin (as He does all sin). Therefore to commit the sin is to deliberately incur Gods wrath. It logically follows that they will fall under God’s judgment (Harris 977). The connotations of this word are the same as they would be when used in the context of idolatry also. We get the idea here that God views homosexuality and idolatry as being the same (Jenni 1429). A sin whether it is in a ritualistic/religious sense or sexual sense…is the same. It is abhorrent and an abomination to God.

As with all passages in the Bible, we cannot take them in isolation or ripped from their proper context. Leviticus 18:22 makes more sense when viewed in the context of the whole chapter and the Law in general. As noted earlier, in terms of the Law, we are viewing the holiness code for daily living. What we see specifically in Chapter 18 of Leviticus is a predominate theme that there is to be tight regulations and guidelines on what is considered moral sexual conduct for Israel (believers). We see what amounts to distinct familial boundaries within the larger confines of covenant with God Himself. It is evident that these sexual prohibitions were/are to strengthen what God considers the proper family structure both in the human relationship and the one with the divine (Bellinger 111).

The prohibitions to make sure people were set apart and to avoid mixing. Any violations of these statutes in Leviticus 18 would potentially lead to inbreeding. In the case of rampant homosexuality, the decay of the family unit and eventual destruction of the proper God ordained model of marriage/family which was the heterosexual relationship (Genesis 2, Ephesians 5). A heterosexual relationship that was capable of producing offspring.

 In the large scheme of things a society that was properly being made up of the smaller building blocks of families would similarly suffer and dissolve in the face of the dissolution of a biblically defined family unit (Bellinger 113). When we combined the Leviticus 18 passages with other Scripture such as Genesis 2:23-24, Proverbs 5:15-20 and Ephesians 5:21-33 we see that heterosexual marriage ends up being the only biblically permissible locus for sexual relations. Leviticus 18 then ends with an exhortation to maintain holiness.

"For whoever does any of these abominations, those persons who do so shall be cut off from among their people. Thus you are to keep My charge, that you do not practice any of the abominable customs which have been practiced before you, so as not to defile yourselves with them; I am the Lord your God.’”

This chapter is a call to holiness in proper non-incestuous, non-adulterous, non-homosexual relationships and in proper non-idolatrous relationship with God (a concept that will be revisited in detail in Hosea's prophecy). To violate these statutes is to be cut-off from the benefits of covenant relationship both with God’s people and inexorably God Himself as we will see in the Minor Prophets (Bellinger 114). We will also see the idea of being cut-off in the New Testament with the incestuous relations in Corinth in 1 Corinthians 5.

John Boswell in his pro-homosexual book Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality agrees that the passages of Leviticus 18 and 20 are intended to differentiate God’s chosen people from the pagans among whom they had been living such as the Canaanites (Boswell-Kindle Location 2793-2794). He then goes on to downplay the severity of the word תּוֹעֵבָ֖ה / abomination to mean something less than intrinsically evil such as rape or theft. 

Instead Boswell portrays homosexuality as being something that is ritually unclean or ethnic contamination for Jews, like eating pork or engaging in intercourse during menstruation (Boswell-Kindle Location 2786-2788, White et al-Kindle Location 586). What is interesting to note is what Boswell does not say or what he remains silent about. He does not say there is no prohibition against homosexuality. As a matter of fact he concurs that homosexuality is mentioned in the context of prohibition (Boswell-Kindle Location 2796). Some advocates of homosexuality go as far as to claim these prohibitions do not apply to us today as they only applied to the Jews under their civil laws (White et al-Kindle Location 588-590). This misses the point of what Jesus said about Himself and the Law in Matthew 5:17.

Matthew 5:17 "Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.

What these viewpoints fail to recognize is by reducing homosexuality to irrelevancy and viewing them as an exclusively Jewish matter like Jewish dietary laws, is that they are decontextualizing from Scripture. To state that eating pork is similar to homosexuality is a complete misframing of the context. Eating pork is a ceremonial dietary restriction that God did away with in the new dispensation inaugurated by Jesus’ advent. God has repealed these laws in lieu of Jesus. Prohibitions on homosexuality has never been abolished or done away with. Nowhere in Scripture has the intrinsic immorality of homosexuality been repealed or abrogated (DeYoung 55, White et al-Kindle location 718). This is because God still detests homosexuality because it is something offensive in the moral sense. It is not just an infraction against a purity rule (DeYoung 55).

This is where framing the law and types of punishments becomes critical since eating pork and sex during menstruation did not warrant a capital punishment in the Mosaic law and is therefore deemed a lesser offense to God in terms of punishment.

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