Theology changes its mind (part 5)

I fought the law…

In the last 2 blogs I’ve looked at what Jesus said about homosexuality and whether the sin of Sodom was homosexuality or something else.

Now I’m now looking at the Jewish law. Under the constraints I’ve put myself under this is harder.  These are among my constraints:

So history must be treated as history, poetry as poetry, hyperbole and metaphor as hyperbole and metaphor, generalization and approximation as what they are, and so forth.

So we have to treat law as law, which, unless you are a very clever lawyer, and I’m not, leaves very little wriggle room.

There are two mentions of homosexuality in the Jewish law, Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13.

You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.

If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them.

You can’t get around it, the Jewish law says a man having sex with another man is wrong. The same law that forbids eating rabbit, pork and shellfish. The question is how is it possible to condemn homosexuality as a Christian whilst tucking in to a breakfast of bacon sausage and black pudding? (Black pudding is particularly bad under the rules in Leviticus.) The vision given to St Peter in Acts where he was told to kill and eat unclean animals,  was it just  about food — is it the only the dietry restriction that no longer apply — or does it extend to the rest of the law?

The book of Leviticus is often split into two parts, Chapters 1 to 16 and Chapters 17 to 27. After all the dietary requirements are in the first half and the verses about homosexuality in the second. The ESV  Study Bible has this to say in the introduction to Leviticus:

To begin, there is some debate about how to understand the relationship between the “ritual” of chapters 1 – 16 and what are commonly called the “moral/ethical” commands of chapters 17 – 27. It is not uncommon for modern readers to see the “ritual” and “ethics” as two very separate matters … the whole of the book is concerned with Israel being “holy.”

You shall be holy

Even in the early part of Leviticus verses are quoted in the New Testament. Be holy, for I am holy, quoted in 1 Peter 1:16, is taken from Leviticus 11, the chapter about dietary restrictions.

The dietary restrictions don’t apply but the concept of holiness does still apply. But we are not made holy through obeying laws, even laws as good as God’s law. We are made holy through the death of God’s Son, Jesus Christ, whose death was a once and for all sacrifice. This is why we no longer offer the animal sacrifices that take up so much of the book of Leviticus.

The law is about holiness. The cost of disobedience to the law has been paid. But we’re not really getting any nearer to the homosexuality question.

Leviticus 18 starts:

I am the Lord your God. You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt, where you lived, and you shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you. You shall not walk in their statutes.

Do not be like Egypt. Do not be like Canaan. Holiness is not about being pious it is about being separate. Separated by God for a purpose. So do not act like the other nations.

You shall not give any of your children to offer them to Molech, and so profane the name of your God: I am the Lord. Leviticus 18:21

Wait a minute, how did a verse about child sacrifice get in here? This section is all about sexual acts not to do so what has this got to do with it? Why the random verse? And why the random verse just before the verse we are looking at? Shouldn’t child sacrifice be in the ritual rather than the moral part of Leviticus? It is, after all a religious practise.

What if it is all about religious practise? The Egyptians and Canaanites had temple prostitutes, male and female, and it is more interesting if instead of just singing a few songs and offering a few animals in worship that instead it is your duty in the temple to get down and dirty with someone. You can see why it would be more appealing.

What have we got?

  • A society that does not differentiate between the ritual and the moral code.
  • A tribal nation travelling from a land where there is male and female temple prostitution and travelling to another where it is practised.
  • There is no more need for animal sacrifice, the sacrifice of Christ is sufficient for all people for all time.
  • Dietary restrictions in the law have been lifted, could this apply to all the law.

It’s not as simple as it first looks.

I’d like to draw a conclusion.

  • It may be that the laws against homosexuality are about temple prostitution.
  • It could be that these laws are about being separate from the other nation/tribes around.
  • Or it may be that homosexuality is wrong.

I can see why people come to all these conclusions, but I cannot make a conclusion myself. Open verdict.


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