You can read part one of this series here: http://ow.ly/cO0k5. I recommend you do so before reading this entry.
In the first post, I argued that the Bible does say something definitively about our sexual practice. Most people concede this up to a point. They will agree the Bible condemns promiscuity, so sexual relations are legitimate only within the marriage covenant. However, proponents of gay marriage will argue this is exactly why we should endorse the marriage of homosexuals; their behavior is legitimized as biblical when the marriage covenant is extended to homosexuals.
This approach, however, is not dealing with what the text actually says. Twice in Leviticus we find a general prohibition of homosexual practice (Lev. 18:22, 20:13). There is no distinction made between promiscuous homosexual behavior and covenant/monogamous homosexual behavior. It has been argued that this is because all known homosexual behavior at that time was devoid of committed relationships. William Webb, however, argues new evidence rules this out citing Donald J. Wold, Out of Order: Homosexuality in the Bible and the Ancient Near East (William J. Webb Slaves, Women, and Homosexuals: Exploring the Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis, IVP Academic, Downers Grove, Illinois, 2001, 156).
In any case, one has to read the exception of monogamous relationships into the text. The texts simply call the behavior an abomination and even calls for the death penalty as a response. One argument suggests since the list of sexual deviations includes not having intercourse with a woman during her menstrual period that we should take the denouncement of homosexual practice as being tied to the purity code of Leviticus (cf. Lev. 18). In other words, we would not consider a consenting married couple guilty of great offense before God, if they were to decide to have intercourse during that time of the month, so we should treat the homosexual passage the same way.
But what about bestiality, incest, and child sacrifice? All of these are on that same list too. These are also worded as apodictic law (thou shalt/shalt not), indicating these as lasting ordinances, more so than your typical case law. Isn’t it more likely that the passage about sex during menstruation is the exception on the list rather than the one passage by which to interpret the rest of the list?
However, for the sake of argument, I will concede that it is a lot to base vehement objection to homosexual relations on two verses from Leviticus. Much of what we read in the Old Testament about the treatment of slaves and women finds improving standards in the New Testament. In fact, we can make a good case for abolition of slavery based on the small letter of Philemon. We read of passages calling for the full equality of women (cf. Gal. 3:28). These are developing concepts in Scripture and you might say the New Testament points the way for full freedom and equality to be worked out by future generations of Christians. Can’t the same be said about homosexuality?
William Webb calls this development in Scripture “redemptive movement.” You assess the movement on the issue in Scripture and also in comparison to the prevailing culture. In the case of slavery, there is clear movement in Scripture from the harsher treatment of slaves to better treatment and even freedom. A similar case could be made about women. Also, the movement is better treatment for both slaves and women in relation to culture. Even Old Testament laws that seem harsh to us were actually there for limited protection, which was unheard of in other Ancient Near Eastern cultures. Many argue that we should apply the same logic to the issue of homosexuality, going from where Scripture leaves off until we arrive at full acceptance, at least, within the boundaries of covenant monogamous relationships (i.e. marriage).
However, with the issue of homosexuality we have opposite movement when compared to slavery and women. The culture was generally permissive, but the Bible more restrictive (in fact, condemning). We go from finding only a few passages dealing with homosexuality in the Old Testament to finding more in the New. In passages like Rom. 1:18-32, we find material dealing not only with male/male relationships (like in Leviticus), but also female/female relationships. Though just one of several sins mentioned in this passage as the reason the wrath of God is being revealed, homosexual sin does receive special treatment here.
Both the movement in relation to Scripture and the movement in relation to culture leaves us with no trajectory to declare God is okay with homosexual practice. In fact, the Bible is clear and consistent in its condemnation of such activity. To claim the Bible would be permissive of such activity in monogamous relationships is–and I’m sorry to say–a kind of wishful thinking interpretation. And this is exactly why some default to the counter argument I mentioned in the first post, which is to say the Bible doesn’t really say anything definitive or consistent about sexual norms.
For those of us desiring to live within the authority of Scripture, it is not an option for us to invent clever, but unsubstantiated interpretations, or to simply adopt a hermeneutic that gets us off the hook of having to deal seriously with what the text actually says. It is more honest, really, to just say that you don’t care what the Bible says. It is outdated, bigoted, and/or irrelevant. That’s not an approach I could take, but I do find it honest. In any case, what the text says (consistently) is that living a homosexual lifestyle will incur the wrath of God.
What the text says and how we should respond as Christian people in our current cultural situation is not an easy task to discern. I hope to share a few helpful ideas on how we might faithfully and lovingly respond to our present situation in my next post.