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February 23, 2004

A Nice Monday Sermon

Was Jesusí disapproval of homosexuality so obvious that it did not need declaration? That's the argument some are using to counter Andrew Sullivan's observation that the big J was silent on the subject of homosexuality, whereas when it came to divorce, he was a little more adamant.

I raise this simply because they're often defending their position on the basis of obeying the literal word of the Bible. I framed it in the context of the religious right's bid to amend the constitution to bar gay citizens from civil marriage. I've had many responses, for which I am most grateful. But almost all simply argued that Jesus probably did disapprove of homosexuality, but the Gospel writers didn't think it necessary to state the obvious. Without dealing with that (perfectly valid) point, I have to say: that wasn't my question.

Andrew finesses the point, but he shouldn't have to, and he makes a mistake by calling the argument "perfectly valid," implying that there's a certain logic to it when in fact there is none at all.

To the biblical inerrantists, (I'm not one, btw) the words of the Bible were not written by fallible humans doing their best to explain the ineffable, but rather the directly inspired Word of God, direct from his lips to their fingertips. The problem with this approach comes when the believer runs up against the behavioral and dietary proscriptions found in the in the Pentateuch of the Old Testament. What's a biblical literalist with a taste for pork and lobster sandwiches to do?

Why, he invokes the New Covenant, of course. Jesus is the Franklin Delano Roosevelt of the Bible. He is the New Deal.

Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah:

Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day [that] I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they break, although I was a husband unto them, saith the LORD:

But this [shall be] the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.

And they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.

Adoption of the New Covenant allows the inerrantist his sandwich and his beliefs! Mind you, the inerrantist still has to gloss over Matthew 5: 17-18

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

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.

but other than that, it's a win-win situation!

Heck, for many biblical literalists, it's win-win-win, in that they still feel perfectly comfortable referring back to the Pentateuch in times of need, such as when they feel a pressing urge to mention Sodom and Gomorrah.

Sodom and Gomorrah enters the conversation because, as Sullivan points out above, the vessel of the New Covenant doesn't really mention homosexuals. When the "But Jesus was mute on the subject" argument is pressed, the fallback position for an inerrantist is the one Sullivan encountered.

However, this is the Son of God we're talking about. Remember God, omnipresent, omnipotent? If, as the inerrantists claim, the passages found in the Bible are divinely inspired, then it doesn't matter what the Gospel writers thought about Jesus and homosexuality! The words on the page are not theirs, but rather the Lord's. It's not that Jesus's disapproval of homosexuality was glossed over because it was obvious, but rather that God the omnipotent, who by definition had to have known when and how this debate would occur, instructed his Son to say nothing about it.

From a truly biblically inerrant point of view, what gets left out of the Bible is at least as important as what goes in. Even attempting to argue that the Gospel writers didn't think it necessary to state the obvious implies that one doesn't adhere to the doctrine of biblical inerrancy, and once that position is abandoned, what's the point? It's an implicit admission that the basis of one's arguments is flawed, that the main document one's religion is based on was composed by human, and therefore fallible, authors.

Once fallibility enters the equation, much of the opposition to homosexuality, on Christian religious grounds at least, becomes moot--or so it would seem logic would dictate. However, as logic is not a fertile ground for much of what constitutes religious faith, the spectacle of biblical literalists unconciously questioning the authorship of their own Bible will probably be with us for some time.

Posted by Bigwig at February 23, 2004 01:31 PM | TrackBack
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Interesting argument, Bigwig.

Posted by: Jim at February 24, 2004 12:09 AM

Here's another way to look at it. Because of what was written in the Peutateuch against the practice of homosexuality, the Jews were very good at punishing homosexuality (probably a bit too much. I think they liked to stone people). Homosexuality was seen as a Gentile curse and for all their failings, the Jews had a superority complex and didn't want to be seen associating with Gentiles. Jesus Christ was sent only to the Jews. He preached and spoke about those commandments that the Jews were not keeping. He didn't have to say anything about homosexuality since for once, they were obeying that commandment the way that they should. However, Paul the Apostle did speak out against homosexuality. This was due to the fact that he was sent out to the Gentiles and many of the new Gentile converts to the church came from societies where homosexuality was seen as normal or something to be celebrated (like the Thebes Sacred Band, an Greek army unit comprised of nothing but homosexuals. They were destroyed by Alexander, yet another homosexual, at the battle of Chaeronea). So, when people point to the fact that Jesus Christ didn't condemn the practice, they are kind of missing the point.

Posted by: El-ahrairah at February 24, 2004 12:37 AM

Remember too that Paul wasn't just some fringe type who was freelancing in his spare time. He had been converted by Jesus himself, in a vision. It is doubtful that the Lord would have sent such an "homophobic" person to spread His gospel, if tolerance of homosexuality had been a central feature of said gospel. Something about new wine in old bottles, and all that.

Or do Sullivan and others claim that Paul "apostasized" again after his conversion?

Posted by: Captain Holly at February 24, 2004 10:21 AM

Just a sec, Bigwig! The new covenant doesn't mention charging interest; but believe me, Jesus may as well have said "issue them unneeded credity cards and screw them to the wall with interest!" for all that Christians care about applying covenants.

Maybe his fun day job is wielding whips in Hell. One can always hope. :)

Posted by: meg at February 24, 2004 08:45 PM

Um, Bigwig, you know that just because one believes in the inerrancy of the Bible doesn't mean that the person also believes in it being literal, right? Rule of thumb: Evangelicals are inerrantist and open to varying interpretations, Fundamentalists are literalist and inerrantist.

Posted by: Robert Bauer at February 25, 2004 08:19 PM

Should have posted my comment above here.

The proscription against homosexuality is thought (by those who are not literalists) to be a move against the assimilition of young Jews under Greek rule.

Jesus was a devout Jew. It's highly likely he agreed with that proscription.

Posted by: Meryl Yourish at February 26, 2004 12:32 AM
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