The Gospel on Homosexuality: NOT Missing the Point of Sexual Sin in Leviticus

Friday, February 18, 2011

It is an interesting feature of church history that the Bible's stance on homosexuality has only now, in the last few decades, come to be questioned.  Recent medical and scientific research, as well as the morph in cultural milieu have all no doubt played a role in attempting to re-understand and reshape the Bible's meaning in this area.  Is it true then, what Dr. Jennifer Wright Knust has argued?

"It’s true that same-sex intimacy is condemned in a few biblical passages. But these passages, which I can count on one hand, are addressed to specific sex acts and specific persons, not to all humanity forever, and they can be interpreted in any number of ways."

Conclusions like these are precisely the focus of the recent series of responses"The Bible's Surprisingly Mixed Message on Sexuality."    After reading her post dozens of times now, attempting to ensure that I totally "get" where she is coming from, so that I can understand her with integrity, it is clear that her approach to the biblical record and its texts does not seem to handle it with the same integrity as we would any other piece of literature.  At least this has been the assessment thus far in her handling of the creation accounts in Genesis 1 and 2, as well as Jonathan and David's relationship, including her take on Sodom and Gomorrah.  In this continued response to her article, I want to briefly address her thoughts on sexuality in Leviticus. I've posted over the last week, in response to her CNN Belief Blog post entitled,

Leviticus on Sexuality

If there were one book of the Bible where one would want to go to get specific "do's" and "don'ts" it would be Leviticus.  Which means, if there was one book of the Bible where one would want to creatively avoid accountability when it comes to sexuality, it would be Leviticus.  Yet Dr. Knust does not necessarily fear a handling of the more obvious explicit texts on sexual sins, as evidenced in her views on Sodom and Gomorrah, which I attempted to address in the last post.  Per Knust,

Dr. Jennifer Wright Knust
"The book of Leviticus, for example, is directed at Israelite men, offering instructions regarding legitimate sexual partners so long as they are living in Israel. Biblical patriarchs and kings violate nearly every one of these commandments."

There are two obvious issues to address here: what Leviticus says on sexuality, and the follow through of the Biblical patriarchs and kings.  The latter one is the easiest to handle first.

Is It Okay to Sin Because Other People Do It?

We must give Knust the benefit of the doubt in her post, for one simple reason...a blog post is not intended to be a theological treatise.  She has already attempted to do that for us in her books, Unprotected Texts and Abandoned to Lust.  That is why the brief, passing, almost glossing reference to Leviticus can be so irritating at first glance.  However, neither is my attempt to address her here going to be a theological treatise.  It's a blog post.  Nonetheless, some degree of integrity is required in handling any matter, which blogs are all to commonly uninterested in....which is why there are so many of them...which only perpetuates the lack of integrity.  But I digress.

Despite giving the benefit of the doubt to Dr. Knust in her two statements above, the last one is just plain irritating, to say the least.  She basically concludes that because the Biblical patriarchs and kings didn't do what Leviticus says...then neither does anyone else.  Wow.  Incredible.  A blatant dismissal of the law because people break it can never justify the wholesale, widespread breaking of the law on the part of everyone.  Essentially, her conclusion leads to the inevitable conclusion of mass sexual anarchy.  But the convenient conclusion she makes in her assertions on Sodom and Gomorrah (as well as Genesis 6 and Jude), leave the anarchy to angels, with whom we are led to believe it is always wrong to have sex.  

I'm fighting hard to hold back the sarcasm, and I trust you can feel that.  This is a seriously flawed and difficult argument to handle without it.  As every parent teaches their kid, just because everyone else is doing it doesn't make it right.  I trust then that the obvious implications of her statement show it to be the self-defeating argument it truly is.  The Bible is a story book about the unfolding of God's promise to redeem mankind from the mess sin and Satan have turned it into.  The stories reveal human beings in their most vile and most sanctified form, and runs the gammut in between.  

What we are to learn from the sins of others in the Bible, including heroes like Abraham and King David, is not that we can do the same and get away with it (at least for a while, as in the case of King David).  Nor is the lesson that we can do the same and still be spoken of as a hero (as the case of Abraham).  In both examples...and point of fact in every example...the consequences are disastrous, are they not?  To use these OT people as justification of not obeying Levitical laws on sexuality is hugely contradictory, especially since each person who did so created a seeming abyss of familial side effects which rippled for generations to come. With that aside, now we can get to her more substantive statement.

What DOES Leviticus Say About Sex?

What about Leviticus on sex?  I thought about doing a thorough reading of Leviticus on sexuality.  But I deferred instead to Google in order to capitalize on others' research...even if I happened to disagree with them.  This is exactly where I find myself in using the helpful listing of passages on sex in Leviticus, by the "Skeptic's Annotated Bible."  Their listing of the "sex" passages in Leviticus is thorough and helpful, although there seems to be no doubt (at least to me), that the insistence on using the King James Version adds to the ridiculous tone which I'm sure the website administrators desire it to have.  That said, Leviticus seems to address pretty much everything I can think of, from sex during menstruation, to wet dreams, to sex with animals, to voyeurism, prostitution, incest, child-molestation, polygamy, bigamy, bisexuality, slave-sex, rape.  Of particular importance to the subject at hand, we find the following the New Living Translation, of course.

Leviticus 18:1 Then the LORD said to Moses, "Give the following instructions to the people of Israel. I am the LORD your God. So do not act like the people in Egypt, where you used to live, or like the people of Canaan, where I am taking you. You must not imitate their way of life.
Leviticus 18:22  "Do not practice homosexuality, having sex with another man as with a woman. It is a detestable sin."
Leviticus 18:24  "Do not defile yourselves in any of these ways, for the people I am driving out before you have defiled themselves in all these ways."
Leviticus 18: 29 Whoever commits any of these detestable sins will be cut off from the community of Israel. So obey my instructions, and do not defile yourselves by committing any of these detestable practices that were committed by the people who lived in the land before you. I am the LORD your God.
Why Sexual Sin is...Sin

The reason God did not want Israel engaging in homosexuality, among all the other sexual sins, was as simply stated, because "I am the LORD your God."  In this statement we find a restatement of the "I AM" revelation of God Himself to Moses.  Remember the "burning bush" incident?

Exodus 3:13  "If I go to the people of Israel and tell them, 'The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,' they will ask me, 'What is his name?' Then what should I tell them?"  God replied to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM.* Say this to the people of Israel: I AM has sent me to you." God also said to Moses, "Say this to the people of Israel: Yahweh,* the God of your ancestors—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you.  This is my eternal name, my name to remember for all generations.

The name "I AM" (from the Hebrew Yahweh, the from the Hebrew tetragrammaton YHWH) is very significant, for on that name is based the entire relationship God had with Israel, His people.  To misunderstand this name, what it means, and how it is applied to their relationship is to summarily dismiss the entire Law of God, which includes Leviticus.  Unfortunately, it would seem Dr. Knust misses the foundational, presuppositional issue, else I'm certain she would not so quickly dismiss what it says about homosexuality, as she does.

The "I AM" displays His name, character and reputation through keeping promises made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  However, since His people were in Egypt for 450 years, with many of those years being in bondage and slavery, those promises seemed to be called in question.  Since God is a promise-maker and a promise-keeper, He vindicated His reputation and character by rescuing Israel from Egypt, and bringing them into the land promised to the Biblical patriarchs.  The "I AM" is essentially a name that refreshes the mind about God's character by renewing the hope in His promises.  

It makes complete sense then that the "I AM" would want to His people to live differently from the very people who were persecuting and enslaving them.  That does make sense, right?  If I am rescuing someone from something that is hurting them, it would make complete sense that I would not want them to go back to the thing that was hurting the thing I rescued them from to begin with.  This is why God made "laws" for His people to live by.  They were His people...a different people...a rescued people...a delivered people.  Therefore, they would need to live differently in order to not live in bondage again...even though they would be living in a different land.  Essentially, God knew that you could take the Israelite out of Egypt...but not necessarily take Egypt out of the Israelite.  Thus, the "laws" God put into effect in Exodus and Leviticus, repeating them again in Deuteronomy.

Women AND Men are Included

In this way then, I would agree with Knust's conclusion about Leviticus, though obviously not with what she means by her statement:  "The book of Leviticus, for example, is directed at Israelite men, offering instructions regarding legitimate sexual partners so long as they are living in Israel."  However, Knust seems to completely dismiss the notion that references to "a man" are a general, editorial reference to all Israelite human beings, such as the "whosoever" translation other versions tease out of the original Hebrew meaning.  

That women are inferred from such texts can be plainly observed in other passages where both the man and the woman are punished for their sexual sin.  Equally clear is the famous "adulterous woman" passage in John 8, where the Pharisees were attempting to apply the law of Moses on the matter, yet ironically without the man being stoned along with her.  It is explicitly clear then that the "instructions regarding legitimate sexual partners" applies only to Israelite men.  Once again, there is a handling of the biblical record without any regard for integrity towards historicity and reliability.

The gospel is plainly seen in a book like Leviticus in a variety of ways.  Consider first, for example, the plain meaning of the name "I AM" as well as His plan.  I've already referenced the simple meaning of the name.  It was linked to specific acts of redemption and rescue.  God revealed His name and then did what His name means.  Read the passage again once more and this is plain.

Exodus 3:14 God replied to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM.* Say this to the people of Israel: I AM has sent me to you." God also said to Moses, "Say this to the people of Israel: Yahweh,* the God of your ancestors—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you.  This is my eternal name, my name to remember for all generations.  "Now go and call together all the elders of Israel. Tell them, 'The LORD, the God of your ancestors—the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—has appeared to me. He told me, "I have been watching closely, and I see how the Egyptians are treating you. I have promised to rescue you from your oppression in Egypt. I will lead you to a land flowing with milk and honey—the land where the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites now live."'

Everything before the book of Leviticus, and everything after the book of Leviticus is nothing more than continued story after story of how God reveals the meaning of His name through the vindication of His reputation by the repetition of rescue and redemption.  That rescue and redemption was executed through signs and wonders outwardly.  But it was also needed inwardly, through the supernatural work of taking Egypt out of the Israelite.  Even though they were rescued, there was still an inward pull to participate in the same sort of activities they were enjoying in Egypt.  Yet God said that these activities were essentially pagan, and inherently defined paganism.  To participate in beastiality, prostitution, incest, child-molestation, child-sacrifices, voyeurism, pornography, rape, group sex, MILF'ing, or any other sex other than that which should normally exist by God's original design between one husband and his one wife is, by definition, pagan.

The I AM Wants to Rescue People Out of Their "Egypt"

God wanted to rescue Israel out of this mess.  And though we see the giving of His law to help define this new people and their covenant lifestyle, what we end up seeing instead is a return over and again back to the mess out of which they were delivered.  And that is precisely where the gospel comes in to view, because all of this is retold to us over and again in the OT to show us that the "mess" was always inherently residing inside each Israelite, no matter where God put them to live.  Exodus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Kings, Chronicles, etc. are all filled with story after story after story, retold to the generations that follow, to make Israel, and subsequently the human race as a whole, hunger and thirst after a rescue from this "mess" that lives within us all...from this mess that keeps luring us like a magnet back to slavery and bondage in Egypt.

To dismiss the laws of Leviticus just because the Biblical patriarchs disobeyed, and just because the kings disobeyed, is to essentially say they didn't matter at all to begin with.  This in turn makes little more than "boy scouts" of those patriarchs and kings who did  in fact try to return to and live within the boundaries and guidelines of redemption which God set down.  If Christians allow the-God-is-okay-with-homosexuality advocates to handle the Bible with such a lack of integrity, then they allow the need for redemption to be eroded beneath their feet.  Homosexuality was and is wrong because (1) that's now how God originally designed sex, and because (2) that's how pagans behave.  It is something from which God desired to rescue His people.  It is inherently as "messy" as premarital sex, as adultery, as child-molestation, as rape, and as any other form of sex which, at its core is harmful to human beings rather than helpful.

If there is one common denominator in all the sexual sins of Leviticus it is that they are all harmful rather than helpful.  They are harmful physically, no doubt, in many ways.  But more so they are harmful spiritually.  That is, they bring harm and damage to the soul, the psyche, the heart, including the mind and emotions.  It is intangible and almost unexplainable...even perhaps undetectable at times.  But these things inherently work to destroy people on the outside as well as on the inside.  God knows this and has executed a rescue plan, far greater than that of the Israelites from Egypt.  

Why Jesus Came

When Jesus came to earth, He came rescuing people from hurt, suffering and pain.  He came to reverse the effects of sin which Satan executed in the Garden of Eden.  He came to redeem people from the "Egypt" in which they felt enslaved.  He came to rescue people from the "slavery" in which they felt they could not escape.  He came to renew all that had been destroyed as a result.  And all of this - the rescue, reversal, redemption, and renewal - was made effectual once-and-for-all at the cross.  It was there that Jesus executed all of this by forgiving the sin which created to begin with the "mess" inside all of us.  

The law God gave originally in Leviticus only had the authority to point out our wrongdoing in sexual sins.  However, it had no power whatsoever to do anything about fix it, to rescue us from it, and renew all that was broken.  In fact, the law was never intended to be able to do that.  That was never God's design for the Leviticus...or Exodus...or any other OT law.  His design in giving it was to ultimately to show Israel that there was this "mess" or this echo of "Egypt" still lurking inside of them, and that this was what they really needed rescuing from, far more than they needed rescuing from the actual land of Egypt itself.  God took Israel out of Egypt.  But Jesus came to take "Egypt" out of His "Israelites."    Dismiss the law then and you dismiss the reason Jesus came and died and rose again.  

Getting Leviticus right, along with all its sexual sins, is necessary to getting the gospel of Jesus Christ right.  Refusing to admit that what God said about sexual sin is in fact sexual sin, only leads to a continued pathway that embraces the bondage and slavery of "Egypt" inside all of us.  That pathway leads to misery.  Thankfully, that pathway of misery also leads to a crying out for deliverance and rescue.  No doubt this is the one "redeeming" factor in misery.  It makes is look in desperation for a way out of it.  The question remains however, will each person embrace the deliverance and rescue with a far greater passion and desire than they have embraced their pathway of misery?  

The gospel of Jesus Christ announces the "good news" that this deliverance and rescue is available, and that God can make once-and-for-all decision that the "homosexual" is forever forgiven.  Equally important, it also announces that that once-and-for-all-decision on God's part initiates a work of undoing everyday the restraints with which the internal "mess" of "Egypt" has bound us.  Supremely important above all however, is God's promise that despite the struggle for renewal, He will never again think of us in any other way than forgiven, justified, in-the-right....and He will never leave us or forsake us in the daily, here-and-now fight and struggle, in the messiness, toward our once-and-for-all freedom from Egypt forever in heaven.

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