Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Homosexuality in the Bible, Part Two: the Holiness Code.

Refer to Part One for background on this series of posts.

Before I begin part two of this series I want to make one thing perfectly clear: I am not a theologian, nor am I a bible scholar (not that those of you who know me were wondering). I am simply reporting on the discussion that took place at Ekklesia regarding homosexuality in the bible. I cannot claim any of the especially insightful hermeneutics for my own, but must credit them to Clarence Bass. If I wasn’t clear about this in the original post, which after rereading it I don’t believe I was, it’s just because I’m a crappy writer, and had a lot to say. Please, bear with me.

In part one, I asked the question, “Was Homosexuality the Sin of Sodom and Gomorrah?” I believe the answer to this question is no when taking a holistic view of scripture. In part two I will address the other Old Testament references to homosexuality, both of which occur in the section of Leviticus known as the Holiness Code.

The word Leviticus has been translated as “Law of Priests” or “Instructions for Priests.” Basically it’s an instruction manual for the Priests of ancient Israel on how God wanted to differentiate the Israelites from the surrounding cultures (Canaanites, Philistines, Moabites, etc.). The chapters have different themes, from rituals of sacrifice to dietary laws. The two verses we are concerned with fall within the Holiness Code (Chapters 17-26). These nine chapters are called the Holiness Code because of how frequently the word holy is used.

Chapter eighteen of the holiness code refers to sexual behavior. Verse twenty-two is relevant to the topic at hand, homosexuality. I’ve bolded it below.
6 " 'No one is to approach any close relative to have sexual relations. I am the LORD.
7 " 'Do not dishonor your father by having sexual relations with your mother. She is your mother; do not have relations with her.
8 " 'Do not have sexual relations with your father's wife; that would dishonor your father.
9 " 'Do not have sexual relations with your sister, either your father's daughter or your mother's daughter, whether she was born in the same home or elsewhere.
10 " 'Do not have sexual relations with your son's daughter or your daughter's daughter; that would dishonor you.
11 " 'Do not have sexual relations with the daughter of your father's wife, born to your father; she is your sister.
12 " 'Do not have sexual relations with your father's sister; she is your father's close relative.
13 " 'Do not have sexual relations with your mother's sister, because she is your mother's close relative.
14 " 'Do not dishonor your father's brother by approaching his wife to have sexual relations; she is your aunt.
15 " 'Do not have sexual relations with your daughter-in-law. She is your son's wife; do not have relations with her.
16 " 'Do not have sexual relations with your brother's wife; that would dishonor your brother.
17 " 'Do not have sexual relations with both a woman and her daughter. Do not have sexual relations with either her son's daughter or her daughter's daughter; they are her close relatives. That is wickedness.
18 " 'Do not take your wife's sister as a rival wife and have sexual relations with her while your wife is living.
19 " 'Do not approach a woman to have sexual relations during the uncleanness of her monthly period.
20 " 'Do not have sexual relations with your neighbor's wife and defile yourself with her.
21 " 'Do not give any of your children to be sacrificed [a] to Molech, for you must not profane the name of your God. I am the LORD.
22 " 'Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable.
23 " 'Do not have sexual relations with an animal and defile yourself with it. A woman must not present herself to an animal to have sexual relations with it; that is a perversion.
24 " 'Do not defile yourselves in any of these ways, because this is how the nations that I am going to drive out before you became defiled. 25 Even the land was defiled; so I punished it for its sin, and the land vomited out its inhabitants. 26 But you must keep my decrees and my laws. The native-born and the aliens living among you must not do any of these detestable things, 27 for all these things were done by the people who lived in the land before you, and the land became defiled. 28 And if you defile the land, it will vomit you out as it vomited out the nations that were before you.
29 " 'Everyone who does any of these detestable things—such persons must be cut off from their people. 30 Keep my requirements and do not follow any of the detestable customs that were practiced before you came and do not defile yourselves with them. I am the LORD your God.' "
Homosexuality is also mentioned in Leviticus 20: 13. I’ve included the three verses before and after for context.
10 " 'If a man commits adultery with another man's wife—with the wife of his neighbor—both the adulterer and the adulteress must be put to death.
11 " 'If a man sleeps with his father's wife, he has dishonored his father. Both the man and the woman must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.
12 " 'If a man sleeps with his daughter-in-law, both of them must be put to death. What they have done is a perversion; their blood will be on their own heads.
13 " 'If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.
14 " 'If a man marries both a woman and her mother, it is wicked. Both he and they must be burned in the fire, so that no wickedness will be among you.
15 " 'If a man has sexual relations with an animal, he must be put to death, and you must kill the animal.
16 " 'If a woman approaches an animal to have sexual relations with it, kill both the woman and the animal. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.
If one approaches the bible seeking permission or allowance for homosexual behavior, these verses are very difficult to deal with because these verses are pretty straightforward. One who takes the bible seriously, knows that you cannot just take scripture and bend it for purpose of convenience. If we look at verse 22, in chapter 18, notice that it is sandwiched between many sexual prohibitions that we would regard as no-brainers today: don’t have sex with animals, don’t have sex with various family members, and don’t have sex with your neighbor’s wife, to name a few. These make sense right? So why would we just ignore verse twenty-two, “'Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman…”? Out of convenience? Because it would be politically incorrect? I’m pretty sure this is not a reliable method for interpreting scripture.

That said, I don’t believe these scriptures apply today. The key lies in the context. The holiness code is part of the larger set of laws God gives to Moses at Mt. Sinai for His chosen people, the Israelites, in order to distinguish them from the surrounding nations at Canaan (Palestine). These laws were given to a certain people, at a certain time, for a certain reason. Included in these laws were some pretty strange commands. For instance, Israelites were unable to wear mixed fabrics; women were to declare publicly when they were menstruating (sort of like the Scarlet Letter); and as we saw in the verses cited above, the death penalty was required for a variety of sexual acts. Now, why do Christians who cite Old Testament Law as proof that homosexuality is a sin, ignore these laws? It’s seems illogical to follow one part of the law (homosexuality is a sin) but ignore the other parts (mixed fabric, etc.).

Because the Old Testament law given to Moses was contextual we have to interpret it in such a manner. It was a covenant for Israel, given for a specific time, for a specific place, Canaan. Christians today, do not fall under this Mosaic, Old Testament covenant, but under a New Covenant established by the ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. So, whatever the Old Testament Law has to say about homosexuality is irrelevant for Christians today.

It is clear then, that after looking at Sodom and Gomorrah and the Holiness Code, we need to turn our attention to the New Testament for more guidance on what the bible has to say about homosexuality.

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