An atheist friend challenged me to give this answer after I explained to him the difference between opposing something and feeling justified to act violently about it. You may guess this started with the recent Egypt/Libya thing. The particular example, predictably, was homosexuality. He seemed to think, like many secularists, that because Leviticus calls for the Jews to execute homosexuals that somehow this meant Christians ought to do the same, or else they are inconsistent.
While there are a million things wrong with that kind of insinuation that anyone truly conversant with the Scriptures could point out, I will address that issue only incidentally. He wants me to stay focused like a laser on homosexuality; evidently, he believes that Biblical prohibitions against homosexual behavior have their strongest expression in Leviticus, and, well, Christians don’t follow through with most of the Levitical stuff, do they? Jesus, he believes, was silent on the matter. Paul and John were mere men, so what do they count for?
In short, I perceive that he thinks the strongest argument against homosexuality in the Bible is the material in the Old Testament, and Leviticus in particular, and if we’re willing to dispense with much of the other stuff in Leviticus, why not that? He’ll be along presently to correct my perceptions, but I wanted to lay out some context explaining why this post is in the form that it is.
Jesus, in point of fact, was not silent on the matter. He was emphatic. People looking for proof texts will have trouble finding Jesus’ remarks on the topic. In order to understand Jesus’ strident views on the matter, one has to likewise dispense with scouring the Bible for proof texts. That’s just not how the Bible was written. Sure, in some areas we can find ‘proof texts’ on certain issues, and sometimes get more direct affirmation or repudiation than in other cases, but it is not common that the writers themselves had that intent.
The point is important. Most of the time, a writer was making an entirely different point, and we glean something else along the way. There is a danger in taking that point in isolation, paying no mind to the main point the author was making. This is the case both narrowly, within specific passages, chapters, and books, but it is also the case broadly, concerning the whole Bible. There is a main point to the Bible, and it is decidedly not to repudiate homosexuality. It is not even to establish a moral code.
The main point of the Bible is to make perfectly plain what kind of skubala we are all in unless we fall in with God’s rescue plan. How much skubala are we in? Let’s put it this way: according to the Bible, no matter how good you think you are, no matter how earnest your religious practice is, no matter how moral you are, such things WILL NOT SAVE YOU FROM THE JUDGEMENT TO COME.
Trying to weasel out of different proscriptions and limits on our behavior is akin to the teachers of the law asking, “And just who is our neighbor?” They wanted to be able to justify their behavior in the sight of God, so they started probing around the edges. They wanted to find a way around the law while staying within God’s good graces; or at least, their perception of God’s good side.
What I am saying is important.
Perhaps I can illustrate it by thinking about my life as a father. Anyone who has worked with kids will know what I mean. If I say, “I want you to clean your room before you use the computer,” I can expect a barrage of questions like this: “But dear father, what if I think I might have cancer, and I need the computer for research? Surely that’s more important than a clean room, right?” Or, “Father, I only want to use the computer to look at a map. I wasn’t playing a game…” Or what if I say, “You may have only 2 cookies.” One will surely say, “But can I have 3? You didn’t say I couldn’t have three.” You’re right, kid. I said you could have 2, and 2 precludes 3. I don’t need to preclude all the other options individually. I can affirm just one option, “Two cookies. Deal with it.”
In other words, I can put out the thing that I want, but there are a million ways to try to get out of it. The one thing precludes the others. They needn’t be mentioned specifically.
Homosexual behavior is just so; with it are any number of behaviors that are outside of God’s stated desires. “But what if they love each other?” or “What if they are monogamous?” Or… “What if I want to have sex with a prostitute?” Or, “What if I want a divorce? You know, Moses let us get a divorce.”
We could go on and on for hours and days imagining excuses for not doing what God says, just like every night my kids have a new reason for why they didn’t brush their teeth when I told them to. A thousand variations of a thousand excuses are offered, but in the end, my request was the same: “Brush your teeth, and get ready for bed.”
But the proof-texter would get out the family manual and say, “Well, see here. Once we were on a trip and we were in the car at night, and we didn’t brush our teeth then…” And of course every parent knows what’s going on. They’re just trying to get out of doing something they don’t want to do.
This phenomena explains in large part why you don’t see long lists of precluded behaviors in the Scriptures. If God says, “Love!” but you can think of a thousand different reasons for why you won’t, God doesn’t do us any favor by going into each one and giving his argument against it. After all, the next person will have his own set of a thousand different reasons for why he won’t love.
Homosexual behavior is just so; but just what is it then that God said?
In the beginning, God made man and woman.
The man said,
“This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.”
For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.
I will make two important observations from this text. First of all, I note that the pattern–before Man and Woman had even sinned–is that marriage is something between a man and a woman.
Enter the Mormon of old: “But it doesn’t say ONLY one woman. And there are people in the OT with more than one wives, and they are even people of faith.” Sure, and I can’t think of a single instance where that worked out well… but for our purposes here, the important thing to note is you trying to wriggle out of what is otherwise pretty plain.
The second thing I note is the assertion that they will become one flesh.
Again, this all happens before sin has entered the world. In other words, this arrangement is established for humanity from the very beginning, right from the start, even in the Edenic paradise. We see that proscriptions and rules and requirements sometimes change in the Bible, for example when God comes to live with the Jews. Do we have a good reason for believing this is one of them?
Malachi 2:13-16 reads:
Another thing you do: You flood the LORD’s altar with tears. You weep and wail because he no longer pays attention to your offerings or accepts them with pleasure from your hands. You ask, “Why?” It is because the LORD is acting as the witness between you and the wife of your youth, because you have broken faith with her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant. Has not the LORD made them one? In flesh and spirit they are his. And why one? Because he was seeking godly offspring. So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith with the wife of your youth.
“I hate divorce,” says the Lord God of Israel…
Here we see a reference back to the Genesis formula: a man and a woman have become one flesh. We find out the purpose of the one fleshness: because God wanted godly offspring. We learn that God takes this very seriously, interjecting upon the prophet to declare: “I hate divorce.”
The justifying attorneys chime in: “But what if the chick is old? Can I divorce her then? Oh wait, you answered that.” Or, “What if she doesn’t cook my favorite supper?” Or, “What if I see another woman that I’d rather be with?” My atheist friend adds, “I note that it doesn’t specifically say that the man can’t be married to one man or a woman to a woman.”
Yea… the parent knows these are not sincere questions. The kid just doesn’t want to brush his teeth.
It is worth observing that if God’s plan for making them one flesh was so that there would be godly offspring, in the case of homosexuals, there are no offspring at all, godly or not. You know, by definition of the behavior.
“But they could adopt… or they could get a surrogate… they are just as loving and kind as heterosexuals….”
Yea… there has got to be some way you’ll let me get into bed without brushing my teeth!
Now, the only person in the Bible who seems to hate divorce more than the Lord God of Israel is Jesus called the Christ.
When Jesus had finished saying these things, he left Galilee and went into the region of Judea to the other side of the Jordan. 2 Large crowds followed him, and he healed them there.
3 Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”
4 “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’[a] 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’[b]? 6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
7 “Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”
8 Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. 9 I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”
10 The disciples said to him, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.”
11 Jesus replied, “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. 12 For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others—and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.”
Right away we spot the rationalizing and attempts to justify oneself. Isn’t it lawful to get a divorce? Because of course they knew all about what God said in Malachi, but Moses said you could give the lady a certificate and dispose of her. Isn’t it legal? they want to know–as if that would excuse it. Jesus puts the kabosh on this idea so emphatically, that even the disciples are like, “Holy crap. If we have to actually stay with the woman for the rest of our life, and it’s adultery to leave her (except for sexual immorality), it might be better to not get married at all!”
But note Jesus’ explicit citation of the Genesis formula: in the beginning, the Creator ‘made them male and female.’ For this reason, a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. So they are no longer two, but one flesh.
We learn something new, that was alluded to in Malachi: this one-fleshness is done by the deliberate act of God.
So, Jesus–and Christians believe Jesus is God–goes all the way back to Genesis to state the original plan, and dispenses with any attempt to erect this caveat or that excuse. The plan was good when the world was perfect and unfallen, it was good while God lived with the Jews when they were a covenant nation, it was good after the covenant had been dissolved and the Jews were dispersed to the four winds, it was good when they were brought back together and God again walked among them.
A man and a woman. One flesh. God does this. He has his reasons. You don’t have to like it. He doesn’t have to counter your every imagined relationship structure. This is the plan. One man, one woman, one flesh. God joins them. The state doesn’t join them. God does it. They don’t join themselves. God does it.
And you want to contemplate a divorce in light of how seriously God abhors it? By all means, go ahead, but it is still outside of God’s plan. Do you have any other variations you’d like to propose? He’s not going to counter them all. He’s said his piece. Now it is for you to obey… or not.
Now, as it happens, the Genesis passage gets cited in full once more in the New Testament and alluded to at least once more. Clearly, since God made all humans and established marriage before the fall, and then doubled down on it in Jesus, the Genesis pattern applies to all humans, everywhere, in any time or place, until the end of time. But there are some extra considerations for Christians in particular, as the next citation shows. Ephesians 5:
25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing[b] her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— 30 for we are members of his body. 31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”[c] 32 This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.
Note again the explicit quotation of Genesis 2. It’s almost like all the people in the Bible believed that stuff! I thought Paul invented it or something. I can’t keep up with all the latest conspiracies. There is a twist, though: just as the man and the woman are one flesh, Christ and his Church are, too. Could this mean what it really sounds like it means? Paul, could you clarify?
1 Cor 6:
12 “I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but I will not be mastered by anything. 13 You say, “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food, and God will destroy them both.” The body, however, is not meant for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. 14 By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also. 15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never! 16 Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, “The two will become one flesh.”[b] 17 But whoever is united with the Lord is one with him in spirit.[c]
Why yes, it really does appear that by virtue of the fact that a man and woman have sex together, they have become one flesh–that is, God joins them in marriage–and by virtue of this man’s relationship with Christ, he brings the woman with him into Christ. (or vice versa, see 1 Cor 7:14)
If you’re not following that, pretend that someone puts water in his mouth and then gets in his car. Sure enough, the water is in the car, too. If A = B and B = C then A = C. One flesh, all the way around.
It would appear that in the Scriptures, old testament and new, this whole ‘one flesh’ thing is taken very seriously. Whether it is in the beginning or the end or the middle, whether it is the Law Giver of Moses or the Grace bringer, Christ, God’s plan for marriage remains. It is part of the order of creation. You may as well wish that gravity stopped working… “But God, I didn’t want the person to go splat on the pavement when I pushed him off the building… I just thought it would be fun… How about an exemption? No? Then I’m going to pout.”
This added insight provided to us by Paul about how the marital act is not only a pattern of Christ joined with all his believers but further, it is a real unity–just as the man and the woman having sex are made into a real unity–serves to drive home the point that for Christians, it is extremely, extremely important to abide by God’s plan for marriage. Not because it saves us, mind you, but because in it we find out that evidently, God has good reasons for what he is doing, and these reasons are very likely in our best interest. Godly offspring, yes, but also, a pathway towards understanding the mystery of salvation: we are saved by virtue of the fact that we are in the literal body of Christ, and when that body stands up under the punishment, we are ourselves spared. (See Romans 6 and 1 Peter 3)
If A = B and B = C then A = C.
You can make excuses for why you don’t like God’s plan, and start looking for ways around it (“But I would have preferred scientific evidence…”), justifying–only to yourself–why you shouldn’t be swept away in the flood of judgement, but it won’t change the fact. God sent a lifeboat: it was himself. All you had to do was climb in. You preferred to inspect the hinges and kick the sides and hem and haw and dispute whether or not there was a need to be saved at all. “What I really wanted was a fancy yacht to pluck me out of these shark infested waters! I’m not getting into that!” Now you’re floating away. C’est la vie.
To bring this matter to a close, the Biblical case against homosexuality does not rest because God emphatically precludes it, but because he emphatically affirms something else, and this something else precludes it. Likewise, we can imagine all sorts of variations of sexual behavior (any behavior, really) that are not emphatically and explicitly treated in the Bible. Does that mean they are on the table for consideration or pursuit? Negatory, good buddy. The something else that God affirms precludes that other stuff.
I would like to here note that I did not once cite any of the ‘negative’ passages often cited to defend the proposition that homosexuality is outside of God’s plan. I think some of those passages are pretty clear-cut and decisive, but I also know how people pick and pick and pick at them, trying to get them to say (or be conceived as possibly saying) something that they do not say. I also know that the argument for God’s plan for marriage explains why those passages would exist at all. And since God’s plan for marriage is stated via positive affirmations, clearly and repeated constantly–in fact, affirmed by the Son of God–that seemed the better way to go.
At any rate, that is the main way I approach the question, and I think is very near to the answer, though of course much, much, much more could be said. But isn’t 3,467 words enough for one evening?