Jesus and Paul on the Hermeneutics of Sexuality: Torn, Part 1

Some time ago, a reader asked me to comment on the theological arguments made in Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate by Justin Lee.

Torn is not primarily a theological work, but speaks more to the emotional and social issues of being gay while being Christian. But Lee ultimately concludes that he can engage in homosexual activity while being a committed Christian based on his reading of the scriptures. And that’s a conclusion that deserves serious investigation.

(I’ll try to avoid repeating scriptural arguments made in recent posts of this series.)

Sodom and Gomorrah

(Gen 19:4-5 ESV)  4 But before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, both young and old, all the people to the last man, surrounded the house.  5 And they called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, that we may [sexually] know them.”

He begins with the account of Sodom and Gomorrah. We’ve already seen that — even though to Western eyes, the original account seems to be all about homosexual rape — this account is often used by the prophets, and even by Jesus, to condemn inhospitality and a lack of concern for the poor and the alien.

(Eze 16:49 ESV)  49 Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.

(Luk 10:10-12 ESV)  10 But whenever you enter a town and they do not receive you, go into its streets and say,  11 ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet we wipe off against you. Nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near.’  12 I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town.

But there are also passages such as —

(Jud 1:6-7 ESV)  6 And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day — 7 just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.

Jude (that is, Judah, a brother of Jesus) accuses Sodom and Gomorrah of “sexual immorality” and “unnatural desire” deserving “a punishment of eternal fire.”

He sees Sodom and Gomorrah as an example of rebellion against God. What was rebellious about them? In this passage, their “unnatural desire.”

It’s fair to argue that homosexual rape is not truly the same thing as homosexual activity between consenting adults. Nonetheless, Jude does not condemn them for violence or rape. He accuses them of “unnatural desire” and “sexual immorality,” both being references to homosexual activity. (One does not refer to rape as “sexual immorality” if the intention is to distinguish rape from consensual sex.)

And then there’s —

(2Pe 2:4-10a ESV)  4 For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment; … if by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them to extinction, making them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly; 7 and if he rescued righteous Lot, greatly distressed by the sensual conduct of the wicked  8 (for as that righteous man lived among them day after day, he was tormenting his righteous soul over their lawless deeds that he saw and heard);  9 then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment,  10 and especially those who indulge in the lust of defiling passion and despise authority.

Again, the inspired writer is referring to the sexual sins of Sodom and Gomorrah, not their lack of hospitality, economic sins, or lack of concern for the needy.

Moreover, the language condemns them, not for violence or rape, but for “defiling passion” — hardly language intended to describe rape.

Lee does not mention these passages in his study.

My conclusion is that the biblical authors found quite a lot wrong with the behavior of the citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah. And they found their treatment of the needy and inhospitality just as reprehensible as their homosexual activity.

Therefore, we err when we treat homosexual activity as a particularly vile sin while treating such other sins as no big deal. The use of Sodom to condemn other sins is intended to make clear that some economic sins are just as bad as the sins of Sodom.

Nonetheless, twice in the New Testament, Sodom and Gomorrah are cited as examples of sexual sin because of their homosexual activities.

Leviticus 18:22

(Lev 18:22 ESV) 22 You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.

Lee describes his efforts to sort out which Mosaic commands remain applicable today and which do not. Ultimately, he offers no solution to the big question and instead settles for the observation that both conservative and liberal commentators note that part of Moses’ concern is for ritual homosexual prostitution in the worship of idols. For example, he quotes Robert Gagnon, an associate professor of New Testament at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary who has spent much of his career studying and writing in condemnation of homosexuality:

I do not doubt that the circles out of which Leviticus 18: 22 was produced had in view homosexual cult prostitution, at least partly. Homosexual cult prostitution appears to have been the primary form in which homosexual intercourse was practiced in Israel.

Hmm. “At least partly.” Moreover, Gagnon is saying that homosexual activity was unknown in Israel except for those who rebelled against God by worshiping idols. Why unknown? Because no Jew is born with homosexual tendencies? Surely not.

Obviously, his point is that homosexuality was so culturally unacceptable that the main reason to even utter the command was to warn Israelites away from idolatrous homosexuality, because homosexual conduct was exclusively found among idolaters. That hardly argues that Moses considered homosexual activity separate from idolatry to be permissible.

Leviticus 18 is in fact a lengthy list of sexual sins — incest, bestiality, and homosexuality.

(Lev 18:6-23 ESV) 6 “None of you shall approach any one of his close relatives to uncover nakedness. I am the LORD.  7 You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father, which is the nakedness of your mother; she is your mother, you shall not uncover her nakedness.  8 You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father’s wife; it is your father’s nakedness.  9 You shall not uncover the nakedness of your sister, your father’s daughter or your mother’s daughter, whether brought up in the family or in another home.  10 You shall not uncover the nakedness of your son’s daughter or of your daughter’s daughter, for their nakedness is your own nakedness.  11 You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father’s wife’s daughter, brought up in your father’s family, since she is your sister.  12 You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father’s sister; she is your father’s relative.  13 You shall not uncover the nakedness of your mother’s sister, for she is your mother’s relative.  14 You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father’s brother, that is, you shall not approach his wife; she is your aunt.  15 You shall not uncover the nakedness of your daughter-in-law; she is your son’s wife, you shall not uncover her nakedness.  16 You shall not uncover the nakedness of your brother’s wife; it is your brother’s nakedness.  17 You shall not uncover the nakedness of a woman and of her daughter, and you shall not take her son’s daughter or her daughter’s daughter to uncover her nakedness; they are relatives; it is depravity.  18 And you shall not take a woman as a rival wife to her sister, uncovering her nakedness while her sister is still alive.

9 “You shall not approach a woman to uncover her nakedness while she is in her menstrual uncleanness.  20 And you shall not lie sexually with your neighbor’s wife and so make yourself unclean with her.  21 You shall not give any of your children to offer them to Molech, and so profane the name of your God: I am the LORD.  22 You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.  23 And you shall not lie with any animal and so make yourself unclean with it, neither shall any woman give herself to an animal to lie with it: it is perversion.”

And we know from 1 Corinthians 5 that Paul considered the Law’s instructions regarding incest binding on Christians. In fact, if context means anything, homosexual sex is just as wrong as offering your infant children as a sacrifice to Molech or lying with an animal or engaging in incest.

Lee argues,

So scholars on both sides of the argument agreed that this probably had something to do with cult prostitution. That made sense to me, since the rest of the passage was about keeping the Israelites separate from polytheistic cultures.

Really? The reference to Molech is there, not because the chapter is about idolatry but likely because it was newborn infants who were sacrificed — and the passage is about sex, which is inevitably associated with childbirth. The rest of the chapter says not one word about idols, and I know of no evidence that incest was an idolatrous practice. Indeed, Paul’s argument in 1 Corinthians 5 is that even the Gentiles considered incest to be wrong.

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About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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