We are considering one of the latest, and best reviewed, books supporting Christian gay marriage, Matthew Vines’ God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships.
Sodom and Gomorrah
Vines next begins working through the six passages usually cited as condemning homosexual sex. He begins with Sodom and Gomorrah.
Now, Sodom and Gomorrah are referenced several times in the Scriptures as an example of the consequences of incurring God’s wrath. Moreover, as Vines notes, with one possible exception, Sodom and Gomorrah are held up as examples of sins other than homosexuality — such as inhospitality. The one passage we need to consider is Jude 7 —
(Jude 1:7 ESV) 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.
The NET Bible translators note regarding “unnatural desire” —
This phrase has been variously interpreted. It could refer to flesh of another species (such as angels lusting after human flesh). This would aptly describe the sin of the angels, but not easily explain the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah. It could refer to the homosexual practices of the Sodomites, but a difficulty arises from the use of ἕτερος (ʿeteros; “strange,” “other”). When this is to be distinguished from ἄλλος (allos, “another”) it suggests “another of a different kind.” If so, would that properly describe homosexual behavior? In response, the language could easily be compact: “pursued flesh other than what was normally pursued.” However, would this find an analogy in the lust of angels (such would imply that angels normally had sexual relations of some sort, but cf. Matt 22:30)? Another alternative is that the focus of the parallel is on the activity of the surrounding cities and the activity of the angels. This is especially plausible since the participles ἐκπορνεύσασαι (ekporneusasai, “having indulged in sexual immorality”) and ἀπελθοῦσαι (apelthousai, “having pursued”) have concord with “cities” (πόλεις, poleis), a feminine plural noun, rather than with Sodom and Gomorrah (both masculine nouns). If so, then their sin would not necessarily have to be homosexuality. However, most likely the feminine participles are used because of constructio ad sensum (construction according to sense). That is, since both Sodom and Gomorrah are cities, the feminine is used to imply that all the cities are involved. The connection with angels thus seems to be somewhat loose: Both angels and Sodom and Gomorrah indulged in heinous sexual immorality. Thus, whether the false teachers indulge in homosexual activity is not the point; mere sexual immorality is enough to condemn them.
W. Hall Harris, ed., The NET Bible Notes (1st, Accordance electronic ed. Richardson: Biblical Studies Press, 2005), n.p.
Richard Hays comes to the same conclusion despite his rejection of homosexual marriage by Christians.
The phrase “went after other flesh” (apelthousai opis sarkos heteras) refers to their pursuit of nonhuman (i.e., angelic!) “flesh” The expression sarkos heteras means “flesh of another kind”; thus, it is impossible to construe this passage as a condemnation of homosexual desire, which entails precisely the pursuit of flesh of the same kind.
Hays, Richard (2013-07-30). The Moral Vision of the New Testament: Community, Cross, New Creation, A Contemporary Introduction to New Testament Ethic (p. 404). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
Hence, while Sodom and Gomorrah were undeniably destroyed because of sin, including sexual immorality, the prophets and the NT writers do not accuse them particularly of being destroyed for homosexual acts. After all, the proposed rape of Lot’s visitors was sufficient to merit destruction, whether the rape was homosexual or heterosexual.
The next two key passages are —
(Lev 18:22 ESV) You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.
(Lev 20:13 ESV) 13 If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them.
Vines struggles to articulate a principle by which we determine what parts of the Torah survive Jesus’ atonement and which parts do not. He rejects the “moral law” vs. “ceremonial law” distinction, and instead suggests that we should look back to his interpretation of Gen 2.
While I happily admit that Gen 2 continues to be a guide for how we should live in NT times, his analysis is worse than inadequate. After all, in 1 Cor 5, Paul compels a church to disfellowship a man for incest, quoting language from Lev 18. Paul and Jesus both require the church to act only on the testimony of two or three witnesses, based on Deu.
In our studies of the covenants, we recognized that the Torah is not so much repealed as fulfilled. After all, if the Abrahamic covenant remains in effect, so that we’re saved by faith, then in some sense the Mosaic covenant remains in effect. And we covered this in detail in the recent “How to Study the Bible” and “Exile and Repentance” series.
I tried to explain the fulfillment of Torah in Christianity in this post. Regardless of how you see it, though, it’s clear that Paul still imposes the sexual immorality standards of Lev 18 from 1 Cor 5 as well as his repeated condemnations of “sexual immorality” (as well as those of Jesus). Paul was speaking to a largely Jewish audience whose scriptures were the Old Testament. If “sexual immorality” isn’t defined by Lev 18, then where is that definition to be found?
Jesus specifically condemned “sexual immorality” in Matt 15:19, speaking to a Jewish audience, who doubtlessly heard Jesus as affirming the wrongness of sexual practices condemned by the Torah.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus strengthened the Torah commands by insisting that we look at the purpose and heart behind the commands. There’s not the least indication anywhere in the NT that the sexual immorality commands of the Torah have been loosened for Christians.
Vines points out that Christianity largely did not adopt OT polygamy or concubinage, but this only reinforces the point that the NT tends to be stricter than the OT when it comes to sexual immorality.
Vines argues that the Talmud imposes greater penalties for anal sex (death) than for other kinds of homosexual sex, because the sin is actually the sin of acting like a woman. This argument is based on Philo, a First Century Hellenistic Jew, 1500 years removed from Moses. But, of course, the Talmud prohibits other forms of homosexual sex as well, and the Talmud does not reflect attitudes even as old as the NT.
The fact is that the rabbis, following Torah, universally prohibited homosexual activity, and there were no exceptions. There may have been degrees of punishment, but that’s far different from approving homosexual activity.
Among the sexual perversions proscribed as criminal offenses in the moral code of the Torah are homosexual relations between males (Lev. 18:22). Both offending parties are threatened with capital punishment (Lev. 20:13), though minors under 13 years of age are exempt from this as from any other penalty (Sanh. 54a). Talmudic law extends the prohibition, but not the penalty, which is limited to flagellation, also to lesbianism, i.e., homosexual intimacies between women, based on the general warning not to indulge in the abhorrent practices of the Egyptians and the Canaanites (Sifra 9:8).
Vines’ argument is that the prohibitions in Lev 18 and 20 are based on a low view of women, but his evidence is very thin, very distant in time, and not supported by a closer look at the evidence.
He builds his case on the false dichotomy that homosexuality must be banned solely because of anatomical differences between men and women or because of patriarchal, hierarchical attitudes toward women. But it could be that God knows that permitting homosexual sex is simply very unhealthy for society as a whole.