The Bible and Homosexuality: Key Biblical Themes, 2

Justice

The key theme of Justice is consistent throughout the scriptures; from the occasion of God bringing down upon their heads the just consequences of Adam and Eve’s rejection of him (significantly moderated by his mercy!) through to the final judgements of the book of Revelation, God is portrayed as judge over his people, and indeed, all the earth[1].  This justice is not impartial (though humans are consistently called to be impartial in executing justice, because our tendency is to judge in favour of those who are like us or those who can most benefit us[2]) but is extended especially on behalf of the poor, the outcast and the alien[3].  This theme is brought to a high pitch in the ministry of Jesus[4], and is to be a characteristic of the life of the church[5], just as it was mandated for the people of God in the Old Testament.  At root, God’s justice is designed to ensure right relationships between all peoples, eliminating oppression and enabling all to live with dignity.  We are called to judge others according to their needs; their need for basic material help, for healing, for compassion, for truth, and for Christ himself, and we are sent as Christ was sent to be God’s response to the need of the world.

Holiness

Holiness is another key theme of the scriptures; God is holy, and so God’s people in the Old and New Testament are called to be holy – different to those around them[6].  The difference is not intended to communicate that we are better than others (as in self-righteousness) but is intended to show God’s grace – that he has enabled us to live in a way that declares His character and goodness.  Some of these markers of difference or holiness may seem arbitrary (and indeed, they may well have been so – there’s no point in making something as sensible as not eating poisonous plants into a marker of holiness – everyone does it!) such as the prohibition against mixing fabrics, or the setting aside of a specific day each seven for worship, but each communicated something important about God and his covenants to the people who followed them; thus the keeping separate of different types of crop or different fabrics reflects the goodness of God who created distinct things by ‘separating’ light from dark, earth from sea, male and female, in the beginning[7].  Not drinking or eating blood, but reserving it for sacrifice at the temple, was a reminder that all life (blood=life) is God’s gift, and no-one has authority to take life apart from God – all life belongs to God.  I have already spoken about the call to holiness in the New Testament in terms of sexual relationships, but it was also extended to many other forms of ethical behaviour.  In the Law of Moses, holiness is mostly associated with the law and the keeping of the law, but also with the priesthood, the tabernacle, and its worship at the heart of the law.  Throughout the period of the kings of Israel, as the temple was built in Jerusalem, that focus expanded from the temple to the city around it, and Mount Zion, upon which the city was built – these became ‘holy’ places, places special to God.  In the New Testament, however, holiness is ascribed firstly to the Spirit of God, especially in Jesus Christ[8], to Jesus himself[9], and then, because of the indwelling Spirit and our relationship to Jesus, to the church[10].  The clear consequence of our holy status as a church is that we are to live lives that reflect the character of God, just as the people of Israel were called to do long ago.

Covenant Community

The role of the people of God is an important theme of the scriptures to consider.  When we are considering sexual issues, especially, we are prone to accept the standards of the world around us – that what goes on behind the bedroom door is no-one else’s business.  Unfortunately, privacy has been used to hide and justify terrible abuses, as child protection services and women’s refuges have been telling us for decades.  Sex by its nature is a communal act; our sexual nature impels us to seek out others and to be with them.  Sexual intercourse is an intense form of communion with another that is described as ‘becoming one flesh’ and is the means by which children, and therefore families and societies are brought forth.  Sex is intensely relational, and all societies have regulated sexual relationships in one way or another – the scriptural injunctions for the people of Israel and the people of the New Covenant are examples of this.

As the church, we are called to model the life of Christ’s Kingdom coming.  In this we know that we are unable to stand alone, but need one another for encouragement and accountability; hence the many occasions on which the apostles give counsel, guidance, and admonition to the churches in their charge on ‘private’ matters as well as matters of faith[11].  Our fellowships are often too immature, however, to allow for sharing the often difficult issues of sexuality, and this is a call to us to repent of our self-centredness, and work harder to become the community of the New Covenant that we are called to be.

The Role of the Law

Law in Christian ethics is essential to this debate.  While most agree that we cannot take the Law of the Old Testament, holus-bolus, and import it into Christian ethics, most also agree that it continues to be relevant to how we should live.  One argument[12] for changing the churches perspective regarding homosexuality specifically addresses how we should use the law, saying that we should seek to understand what the purpose of the law is, and then ask whether it has served its purpose – as with temple sacrifices, or the law regarding eunuchs – and is no longer relevant.  The argument notes that Jesus taught that Sabbath observance should be shaped by the purpose of the law (“for man”) and then considers law in Paul’s theology, noting that it is not just that legal observance is not sufficient for salvation[13], but that Paul also relativises the law as regards Christian behaviour in Romans 13:8-10, following directly the lead given by Jesus.[14]  It is immediately obvious, however, that Paul does not assume that ‘love’ implies immorality, and that immorality, for Paul, continues to be strongly defined by OT understandings.  As Grenz suggests, ethical norms such as ‘love’ and ‘justice’ must be informed by the law – he notes that the law does not define love, but provides boundaries within which love , justice, and the other goods of the Bible may be found and expressed[15].


[1] 1 Chron 16:33; Ps 98:9; Is 11:4; Ezek 17:22; Jas 4:12, 5:9

[2] Lev 19:15, 2 Chron 19:6-7; Jas 2:1-4

[3] Ex 22:21-27; Deut 24:12-15, 17-21; 1 Sam 2:7-8; Ps 41:1; 140:12; Pr 14:21 & 31; 19:17; 31:8-9; Is 3:13-15; 10:1-4; Jer 7:6; 22:15-17; Ezek 22.7; Amos 2:6-7; 5:10-13; Zech 7:8-11;

[4] Matt 11:5; 19:21; 25:31-46; Mk 5:25-33; 7:25-30; 10:13-16; Lk 4:18; 6:20; 7:22, 13:10-17; 36-50; 14:13, 21; 18:45-33; 19:1-10; John 4:7-42; 8:1-11;

[5] Acts 4:32-37; Rom 15:26; 1 Cor 11:21-22; 2 Cor 9; Gal 2:10; Eph 4:28; Jas 2:1-7, 14-17

[6] Lev 11:44-45; 19:2; 20:26; Deut 7:6; 14:2, 21; Jos 24:19-25; Ezra 9:1-4; Is 35:8; 52:1;  57:15; Ezek 22:26; 44:23; Zech 14:20-21;

[7] Scholars tell us that the same ‘priestly’ stream of thought that led to the writing of Genesis 1 is also found in the ‘holiness code’ of Leviticus 17 – 26 (L. R. Bailey 2005) See the section on Leviticus for more info about this .

[8] Matt 1:18, 20; 3:11; Mk 1:8; Lk 1:15, 35; 3:22; 4:1; John 1:3;

[9] Mk 1:24, Acts 3:14; 13:35; Rev 3.7

[10] Jn 20:21-23; Rom 12.1; 15:16; 1 Cor 3:17; Eph 1:3-4; Col 3:12; 1 Pet 1:15-16; 2:1-21; 1 Jn 2:20

[11] Acts 15; 1 Cor 5 & 7; Eph 5:21-31; 1 Pet 3:1-7;

[12] (Lee, What I Believe n.d.)

[13] The place of Jewish law in Paul’s writing is very complex, but see, e.g. Rom 3.21-28; Gal 2:16; Eph 2:15; Phil 3:9;

[14] Mark 12:28-34; // Matt 22:34-40; Lk 10:25-28, cf John 13:34; 15:12

[15] (Grenz 1998, 97 – 98)

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