Posts Tagged Genesis

ANZAC Day

This is from my weekly church newsletter, sent yesterday…
Tomorrow is ANZAC day, and we remember those who have served our nation in the armed services. Regardless of what we think about war and peace, and whether it is ever ok for Christians to take up arms, I believe it is right to respect those who, in good conscience, put their lives on the line for the sake of their nation. Having said that, I also know that most young people who enter the armed services have far less altruistic motives in doing so, and the reality of life in the services is usually a long way from saintly. So let’s remember that there have been occasions in which our nations young people have found themselves called upon to make supreme sacrifices – and many of them have responded with what can only be described as heroism. And let’s also reflect upon what we actually mean by heroism…

I wrote here about how our normal human fascination with power for its own sake leads us to cast our heroes in the shape of Superman, who, for all his moral qualities, is ultimately described as ‘super’ simply because of his physical power. In other words, because he’s the biggest boy in the playground. If there is no God, or if the gods are those of the pagans, then that is not only normal, but right. Nietzsche’s logic on this point is fairly compelling – though it drove him to despair. BUT believing in the God of the scriptures is to encounter a God who moderated the law of the jungle – from “If you injure me, I will kill you!” (Lamech – Genesis 4:24) to “An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth – and no more than that!” (Exodus 21:24) and then the radical teaching of Jesus in Matthew 5:38-40, directly contradicting this older law with his command to “turn the other cheek.” And then there was Jesus’ own demonstration of this different way of living; living without retaliation. Though, as he said, he could have called down “twelve legions of angels” in his defence, he was more concerned that his followers should do no violence, telling Peter to “put up your sword – those who live by the sword, die by the sword.” (Matt 26:52-53) Jesus submitted to extraordinary indignities for the sake of God’s mission – our salvation. And his life was consistent with his own teaching; he breathed forgiveness for his enemies in his dying moments.

This is not the heroic superman of our culture. He does not overcome violence with more violence, but with self-sacrifice. He trusts God to hold him, even in death, and to bring goodness out of the cruelty and senselessness of the cross. How often are we willing to trust God for justice? How often are we prepared for him to offer mercy to those who harm us – or even to offer that mercy ourselves, in his name? How often are we willing to let go of revenge – even just the satisfaction of being proved right. Paul teaches us that “we proclaim Christ – and him crucified; a scandal to the Jews and foolishness to the gentiles.” (1 Cor 1:23). So it is today, too. Jesus, and his apparent ‘failure’ as messiah doesn’t look attractive to a world that worships technology and wealth and health and power. But those who enjoy these things know also that none of these things satisfies. Many are actually willing, in their quiet moments, to consider the claims of the crucified to offer a better way. We can make him available to them, not by trying to be as powerful, and wealthy, and slick as the world around us, but by living fully in the Spirit of the Jesus we follow. We can make Jesus known to our friends and neighbours by following him more nearly, loving him more dearly, and seeing him more clearly, day by day. We can make Jesus known by knowing him better ourselves. That won’t happen if we attach ourselves to the blinding, soul-sapping idols of the world.

Tomorrow we remember those who have fallen for our sake. Many of them would say to us that the hero they most tried to be like was the one who laid down his life for his friends. Not necessarily the fastest marksman or the hardest fighter. Let us remember them with honour, and let us remember – and love – our Risen Lord with great glory.

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The Bible and Homosexuality: Some Old Testament Passages

The Biblical passages specifically referring to Homosexuality

These passages are examined below in their order of importance to us.   One commentator[1] has noted that if we focus exclusively upon the biblical texts that seem most relevant to the issue at hand, however, we allow the issue to define our approach; we need to come at the issue not just by asking what the bible tells us about homosexuality, but also what the bible tells us about who God is, what Jesus has done, what the role of the church is, and what we expect to happen next.  Please bear these considerations in mind as we examine the specific texts before us, and the debate around them.

Genesis 19 and Judges 19 are the best-known and most frequently referred-to texts relating to homosexuality.  As they are both lengthy narratives I haven’t included them here, but the various versions all convey essentially the same facts; in both instances overnight hospitality is offered to a traveller, then the men of the town besiege the home where the traveller is staying, and demand that the guest is handed over so that they might ‘know’ him.  In both cases women are offered instead.  In the Genesis account (Sodom) the virgin daughters of Lot are not accepted as a trade, and the guests (angels in disguise) render the townspeople harmless for the night by striking them blind.  The next day the town is destroyed by God[2].  In the Judges story (Gibeah) the host offers his virgin daughter, and the traveller (a Levite) offers his concubine to the importunate townspeople; the concubine is thrust outside and they rape her until dawn.  She is then dismembered and her body used to illustrate the iniquity of Gibeah.  This sparks a civil war, leading almost to the destruction of the tribe of Benjamin.

While some go so far as to say that homosexual actions are not mentioned in these stories at all, they are not convincing.  Usually the argument runs that the word ‘know’ does not imply sexual activity, but refers to the suspicion of the townspeople towards strangers, and their desire to interrogate the visitors.  Against this, most commentators[3] set the offer (refused in the one story and accepted in the other) of women as substitutes for the men – hardly satisfactory if the intent was to glean information from them.  The abuse of the Levite’s concubine confirms that their intent was sexual violation.  It also shows us that specifically homosexual sex was not their objective.  Most commentators go on to say that while the attempted rape was homosexual it is not, therefore, a blanket condemnation of homosexual behaviour – any more than the offer to substitute a young woman should be seen as condoning giving up our daughters to sexual violence!  Clearly gang rape is condemned, and it is very likely that the homosexual nature of the rape was seen to add to its abhorrence, as homosexual rape was sometimes used to humiliate conquered enemies in ancient near eastern cultures.  Very few serious biblical commentators among liberals or conservatives look to the Sodom story or to the Gibeah parallel for a biblical perspective on homosexuality.

Sodom in the Scriptures:  This is confirmed by the way in which other bible writers refer to Sodom; Isaiah links Sodom’s judgement to injustice and arrogance; Jeremiah to false prophecy and Idolatry, as does Ezekiel, who also specifies pride, wealth, lack of compassion, and ‘doing abominable things’.  Amos talks of her oppression of the poor and needy, Zephaniah of her taunting and boasting, and, in Matthew, Jesus compares her fate to those of the cities who have rejected the Gospel.  In Luke he talks of her as an example of the suddenness of God’s judgement. In 2 Peter, Sodom is an example of God’s judgement upon those who are “licentious”, “lawless”, “who indulge their flesh in depraved lust, and who despise authority.”  In Jude they are again an example of God’s judgement and are described as indulging in sexual immorality and “pursuing unnatural lust” or, more literally “going after other flesh”.  As conservative commentator Richard Hays points out[4], the Jude reference could hardly be a reference to homosexual desire; to go after “other (Greek = hetero) flesh” is precisely what homosexuality is not.  Given that immediately before the Sodom and Gommorah reference, Jude alludes to the Genesis 6 story of angels seeking intercourse with human women, it seems more likely that the next verse is a reference to the men of Sodom seeking intercourse with angels – distinctly ‘other’ flesh!   Jude also mentions ‘sexual immorality’ and Peter talks of ‘licentiousness’, and ‘depraved lust’, but these terms don’t point specifically towards homosexuality, though they may include it.  Similarly, Ezekiel may have had in mind the ‘abomination’ of homosexuality (see on Leviticus 18 and 20 below) but neither does he specify it, and probably wanted to imply a wide range of abominations rather than fix upon one.  So we can see that the biblical writers only sometimes saw sexual sin as one among the many sins of Sodom, and when they did it was not specifically homosexual sin that was in view[5].

It is not until Philo, a Hellenistic Jew around the time of Christ, that Sodom came to be associated specifically with homosexual sin, and it was from Philo that the early Church Fathers took most of their cues in discussing both Sodom and homosexuality.  This tradition may be venerable, but it is not biblical.  We may not take the sins of Sodom to include homosexuality per se.  Homosexual gang rape, is condemned, and is clearly a sin, but it cannot be made into the pretext for a blanket condemnation of all homosexual activity any more than the condemnation of heterosexual rape can be made the pretext for rejecting all heterosexual activity.

Deut 23.17-18, 1 Kings 14:24, 15:12, 22:46; 2 Kings 23:7 and maybe Job 36.14 all refer to what was probably temple prostitution.  There is considerable controversy among the scholars as to whether the prostitution was, in fact, associated with idolatry, and again, more argument as to whether or not it was homosexual prostitution[6], but all agree that it is prostitution that is referred to.  Again, these texts are not especially relevant to our discussion as we cannot generalise from homosexual prostitution (idolatrous or not) to all homosexual relationships any more than we can generalise from heterosexual prostitution to all heterosexual relationships.  What is condemned here is prostitution, not homosexuality.


[1] (Redding 2000)

[2] If you aren’t familiar with the story, you need to know that God’s destruction of Sodom (and the sister city of Gomorrah) was not specifically because of the actions narrated in the Genesis 19 story, but that he had already decreed it’s destruction because of their many sins.  The events of the final night were final evidence of those sins, but not the complete cause of God’s wrath.

[3] eg (Scroggs 1983) (Hays 1996)

[4] (Hays 1996, 381)

[5] “…for Rabbis of this [post-biblical] period, Sodom symbolised evil in general, pride and economic violence most particularly, and, only in one possible instance, homosexual lust.” (Scroggs 1983, 81)

[6] (Scroggs 1983, 71)

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