Archives For Jesus

What did Jesus think about homosexuality? While we can’t cite a verse to show that He affirmed or condemned same-sex love, I argued in my last post that Jesus’s Jewish worldview suggests that He probably would not have affirmed it.

For this post, I want to answer another question raised at the end of my last post: “What about Jesus’s disregard for purity laws (washing hands, eating pork, etc.) and His radical, counterintuitive outreach to the outcasts?”

First, we’ve already seen in a previous post that it’s not at all clear that same-sex intercourse was considered a purity law in the Old Testament. For the sake of space, I’ll rely on my previous argument. In short, not all laws in Leviticus 18 and 20 are classified as purity laws, and Paul, who did not embrace OT purity laws still alluded to Lev 18:22 and 20:13 to prohibit same-sex intercourse.

Hebrew BibleSecond, it’s also not clear that Jesus rejected the purity laws of the Old Testament. He certainly challenged some Jewish traditions of His day; traditions about the Sabbath law, washing hands, etc. But it’s far from clear that Jesus actually broke, or taught others to break, the sacred laws of the Jewish Torah. In fact, His words in Matthew 5:17-20 suggest otherwise. Now, there are a few instances where Jesus seems to overturn (or bring to fulfillment) a prior OT law, such as divorce (Matt 5:31-32) and retaliation (Matt 5:38-42). (The Sabbath law is a bit tricky; Matt 12.) But in these cases, Jesus cites the OT law directly. He never does this with the laws regarding same-sex intercourse. Put simply, if we say that Jesus overturned the sexual laws prohibiting same-sex intercourse (Lev 18:22; 20:13), we’d need clear evidence—evidence which we don’t have.

I’m genuinely not trying to push an agenda here, and if you read all my previous blogs, I hope this shines through. But if I’m going to enlist Jesus to support same-sex relations against His Jewish worldview, I’m going to need a good, biblical, historical, and logical argument to do so. And unless I’m missing something, such an argument cannot be found in saying that since prohibitions of same-sex intercourse are part of the purity laws (which they aren’t), Jesus therefore overturned these OT laws (which he didn’t).

Third, to add to this, we should notice that even though Jesus never mentioned homosexuality, when it came to sexual matters in general, He took a very conservative stance compared to other rabbis of the day.

For instance, ancient rabbis disagreed on the grounds for divorce. Some (e.g. Hillel) said that a man could divorce his wife if she made a bad meal, while others (e.g. Shammai) said that divorce is only permitted if the woman has committed sexual immorality. Jesus, of course, is much closer to the latter; that is, he takes the conservative view that divorce is only permitted in cases of sexual immorality.

Jesus also takes a crazy conservative stance on adultery: anyone who simply lusts for a woman has committed adultery in his heart (Matt 5:27-30).

When Jesus moves away from His Jewish tradition regarding sexual matters (and we need textual evidence for such moves), we see Him moving to the right (a stricter interpretation of Torah) not the left (more lenient interpretation of Torah).

But let me end by pointing out a somewhat flawed argument offer by my conservative audience. Some say that since Jesus only sanctioned heterosexual love within marriage, He therefore condemned homosexual love. For instance, in Mark 10:6-8 Jesus says:

But from the beginning of creation, “God made them male and female.” “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”

Jesus cites Gen 1:27 and 2:24 as Scriptural proof—but proof for what? Some people say that this is clear proof that Jesus was against homosexual relations. Some will then add the ever clever, knee-slapping hilarious, and studiously logical footnote that “God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve,” which is neither clever, nor hilarious, nor logical. (Seriously, I hope that my Christian brothers and sisters will never, ever, ever say this stupid line, ever, ever again; it ignores biblical exegesis, showcases Evangelical ignorance, and isn’t, and never has been, funny.)

But Jesus’s positive affirmation of heterosexual union does not in itself preclude same-sex union. Although I disagree with 90% of his book, Daniel Helminiak is correct when he writes: “The fact that the Bible speaks often and positively about heterosexual relationships in no way implies a condemnation of homosexual ones” (What the Bible Really Says about Homosexuality, 122). Moreover, Jesus cites Genesis 1-2 to show that divorce is wrong, not that same-sex relations are wrong. If we go on the explicit reason why Jesus went to Gen 1-2, that reason is clearly not homosexual love (which is ironic when divorced Christians cite the verse to condemn homosexual unions).

Now, please don’t confuse my disagreement with this argument as proof that I disagree with the view it’s enlisted to support. From what I’ve studied so far, I don’t think the Bible sanctions same sex intercourse (or marriage), and Jesus’s silence on the issue cannot be used to support it. But I only want my view (wherever I end up landing in the end) to be based on solid, logical, historically viable arguments from the text of Scripture. I will not race to find it under every rock and tree, chapter and verse.

For the next post, I’ll look at Jesus’s view of unconditional love. Does His embrace of harlot and sinner show that His love is poured out regardless of behavior?

Jesus & Homosexuality

Preston Sprinkle —  October 1, 2013 — 12 Comments

If we simply follow what Jesus said about same-sex relationships, we’re going to be a bit disappointed. In all of His commands about how we should live or not live, many of which included sexual behavior, one thing is unambiguously clear: Jesus never mentioned homosexuality. He neither condemned it nor affirmed it.

But why? And what does Jesus’s silence on the issue mean for the contemporary debate?

For some interpreters, this means that Jesus at the very least was indifferent towards same sex relationships. At the most, He must have been okay with them. In fact, we all know that Jesus rejected the purity laws of the Old Testament (Mark 7; Matt 15), and since prohibitions against same-sex (male) intercourse were part of these purity laws, we can assume that Jesus would have rejected laws against same-sex intercourse as well.

We also know that Jesus reached out to the marginalized and outcasts. And since the LGBT community are today’s outcasts, Jesus would have reached out to them with unconditional love, as he did with the prostitutes and tax collectors in His day. The life, ministry, and teaching of Jesus, therefore, launches us on a trajectory that enables—or compels—us to celebrate same-sex monogamous relationships centered on Christ. Or so the argument goes.

As I sum up this argument, some of you are cheering while others may be angry. But regardless of how you feel about it, you need to do more than just agree or disagree. Disagreement, for instance, isn’t the same as refutation; you must do the hard work of the latter in order to convincingly accomplish the former.

So where do I stand? Well, wherever I stand I need to have a lot of evidence under my feet. So this post may feel a little thick with information, but I believe it’s necessary for such an important issue.

Let’s first unpack Jesus’s silence on homosexuality. Does this mean that He was indifferent (at the least) or affirming (at the most)?

No. And quite honestly—regardless of where you or I stand on the broader issue of homosexuality—this is a terrible argument. It’s about as bad as conservatives using the Sodom story to argue against homosexuality. Put simply: Jesus was silent on issues that were well established in his Jewish context, ones which both He and His contemporaries agreed upon. If Jesus departed from His Jewish tradition, He usually makes this very clear.

So what does Jesus’s Jewish tradition say? Here’s a brief summary.

In the Torah, the only reference to same-sex intercourse (Lev 18:22; 20:13) prohibits it. And for reasons given in previous posts, I don’t think these prohibitions can be relegated to cult prostitution, rape, or other forms of non-consensual sex.

Jewish tradition between 200 B.C. and A.D. 200 seems to agree with this reading of the sacred Torah. Both Philo and Josephus clearly prohibit same-sex intercourse (Philo, Contempl. Life, 59-62; Abr. 135-136; Josephus, Ant. 1.200; Against Apion 2.199; 2.275). On at least one occasion, Philo cites Lev 18:22 and 20:13 in support (Laws 3:37-42). Josephus goes so far as to prohibit not just same-sex intercourse, but same-sex marriage (Against Apion 2.199).

Other Jewish writers agree. The second century (B.C.) book, The Letter of Aristeas, views homosexual acts as sin (Arist. 152), and the first-century (A.D.) work Pseudo-Phocylides prohibits same-sex intercourse on several occasions (Ps. Phoc. 3, 190-91, 213-14) and even includes same-sex relations among women (Ps. Phoc. 192), which was rarely talked about in the ancient world. Other references to Jewish prohibition of same-sex intercourse are scattered throughout ancient literature (Sib. Or. 3.596-600; T.Levi 17:11).

All of these texts are from “early Jewish” literature; that is, pre-rabbinic texts written before A.D. 200. These early Jewish texts were written right around the time when Jesus lived so they are the best witnesses to the Judaism of Jesus’s day. Now, beginning in A.D. 200, Jewish rabbis began to write down their own traditions, and this has been codified in various works known as the Mishnah, the Talmud, the Tosefta, and many others. Throughout these later works, male-male sex continues to be condemned with the same clarity (m. Sanhedrin 7:4; b. Sanhedrin 54ab; t. Abodah Zarah 2:1; 3:2; and many others), while lesbian sex is prohibited but with less severity (b. Yebam. 76a; Sabb. 65a-b; y. Gittin 8:10, 49c). This probably has to do with the primacy of the male organ, but I’ll save you the details.

There is no evidence in 500 years of Jewish tradition on either side of Jesus suggesting that homosexual sex was up for debate. Rather, Jesus’s Jewish worldview—testified by many diverse sources, written by different authors living in different geographical regions, some of whom actually saw many positive things in the Greco-Roman worldview (e.g. Philo, Pseudo-Phocylides)—prohibited it.

So that’s a long way of pointing out that Jesus didn’t mention same-sex intercourse because He didn’t need to. Within Judaism, there was no debate; there was unanimous agreement; no one was wondering whether or not same-sex intercourse was okay.

Likewise, Jesus’s silence regarding bestiality doesn’t mean that He’s fine with men mounting sheep.

Jesus’s silence regarding incest doesn’t mean that He’d affirm hooking up with your mom as long as it was confined to a monogamous, consensual, Christ-centered marriage.

Jesus didn’t preach to the choir. He didn’t address issues where He and His contemporary Jews agreed. So, based on what seems to be a historically logical conclusion, I don’t think that Jesus’s silence regarding same-sex love means He affirmed it.

But this is only one part of the argument! What about Jesus’s disregard for purity laws (washing hands, eating pork, etc.) and His radical, counterintuitive outreach to the outcasts? Should this nudge the church to embrace the LGBT community?

Maybe it should. We’ll see in the next post.

The Foot-Washing God

Mark Beuving —  September 11, 2013 — 2 Comments

“Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him.” – John 13:3–5

FootwashingThis passage has fascinated Christians throughout church history. Jesus washing his disciples’ feet has been an enigmatic gesture. We duplicate it from time to time at weddings or in church services. Other times we try to get at the heart of servitude behind it, imitating the spirit of foot-washing.

We all seem to recognize that this is a powerful act that Jesus performed.

Consider what Jesus did here. Foot-washing isn’t what it used to be (nostalgic sigh). At the risk of sounding vain, you could wash my feet without being too repulsed. But I don’t walk consistently long distances over consistently dusty and pack-animal fecesed roads wearing only sandals like everyone in the first century. I can say with confidence that Jesus bent down and washed some nasty feet that day.

And then think about John’s wording. With the realization that “the Father had given all things into his hands,” that “he had come from God,” and that “he was going back to God,” Jesus took the natural next step. He got up, swapped out his clothes for a servant’s towel, and did a servant’s duty.

Jesus wasn’t performing some symbolic gesture to identify himself as the kind of person who serves. No, Jesus actually did what a servant does. He was a servant in that moment. And in that moment, he had the full realization that all power belonged to him. He worked as a servant knowing full well that he came from the universe’s throne and was heading back to it shortly.

And here’s the craziest part of the whole thing for me. Judas was at that dinner party. John carefully explains that this foot-washing scene took place “when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him” (v. 2). Which means that this is a bit different than a husband washing his wife’s feet during a wedding ceremony (are a wife’s feet ever cleaner than on her wedding day?). Jesus (in the moment he knew he had all power) literally became the servant of his most bitter enemy (in the moment Satan was most influencing him).

Dante placed Judas in the worst circle of hell. Jesus washed his feet.

Why did Jesus do this? Here’s his explanation:

“If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master” (vv. 14–16).

Jesus became a servant—actually performing the actually degrading actual work of an actual servant—so that we would learn to do the same. “A servant is not greater than his master.” But how many of us are “greater” than Jesus in this regard? Maybe we would perform a symbolic foot-washing of already clean feet. But no way would we actually do what an actual servant does. No way would we degrade ourselves to help the fully capable churchgoers around us. And NO WAY would we do anything to bless our enemies, especially not a sacrificial act that puts us to shame even as it brings them honor. We’re better than that.

But Jesus wasn’t. And he tells us not to be.

 

Money

The rich young man in Mark 10 approached Jesus with the most important question imaginable: What must I do to inherit eternal life? With so many in our modern world caught up in fleeting pleasures and superficial pursuits, this man’s question is refreshing. This guy knows what’s important in life and he’s looking to the right source to find the answer!

But take a closer look. Perhaps this young man isn’t on the right track after all. He approaches Jesus as the “Good Teacher.” He has a theological question to discuss, and he approaches Jesus as a noted theologian.

Jesus’ first step is to correct the young man’s view of him. Jesus is indeed a teacher, but he is not interested in merely satisfying theological curiosities. Jesus points to his deity (“only God is good”) and in doing so draws attention to his right to make demands of this young man. He lets the man know that he can teach him the truth, but he will also call him to follow. This is more than the rich young man bargained for.

Jesus points out that the answer to the man’s question is simple: “You know the commandments.” What this man needs is not further instruction. He needs to obey. He needs to follow. “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”

Jesus statement here might seem odd. Is he calling this man to perform a good work and thereby obtain salvation? Of course not. Jesus is cutting directly to the heart. This man is not ready for salvation. One thing is lacking. And it has nothing to do with knowledge. It has everything to do with his allegiance.

Jesus effectively points to this man’s wealth as his god. If you want eternal life, it comes from only one source. So get rid of those things that tie you to the false god, and follow me instead.

The rich young man’s response shows that he was not ready to follow Jesus. He knew he wasn’t ready—that’s why he walked away disheartened and sorrowful. But before we take too harsh a view of this young man, we have to look at the response of Jesus’ disciples.

Jesus explained that it is very difficult for the rich to change their allegiance from their wealth and power to follow instead the humble Jesus. We might be tempted to ask how wealthy a person has to be before he falls into this category. But the disciples understood what Jesus was saying. They were “amazed at his words” and “exceedingly astonished.” They asked Jesus, “Then who can be saved?”

They didn’t ask why the rich couldn’t be saved or which rich people he was referring to. They saw the broad implications: who can be saved? The disciples felt the sting in Jesus’ words.

Our churches are filled with the rich young man. We are all the rich young man. If the one thing this man lacked was an absolute devotion to following a Person rather than intellectual agreement with theological beliefs, then we can all identify with him, regardless of our assets. We all find it impossible to let go our commitment to our goals, commitment to our dreams, commitment to ourselves.

But Jesus’ answer to the disciples’ question gives us hope: “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.”

If Jesus were to walk up to you today and tell you, “You lack one thing,” how would he finish that sentence? If Jesus looked beyond your intellectual fascination with Christianity and pointed to that one thing (or those many things) that hold you back from following him—not in intellectual curiosity but in actual obedience—what would he be pointing at? And would you be ready to let go and follow?

 

 

We sometimes view the gospel stories as fairytales. When Jesus called his first disciples, for example, we might picture Jesus floating up to them, with a halo softly glowing over his head, putting his soon-to-be disciples into a religious trance as he says, “Follow me.”

But as Jesus called his disciples, the situations are real and concrete. Peter, James, and John are fishing together—just another day at the office. Levi is sitting at his tax booth collecting (and over-collecting) the tax money his fellow Jews owe to the Roman government. Jesus walked into these everyday situations, feet firmly pressed to the ground, and gave a simple but demanding call: “Follow me.”

Peter, James, and John got a taste of who Jesus was as he directed them into a miraculously burdensome catch of fish. James and John were amazed; Peter actually fell on his knees and confessed his sin on the spot. Jesus offered them a new vocation: they would now fish for people. It seems that Matthew simply saw Jesus walk up to his tax booth and heard Jesus speak two words: “Follow me.” That’s not a lot to go on.

Jesus’ call is incredibly vague in both cases. What would it mean for these fishermen to now fish for men? What would this tax collector be doing when he began following? Remember that the disciples didn’t receive their Great Commission—where Jesus told them to make disciples of all nations—until after he rose from the grave. When Jesus called them, he didn’t give them a job description or a specific task for them to work on other than the vague statement that they would be fishing for people.

This means that following Jesus is more about the Person than the task. These disciples were not rallying behind a movement or a cause. They were intrigued by a Person. They didn’t know with any detail what Jesus was calling them to, but there was something about Jesus that made him worth following, regardless of the specifics. In other words, it seems that these disciples would have followed Jesus no matter what he called them to.

We get frequent reminders in the gospels that the disciples didn’t sign up because they loved Jesus’ mission. They often seem confused when he tells them that he will die and rise again. When Jesus is arrested, they all scatter. Peter is bold enough to follow Jesus to the trial, but his noble quest ends in a threefold denial. Jesus’ game plan could not have been the driving factor for these disciples.

LifeboatBut in the disciples we see men who were willing to follow a Person. Peter, James, and John immediately pulled their boats to the shore for the last time and “left everything and followed him.” Jesus had only to speak two words to Matthew and “leaving everything, he rose and followed him.” Though the disciples were initially confused by Jesus’ mission, when Jesus rose from the dead and told them to bring the gospel into the whole world, they did exactly that, as the book of Acts records.

This leaves us with a question. Are we so intrigued by the Person of Jesus that we would follow him regardless of what he asks us to do? If the story of your calling was listed in the gospels right after Matthew’s, what would it say? If Jesus walked into your place of work and told you to follow, what would you need to set down and leave behind in order to follow? Can you honestly say that you are so committed to Jesus—not as an idea, but as a Person—that you would take up the call to follow? Be honest here: what hesitations would you have in accepting a vague call to follow? What things would you be frightened to give up? And most importantly of all, having heard Jesus’ call to follow, would you take that first step and follow your Master into the unknown?