Matthew Vines has written a very thought-provoking book, one which exemplifies sound thinking and humble research. In reading his book, I often found myself rubbing my eyes thinking, “I can’t believe this guy hasn’t even graduated from college!”
Matthew, you’re a diligent student of God’s word and I appreciate the work you put into this.
In any case, while I love to eat catfish and wear poly-cotton blends, I still believe that the prohibitions of male homosexual intercourse in Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 are still valid today.
To argue that the laws regarding male homosexual intercourse are no longer binding on Christians, Vines cites a few outdated laws in Leviticus: sowing fields with different seeds (Lev 19:19), wearing clothes made of mixed fabric (19:19), getting tattoos (19:28), and shaving the edges of your beard (19:27). Vines also points out that laws regarding circumcision and dietary laws—bye, bye Shrimp Cocktail—are no longer binding on Christians.
So, since all of these laws are done away with in Christ, it’s probable, argues Vines, that the sexual laws about male-male intercourse are no longer binding as well.
Once again, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate Matthew’s tone. It’s gracious. Cordial. Humble. And he actually addresses the “what about…” questions that conservatives will have. I often found myself thinking, “Ah ha, but what about…oh…you actually address that. But, have you considered…oh…um…you actually have.”
In any case, there are problems with Matthew’s treatment of Leviticus 18 and 20.
While Matthew highlights the laws of Leviticus that are no longer valid for Christians, he fails to make mention of all the laws that are clearly still binding. In fact, as I’m sure Matthew knows, Leviticus 18-20 is a distinct literary unit. These three chapters are like one long chapter in the book. And this section lists tons of laws that the Israelites were supposed to obey if they were to get along with each other. Now here’s the thing: while some of these laws are clearly overturned (or fulfilled) in the New Testament, most of them are not.
Most of the laws in Leviticus 18-20 are binding on believers. Matthew only cites a few that aren’t; but here are the rest: incest (Lev 18:6-18; 20:11-14, 17, 19-21), adultery (Lev 18:20; 20:10), child sacrifice (Lev 18:21; 20:1-5), bestiality (Lev 18:23; 20:15-16), theft (Lev 19:11), lying (Lev 19:11), taking the Lord’s name in vain (Lev 19:20), oppressing your neighbor (Lev 19:13), cursing the deaf (19:14), showing partiality in the court of law (Lev 19:15), slander (Lev 19:16), hating your brother (19:17), making your daughter a prostitute (Lev 19:29), turning to witches or necromancers (Lev 19:31), not taking vengeance (Lev 19:17), and loving your neighbor as yourself (Lev 19:18).
While Matthew correctly points out a few laws that are most probably done away with in Christ, he doesn’t even mention the large pile of commands that are clearly binding on Christians—commands that surround the prohibition of male-male intercourse.
Now, to be fair, adding up the valid and invalid laws that surround the homosexual prohibitions doesn’t seal the deal—even if the homosexual prohibitions are drowning in a sea of valid laws. (I do think it puts the burden of proof on affirming scholars, however.) Vines ends up bringing in another argument: the moral logic of homosexual prohibitions.
Discerning the “moral logic” of a command means that we dig deep underneath the actual command to find out the reason for the command. Take tattoos, for instance. The question isn’t so much if tattoos are forbidden, but why they are forbidden. And if you look closely at Leviticus 19:28, you’ll see that tattoos were forbidden because they had to do with some sort of cult of the dead. The tattoos that were forbidden for the Israelites were cultic and pagan; they symbolized allegiance to other gods. And that’s the “moral logic” for the prohibition.
But what about gay sex? What’s the moral logic underlying the prohibitions? Gay sex is clearly forbidden—but why? And are the reasons for the prohibition still valid today?
Vines argues extensively that the reason—the moral logic—for the homosexual prohibitions in Lev 18:22 and 20:13 is because of an assumed male hierarchy. That is, men were valued above women, and when men have sex with other men, they treat the passive partner as a mere woman.
One problem: Nowhere in the context of Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 does the text assume some sort of gender hierarchy—that females were inferior to males and that’s why men shouldn’t assume the female role in sex. Nothing. (The phrase “as with a female” only speaks of gender boundaries, not gender hierarchy.) The two prohibitions are “unqualified and absolute” (Gagnon); that is, they simply say that men shouldn’t have sex with men. Period. There is no “moral logic” revealed in the command (just as there is no clear moral logic revealed in the incest laws, though I suspect God gave the commands for similar reasons.) The only hint of moral logic is that men shouldn’t violate their God-given gender roles in sexual intercourse; that is, men should have sex with women, and women sex with men. The command tells men not to have sex with men “as with women.” In any case, assuming some sort of hidden gender hierarchy as the reason for the prohibition is…well…an assumption. An assumption that’s not in the text.
Moreover, every single other sexual prohibition in Leviticus 18 and 20 are still valid for Christians today: adultery, incest, bestiality, etc. They are all valid. Now, Vines points out, or assumes, that the prohibition of sex during a woman’s menstrual period (Lev 19:19) is no longer valid; apparently, men can have all the sex they want during a woman’s period. But my question is: where in the New Testament is this command overturned? Is there any biblical basis—biblical basis—for assuming that men can have sex while their wives are on their period? I’m having troubling recalling a verse, and I can’t explain theologically how it is that Jesus “fulfilled” (yikes!) this prohibition.
So, the point stands: all the prohibitions surrounding sexual immorality in Leviticus 18 and 20 including incest, adultery, sex during menstruation, and male homosexual intercourse—along with a whole host of over commands in Lev 18-20—are still binding on Christians. There’s simply nothing in the context of Leviticus 18 and 20, or in the New Testament, that suggests otherwise.