Skip to comments.Jesus, Marriage, and Homosexuality
Posted on 06/29/2013 12:30:27 PM PDT by NYer
In the wake of the Supreme Court’s decisions striking down the substance of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and California’s Proposition 8, Jesus’ opinionor lack thereofon homosexuality has received renewed attention. In a crass fundraising email running the risk of violating the Second Commandment, Mike Huckabee wrote, “My immediate thoughts on the SCOTUS ruling that determined that same sex marriage is okay: ‘Jesus wept,’” while social media ran rampant with memes of Catholic comedian Stephen Colbert’s words from a show in early May 2012: “And I right now would like to read to you what the Jesus said about homosexuality. I’d like to, except he never said anything about it.”
Colbert’s claim is common, and it’s effective because it’s true: Jesus did not directly address the matter. But it does not follow that Jesus’ words and example have no relevance for marriage, sex, and family, nor that modern Christians should approve of gay marriage. A few observations:
First, Jesus was a Jew who inherited Jewish Scripture and tradition. Jesus did not drop out of the sky to bring a brand new set of moral teachings de novo. If he did, perhaps his apparent lack of attention to sex and sexuality would be striking. But the Jesus of the Gospelsespecially Matthew, the First Gospel in so many significant waysis a conservative Jew, as was in all likelihood the so-called historical Jesus behind the Gospels. And whether we're talking about the historical Jesus or the Jesus of the Gospels, Jesus stands well within the breadth of Jewish tradition. Thus, it's not true that things Jesus doesn't spend an inordinate amount of time on or doesn't mention are unimportant. Rather, we should assume that those things in Jewish tradition which Jesus doesn't overturn or reinterpret are assumed. Sure, Jesus doesn't outright forbid homosexual practices in the Gospels. But he doesn't have to, because Jesus' Judaism did.
Assuming that religion is a matter of prohibitions, in debates over sexuality people often assume that Jesus came simply to forbid certain behaviors, and if he didn't forbid something, it's therefore licit. The principle would be "Scripture permits anything not expressly forbidden." But why assume that hermeneutical posture? One could also assume that if Jesus didn't positively affirm something, it ought not be done: "Scripture forbids anything not expressly enjoined." The fundamental problem consists in assuming that Jesus came simply, or chiefly, to condemn or approve of certain behaviors, as if the Gospels could be reduced to a mere rulebook for life, a code of ethics. Thinking this way rips the richness of the Gospels to shreds and leaves us with a boring bourgeois Jesus easily exploited by Western bourgeois liberals. We'd do better to read Kant on the metaphysics of morals and have more fun enduring his difficult German than to consider such a tedious Christ.
Second, relative to other positions ancient and modern, Jesus maintains a radical position on marriage, rooting his view in creation. In his teaching on marriage in Matthew 19, Jesus ups the ante over his Jewish contemporaries. Rabbi Shammai taught that a man could divorce his wife only for adultery. Rabbi Hillel on the other hand taught a man could divorce his wife for many reasons. And later, Rabbi Akiva famously taught that a man could divorce his wife for any reason, "even if he find one fairer than she." In Matthew 19, Jesus is asked whether a man can divorce his wife for "any cause." Jesus replies:
Have you not read that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female [Genesis 1:27], and said, "For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh" [Genesis 2:24]? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder.
Hence the Catholic belief that religious divorce is a metaphysical impossibility given the indissolubility of the sacrament of marriage, and the historic Protestant unease with divorce, until recently.
Jesus' teaching is rooted in creation, a category incumbent upon us all, lest we wish to be Gnostics. Jesus alludes to Genesis 1 and quotes from Genesis 2, and when the Pharisees then ask him to explain just what Moses meant in Deuteronomy 24:1ff when he commanded one to give a wife a certificate of divorce when putting her away, Jesus doubles down on Genesis:
For your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning [Genesis 1:1] it was not so.
"From the beginning it was not so." Jesus' teaching is rooted in Genesis, as Genesis 1 and 2 are foundational for marriage. Moses' concession in the "second law" of Deuteronomy is part of a law code constraining and restraining a reckless and recalcitrant people, and thus Jesus can leapfrog over it back to Genesis 1-2 now that he himself has brought the power to do the demanding things he himself as God on earth demands; he is Emmanuel, God with us (Matthew 1:23) and has promised that he is with the Church always, even to the consummation of the age (Matthew 28:20). Because he is "with us," we are empowered to live out marriage as Christ intends.
Third, in adverting to the creation accounts of Genesis 1-2, Jesus intends marriage to be fecund. In alluding to Genesis 1:27 and quoting Genesis 2:24, is Jesus evoking all of Genesis 1-2? Many biblical scholars now see biblical allusions and quotations as exercises in metalepsis, a term employed by literary critic John Hollander in The Figure of Echo and adopted and adapted for biblical studies by Richard Hays in Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul. Metalepsis basically means that when the reader of Scripture encounters an allusion or quotation, the reader should call to mind not only what is mentioned by the source text but indeed the whole background context of a quotation or allusion.
So, when Jesus adverts to Genesis 1:27 and 2:24, he's likely adverting to the entirety of Genesis 1-2 as pertains to marriage. And in doing so he's adverting to the very first command in Scripture, "Be fruitful and multiply" (Genesis 1:28). Marriage, then, isn't merely a moral union of compatible soulmates but a real union meant to be fecund, meant ideally to issue forth issuethat is, children. This Jesus affirms. And thus the sort of sexuality same-sex marriage supporters support misses Jesus' mark.
Fourth, interpretation isn't arithmetic. Many claim that marriage, sex, and family are relatively minor themes in Jesus’ teaching. Even were that true, it wouldn't mean that Jesus' teaching on the matter could be ignored. Jesus' teaching is a symphony of truth, and in any complex and beautiful musical composition, every single note from every single instrument matters, from first violin to the triangle. The parts make up the whole.
But in point of fact sex isn't a mere minor theme in Jesus' teaching. Interpretation is not arithmetic. One cannot simply count up verses wherein topics X and Y are mentioned, find X mentioned more often, and dismiss Y. Verses are artificial in any event; the system most modern Bibles use was first employed in 1560 in the Geneva Bible. Further, interpretation by arithmetic must necessarily ignore the nuances of Jesus' words on a given subject in a given context. Indeed, interpretation by arithmetic is not interpretation at all.
Positively, good interpretation involves paying attention not to quantity but to quality, as it were. One must know how something fits into the Scriptural narrative and have a sense of its gravity. Now, Jesus gives his teaching in Matthew, the First Gospel. Whatever one makes of the modern solution to the synoptic problem (how the Gospels are related in literary terms as sources for one another), the Church has held that Matthew is the "First Gospel," not merely because it was traditionally thought to have been written first, but because it is considered the richest Gospel in many ways. As a Gospel of fulfillment, it is fitting that Matthew begins the New Testament, which fulfills the Old Testament. Further, it presents Jesus' teaching clearly and substantively; the Church has found it readily useful in teaching and preaching. Moreover, all the major elements of Christian confession are found therethe Incarnation in the Virgin Birth, Jesus' sacrificial crucifixion, the resurrection. For these and other reasons, Matthew has been reckoned the First Gospel in importance by most Christians in most times and places, whether Catholic or Mennonite. Thus it is no little thing that Jesus addresses marriage in Matthew in particular. There are no minor themes in the Church's First Gospel.
In the same way, Jesus here goes straight to Genesis 1-2, weighty chapters opening the grand biblical narrative which deal with anthropology: what human beings fundamentally are as male and female and what marriage is.
Now, Jesus' coming means that much of the Old Testament is no longer of direct relevance to Christians; thanks to Jesus, Paul, and James (at the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15), bacon double cheeseburgers with milkshakes are on the menu for us. But while the early Christians (under the aegis of the Holy Spirit, Scripture, tradition, and Jesus' own revelation) decided that things of the Mosaic law that separated Jew and Gentilekosher eating, Sabbath keeping, circumcisionwere no longer binding and indeed inappropriate since the Church is one body with Jew and Gentile on equal footing (cf. Eph. 2:14-15: "For he himself is our peace, who has made us both [Jew and Gentile] one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two"), Jesus and the early Church didn’t overturn traditional Jewish sexual morality.
We've seen how Jesus intensifies it in Matthew 19 vis-À-vis other Jewish teachers. Consider also Acts 15, where the question of whether Gentile Christians are obliged to keep the law of Moses comes to a head: the early Church under the leadership of St. James decides Gentile Christians do not need to obey the Mosaic law in its entirety, but they are indeed required to avoid four things:
Therefore my [=St. James] judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood. (Acts 15:19-20)
Jesus and the early Christians double down on traditional Jewish sexual morality. The rest of the Mosaic law is not binding on Christiansthink of how radical that would be for Jews such as the apostles were!but the prohibition on "sexual immorality" remains. (Interesting here too is the link between idolatry and sexual immorality, the precise link Paul makes in Romans 1.) Revisionist hermeneutics notwithstanding, the prohibition on "sexual immorality" precludes the sort of sexuality some are selling as somehow compatible with following Jesus.
Bottom line: Much of the Old Testament is no longer directly applicable for Christians; we read it through the lens of Jesus and the New Testament. But Jesus affirms Genesis 1-2 in a way more radical than his contemporaries, and the early Church affirms traditional sexual morality.
Concluding pastoral postscript: I'm friends and acquaintances with gays and ex-gays and some who are confused who have been trusting enough to confide in me, and so I'm sensitive to the existential dimensions of these questions. In the above, I've passionately addressed certain interpretive issues; the pastoral questions remain, and we need to remember that our gay friends and brothers and sisters are dear people beloved by God for whom also Christ died, even when their desires result in a contortion of Christian teaching. We all stand under the judgment and salvation of the Cross, beggars all.
2. "Thou shalt do no murder; thou shalt not commit adultery"; thou shalt not commit sodomy; thou shalt not commit fornication; thou shalt not steal; thou shalt not use magic; thou shalt not use philtres; thou shalt not procure abortion, nor commit infanticide; "thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's goods";
The Didache - The Lord's teaching to the heathen by the Twelve Apostles.
Wonderful article. Thanks.
‘First, Jesus was a Jew who inherited Jewish Scripture and tradition. Jesus did not drop out of the sky to bring a brand new set of moral teachings de novo. If he did, perhaps his apparent lack of attention to sex and sexuality would be striking. But the Jesus of the Gospelsespecially Matthew, the First Gospel in so many significant waysis a conservative Jew, as was in all likelihood the so-called historical Jesus behind the Gospels. And whether we’re talking about the historical Jesus or the Jesus of the Gospels, Jesus stands well within the breadth of Jewish tradition. Thus, it’s not true that things Jesus doesn’t spend an inordinate amount of time on or doesn’t mention are unimportant. Rather, we should assume that those things in Jewish tradition which Jesus doesn’t overturn or reinterpret are assumed. Sure, Jesus doesn’t outright forbid homosexual practices in the Gospels. But he doesn’t have to, because Jesus’ Judaism did.’
Bingo. The burden of proof is on the other side: where did Jesus or any other 1st century Palestinian Jew for that matter advocate homosexual activity?
Jesus did say:”For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders,”
The Greek word translated as fornications is porneia which was defined as following:
1) illicit sexual intercourse
a) adultery, fornication, homosexuality, lesbianism, intercourse with animals etc.
b) sexual intercourse with close relatives; Lev. 18
c) sexual intercourse with a divorced man or woman; Mk. 10:11,12
2) metaph. the worship of idols
a) of the defilement of idolatry, as incurred by eating the sacrifices offered to idols
Check out 1 a.
Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.- Matthew 5:17
Sorry, homosexuality is still an abomination...because God said so.
“Therein lies the hypocrisy......recognizing that the historical Jesus isn’t the Jesus taught by Paul (as is recognized by the above article) means that the left, the gays, the atheists can never see past the fact that christianity treats the bible like a buffet taking the dessert and leaving the meal.
“Thanks to Paul”....”Paul said”.....”because of Paul”.....
When it’s suitable Jesus and his Kingdom message is brought up but ultimately Jesus’ teachings ALWAYS take a backseat to Paul.
The so-called “religious right” will always lose the religious argument to the left, gays, atheists because so much of Paul’s teaching fundamentally changes everything that Jesus taught.
You can’t say “Jesus was this way” his teachings were strictly “this way” and we pick that one thing to keep but because Paul says something different on all the rest we can also forgo EVERYTHING else that Jesus taught and stood for.
You’ll lose the argument every time to the other side because it’s hypocritical.”
You have to remember that Paul after his conversion did the work of setting up church communities in the then known world. Also you have to assume that Paul did listen to the Lord for inspiration in putting together his letters.
The problem with those who do not believe is that they want to try to prove themselves right, which they are not.
Rather the Gospels of Jesus fufills the Hebrew scriptures.
It’s wrong! That’s all! It’s wrong!
Really? I think when it comes to the argument on religious grounds, we practically always win. Part of the reason those cruddy liberal heretic ‘churches’ are dying out. Universalist Unitarians? lol.
We might lose the argument on political grounds because this is the age of hedonism. When it comes to Christianity itself however, the ‘liberal interpretation’ is no more legitimate than the KKK interpretation. It is like the left’s version of the constitution, with a load of crap that isn’t there.
Homosexuality is an ABOMINATION. This is how it is described.
Let us compare homosexuality and adultery in the lens of Old and New Testament. In the OT, both were punishable by death. The ancient state of Israel was given these criminal penalties to be given to perpetrators. These laws were nullified with the coming of the New Covenant, yet we still apprehend that these things are MORALLY WRONG.
If you seriously think that Christ has undone the word of God and made sodomy acceptable, then you must also find adultery to be acceptable. Neither are nor will they ever be. This is why liberal arguments within the religion itself are intellectually bankrupt.
If you wish to disregard Paul, then why not throw all the disciples under the bus with him?
“If you seriously think that Christ has undone the word of God and made sodomy acceptable, then you must also find adultery to be acceptable.”
And... if God has undone the Word of God and made sodomy acceptable, then bestiality and incest are now OK, too. They’re prohibited along with homosexuality.
The Lord Jesus Christ did not come to do away with the law, but to fulfill the law. In like manner, Christ did not come to do away with the word of God (the OT scriptures) but to embody it—all of it (”and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”)
To take Christ’s [apparent] “silence” on homosexuality as a sanction for it is such a stretch as to be laughable. In His historic context, just how much open homosexuality in Judea does one suppose the Lord encountered that would necessitate his speaking to it? But if He did encounter open homosexuality are we to really believe that He would have spoken any differently to “the one caught in the very act” than how He spoke with the adulterous woman in John 8?
Anything...ANYTHING understood about God’s view of sin prior to Christ’s appearing was unchanged by His appearing. It is God’s provision for the sinner that was [about to be] changed.
That is not so. Would you provide an example of how Jesus taught one thing and St. Paul taught different?
Why don’t you read the Gospels? Paul did, because he quotes from them.
What are the defining characteristics of homosexuality?
Was homosexuality an abomination in God's eyes? Of course it was - scripture tells us it was. Was it the same in Jesus' eyes - of course it was, He lived in the Old Covenant. Is it an abomination in Their eyes today? I would say it depends upon whether or not the person has been saved - per the Old Covenant, when God heralded the coming New Covenant, He told us that he would forgive us our wickedness and recognize our sins no more.
That's why I believe that when Jesus uttered the words, "Resist not evil", He was saying that we could not conquer Satan - that was His job. Our job is to be as the apostles/disciples and carry the Good News. Being humans, we cannot totally keep our eyes to the task because we keep getting hung up in that which is no longer ours to get hung up in. God Bless
Id like to, except he never said anything about it.
He also did not say anything about animals on that subject either for the same reason.
People who were born into God teaching homes may think that other people need to be taught against this sin against nature.
It is evident that it is the other way around, some of the things that call themselves Churches are teaching this thing against nature.
Jesus said not to give anything good to the dogs or cast your pearls before the swine.
Preaching the Gospel to the sodomites would be the same thing, it is proof in its self today that it is just being trampled on.
Also Jesus did not say anything on the subject because he did not come to be the ruler of this world but to bring in the kingdom of God.
Where is the kingdom of God? Jesus said it is within you.
Jesus came to preach to the sinners which are Gods people, he did not come to bring the good news of the kingdom to Satan, Satans people are lost.
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