The Watering Hole - Conversations on 21st. Century religion.
Part 4: Sexual Morality?
Is it the same today as in 1200 BCE?
Copyright © 2017 Dorian Scott Cole
Some think that maybe we need a new definition of sin. The word doesn't fit well into modern culture, and the notions about what sin is, don't fit either. Preaching sin, guilt, and punishment have commonly served to drive people away from the church, and to focus on the wrong things.
The related idea of being tolerant of each other doesn't fit well either. Divorce affects nearly half of marriages, and single heads of household are now over 50%, since we apparently prefer not to live together and tolerate each other. LGBTQ issues remain unresolved or rejected by many churches and religious people who are adamant that it can't be tolerated. The younger generation simply leaves the church and refuses to participate because it no longer seems relevant. Outsiders keep it at arms length. The church is slowly decaying, with attendance dropping steadily since 1900, with many people having no idea what the mission of the church is.
In this study on sin and iniquity, I look at the idea of sin, origins, and how it applies today.
Part 4: Sexual Morality?
Sexual sins are the "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" of modern Christianity. The TV program begins with, "In the criminal justice system, sexually based offenses are considered especially heinous." In Christianity, there is more focus on sexual sin today than any other type. We can give a wink and a nod to business people who steal from customers with dishonest practices. We can forgive adulterers and divorcees. We can dismiss theft with a warning. But if a couple of men have sex - people are through the roof, eyes glowing red, claws bared, furiously spouting damnation and hell, accompanied by fire and brimstone, and threatening to burn down churches and start a civil war. Literally.
But what does the Bible say?
Sex in the Bible era
Today Conservative and Reform Judaism accept LGBTQ people and marriage. The more fundamentlist Orthodox denomination does not find that any of this is acceptable with Biblical teachings. There are no purity restrictions imposed on them, so they are able to hold leadership positions, except in fundamentalism.
Christianity is similar in its view. The more fundamentalist (evangelical) churches are not able to change from rigid views of scriptural interpretation. That would be a sin in their eyes. They are still under the Law.
Premarital sex isn't explicitly forbidden in Judaism. It's important to marry a virgin, however if you did the deed prior to marriage, sex is a traditional way for people to become married in Judaism. Common law marriage is also part of US culture. But promiscuity, meaning sleeping around with multiple men, leads to a woman not being a virgin, and that is grounds for not marrying her in Judaism.
Leviticus 20:13 (NIV) "‘If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They are to be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads."
The civilizations that Judaism encountered weren't nearly as strict as Judaism about sex. But wait, both the Hellenistic culture and Roman culture were actually protective of women and children. But there were certain male sexual practices that were permitted, which would have offended the Jews. And these practices were seen in the Roman military, and some very strange things were practiced by their leaders. So what was highly visible and talked about would have been what the military and leaders did.
Hellenistic culture permeated the MIddle East from the conquest of Alexander on. It had public baths, multiple kinds of sexual relationships, nude races, and man-boy sexual relationships in gymnasiums and other forums. To strict adherents of Judaism, this would have been abhorrent. - http://journeytowisdom-ocbs.blogspot.com/2011/10/effects-of-hellenism-on-jewish-culture.html - https://web.ics.purdue.edu/~rauhn/greek_gender.htm
The Romans in Paul's era had peculiar sexual practices. Women were supposed to be respectable. Men were expected to be very masculine, not effeminate. In male-male sexual relationships, only those of lesser status could be on the receiving end of this relationship, and they lost social status and respect because of it. But many sexual practices were permitted, such as man-boy sexual relationships. The Roman army had strict rules about sex. Adulterers were discharged. Camps usually had a number of prostitutes nearby, and men could use slaves for sex. Sex with children was forbidden. Adultery was not welcome, but visiting a female prostitute was, as long as they were in an unprotected (non-Roman citizen) class. Sex with slaves, even homosexual relationships, was common. Roman soldiers were known to keep male slaves for sex. People did a lot of things in private. - Sexuality In Ancient Rome
I won't get into details, but summarize some, and if you want to know specifics, follow this link to a Quora.com comment: What Paul meant.
Suffice it to say that these leaders did ugly, horribly perverted, sexual things with male children. Certainly everyone throughout the Empire (including Israel/Judea), knew about what they had done. It wasn't limited to male children. Orgies were common. The Apostle Paul would not have been able to ignore this. But in Acts 15, he simply said: (NIV 19-20) "It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. 20 Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood." Later he said more.
One of the more astute examinations of sin in the Hebrew Bible is regarding homosexuality. Shakab (שכב: to lie down for any of several purposes, including sex.} שכב is a primary root. It refers to illicit sex, and is used with adultery, and with sex with an engaged virgin, and animals. Adultery was punishable by death.
A different word was used to describe the promiscuity of professional prostitutes, and metaphorically used to describe the worship of other dieties and idols, which was regarded as spiritual prostitution. A different word is used to describe other sexual promiscuity.
- The Understanding of Adultery in the Hebrew Bible: A Critical Survey, By Alexander Izuchukwu Abasili
The word translated "sodomite" in the Hebrew Bible, is the word Qadash (קָדַשׁ), which means a ceremonially or morally unclean person, and can apply to a male devotee by prostitution to licentious (lacking legal or moral restraints; especially: disregarding sexual restraints) idolatry. The word derives from a primary root word meaning unclean in a ceremonial or moral sense. This word lacks the standing of something like adultry. Uncleanness can be purified. Adultry could not, and was punishable by death.
Strong's Exhaustive Concordance: sodomite, unclean. From qadash; a (quasi) sacred person, i.e. (technically) a (male) devotee (by prostitution) to licentious idolatry -- sodomite, unclean.
More specifically, "Sod'-om-it (qadhesh, feminine qedheshah): Qadhesh denotes properly a male temple prostitute, one of the class attached to certain sanctuaries of heathen deities, and "consecrated" to the impure rites of their worship. Such gross and degrading practices in Yahweh's land could only be construed as a flagrant outrage; and any association of these with His pure worship was abhorrent (Deuteronomy 23:17)" - Bible Study Tools.
Idolatry is willfully placing something in place of God. In a spiritual sense it means placing more trust or value in something besides God, such as putting money on a pedastle and making your life all about making money. People in the Bible worshipped images of other gods, and many today hold money in higher esteem and purpose than God. Or property. Or substituting Biblical statements for God and understanding. Or the Sabbath, or Law, or some form of worship. For example, people willfully ignore assisting the poor and needy, to keep their money because they value it more. Licentious adultery might refer to someone who continuously chooses to trust in a life of sexual pleasure for spiritual fulfillment over every other consideration.
The priests of ancient Israel were obsessed with the idea of purity. This was Jewish Law. To participate in any ceremony, the priest must be pure from any sin, and the sacrificial animal must also be unblemished (pure). Only then was it presentable to God. So also must be man. To be presentable before God, people must be pure (free of sin, even if by sacrificing something as a willing punishment). Purity was often achieved by washing and by sacrifice.
In Judaism we see people trying their hardest to please God by obeying laws - all 613 of them. No doubt many Jews are more pure in this way than many Christians. Judaism is a life of considerable dedication. They try to set an example to the nations.
Jesus changed all of that for his followers. Jesus made God personal. To be forgiven, a person only needed to ask God. But for that, the person must be intent on not doing the sin again... not that we don't repeat, but we try. Well, sometimes I do.
No issue has had more outcry from churches, caused the church to do more soulsearching, caused more divisive and painful change, than the issues of homosexuality and same sex marriage. In some areas of the US, churches that have given the nod to these things have been threatened with being burned down. Various cases have come before the Supreme Court by people and groups who do not want the law of the land to affect them.
The Bible has no word for homosexual relations. "Men laying with men," is about as clear as it gets. The word "Sodomite" referred specifically to Temple prostitutes, which was a refelection of Ba'al, not Hebrew worship.
Men laying with men is mentioned in Leviticus. It isn't mentioned again until the Apostle Paul. No, not once. We'll look at the Sodom and Gomorrah story, which seems to be the center of everyone's interest. It is referred to multiple times in the Bible, and it is clearly stated what their sins were. Interestingly the archeological remains of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah have been found, and there are indications of complete destruction by burning. They date to around 1200 BCE.
When the Lord was about to visit Sodom, and stopped to see Abraham, he said of Sodom, (Genesis 18: 20-21, NIV) "...“The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me. If not, I will know.” Then Lot hid the men in his house. The men of Sodom came to Lot's house, surrounded it, and asked for the men so they could kill them for "playing the judge." The word here the Lord used for sin is the same word used regarding Cain. (No mention of men laying with men.)
The Prophet Jeremiah (23: 9-14) references Sodom, "...The land is full of adulterers; ... The prophets follow an evil course and use their power unjustly. “Both prophet and priest are godless; even in my temple I find their wickedness,” declares the Lord. “Among the prophets of Samaria I saw this repulsive thing: They prophesied by Baal and led my people Israel astray. And among the prophets of Jerusalem I have seen something horrible: They commit adultery and live a lie. They strengthen the hands of evildoers, so that not one of them turns from their wickedness. They are all like Sodom to me; the people of Jerusalem are like Gomorrah.”"
In this passage, named specifically is adultery, being godless, and prophesying by Ba'al. The same is true of Jerusalem, so they are like Sodom. (No mention of men laying with men.)
In Ezekiel 16 (NIV), Jerusalem is compared to an adulterous wife. "‘Woe! Woe to you, declares the Sovereign Lord. In addition to all your other wickedness, you built a mound for yourself and made a lofty shrine in every public square. At every street corner you built your lofty shrines and degraded your beauty, spreading your legs with increasing promiscuity to anyone who passed by. You engaged in prostitution with the Egyptians, your neighbors with large genitals, and aroused my anger with your increasing promiscuity.... You engaged in prostitution with the Assyrians too, because you were insatiable; and even after that, you still were not satisfied...." ..."Did you not add lewdness [probably meaning: crude and offensive in a sexual way.] to all your other detestable practices?" ..."As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, your sister Sodom and her daughters never did what you and your daughters have done." ..."You will bear the consequences of your lewdness and your detestable practices, declares the Lord." ..."Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen. Samaria did not commit half the sins you did. You have done more detestable things than they, and have made your sisters seem righteous by all these things you have done...." (No mention of men laying with men.)
Here we have a picture of people who were so sinful, they were destroyed. Sodom was notoriously known as sinful, in that they mistreated other people, even wanting to kill the Lord who came to visit and judge. They had no concern for the poor and needy. We can surmise, but don't know, that adultry was at the top of the sexual menu, and prostitution, and probably other crude and offensive behavior in a sexual way (lewdness).
No mention of men laying with men. Given the importance placed on these passages by some Christians, you might think men lying with men might be an important thing to mention. But, nope.
What we now know is different about those who are gay is that it is not a choice. Gays aren't willfully breaking some taboo licentious behavior. What they are doing is following their basic nature, and not trying to substitute a nature they don't have.
I fully understand that this is very difficult for some people to understand. I was raised in an era when some thougth it was fun to go out and "roll a queer," meaning beat them up and take their money. It's the same principal as when the chickens in a barnyard see a chicken with a red scarf around it's neck, they go peck it to death because it's different. That's why you don't see many chickens wearing red scarfs now. It's a fashion faux pas, a fatal one.
I personally have no idea what men see in men. I don't even know what women see in men. But that's just me.
The Apostle Paul struggled with issues that were common Jewish practices, but were not natural to non-jews. On male sex, he saw the man/boy sexual relationships, and the "anything goes" sexual practices of Roman leaders, and came down on the side of disfavor. But on many other things he struggled with, such as everyone being the same in Christ, as opposed to the Jewish notion of the place of man and woman. In this he made no firm committment. He asked people to judge for themselves and make their own decision. In both of these instances, cultural practices were involved and sometimes dominant.
Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 10, 11: "I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive. No one should seek their own good, but the good of others."
"So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God— even as I try to please everyone in every way."
"Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head. But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is the same as having her head shaved. For if a woman does not cover her head, she might as well have her hair cut off; but if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should cover her head."
"Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering. If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice—nor do the churches of God."
No, it is not the very nature of things teaching me that anyone needs their head or hair covered before God. It seems very strange. God created us. Following God's ways, and meeting with others for that common purpose, is a form of respect much more showy and meaningful than hair. But even today some still follow this cultural practice. This points to something important. If people know the norms and use it as a form of rebellion, such as removing one's covering, then it tells us something. But it is not an absolute and not a "sin." It isn't missing the mark. It's cultural.
1 Corinthians 6:9-11: "9 Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God."..."I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but I will not be mastered by anything. You say, “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food, and God will destroy them both.” The body, however, is not meant for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never! Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, “The two will become one flesh.” But whoever is united with the Lord is one with him in spirit.
Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body. Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies."
1 Corinthians 6:9 The words men who have sex with men translate two Greek words that refer to the passive and active participants, which would mean homosexual acts.
Hellenism accepted the practice of males having sex with other males. They glorified the masculine (mach man). The more passive person was the subject of ridicule for being effiminate, not being macho. Paul refers to them as "malakos and arsenokoites." The practice was common in Hellenistic cultures that reached all the way to Italy, but also found in Rome, especially among soldiers who had slaves. Malakos referred to being "soft," as in a garment. In a sexual relationship, malakos meant boys (or effeminate men) (or catamites - pubescent boys), those who were used in a sexual way.
So this is what Paul saw, amid many other sexual practices that he would have abhored, was men with young boys who they used for sex and affection. What we know today is that this relationship is very destructive, and once in it, boys tend to remain, forever removed from having any other type of life."
Paul concluded in Romans 1:26-27 (NIV) "Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error." On closer consideration, expecially regarding what we know today, it seems an unusual statement.
Do things change?
Rabbi Elianna Yolkut said in a post, "Much of Judaism’s wisdom comes from its ability to construct holy moments, holy encounters in the most basic parts of our human existence. Judaism’s ability to respond to new concerns and new needs in relationships is its greatest strength, always keeping in mind the basic values and ideals of respect, responsibility and commitment." - http://www.jewishvaluesonline.org/94
The Apostle Paul said in Romans 13 (NIV) "8 Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. 9 The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,”[a] and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”[b] 10 Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law."
I put it all out there:
1. The couple of Biblical references that can even be interpreted as homosexual, from A to Z in time.
2. The context of the kind of person the Apostle Paul was for interpretation - the extremist in him, the zealot, the insistence on purity. And these things influenced by his extremism in his Jewish past of persecuting Christians. Paul defined the extremes, including on things like hair, calling the church inflexible on this. Paul fought against the extremes in himself, and said that he failed. But accepting the humanity and sin in others was difficult for him to do. Yet Judaism did just that.
3. The context of Hellenism and Roman sexual practices, and how Paul and many other Jews would have reacted. To the Jews, these were very disturbing cultures, and they would have railed against them. Paul did.
4. The context of the world of Sodom, whose sins are fully spelled out. The same as sins we commonly see today: "Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen." Violent sex and total promiscuity were likely common, but they weren't even mentioned. The word Sodomite specifically refers to worshiping God through sexual acts - a temple prostitute. It is a totally different word from the word used for Sodom, and falsely associated with the sins of Sodom.
5. The necessity of purity in Judaism, and by Paul, followed by the overarching fact that love was the new covenant and it replaced the Law, and the Law was now written in people's hearts. Paul struggled with this new idea, going from one extreme to the other to try and explain it... or understand it. Purity was to make one presentable to God, and was necessary in Jewish ceremony. Paul said that it made us aware of our sin. People have the same difficulty today as Paul. All of that literature full of sin must mean we are still under Law, bound by it, right?
Jesus showed that God is love, not rejection. Jesus went to people as they were and never condemned anyone. The Law was about condemnation and rejection. Love is about healing and reconciliation. Being separate and rejection is not in love. But the 7 Noahide laws are still written in our hearts. Even if they weren't, we know when we have offended others - that is the real sin and that is what we must reconcile with others.
We often say that Jesus met people where they were. God came to them in whatever state they were in, not to condemn them but to draw them to him through love. Love is transformative. The Law is not transformative. The Law is condemnation, rejection, separation, guilt, bad relationships, and a long road of wrong behavior that is highly destructive to the individual and those around him. We have a choice: Use love or use Law.
6. The interpretive context of Judaism. Judaism stayed fully in internal coherence with what it said it was in each Biblical covenant. There were 5 major covenants in the Hebrew Bible, and two caused some change in Judaism. but most Christians are unaware of this and simply look at the Covenant with Moses. Each covenant was a contract with the people. The 5th. covenant looks forward to a new age. "I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”" Christians believe that the 5th. covenant looked forward to the time of Christ. Judaism sees Christ as a prophet.
People believe what they want - whatever works for them. Some can't sway from a very literal interpretation of the Bible, for whatever reason. If it was a sin in 800 BCE, it's still a sin today. Trying to reinterpret, they feel, is a sin, so religion can't change. It can't meet the new challenges like Judism can. We can rub it in that they ignore what they are comfortable ignoring, but this isn't going to change anything, it just creates animosity. Best to leave these people to the transformative power of love in their lives. It's in God's hands.
I've worked with people who were openly gay since the 1960s. I have to say I would rather work around them than work around those who are anti-gay. They are generally better people. That's what matters to me. And from my considerable years of study of God and what is asked of us, I think that's what matters to God: how we treat others. My heart and my conscience go this direction.
Additional research: Romans 1:26-28, in the latin vulgate (3rd Century), talks about women and men doing acts that are shameful. "Their desires" turning them from God.
Verse 28 is key. From the Peshitta translation, "Romans 1:28 - And as they did not determine with themselves to know God, God gave them over to a vain mind; that they might do what they ought not,"
The assumption here is that people who do homosexual acts have turned away from God. That would not be the case in the modern world. They are following their "natural desires," and are as spiritual as anyone else.
The Peshitta (Syriac tradition), was an independent translation of the Bible dating from the second century. I use it, and the Diatessaron, to get around the notion that all versions were somehow defiled by the Catholic Church.
Homosexuality, for men, was a very old law in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament). It was never spoken about afterwards. The events in Sodom had nothing to do with that, as the Sodom story makes clear, as do other Biblical references to that passage. It isn't mentioned again until the Apostle Paul.
As Paul repeatedly makes clear, Christians are not under the Laws of the Jews. The various covenants (agreements) God made with the Jews, he didn't make with Christians. The Law of God is in people's hearts, and the 613 Laws of the Jews can be disregarded. Everything is lawful, but not everything is good for us.
It seemed good to the Paul and the other Apostles to not put any restrictions on the Christians, but they should avoid sexual impurity that defiled their body.
However Paul went on to broaden the scope of homosexuality to include women. Given the Hellenistic and Roman culture Paul was exposed to, in which citizens could do anything with slaves, including child slaves, he certainly reacted explosively to it. But Paul had no power to put Christians back under Law.
The voice of the Apostle Paul needs to be seen in context of the world from which he came and the world he was ministering in. It was cultural, and for a time.