Leviticus 18 and Homosexuality

Possibly the best known and most controversial passage in Scripture concerning homosexuality and the LGBTQ community is Leviticus 18:22: “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.” Whenever this subject comes up, this verse is the first stop for many Christians.

I believe we have not reflected carefully enough on the context of this verse and its parallel in Lev. 20:13. I believe this is true of both those who disagree with homosexual activity and those who see no conflict between it and

The Structure of Leviticus

In order to get a handle on Leviticus 18 (and 20) we have to start by seeing where they fit in the overall structure of the book of Leviticus. The book of Leviticus is designed to lay out religious life in the Promised Land, to show Israel what God has done to allow them to remain in His good standing.

The book is structured in this way:

1. Leviticus 1-7

These chapters describe the five different sacrifices and what they were for. Thus, they are Tabernacle-centric.

2. Leviticus 8-16

Scholar James Jordan has seen a recapitulation of Genesis 2 in Leviticus 8-10. “Aaron is set up as another ‘new Adam’ in the completed Garden, and we find the sequence reeated. If the Tabernacle is a Garden-sanctuary for God, then the High Priest is a new Adam,” thus allowing us to “read Leviticus 8 as a re-creation passage,” (Jordan, Covenant Sequence, 26, 27). Chapters 11-16 concern defilement of the Tabernacle and how God has provided a means of restoration to fellowship and a return of access to His presence in the Tabernacle, climaxing with the Day of Atonement. The worship of Israel is still in view.

3. Leviticus 17-22

This section also concerns the worship of Israel, beginning with sacrifices and ending with the duties of the priests, and between them covering various sins that would result in the loss of covenant privilege and result in God refusing Israel access to His presence in the Tabernacle.

4. Leviticus 23

This single chapter makes up its own section of the book, covering Israel’s festivals and feast days, their liturgical calendar for the year, and therefore is also concerned with worship issues.

5. Leviticus 24-27

This final section is also dealing with Tabernacle-sanctuary issues, from the showbread and lampstand in the Tabernacle and blasphemy (ch. 24) to idolatry, sabbath-keeping, and the connection of the land to the Tabernacle (ch. 26-27). Between is the liberation of Jubilee (ch. 25), which prevented injustice from overtaking the people.

The point of this brief glance at the structure of Leviticus is to point out that it is dealing entirely with Israel as the priestly people, focused on their worship and how their whole society revolved around the Tabernacle, which was its center. This is an unfamiliar idea to us, but to Israel the Torah laws were entirely religious in nature and intent, and were entirely caught up in the structures, life, and worship of God in the Tabernacle.

I draw our attention to this because so many Christians blithely ignore this fact when they try to apply the laws found in Leviticus to modern society, not realizing that the intent behind the law was Israel’s worship in that time and place, and that this must be taken into account to contextualize them. Everything in the land was regulated by the Tabernacle, even the value of your house, people, or animals (Lev. 27). This is most important in examining when it comes to Leviticus 18 and LGBTQ issues.

The Context of Leviticus 18

As we have seen, the main theme of Leviticus is “right worship,” and the section of chapters 17-22 is concerned with this very thing. Chapter 17 concerns Israel’s refusal to “sacrifice their sacrifice to goat demons, after whom they whore,” (Lev. 17:7). The importance of this declaration cannot be overstated, and is made clear by the special designation following it: “This shall be a statute forever for them throughout their generations.”

This theme of worship is continued in Leviticus 18, where Yahweh declares, “You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt, where you lived, and you shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you,” (v. 3). Thus, what God is principally addressing in what follows is the behavior of the pagan nations around Israel. What follows is a lengthy passage against incest (vv. 6-20), which probably refers primarily to the worship rites of Baal and Ashtaroth and Moloch, which involved a variety of sexual practices, including cult prostitution.

The religious context is reinforced immediately following, when Yahweh declares that “You shall not give any of your children to offer them to Moloch and so profane the name of your God: I am Yahweh,” (v. 21). Immediately following this reference to the pagan worship practices of Israel’s neighbors comes the condemnation of male homosexuality: “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman,” (v. 22). The next verse concerns bestiality (v. 23), which was also involved in the worship practice of many pagan nations of the time period.

I have seen many opponents to the LGBTQ community make much of the fact that the focus is on ejection from the land in the latter portion of the chapter, rather than expulsion from the Tabernacle (vv. 24-30), as though this proved they were universal in scope rather than focused on the worship practices of the nations around Israel and were simply the expression of idolatry at the time. But it is important not to drive to hard a wedge between the Tabernacle, the land, and the people, as all symbolized one another. All Israelites were priests (Ex. 19:6), after all, and the whole Promised Land is a new Garden-Sanctuary, like the Garden of Eden (Joel 2:3).

Most importantly, it should be noted that all of the practices referred to in Leviticus 18 would make Israel “unclean” (tame), a word that refers to ceremonial or religious uncleanness (v. 30). That is, such activity results in ritual defilement, essentially banning the practitioner from worship in the Tabernacle, unable to “draw near” to God in worship, and is a technical word in Leviticus for ritual defilement (Lev. 5:2-3; 7:19-21; 10:10), used to describe unauthorized worship or things that would cause an Israelite to become unauthorized to remain withing the priestly people, such as the unclean animals (ch. 11), leprosy (ch. 13-14), and human discharges (ch. 15).

Leviticus 20 is parallel to Leviticus 18, but simply includes penalties for the actions described in chapter 18. It also begins with a warning against worship of Moloch: “Any one of the people of Israel of the strangers who sojourn in Israel who gives any of his children to Moloch shall surely be put to death,” which will “make my sanctuary unclean (tame) and to profane My holy Name,” (Lev. 20:2, 3). Thus, we see the inherent and organic connection between the Tabernacle and the land – such false worship makes both unclean (Lev. 18:27-28; 20:3). The focus is on sanctuary access and how idolatry blocks access to God and to proper worship. Verse 7 tells Israel, in contrast to uncleanness, that they are to “consecrate yourselves (qadash), therefore, and be holy (qadosh), for I am Yahweh your God.” The Hebrew qadash and qadosh are closely connected, and refer to ceremonial cleanness and purity, a person or object set apart for holy work, ordination to an office, etc. That is, we are still dealing with religious work and worship.

This is the context in which Leviticus 18 addresses this issue. “If a man lies with a male as a woman, both of them have committed an abomination.” The context is clearly a reference to temple prostitution, as an act of idolatry. The chapter concludes by referring to the clean/unclean rites (v. 25) and repeats the call to be holy and consecrated for God’s work and for access to the Tabernacle (v. 26).

This reading is reinforced by the prevailing question that not all same-sex activity is prohibited. Both Leviticus 18 and 20 refer only to male same-sex activity in worship. No prohibition of female-female sexual activity exists in the Old Testament. If God were issuing a universal decree that was to span all ages and times and periods and cultures, he would have prohibited all same-sex activity rather than only half of it. Opponents of the LGBTQ community have happily ignored the Bible in this regard, and issue sweeping condemnations of lesbians despite their having never been condemned by Scripture. Seeing these passages as references to cult prostitution, on the other hand, makes better sense of the laws in their original context.

A further question. Deuteronomy repeats the laws of Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers on the eve of the conquest of Canaan, so why does it not repeat the law against male homosexuality? It repeats and transforms the Torah, but does not repeat this particular law. Why? On the traditional reading, this would make no sense. But Deuteronomy does include a prohibition against cult prostitution. “None of the daughters of Israel shall be a cult prostitute, and none of the sons of Israel shall be a cult prostitute,” (Deut. 23:17). If Leviticus 18 and 20 refer to cult prostitution, as I have argued, then Deuteronomy does offer a parallel to the passages in Leviticus.

So what is the upshot to all of this? Simply that we have been reading Leviticus 18 and 20 very sloppily, ignoring the central context that grounds our reading of the passage. God is not offering an absolute prohibition on same-sex activity, but instead is making an absolute prohibition against idolatry, using the common activities of pagan ritual worship in the Ancient Near East. He is neither prohibiting a same-sex orientation nor same-sex activity, but cult prostitution. These passages, therefore, have no application to those with same-sex attractions, except to say that they should not engage in ancient pagan worship rites (which would apply equally to those with other-sex attraction too).

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Romans 1 and Homosexuality

The only other extensive passage purported to deal with the condemnation of homosexuality is Romans 1, one of the most famous and most misunderstood passages in all of the New Testament.

The first issue is context. What is Paul talking about in the whole passage here? It is commonly thought that in chapter 1 Paul is addressing pagan Gentiles and in chapter 2 he then turns to disobedient Jews. But as popular as this reading might be, it is wrong. The context for the entire letter is Yahweh’s faithfulness to Israel. Has it come to naught? If the promised judgment against Israel will truly be the end of Israel, then what of the promises and the faithfulness of God? The entire book begins this way (1:16-17) and Paul does not suddenly change the subject in verse 18. His focus is on Israel and God’s promises concerning her.

The “wrath of God” is unveiled from heaven against “all the wickedness and injustice within humanity” (my translation). These wicked people are said to “suppress the truth in injustice,” but, as we shall see, this is actually talking about how the Jews treated Jesus; they “suppress the Truth in injustice.” This has nothing to do with abstract “truth” in nature and everything to do with the revealed worship of Yahweh in the Temple and the manifestation of God in the flesh.

In fact, while many translations render verse 19 abstractly, there is nothing in the passage to indicate this. The ESV reads: “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.” But this phrase “what can be known” is only one word (gnostos), which refers to an acquaintance, a rare word in the New Testament and often refers to acquaintances in the normal sense – other people. “The other disciple, who was known (gnostos) to the high priest,” (John 18:16). “And this became known (gnostos) to all the residents of Ephesus,” (Acts 19:17), for example.

Thus, returning to Romans 1:19, the Greek simply reads “For this reason (dioti) the acquaintance (gnostos) of God (theos) is manifest (phaneros) among them (en autos). I suggest, therefore, that the passage can be legitimately translated “For this reason the one Who is well known to God has shone among them.” (The word for “manifest,” phaneros, literally refers to shining, figuratively used for bringing something in the dark into light). Christ, of course, is the light of God shining into the world (John 1:5, 9-10) made manifest in the Person of Jesus (John 1:14). If this reading is correct, then Paul is talking about the Incarnation, and not “truth” in an abstract way (Jesus, of course, being the Way, Truth, and Life which Israel suppressed – John 14:6).

Given that this seems to be the case, what then is Paul talking about in vv. 20-23? Well, verse 20 is still speaking about Jesus. His “invisible attributes” have been clearly seen since the beginning in the things that have been made, making Israel without excuse. But this is still not talking about nature. For Israel, the invisible attributes of Yahweh were manifested in the visible glory of God, the Tabernacle and Temple. Jesus was the fulfillment of the Temple and the Scriptures, and thus Israel had no excuse not to recognize Him when He appeared to them. The Tabernacle and Temple also displayed “His eternal power and divine nature.” Thus, Israel has no excuse for what they did to Jesus. They knew God, but they did not honor Jesus “as God” (v. 21) or give thanks to Him as they should have, and for this reason became futile in their thinking and their hearts were darkened.

That we are talking about Israel’s worship gets much clearer in verse 23, where they are said to have “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for idols resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.” Now, it is extremely clear that this is a direct allusion to Psalm 106:20, which recounted Israel’s idolatry with the Golden Calf:

They made a calf in Horeb and worshiped a metal idol.
They exchanged the glory of God for the image of an ox that eats grass.
They forgot God, their Deliverer, Who had done great things in Egypt,
Wondrous works in the land of Ham,
and awesome deeds by the Red Sea.
Therefore He said he would destroy them
–had not Moses, His Chosen One, stood in the breach before Him,
to turn away His wrath from destroying them, (Psa. 106:19-23)

Paul is also alluding to Jeremiah 2:11, though the connection is secondary compared with the almost identical phrasing of Psalm 106. The prophet Jeremiah wrote that “My people have change their glory for that which does not profit.”

What is clear is that Paul has Israel’s own failings in mind rather than the abstract sense in which we have tended to understand him. But you may be asking what this has to do with homosexuality. All of this was necessary prep work in order to correctly understand what Paul is getting at when he reaches verse 24, which begins the relevant parts of Romans 1.

“Therefore,” writes Paul – or, for this reason – “God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, Who is blessed forever! Amen,” (vv. 24-25). Paul is not speaking of atheists or scientists or pagans in this place at all. The immediate context has told us Paul is speaking of Israel here – the religious folks who did not recognize Jesus as the long-promised Messiah and crucified him and in Paul’s time were persecuting the Church of the Messiah. And this is exactly what we see in the other texts Paul is alluding to:

But My people did not listen to My voice;
Israel would not submit to Me.
So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts,
To follow their own counsels.
Oh, that My people would listen to Me,
That Israel would walk in My ways! (Psa. 81:11-13)

Ephraim is joined to idols; leave him alone.
When their drink is gone, they give themselves to whoring;
their rulers dearly love shame.
A wind has wrapped them in its wings,
and they shall be ashamed because of their sacrifices, (Hos. 4:17-19)

God gave these sorts of people up to the lusts of their hearts which dishonor their bodies. In fact, Paul says that God gave them up “to impurity,” and in the Greek this is akatharsia, which specifically refers to religious impurity, in this case, within the Mosaic law-code (Dunn, Romans 1-9, pp. ). That is, such behavior disqualifies them from serving in the Temple system.

Then, in verses 26-27, Paul goes on. “For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.” The first thing to note about this is that we are still talking about Israel’s idolatry in worship. Israel rejected Jesus because they did not see Him reflected in the visible types and shadows of the Old Covenant Temple and sacrificial system, and has therefore turned to idolatry. For this reason, God has given them up to their desire for idolatry, which Paul frames as cult prostitution. Israel’s false worship, her rejection of Christ, was often pictured by the prophets as prostitution and fornication against Yahweh, who symbolizes their husband.

This is the tradition in which Paul stands in Romans 1. Israel’s desire is for intimate knowledge of the cult prostitutes of the nations, and what is strongly implied is that Israel’s worship itself has become cult prostitution. The condemnation in Leviticus 18:22, “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman,” finds its parallel in Deuteronomy 23:17: “None of the daughters of Israel shall be a cult prostitute, and none of the sons of Israel shall be a cult prostitute.”

Remember that we’re still dealing with a context of idolatry. Israel’s behavior is like a woman having sex with a female prostitute as part of pagan worship, and like a man that has sex with a male prostitute in the worship of pagan gods. Does Paul have actual Jews going to actual pagan worship and actually having sex with actual temple prostitutes. Possibly, but this seems unlikely to the extreme, given that his remarks are not directed at certain Jews in particular, but against Israel’s own worship, which has become compromised with idolatry, specifically identified as the suppression of Jesus, against which the “wrath of God” is coming on a “day of wrath” (Rom. 2:5).

Rather this should be seen as a metaphor concerning Israel’s own worship. Israel, as the wife of God, has taken up with cult prostitution, brought it into her own worship by rejecting Jesus, in violation of the covenant made between Israel and God. The marriage vow parallels the covenant in this place, which helps us get a better handle on what Paul means by “natural relations.”

Paul uses “natural relations” in his metaphor here to express proper worship of God, in the Person of Jesus, by means of the worship of the New Covenant community. The word “natural” (phuseikos) simply means physical or instinctive and the word “relations” (chresis) refers to sexual intercourse. Thus, Paul is referring to something that goes against instinct. But what instinct? Paul has not had “nature” in view in Romans 1, contrary to the way most evangelicals read the passage, and what is translated “natural” simply means something that is instinctive. But instinctive to who? The people he has in mind are Israel, the people whom God has “married” by covenant. Thus, Paul refers to the instinctive practices of a heterosexual couple that has taken vows to one another. A married women taking up with another person is against instinct enough, let alone taking up with cult prostitutes. A heterosexual woman taking up with another woman is against the instinct of heterosexuality, and therefore against its “nature.” A married heterosexual man taking up with a male cult prostitute is also against the nature of heterosexuality.

But what of actual gay people? Well, we recall that Paul employs this metaphor to refer to Israel’s false worship, to drive home his point that in rejecting Jesus Israel has rejected her husband and gone whoring after other gods and their worship practices. His metaphor addresses a heterosexual couple which engages in breaking their marital vows and taking up with people that goes against the instinct of their orientation. Of course, we know that the instinct of gay people does not run in the same direction as a heterosexual, though it is certainly natural for them in just the same way. It therefore appears that Romans 1 is more or less irrelevant for LGBTQ issues, save only that no one should go outside what is instinctive for them.

We end, then, by asking what the “due penalty of their error” is. Sadly, a large number of evangelicals (particularly of previous generations) mistook this for a reference to the HIV and AIDS epidemic, which they blamed upon the gay community. But since Paul is speaking to Israel about her false worship, it seems apparent that the penalty for their error is the “wrath of God” that will come upon them on the “day of wrath” in A.D. 70 (Rom. 1:18; 2:5).

Like Watching a Train Crash in Slow-Mo

Someone recently asked me about my current opinion of Doug Wilson, given that I used to be quite the ardent fan of Mr. Wilson. They were interested, given my recent public shift in views.

So I thought I’d answer this question by reflecting on my recent visit to his blog. I still pop in occasionally to see what he’s up to and who he’s been offending, and frankly, these visits are nothing short of rage-enducing. I can only go so far before damaging my own sanctification becomes a central concern and I have to close the window and go on to other things for a while.

Reading Doug’s opinions is like watching a carnival packed onto a clown train take the narrow track through the mountain pass, and go round the corner too fast and ride right off the rails and down into the valley, trailing clown shoes and colorful tents until the whole thing hits the bottom with a “wah wah waaaaaaah” trumpet noise.

Frankly, it’s amazing that I was so obsessed with his work for as long as I was. The level of worshipful following that he has is highly disturbing. Do not dare question the Wilson, or the Wilson-bots will get a sudden craving for human flesh. But any man who is so blind to reality that he thinks being a “paleo-confederate” is okay can be readily dismissed as an expert in anything.

To take a fairly mild example of how entirely he gets things fundamentally backward, take his recent comments about the Son of God movie. Now, I have no interest in this film at all, given that I had to suffer through it already as part of The Bible miniseries that aired on the History channel – which was more than enough of our generation’s attempt to cannibalize the Bible for profit.

But here’s what Wilson had to say:

Flipping this observation around, as a friend of mine recently did, we should be able to tell that a Jesus movie had been really successful in portraying the Lord if half the crowds in the theaters wanted to crucify Him — and not for being such a milksop either, but rather because He was a dangerous firebrand. A really good Jesus movie would have a bipartisan bill denouncing it — called Save the American Dream Act — passing both houses of Congress handily in a rush to get it to the president’s desk.

This sounds so witty and clever, doesn’t it? Yuk, yuk, yuk, those silly Jesus filmmakers. Now, these particular filmmakers are silly, and their bumbling attempts at making Jesus cool is also silly. But not for the reason Wilson thinks. Think back to the Gospels. Who was it that wanted Jesus crucified? Not the unwashed masses, the poor and the vulnerable. Jesus had a pretty good report with the tax collectors and prostitutes. No, who did Jesus offend? The religious and economic rulers. The Pharisees. So, in a sense, any Jesus film produced by evangelicals will always fail to offend the right people – evangelicals. A Jesus movie that did its job would piss off your average middle-class evangelical. It would enrage the powers that be and the economic interests of our empire because of its central challenge to our economic and political hegemony. What it shouldn’t do is get broken and sinful people angry, because those are the people for whom Jesus came.

The Destruction of Sodom and Homosexuality

I was a little surprised to discover just how forcefully conservatives cling to the erroneous interpretation that the narrative of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah is proof-positive of God’s condemnation of gay people. Such a profound misreading of the text is illustrative, unfortunately, of how ideology trumps exegesis.

What do we know about Sodom? We know that Lot moved his tent as far as the city of Sodom within the territory Abram allowed him to take (Gen. 13:12). All we are told here is that the “men of Sodom were wicked, great sinners against Yahweh,” (Gen. 13:13).

The next introduction to the evils of Sodom is interesting. It comes in the context of Abraham’s election as the father of many nations. “For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of Yahweh by doing righteousness and justice, so that Yahweh may bring to Abraham what He has promised him,” (Gen. 18:19). In both Hebrew and Greek, righteousness and justice mean virtually the same thing (sdq, sedeq, sedeqa in Hebrew; diakaiosyne and variants in Greek, which is used for social justice, alms-giving, and deliverance of the oppressed and poor). The justice of God is His commitment to protect the weak and fatherless and oppressed and to destroy the oppressors, setting the world to rights. Abraham’s election as father of many nations is based upon his imitation of God in this concern for social justice.

Abraham is to keep the “way of Yahweh” by “doing righteousness and justice,” (Gen. 18:19). The very next verse, Yahweh seems to change the subject, but actually does not. “Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave, I will go down to see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me,” (Gen. 18:20-21). Abraham’s famous appeal is the first example of his obedience to the “way of Yahweh” in righteousness and justice. His concern is for the “righteous” people in Sodom, but not in the sense of the morally-upright internally, but for those who live faithful lives of justice in the city (Gen. 18:23-33).

Chapter 19, the confrontation of God’s messengers with the people of Sodom, leaves us full of questions, and likely this is intentional. As we work through this material, our central question will be, “What is the sin of Sodom?” Traditionally, the answer has been the implied homosexual behavior of the Sodomites, but as we shall see, this is a questionable reading.

When the two angels arrive in Sodom, it is evening, and “Lot was sitting in the gate of Sodom,” (v. 1). As is familiar to most Christians by now, we know that the gate of the city was the place for the elders of the city to sit, the public square where business and judgment were carried out. It is odd, therefore, that Lot is sitting in the place of the elders of Sodom, particularly given the sneering comments of the Sodomites about Lot later (v. 9). But it’s not only odd that Lot is sitting in the place of the elders of the city, but that he and he alone greets the strangers. It was the common practice of the ANE for the people to offer shelter for travelers and sojourners, offering hospitality to them during their stay because they were viewed as the most vulnerable people in a city, without home or friends or food. Where are Sodom’s judges? It is only Lot who greets the angels and offers them shelter (v. 1-2).

It is also strange that the angels refuse to accept Lot’s offer. Just as it was the obligation of the men in the gate to offer shelter and hospitality to strangers, it was the obligation of the traveler to accept. Yet the angels decline, declaring their intention to spend the night in the town square (v. 2). Why do they refuse? Probably because Lot was a sojourner in Sodom and it was their intention to learn about the behavior of the citizens of Sodom.

But Lot insists – in fact, the language is so strong that it almost implies physically getting in their way and demanding they come with him. This is the second hint that something is not right in Sodom. They agree and turn aside from their intended sleeping spot to Lot’s house (v. 3).

Before the two visitors lay down for the night, “the men of the city, the men of Sodom, both young and old, all the people to the last man, surrounded the house,” demanding Lot send the men out to them, “that we may know them,” (v. 4-5). This would seem to answer the question of where the other men in the gate of the city were. They were right there with Lot; they had ignored the arriving men and had refused to offer them hospitality. No one would have known of the angels’ arrival had Lot been alone in the gate. Thus, the Sodomites had no excuse of it being late; they had intentionally been unjust and inhospitable, then rounded up the rest of the city. The phrase “know them” almost certainly refers to sexual knowledge, and this usage is confirmed by Lot’s use of the same phrase for his daughters later (v. 8).

This is the main point of contention. Most commentators have focused upon this aspect of the narrative to the exclusion of what has come before and will come after, and have erroneously seen it as a condemnation of homosexual behavior. But the passage works in an entirely different direction. It does not concern gay people, but rape and assault of the most vulnerable in the city, the sojourner and the stranger. The angels being unwilling participants, what is in view here is the threat of gang rape.

Lot goes out to the men and closes the door behind him (v. 6). This proves not just his hospitality, but Lot’s bravery and courage, to face down a crowd threatening gang rape, closing off his means of retreat in order to protect the vulnerable. His answer is designed to defuse the situation, referring to them as “my brothers,” and offering his own daughters in the place of the strangers (v. 7-8). He asserts that the angels are under the protection of his household, and thus the sacrifice of his daughters would be the means by which his whole household defended them. As Wenham writes, the “cardinal virtue” and “sacred duty” of “oriental hospitality” was “protecting your guests,” (Genesis 16-50, 55).

The Sodomites do not accept his offer, and say, “This fellow came to sojourn among us, and he has become the judge!” (v. 9). This plays back into the beginning of the passage when we see that Lot is sitting in the gate, and is exercising some authority to judge in Sodom. By referring to him as a sojourner, however, the men of Sodom double their own crimes, for not only do they now intend to gang rape the angels, but Lot also, ignoring Lot’s position as a judge and his special protection as a sojourner: “Now we will deal worse with you than with them.”

The men then attack Lot and nearly break the door down (v. 9). At this moment the angels spring into action, dragging Lot back into the house and striking the Sodomites blind so that they cannot find the entrance (v. 10-11).

The story goes on, but we need go no further. The case has been made and the answer seems to be clear. The chief sin of Sodom was not homosexual behavior, but inhospitality, of which included gang rape and assault of the most vulnerable people in their city. This is without question the central focus of the passage – would Sodom display the righteousness and justice that represented the “way of Yahweh” or would they ignore it and practice injustice?

This reading is confirmed by the rest of Scripture. In Yahweh’s denunciation of Israel’s sin in Ezekiel 16, He declares, “Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. They were haughty and did an abomination before Me. So I removed them,” (Ezek. 16:49-50). Notice that this oppression of the poor and needy is “the guilt” and the “abomination” that Sodom committed, and the cause for which Yahweh “removed them.” Praying upon the sojourner and needy and poor is the abomination of Sodom (culminating, of course, in the threat of rape and assault). But nothing about anyone being gay. The fate of Sodom would have been no different had the non-consensual rape been upon women instead of men. The distinguishing act was not the rape of men, but the rape full-stop. It was the injustice and inhospitality of an entire city that preyed upon the vulnerable.

And that Yahweh will not abide. Two chapters later, still discussing justice, Yahweh speaks of the man of justice and the man of injustice. The man of injustice is one who “eats upon the mountains, defiles his neighbor’s wife, oppresses the poor and needy, commits robbery, does not restore the pledge, lifts up his eyes to the idols, commits abomination, lends at interest, and takes a profit” – this man “shall not live. He has done all these abominations; he shall surely die; his blood shall be upon hismelf,” (Ezek. 18:11-13).

Jude 7 also mentions Sodom briefly, and it is worth noting. Jude writes, “just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example.” Our immediate thoughts turn specifically to homosexuality because of how thoroughly that reading is ingrained in our brains. But if we pause and recall that the sin of Sodom was first of all a lack of hospitality, and included within that the sin of gang rape and assault, we realize that the references to “sexual immorality” here actually refer to rape, not to homosexuality. This is also the meaning of “unnatural desire” here, once again not homosexuality as an orientation (a “desire” for what is “unnatural”) but the desire to abuse and oppress and claim sexual power over others by violent and aggressive means.

The fact is that this passage simple has no bearing on the question of gay marriage or the appropriateness of LBGTQ orientation within a consensual relationship, and neither Genesis 19 nor later Biblical commentary on this passage suggests or implies that homosexual behavior or orientation is in view as a theme of the passage. There isn’t a shred of evidence to suggest this.

Genesis 6 and the Sons of God

There has been a lot of discussion about the Nephilim in recent days, at least in my spheres, and about the identity of the “Sons of God” who marry with the “daughters of men” in Genesis 6.

For those who have been living under a rock for the last decade or so, there is a popular strand of interpretation that sees these “sons of God” as fallen angels who rape women and forged a half-breed race of part-human, part-angelic rulers that poisoned the human line and forced God to flood the earth to free the world of their oppressive tyranny.

Frankly, this interpretation is patent nonsense, and is a shining example of the ways in which we let ourselves over-complicate Scripture. It is the classic problem of modern evangelicalism to over-complicate that which is simple and simplify that which is complicated.

Now, I readily admit that such an interpretation would be really cool. But coolness is not a factor in exegetical work. The fact is that this view is almost entirely imported from Second-Temple Judaism around the time of Christ, post-exilic Rabinical traditions, and pagan mythology rather than from Scripture itself, and there is no indication that this is something the Biblical writers of any book actually had in mind for their readers to understand.

The answer is far simpler, as we shall see.

So what was going on? Genesis 6 tells us that as man multiplied in the Land, the “sons of God saw the daughters of man” and “took as their wives any they chose,” (vv. 1-2). It is clear that whatever is going on here involves intermarriage of some kind, and this involves a temptation and fall.

In fact, this passage is parallel to the temptation of Eve in Genesis 3:

“So when the woman saw (ra’ah) that the Tree was good (tobe) for food” – Gen. 3:6

“the sons of God saw (ra’ah) that the daughters of men were attractive (tobe)” – Gen. 6:2

Thus, something similar is happening in both passages. These unions were bad because as soon as they take place, because “Yahweh saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually,” (6:5).

But what was the problem? To answer this question, we have to go back to the beginning. At the start of Genesis, God makes three zones or spheres for mankind to dwell in, the Garden, the Land/Field, and the wider World (Gordon Wenham and James Jordan have written about this). Genesis 3-6 presents three falls, one in each environment. Adam and Eve fall in the Garden and are sent into the Land. Cain falls in the Land and is sent out into the world. And the “sons of God” fall in the World and the whole system is purged and re-established in the flood.

The central question of this narrative is the preservation of the Godly line. That is, when God outlines the consequences that come from the Fall, He also promises that the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman will have a rivalry until the Messiah comes to destroy the Serpent once and for all (Gen. 3:15). The narrative of Cain and Abel illustrates this (Gen. 4), dividing humanity, brother between brother and establishing an unGodly line of evil men. But Abel is dead, so what becomes of the Godly line and the promises of God? Ahh, but Adam and Eve have another faithful son, Seth, who establishes a line of justice and faithfulness in the earth, a lineage recorded in Genesis 5.

But flip the page to chapter 6 and suddenly “the wickedness of man was great in the earth,” and “every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually,” while Noah alone “found favor in the eyes of Yahweh,” (6:5, 8). The central key to the passage, the thematic core of the narrative is: “But what happened to all the other faithful ones? What happened to the line of Seth?”

There’s only one place in the narrative to explain what happened to all the other just men on the earth: Genesis 6:1-4. For the Biblical writer(s) to suddenly abandon the central question right at the most important point in favor of going on about angels marrying human women is beyond implausible (in effect introducing a new matter into the story at a climactic point).

No, whatever is going on in Genesis 6:1-4, it revolves around the fall of the Sethite line of faithful people. But what of the “sons of God” and daughters of men? While it is true that the phrase “sons of God” is applied to angels (Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:7), this is a minor theme in comparison with the amount of times the people of God are described as “sons of God.”

Adam himself is the “son of God.” He is made after the likeness of the divine Image (Wenham, Genesis 1-15, 32). Christ is, of course, the true Image of God (2 Cor. 4:4; Col. 1:15), the Son of God, and Adam (and therefore, all humanity) was made in His Image. This, by extension, makes Adam the “son of God,” made in the image of the Son of God, Who is the Image of God. And, in fact, Scripture confirms this directly: Adam is “the son of God,” (Luke 3:38). Seth, made in the image of Adam (Gen. 5:3), is also, therefore, a “son of God,” and his descendents are the “sons of God.” This begins a long Scriptural theme of the people of God standing as the sons of God, corporately the brother of Christ, the Son of God. “You are the sons of Yahweh your God,” (Deut. 14:1). The meticulous record of genealogies serves the purpose of ensuring that all of Israel remained in the image of Adam, the son of God made in the image of the Son of God. God’s fatherhood also directly speaks to humanity (and the people of God particularly) as the “son of God” (Psa. 27:10; 68:5; 89:26; 103:13; Prov. 3:12; Isa. 9:6; 22:21; 63:16; 64:8; Jer. 3:19; 31:9; Mal. 2:10).”Give glory to your Father in heaven,” “so that you may be sons of your Father Who is in heaven,” “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect,” (Matt. 5:16, 45, 48, 6:1, 4, 6, 8, 9, 14-15, 18, 26, 32; 7:11, 21; 10:21, 29, 32; 12:27, 50, etc.).

This sonship of Israel was eventually tied to the Messianic promise (see Christopher J. H. Wright, Knowing Jesus, 118-135): originally referring to Solomon, but also to Jesus, Yahweh declares “He shall be my son, and I will be his father,” (1 Chron. 22:10). Jesus, of course, fulfills this theme of Messianic sonship: “This is My Beloved Son, with Whom I am well pleased,” (Matt. 3:17). And Jesus, as Son of God, has “brought many sons to glory” and made many brothers of all who believe, which makes them “sons of God” also (Heb. 2:11-18). The peacemakers shall be “called sons of God,” (Matt. 5:9). Those who “are considered worthy to attain the Age to come and the resurrection” are “sons of God,” (Luke 20:36). “For all those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God,” (Rom. 8:14).

It should also be noted that aside from Job and one or two other places, the angelic hosts are never described in equivalent terms. They are always spoken of as subordinates and guardians of man, not as sons awaiting elevation as humanity was (Heb. 1-2; Gal. 3-4). “When we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world,” (Gal. 4:3), “enslaved to those that by nature are not gods,” (Gal. 4:8), who are “weak and worthless,” (Gal. 4:9). Christ is “much superior to angels,” and not Christ alone, for the angels serve the Church also (Heb. 1:4, 14). The Torah was given “through angels by an intermediary. … So then, the Torah was our guardian until Messiah came, in order that we might be vindicated by faithfulness. But now that faithfulness has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Messiah Jesus you are all sons of God, through faithfulness,” (Gal. 3:19, 24-26).

I trust that this is enough to establish the fact that it is far more likely the reference to the “sons of God” in Genesis 6:2 is to the people of God in the antediluvian prefiguration of the Land (Gen. 6:1) than it is to angels marrying human women. This reading makes sense of the central thrust of the immediate narrative questions and the biblio-typological narrative concerning the identity of the “sons of God.” These are the line of Seth marrying outside of the holy line, corrupting the seed of the women with the “daughters of men,” the pagan girls.

What then are the Nephilim? Once again, the answer is simple one we strip away the assumptions of outside texts and mythologies. The word rendered Nephilim or “giants” simply means feller, or slayer, a bully or tyrant. There is no suggestion here that their “giant” status must, in fact, be physical. All the stresses of the passage are on traits beyond physical stature. They are “mighty men” (gibbor), which simply means powerful, a champion or chieftain, and “men of renown” (shem), which simply means of great position, great fame; legendary. They are great warriors known throughout that part of the world at the time.

And what about the Nephilim from Numbers 13:33? The first thing to note is that if God’s intention in sending the flood was to wipe out the Nephilim, who were human-divine half-breeds, then the purpose of the Flood was a clear failure. Despite the fact that only Noah and his family survived, and their line was pure, the Flood failed to actually eliminate these demonic demigod monsters from the earth. But if the Nephilim are the offspring of compromised marriages, then the “nephilim” can easily resurface in new bloodlines, because they are not the half-breed offspring of women and angels. Are these new nephilim giants too? Not that the text seems to indicate. They are the descendents of Anakim, and said to be “great and tall” (Deut. 1:28; 2:10, 21; 9:2). But “great” here (gidol) refers to older or greater in number, not physically larger. Likewise, “tall” (rum) means to actively raise up or lift up, in the sense of self-exaltation, proud, haughty. Thus, these nephilim that possessed Canaan were many in number and haughty in their opinion of themselves and their possession of the land. And what of Og’s bed that was thirteen feet long (Deut. 3:11)? Well, it doesn’t say a thing about Og himself, does it? Not a word. Just as a person who sleeps on a queen-sized bed today isn’t six feet wide, so there is no reason Og need be thirteen feet tall. Also, the word “bed” here (eres) is unusual, and could refer to Og’s sarcophagus, which would have included room for burial contents along with him, demanding a larger space.

Moving Forward 2014

As we start to enter the end of the first quarter of 2014, I thought it would be good to review some big changes in my lifelong journey as a disciple of Christ. This blog is an open space for asking questions and exploring things that I am wrestling with, and here is a list of the top distinctives that are defining me.

Brian McLaren had a great post recently on a hatchet job about his theological journey over at Christianity Today which accused him of all sorts of unpleasant things. The response on his blog was essentially to quit being afraid of the cultural censors and just be yourself, and be open about who you are and where you are going. That’s scary, but I felt it was something that I needed to do myself here.

The best bits of his post were at the end, when he said:

For today’s popular speakers who wonder if CT will be writing an article like this about them in ten years, I can only say that life is wonderful when you follow your conscience and aren’t afraid. … Several years ago, a respected older Evangelical theologian confided to me that if he had it to do over again, he wouldn’t have let the fear of critique by Evangelical gatekeepers have such control over him. He encouraged me to follow my conscience and not trim my sails for fear of being singled out. I have tried to follow that advice, and am glad I did. … The good news is that when I am among more open and hospitable Christians (Evangelical and otherwise), I find large numbers of people from a more restrictive Evangelical heritage – like Rob, Don, and myself- who were to some degree or another lost to or driven out of Evangelical circles. They are doing wonderful work in new settings, receiving a warm welcome, enjoying life, and creating space for others.

This sounds delightfully pleasant, and so perhaps opening myself up in a place of vulnerability will lead to wider spaces in which to move.

This means specifically that I affirm the following:

1. Evolution.

Already my conservative friends are cringing, but they really should buckle up. I was initially very hesitant about this move, because the anti-evolutionary propaganda of organizations like Answers in Genesis were engrained in me from a very early age (my parents pulled me out of public school, among other reasons, because I was learning evolution), but it has really turned out to be one of the easiest shifts. As with the others, it was really the examination of Scripture that convinced me. The genre and form of the early part of Genesis is constructed as a symbolic ANE cosmic picture with the universe pictured as the Temple of God, with the waters above, the waters below, earth in the middle, and the abyss or pit at the bottom. Such was a common world picture of the time, though the Hebraic version does also substantially modify (or correct) pagan versions (on this subject, I highly recommend Peter Enns’ Inspiration and Incarnation and John Walton’s The Lost World of Genesis One). This relieves the pressure of demanding modern scientific knowledge from an ancient document not intended to communicate in that way. Nothing is lost to the character of God or of the reliability of Scripture to discover that our interpretations and questions of the text were misguided.

2. Christian Anarchy

I am a Christian anarchist, by which I mean the voluntary surrender of secular authority rather than scruffy fellows who violently try to take down society and are generally unpleasant and destructive. The linguistic meaning of “anarchist” comes from the Greek words arche (rule) and an (against or without), but technically does not refer to chaos or orderlessness, but simply to the lack of coercion in human relationships. What is commonly thought of as “anarchy” is more accurately referred to as polyarchy (many rulers, everyone their own ruler). The “everyone did what they saw as good in their own eyes” impulse is polyarchical, not anarchical. While some Christian anarchists are opposed to the Church as an organization for this reason, in fact the Church is the continuing Incarnation of Christ on earth and thus constitutes the means through which Christ rules His Kingdom on the earth. A Christian anarchist maintains that there is no legitimate authority on earth save for Christ alone (and, by extension, the Church). (To read more on this subject, I highly recommend Mark Van Steernwyk’s The Unkingdom of God, Greg Boyd’s The Myth of a Christian Nation, and any of the works by Dorothy Day or Jacques Ellul).

3. Liberation Theology

Unlike much of evangelicalism, which sees liberation theology as some kind of Marxism in disguise, liberation theology actually began in the third world by Christian congregations suffering persecution and martyrdom, facing oppression and violence every day. When they began to explore the Scriptures outside the intellectual confines of the troublesome and diluting assumptions of majority-world, Imperial Christendom, they discovered that the whole of Scripture teaches that Yahweh has a special provision for the poor and oppressed, that Yahweh is always the God of the exodus and jubilee, the God who is continually making all things new, who upturns power structures and acts to defend those who suffer, throwing down the powerful and raising up the weak. (Do read Oscar Romero’s The Violence of Love).

4. Biblical Equality

Aka, Christian Feminism. Yes, I know, the big, scary F-word. Call it what you want, but the Bible clearly teaches it. In society, home, and Church. (On this one, you can just read my own seventeen part series Against Patriarchy. You should also check out Sarah Bessey’s Jesus Feminist and, for the more scholarly inclined, Richard Bauckham’s Gospel Women and Rachael Groothius’ edited big volume, Recovering Biblical Equality).

5. Nonviolence

It is extremely clear that the New Testament teaches total nonviolence for believers in all circumstances. We are to be peacemakers, not violence-makers. But this does not mean we cannot resist, but simply that we cannot resist by violent means. Jesus said “Do not resist evil persons with violence,” not “Do not resist the evil person at all.” (I highly recommend Preston Sprinkle’s Fight: A Christian Case For Nonviolence).

6. Penal Substitution

That’s right, I reject the theory of penal substitution as an explanation of what Jesus accomplished upon the cross. Depending upon logical incoherence, legal fictions, repeated mistranslation and misinterpretation of the Scriptures, and pagan, violent, and unmerciful views of God Himself, there is nothing in this theory for Christians today (the definitive work outlining the problems with penal substitution is Darrin Belousek’s Atonement, Peace, and Justice).

7. Gay Marriage

Yes, it is official. I have stepped out of the shadows and into public in my support for LGBTQ Christians who want to get married and wish for this to be sanctioned by the Church. A careful evaluation of the Scriptural evidence left me and the older position with no ground to stand on (Gen 19 is about rape and assault, the OT concerns cult prostitution, Romans 1 is about Israel’s idolatry, and the NT also concerns cult prostitution. Did I leave something out?). Notice how this does not impact sin or immorality in the slightest – the Church still maintains that sexual relations between persons is holy only in the context of marriage. Marriage is still between two people (not three or four or five), and between two people (no animals or inanimate objects), and two people of age (no pederasty). Gosh, all that “slippery slope” paranoia just melts away when you put it like that. (I highly recommend Justin Lee’s Torn, along with Paris, The End of Sexual Identity, and Love is an Orientation).