Assessing Matthew Vines “God and the Gay Christian” Part II: Homosexuality and Leviticus
by Joe Dallas
God and the Gay Christian, Matthew Vine’s new and well publicized book, argues that we should reconsider what the Bible says about homosexuality. His premise is that scripture is inspired and authoritative, but that it does not condemn homosexuality, and that the reason we think it does is because the Bible has been misinterpreted or misunderstood for centuries.
Such a sweeping charge – that Christians have essentially gotten it wrong for hundreds of years – needs a pretty convincing argument to back it. Whether or not Vines has provided such an argument is the focus on this five-part series. So far we’ve examined his claims about Adam and Eve’s union; his assertion that God’s intention for man not to be alone calls for same-sex marriage to be sanctioned; and his belief that telling homosexuals their desires are wrong is damaging and cruel. (See yesterday’s post)
Today, let’s look at God and the Gay Christian‘s take on the Book of Leviticus, and consider its merit.
Abomination in Fact —
“You shall not lie with a man as with a woman; it is an abomination.” (Leviticus. 18:22)
“If a man lies with a male as he lies with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination. They shall surely be put to death.” (Leviticus. 20:13)
A plain reading of these verses leads to an obvious conclusion: men ought not to sexually partner with other men. And a plain reading of these chapters in their entirety underscores that conclusion. Leviticus 18 is primarily about sexual practices forbidden to the Israelites and, in fact, forbidden to believers as well in the New Testament, and Leviticus 20 is largely, though not exclusively, about similar behaviors. Regarding sex, these two chapters combined prohibit not only homosexuality, but also incest (Lev. 18: 6-18 and Lev. 20: 11-12; 17; 19-21) adultery (Lev. 18:20 and Lev. 20:10) and bestiality (Lev. 18:23; Lev. 20: 15-16) along with the use of mediums, idol worship, and sorcery. It’s notable that most of these behaviors (apart from bestiality, and thankfully no one’s claiming Biblical approval of that one) are specifically condemned in the New Testament as well. In fact, in both these chapters, apart from bestiality, the only behaviors forbidden that are not likewise forbidden in the New Testament are intercourse with a woman during her menstrual period, and refusal to distinguish between clean and unclean animals.
It logically follows that God intended Israel to abstain from these acts, homosexuality included, an intention not limited to Israel, but also reiterated for believers in the New Testament.
Vines begs to differ, in a way which first affirms truth but then, to my thinking, turns it on its head.
— Or Abomination in Context?
In his chapter on Leviticus, the author shows fairness by making some important points, points I don’t normally read in material promoting pro-homosexual theology. Whereas pro-gay writers often accuse conservative Christians of picking and choosing which verses in the Law we take seriously, Vines rightly claims that “Christians haven’t arbitrarily chosen to ignore the parts of the Bible we don’t like.” (p. 78) That statement alone separates Vines from most other gay apologists I’ve read, who fall back on cliched remarks about condemning homosexuality but eating shellfish or wearing mixed fabrics, accusing us of hypocrisy when we observe moral codes but ignore ceremonial or dietary ones. He also correctly notes that Christ fulfilled the Law; that we’re not justified by keeping it; and that it serves to “expose our sin, revealing our need for a Savior”, as Vines puts very well on page 80.
But after carefully and pretty accurately explaining the Old Testament Law’s nature and use, he then introduces an argument no doubt borrowed from John Boswell’s Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality: that the word “abomination” (toe’vah in Hebrew) refers more to something ceremonially impure, rather than something inherently wrong or abominable. Citing scholars who share his view, Vines argues that toe’vah appears in Bible verses referencing gold and silver dedicated too idols, or making sacrifices to God in the proximity of false gods. “Toe’vah” therefore refers to idolatrous practices of Gentiles”, he asserts on p. 85, and he concludes that the “abomination” God abhors when he commands a man not to lie with a man, has nothing to do with the homosexuality itself, but rather the context it’s practiced in. (Presumably meaning homosexuality is legit if NOT practiced as a part of idol worship; forbidden if it IS. It’s therefore the context, not the thing itself, which matters.)
What, then, are we to say about the adultery, incest and bestiality prohibited in these chapters as well? Are they, too, only forbidden if they’re practiced in the context of idol worship, but allowed otherwise? We can’t have it both ways – if homosexuality is condemned if expressed in a cultic ritual but commended otherwise, it becomes hard not to make the same claim about all sexual practices in these chapters. This is one my main complaints against Matthew’s reasoning here: he imposes contingencies on these verses where contingencies do not in fact exist.
Nor does his usage of “toe’vah” hold up well. Contrary to his assertion that it is primarily used to described something ceremonially idolatrous or unclean, its notable that perhaps the most well-known use of the word occurs in Proverbs 6:16-19:
“These six things doth The Lord hate; yea, seven are an abomination (toe’vah) to Him: a proud look, a lying tongue and hands that shed innocent blood, an heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift to running to mischief, a false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren.”
Nothing ceremonial about these sins; they’re wrong in and of themselves, no matter what context they’re practiced in. The same can and should be said about incest, adultery, bestiality and homosexuality as well. It is first forbidden, then described as an abomination, the descriptive word toe’vah being the same word used to describe both ceremonially unclean acts, and actions that are wrong in and of themselves. On these points the Law is neither as coy nor ambiguous as Vines would have us believe, thereby we should condemn what it condemns with equal clarity.
But Is the Sin Sexist or Sexual?
Matthew’s one last attempt to absolve homosexuality of any wrong in the sight of Leviticus comes when he suggests that since the laying of one man with another most certainly refers to anal intercourse, and since anal intercourse at that time “feminized” the receptive partner in the sight of ancient culture, the sin of men lying with men had nothing to do with men having sex, but rather with one man subordinating another by putting him in the female role.
For support Vines turns to ancient writers Philo, Plutarch, and Clement of Alexandria, all of whom described the act of anal intercourse between men as one degrading the receptive partner by making him womanly. He further argues that, since women’s status was at the time far inferior to men’s, it was thereby an insult to a man to put him in a womanly role, particularly a sexual one.
He even goes so far as to suggest homosexual sex between men which did NOT include anal intercourse would be seen as less serious, since no penetration was involved, an argument sadly evoking memories of a former President’s claim that oral sex did not constitute literal adultery.
But here again, while raising an informative point, a cogent argument does not follow. Yes, women’s status at the time was lower the men’s; yes, the feminizing of a man would therefore be viewed as atrocious, just as in modern times the prison rape and subsequent “feminization” of a weaker inmate would be viewed with horror. None of which has direct bearing on these verses, because they condemn a sexual act between men without adding any qualifier, contingency or contextual argument. Were consensual homosexual actions acceptable to God, surely He had the capacity to inspire Old Testament authors to make a distinction between coerced homosexual sex versus legitimate homosexual sex; or between degrading homosexual actions versus affirming, mutually loving ones.
Yet no such qualifiers, contingencies or distinctions can be found here, leaving this reader wondering whether Vines might also argue that incest between Father and Daughter is only wrong if the daughter is coerced or degraded, but right if the relationship was indeed consensual. Since he appears a very reasonable and moral man, it’s unlikely he’d hold such ideas, but they seem consistent with the conclusions he’s drawn about homosexuality.
All of which brings us back to a straightforward and, I believe, common sense reading of the document in question. What does it say? Who was it said to? Is what it says reiterated throughout the document? What are the practical, obvious implications of what it says?
On those questions, which yield conclusions I believe to be obvious, we’ll close. Because, as is often said when describing the obvious:
The Thing Speaks for Itself.
In Part 3 we’ll look at Vine’s take on Homosexuality and Christ’s teachings. Please join us.