Dr.Manfred Brock and Dr. William Hertzog, II
at the American Baptist Assembly in Greenlake,Wisconsin
Part One - Manfred Brauch
The Prohibitions of Leviticus 18:22; 20:13
A. Basic Assumptions and Principles in Biblical Interpretation
My guiding challenge, as an interpreter of scripture are these wordsfrom the Apostle Paul:
We are servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreoverit is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy. (I Cor: 4:1-2)
We have been given the light of the knowledge of the glory of Godin the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in our earthen vessels.(II Cor. 4:6-7)
The first text calls me to accountability to responsibility asa student of scripture, to determine in honesty and integrity what thetext really says and really means, not what I would like it to say andmean. The second text calls me to humility, to recognize that Ibring my limited, weak, stumbling, broken humanity to this task of faithfulinterpretation. To the extent to which I live out these challenges, inmy teaching and writing and in this forum this morning, I gladly leavethat to the judgment of God and my brothers and sister in Christ.
For me the key to a proper understanding of the nature and authorityof the Bible as word of God is the incarnation.
The word became flesh and dwelt among us, (John I:14)
assuming our human limitation and brokenness. Consequently, the wordand witness about God, about God's coming and redemptive presence, containedin scripture, participates in that same incarnational reality, assumingthe cultural and historical limitations of those who bore witness to God'sredemptive action.
Because of that incarnational reality of God's word, one of themost critical tasks in Biblical interpretation is this: How does one discernwhat in scripture is culturally or historically conditionedand thus belongs only to the time of the writer, from what is transculturaland transhistorical and thus is authoritative for Christianfaith and life at all times and all places?
Among numerous criteria for this process of discernment, which all ofus in one way or another engage in, are the following important guidelines:
B. The Holiness Code and Homosexuality
In our first text group, Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13, with which you areall familiar, these verses which clearly forbid homosexual relations betweenmen are part of the holiness code of Leviticus 17 through 26. Calling uponIsrael to separate itself from the practices of the surrounding nation,Leviticus 18:3. Can these rules and regulations be normative for us? Andif so, which ones?
It has been argued that the concern in these and other prohibitionsin the Holiness Code is which ritual purity rather than with the moralityof particular acts and, since the gospel releases Christians from the lawsof purity, Mark 7, Acts 10, Romans 14. These injunctions are not relevantin a discussion of Christian sexual morality.
Others connect these passages with text that condemn prostitution inIsrael, like Deuteronomy 23:17. And in the ancient world that practicetook on both homosexual and heterosexual forms.
But there are no references in the Holiness Code to sexual abuse incontexts of worship. It is simply the act. You shall not lie with a manas with a woman. Which is rejected. What is in view is the formof the sexual activity, not it's motivation and context. This sense isfurther confirmed by the juxtaposition with beastiality in both chapters18 and chapter 20.
But more importantly, the Holiness Code is concerned much morewith issues of morality and justice than with issues of ritual cleanlinessand purity.
Besides rules about eating blood (17:10f, 19:26) , menstrual uncleanness(18:19), proper sacrifices (17:2-8, 19:5-8), mixed seeds or cattle (19:19), unclean animals (20:25), Sabbath keeping (19:3,30), there are prohibitionsagainst incest (18:6-18, 20:17f), adultery, (18:20; 20:10), homosexuality(18:22; 20:13), beastiality, tribe sacrifice, idolatry and all kinds ofrules and codes and regulations about honoring of parents, care for thepoor, stealing and bearing false witness, oppressing the neighbor, committinginjustice, slandering others, hating the brother or taking vengeance, unfairtrading, rape of a betrothed woman, harming handicapped persons, acts ofviolence, defrauding with false weights and measures, unequal rulings incourt, pushing one's daughter into the practice of prostitution.
Thus, the distinction between purity and morality is not one which canbe easily imposed on the thought world of either the Old Testament or theNew Testament. Would first century Christians have isolated the Leviticalprohibition of same sex acts or incest or the rape of a servant girl aspart of a newly obsolete standard of holiness?
There is no reason to suppose that Paul or the first generation of Christianswould have connected the prohibition of same sex activity with, for example,the prohibition of sex during menstruation, rather than with the prohibitionof adultery. Indeed, much of the material in Leviticus 18 through 20, particularlyin the chapter verse - chapter 19, between these two verses, 18:22 and20:13, is concerned with behaviors which Paul rejects in Romans 1:29 through32 as well as other catalog devices which are in - incompatible with participationin the Kingdom of God.
The crucial hermeneutical question is this: On what basis andby what criteria -- given commitment to the authority of scripture, dowe decide which parts of the Levitical holiness code are obsoleteand which continue to be normative, ethical moral standards for Christianlife and relationships?
For me, the answer to that question is Jesus life and teaching andthe Apostolic witness. There is no question about it. Jesus radicallyand unceremoniously rejected the holiness codes, categories of ritualpurity and cleanliness, uncleanness as well as in the oral law of the phariseesand the Torah. The blind and lame, the handicapped and lepers were forhim, not outside the sphere of God's reign and God's love.
Further, he drew into his fellowship the sinners, prostitutes,tax collectors, prodigal sons. But, he did not affirm theirliving and behaving because he knew it to be destructive. He came, so saysthe gospel to "seek and save the lost." And lostness isthe result of all those practices and behaviors in the Holiness Code, whichare clearly distortive and destructive of life as intended by God.
Precisely the same, it seems to me can be said of Paul. There can beno question that, following Jesus Christ, he repudiated the requirementsof the holiness code regarding purity, ritual practice, clean, uncleancategories. For Paul the law, and particularly the ritual law, wasno longer the vehicle or means to salvation and belonging to God's Kingdom.But Paul most certainly did not reject the normative force of its moral,ethical requirements as its numerous injunctions to holy and righteousliving buttressed with lists of the specific practices clearly demonstrates.
Since Paul clearly includes same sex relations in categories of livingwhich for him are contrary to God's kingdom, the holiness code injunctionsin this and other moral matters remain normative for anyone, it seems tome, who does not go beyond the confines of the Biblical cannon fordiscerning the mind of Christ in ethical and moral decision making.
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