DTS Scholars Discuss Homosexuality in the Old Testament

Four scholars from Dallas Theological Seminary discuss same-sex sexuality in an Old Testament context a year after the occasion of the release of The Queen James Bible, a re-working of eight passages from the King James Bible which evangelical traditionalists believe refer to homosexuality in toto, as we understand homosexuality in the modern era, a re-working that seeks to "prevent homophobic misinterpretation." (link) I was asked by a friend to view the video and to offer a response. So allow me to grant a first-impression perspective only four minutes into the presentation: at this panel is seated four scholars from the same institution, maintaining the same perspective, the host, Dr. Darrell L. Bock, introducing the subject with an air of smugness. This presentation is an echo chamber.

Dr. Bock opens: "[W]e actually have a way into this conversation by something that has been produced recently in the culture within the last year: there's a Bible called The Queen James Bible." At this announcement, he slows his speech, in order to let his listeners intuit the shocking nature of the production. He continues: "Now you heard that right; that was not King James; that was Queen James. I remember telling my wife about this, in thinking about doing this podcast, and she says, 'You've gotta be joking,' and my response was, 'No, I'm actually very serious.'" So, at the outset of the podcast we have four heterosexual [how convenient that they are thusly blessed] conservative evangelical men mocking the motive behind The Queen James Bible, maintaining superior and self-satisfied attitudes.

To confess that this opening, coupled with the priggish nature of the host, is an inappropriate manner to begin any discussion, to say nothing of opening a discussion as serious as homosexuality, is a gross understatement. Allow me, once again, to reiterate a primary problem with conservative evangelicals and the subject of homosexuality: they, generally, tend to treat "homosexuality" divorced from homosexuals (and the rest of the members among LGBTQ persons). As in this echo chamber podcast example, they do not want to dialogue with members of an opposing position, but they want to talk at us.

Allow me one more complaint before addressing the issues raised in the video. These four scholars are operating within their own hermeneutic. They, in no sense whatsoever, can conclude with any opposing position, even while examining the evidence in the texts, than what their hermeneutic will allow. This is the fate of every interpreter of every text known to humanity. This is also the fate of every individual the world over with every bit of information we encounter, whether news, politics, entertainment, poetry, or conversations.

We all operate within the confines of our own hermeneutic (presuppositions, perspectives, cultural and cognitive contexts). LGBTQ-affirming scholars and advocates will never be convinced by traditionalist scholars and advocates and vice versa. This is the reality in which we all exist. A debate exists because variant perspectives exist. One side of this issue cannot blame the other side of "seeing what they want to see" in the texts. Advocates on both sides can read the same text, e.g., "You shall not lie with a male as with a woman" (Lev. 18:22), and one side will conclude, "See? Here is a command that a male is not to have sex with another male." Proponents of the opposing view will ask, "Why does the author write 'as with a woman'? Why the specific qualification? Why not merely state: "You [a male] shall not lie [or have sexual intercourse] with a male"? By qualifying "as with a woman," the author seems to be indicating a specific type of sex, and we need to ask difficult cultural questions.

Someone will demand that the context will inform our thinking. This is misleading for two primary reasons: 1) even the context is interpreted through our hermeneutical lens; and 2) there is only this verse for some type of homosexual sex mentioned within the passage of Leviticus 18:22 (and Leviticus 20:13). As a matter of fact, the author uses the Hebrew euphemism לְגַלֹּ֣ות עֶרְוָ֑ה, "uncovering the nakedness of" someone, when referring to sexual intercourse (cf. Lev. 18:6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19), but he does not use that expression when allegedly proscribing some form of homosexual sexual activity at Leviticus 18:22 (and Leviticus 20:13). Why? The author does not even use the Hebrew תִתֵּ֥ן (Lev. 18:20), to "have sexual intercourse with" someone, at Leviticus 18:22. Are we not to ask why?

When two critics approach the same text and conclude with variant notions, writes Dr. Stanley Fish, from his book, Is There a Text in This Class?, there is a problem when
each [one] claims the same word as internal and confirming evidence. Clearly they cannot both be right, but just as clearly there is no basis for deciding between them. One cannot appeal to the text, because the text has become an extension of the interpretive disagreement that divides them; and, in fact, the text as it is variously characterized is a consequence of the interpretation for which it is supposedly evidence. . . . Nor can the question be settled by turning to the context . . . for that too will only be a context for an already assumed interpretation.1 (emphasis author's original)
In essence, then, the only path toward conversion, if you will, to a contrary position is if one can be convinced that one's ideological (and, in this case, theological) opponent is operating with a better means of interpreting any given text, monologue, or other piece of information. Changing one's perspective on any issue requires not simply a "change of mind" but a willing change of hermeneutics (hermeneutics being the art and science of interpretation). For example, when a person who formerly did not believe in the Charismatic gifts eventually changes the mind and then believes in the Charismatic gifts, a change in hermeneutics -- a method of interpreting the Bible and experience -- was operative. This change, no doubt, requires patience, study, experiential engagement and an active willingness to view the issue at hand from a different and contrary perspective.

This helps explain why some people do not change their perspective of various issues: they are not willing to view a different perspective and consider its viability. For example, I will be engaging the topic of Open Theism in the near future, and I will approach the subject and the study material from the viewpoint of Open Theists while not only remaining receptive when being presented with a new perspective but also considering that Open Theists may actually be correct. Mind you, this is not how I was taught to treat opposing viewpoints from my conservative evangelical rearing, as the same defend their already-attained views with unparalleled dogmatism. But the reality of hermeneutics has forever changed my cognitive orientation regarding new information and worldviews.

The first biblical passage the scholars address is Genesis 9:18-28. Dr. Bock suggests the text is about one of the sons of Noah, Ham, uncovering the nakedness of his father. Dr. Bock is quickly corrected by Dr. Robert Chisholm, and the correction is paramount, given that the Hebrew euphemism, "to uncover the nakedness of" someone, refers to sexual activity. Dr. Chisholm rightly acknowledges the honor/shame culture of the day, suggesting that merely looking upon the nakedness of his father Noah would have been deemed inappropriate and humiliating. Ham informed his two brothers as to the nakedness of their father and so the two brothers walked in backwards into the tent and covered him. The scholars agree that this passage cannot be used to support any semblance of a heinous nature of homosexuals.

The next text addressed is Genesis 19:1-11, the infamous story of the wickedness and destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and I think Dr. Chisholm is correct to insist that this occurrence is more than a hospitality issue, but also a sexual issue, as intending to gang-rape two foreigners who enter a town is not merely "inhospitable." He is, however, right to suggest that an ancient Israelite reading the text would respond: "This is horrible! This is especially horrible to treat a visitor this way." He then turns to the motive: the dichotomy between sexual lust vs. "power-rape" to humiliate the visitors is questioned. The parallel of Judges 19:1-30 is rightly allowed into the conversation in order to inform the Sodom narrative. None of the scholars on this panel conclude that the men referred to in both texts are heterosexuals and I would like to understand why. (For further perspective on this very issue, see the post, "The Abomination above All Other Abominations.")


The next text(s) addressed include Leviticus 18:22 and Leviticus 20:13 which, according to Dr. Bock, "will probably get the most discussion because, in most people's view, they are the most direct references to this kind of situation." Dr. Bock uses the commentary from the NET Bible, which offers the following detailed information on these passages: "Heb 'And with a male you [a male] shall not lay [as the] lyings of a woman' (see B. A. Levine, Leviticus [JPSTC], 123). The specific reference here is to homosexual intercourse between males." (link) (The first bracketed reference is mine.) Thus ends the commentary on this "very important text" (see that quote below) that allegedly so clearly proscribes homosexual relationships and homosexuality as we understand homosexuality in the modern era; thus ends all relevant historical references, ancient near east practices, and even Jewish tradition regarding that passage. They offer us two sparse sentences and conclude.

Dr. Bock then references The Queen James Bible editors snidely, stating, "This is a very important text and so I am going to read this editor's note; it says, 'Leviticus is outdated as a moral code.' You can tell the passage makes them nervous." This smarmy remark is, tragically, too typical among conservative evangelical Christians. They make enemies of those with whom they disagree biblically, socially, and politically. They also wonder why many of them are not taken seriously among noted scholars worldwide. Well, this is one reason why, as so clearly demonstrated by Darrell Bock. Instead of merely addressing the source material Bock stoops to sarcasm and demeaning his ideological opponent.

Consider the claim of the editors of The Queen James Bible regarding the outdated nature of the levitical code: Are Christian husbands to avoid sexual relations with their wives during the entirety of their wives' menstrual cycle? (Lev. 18:19) Are Christian men allowed to have sexual relations with a female slave belonging to another man? (Lev. 19:20) Are Christian farmers still forbidden to reap to the edge of their land or sow their fields with two different kinds of seed? (Lev. 19:9, 19) Are Christian animal-breeders still forbidden to breed different kinds? (Lev. 19:19) There are a plethora of other commands in the levitical code ignored by evangelical Christians today because they are deemed outdated. Why, then, this smear campaign from Bock to the editors rendering the same exact sentiment?

Dr. Chisholm, again, is correct in stating that the levitical code is intended for all of Israel and not merely for the Jewish priests. (cf. Lev. 1:1; 18:1-5, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30) He is also correct, I think, to denote that many of these codes regard crossing sexual boundaries. (e.g., Lev. 18:6-18) He then briefly addresses Genesis 2:24, "and the two shall become one flesh," insisting that this verse "rules out" polygamy and homosexuality. Yet the LORD allowed polygamy. There is a command against polygamy (Deut. 17:17) and, yet, God did allow polygamy (Lev. 18:18). I think scholars need to tread carefully by over-using Genesis 2:24 for support against homosexual relationships. Someone could suggest that, though homosexual relationships may not be God's design or original intent, God could allow the same to occur in our fallen context. After all, God did not originally design polygamy, yet God made provision for such cases. This is not my opinion but merely a possible view.

Dr. Bock emphasizes the editor's note from The Queen James Bible regarding Leviticus 18:22 being related to cultic temple prostitution because of the prior verse concerning sacrificing children to the false god Molech at Leviticus 18:21. Dr. Chisholm responds rightly, I think, noting that we cannot limit the Leviticus 18:22 passage to the prior verse regarding child sacrifice any more than we could limit Leviticus 18:23, concerning bestiality, with the prior verse on some type of same-sex sexuality. Chisholm does refer, however, to the cultic temple prostitution and sexual idolatry noted at 1 Kings 14:24 in a land that actually did worship Molech: "there were also male temple prostitutes in the land." He then concludes: "But I don't believe that in this context you can make that connection. You'd have to show me that this Molech worship, that's in view here, which is typically associated with child sacrifice, has some kind of male cult prostitute dimension to it." Let us investigate.

Child sacrifice is rife in ancient times to the false god Molech. (cf. Lev. 18:21; 20:2, 3, 4; 1 Kings 11:7; 2 Kings 23:10; Jer. 32:35) There is this reference, however, "I myself [the LORD speaking] will set my face against them and against their family, and will cut them off from among their people [i.e., kill them], them and all who follow them in prostituting themselves to Molech." (Lev. 20:5) We might name this particular reference as spiritual idolatry. But the Israelites did display not only sinfully sexual proclivities but also (sexual) idolatry: "For they also built for themselves high places, pillars, and sacred poles on every high hill and under every green tree; there were also male temple prostitutes in the land." (1 Kings 14:23, 24) Here we denote idolatry, sexual idolatry, and male prostitution. I recall another example.

Moses had been on Mount Sinai for too long and the people he was leading gathered around his brother Aaron and demanded that he mold for them gods to worship. Not only do the people of Moses commit idolatry but they also engage in sexual orgies. (Exodus 32:1-20) The two great sins of Israel (besides the most prominent sin of perpetually turning away from the LORD) are idolatry and sexual sins (including sexual idolatry).

Returning to our Leviticus 18:22 passage, there is an aspect that I think our traditionalist friends are missing, at least missing from the present discussion. The Hebrew word for "abomination," toevah, is referenced as "idol" at Deuteronomy 7:25-26, Isaiah 44:19, Jeremiah 16:18 and Ezekiel 7:20; 16:36. We find the same reference at 1 Kings 14:24, where both idolatry and cult prostitution sexuality are in view, thus granting further evidence at Leviticus 18:22 toward the required dimension of cult prostitution by Dr. Chisholm.2 This is granted further weight when considering that Molech is a god belonging to the Ammonites3 (Acts 7:43), as well as to the Canaanites, the former of which are explicitly noted at our 1 Kings 14:21-24 passage that includes cultic prostitution. Note that the mother of Rehoboam, leader of Israel, is "Naamah the Ammonite." (1 Kings 14:21) There are inferences present, surely, but not the explicit evidence required by traditionalists for linking male prostitution at Leviticus 18:22 and Leviticus 20:13 and sexual idolatry. Unless we consider the following:
Leviticus 18 is specifically designed to distinguish the Jews from the pagans among whom they had been living, or would live, as its opening remarks make clear -- "After the doings of the land of Egypt, wherein ye dwelt, shall ye not do: and after the doings of the land of Canaan, whither I shall bring you, shall ye not do: neither shall ye walk in their ordinances. [Lev. 18:3 KJV] And the prohibition of homosexual acts follows immediately upon a prohibition of idolatrous sexuality (also "toevah" [referring to an idol or that which is considered idolatrous]): "And thou shalt not let any of thy seed pass through the fire to Molech, neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God. . ." [Lev. 18:21 KJV].4
Again, the traditionalist is not convinced by such reasoning, demanding instead an explicit reference of sexual idolatry practiced in the name and service of Molech, if we consider Leviticus 20:5 in a spiritual rather than a literal sense.

The irony, of course, is that the LGBTQ-affirming advocate also remains unconvinced by traditionalist reasoning, demanding an explicit reference that loving and committed monogamous homosexual relationships are condemned by God in lieu of ambiguous readings from two Hebrew texts (Lev. 18:22; 20:13), stating literally, "You shall not sleep the sleep of a woman with a man." What if this refers to mere uncovenanted sex? What if this refers to temple prostitution? What if this refers to sexual exploitation? What if this refers to male anal penetration that degrades the "manhood" of the male penetrated in this honor/shame culture -- a notion entirely irrelevant in the modern era? Even if the proscription is intended for same-sex couples, what if this particular code was intended solely for Jewish men in this era?

__________

1 Stanley Fish, Is There a Text in This Class? The Authority of Interpretive Communities (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2000), 340.

2 John Boswell, Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1981), 100.

3 The Baker Illustrated Bible Dictionary, ed. Tremper Longman III (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2013), 1171.

4 Boswell, 100.

ABOUT WILLIAM BIRCH

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My name is William Birch and I grew up in the Southern Baptist tradition but converted, if you will, to Anglicanism in 2012. I am gay, affirming, and take very seriously matters of social justice, religion and politics in the church and the state.