[Update 10/24 3:54 pm: I'm removing my clarifications from the original update to this post and working the clarification into the text. See this post for why; there's a slight update to my thinking on this in that post as well.]
This post started as a response to the comments on Wink's Legislating Morality post, so if you haven't read that then you might want to glimpse at it for the context. I intend this to be a self-contained post, however, so that's not absolutely required reading. I predict right now that this post will get me in big trouble.
The issue at hand is what to make of Leviticus 18:22: "You shall not lie with a man as a man lies with a woman; it is an abomination." In the aforementioned comments thread, William mentioned this as a reason to think we should regard with utmost caution anything called an abomination. Very few things are called such a strong term. Rocky responded that eating shellfish is described by the same term. William replies that God and Peter dealt with the eating of shellfish, while no other abomination in scripture loses that status. I assume that's about Peter's vision sent to him for the purpose of accepting Gentiles into the gathering of new covenant believers, which wasn't really so much about the food as it was about what it symbolized. Jesus did declare all foods clean, however, so the point remains.
Jesus declared them clean, just as he declared clean the man with the skin condition, unclean by the Torah's standards. That must mean that whatever ritual significance they had was only temporary. It could be removed by divine fiat. After all, it was stipulated in the Torah by divine fiat. William is suggesting that when Jesus declares something clean it is clean, even if the Torah said otherwise, meaning the Torah had temporary jurisdiction over that item. Do other things declared unclean by the Torah remain unclean then if Jesus didn't declare them clean? Does it mean those things are inherently evil and not just ritually unclean? I say not necessarily, and one possibility that occurred to me sounds really weird but seems consistent with the entire biblical record, especially once you consider some biblical-theological themes across scripture.
Jesus' declaration of an abomination (shellfish) to be clean must mean that whatever an abomination is it's the sort of thing that can in principle be declared clean. Something's being an abomination doesn't mean it's inherently unclean. There may be some abominations that are inherently unclean but not in virtue of being abominations, or shellfish couldn't be declared clean. That doesn't mean that all abominations not declared clean by Jesus or elsewhere in the NT are permanently unclean. The only way we should conclude that is if we think of the NT as superceding the OT, as if it somehow vetoes or cancels it. Some have artificially tried to fit the Torah into their little organizational box, saying that some parts of the Torah, i.e. the civil and ceremonial parts, are canceled, while the moral law stays. Theonomists modify this by keeping the civl as well. Both view use categories not in scripture and oversimplify the OT-NT relation for the sake of a coherent and comprehensive system. All Jesus says is that he came to fulfill the law, not one iota of which will pass away. Nothing is canceled. All is fulfilled. It's just that some aspects are fulfilled in different ways. It would take forever to say more than that, but I don't want to assume that any part of the Torah is canceled.
William's view, presumably, when put into this way of thinking, is that parts of the Torah that are explicitly fulfilled in some symbolic manner are no longer applicable in our setting, while parts that aren't explicitly fulfilled in some symbolic manner must still be applicable in our setting. Is that so? What about the festivals? There's no explicit discussion in the NT of how the festivals are fulfilled in Christ. They clearly are; Paul does use the word 'jubilee' once somewhere, though I don't remember offhand where it is. Still, there's no discussion of how each feast symbolizes different elements of the gospel. There's not even a clear discussion for most of the feasts (or for that matter the various types of sacrifice) what they symbolized in the immediate context for the ancient Hebrews. Leviticus generally just tells what to do and when, occasionally saying why for some things. So there's no grid in which to fit various Torah commands or statements so that we can see which ones are fulfilled in which ways. There's no immediately obvious answer whether something declared unclean in the Torah is unclean in our setting.
I say the same might be so for abominations. I'm not going to look carefully at every item called an abomination, but I will say one thing about the two items under discussion now, eating shellfish and a man lying with a man as a man lies with a woman. What I want to say is quite surprising even to me, but I think it's correct. These two things have something in common that I was amazed to realize. After careful study over a number of years, I have remained confident that same-sex sexual acts remain in the category of sin in the New Testament. I think the texts require that. Yet I now have to concede that this is as temporary and symbolic a command as that of not eating shellfish. Once the biblical-theological framework is in place, that's going to be clear.
The word translated as 'abomination' really just means repugnant, detestable, or abhorrent. Apparently in most of these laws it's God's disgust and not the disgust of humans and is probably so here. Why would God declare something abhorrent and then declare it clean? Christians generally take the food laws to be pointing toward Christ, and therefore violating them means rejecting God's way of having his people illustrate timeless truths in a particular historical situation. Those timeless truths are about spiritual cleanness and uncleanness, spiritual holiness and commonness. These categories were necessary for understanding the relational aspects of the effect of sin, particular bin our relationship with God. The Jewish mindset at the time of Jesus was ripe for understanding that aspect of the gospel message because of their background in Torah categories of holy, common, clean, and unclean.
So sacrificial and ritual laws really find their fulfillment in the gospel events themselves, in Jesus' bringing us into restoration with the community of the faithful and most importantly with God. Those not in that restored relationship are genuine outsiders, and someone is one or the other, with no middle ground. People might be in the camp but be unclean, but the spiritual category is the important one, spiritually speaking. Then when the ritual categories were no longer useful for illustrating that, when the mystery hidden throughout the ages was revealed in Christ Jesus, he declared all foods clean, and Paul was able to say in a couple places that everything God created is good.
Nothing like that seems to be true of homosexuality. That's William's point. It's still an abomination because there's no reason to say that the new covenant has fulfilled the purpose of the Torah statements about it. I think there's something to that, in that I don't see any removal of the statement that homosexual sex is sin. In fact, there are a few clear statements by Paul that homosexual sex is not only sin but one that violates the very nature of God's creation. He doesn't explore why he thinks that there (Romans 1:18ff.), but other things he says give a good sense of what he's getting at, particularly his statements in I Corinthians 11, Ephesians 5, and other places about male-female relations. He compares the husband-wife relationship to that of Christ and the church, and he also compares it to that of the Father and the Son within the Godhead. Those are eternal relationships, so one might think that the male-female relationship reflecting them is eternal. However, our relationship with God is eternal, and the food regulations representing it aren't eternal. They're temporary. The difference is that food regulations were part of the old covenant looking forward to the new. The marriage relation is older than the old covenant and continues to the consummation of the bridegroom (Christ) and his bride (the gathered faithful around the throne of God in heaven). That is still yet to come.
However, it will come, which means the reason behind the command against homosexual sex will be fulfilled. Marriage looks forward to the consummation of Christ and his bride the church. When that happens, marriage will no longer exist. The only reason I've ever been able to make sense of why gay sex is bad is because it's between two men and thus can't represent what sex and marriage are supposed to look forward to. That will be done by the time of the resurrection, which is why there won't be any marriage.
Sexual relations may or may not be part of the resurrection. There will be none that involve giving and taking in marriage. Jesus doesn't say there won't be sex or anything like it, though he also doesn't say there will be something like it. I don't know what this would look like, but apparently C.S. Lewis' Space Triology, which I've never read but Sam has, speculated a bit about a fictional kind of spiritual relation that transcends sex. I can't rule that out. On the other hand, maybe there won't be sex or anything like it. If there is something like sex, it won't be limited to husband-wife relations, since there won't be any. It may not even be limited to male-female relations, because I don't even know if sex distinctions will remain in the resurrection. I don't know if there won't be something analogous to sex but that will be practiced by all of us with all of us, in complete intimacy as a united people of God with no sin coming between any of us. Who knows? God does, but his scriptures don't seem to me to have made it entirely clear what we should expect. This is complete speculation at this point, and it's useless to speculate on such things other than to realize that we don't know. I mention the possibilities only to recognize that I can't really rule them out for sure. I think the proper attitude toward any of this is humility, which means not having any views about how things have to be.
Both cases (eating shellfish and men having sex with other men) are abominations in that God is repelled by human behavior that violates how he has stipulated for us to live in the setting the command applies to. In the case of shellfish, it applies to the Mosaic covenant, which is fulfilled in Christ and in this element of it not applicable to us today as a command to us in our setting. In the case of male-male sex, it applies to the entire period between creation and the consummation, when it (as a negative statement about what not to do) will be fulfilled in its representation of what the relationship between Christ and the church is not and what the relationship between Father and Son in the Trinity is not. So in the end I say it's not clear that same-sex sex is absolutely prohibited for all time, but I do think the scriptures are clear that it's wrong for the entire time between creation and Christ's return. The reason it's wrong, indeed the reason it's an abomination, is exactly the same as the reason eating shellfish was wrong and indeed an abomination for the ancient Hebrew. That reason is that God had commanded a structure for his people to represent something eternal, something wonderful, and blatant disregard for the structure set up by God is rejection of God's lordship. In one case that structure was built into creation (and may or may not be in the new creation), while in the other it was merely part of the particular covenant it's stated within. Both are abominations for the same reason, and both are very bad in their relevant context. We're just still in the context of one of them and not in the context of the other. That's why it sounds silly to us to call eating shellfish an abomination, which tempts us to say homosexual sex must not be so bad. That misunderstands the reason why both are said to be abominations.