Abominations

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There's a particularly bad argument against those who accept the biblical prohibitions against same-sex sexual acts, and I think I've just realized something new about the argument. The Torah prohibitions on male-male sex acts are declared to be an abomination. There are those who want to reconsider how to interpret the biblical texts who want to minimize this statement. They point to the fact that eating shellfish is also an abomination in the Torah, which means it can't be all that bad to be an abomination in the Torah.

Anyone who has thought for a little bit about the relation Christians see between the Mosaic law and the New Testament should see through such an argument, because the New Testament explicitly affirms the judgment of male-male and female-female sexual relations as bad while explicitly rejecting the dietary laws that the ban on eating shellfish was a part of. So that objection is pretty naive. Any Christian interpretive grid that seeks to minimize the Torah prohibition on same-sex sex acts can't do so merely because we nowadays think it's all right to eat shellfish, because there's explicit allowance of that in the New Testament and explicit continuance of the harsh language about same-sex sex acts.

What occurred to me today, when reading Christopher Wright's discussion of Deuteronomy 25, is that there's a further problem with this objection. It's not that the occurrence of eating shellfish lowers the negative judgment on homosexuality because an innocent enough act gets called an abomination. It's the evil of eating shellfish and the other things that fall under this same term that go way up, and that includes the example Wright discusses from Deuteronomy 25 (cheating people in commercial ventures). Eating shellfish in the covenant context of God's people called together to be separate from their neighbors is tantamount to deciding for yourself what you think God's standards should have been when he instituted the dietary laws. We can't read our acceptance of shellfish-eating into how serious eating shellfish would have been taken among those at the time.

The dietary laws were an important distinguishing feature of how Israel was to live in contrast to those around them. It reflected both abandonment of pagan worship practices and an affirmation of the things in nature that, in the Mosaic covenant, represented wholeness and unity among God's people. It's easy to lose sight of how serious it is to reject that when you think about how easily Christians eat shellfish today. It's a complete misunderstanding of the cultural, indeed covenant, context of the Torah to think that the inclusion of shellfish as an abomination makes abominations not very serious.

Those who continue to hold to a high view of scripture, including the Torah, aren't going to be able to dismiss the Torah pronouncements against abominations as easily as pointing out that we all eat shellfish now and don't consider it an abomination. Any Christian does consider it an abomination to do something with the import of what eating shellfish would have been in that context. We just rightly don't think eating shellfish in our context would have the same import. So any reconciliation of the prevailing secular view of homosexuality of our day with a high view of Christian scripture is going to have to look elsewhere. I don't think it's all that plausible that we should lessen how serious we take the Torah prohibitions on what it calls abominations to be just because it's called an abomination to eat shellfish. We should instead increase our sense of the horror an ancient Hebrew would have had at the idea of eating shellfish

[cross-posted at Evangel]

4 Comments

Good point! I remember as a kid reading something (I think it was by Dr. James Dobson) about adultery being just as bad as homosexuality since it was assigned the same punishment in the Mosaic Law. I always wondered why the "abomination" part didn't warrant a distinction.

I think it is just as important to make the distinction between an abomination (uncleanliness) to the person and an abomination (disgusting wickedness) to the LORD. They are not at all the same thing.

Homosexuality doesn't have any punishment in the Mosaic law. It's homosexual sex acts (in particular male-male ones) that are criminalized in the Mosaic law. (You have to wait until Romans 1 to get an explicit condemnation of female-female sex acts.)

I think you can get an argument from Romans 1 for the unnaturalness of homosexuality, thus making same-sex acts of either kind worse in at least some sense than opposite sex sexual immorality. But we probably shouldn't go by the severity in the Mosaic law to begin with. Otherwise sex with children would be perfectly fine as long as it doesn't involve the close family relations that Leviticus 18 condemns.

The Mosaic prohibitions were issued in a particular context and had punishments that were appropriate for offenses in that context. In our context, things might be different enough that very different penalties would be appropriate, and some with worse penalties might be the ones with lesser penalties. For example, in that context, sex with someone engaged to someone else was punished as severely as sex with someone married to someone else, but in the case where there was neither engagement nor marriage it was a much less severe penalty. The way we see engagement in our culture, we would be more likely to put it with singleness than marriage.

Jeremy,

This is spot on! Very well written and beautifully argued. It is sad that even President Obama has been fooled by the arguments you refute here. Apparently a law degree from Harvard leaves one vulnerable to such easy deceptions? Or is something else at play there?

Anyhow, your post got me thinking (in a reverse but compatible direction) that the eating of shellfish by Christians actually represents something far more significant than simply chowing down on some yummy shrimp. It represents our utter freedom in Christ, and the heart-level rather than outward-observance orientation of Christianity. That was a bombshell in the world where Jesus walked. Likewise, because the fundamental prohibitions against homosexual activity are continued in the New Testament (continued and even expanded, as you've noted), and because they are tied to the heart-level issues of idolatry in Romans 1, the significance of a Christian committing homosexual sin is also huge.

Interestingly, pride is also an abomination to God, according to proverbs. I think your arguments in this essay might also be applied to show just how incredibly destructive the sin of pride is. I've never seen anyone try to use the shellfish issue to justify pride as okay for Christians! And I'd bet more destruction has been done through pride than any other kind of sin.

Eating Shellfish = Defiance of the Covenant (primarily an outward issue)
Homosexual Sin = Defiance of Creation as male and female in God's image (outward and inward issue)
Pride = Defiance of God as Authority and Source (primarily an inward issue)

Obviously you've got me thinking. So, again, great job on the post!

Grace & Peace,
Derek

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