Posts Tagged ‘Paul Purdue’

On Rev. Purdue’s post, Part 8: Acts 15 is not the LGBT-affirming pastor’s friend

July 6, 2015

This is the eighth part of my discussion of fellow United Methodist pastor Paul Purdue’s recent post, “The Bible and Homosexuality.” Click here for my previous post on this topic. I will put the links to all previous posts together in one forthcoming blog post.

As Rev. Purdue winds down his blog post arguing for changing our United Methodist doctrine on sexuality, he appeals to the example of the early church in Acts 15, which ruled that Gentile believers do not have to first become Jewish before becoming Christian. He writes:

No matter where we stand on issues of homosexuality, the Acts of the Apostles offers our church a way forward!… Core Christian ideas like forgiveness, kindness, love of God, and love for neighbor wove two very different lifestyles and practices together. More than ideas, the very presence of the Risen Christ united diverse theological camps into one church…

The Jerusalem Council does not ask the Mother Church to serve pork at their pot-luck, but makes room for an experimental new branch within the mother vine. Paul calls the Gentiles “a wild olive shoot” and an “engrafted branch” (Romans 11). The new Gentile-inclusive church was a challenge. The Gentile-inclusive church dragged the Jewish Mother Church to uncomfortable new places where the Gospel was preached. Issues like sorcery, shrines, meat offered to idols, weird non-kosher food, un-circumcision, Sunday worship and other struggles bubbled up. The Jewish Mother Church welcomed this engrafted theologically diverse expression of Christian faith. No doubt, many old guard Christians shook their never shaven sideburns (Leviticus 21:5) and wondered what was happening to their church. Yet, a church united in diverse theology presented a witness that people who disagreed could stay together…

Some may see the inclusion of an “engrafted wild olive shoot” as a division in the body of Christ. The Apostolic church saw culturally-Jewish and Gentile-inclusive congregations as different expressions of the same Christian faith—two branches of the same Christian tree.

Notice his emphasis on theological diversity: “diverse theological camps,” “theologically diverse expression of Christian faith,” “diverse theology.”

Is Purdue right about this? Does Acts 15 affirm theological diversity in the early church?

In fact, it utterly rejects theological diversity. For Purdue’s analogy to hold, we would see the Jerusalem Council ruling that it’s O.K. for the Jerusalem mother church to teach that Gentiles must be circumcised and follow other aspects of Jewish ceremonial law, while it’s also O.K. for Paul and his fellow missionaries teach Gentile converts that they don’t need to follow these laws. These are as theologically incompatible ideas as the UMC’s both endorsing and forbidding gay marriage and clergy rights.

Instead, it asserts that the one “theological camp” in which all orthodox Christians must live is the one that teaches that Jewish ceremonial law is irrelevant to the gospel. Whether or not Jewish Christians continued to follow it was a matter of adiaphora (theological indifference), but they must not think that by doing so they are being faithful to God.

Besides, as I’ve argued many times on this blog, LGBT-affirming Christians, like Luke Timothy Johnson, who use Acts 15 as an example for the church as it debates homosexual practice, rarely mention or analyze one aspect of Old Testament law that was still binding on Gentiles: their avoidance of porneia, “sexual immorality.” In the comments section of a previous post, I wrote the following about Johnson’s argument:

As for Dr. Johnson’s argument, what can I say? I’m classically Protestant. No argument that contradicts the plain meaning of scripture, properly exegeted and interpreted, will persuade me. It’s ironic that Johnson uses the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 as part of his argument: while the council “reinterpreted Scripture in light of the experience of God,” they reaffirmed the proscription against porneia (sexual immorality), which the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem would have understood (without controversy) to include homosexual practice (alongside adultery, incest, and bestiality).

He refers to vv. 20-21 (without quoting it) as a “compromise” made for the sake of Jewish Christians, but he can’t mean that, can he? He surely isn’t saying that the proscription against porneia, however one interprets it, isn’t a crucial aspect of holy Christian living!

By all means, the Jerusalem church is seeing that some parts of Old Testament law have fulfilled the purpose for which they were given; that they’re no longer binding on people who are now part of Christ Jesus. Interestingly, one part of the law that is still binding is that part that deals with sexual immorality—which, again, in context would have included homosexual practice.

Finally, it’s worth considering how we know for sure that Gentiles no longer have to follow Jewish ceremonial law. We don’t have to resort to a vague “sweep of scripture” argument, or a “Jesus tea-strainer,” or arguments from silence, or unprincipled picking-and-choosing to arrive at this conclusion: we have the plain words and meaning of scripture. That’s why this theological position involves no guesswork and isn’t controversial at all.

If the Holy Spirit wanted to tell us, though God’s inscripturated Word, that homosexual practice was permissible in the same way as uncircumcised Gentile inclusion, why didn’t the Spirit do so?


On Rev. Purdue’s post, Part 7: God save us from the “red-letter Christians”

June 25, 2015

This is the seventh part of my discussion of fellow United Methodist pastor Paul Purdue’s recent post, “The Bible and Homosexuality.” For links to previous posts on this topic, click here.

Continuing with his post, Rev. Purdue writes:

I wonder can we generally agree that:

  1. Christ frees us from the Old Testament Law. Pork Barbeque is from God! Stoning is evil.
  2. We see some of Paul’s teaching on issues of slavery and women in a new non-literal light. Women are called to preach, despite what the Apostle Paul sometimes says! Slavery is evil.
  3. We allow that any practice essential to Christian lifestyle is mentioned directly by Jesus Christ or seen in Christ’s lifestyle and practice. Christians follow Christ, and the essential elements of Christianity are found in Christ’s teachings and practice.”

My response: I reject all three points. Let me take them one by one.

1. Purdue asks us to buy into the heretical idea that the Old Testament Law, with its dietary laws and civil penalties, was wrong. But as I argued in my previous post, the Law was exactly right for its time, and as Paul says in Romans, the Law accomplished the purpose for which it was given. Because Christ fulfilled the Law, we Christians are no longer bound by the ceremonial and civil aspects of it. Its ethical imperatives are perfectly good, however, and they remain in effect.

2. He’s confused about the meaning of “literal,” as I’ve said before. We do take Paul’s teaching on women and slavery literally. That’s a question of good exegesis. How these passages apply to us today is a question of good hermeneutics. See this post for more. Why does Purdue think we Christians today are morally superior to St. Paul? Can we have some humility?

3. God save us from the “red-letter Christians”! I don’t use the word heresy lightly. But as with Point 1, Purdue veers closely to antinomian Marcionism, which really is one of the Big Ones.

Purdue writes: “We allow that any practice essential to Christian lifestyle is mentioned directly by Jesus Christ or seen in Christ’s lifestyle and practice.” How to respond?

First, Jesus doesn’t mention lots of things! Not a direct word from him about incest, bestiality, polygamy, slavery, polyamory, or pederasty, for instance. Does that mean these sins are open to discussion, too? On what basis wouldn’t they be? I’m guessing Purdue would argue against at least some of these practices by citing the principles underlying Jesus’ words in Matthew 19. But as I’ve already argued, here and here, it’s on the basis of these same principles that Jesus rules out homosexual practice.

Second, if Purdue really follows this “red-letter” standard, on what basis does he affirm gay marriage? As I pointed out earlier, he agrees with me that Jesus’ words about marriage in Matthew 19/Mark 10 affirm only heterosexual marriage, yet gay marriage is still on the table for him because, after all, Jesus and the Bible don’t mention it. In other words, because the Bible presents no alternative to male-female marriage, Purdue can say, “The Bible doesn’t condemn it.” Pure sophistry, as I said earlier. The Bible presents no alternative to male-female marriage, because the definition of marriage rules it out.

No… if Purdue is right that we can only practice what is “mentioned directly by Jesus Christ,” then we can’t affirm gay marriage. Jesus’ “silence” on gay marriage rules out gay marriage. (I’m not endorsing Purdue’s argument, I’m only showing that he’s contradicting himself.)

Third, as I’ve said in response to Rev. Wade Griffith’s sermon, it’s theologically troubling to assert that Jesus doesn’t say anything about homosexual practice. Why? Because within 20 or 30 years of Jesus’ death and resurrection, the Holy Spirit—the very Spirit of Christ—inspired the apostle Paul to write what he wrote about it in Romans 1, 1 Corinthians 6, and 1 Timothy 1. Moreover, this same Spirit guided the authors of the Old Testament.

Or didn’t he? This is why the debate in the United Methodist Church about LGBT issues always comes back to the authority of scripture. The orthodox understanding of the inspiration of scripture rules out the privileging of Jesus’ “red letter” words over other parts of scripture.

I’ll say more on Purdue’s blog post later.

On Rev. Purdue’s post, Part 5: Slavery, women, and homosexuality

June 10, 2015

This is the fifth part of my discussion of fellow United Methodist pastor Paul Purdue’s recent post, “The Bible and Homosexuality.” See my four previous posts for more.

In my previous post on fellow United Methodist pastor Paul Purdue’s blog post, “The Bible and Homosexuality,” I began analyzing Rev. Purdue’s words about the three passages of scripture in Paul’s letter that directly mention homosexual practice. Purdue devotes a single paragraph to them, saying that he’ll “leave the particular word studies to the Greek scholars.” As I said, if he’s sincere about that, then he’ll accept the verdict of these experts: that Paul (and the rest of scripture) condemns homosexual practice per se in the strongest terms possible.

At the end of this paragraph, he writes: “[W]e must not ignore or proof-text Paul’s teachings on homosexuality. We must consider the three passages in their context and in light of the entirety of Christian teaching.”

I agree, and I expected him to engage these scriptures in this way. Instead of doing so, however, he spends the next five paragraphs ignoring these passages—writing words such as the following:

Friends, we now see some of Paul’s teachings in newer non-literal light. In 1 Timothy 2:12-15, Paul writes, “ A woman should learn in quietness and full submission.  I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. … Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be saved through childbearing.” What do literalists do with these verses? Can we build our theology of women around them? Was Adam not deceived? Are women saved by childbirth? An honest literalist theology must explain what Paul means by child-bearing salvation.

We now see some of Paul’s teachings in newer non-literal light.

No, we don’t! Purdue doesn’t seem to understand the meaning of the world “literal.” When we read Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 2, we don’t imagine that Paul is speaking figuratively. We aren’t reading these words as if they’re poetry. We read these words, which Paul intends for his readers to take literally, in a literal light only. Otherwise, we’re reading them incorrectly.

By introducing the concept of “literalism” here, however, Purdue can begin attacking every progressive Methodist’s favorite bogeyman: the biblical “literalist.” “What do literalists do,” he asks, “with these verses?” Since I’ve been accused by at least a couple of clergy colleagues of being a literalist myself, I suppose I’m qualified to answer.

But do you see what he’s doing? He’s questioning the character or intelligence of people like me, who believe, in good faith, that homosexual practice is a sin, by lumping us with “those darn literalists.” He doesn’t have to engage our arguments; he can just call us names. We’re guilty by association, just a notch or two above (I hope!) the late Fred Phelps. We can’t have well-principled reasons for defending the church’s traditional doctrine: either we’re not well-informed students of the Bible—or we’re not good people.

I’m tempted to ask him if he believes that Wolfhart Pannenberg, the great German theologian who died last year, was also a “literalist” because he believed in the church’s traditional stance on homosexuality.

Pannenberg and me—two peas in a "literalist" pod.

Pannenberg and me—two peas in a “literalist” pod.

Be that as it may, when he says that we should read Paul’s words about women in a “non-literal light,” he means to say that we shouldn’t take Paul’s words about women (or slavery) at face value. I agree! Obviously, when Paul says in one part of 1 Corinthians that women should “keep silent” in church (1 Corinthians 14:34), we can’t take it at face value. Why? Because he’s already approved of women prophesying in church (1 Corinthians 11:5). Women aren’t simultaneously keeping silent and prophesying at the same time. So we have to resolve what, on its face, is a contradiction.

But do I think Paul was contradicting himself? Of course not. Believe it or not, the apostle Paul was one of the greatest thinkers and writers in the history of the world. We are not smarter than he is; we are not morally superior to him. Can we give him the benefit of the doubt? Unlike his original readers and listeners, we have no access to the original context of his words. We’re eavesdropping on one side of a two-sided correspondence. We try our best to reconstruct circumstances in the Corinthian church, but this still involves much speculation.

Purdue says that we Methodists, when we began ordaining women in 1956, “clarified or perhaps set aside some Pauline ideas in obedience to the teachings of our Lord.” Clarified, yes. “Set aside”? By no means! (At least we shouldn’t have—I wasn’t around back then.)

We don’t “set aside,” I hope, any part of God’s Word! But we do interpret scripture that’s less clear in in light of scripture that’s more clear. This is a sound interpretive principle. Purdue himself does this when he defends Paul’s view of women in the following way:

In Romans 16, Paul writes “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon …receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of his people and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been the benefactor of many people, including me. Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my co-workers in Christ Jesus. They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them. Greet also the church that meets at their house.” (Romans 16) The great Apostle seemingly bans women leadership, but starts a church in Lydia’s home, works with a clergy couple, and sends a female deacon to help lead the church in Rome.

We could say much more about Paul’s exalted view of women in ministry than this. For one thing, Paul entrusted Phoebe with his Letter to the Romans, his magnum opus. She wouldn’t have merely delivered the letter like a mail carrier. She would have read it to the churches in Rome and answered questions about it. She was the letter’s first expositor.

The point is, even Purdue understands that we must interpret Paul’s words about women first in light of everything else in Paul’s corpus—and then the rest of scripture—and when we do, we understand that Paul can’t be ruling out women’s important roles in ministry.

How is this analogous at all to Paul’s words about homosexuality?

We know, for example, that Paul condemns homosexual practice without qualification in three places in his letters. If the analogy to women in ministry holds, there should be other passages in Paul that qualify, clarify, or even contradict (on their face) Paul’s blanket judgment against homosexual practice, right? Where are they?

They’re not there—neither in Paul’s letters nor in the rest of the Bible. The analogy doesn’t hold.

Purdue tries to make a similar point regarding Paul’s words about slavery (emphasis mine).

Before  we simply embrace Paul’s three verses [regarding homosexuality] at face value perhaps we need to examine Paul’s teachings on slavery. The Apostle speaks of equality before the Lord but also upholds slavery: “Slaves, obey your earthly masters… just as you would obey Christ.” (Ephesians 6:5) Surely no one anywhere, any longer quotes Paul’s words to justify slavery. Today, we stand firmly with John Wesley and our General Rules in rejecting slave holding. We have not always done that. The 1889 cornerstone of my current appointment reads “M.E.C.S.”! A good portion of our church stood with the right to own another child of God. We now name as sinful what the Levitical law and Paul accepted. Could we embrace a new understanding of homosexual persons just as we now accept a new understanding of slavery?

My questions to Purdue are these: Does he believe that the Bible writers, including Paul, were mistaken to write what they wrote? Was Paul wrong? Would Paul fail to understand, as we do today, that the involuntary, race-based, chattel slavery practiced in the few centuries leading up to the American Civil War was evil? Are we morally superior to Paul? What do we understand about sin and evil that he didn’t? Worse, did the Holy Spirit fail to properly inspire and guide the writers of scripture to write what they did about slavery (as practiced in the ancient world)? Does God’s Word endorse or promote sinful behavior?

Purdue says that he “stands firmly” with John Wesley. I do even more so because I “stand firmly” with John Wesley in believing that Paul wasn’t wrong to counsel slaves to “obey your earthly masters… just as you would obey Christ.” For one thing, what alternative did they have? For another, as many others have pointed out, slavery in Paul’s day wasn’t the same as African slavery of our American experience. It was usually voluntary; it was usually for a limited duration, not for life; it was usually bonded or indentured servitude in order to pay off a debt, after which the person was manumitted; it didn’t usually separate slaves from their families; it was often the only thing separating someone from starvation or financial ruin.

More importantly, as surely Purdue knows but doesn’t say, if all Christian slaveholders took to heart Paul’s counsel to slaveholder Philemon regarding his runaway slave Onesimus, the institution of slavery wouldn’t long survive, at least among Christians. Read the whole letter (it’s very short), but here’s one poignant part:

Accordingly, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required, yet for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you—I, Paul, an old man and now a prisoner also for Christ Jesus— I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I became in my imprisonment. (Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful to you and to me.) I am sending him back to you, sending my very heart. I would have been glad to keep him with me, in order that he might serve me on your behalf during my imprisonment for the gospel, but I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own accord. For this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, no longer as a bondservant but more than a bondservant, as a beloved brother—especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.

And let’s not forget Paul’s radical, liberating, oft-quoted words in Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

My point is that the Bible’s treatment of slavery, like its treatment of women in ministry, is not at all analogous to its treatment of same-sex sexual behavior. If it were, we should expect to find—again—some word from Paul or the other Bible writers that mitigates the unqualified condemnation of the practice of homosexuality. It’s not there.

(For more on this argument about slavery and women, see this post, which includes a link to a fine article by Timothy Tennent.)

Purdue’s words about slavery and women in ministry are a red herring, anyway.

Here’s why: While I utterly reject the premise that Paul and the Bible writers were wrong about slavery and women, let’s follow Purdue’s logic for a moment: Because Paul can’t be trusted in the case of slavery and women, Purdue argues, he therefore shouldn’t be trusted in the case of homosexual practice. Or, because the church was wrong in its interpretation of Paul’s words in the case of women and slavery, it’s therefore wrong in its interpretation of Paul’s words regarding homosexual practice.

For one thing, as I’ve shown, these things are not analogous. But even if they were analogous, Purdue doesn’t reject everything else Paul teaches—even what he teaches about sexual sin. In other words, I doubt Purdue thinks that Paul got it wrong on incest in 1 Corinthians 5. I’m sure he agrees with Paul that incest is an intolerable sin for which there is no room for compromise. I doubt that Purdue thinks that Paul got it wrong on prostitution in 1 Corinthians 6. I’m sure he agrees with Paul that Christians should not, under any circumstances, have sex with prostitutes.

And those are just two examples, of course. I’m sure Purdue agrees, in general, with much of what Paul says about sexual immorality. Nevertheless, if Paul got it wrong on slavery and women in ministry, then on what basis do we say he got it right on incest or prostitution?

I’ll keep plugging along through the rest of Rev. Purdue’s post later.

On Rev. Purdue’s post, Part 4: Bible translators know more about Greek than we do

June 8, 2015

This is the fourth part of my discussion of fellow United Methodist pastor Paul Purdue’s recent post, “The Bible and Homosexuality.” See my three previous posts for more.

In my three previous posts on this subject, I’ve refuted Rev. Purdue’s “argument from silence”: Jesus didn’t say anything about homosexuality, therefore his silence indicates that he approves of homosexual practice in some cases. Next, I turned my attention to his misinterpretation of Jesus’ words in Matthew 19, which he used to suggest that Jesus was open to alternatives to marriage between one man and one woman for life.

Today, I’ll look at the way Purdue handles the apostle Paul’s three references to homosexual practice: Romans 1:26-27, 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, and 1 Timothy 1:8-11.

Mostly, he doesn’t handle them, unfortunately. Here’s the extent of his words about these passages themselves:

The Apostle Paul speaks about homosexuality in Romans 1:26-27, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, & 1 Timothy 1:8-10. “Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers—none of these will inherit the kingdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10 NRSV) How do we read those three passages? Some scholars assert that Paul’s word usage connotes a casual promiscuous sexuality, not committed monogamous gay and lesbian marital relationships. I leave the particular word studies to the Greek scholars. However, we must not ignore or proof-text Paul’s teachings on homosexuality. We must consider the three passages in their context and in light of the entirety of Christian teaching.

Indeed, “some scholars” do assert that Paul’s usage “connotes a casual promiscuous sexuality, not committed monogamous gay and lesbian marital relationships.” Some scholars also deny that Jesus of Nazareth existed. What about it? We can always find a fringe of scholars in any academic discipline that assert any number of deeply eccentric ideas.

It’s only been in the past 40 years, however, in the wake of the sexual revolution and cultural pressure to affirm homosexual practice, that even a small minority of scholars believe that Paul is referring to something other than homosexual practice per se. Interestingly, even many mainstream, “gay-affirming” Bible scholars and historians, who’ve written extensively on the Bible and the practice of homosexuality in the ancient world, agree that the biblical witness against homosexual practice is clear and unambiguous. Here are three that I know of: William Loader, Bernadette Brooten, and Luke Timothy Johnson (from my alma mater, the Candler School of Theology at Emory).

In a Commonweal article written by Luke Timothy Johnson several years ago, in which he advocated for changing church doctrine on sexuality, he writes:

The task demands intellectual honesty. I have little patience with efforts to make Scripture say something other than what it says, through appeals to linguistic or cultural subtleties. The exegetical situation is straightforward: we know what the text says. But what are we to do with what the text says? We must state our grounds for standing in tension with the clear commands of Scripture, and include in those grounds some basis in Scripture itself. To avoid this task is to put ourselves in the very position that others insist we already occupy—that of liberal despisers of the tradition and of the church’s sacred writings, people who have no care for the shared symbols that define us as Christian. If we see ourselves as liberal, then we must be liberal in the name of the gospel, and not, as so often has been the case, liberal despite the gospel.

My point is, if Purdue is sincere when he says he wants to “leave the particular word studies to the Greek scholars,” he ought to be prepared to accept their verdict: there is no ambiguity in the Bible regarding homosexual practice.

After all, Purdue isn’t very different from me (as far as I know). If he went to a UMC-approved, mainline Protestant seminary, much less an official UMC seminary like mine, and earned an M. Div., he isn’t any better prepared to argue the nuances of biblical Greek and Hebrew than I am, much less with scholars in the field. Our knowledge of Greek and Hebrew is limited, to say the least. We are, to some extent, at the mercy of scholars who know much more about ancient languages than we do.

But I’ve noticed that my gay-affirming colleagues in ministry—who, again, have a limited understanding of Greek and Hebrew themselves—often make appeals to the obscurity of these languages as a way of saying, “We can’t know for sure what Paul meant when he said these things that seem to relate to homosexual practice. We can’t know for sure the true meaning of these obscure Greek and Hebrew words.”

I disagree. First, if Greek and Hebrew are really so obscure, how do we know anything about what the Bible says—not just the things in the Bible that make us uncomfortable, but also those scriptures that we happen to like? After all, we rely on the same exegetical and hermeneutical resources to arrive at Christian convictions concerning God’s love, grace, and mercy as we do to understand that the Bible condemns homosexual practice in the strongest terms in both Testaments. Why do we think we know something in the former case but not the latter?

Keep in mind: There was absolutely no ambiguity about the meaning of Paul’s words prior to around 1980 or so. There just wasn’t! By all means, every Christian thinker could have been wrong up to that point, but how likely is that?

deyoung_homosexuality_The truth is, while neither Purdue nor I is well-prepared to argue Greek and Hebrew, we don’t need to in the vast majority of cases. Why? Because our English translations of the Bible are a reliable guide to understanding what the ancient Greek and Hebrew are saying.

In his new book, What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality, Kevin DeYoung makes this point very well in reference to Paul’s words about homosexual practice in 1 Corinthians 6 and 1 Timothy 1 (emphasis mine).

The English translations are almost always right, especially when they basically say the same thing. Think about it: each of the nine translations listed above [ESV, HCSB, KJV, NAB, NASB, NIV (2011), NKJV, NLT, and NRSV] was put together by a team of scholars with expertise in biblical scholarship and the original languages. That doesn’t mean they can’t make mistakes or that we can’t learn new things they missed. But it does mean that after reading a few commentaries and perusing a couple of articles online you will certainly not know the ancient world or Koine Greek better than they did. If the translators thought a specific word really meant X (as seminary students and bloggers are apt to say), they wouldn’t have translated it as Y. Our English translations, imperfect though they may be, are faithful and reliable translations of the original languages. They do not need decoding.

I’ll continue to examine Rev. Purdue’s argument about Paul in my next post on the subject.

† Kevin DeYoung, What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015), 62.

On Rev. Purdue’s post, Part 3: Jesus’ puzzling words about eunuchs

June 7, 2015

This is the third part of my discussion of fellow United Methodist pastor Paul Purdue’s recent post, “The Bible and Homosexuality.” You can read Parts 1 and 2 here and here.

In my previous post, I showed that Rev. Purdue agreed with me that the Creation stories of Genesis 1 and 2 only affirm marriage between a man and woman for life. Nevertheless, Purdue suggests that because those stories don’t apply to “marriage” between two men or two women, they therefore don’t rule them out, either. As I said in my post, from Purdue’s perspective, the very weakness of the biblical case for gay marriage becomes its strength.

Such is the case with an argument from silence, unfortunately.

I took pains to show, by contrast, that the logic underneath Jesus’ affirmation of Genesis 1 and 2 rules out not only divorce in most cases but also same-sex sexual behavior. Jesus isn’t talking about one type of marriage, while leaving open the possibility of other types; he’s talking about marriage, period.

Next, Purdue tackles Jesus’ seemingly strange words about eunuchs in Matthew 19:10-12. He writes:

Jesus’ condemnation of divorce startles the disciples and they question him. Jesus ends the conversation saying “Not everyone can accept this teaching… Let anyone accept this who can.” (Matthew 19:11-12). In Matthew’s marriage conversation, Jesus offers law and latitude. Is Jesus suggesting that faithful Christians may reach different conclusions around core institutions like marriage?

Please note that the ellipsis (…) is his, not mine. When you see the full quote without the ellipsis, it’s clear that Jesus isn’t offering latitude:

The disciples said to him, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” But he said to them, “Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.”

The main challenge is deciding what “this saying” (Greek: logon) (“this teaching,” “this word,” “this statement”) refers to. Is Jesus referring to his teaching about marriage and divorce in vv. 4-9 (as Purdue implies) or the statement that the disciples just made: “it is better not to marry”? It might remain ambiguous except that the first part of verse 12 includes the connecting word “for” (Greek: gar). In other words, what Jesus says about eunuchs in v. 12 directly relates to what he has just said about the difficulty of receiving “this saying.”

Since his words about eunuchs pertain to remaining celibate (instead of getting married), “this saying” must be the disciples’ words, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.”

That it’s “better not to marry” would only be true, Jesus says, for “those to whom [the saying] is given”—in other words, for those who are required to remain celibate—either by nature (birth defect), by violence (castration), or by grace (those who have a gift for celibacy).

If v. 12 isn’t related to the disciples’ objection, then these words about eunuchs are a cryptic digression. Otherwise, they fit perfectly.

Not only does my ESV Study Bible confirm this interpretation, I also checked Wesley’s Explanatory Notes on the New Testament. About vv. 11-12, he writes:

11. But he said to them – This is not universally true; it does not hold, with regard to all men, but with regard to those only to whom is given this excellent gift of God. Now this is given to three sorts of persons to some by natural constitution, without their choice: to others by violence, against their choice; and to others by grace with their choice: who steadily withstand their natural inclinations, that they may wait upon God without distraction.

12. There are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake – Happy they! who have abstained from marriage (though without condemning or despising it) that they might walk more closely with God! He that is able to receive it, let him receive it – This gracious command (for such it is unquestionably, since to say, such a man may live single, is saying nothing. Who ever doubted this) is not designed for all men: but only for those few who are able to receive it. O let these receive it joyfully!

Obviously, Jesus’ words about eunuchs are essential to understand his point. By omitting most of v. 12, Purdue is suggesting that Jesus’ strict teaching about marriage, divorce, and celibacy is optional. “Yes,” he would have Jesus say, “while it would be nice for you to accept this difficult teaching, not everyone can. So if you can’t accept it, don’t worry about it.”

Finally, Purdue asks, “Is Jesus suggesting that faithful Christians may reach different conclusions around core institutions like marriage?”

The answer, I hope you see, is an emphatic no.

I’ll turn to Purdue’s words about Paul in my next blog post on the subject.

On Rev. Purdue’s post, Part 2: Complementarity of male and female

June 4, 2015

In the first part of my discussion of fellow United Methodist pastor Paul Purdue’s recent blog post, “The Bible and Homosexuality,” I tackled the ever-popular argument that we the church should affirm homosexual practice because, after all, Jesus didn’t say anything about it; therefore, it must not have been a big deal to him. As Rev. Purdue puts it, “Can an issue Jesus fails to address be considered essential to Christian faith?”

As I argue in my previous post, the answer is an emphatic “yes.”

After offering several examples of Jesus’ talking directly about sex and marriage, Purdue wonders why Jesus would fail to mention homosexuality. I answered this “argument from silence” in my previous post. But I still have more to say.

Specifically, I want to draw attention to one of Purdue’s own examples, Matthew 19, which includes Jesus’ prohibition of divorce in most cases. Purdue’s exegesis is both inadequate and misleading. He begins:

In Matthew 19 Jesus affirms monogamy and condemns easy divorce. “Haven’t you read the Scriptures?” Jesus replied. “They record that from the beginning ‘God made them male and female.This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.’ Since they are no longer two but one, let no one split apart what God has joined together’. Jesus affirms life-long monogamy and straight marriage. While affirming heterosexual marriage Jesus does not condemn homosexuality.

To his credit, Purdue concedes that Jesus’ words don’t affirm “homosexual marriage,” only “heterosexual marriage.” In other words, he doesn’t believe that the Creation accounts of Genesis 1 and 2, from which Jesus quotes, can accommodate anything other than a man and woman in a lifelong marriage. They don’t apply, for example, to any two adults. He seems to agree with me that the complementarity of male and female (Genesis 1:27) is one prerequisite for the kind marriage that’s described in Genesis 2.

Jesus affirms this as well, Purdue says. But by affirming this kind of marriage, Purdue says, Jesus isn’t ruling out gay marriage. How does Purdue know that Jesus doesn’t rule out gay marriage? Because Jesus doesn’t mention it!

Do you see the sophistry in this argument? The very weakness of the biblical case for gay marriage, from Purdue’s point of view, becomes its strength! The Creation accounts of Genesis 1 and 2, which affirm marriage between a man and woman, alongside Jesus’ affirmation of marriage between a man and woman, somehow bolster the case for gay marriage! What an amazing argument this “argument from silence” is! It’s bullet-proof!

Still, I would challenge Purdue to think more deeply. Jesus isn’t saying, “Here’s one kind of marriage, although there may be other kinds, which I won’t bother to mention now.” He’s saying, “Here’s what marriage is—here’s why marriage is—here’s what makes marriage marriage. And it’s for these reasons that divorce is impermissible in most cases.” As I argued in the second of two recent sermons on the subject of homosexuality, this “two becoming one flesh” only happens through sexual intercourse between male and female.

Why? Because God takes the “side” of the man (likely a larger part of the man than just a “rib,” although it doesn’t detract from my point) to create the woman, and when they come together through sexual union, the man realizes that this woman (only) has this part of himself that he’s missing, and vice versa. Through coming together sexually, the “two become one flesh” again, we might say—a reunion has taken place. That human being that had been divided by the creation of its only suitable “help meet” is now made whole again—through sexual intercourse. “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh,” the man says.

It’s fair to say, then, that a man can’t give to another man what that man is missing, any more than a woman can give to another woman what that woman is missing. Complementarity of male and female matters when it comes to sex. It reflects God’s intentions for sexual behavior.

Someone might object, “Yes, but Genesis chapter 2 isn’t meant to be taken literally; it’s figurative; it’s poetry.” For the sake of argument, let’s say that’s true. Doesn’t poetry communicate the truth? In fact, doesn’t poetry often communicate the truth more effectively than a “literal” history or science textbook? And if that’s the case, then what truth is being communicated here? That God intends for sexual activity to be between male and female only—because they complement one another physically, psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually.

The point is, if it were possible for two men or two women become “one flesh” through sexual union, we would need a different Creation story—figurative or otherwise.

I’ll continue looking at the rest of this blog post later.

On Rev. Purdue’s post, Part 1: Jesus’ “silence” on homosexuality

June 3, 2015

I think it was N.T. Wright—or maybe C.S. Lewis—who said that “back in his day,” you used to pretty well know whether an argument was won or lost.

If those days ever existed, I miss them. In “my day,” by contrast, one argument is apparently as good as any other. Nothing is ever settled.

If arguments were ever settled, then surely I wouldn’t keep reading and hearing the worst argument for overturning the unanimous verdict of two-millenia’s worth of Christian thinking about homosexual practice: Jesus didn’t say anything about it, therefore Jesus didn’t have a problem with two men or two women having sex with one another—at least within the context of a covenantal, monogamous, lifelong relationship.

I read this argument again a few days ago, in this blog post by a fellow United Methodist pastor named Paul Purdue (whom I don’t know), after at least two of my North Georgia clergy colleagues linked to the post or commented on it approvingly. Read the rest of this entry »