Wednesday, July 04, 2012

degrees of sin

While not a comprehensive argument, below is an excerpt from Robert Gagnon's How Bad is Homosexual Practice relative to 'not all sins are equal'. I've blogged on this before so this is not an attempt to defend the position, just to add a little wood to the fire.

[I]t is not true that all offenses to God are in all senses equally offensive to God.

For those from the Reformed tradition it should be noted that such a view is “reformed.” For example, the Larger Catechism of the Westminster Confession of Faith (1647) states the obvious: “All transgressions of the law of God are not equally heinous; but some sins in themselves, and by reason of several aggravations, are more heinous in the sight of God than others” (7.260; elaboration in 7.261; cf. the Shorter Catechism 7.083).

The claim that Scripture does not support the notion of different weights of sins is also inaccurate, in my view. To take a few examples:

  1. In the Old Testament there is a clear ranking of sins. For instance, when one goes to Leviticus 20, which reorders the sexual offenses in Leviticus 18 according to penalty, the most severe offenses are grouped first, including same-sex intercourse. Of course, variegated penalties for different sins can be found throughout the legal material in the Old Testament.
  2. Jesus also prioritized offenses, referring to “weightier matters of the law.” For instance, healing a sick person on the Sabbath takes precedence over resting.
  3. Paul’s attitude toward the case of incest in 1 Corinthians 5 also makes clear that he differentiated between various sexual offenses, with some being more extreme than others. This is clear both from the horror in his tone at the case of incest but, even more, from the fact that he has to arbitrate between competing values when he condemns the incest. If there were no ranking of priorities, how could Paul reject out of hand a case of incest that was monogamous and committed? If the values of monogamy and commitment to longevity were of equal weight with a requirement of a certain degree of familial otherness, Paul could not have decided what to do. Would commitment to a monogamous, lifelong union cancel out the prohibition of incest? Obviously, this was not a difficult matter for Paul to decide. He knew that the incest prohibition was more foundational.

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