Monday, July 28, 2014

irenaeus the continuationist

Was Irenaeus a charismatic?
  • Against Heresies 2.31 - Christians still heal the blind, deaf, and chase away all sorts of demons. Occasionally the dead are raised. Gnostics and other non-Christians can't chase away demons - except those demons that are sent into others by themselves, if they can even do so much as this.
  • Against Heresies 2.32 - Some Christians do certainly and truly drive out devils, so that those who have thus been cleansed from evil spirits frequently both believe in Christ, and join themselves to the church. Others have foreknowledge of things to come: they see visions, and utter prophetic expressions. Others still, heal the sick by laying their hands upon them, and they are made whole. Yea, moreover, as I have said, the dead even have been raised up, and remained among us for many years. The church does not perform anything by means of angelic invocations, or incantations, or by any other wicked curious art; but directing her prayers to the Lord.
  • Against Heresies 4.9 - In 1 Corinthians 13, "that which is perfect" and "face to face" refer to the second coming. 
  • Against Heresies 5.6 - Those who are "perfect" are those who have received the Spirit of God, and who through the Spirit of God do speak in all languages, as He Himself, used  also to speak. In like manner we do also hear many brethren in the church, who possess prophetic gifts, and who through the Spirit speak all kinds of languages, and bring to light for the general benefit the hidden things of men, and declare the mysteries of God, whom also the apostle terms "spiritual," they being spiritual because they partake of the Spirit, and seek spiritual understanding to become purely spiritual. 
From James R. Payton Jr.'s Irenaeus on the Christian Faith:

... The heretics cannot raise the dead, as the Lord raised them, and as the apostles did by prayer, and as has been frequently done in the brotherhood because of some necessity. At times, the entire church in a particular locality has entreated for this extraordinary gift by mush basting and prayer of the saints. But the heretics do not even believe this can be done ... (2:31,2)

If, however, they maintain that the Lord, too, only appeared to perform miraculous works, we will direct them to the prophets' writings, and prove from then that such miraculous things were predicted about him, that they unquestionably took place, and that he is the only Son of God. So also, those who genuinely are his disciples receive grace from him to perform miracles in his name for the welfare of others - all according to the gift which each has received from him [cf. Rom 12.6-8; 1 Co 12.7, 10]. Some exorcise demons, and many who have thus been cleansed from evil spirits come to believe in Christ and join the Church. Others have foreknowledge of things to come: they see visions and utter prophecies. Still others heal the sick by laying their hands upon them, and they are mdd well. Moreover, as I have said, even the dead have been raised, and have remained among us for many years.

What else should I say? It is not possible to number all the gifts which the Church, throughout the whole world, has received from God, in the name of Jesus Christ (who was crucified under Pontius Pilate), and which she exercises day by day for the benefit of the nations, without practicing deception toward anyone, and not taking any reward from them for these miracles. As she has received freely from God, she also freely ministers to others [Mt 10.8]. (2:32,4)

The Church does nothing by angelic invocations or incantations or any evil art. Her practice is to direct her prayers in a pure, sincere, and honest spirit to the Lord who made all things, calling on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. That is the way the Church works miracles for humanity's advantage. She does not mislead them, for even now the name of our Lord Jesus Christ grants benefits to human beings and thoroughly and effectively cures, anywhere, all who believe in him. ... From this, it can readily be seen that, when he was made man, he had fellowship with his creation and did everything through the power of God, according to the will of the Father of all - as the prophets had foretold. (2:32,5)

db on altmc

Don Bromley nails it!!! If you are not reading Think Theologically you are wrong. And if you are, keep an eye out for Bromley, he seems to be a good thinker. Here is his lengthy post:

My favorite scene from Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy:

Ron: “Mmm. San Diego. Drink it in. It always goes down smooth. Discovered by the Germans in 1904, they named it San Diago, which of course in German means a whale’s vagina.” Veronica: “No, there’s no way that’s correct.” Ron: “I’m sorry, I was trying to impress you. I don’t know what it means. I’ll be honest, I don’t think anyone knows what it means anymore. Scholars maintain that the translation was lost hundreds of years ago.” Veronica: “Doesn’t it mean Saint Diego?” Ron: “No. No.” Veronica: “No, that’s what it means. Really.” Ron: “Agree to disagree.”

This classic scene from Anchorman illustrates an absurd application of the phrase, “Agree to disagree.” Does “San Diego” mean “Saint Diego,” or was the translation lost hundreds of years ago? Of course Veronica Corningstone is right and Ron Burgundy is wrong, regardless of whether they “agree to disagree,” or whether they declare it a “disputable matter.” San Diego means Saint Diego. But they may still “agree to disagree” as a way to, in essence, call a truce and spare the relationship. After all, Ron’s ignorance isn’t doing anyone any harm. What does that have to do with Ken Wilson’s A Letter to My Congregation: An evangelical pastor’s path to embracing people who are gay, lesbian and transgender in the company of Jesus?

“Disputable Matters” in Romans 14

In Chapter 4 and 5 of ALTMC Wilson discusses Romans chapter 14 as a template for handling controversial issues in the church. In Romans 14 Paul alludes to a conflict between the “strong” and the “weak.” The “weak in faith” refrained from eating meat, which they were persuaded was “unclean,” or drinking wine—they ate only vegetables. And they treated certain days as more sacred and special than others. The “strong” had a faith which allowed them to eat meat, drink wine, and to regard each day as any other. Paul exhorts each group to refrain from judging the other, or treating the other with contempt. “The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them… One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind” (Romans 14:3, 5, NIV). Wilson’s basic argument can be summarized as follows: 1) The “weak” had strong moral convictions about eating meat and observing certain special days (e.g. the Sabbath). These were most likely the Jewish Christians. They would correspond to the “conservatives” today, who have strong moral convictions about homosexuality. The “strong” of Paul’s day did not share these convictions and felt free to eat meat and treat each day the same. Most likely these were the Gentile Christians. They would correspond to the “liberals” today, who do not share the conservatives’ beliefs about the sinfulness of homosexual behavior. 2) The morality of eating meat or observing holy days was a first-order moral issue of Paul’s day, rooted in Old Testament commands, and threatened to split apart the church. It would correspond to the issue of homosexuality in the church today. 3) Paul commands the “weak” and the “strong” to respect each other’s convictions regarding meat eating and holy days. They should not judge or hold each other in contempt. The person who is convinced that eating meat is wrong should obey their own conscience. The person who in not convinced that it is wrong is free to eat. Likewise, in the church today those who believe that homosexual activity is a sin are free to believe so. Those who do not believe that it is a sin are free to believe so and act accordingly. Each person should do what they are convinced is the right thing, and not judge the other. They should “agree to disagree.” 4) Issues which are not “Dogma” (an essential truth of Christianity) or “Doctrine” (central teaching of a Christian tradition) are “Opinion” and should be treated as “disputable matters.” This is particularly true when faithful Christians, both citing biblical truths, disagree on an issue. The heart of Wilson’s argument is that in Romans 14 Paul is dealing with a first-order moral issue for which there were compelling scriptural arguments to be made on both sides. It was “disputable” because it was not a clear-cut case of right or wrong, biblical or unbiblical, moral or immoral. Rather, both sides were making reasonable appeals to Scripture and were convinced in their own consciences. Regarding the issue of eating meat and drinking wine, Wilson writes:
The vegetarianism of the weak may have been to avoid meat improperly drained of blood. While this practice is widely considered acceptable to many Christians today, there is strong biblical reason to avoid it, even for those not obligated to keep kosher. After all, this practice was first introduced in the book of Genesis in the time of Noah, to reinforce the sanctity of life— the image of God in humanity. (ALTMC, Kindle Locations 1597-1600).
And regarding the observance of “special days,” Wilson takes the view that this refers to Sabbath observance (this is not established by the text itself, which does not mention “Sabbath” (sabbaton), but it’s a possibility). He writes:
Take Sabbath-keeping, a matter that has receded to the status of a secondary moral or even a “merely ceremonial” concern in the contemporary church. Indeed, there is a strong case to be made that observance of the Sabbath is binding on Christians. It is, after all, a command enshrined in the Ten Commandments. Even more, it is embedded in creation—God having rested from his work on the seventh day. In this sense, Sabbath-breaking could be regarded as a sin against nature, because it violates God’s created order. (ALTMC, Kindle Location 1620-1623).
According to Wilson, the contention between the strong and the weak was truly over first-order moral issues. However, while it is certainly arguable that “the weak” believed these were moral issues, it is abundantly clear that Paul counted himself among “the strong,” who did NOT consider these moral issues at all. Paul writes, “I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself” (verse 14). Here Paul is echoing the teaching of Jesus, who said, “Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them… For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.” (Mark 7:15, 18-22, NIV) [Side note: Isn’t it interesting that Jesus calls out “sexual immorality” (Greek porneia) as something that truly does defile a person? Jesus and his audience would have included homosexual activity, along with adultery, incest, and bestiality, as porneia. Refer to any good theological dictionary of the New Testament. Also refer to Thomas Lyon’s excellent discussion of porneia in his post, On the Road Between Ephesus and Thyatira: An Alternative Model to Ken Wilson’s in ALTMC, Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3] Paul’s words also reflects Peter’s vision In Acts 10, where the Lord says, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean” (verse 15). Paul continues to clarify this in Romans 14, where in verse 20 he again reiterates, “All food is clean…” The point could not be any clearer. The Jewish food laws no longer had any bearing on Christians. Eating or drinking certain things did not make one “unclean.” Eating meat, or refraining from eating meat, was not a truly a moral issue, regardless of what “the weak” believed. The same is true of the “special days” which were no longer required. Hence Paul writes to the Galatians, “You are observing special days and months and seasons and years! I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you” (Gal 4:10-11, NIV). In other words, you are no longer under that Law, including the observance of special days, you are free in Christ! Observing “special days” was not truly a moral issue, regardless of what “the weak” believed. Paul clearly expresses that the issues of dispute in Romans 14 were not truly moral issue at all, but rather issues of ritual uncleanness and tradition, which had no moral bearing on Christians whatsoever. Furthermore, Paul’s rationale for treating this issue as a “disputable matter” was NOT that there were compelling biblical arguments on both sides of this issue, so “agree to disagree.” The “weak” were “weak in faith” precisely because they had not appropriated the truth: that food laws and observance of special days were no longer binding upon the people of God. As James D. G. Dunn writes in his Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 38B, Romans 9-16:
In this case the weakness is trust in God plus dietary and festival laws, trust in God dependent on observance of such practices, a trust in God which leans on the crutches of particular customs and not on God alone, as though they were an integral part of that trust. …Paul is quite clear that the position they hold to is one characterized by a deficiency in faith. By implication they are putting too much weight on the outward form of the covenant people (2:17–29); too much weight on their physical (fleshly) membership of Israel (13:14); they are not living out of complete dependence on God like father Abraham (4:19–21). Paul is in no doubt: the attitude thus expressed is deficient, “weak.”
So why didn’t Paul simply correct “the weak” and instruct them to stop refraining from eating meat? Why didn’t Paul simply tell “the weak” to stop observing special days? He writes, “I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean.” (Romans 14:14, NIV) In other words, despite the fact that all foods are clean and acceptable, if someone is convinced that certain foods are “unclean” they should abstain, for the sake of their own conscience. The food is “unclean” for that person. If at some point their faith becomes strong, and they come to understand (as Paul does) that no food is unclean, they could then eat without sin. Do you see the distinction? Let me make a silly analogy. Remember the children’s rhyme, “Step on a crack, break your mother’s back”? Well, we know that stepping on a crack does not break your mother’s back. But if someone were convinced that it really would, they shouldn’t do it! It is not a matter of whether stepping on a crack is actually a moral issue—it is clearly not! Stepping on cracks in itself is amoral, not a matter of right or wrong. What is a moral issue is doing something that you are convinced in your conscience is wrong. Something that is not objectively a moral wrong can become a moral wrong if it is a matter of conscience. But this argument does not work both ways! If something truly IS a moral issue, a sin, then one’s conscience on the matter does not change the fact one way or the other. Abusing a child is a moral wrong whether or not one believes it to be. The fact that a person can justify it to themselves, or that their conscience is not bothered, does not thereby make it morally neutral. Female infanticide (as was and is practiced in many cultures) is a moral wrong regardless of what one may believe about it. As Saint Augustine said, “Right is right even if no one is doing it; wrong is wrong even if everyone is doing it.” When it comes to sin, there are moral absolutes which do not depend upon individual belief or conscience. These are never “disputable matters.” We cannot “agree to disagree.” The disputable matters of Romans 14, eating meat and observing certain special days, were not first-order moral issues. They were morally neutral cultural boundary markers which threatened to split the church along ethnic lines. This point is beautifully made in N. T. Wright’s brilliant paper, Communion and Koinonia: Pauline Reflections on Tolerance and Boundaries.
In all these things he wants Christians to stop thinking of themselves as basically belonging to this or that ethnic group, and to see the practices that formerly demarcated that ethnic group from all others as irrelevant, things you can carry on doing if you like but which you shouldn’t insist on for others.
Carry on doing it if you like—as long as it’s not harming anyone, and you don’t insist on everyone else doing so. But actual issues of sin and morality are not disputable matters! N.T. Wright goes on:
At this point there can be no dispute, no room for divergent opinions: no room, in other words, for someone to say ‘some Christians practice fornication, others think it’s wrong, so we should be tolerant of one another,’ or to say ‘some Christians lose their tempers, others think it’s wrong, so we should tolerate one another’. There is no place for immorality, and no place for anger, slander and the like. And then, immediately, as though to emphasize the point I’m making, Paul concludes the passage by saying (v.11) that ‘in that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free, but in Christ is all in all.’ Paul is absolutely clear about the standards expected of the new humanity, and equally clear that distinctions relating to ethnic, social and cultural origin become irrelevant.
Paul’s advice on actual moral issues is NEVER, “Just do what your conscience tells you,” or, “Agree to disagree.” Paul believed, as we should, that certain things were harmful and sinful and should never be done, regardless of what one may believe about them. There are moral absolutes. People, even Christians, are sometimes genuinely wrong about what is acceptable moral behavior. They may even cite a Bible verse or biblical concepts such as “freedom” and “love” to support their actions. But the existence of disagreement does not qualify something as a “disputable matter” if it is a matter of morality.

Dogma, Doctrine, Opinion

Ken Wilson cites Roger E. Olson’s book The Mosaic of Christian Belief: Twenty Centuries of Unity & Diversity, as being helpful in thinking through the criteria of what can be considered a “disputable matter.” He summarizes Olson’s categories as:
Dogma: Olsen [sic] defines dogma as truths essential to Christianity itself; to deny them is to follow something other than Jesus. Christian identity is at stake… Doctrine: Olsen defines doctrine as a secondary category of teachings central to a particular tradition of Christians. These can be very significant matters that define entire traditions: predestination or free will; how we understand the saving work of Jesus; the nature of church and sacraments… Opinion: Olsen defines opinion here as matters of speculative nature about which there is no consensus in the church (used in its broad sense.) Examples might include the age of earth, mode of baptism and criteria for ordination… (ALTMC, Kindle Locations 1726-1727, 1735-1737, 1739-1740).
These categories allow Wilson to determine the following “reasonable criteria” for what is to be treated as a “disputable matter” in the church:
1. When it doesn’t involve a matter of basic Christian dogma such as we find in the great ecumenical creeds (Apostles, Nicene, Chalcedonian, etc.). 2. When the debate brings two or more biblical truths into dynamic tension (e.g. mercy-judgment, law-grace, free will-predestination) so that both parties make reasonable appeals to Scripture. 3. When faithful Christians take different views on the issue. (ALTMC, Kindle Location 1743-1744, 1746-1748, 1756)
Therefore, because the matter of modern-day same-sex activity between committed persons fulfills all three criteria, it should therefore be treated as “Opinion” and as a “disputable matter.” However, when Roger Olson defines “Opinion,” he is clear that it only includes issues on which there is not consensus because they “are not clearly taught in Scripture” (Kindle Location 689, emphasis mine). They are “Mere guesswork without strong justification,” or “Speculative interpretations of obscure passages of Scripture” (Mosaic, Kindle Locations 689-690, 730). Olson gives examples of Opinion such as, “Beliefs about intelligent life on other planets, the age of the earth and the exact details of the events of the end times such as the identity of the antichrist” (Mosaic, Kindle Location 708). In other words, these are topics which are not clearly taught in Scripture, they are speculative. To include the issue of same-sex activity, on which there has been two millennia of church consensus, as “Opinion” is to misunderstand Olson’s categories. While few would argue that same-sex activity is a matter of Dogma, it would best fit Olson’s description of a “secondary belief” or “Doctrine.” Olson writes, “’What saith Scripture?’ is the touchstone of the doctrine category. Beliefs that seem to be clearly revealed in the biblical witness but not essential to belief in Christ are placed there” (Mosaic, Kindle Locations 728-729).

Are Issues of Sexual Morality “Disputable Matters”?

In a different letter Paul writes to a church where their consciences were not bothered by the fact that a man was sleeping with his father’s wife. In fact, they were proud of it! Look how “free in Christ” we are! No legalistic adherence to irrelevant Old Testament rules here! How did Paul handle this situation? Did he commend them for acting according to their conscience? Did he insist that those in the church who felt that incest was wrong refrain from judging those who did not?
It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate: A man is sleeping with his father’s wife. And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have gone into mourning and have put out of your fellowship the man who has been doing this?… I have already passed judgment in the name of our Lord Jesus on the one who has been doing this. …Expel the wicked person from among you.” (1 Cor. 5:1-3, 13, NIV)
Wait a minute, aren’t we supposed to act according to our conscience and not judge those whose conscience differs from ours on moral issues? And certainly sleeping with your father’s wife is not a matter of Christian Dogma or Doctrine, according to Wilson’s definition. It’s not in any of the Creeds. There’s certainly a tension between the biblical concepts of law and grace, judgment and mercy. And didn’t the Corinthian Christians have a good argument to make about “freedom in Christ”? Weren’t they Spirit-filled believers? So shouldn’t this have been treated as a “disputable matter” and “agree to disagree”? No! Paul tells them to throw the guy out! In fact, Paul goes on to instruct the church in Corinth:
…You must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people. (1 Cor. 5:11, NIV)
You can see where the logic of “agree to disagree” leads. There are innumerable issues upon which “Good Christians” may disagree that should nevertheless not be considered “disputable matters.” Is it okay to marry more than one woman at a time? Aren’t there “Good Christians” who believe so, and with some scriptural arguments? Should we therefore treat this as a “disputable matter” in our churches today? If you’re 25 years old and single is it okay to have sex with your boyfriend or girlfriend, as long as you’re monogamous and plan to someday marry them? There are certainly “Good Christians” who believe so, and could make a scriptural case. Should we treat this as a “disputable matter” in our churches and youth groups? Is it okay to have an abortion as a means of birth control, when a pregnancy would be problematic? There are certainly “Good Christians” who believe so. No, because these are issues of morality, where matters of sinning are involved. They are not issues where there’s “no harm” if one does them or doesn’t do them, they are matters of sin. There are indeed things which Christians may disagree upon, and behave differently, without harm. In the Roman church the eating of meat, drinking of wine, and the observance of certain special days was among them. There was no harm or sin if one did them or did not do them, as Paul made clear. “Food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do” (1 Cor 8:8, NIV). It was not a moral issue. The Reformers referred to matters such as this as adiaphora, or “matters of indifference.” These were actions that morality neither mandates nor forbids. They are Olson’s “Opinion.” Today there are many examples of adipahora in the Christian church. Am I allowed to dance? Am I allowed to drink or smoke? Can I read Harry Potter novels? Am I allowed to date in high school? There are many opinions among Christians on these issues. I believe that Scripture neither clearly mandates nor clearly forbids these things, and one is not sinning in doing or refraining. So if someone in the church felt strongly that they should not date in high school, I would encourage them not to do so! There is certainly no harm in them refraining. If Scripture did clearly mandate or forbid it, and if it were an issue of sinning, it would not be adiaphora! It would not be a “disputable matter”! Matters which are not truly “moral,” which do not involve sin, and which are not clearly prohibited in scripture, may be regarded as “disputable” in the church. But some things are harmful regardless of what we may believe about them, or regardless of what our society’s prevailing view is. Can modern-day homosexual activity be considered a “disputable matter”? As Richard Hays writes in his brilliant The Moral Vision of the New Testament: Community, Cross, New Creation: A Contemporary Introduction to New Testament Ethic:
Though only a few biblical texts speak of homoerotic activity, all that do mention it express unqualified disapproval. Thus, on this issue, there is no synthetic problem for New Testament ethics. In this respect, the issue of homosexuality differs significantly from matters such as slavery or the subordination of women, concerning which the Bible contains internal tensions and counterposed witnesses. The biblical witness against homosexual practices is univocal. (Moral Vision, Kindle Location 10849-10852, emphasis mine) Romans 1 presents, as we have seen, a portrayal of humankind in rebellion against God and consequently plunged into depravity and confusion. In the course of that portrayal, homosexual activities are— explicitly and without qualification— identified as symptomatic of that tragically confused rebellion. To take the New Testament as authoritative in the mode in which it speaks is to accept this portrayal as “revealed reality,” an authoritative disclosure of the truth about the human condition. Understood in this way, the text requires a normative evaluation of homosexual practice as a distortion of God’s order for creation. (Moral Vision, Kindle Locations 11010-11014, emphasis mine) If Romans 1— the key text— is to inform normative judgments about homosexuality, it must function as a diagnostic tool, laying bare the truth about humankind’s dishonorable “exchange” of the natural for the unnatural. According to Paul, homosexual relations, however they may be interpreted (or rationalized: see Rom. 1: 32) by fallen and confused creatures, represent a tragic distortion of the created order. If we accept the authority of the New Testament on this subject, we will be taught to perceive homosexuality accordingly. (Moral Vision, Kindle Locations 11024-11027, emphasis mine)
Sins such as sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly (which Jesus mentions in Mark 7 as the sins that truly defile) are not “disputable matters.” On this there can be no debate, at least not if we accept the Bible as authoritative and are following the way of Jesus.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

contracts v. marriage

Ryan Anderson discusses the laws interest in contracts versus marriage ...

gay tax dodge

Ryan Anderson handles the gay mirage tax dodge ...

christian debating

Ah, knowing when and when not to enter/continue a discussion. And when continuing in a discussion over world-views/values, knowing how to proceed in a fruitful, godly manner. This is difficult. Doug Wilson proffers some advice here:

For many Christians, it seems a reasonable question to ask whether it is profitable for us to engage in public debates at all. Whoever changed his mind because of some public argument? Why wrangle about words? Logomachies just make my head hurt.

In contrast to this, I want to argue that such a quietist position is not only inconsistent with the teaching of Scriptures, but runs directly contrary to it. We are called to speak with unbelievers in the public square, and we are to do so in a way that includes answering their objections. We are called to prevail in such discussions (in a particular way). When we do this right, what is happening is public debate, the kind that can be very helpful.

But before making the case for this, it should be said at the outset that those who want to avoid “unseemly spectacles for Jesus” do have a point. There are some debates that are no good at all, and the Bible tells us expressly to avoid them. But when the Scriptures tell us not to lose our battles in a particular way, we should not infer from this an imaginary duty to avoid fighting those battles at all.

That said, let me begin by noting a few places where Christians are told not to engage in verbal free-for-alls. While we are not to avoid all debates, we are to avoid some debates.

“To speak evil of no man, to be no brawlers, but gentle, shewing all meekness unto all men. For we ourselves also were sometimes foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another” (Tit. 3:2-3).

We are not to be “brawlers.”

“But foolish and unlearned questions avoid, knowing that they do gender strifes. And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth; And that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will” (2 TIm. 2:23-26).

We are told here to stay out of stupid and fruitless debates, where the topic being discussed is guaranteed to spiral down into meaningless yelling. The servant of the Lord must not strive. But even here, note that the servant of the Lord must “instruct those who oppose themselves.” In other words, Paul’s rule here is “not this kind of debate,” not “no debate.”

You have to gauge the situation, and read the crowd. There are times when we must not descend to their level (Prov. 26:4). But, since wisdom is not optional, there are times when we must step into their world in order to run the reductio (Prov. 26:5).

So with that caution out of the way, why should we debate? Well, to begin where all Christians should always begin, let’s look at the life of Jesus. Asking whether it is lawful to debate is like asking if it is lawful to speak in parables. Jesus spoke in parables constantly, and He also was engaged in public point and counterpoint constantly.

Jesus adroitly countered a question about His authority with a question about John the Baptist (Matt. 21:27). Jesus shut down the Saducees in a debate about the resurrection (Matt. 22:29). Jesus debated the highly charged issue of taxation (Mark 12:17). Jesus debated the devil (Luke 4:4). Jesus debated the question of healings on the sabbath (Luke 5:22). And Jesus routs His opponents on the question of His own identity (John 8:14). There are numerous other examples. In fact, there are so many examples of polemical exchanges in the gospels that questions about the propriety of polemical exchanges can only arise if people are ignorant of the gospels, or if they come to the gospels with a strong, preconceived idea about Jesus that they picked up somewhere else.

This is odd, but not surprising, because there is a strong unbiblical tradition that tags Jesus as the original hippie, teaching us all to peace out. This runs directly counter to all the hellfire teaching the Lord did, and the numerous debates He won with the establishment theologians, and, as Sayers or Chesterton once put it, let us not forget that time He threw furniture down the front steps of the Temple. Gentle Jesus, meek and mild, not.

That said, it is not surprising that we find instructions that reveal how public clashing is actually a pastoral duty.

“Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers. For there are many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers, specially they of the circumcision: Whose mouths must be stopped” (Tit. 1:9-11).

This not only requires pastors to debate false teachers, it requires them to win those debates.

“And when he was disposed to pass into Achaia, the brethren wrote, exhorting the disciples to receive him: who, when he was come, helped them much which had believed through grace: 28 For he mightily convinced the Jews, and that publickly, shewing by the scriptures that Jesus was Christ” (Acts 18:27-28).

Putting all this together, we see the biblical reasons for debate. We see them both in the example of Jesus, and in the instructions given to pastors in the first century. The point of debating is to stop the mouths of unruly talkers and thinkers. When this happens, it will sometimes not be evident to the false teacher that he has been silenced — even though it is evident to everybody else. This is the valuable service that Apollos provided — he was a help to the believers in how he refuted the Jews on whether Jesus was the Messiah. Translated into a modern setting, if a believer effectively refutes someone arguing for homosexual marriage, or an atheist denying God, the debate on the stage might not be settled at all. But there are many believers out in the audience who have heard those same arguments in numerous classrooms, and they now know that those arguments can be effectively countered. Apollos was a great help to the believers.

In a godly debate, you are trying to win men, not arguments, and you have to remember that many of those you are trying to win are out in the audience. In the great public square issues of the day, there are large numbers of people on the fence. Debates can have a huge impact on that “swing segment.” I would want to say that when we observe how ineffective our debates are, it would be far better to listen to Scripture, and lament how ineffective our debaters are. This is a pursuit that must be encouraged, honored, and praised, and we must provide the requisite training for those who are called to it. And those training programs must turn away those pugnacious types who just want join up with a “who’re gonna call?” Cultbusters.

In conclusion, I would like to say a few things about one of the great proving grounds for debating skills, and that would be the classrooms of secular universities. To what extent should Christians just keep their heads down, and if they speak up, how should they speak up?

I would suggest three things to students in such a position. The first is that if you want to challenge a professor, you should do it with an established ethos. By this, I mean that you should not be a struggling C- student who only does half the reading, and who then goes off at the teacher half-cocked, and then, when you get shut down, cry persecution. Earn your right to speak, and do that by being in the top of the class — or by being in the top of the class before you decided to open your mouth. If your grades drop after that, that’s the professor’s look out.

Second, let most of your opportunities go by you. If you challenge everything that you could challenge (depending on the class) you will be doing it every ten minutes. If you are in a target-rich environment, then you probably shoot at every 25th one. You will make the point effectively enough, and in this setting — trust me — a little bit goes a long way.

And last, as a student, you are not a professor. That means you shouldn’t preach, or attempt to highjack the lecture. There is a place for gospel declaration, but this is not it. Having said this, it is not out of place for a student to ask questions. That is not inappropriate — that is a student’s calling and vocation. And if you ask the right questions for which the professor has no answers, then you don’t have to draw the conclusions. You can do that in conversations with other students after class. Keep your debates (in this setting) in the interrogative.

If you learn to do this well, it may be an indication that you are called to an apologetic ministry after graduation. If that happens, you will have more tools availabe to you than you do as a lowly student.

sexual exploitation

Men fuel demand in sexual exploitation.

For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. ~ Matthew 15:19

The hearts of too many men are infected with sexual immorality—and everything attached to them is suffering as a result. What remains is a disease of identity confusion that’s being transferred to the next generation.

Sexual exploitation will only be changed when the hearts of men fueling it are changed, and that has to come from the bottom up. We can rescue all the victims we want, but until we engage thedemand, the traffickers will continue to find new victims to enslave and porn will continue to dismantle families.

We need a groundswell of men, young and old, who are committed to killing sexual exploitation at its root by engaging the hearts of men with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Learn more about this mission in the film Hearts of Men here.

three unbiblical positions on christianity and homosexuality

Justin Taylor posted the following piece on Rosaria Butterfield.

Rosaria Butterfield—a lesbian English professor who hated Christianity and later became a Reformed pastor’s wife and told of the story in her book, Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert: An English Professor’s Journey into Christian Faith—is fresh off of her return from Wheaton College, where 100 students protested her invitation to speak as implying that her testimony should be seen as normative. (You can read President Phil Ryken’s response here. You can also read an interview with Dr. Butterfield about her interactions with the students.)

Today, writing for the Gospel Coalition, she highlights three views that Christians should avoid on homosexuality:
As I write and speak today, 14 years have elapsed since my queer activist days. I’m a new creature in Christ, and my testimony is still like iodine on starch. I’m sensitive to three unbiblical points of view Christian communities harbor when they address the issue of Christianity and homosexuality. Everywhere I go, I confront all three. 
1. The Freudian position. This position states same-sex attraction is a morally neutral and fixed part of the personal makeup and identity of some, that some are “gay Christians” and others are not. It’s true that temptation isn’t sin (though what you do with it may be); but that doesn’t give us biblical license to create an identity out of a temptation pattern. To do so is a recipe for disaster. This position comes directly from Sigmund Freud, who effectually replaced the soul with sexual identity as the singular defining characteristic of humanity. God wants our whole identities, not partitioned ones. 
2. The revisionist heresy. This position declares that the Bible’s witness against homosexuality, replete throughout the Old and New Testaments, results from misreadings, mistranslations, and misapplications, and that Scripture doesn’t prohibit monogamous homosexual sexual relations, thereby embracing antinomianism and affirming gay marriage. 
3. The reparative therapy heresy. This position contends a primary goal of Christianity is to resolve homosexuality through heterosexuality, thus failing to see that repentance and victory over sin are God’s gifts and failing to remember that sons and daughters of the King can be full members of Christ’s body and still struggle with sexual temptation. This heresy is a modern version of the prosperity gospel. Name it. Claim it. Pray the gay away. 
Indeed, if you only read modern (post 19th-century) texts, it would rightly seem these are three viable options, not heresies. But I beg to differ. 
Worldview matters. And if we don’t reach back before the 19th century, back to the Bible itself, the Westminster divines, and the Puritans, we will limp along, defeated. Yes, the Holy Spirit gives you a heart of flesh and the mind to understand and love the Lord and his Word. But without good reading practices even this redeemed heart grows flabby, weak, shaky, and ill. You cannot lose your salvation, but you can lose everything else. 
Enter John Owen. Thomas Watson. Richard Baxter. Thomas Brooks. Jeremiah Burroughs. William Gurnall. The Puritans. They didn’t live in a world more pure than ours, but they helped create one that valued biblical literacy. Owen’s work on indwelling sin is the most liberating balm to someone who feels owned by sexual sin. You are what (and how) you read. J. C. Ryle said it takes the whole Bible to make a whole Christian. Why does sin lurk in the minds of believers as a law, demanding to be obeyed? How do we have victory if sin’s tentacles go so deep, if Satan knows our names and addresses? We stand on the ordinary means of grace: Scripture reading, prayer, worship, and the sacraments. We embrace the covenant of church membership for real accountability and community, knowing that left to our own devices we’ll either be led astray or become a danger to those we love most. We read our Bibles daily and in great chunks. We surround ourselves with a great cloud of witnesses who don’t fall prey to the same worldview snares we and our post-19th century cohorts do.
You can read the whole thing here. (Dr. Butterfield will be giving two workshops at The Gospel Coalition Women’s Conference (June 27 to 29 in Orlando).

For more on her story, you can watch this interview she did with Marvin Olasky:

You can read a sample from her book here.

And here is her testimony—followed by a lengthy Q&A—given at Holy Trinity Presbyterian Church(Tampa, Florida) on February 8, 2013:

Saturday, July 26, 2014

nt canon

  1. The New Testament Books are the Earliest Christian Writings We Possess
  2. Apocryphal Writings are All Written in the Second Century or Later
  3. The New Testament Books Are Unique Because They Are Apostolic Books
  4. Some NT Writers Quote Other NT Writers as Scripture
  5. The Four Gospels are Well Established by the End of the Second Century
  6. At the End of the Second Century, the Muratorian Fragment lists 22 of our 27 NT books
  7. Early Christians Often Used Non-Canonical Writings
  8. The NT Canon Was Not Decided at Nicea—Nor Any Other Church Council
  9. Christians Did Disagree about the Canonicity of Some NT Books
  10. Early Christians Believed that Canonical Books were Self-Authenticating

Thursday, July 24, 2014

disarmed, forgiven, alive

Since Satan still “prowls around like a roaring lion” (1 Peter 5:8), in what sense is he disarmed (Colossians 2:15) or nullified (Hebrews 2:14) or bound (Mark 3:27)?

One of the most beautiful passages in the Bible about the astonishing achievements of the crucifixion is Colossians 2:13–15. It contains the answer to our question, and so much more.
And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.
The key question is the relationship between 1) the disarming of Satan in verse 15 (“he disarmed the rulers and authorities”), 2) the forgiveness of sin in verse 13b (“having forgiven us all our trespasses”), and 3) our new life in verse 13a (“God made you alive”).

How We’re Forgiven

Since we were dead “in our trespasses” (13a) and since we are forgiven “all our trespasses” (v. 13c), the link is established between our forgiveness and our new life. Trespasses were our death sentence. The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:3). The soul that sins shall die (Ezekiel 18:4). We have committed many trespasses. They are all written in the records of heaven. The books recording our debts (Revelation 20:12) are enormous.

So Paul explains in three steps how our transgressions are forgiven.
  1. At the root in verse 14c “the record of our debt” is “nailed to the cross.” It’s as if Jesus reached up to the Father and asked if he could hold the entire record of all our trespasses in his hand. Then he held it in his hand as the spike was driven through, and it pierced the record of our debts as it pierced his hand.
  2. By means of this nailing, God “canceled the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands” (v. 14a). Literally, he erased it. He wiped the ink off paper. It’s as if the blood of Jesus, soaking the record of debts in his pierced hand, caused all the ink to dissolve and flow away. No more record of debt.
  3. Third, by means of this nailing and canceling, “God set the record of debt aside” (v. 14b). Literally: he “took it out of the midst.” He doesn’t say the midst of what. We may assume: heaven, or the courtroom, or any legal consideration, or, as we shall see, the hand of Satan.
In these three massive acts of redemption, God was providing “forgiveness for all our trespasses” (v. 13c). That is how he did it, and what it cost.

Follow Paul’s Thought

Now, because of this blood-soaked forgiveness of our trespasses, we get new life. We were dead “in our trespasses” (v. 13a). The forgiveness is precisely of these death-causing trespasses. Therefore, the life that this forgiveness brings is a life free from fear of condemnation by God because of our sins.

But what about Satan and all the rulers and authorities he governs? Paul continues in verse 15: “He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.”

Paul does not expect us to dream up what he’s talking about. He doesn’t expect us to dream up how God stripped, and shamed, and triumphed over the demonic powers. He expects us to follow the flow of his thought.

The Fearless Life

When Christ died and “wiped out” the record of our debts — our recorded trespasses — the courtroom-file of accusations was taken away from our prosecuting attorney, Satan, the great “accuser” (Revelation 12:10). Satan has no grounds for accusation anymore — none that stick. They have all been erased. His list of our condemning crimes is blank.

True, he is not yet cast into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:10). He still prowls around. But his power to condemn is gone. He is disarmed of the only weapon that could damn us — unforgiven sin. He is made a fool in the court of accusation. His case against us fails miserably.

This too then is a source of our new life. Not only do we not fear the wrath of God, but neither do we fear the accusations of Satan. Our freedom from both these fears is based on the death of Jesus. The record of our debts, that gave Satan his power to condemn, and gave God the legal necessity of just punishment, has been wiped away by the blood of Jesus.

Therefore, we are alive with Christ, and forever safe from God’s wrath and Satan’s accusation. As Peter says, “we have been born again to a living hope” (1 Peter 1:3).

Live in the joy of this hope. Preach this to yourself morning and night. Resist the devil with this. Come boldly to the throne of grace with this. You have new life — forever.

desire to learn the truth

J. Warner Wallace does a great job in The First Characteristic of a Healthy Church: A Desire to Learn the Truth. My only negative reaction is to the word characteristic. To me, he highlights one of the first characteristics. Even in the Scriptures he references we clearly see one of the others, i.e., "doin' the stuff". In the texts he cites we can clearly see the activity of the Kingdom of God. But that's an aside, enjoy his article below ...

The first community of saints reflected the power and design of God in their lives as a family of believers. The early history of the Church simply reflected the Biblical record from the Book of Acts describing the nature and essence of the first community of saints. The observations of those who witnessed the early Church should inspire and guide us. If we were to emulate the earliest energized believers, our churches would transform the culture and inspire a new generation. How can we, asChristians today, become more like the Church that changed the world and transformed the Roman Empire? We must learn the truth, strive for unity, live in awe, serve in love, share with courage and overflow with joy. These six important characteristics were held by the earliest congregations:
Acts 2:42-47
And they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. And everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. And all those who had believed were together, and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions, and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. And day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.

Six simple attributes were observed in the earliest believers. These principles serve as a template and guide for those of us who want to restore the passion and impact of the early Church. If we employ them today, we’ll create healthy, vibrant, transformative churches. It begins with a commitment to truth:
Principle #1: Learn the Truth
The Church must be passionately committed to the pursuit of truth:

“…and they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching…”
There is a truth about God. There is a truth about whether or not He exists and a truth about His nature (if He does exist). Jesus certainly had a position about the nature of truth and the nature of God. He believed objective truth exists and could be grasped. Jesus was all about evidence and truth; the evidence demonstrating his deity and the truth about God’s Kingdom.Jesus provided his followers with proof and convincing evidences (even after appearing to them in the resurrection):
Acts 1:3
To these He also presented Himself alive, after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days, and speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God.

The earliest believers learned from this example. Peter’s first sermon at Pentecost (Acts chapter two) was an effort to get his listeners to examine the evidence of fulfilled prophecy. He described Jesus as “a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst”. The Greek word for attested is “apodeiknumi” and it means to demonstrate, prove or show. In essence, Peter was saying, “Hey, God gave you proof that Jesus was God through the miracles that Jesus worked, including His resurrection.” Peter wasn’t just making a statement to the crowd; he was developing a persuasive argument for the deity of Jesus. And as the first disciples spent time together, they came to understand the difference between teaching and training. Teaching that does not equip us to be the Church in a lost world, is of little value to those in our world who are hurting and seeking answers. When believers come together to learn about God, we are focused on more than just the truth we are learning. We know we are preparing for something we are about to do and something we desperately want to be:
Ephesians 4:11-13
It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

The Church ought to come together to train. It should come together to prepare. We must realize we are here to love and serve those around us so we can reason with those who are seeking answers to life’s deepest and most important questions. The Church must be persuaded objective, transcendent truth exists and is transformational. We must remember salvation by grace alone is the distinctive truth claim of the Christian Worldview. We've seen God work in our own lives and we've seen God work in the lives of others. We should spend our time together trying our best to understand the truth and the culture denying it.
In this short series, we’ll describe the value of these six important characteristics of the early Church. It all begins with a commitment to truth, but this commitment will cause the other five attributes to emerge. Church groups have taken every shape and form in the two thousand years since the first community of saints. The current form is not nearly as important as the transcendent purpose of God’s people here on earth. As we look deeply at the nature of the first community as it was described in the Book of Acts, we see God’s design for the Church. The Church is not a place to meet; it is a people to be. When we, as a Church, are foundationally committed to the truth, the resulting change in our character will be noticeable and transformative.

focussing on homosexuality

Greg Koukl shares some thoughts on why it seems we focus disproportionately on homosexuality.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

OT attitude

Gordon J Wenham wrote the following in Expository Times 102.9 (1991): 259-363 ...

That the Old Testament condemns homosexual acts is well known. Why it does so is a mystery. Various suggestions have been put forward. Driver and Miles[1] for example held that it was a development parallel to that in Mesopotamian law. The older Laws of Hammurapi do not mention the offence, whereas the Middle Assyrian laws condemn it. They suggested that a similar development occurred in Hebrew law. The earlier laws do not discuss homosexuality, while the latest (P) texts demand the death sentence for it (Lev 18:22, 20:13). Similarly Coleman[2] tries to derive the biblical attitude from the attitude of other nations, specifically the Egyptians. Indeed he suggests there was a common Semitic consensus opposing homosexual practice.

Now it cannot be ruled out a priori that the Old Testament shared its neighbours' attitudes to homosexuality. There does seem to have been a large measure of agreement in the ancient world as far as heterosexuality was concerned. Marriage law and customs, for example, the repudiation of pre-marital intercourse and adultery, the acceptance of polygamy and divorce, seem to be much the same throughout all those Near Eastern cultures for which evidence is available.[3] The most obvious difference between Israel and its neighbours as far as heterosexual morality is concerned lies in the area of incest. Here the Old Testament rules,[4] forbidding union with consanguines and affines of the first and second-degree, go much farther than their neighbours, who sometimes even countenanced unions of consanguines of the first degree, e.g. brother and sister. So it could be that in repudiating homosexual practice the Old Testament is simply adopting the attitudes of surrounding nations.

However the evidence at present available suggests that this is not the case. The Old Testament rejection of all kinds of homosexual practice is apparently unique in the ancient world. Most of the ancient Near East adopted an attitude to homosexuality very similar to that of classical Greece[5] and Rome which simply accepted it as long as it was done among consenting adults. Indeed Greeks and Romans often approved homosexual acts between adult men and youths where it was part of an ongoing educational relationship. This practice of pederasty does not seem to have been approved in the ancient orient, but in other respects the classical and oriental outlooks seem similar.

Since the Near Eastern background to the biblical pronouncements is little known, it is my first purpose to sketch it briefly. I then propose to address the question that this new reading of the Old Testament material inevitably raises: what prompted the revolution in the attitudes towards homosexuality expressed in the Bible.

We therefore begin with a view of the cultures adjacent to ancient Israel. Mesopotamian law and attitudes are carefully and thoroughly expounded in the article 'Homosexualität' in Reallexicon der Assyriologie (4. 559-68). From iconographic evidence dating from 3000 BC to the Christian era it is clear that homosexual practice was an accepted part of the Mesopotamian scene. This conclusion is confirmed by many literary and legal texts in which homosexual activity is mentioned.

Most interesting are the two laws in the Middle Assyrian collection devoted to it. MAL 19 involves a false accusation of passive homosexuality. Someone who accuses his neighbour of being involved frequently in such relationships and does not substantiate it is beaten, fined and has some mark of shame[6] inflicted on him. This law is very similar to the preceding one where a man is falsely accused of allowing his wife to be used as a prostitute. In both cases the accused man's reputation is at stake. He is being effeminate or unmanly in allowing his wife or himself to be exploited in this way. There are many texts indicating that passive homosexuals, though not guilty of breaking the law, were despised, so to accuse someone of effeminacy, especially in the masculine militaristic society of Assyria, was a grave slur on their reputation.

Apparently closer to the biblical prohibition is MAL 20 'If a man has intercourse with another and they indict him and prove him guilty, they will have intercourse with him and turn him into a eunuch'.[7] Certain things are clear about this law. It is the active male partner who is punished. The passive partner escapes all censure. This is unlike the punishment in the Bible (Lev 20:13) where both parties are punished. It is also unlike the oriental punishment of adulterers where both male and female parties receive the same penalty, unless circumstances suggest that the woman was raped. So here it seems likely that it is not because homosexual acts were forbidden that only one party is punished, but because one man imposed himself on the other that he is condemned. In other words MAL 20 is dealing with homosexual rape rather than an act between consenting adults.[8]

The Reallexicon der Assyriologie therefore concludes: 'Homosexuality in itself is thus nowhere condemned as licentiousness, as immorality, as social disorder, or as transgressing any human or divine law. Anyone could practise it freely, just as anyone could visit a prostitute, provided it was done without violence and without compulsion, and preferably as far as taking the passive role was concerned, with specialists.[9] That there was nothing religiously amiss with homosexual love between men is seen by the fact that they prayed for divine blessing on it.[10] It seems clear that the Mesopotamians saw nothing wrong in homosexual acts between consenting adults.

Nor were homosexuals shut away in Mesopotamia. There were homosexual cult prostitutes, who took part in public processions, singing, dancing, wearing costumes, sometimes wearing women's clothes and carrying female symbols, even at times pretending to give birth. These professional homosexuals were forced to take the passive role in intercourse and for this reason were despised as unmanly. Sometimes they are called 'dogs'. 'It therefore appears that these types of person, as in other places and periods including our own, formed a shady sub-culture where all sorts of ambiguities, mixtures and transformations were possible.'[11]

Unfortunately there are no studies of comparable thoroughness and sophistication to elucidate the attitudes of other ancient Near Eastern peoples. Hittite Law 189 states that 'If a man violates his daughter it is a capital crime. If a man violates his son, it is a capital crime'. This juxtaposition of intercourse with one's mother, daughter, and son, show that the last union is not banned because it is homosexual, but because it is incestuous. The eminent Hittitologist H. A. Hoffner observes: 'A man who sodomizes his son is guilty of urkel (illegal intercourse) because his partner is his son, not because they are of the same sex'.[12] Later he notes, 'it would appear that homosexuality was not outlawed among the Hittites'.[13] It therefore appears that the Hittites shared the same attitude to homosexuality that the Assyrians did.

The evidence from Egypt seems more ambiguous and has been interpreted in different ways. Goedicke[14], followed cautiously by Westerndorf[15], argues that homosexual acts were not regarded as immoral where there was mutual consent. This interpretation may be supported by the grave of two friends which may imply that a homosexual relationship could be continued in the after-life. In a myth it is told how the god Seth attempted to rape his younger brother Horus. He later boasts of his manly achievements to the other gods. In iconography of the Amarna period 'The difference between the sexes appears to be almost obliterated... the ideal image of the body was virtually the same for men and women. It is the male image adapting to the female.'[16]

On the other hand in the Book of the Dead chapter 125 the soul twice protests his innocence in the words 'I have not had sexual relations with a boy'.[17] A story of king Neferkare spending the night with one of his generals may be told to illustrate the corruption of the king. However, both these examples involve relations between unequals where coercion may be inferred. In which case it may well be that Egyptians saw nothing immoral in homosexual acts where there was mutual consent. If this is correct, there would appear to be very little difference between their attitude and those of the Assyrians and Hittites.

Ugaritic texts give no clue to Canaanite attitudes.[18] However, passages such as Lev 18:3, 24-30 with their blanket condemnation of the sexual practices of the Canaanites and Egyptians may well imply that among other things the Canaanites tolerated homosexual practice. And if the story of Sodom (Gen 19) is supposed to illustrate Canaanite practice, the insinuation is even clearer.

To sum up: The ancient Near East was a world in which the practice of homosexuality was well known. It was an integral part of temple life at least in parts of Mesopotamia, and no blame appears to have attached to its practice outside of worship. Those who regularly played the passive role in intercourse were despised for being effeminate, and certain relationships such as father-son or pederasty were regarded as wrong, but otherwise it was regarded as quite respectable.

The Old Testament Picture

The stories of Sodom and Gibeah may be better understood against this background. As commentators have realized the demand to 'know' the visitors to Sodom must be a demand that they submit to homosexual intercourse.[19] That Lot offers his daughters instead and the Levite his concubine shows that the demand was for sexual intercourse (Gen 19:5-8; Jdg 19:22-26). Given ancient oriental attitudes it is by no means strange that the men of Sodom asked to have intercourse with men in Lot's household. What is surprising and deeply shocking is their total disregard for the accepted principles of eastern hospitality. Visitors, whether anticipated or not, must be treated with the utmost courtesy and kindness. Here the men of Sodom show utter disregard for the rules of hospitality, and suggest Lot's visitors submit to the most demeaning treatment they can devise, a treatment elsewhere used on prisoners of war.[20] So the sin of Sodom is not primarily homosexuality as such, but an assault on weak and helpless visitors who according to justice and tradition they ought rather to have protected (Ezk 16:49).

Yet having said this, undoubtedly the homosexual intentions of the inhabitants of Sodom adds a special piquancy to their crime. In the eyes of the writer of Genesis and his readers it showed that they fully deserve to be described as 'wicked, great sinners before the LORD' (13:13) and that the consequent total overthrow of their city was quite to be expected. It is often noted by commentators that the destruction of Sodom parallels the destruction of the world by Noah's flood. In both cases we have a complete population being obliterated and only one family escaping thanks to divine intervention. There are many verbal parallels between the stories too. It may also be noted that the motive for divine judgment is similar in both cases. The flood was sent because of the great wickedness of man demonstrated by the illicit union of women with supernatural beings, 'the sons of God'. In the case of Sodom another type of illicit sexual intercourse is at least contributory in showing it deserves its destruction.

This leads us on to consider the laws against homosexuality in the Old Testament. Though Middle Assyrian law punished homosexual assault and accusations of passive homosexuality (Middle Assyrian Laws A18-20), the biblical law is quite different. The key texts are Lev 18:22 and 20:13.

The exact terminology of these laws deserves note. Lev 18:22 states: 'You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination'. This obviously prohibits the active type of homosexuality that was quite respectable in the ancient world. It should also be noted that the passive partner is just described as 'male', rather than 'man' or 'youth'. Clearly this very general term prohibits every kind of male-male intercourse not just pederasty which for example the Egyptians seem to have condemned. Finally, the practice is condemned as an 'abomination',[21] one of the strongest condemnatory words in the Old Testament, for offences deemed specially heinous in God's sight.

Lev 20:13 states: 'If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death, their blood is upon them'. Lev 18 prohibits various acts but prescribes no penalties. Lev 20 does mention how offenders should be treated. Sometimes human punishment is decreed, sometimes it is left to God. Homosexuality here attracts the death penalty, which puts it on a par with adultery (Lev 20:10) or the worst cases of incest (Lev 20:11, 12). These were offences that nations outside Israel did view with extreme seriousness: but they never put homosexuality on the same level. Secondly it should be noticed that both parties in homosexual intercourse are punished equally: the passive partner and the active are both put to death. The use of the term 'lie' (here and in Lev 18:22) without any qualifying verb, e.g. 'seize and (lie)', and the equal punishment shows that consent to intercourse is assumed between the partners. Comparison with the laws on adultery shows that if it were a question of homosexual rape only the rapist would have been executed (cf. Deut 22:22, 23, 25). In other words the Old Testament bans every type of homosexual intercourse, not just forcible as the Assyrians did, or with youths (so the Egyptians). Homosexual intercourse where both parties consent is also condemned.

The two motive clauses also underline the culpability of both parties. 'Both of them have committed an abomination ... their blood is upon them.' The second clause occurs only in this chapter (vv.9, 11, 13, 16, 27) and in Ezk 18:13, 33:5 and apparently justifies the demand for the death penalty. It seems to be equivalent to the commoner phrase, 'his blood shall be on his head'. It appears to mean that if a man breaks such a law, he does so knowing the consequences, and therefore cannot object to the penalty imposed.

The laws just discussed cover both private (secular) homosexual acts and religious homosexuality. But in that homosexual male prostitution was well established in the ancient orient, it is not surprising that there are a number of laws aimed at this particular phenomenon and its associated practices. Dt 23:17 prohibits male and female cult prostitution in Israel. The following verse describes a male homosexual prostitute as a 'dog', a description also found in Mespotamian texts[22] and in the book of Revelation (22:15). The books of Kings state that when Canaanite religious practices were introduced into Israel, so was cult prostitution and three reforming kings attempted to abolish the male prostitutes (1 Kgs 15:12; 22:46; 2 Kgs 23:7).

Since male prostitutes were sometimes castrated and often took part in ceremonies flaunting their effeminacy, it may well be that aversion to homosexuality partially explains the ban on castrated men participating in the public assembly, or on wearing women's clothes. The latter is described as 'an abomination to the LORD' (Dt 23:1; 22:5). It could well be that the law is banning anything suggestive of homosexual practice (cf. our summary of Mesopotamian attitudes).

Seen in their Near Eastern context the originality of the Old Testament laws on homosexuality is very striking. Whereas the rest of the ancient orient saw homosexual acts as quite acceptable provided they were not incestuous or forcible, the Old Testament bans them all even where both parties freely consented. How can we explain this innovation? To ascribe this to Israelite reaction against the customs of their neighbours is too simple, for such an explanation in fact explains nothing. Israel did not reject all the religious and moral practices of Canaan. They accepted some and rejected others. They offered similar sacrifices, but they refused to eat pigs. The Canaanites believed their gods heard prayer, so did Israel, but they maintained there was but one God. Similarly in the realm of sexual ethics, Israel accepted, like their contemporaries, that adultery was the great sin, that premarital sex was wrong, but Israel went much further in banning incest and homosexual intercourse. Aversion to Canaanite custom no more explains Israel's attitude to homosexuality than it does its preference for monotheism. That Canaanites practised homosexuality no doubt enhanced Israel's aversion to it (cf. British dislike of certain foreign habits), but it is not the fundamental motive for it.

It is now generally recognized that many of the most fundamental principles of Old Testament law are expressed in the opening chapters of Genesis. This applies to the laws on food, sacrifice, the sabbath as well as on sex. Gen 1 repeatedly insists that God created plants, fish, birds, and other animals to breed 'according to their kind'. God created the different plants and animals to reproduce according to their own particular type. Hence the law forbids any mixed breeding or acts that might encourage it (Lev 19:19; Dt 22:9-11). The worst case of mixed breeding is described in Gen 6:1-4) and that prompted the flood.

When Genesis comes to man's creation, it states that God deliberately created mankind in two sexes in order that he should 'be fruitful and multiply'. This is the first command given to man and is repeated after the flood; contrast the gods of Babylon who introduced various devices to curtail man's reproduction.[23] In that homosexual acts are not even potentially procreative, they have no place in the thinking of Gen 1. Nor do they fit in with Gen 2. There the lonely Adam is provided not with a second Adam, but with Eve. She is the helper who corresponds to him. She is the one with whom he can relate in total intimacy and become one flesh.

It therefore seems most likely that Israel's repudiation of homosexual intercourse arises out of its doctrine of creation. God created humanity in two sexes, so that they could be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. Woman was man's perfect companion, like man created in the divine image. To allow the legitimacy of homosexual acts would frustrate the divine purpose and deny the perfection of God's provision of two sexes to support and complement one another. St Paul's comment that homosexual acts are 'contrary to nature' (Rom 1:26) is thus probably very close to the thinking of the Old Testament writers.[24]

[1] G. R. Driver and J. C. Miles, The Assyrian Laws (Oxford, Clarendon Press [1935]), 71.
[2] P. E. Coleman, Christian Attitudes to Homosexuality (SPCK [1980]), 52-57.
[3 ] For a convenient summary cf. S. Greengus, 'Law in the OT' (Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, Supplementary Volume), esp. 533-34.
[4] For a discussion of Lev 18 and 20 cf. G. J. Wenham The Book of Leviticus (Eerdmas [1979]), 253-58, 279-80.
[5] Cf. K. J. Dover, Greek Homosexuality (Duckworth [1978]).
[6] So G. Cardascia, Les lois assyriennes (du Cerf [1969]), 130.
[7] The translation of the Chicago Assyrian Dictionary Volume N, 198.
[8] This is what Cardascia, Les lois assyriennes, 134-35 suggests. Bottero and Petschow in Reallexicon der Assyriologie 4, 462 are more dogmatic. 'The verb niku/ náku ... implies a certain constraint on the part of the protagonist. Its literal translation would be "to do violence to" and almost "violate". It is precisely because the victim submits to violence that obliges its author to submit in his turn to violence himself.'
[9] Reallexicon der Assyriologie 4, 467.
[10] Ibid, 468.
[11] Ibid, 465.
[12] H. A. Hoffner, 'Incest, Sodomy, and Bestiality in the Ancient Near East' in (Orient and Occident: Essays in Honor of C. H. Gordon, Neukirchen, Neukirchener Verlag [1973]), 83.
[13] Ibid, 85.
[14] H. Goedicke, 'Unrecognized Sportings' (Journal of the American Research Centre in Egypt 6 [1967], 97-102).
[15] W. Westendorf, Lexicon der Ägyptologie 2, 1273.
[16] L. Manniche, Sexual Life in Ancient Egypt (Routledge [1987]), 25-26.
[17] A20; B27, Ancient Near Eastern Texts, 34-35.
[18] M. H. Pope, Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, Supplementary Volume, 416.
[19] Cf. C. Westermann, Genesis 12-36: A Commentary (SPCK [1986]), 301.
[20] M. H. Pope, art. cit, 416.
[21] Cf. E. Gerstenberger in Theologisches Handwörterbuch zum Alten Testament, 2, 1051-55.
[22] Reallexicon der Assyriologie 4, 465.
[23] Epic of Atrahasis 3:7:1-8.
[24] By 'contrary to nature' Paul clearly means 'contrary to the intention of the Creator', C. E. B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans I (T. & T. Clark [1975]), 125. For an extended discussion of the New Testament teaching on homosexuality see the articles of D. F. Wright: 'Homosexuals or Prostitutes: The Meaning of arsenokoitai' (Vigiliae Christianae 38 [1984], 125-53), and 'Homosexuality in the Early Church' (in A. Higton, ed., Sexuality and the Church, Kingsway [1988], 39-50).