Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Quoting the Bible 102: Application

In the last post, we discussed this oh-so-clever new meme that claims to show up our Christian hypocrisy by throwing out-of-context Bible verses in our collective face, hence beating down God with His own words.  We talked about ways to read the Bible coherently, so that when we quote it, actual Christians won't look at us like this:

Let's take a case in point:  the same-sex marriage mess.  Now most people in favor of same-sex marriage couldn't care less what the Bible, or anyone else has to say on the subject of homosexual tendencies or actions, or whether we should enshrine same-sex relationships in law.  Some of them, however, are also Christians, do take the Bible seriously, and strive to make the case for same-sex marriage despite such Biblical injunctions as:

"If anyone lie with a man as with a woman, both have committed an abomination:  let them be put to death.  Their blood be upon them." (Leviticus, 20: 13)

There are other verses condemning sodomy elsewhere in both Testaments, but this one is the most in-your-face and gets the lion's share of the attention.

A well-written, heartfelt response, from a Christian perspective, appeared recently on CNN.  You can read it here.

Marc Barnes demolishes it here.  Please take the time to read it.  I'll just go have a cigarette and wait.

Back yet?  Excellent!  Yeah, he does a nice job, doesn't he?  But one tack he doesn't explore is how Osler's own proof text, Acts 10, actually refutes him in the light of Leviticus 20.

As I noted in the last post, the we-can-quote-Scripture-too crowd look at Leviticus 20 and see dietary restrictions lumped in with prohibitions against homosexual acts, adultery, incest, bestiality, cursing your parents (which Jesus quotes and reaffirms in Mark 7:10, so don't even!), and black magic (hence, it's okay to dance around our pentagrams and use our willpower to redefine reality ;^)  And then, as Osler notes, God gives Peter the rooftop vision in Acts 10, vitiating the prohibition on unclean foods, so everything else must be fair game, too, or at least open to debate, right?


First of all, let's take a bite of Leviticus, crunching the end of one verse with the start of the next, to combine the flavors:  

"I am the Lord your God, who have separated you from other people [let's remember, "holy" = "set apart"].  Therefore do you also separate the clean beast from the unclean, and the clean fowl from the unclean (Lev. 20: 24-25)."

Get it?  God's telling Moses to separate the clean animals from the unclean, the same way He's separating Israel from the Gentiles.  It's symbolic - a ritual whereby we do as God does, just as we rest on the Sabbath because God did.

So, then, how do we set ourselves apart?  By not doing the kind of things the Gentiles do:  sodomy, adultery, incest, bestiality, and the rest of the things prohibited in Leviticus 20.  The dietary restrictions are an objective correlative--a symbolic summing up of the point to all these prohibitions.

Now let's flip forward to Acts, chapter 10, where Peter has the vision and ends up baptizing the Gentile Cornelius.  The point of the vision is not to abrogate the dietary laws, or any other laws of the Old Testament, but to fulfil them, just as Jesus said (Matthew 5: 17).  In fact, Christ has already told Peter that all foods are clean;  he just doesn't remember it yet.  That's what the Holy Spirit is there for, to "bring all things to your mind, whatsoever I shall have said to you" (John 14: 26).

Remember earlier when I said that Jesus quoted Leviticus 20?  Let's have a look at that in context, shall we?  Mark, chapter 7--and remember that Mark got much, if not most, of his information from Peter.  Notice that in the same chapter, after reaffirming Leviticus 20: 9, Our Lord also declares that "There is nothing from without a man that entering into him can defile him.  But the things which come from a man, those are they that can defile him" (Mark 7: 15).

Things that come from within?  What kind of things are those, Lord?

"Evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness.  All these come from within and defile a man." (Mark 7: 21-23)

Hmm, sounds a lot like the stuff forbidden in Leviticus 20.

So, then, why loose the dietary restrictions?

Because the Boss has arrived, to fulfill the symbolism.  God's making a new covenant with a new cahal - the Church.  It isn't just for Hebrews anymore.  This is the fulfilment of a promise older than the law:  God's word to Abraham--the covenant of the circumcision--that "in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed" (Genesis 22: 18), has come to pass.  The Gentiles, too, are now called to be holy, and set themselves apart from their old ways (cf. Acts 17: 30).

This is why God gives Peter the vision on the rooftop, to show him that the tribal distinctions no longer apply.  We have moved from the carnal to the spiritual order, and a new covenant with all mankind.  If you need this underlined, or you think I'm just reading into it, go back to Mark 7.  What does Jesus do immediately after declaring all foods clean?  He performs His first miracle among the Gentiles.

Peter, then, was witness to these things all along, but he didn't understand them until the Holy Spirit gave him the necessary nudge, descending on Cornelius's household. So from Leviticus, to Mark, to Acts, we see a clear example of what we mackerel-snappers like to call the Development O' Doctrine.

By the way, this is also why, although sins remain sins, the way we deal with them changes over time.  I've actually heard some crank declare that even quoting Leviticus 20: 13 is tantamount to advocating for the stoning of homosexuals.

Yeah, right.  That's what our real agenda is.  I'm sure you can point me to all kinds of examples of Christian communities in the U.S. stoning homosexuals to death over the past century or so.  There've been thousands, right?  

No?  Hundreds?  



How about the Westboro Baptists (don't get me started!)  I'll bet they've stoned all kinds of . . .No?

Alright, then maybe the Branch Davidians.  Those guys were nuts!  Nuts with guns, even!  Surely David Koresh and his merry men did their share of . . .What?  Really?  You're kidding me!

Turns out that sins are still sins in the New Testament, but we don't get have to go around killing people for them anymore.  That's another symbol that Christ fulfilled.  Remember last time I mentioned that thing about hanging the Gentile kings on trees?  How Jesus fulfilled that symbol on the cross, which is why they took him down before sunset?  (Deut. 21: 22-23; John 19: 31)  He took the penalty for all the crimes of the nations, all the curses and penalties of the Old Testament.  The wages of sin is still death and all, but now it's the death that Jesus died--the death into which we are baptized, that we might receive the Holy Spirit, Who fills us anew with the life that Jesus lives.  Jesus said we had to be born again of water and the Spirit (John 3: 5).  Cornelius's family had the Spirit; who could deny the water?

As for same-sex couples, well, they'd have to manifest something equally astounding before we could say, "who can deny them the sacrament of marriage?"  Say, for example, by their union, a gay couple were to beget children?  I don't know about you, but I'd have to say God was making His will known, and what God has joined . . .

"Oh, come on!" you cry.  "The Church blesses all kinds of marriages between couples who don't or can't have kids.  Even the Catechism says you don't have to be fertile to marry."  True enough.  You don't have to speak in tongues to be baptized or confirmed, either.  Many who receive these sacraments never do any such thing.  But the imparting of the Spirit is that toward which the sacrament intends.  The begetting of children is that toward which matrimony intends.  Marriage does in the carnal order what baptism, confirmation, and the Eucharist do in the spiritual order:  they bring forth life. 

Life.  That's a beautiful word.  So I think I'll end on it.



  1. And always look on the bright side of life!

  2. Replies
    1. Many thanks, Your Eminence, and congratulations on your own new blog. I'll be following!