In the incessant push by the culture to justify most (not all, yet) types of sexual behaviour in society, one of the primary methods employed has been to show the poverty of thought behind the orthodox Christian view of sex.
One common method (if the recurring Facebook memes, blogs and articles in liberal journals are any indication) is to show the inconsistency of Christians when it comes to observation of the Old Testament laws in books such as Leviticus.
“You’re all over the sex prohibitions like a, er, rash!” claim the articles, blogs, memes and letters to the editor, “But what about those crazy food laws? Christians don’t seem to keep them.” The charge of hypocrisy/stupidity/wilful hatred is then trotted out, and Christians who don’t know any better are left with a feeling of dis-ease. Yes, what about those food laws? And what if those sex laws are no different?”
Even today I saw another round of the aforementioned “List of things the Bible also prohibits” in the Huffington Post, published, of course, to give good well-oiled, well-heeled liberals something to chuckle about around the dinner table. You know the type, they don’t have any orthodox Christian friends, but their sister once dated one called Stanley.
The argument is a crock of course, and it shouldn’t take the Christian very long to debunk it. I say “shouldn’t” because a surprising number of Christians who hold an orthodox position on sexuality don’t know how to reject that response, and a depressing number of Christians who no longer wish to hold an orthodox position on sexuality, don’t wish to reject it.
If you are in either of those camps, then listen up. The problem you have is not simply that you do not know the Bible. By that I don’t mean you don’t necessarily know chapter and verse for things (the Huff Post article writer seems to know Leviticus pretty well after all). I mean that you do not know how the Bible is put together, how it leads in a certain direction, and most importantly, how it is fulfilled in the person and work of Jesus.
Having a clear understanding of Biblical Theology will provide you with a convincing argument against the culture’s current push, and it will debunk the memes and articles so slavishly written and read. (Of course at this point if you don’t wish to be convinced, look away now).
The answer to the vexing “all food is ok, but some sex isn’t”conundrum is answered by Jesus himself in Mark chapter 7. And here’s the brilliance of it: Not only does Jesus show how and why the food law are redundant in the new age of the Holy Spirit which he inaugurates, but he uses that very redundancy to demonstrate that the sex laws still do apply, in fact they apply all the more! Brilliant eh? Brilliant just like Jesus.
Here’s how he does it. The problem crops up with the religious leaders of his day. There the self-righteous cultural agenda setters accuse his disciples of not keeping the Jewish traditions properly because they don’t wash their hands before eating after being in the marketplace (a ceremonial ritual about spiritual cleanliness, not merely a hygiene issue). Jesus gives the religious leaders a pasting, and then he gathers everyone who can hear around him and says this:
“Hear me, all of you, and understand: 15 There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.” 17 And when he had entered the house and left the people, his disciples asked him about the parable. 18 And he said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, 19 since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) (Mark 7:14-19)
See what he does? In vv18-19 he nails the food laws as redundant because they can provide no true cleansing of a person. What you eat or don’t eat doesn’t matter. Period. And that was actual gospel truth from the day he said it, and was believed by the the first generation of Christians, as the editorialised comment “thus he declared all foods clean” indicates.
In other words your spiritual cleanliness before God is not affected by what you eat and what you don’t. The food laws were there to point to a deeper lack of cleanliness than whether you ate pork crackling, shellfish or not.
And what is that deeper lack of cleanliness? What is true spiritual uncleanness? Glad you asked, because Jesus goes on to nail the answer:
20 And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. 21 For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22 coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” (Mark 7:20-23)
Lots of evil stuff, not limited to, but including sexual immorality and adultery. The term for “sexual immorality” is where we get our word pornography, and included any form of sex outside of covenant man and woman marriage. That’s how the Jews understood it, that’s how Jesus understand it. He didn’t have to unpack what sexual immorality meant to them. He knew, they knew, and he knew they knew!
But do you see what Jesus does? He repeals the food laws, but then uses them to repeat the sex laws, but not only to repeat them, but to heighten their continued relevance. He takes the very argument that the Huff Post types push, overturns them and then says”Here’s why they no longer apply, and here’s how they show why the sex laws still do apply.” Brilliant, just like Jesus always is.
What that means is this:
- If you are a Christian struggling to give a good answer to someone quizzing you on this, then you need to get to know how the various parts of the Bible work together, and how Jesus fulfils the OT. That’s called Biblical Theology and you’re gonna take a pasting in the current culture if you don’t get it.
- If you are a Christian who is giving up the struggle on the sexuality struggle in our culture, or are simply opposed to the orthodox view and claim to be a progressive Christian then your argument is not with some vague, and much scorned, passages in a culturally obscure text called Leviticus. Your argument is with Jesus, and that’s a far more sobering problem. And if you won’t tackle Mark 7, and come up with a valid answer to it, you’re simply repeating the cherry-picking problem you claim that orthodox Christians have on this one.
- If you’re not struggling at all, in fact if you’re someone who rejects the Christian viewpoint on most everything, including sexuality, then you need to know that you can only continue to use the specious Huff Post argument safe in the knowledge that it’s a completely incorrect understanding of the text, and has no theological or academic credibility. Sure keep using it if advances your argument and you can use it with someone to shut them down or laugh at them. But please don’t take the moral high ground with it because as Jesus says, deceit and pride also come from the the inside, which is, funnily enough, the place where it truly counts with Jesus.