Jesus, Food and Sex


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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.












  1. Steve, can I ask what your take is on David Gushee’s recent change in stance from the more traditional/orthodox views on sexuality, in reference to LGBTQ?

    It would seem to me that his journey most definitely fits the category of a persistent, faithful, humble wrestling with the text and yet he comes out with a very different conviction to you in this instance.

    It seems that many of these evangelical, theologically-robust thinkers/teachers etc, like Gushee, Campolo, Chalke, Brownson, and many more, who may locate themselves in a contrary position to the orthodox/traditional position that you hold fast to, are consistently (conveniently?) overlooked by people such as yourself when commenting on issues of sexuality.

    As I follow your “sexuality” posts (such as this most recent one), I feel they often paint a dualistic perspective – ie “inclusive and affirming” of LGBTQ = a lefty, UN-biblical, poorly thought through (deluded by the culture) position and “welcoming but not affirming” = a biblical, orthodox, solid, mature and faithful understanding of the bible.

    Hence my genuine interest re your considered reflection on solid, mature, faithful evangelical Christian leaders who hold a contrary position to you on this.

    Hope that makes sense.

    1. Hey Matt
      Thanks for the comments. I would have to say that first up I don’t think that the thinkers you mentioned are evangelically robust and think what they do about sex. I think it’s because they have given up their theological robustness in many other areas FIRST that they have then drifted to this position. Also I think they are guilty of “me-tooism” or as Carl Trueman said of Campolo, he’s a “Day Late and a Dollar Short”. In other words they have not driven the agenda on same sex relationships, but followed an agenda. The problem I have with this is that the agenda they have followed is one set by a culture that has rejected wholesale the gospel/biblical narrative. So as the culture drifts away from a biblical framework and establishes a strong and unbiblical affirmation that who we are sexually is who we are, these guys fall into line with barely a whimper. What happened to the Campolo who can get up in front of hundreds of big company CEO’s and start with the line “Everything you have heard at this conference up to this point is wrong?” He’s lost his evangelical nerve. How does an increasingly post-Christian culture now get it right on sexuality, in such a way that Christian leaders say that the church has gotten it wrong and the culture has gotten it right? That’s a question you have to ask on this one Matt.

      Having said that, the primary problem here is that the Bible in no way affirms that we are defined by our sexual preferences, but that we are image bearers of God, male and female created by him, and designed for asymmetry in our sexual union, not symmetry. Now that does not mean that heterosexual sexual sin gets a free ticket and this is where a great article in First Things, MIchael Hannon points out that until the 19th century NO ONE was defined by their sexuality. That is simply the fruit of Romanticism and its insistence that we are fundamentally who we are by terms of our experience. Hence even non-sexual attraction between people is sexualised, rather than seen as the God-given attraction to others that he created us for. But since we are sexual creatures – according to the new paradigm – my attraction to same sex people, if it is strong enough, MUST be read as sexual attraction and I can therefore be labelled by a non-biblical category, a sexual one, whether homosexual or heterosexual. That we define ourselves by our sexuality at all has led to all sorts of heterosexual sin too, and it has gutted the church in terms of porn addiction, adultery and divorcing one’s spouse on the basis that they are not their soul mate. So don’t hear me pointing the finger at one particular self-identifying group, the cultural understanding of sex knows no preferences.

      I know that’s hard to say about those thinkers, but if you scratch the surface of their theology, it left its moorings long before it came to this conclusion.

  2. Well laid out discussion. It is a hard issue to discuss because it takes time and scriptural understanding, neither of which people use much of to address life’s most important issues. Sound bites are more appetizing but void of much nutrition.

  3. Stephen,

    I believe Michael Hannon has it wrong. His reasoning will certainly not win any non-Christians, as the natural pull of their sexuality can scarcely be disregarded enroute to a friendship that Hannon thinks to be on a higher order. Nor should it. Not that sexuality must be asserted in every relationship; but sexuality is an aspect of life that should be attended rather than disregarded (I recognize that God does gift us all, in various life stages and circumstances, with celibacy so that some are better not to marry).

    Moreover, by disregarding gender as some lesser bother that we should transcend, I suggest that this plays right into homosexual confusion. The disregard of gender seems to have such priority in these matters that it seems better to identify the issue as “gender rejection” rather than as homosexuality (which merely defines according to one’s attraction). Responsibility or irresponsibility, first to one’s own gender, and then towards that of the other, is the nub of the issue. Our human identities, if not our very stamp of Divine image, is tied to our gender. I agree with Robert Jewett: “Sexuality permeates one’s individual being to its very depth, it conditions every facet of one’s life as a person. As the self is always aware of itself as an ‘I,’ so this ‘I’ is always aware of itself as himself or herself. Our self-knowledge is indissolubly bound up not simply with our human being but with our sexual being. At the human level there is no ‘I and thou’ per se, but only the ‘I’ who is male or female confronting the ‘thou’, the ‘other,’ who is also male or female.”

    Finally, Hannon’s review of marriage in theological perspective is suspect. Paul saw the danger of divided loyalty, but allows that it may be avoided (1 Cor. 7:35). If divided loyalty to the Lord were unavoidable, do we seriously think Paul would sanction marriage at all? Hannon seems to have no awareness of the tremendous intimacy available in heterosexual Christian marriage that includes but is not restricted to sexual union. Methinks Catholicism has crept into his reasoning.

    1. That’s a good point. I do think that the Catholic view is still tainted by a dualism it has never come to terms with – even the erudite crowd at First Things. I am going to read that article again more thoroughly. Much of it is brilliant, but perhaps I glossed these issues. And asymmetry is part of who we are in such a way that the togetherness itself focuses brilliantly on the union of Christ and Church. And yes, to your last concern – Paul does not seem to concede marriage at all, and pastorally always calls us away from divided loyalties.

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