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The Bible, Homosexuality, and Shellfish: Why the Moral Law Lasts Forever and Dietary Laws Don't

"Your Bible supports slavery, how can a Christian be pro-life?" Have you ever heard this argument?

Or how about this one? "So what if the Bible says homosexuality is a terrible sin? It also says you should be stoned for eating shellfish and touching a pigskin and wearing clothing of different materials."

What do you say to this? These are pretty easy arguments to destroy, but how?

Why is West Wing President Bartlett Wrong about Exodus and Leviticus?

I'm a big fan the show The West Wing - don't get me wrong - but this happens to be one of the most cringe-worthy scenes in television history:

President Bartlett, ostensibly a Catholic, played by Martin Sheen, also a Catholic, provides a terrible exegesis of Scripture. But why is it terrible?

Here's one of President Bartlett's zingers: 
Here's one that really important, because we've got a lotta sports fans in this town. Touch a skin of a dead pig makes one unclean, Leviticus 11:7. If they promise to wear gloves, can the Washington Redskins still play football? Can Notre Dame? Can West Point?
Why is Bartlett wrong? 

Well, first off, it's Leviticus 11:8 that describes a pig carcass rendering one unclean. It's not Leviticus 11:7, but whatever. Aaron Sorkin doesn't know the difference.

Here's the counter-argument that should have been given to President Bartlett.

Analogy: If the Bible endorses slavery, the US Constitution prohibits the sale of alcohol ... and supports slavery, too

Here's an argument that you can use to shut down this terrible logic ...

Does Leviticus recognize the legitimacy of the institution of slavery? Yes. So does the US Constitution ... if you ignore the 13th Amendment. 

Did you know the U.S. Constitution also prohibits the sale of alcohol? It does. It says so in the 18th Amendment. The Constitution still has an 18th Amendment. Therefore, alcohol is still legally prohibited in America ... if you ignore the 21st Amendment.   

What's the point? You can't claim a law is still "on the books" if it's been repealed. 

Jesus Repealed the Dietary Laws, but not the Moral Law

Jesus is the final redactor of the Old Testament law. Jesus repealed the dietary laws. He said as much to Peter at the home of Cornelius. This occurs in Acts 10: 13-15:
And there came a voice to him, “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” But Peter said, “No, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” And the voice came to him again a second time, “What God has cleansed, you must not call common.”  
This includes President Bartlett's injunction against playing football and touching dead pigskins. That's why he's wrong.

This is also why Mathew Vines is wrong: The Moral Law is not wiped away at the Council of Jerusalem

You may have come across Matthew Vines. He became sort of a celebrity among the Far Left for a time with his YouTube videos and book God and the Gay Christian

Matthew Vines claims that the Council of Jerusalem made ALL of the Old Law non-binding on Christians
In the year 49 AD, early church leaders gathered at what came to be called the Council of Jerusalem, and they decided that the Old Law would not be binding on Gentile believers. The most culturally distinctive aspects of the Old Law were the Israelites’ complex dietary code for keeping kosher and the practice of male circumcision. But after the Council of Jerusalem’s ruling, even those central parts of Israelite identity and culture no longer applied to Christians. Although it’s a common argument today, there is no reason to think that these two verses from the Old Law in Leviticus would somehow have remained applicable to Christians even when other, much more central parts of the Law did not.
According to this logic, even the Ten Commandments no longer applied to Christians. Were they not central enough to Israelite identity? As you will see below, identity had nothing to do with the permanence of the Moral Law.

Why the "So You Still Think Homosexuality is Sinful" Infographics are Wrong

You find this stuff floating around the internet and Facebook. But hey, if you see it on an infographics, it's got to be true, right?

See, below, how the Moral Law concerning homosexuality is equated with the Dietary Law concerning eating shellfish. This line of thinking is as fraught with error as it is common, unfortunately.


Not just Thall Shalt Not: Jesus and St. Paul provide an Explicit Doctrine of Marriage 

More on why Matthew Vines and President Bartlett and the above infographic are all wrong: 

Even if the Moral Law of the Old Testament no longer applied to us (see more on this below) ...

Even if St. Paul didn't state explicitly the sinful nature of homosexual acts ...

Jesus directly addresses the nature of marriage in Matthew 19. Jesus reaffirms that marriage is founded on the sexual complementarity of man and woman (Matt 19:4-5): “Have you not read that He who made them from the beginning made them male and female?" 

Jesus points to the purpose of marriage being what it has been from the beginning. When asked about the nature of marriage and divorce, he twice references the original state of man: "In the beginning, it was not so" (Matt 19:8). It is an ancient teaching grounded in God’s creation of humanity in his image (Gen 1:27; Gen 2:24). 

St. Paul also reaffirms the foundation of marriage in the doctrine of creation (Ephesians 5:31-32). St. Paul adds that marriage is a symbol of Christ’s union with the Church, a relationship which is full, free, faithful, and fruitful.

Jesus and St. Paul explicitly teach a doctrine of marriage that is incompatible with gay marriage, let alone homosexuality. 

Even if Leviticus and Romans were silent on the subject of homosexual acts, Jesus and St. Paul's teachings on marriage would be enough to reject same-sex marriage.

SIDENOTE: No Proof-Texting! A Verse Has to Make Sense in Light of the Whole Canon of Scripture 

The Bible as a whole prohibits slavery. The U.S. Constitution as a whole prohibits slavery. If you cherry-pick a line or two, however, you might arrive at the exact opposite conclusion.

One of the fundamental rules of Biblical interpretation, at least among Catholics, is that a verse has to be interpreted in the context of the entire Bible. If a particular interpretation conflicts with the rest of the Bible, it's wrong.

Cherry-picking one verse, regardless of the context, is called proof-texting. Here's a long list of terrible examples of proof-texting.

So, Which Old Testament Laws are Still Binding and Which are Not?

There are three different groups of laws in the Old Testament:

  1. The Moral Law
  2. Laws governing Temple worship, and 
  3. Kingdom laws, including the Dietary laws 
A novice or non-Christian (or Aaron Sorkin writing The West Wing) might pick up the Bible and not notice this distinction. Nevertheless, the authors of the Bible try to make the distinction as obvious as possible.

The Moral Law

First off, the Moral Laws last forever. These are laws governing behavior that are true at all times, in all places, and for all people. The Ten Commandments are the prime example of these.

The Ten Commandments don’t go away. This should be pretty obvious even to a novice. You will see people on Facebook claiming the Bible endorses slavery. Anti-Christians never claim that the Bible doesn't command us to "honor thy father and thy mother."

The Moral Law is not conditioned on culture or history or situation. These laws are based on the nature of the human person and the nature of God, Himself. The Moral Law is absolutely true and good for all people everywhere.

The Old Testament's teachings on homosexuality are clearly a part of the Moral Law. If that wasn't enough, the New Testament re-confirms their continuing and unending applicability.

Temple (Purity) Laws

This is the category for all the laws discussing cleanliness and uncleanliness. You were not fit for temple worship if you were unclean.

These were mainly centered around touching dead or bleeding things: lepers, corpses, menstruating women, etc. Bringing death into God's presence, life itself, was unthinkable.

The Temple was the center of everything for a Jew. It was like combining St. Peter's Basilica, the Capitol Building, the White House, the Supreme Court, and Fort Knox all into one.

We might assume that the synagogue was the center of Jewish life; however, this is only a relatively recent development caused by the second and final destruction of the Temple in 70 AD.

The destruction of the Temple basically ended the applicability of the Temple Laws. We see the fulfillment of these laws, however, in the worship of Jesus in the Catholic Mass.

Kingdom Law

This legal category included the Dietary Laws. Why? Because restricting what food a Jew could eat made them distinct. A Jew could not partake in a pagan liturgy if he could not share in the meal portion. 

The dietary laws helped keep the Jews from straying into false religions and worshiping false gods. God knew they were prone to this. It first happened almost immediately after they left Egypt!  

BOTTOM-LINE: The Moral Law is Eternal 

The Dietary Laws are no longer binding on Christians. 

The Temple Laws have been transformed by Christ's Body being the New Temple. 

The Moral Law is FOREVER. The Ten Commandments are written in stone. The Moral Law is permanent and the others are not. 

This is why eating shellfish and homosexual acts are not on the same level, not even the same ballpark. The former is non-binding; the latter is binding on all people, at all times, in all places.  

REFERENCE: Key Biblical Verses Addressing Homosexuality

Even if the Old Testament said nothing about homosexuality, the New Testament makes the status of homosexual acts clear. These reiterations further prove that the Moral Law is not temporary like the dietary laws but eternal. Here are the key Bible verses regarding homosexuality.

Here are some of the key verses in the Old Testament dealing with homosexuality:
  • The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah for, among other sins, homosexuality or as it came to be known "Sodom-y"; Genesis 18-19
  • "You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination." Leviticus 18:22
  • "If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them." Leviticus 20:13
Here are some of the key verses in the New Testament dealing with homosexuality:
  • St. Paul addresses this particular sin of Rome in the very beginning of his letter: "For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. Their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural, and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in their own persons the due penalty for their error." Romans 1:26-27
  • St. Paul reiterates the point explicitly in his First Letter to the Corinthians: "Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God." 1 Corinthians 6:9-11

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  1. So where does the prohibition against usury (charging any interest on a loan) that is found in the Old Testament, and was consistent Church teaching for well over a millennium, figure into all of this?

    Is the requirement for unconditional hospitality to any migrant in any circumstance found in the Old Testament - most notably in Genesis where it is commanded that one must prostitute out one's daughters rather than let the slightest harm come to a migrant - still valid? This is certainly not a dietary law, and existed even before Israel literally came into being, so it must be a moral law.

    It seems that the redefinition of terms and the imposition of modern economics and political philosophy in the era of the nation state to gut these teachings is not much different than the use of biology and psychology to change the definition of a person and the concept of "gender identity." I assume a proponent of modern sexual perversion would argue that the moral laws quoted in this article are still valid, just that the terms have different meanings, in the same way that "usury" and "migrant" have been redefined out of existence.

    1. You're right about usury, but I think you misunderstand its object. Cf. Deuteronomy 23:20, usury is legal, except to your brother:

      "Unto a foreigner thou mayest lend upon interest; but unto thy brother thou shalt not lend upon interest; that the LORD thy God may bless thee in all that thou puttest thy hand unto, in the land whither thou goest in to possess it."

    2. True. If a US Bank wants to charge interest on a loan to a Chinese corporation, that is certainly permissible. However, the loan I obtained from the bank in my small town does not qualify as a loan from a "foreigner." If you want to get very technical, the bank president is my uncle. My actual brother works at that bank. As with the case of the Virginity of Mary, we interpret "brother" in a wide sense to include any close male relative. While interest on a loan makes perfect economic sense, there was a lot of "redefinition" to avoid Biblical and Traditional Church teachings.

      Liberal Christians have re-interpreted many of the verses relating to sexual morality to make current practices acceptable. For example, "homosexuality" and "sodomy", they claim, only refer to sexual acts without consent, things that are currently illegal. They have some "handwaving" to avoid clear precepts and to do what they wanted to do in the first place.

      That is my problem: this sort of "handwaving" is used to enable economic practices or governmental policies (or teachings on sexual morality) that are clearly forbidden by Scripture. (And by traditional Church teaching.) A good lawyer is able to come up with an argument for an interpretation of a statute that is the exactly opposite of its clear meaning. Good law is not good Scripture interpretation.

  2. Long story short: pay attention to the context whenever you interpret a text, whether the Bible or the Constitution--or even a novel. For example, one cannot properly interpret the novel Crime and Punishment without reading chapter 39 (the last chapter). It's all or nothing. And oh, yes, with regard to Mr. Vines's claim that the Council of Jerusalem exempted Gentiles from all of the old law, didn't St. James, in the decrees of that council, declare that the Gentile converts were to abstain from "sexual immorality"?

    1. Right, good point. The Jerusalem Decree at Acts 15 states succinctly what it took me a whole article to explain. The moral law remains.

  3. Brilliant stuff. I'll make sure to share this knowledge. Thank you

  4. I remember one time when a gay man asked me why homosexual conduct was a sin during my time preaching the Gospel. So I introduced him to the creation story as described in Genesis. After all, the creation story is why marriage is a union of male and female to begin with! After I explained it to him, I gave him some assurance that through Jesus, he can find grace and love and that he is not alone in his struggles! He seemed pretty sincere in his conversation with me and wanted to understand my Christian perspective on the subject of sexuality. It was a great discussion! I'll never forget that day!

  5. Very impressive mental gymnastics.

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