Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Bible, Homosexuality, and Shellfish

By Matthew Everhard 

When President Barack Obama recently endorsed gay marriage this month, an “evolution” of his previous position, the focus of many Americans was again turned to our real national pastime, human sexuality. (No it is not baseball anymore!) More aggressive than in recent months, it seems that many columnists, pundits, and amateur liberal theologians have been discussing--and even mocking--the Bible’s perspective on this controversial matter. 

One of the more common assaults against the conservative “one man, one woman” definition of marriage is to make the Biblical position affirmed in our Scriptures to appear outlandish, strange, and untenable to modern minds. The strategy to make the traditional view of marriage seem obsolete runs as follows (with some slight variations): Yes, the Bible technically forbids the practice of homosexuality in Leviticus 18:22, but it also forbids eating shellfish (Leviticus 11:9-11), and commends the stoning of blasphemers (Leviticus 24:16). Since the latter two are ridiculous, so is the former. This argument would appear credible, if it weren’t such terrible exegesis of the book of Leviticus. 

It is ironic that those arguing such a progressive position would choose these three elements of Levitical law as examples of their “ridiculous by association,” argument. As you will see, these given examples perfectly illustrate the three distinct strands of laws given by God in the Old Testament. 

A redemptive-historical approach to Biblical interpretation demands that we interpret passages of the Bible with their historical context--as regards God’s saving acts of redemption--in full view. During the giving of the Mosaic Law at the covenant of Sinai, God imposed three types of laws upon Israel: (1) First, God imposed moral laws that are binding and timeless. These relate to holiness, ethical purity, and the natural law written on the hearts of men. Absolute in their application, violations of moral law are always sinful. (2) Second, God imposed ceremonial laws given to distinguish national Israel (the people of the covenant) from their unsanctified neighbors. These dietary and cultural restrictions, along with tabernacle/temple sacrificial regulations, were intended to make clear the distinction between God’s people and the surrounding pagan nations. (3) Third, God mandated civil laws imposed upon Israel as a nation-state, much the same as we have federal law here in the U.S. today. These laws pertained to the application and enforcement of the Sinaitic code, with particular reference to Israel as national government.  As long as national Israel existed by standing in the Sinai covenant with God, all three types of laws (moral, ceremonial, and civil) governed the hearts and lives of the people. 

Nevertheless, the Mosaic/Sinai covenant was a conditional covenant, contingent on national Israel’s fidelity with Jehovah God as Lord (Deut 28). Two events radically changed the standing of Israel forever. First, the nation of Israel abdicated its role as the divine representative to the pagan nations by her overt and incessant covenant infidelity. This persistent covenant infidelity ultimately resulted in the Northern Kingdom being destroyed by the Assyrian in 722BC and the Southern Kingdom being sent into exile in Babylon, culminating in the destruction of Jerusalem in 586BC. (This is the dire message of Isaiah, Jeremiah and most of the OT the prophets). Israel, as a nation-state, ordained by God as a chosen people, ceased to exist. The civil law was neither possible nor necessary to enforce. 

Click here to read "Fried Chicken and Traditional Marriage?" by Lee Hutchings.

The other major event is of course the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, the pinnacle event of all of redemption history. By dying a sacrificial death for the sin of His people, Christ fulfilled the ceremonial laws in a way that National Israel never could. His perfect obedience and complete fidelity to God fulfilled and abrogated the ceremonial law. Because of His atoning death, no sacrifice and tabernacle/temple offerings are any longer required. We no longer need to offer bulls, goats, or sheep. (This is the whole point of the book of Hebrews). Moreover, Christ fulfilled and abrogated all civil and ceremonial laws initiating a new Kingdom that transcends national Israel in every way. 

At this point, I hope interpreting Leviticus on the other side of the cross and empty tomb is becoming easier. Laws prohibiting shellfish (ceremonial law) and mandating the stoning blasphemers (civil law) seem outmoded and ancient because they are. Christ has come. Christ has died. Christ is raised again. We live on the near side of the cross. 

The moral law (summarized by the Ten Commandments), however, is the timeless law of God revealed in the Sinai covenant for which mankind is still responsible. These are the inviolable moral laws written indelibly on the consciences of all mankind (Romans 2:15), and the standards by which human kind will all be judged. Murder, lying, idolatry and theft will always be sinful no matter where or when they are committed. As homosexuality is a gross violation of the creation order in general (Genesis 2:18-24), and the seventh commandment in particular (Exodus 20:14; Deuteronomy 5:18), the fact that this practice transgresses God’s standards of purity is beyond dispute. This is why the New Testament agrees with and reinforces the Old Testament’s prohibitions of this practice (Romans 1:26-27; Colossians 3:5; 1 Corinthians 6:9; 1 Timothy 1:10). 

Simply stated, the “homosexuality and shellfish” argument falls apart entirely when read as the Scriptures are meant to be read—with a redemptive-historical approach in view. 

Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, Florida. Follow him on Twitter @matt_everhard



  1. I agree with all you have written.
    I also agree with Albert Mohler: American Christianity lacks credibility to confront same-sex marriage because of its own failure to model marital fidelity and life-long commitment in churches.
    “We have to understand that where we have fallen short of biblical fidelity on marriage, we have no credibility to say that we’re going to address marriage now because some kind of fire break has appeared,”

    1. Your comment to this topic utterly concerns me. What you said is almost the complete converse to what pastor Matt said. Saying that the Christian community in the U.S has no credibility to oppose the practice of same-sex marriage due to the short fallings of many Christian marriages is like say that the United States government does not have the cridibility to try, judge and prosecute people that have broken a law or laws that the government has placed apon this land because there has been numerous cases where government officials have broken the very laws that they are commanded to follow and swore to protect.

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