I have been asked by quite a few of my blog readers what stand I take and how I interpret these verses. I subscribe to neither view or to both views but before I am accused of being homophobic or gay-friendly (depending on which camp you are in), please hear me out and let me explain my position.
In this post, I want to show my readers that there is a totally different approach we can take. I believe that my approach is entirely consistent with that taken by Jesus himself whose name we bear and whose teaching we must follow if we consider ourselves (even if only culturally) Christians.
Let's be honest. The Bible says the darnedest things. If you don't accept this, I can only conclude that you either haven't read the Bible much or you just refuse to be honest about this. I don't want to go into the details of what God has been accused by the Bible of doing. If I accept the entire litany of crimes against humanity that the Bible claims God is guilty of, I would be making God out to be the world's greatest criminal and every church will be no different from that disgraceful Yasukuni shrine which houses emblems in honour of convicted war criminals. If you are a true Christian who has read the Bible, you will know what I'm talking about and you certainly won't dare to challenge me to list God's crimes against not just humanity but other creatures too. But if you are not a Christian and you don't know what incredibly immoral things the Bible has accused God of doing, forget what I've just said. This post is addressed and is only relevant to my fellow Christians who, I hope, will learn to have the moral courage to do what is right just as our Lord Jesus has done.
What is truly important for us Christians is to see how our Lord handles some of the Old Testament teachings. Did he just accept them as the Word of God, especially the nasty bits?
I will pick three examples and arrange them in order of increasing importance, ie, the last example is the most important one.
The first example is on divorce. The Pharisees come to Jesus one fine day and ask him if he accepts the divorce law as contained in the Law of Moses and written in the Old Testament of the Bible. The Law of Moses allows a man to unilaterally divorce his wife. They ask him for his thoughts on the matter. This is a sexist law of course so, let's see how Jesus deals with it. Jesus could have said, "Well, since it's in the Bible, the Word of God, I can't change my own words, can I?" But he doesn't say that. Instead he says this whole bunkum about divorce is in the Law because of the "hardness of your hearts". Jesus is saying (if I may paraphrase because I haven't got the Bible with me at the moment), "Sorry guys! You're stuck for life to the woman you've married. You can't divorce her and I don't give a damn what the Old Testament says and neither should you".
Jesus cursing the Pharisees
Now, I'm bringing up this example not because I think divorcees are all evil. Jesus was addressing the problem of his day. Men were sexist pigs in those days (some of us still are today) and they were getting rid of their wives every now and then by just relying on the sexist Old Testament law. What can Jesus possibly mean when he says there should be no divorce at all but divorces are allowed because of the "hardness" of their hearts? Does Jesus mean that God gave a wrong law just to accommodate evil people? Of course not. I think the best interpretation one can logically give to what Jesus is saying is that the law came about because of the hardness of people's hearts. In other words, divorce should not be a part of the law but people made it up because of their evil obstinacy. Whatever your take on this, Jesus is casting aside what's written in the Bible.
I've said earlier that I'm giving my three examples in the order of increasing importance. Let me move on to my second and more compelling example.
In the Old Testament, God makes it very clear that a person who commits adultery must be stoned to death. The Word of God allows for no exception. In other words, if you have caught an adulterer or adulteress, he or she must be stoned to death and you can't even take time off to consult God to see if he will make an exception and allow him or her to be forgiven. It's straight to the gallows or rather, the stoning gallery with no reprieve.
Many apologists have tried to explain away John 8 where we read of Jesus and the woman taken in adultery as an instance of Jesus exercising his power, as God, to forgive the woman. They try very hard to conceal the fact that Jesus actually contravenes the Old Testament law that REQUIRES the woman to be stoned to death with no exception. When Jesus is asked by the Pharisees if the woman should be stoned to death according to the law of Moses, he simply replies that the person without sin should cast the first stone. Now, that's not in line with the law of Moses at all. In the millions of cases of people stoned to death for adultery throughout the bloody pages of Israelite history, those who cast the first stones knew perfectly well that they weren't without sin. Jesus is effectively saying that he doesn't agree with the Old Testament law.
My third and last example which should put the final nail in the coffin of the nasty bits of the Bible and which, I hope, will convince you that Jesus considers a lot of the Old Testament as nonsense has something to do with the Fourth Commandment and I will need to explain (again without the help of the Bible) to those who are not familiar with the Christian faith.
For some reason, the Old Testament writers have this obsession with the 7th day of the week. When they write about God's creation in Genesis, they have to stress that God did his creation work for 6 days and on the 7th day, God rested. This implies that this fascination for the 7th day or the Sabbath has been around even at the dawn of creation. The observance of the Sabbath day as a strict day of rest is required in the 4th Commandment and in Old Testament law, any failure to observe the Sabbath day rest is punished with, yes you have guessed it, death by stoning, God's preferred mode of execution.
The Old Testament even has a dreadfully cruel story about a poor man who was out picking firewood one cold winter's day when the other villagers caught him and guess what? It happened to be the Sabbath day and he was picking firewood on the Sabbath day! What an evil thing to do on God's holy Sabbath. They arrested him and brought him to God himself.
Just in case you think I've made up this story, let me quote it to you from the Bible itself, the online version of which I now have access to. I'll use the NIV which is the most popular version today. It's found in Numbers 15:32 onwards.
32 While the Israelites were in the wilderness, a man was found gathering wood on the Sabbath day. 33 Those who found him gathering wood brought him to Moses and Aaron and the whole assembly, 34 and they kept him in custody, because it was not clear what should be done to him. 35 Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘The man must die. The whole assembly must stone him outside the camp.’ 36 So the assembly took him outside the camp and stoned him to death, as the Lord commanded Moses.
Now, this is an apologist's nightmare. As any Christian knows, a Christian apologist whose job it is to defend the faith will say the most ludicrous things to earn his bread. And even funnier is the fact that many of the faithful are willing to accept whatever rubbish the apologist says. Some apologists I've read have gone so far as to say that the man was stoned to death because he was a spy and gathering wood was just an excuse. That's a lie because the Word of God (which you can read for yourself above) doesn't say that. The Book of Revelation calls on God's curses for any person who adds to the Bible so similarly, I call upon God to curse any man who adds to this passage and if he's an apologist, he should receive a double portion of God's curses because he should know better than to violate the Word of God with his own words. The Word of God tells us that the man was stoned because he was gathering wood in the wilderness on the holy Sabbath day. We know how cold the wilderness can be at night but it's better to freeze than to go against the Fourth Commandment.
So, now that we know what the Bible says God's stand is with regard to the Sabbath, let's look at what Jesus has to say in the Holy Gospels. In St Mark's Gospel, we read that Jesus and his band of merry disciples were passing through grainfields when they began to pick up heads of grains to eat. The Pharisees remonstrated that Jesus was flouting the Sabbath day law. Let's look at how Jesus responded.
Before I go on, I should say something about some dishonest apologists whose books I've read. Many of them insist that Jesus and his merry men did not violate the Sabbath day law when they picked the grains to eat. That's of course a dreadful lie. Picking up grains from a grainfield is as much a violation of the Sabbath day law as picking up wood that we have just read in the book of Numbers.
Don't listen to these lying apologists. Listen to what Jesus himself said. Jesus didn't defend himself and his disciples by denying that he had flouted the Law of Moses. That's because the truth is what Jesus and his disciples did was directly in contravention of the Fourth Commandment and the Old Testament law. Instead Jesus defended himself by saying it's ok to break the Sabbath. This is Jesus' answer to the Pharisees in Mark 2:25 onwards:
“Have you never read what David did when he was in need and he and his companions became hungry; 26 how he entered the house of God in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the consecrated bread, which is not lawful for anyone to eat except the priests, and he also gave it to those who were with him?” 27 Jesus said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath."Jesus did not once declare that his action was not in contravention of the Sabbath law. It was. He explained that it was ok to break the Sabbath. And he said something revolutionary - the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.
Now consider this for a minute. Would a person who says, "The Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath" command that a man who gathered wood on the Sabbath day be stoned to death? Obviously, Jesus was cocking a snook at the Old Testament law and the story of God commanding the death of a man who gathered wood on the Sabbath.
If Jesus could do that to God's law in the Old Testament, we who are followers of Jesus should learn to do that to the entire Bible whenever the Bible says the darnedest things. And the Bible does say the darnedest things sometimes.
You see, morality changes with time. What was moral or immoral at one time may very well be the opposite in today's world. The truth is the church is aware of this and the church does not follow the Bible all the time. But the church is usually not honest enough to say it openly especially to non-believers. Like the dishonest apologists, the church will come up with all kinds of excuses not to follow the Bible in areas where the Bible is telling us to be downright immoral.
I'll give an example. When I was a boy, I thought the ancient Romans were evil people when I read about how in Roman times, men from good families cut their hair short to show their intact ears. The reason for this is rather ghastly. In Roman times, slaves had a large hole bored into each ear and when a slave was freed by his master and became a freeman, he would grow long hair to cover his ears and the embarrassing evidence of his past as a slave. As a boy, I was repulsed by such cruelty until I discovered to my horror that this whole idea of boring a hole in the ear of a slave predates Roman history. It's actually the brainchild of the God of the Bible and if you read Exodus 21, you will know what I mean. God commanded that a slave's ears be bored with an awl.
Of course apologists will scramble with their lies to try to explain away this truth but if you are honest about it, slavery is really a holy institution of the God of the Bible.
Oh, you may say, that's all in the Old Testament. Surely the New Testament does not approve of slavery?
On the contrary, the New Testament continues to keep the hallowed institution of slavery very much alive. Even when Jesus tells his parables, he sometimes equates God to a slave-master who tortures his slaves. At no point does Jesus tell his disciples that slavery is wrong. St Paul, in his epistles, advises Christian slave-masters (yes, you read that correctly, Christian masters of slaves) not to be cruel to their slaves and warns the slaves to obey their masters. In his epistle to Philemon (which is a part of the New Testament and is therefore the inspired Holy Word of God), we learn that a slave runs away from his Christian master and Paul finds the slave and converts him to Christianity (as if the slave had a choice in the first place). In his epistle to Philemon who is a Christian owner of slaves, St Paul tells Philemon that the escaped slave is now a Christian and he has persuaded the slave to return to his former role as a slave in Philemon's household.
I have read what dishonest apologists say about this. They say that St Paul had no time to talk about slavery or to change the social order in the Roman times. That's rubbish. If St Paul actually believed it was bloody immoral of anyone to own a slave, he would have told Philemon to release all his slaves. Some apologists say the slaves needed to work as slaves to survive but again, that's rubbish. St Paul could have asked all Christian slave owners to turn their slaves into paid servants with a list of rights as free people. And any suggestion that St Paul was too busy to address his mind to slavery is again a blatant lie. In his epistle to the Corinthians, St Paul is very quick to punish a man with excommunication for having gone to bed with a woman. If he had time for such petty acts between two consenting adults, he must have had time to tell Christians not to own slaves if he really thought of it as immoral.
But kudos to the church that despite the strong biblical support for slavery, the church somehow decided that this hallowed institution of God as supported by both the Old Testament and the New Testament be looked upon today as a heinous sin. It speaks a lot of the goodness of the church to fly in the face of the Holy Bible in order to do what is right. This is the kind of religion that Christ wants us to have. If the Bible is wrong, we should not be afraid to say it's wrong and to go against it. Christ did that to the Old Testament and surely he expects us to do the same to the entire Bible and the fact that the church today goes against slavery shows that we are doing precisely that.
Those who feel compelled by the Bible to denounce homosexuality or lesbianism must ask themselves honestly why they don't subscribe to slavery. If we are truly honest, we'll have to admit that slavery offends our sense of right and wrong but a denunciation of homosexuality doesn't affect us one bit because we're heterosexuals and we find homosexuality a bit repulsive anyway. We pick and choose what we like from the Bible.
I'm not asking my fellow Christians to suddenly change their stand on anything; they probably can't. I'm asking them to at least be honest with themselves and recognise how we are all motivated by our personal prejudices and preferences.