Friday, December 01, 2006

Christianity's Credibility - Part 3

Finally, I want to deal with Thomas' use of scripture to bolster his argument. He deals with it in three parts. I'll sum up his arguments:
  • The Old Testament condemns homosexuality, but Christians don't follow any of the other things in the OT, so why should they worry about this?
This is an argument I've seen before, and it is one that frustrates me in this case because it operates from a position of ignorance about Biblical theology. Thomas has had leadership in Southern Baptist organizations. He should know better.

Even a cursory glance at the Old Testament would tell someone that Christians don't follow most of its precepts. When was the last time you saw a priest butcher a goat and smear its blood on the altar? The reason we don't do so is because Jesus instituted a new covenant, different from the old. The old no longer had to be followed. This is a very important concept to Christian theology.

So then why do Christians even bother with the OT at all? Proper biblical theology acknowledges that the OT laws can be broken up into different types: Theological, Moral, Dietary, Ceremonial, Governmental, etc. The way those laws were split up is important, because the category can determine whether or not Christians should be concerned with it anymore. For example, why should Christians worry about following laws that only concerned the governance of Israel as a nation?

I won't delve into this any deeper, but of great importance is that many of the laws which fall into the theological and moral categories do so because they appear in the New Testament as well. This leads to Thomas' second argument:
  • Paul doesn't actually condemn homosexuality, just pederasty.
Thomas doesn't actually explain this argument very much. Yes, pederasty wasn't unheard of in Greek culture, but that doesn't mean homosexuality wasn't either.

Not to be graphic, but some of the pederasty that was present in Greek culture involved the older man putting his penis between the thighs of the younger man. No penetration was involved. While I'm sure Paul wouldn't have been keen on this, I don't think this is what he was referring to.

As a former professor explained to me, the Greeks had two words for homosexuals, and they were both related to sexual position. Forgive the crudeness of this, but of the two terms, one was for the giver, and the other was for the receiver. When Paul condemns homosexuals, he uses the word for the receiver. If Paul were merely condemning pederasty, he wouldn't have been condemning the receiver.

Even then, there's no hint in the Biblical record that he was talking about pederasty. The text offers no reason to accept that interpretation.
  • Jesus never mentioned homosexuality, so it's not a big deal.
This argument, once again, belies an ignorance of Biblical theology that is unbecoming of a man in Thomas' (former) position.

The Gospel narratives are not encyclopedic. They were meant to capture the essence of Jesus' time on Earth. The disciples would have spent less than three years with him. While there is much contained in those scriptures, it is certainly not three years worth of information. Does this mean that everything left out is completely unimportant?

Yes, this comes off as a "You can't prove he didn't talk about homosexuality" argument, and that ends up falling flat. After all, Christians aren't concerned with what Jesus might have said, we're concerned with what the Bible records him as having said.

But the New Testament is not just the Gospels. While Jesus is by far the most influential and important figure in the New Testament, he is not the only one of importance. The Pauline Epistles, making up a large portion of the NT, are where the condemnations of homosexuality can be found. If Thomas wants to argue that they shouldn't be part of the NT, that's fine, but that is a separate argument and he doesn't make it here. It's completely beside the point to say that Jesus didn't mention something. There's much that Jesus didn't mention that is still morally significant in Christianity.

This concludes my analysis of Thomas' column. A big hat tip to Dr. Mohler, who has a post about the subject and offers the information about Thomas' former position in the Baptist Church.

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