Friendly Witness: The Spiritual Ground of Quaker Social Action4th mo. 19, 2023 from 1pm to 6pm
Quaker Theological Discussion Group 202312th mo. 1, 2023 at 8am to 12th mo. 2, 2023 at 10am
Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
So it comes down to five Bible verses.
The argument that homosexuality is wrong, that homosexuality is sinful, has no other leg to stand upon – if it has any at all – than these five verses: two from Leviticus, one from Romans, one from First Corinthians, and one from First Timothy.
Some want to argue that homosexuality is wrong because it is harmful to others, but there simply is no evidence that homosexuality causes harm to others. The allegations made on this score are in error, and are offered only out of ignorance or sometimes malice.
Some want to argue that homosexuality is wrong because it is “unnatural.” And yet beyond a shadow of a doubt, homosexuality (a sexual attraction to those of the same sex) arises frequently in human beings and frequently in hundreds of other animal species. Nature is far from homogeneous; nature is given to variety and diversity. It is only out of ignorance (or, again, malice) that one would try to argue that homosexuality was unnatural. And is the naturalness of something our test of its morality?
The Indiana Yearly Meeting Minute on homosexuality says that “We believe the Holy Spirit and Scriptures witness to this” [homosexual practices as contrary to the intent and will of God for humankind], but I hear in our discussions only appeals to Scripture, not appeals to the Holy Spirit.
No, the only argument that might have any standing is the claim that there are five verses in Scripture that supposedly proclaim homosexuality to be sinful. Some people have come to call these the “clobber texts” because they have been repeatedly used to clobber gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered people as sinful.
And so it matters how we read the Bible. The Bible is really a complex collection of books, some histories, some prayers, some letters, some imaginative stories, some poetry, some prophecy. Some of it is written in Hebrew, and some in a 1st century conversational Greek even though Jesus spoke Aramaic. So translations have to be worked through. In the face of this complexity, we need a consistent approach to reading the Bible: we cannot read some passages one way, and some passages another. How we read the five clobber texts has to have some consistency with how we read what the Bible says about war, adultery, the role of women in the church, what foods we should eat, what we should do about wealth, what we should do about our desires, or hundreds of other questions.
At an Indiana Yearly Meeting annual session a year or two ago, the Bible came up in one heated session, and a pastor said “God-breathed” in the midst of the discussion, and others murmured, “God-breathed” in agreement. They were quoting 2 Timothy 3:16, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.”
“God-breathed.” Yes, useful to remember. But what does it mean? What was “Scripture” when the author of 2 Timothy wrote these words? 2 Timothy was likely written towards the end of the first century C.E. There wasn’t yet a New Testament to which he could refer. Paul’s letters were written before the Gospels. The various manuscripts that are compiled into our New Testament were written and circulated in various collections over the first two or three centuries C.E., and weren’t accepted as an authoritative corpus until the late 4th century by action of various gatherings of bishops (the Synod of Hippo, 393, the Third Council of Carthage, 397).
And who wrote 2 Timothy? The letter begins “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, in keeping with the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus, to Timothy, my dear son: Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.” But there are a good many reasons to doubt that it was Paul who wrote this letter. It doesn’t match the style of his other letters, and we can’t fit it into the sequence of his known travels as reported, for example, in Acts. Most Bible scholars take it to have been written by a follower of Paul, someone trying to copy his example. But what are we then to make of a letter that begins by telling us something that probably isn’t true?
2 Timothy is a letter with a good deal of holy wisdom in it. It is worth study and reverence. But we can hardly take it to be absolutely the literal, end-all truth because the not-Paul who wrote it, claiming he was Paul, tells us that other Scripture (not specified) is “God-breathed.”
"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5-17). Jesus uses the Scriptures, which like his Jewish compatriots he would have considered holy but neither complete nor inerrant. More importantly, He invariably turns the meaning towards a new teaching. And his teachings often come in parables, the meaning of which we are led to puzzle through. His disciples were often confused and on the wrong track – the Bible tells us repeatedly. The parables do not yield their meanings easily.
So how come we to think that the Bible gives us its meanings easily and plainly to us? How can we grab a snippet of text and say “there, that’s clear,” especially when the snippet runs against the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount or the two Great Commandments? Especially when the snippet runs against the srong current of Jesus’s good news.
George Fox knew the Bible by heart as did many other early Friends. He already knew it by heart, however, when he was in his time of seeking and despair – and yet it did not suffice. When he had his epiphany on Pendle Hill, he didn’t say, “I see, the Bible is all we need. It’s a finished revelation that is utterly sufficient in all ways.” Instead he said, “Jesus has come to teach His people Himself.” We need the Holy Spirit to help us understand the Bible, a treasured book of incomparable wisdom and instruction. But to substitute the Bible for the Holy Spirit is not what Jesus has in mind when he tells us to “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37), reaching back to Deuteronomy 6:5.
Revering the Bible doesn’t mean thinking it an easy look-up reference, a closed book of act-by-rote-rule instruction. Jesus came to breathe a new spirit of love into the old law.
Aren't we human beings all "God-breathed"? But other people seem to have been mistaken now & then, and certainly misunderstood from time to time. Why not the Christian scriptures?-- let alone people's interpretations of them?
It seems that God Himself has been misunderstood from time to time... despite being capable of addressing people through thoughts, words, music, writings, historical events, winds, earthquakes, indeed through the very plot of our personal lives.
It's good to have a human-viewpoint book of God's interactions with some of us. Largely because it shows us how readily people mistake the simplest things. Shows us with examples. And people don't see it.
And yet people keep right on insisting that this is a God's-eye, accurate record plus Divine Regulation Book. Just going by how we've used the book we have, imagine what we'd do with that one!
People even think we have "The Knowledge of Good and Evil." Yes, look how well we've shown it.
Nice post on the difficulty of reading the Bible with integrity. Perhaps there may be one or two who, on the verge of resolving some doubts, would see the sense in what you say and change their minds. The rest would say "since the Bible is inerrant, and you say it is not, you must be wrong." And that's that. How I wish facts, reason, and intuition counted for as much as emotion, in this as in many other issues.
I agree with Bruce Arnold. You're preaching to the choir. I don't know any logical arguments that will convince an atheist to believe in God. Either you have the faith experience or you don't. Similarly, I've never run into any logical arguments which will convince someone like me that the Bible is inerrant, nor can I think of a way to talk someone who believes it is that they're wrong. If God's Spirit breathes a new understanding into your heart, you'll change. As for homosexuality, I believe the only resolution of problems like Indiana YM's will come when people come to personally know and love some of the wonderful gay and lesbian people who live among us (for example, some members of my Meeting). That will give God a chance to soften hearts; arguments only tend to harden them.
Are homosexual acts sinful? The clear witness of the Holy Spirit and the bible is that they are.
As the bible clearly teaches us, heterosexuality is God's creative intent for all persons. The Holy Spirit will never speak to us anything different than what is revealed to us in Scripture.
For centuries, people have tried to re-write what the bible teaches. So far, no one has been able to do it. It generally boils down to the simple fact that some people simply refuse to live out our lives as God wants us to.
When we refuse to acknowledge homosexual behavior as sin, we are disrespecting God and showing a lack of love for the person having to deal with this situation.
We live in a fallen world and we as Quakers need to be ready to help all those who are struggling in their spiritual walk, no matter what the sin.
Excuse me, exactly where does the Bible "clearly teach" this?
I seem to have missed the part where Jesus said anything whatsoever about the subject... but had a lot to say about judgmentalism, condemnation of others, self-righteousness.
Jesus taught us in Matthew 19:4: "God created them “male and female” with the intent that they should become “one flesh.” This conviction undergirds all biblical teaching on human sexuality.
This has absolutely nothing to do with being judgemental but caring enough about people to speak the truth in love.
Thomas, you say this as though it is patently true, yet you must be aware that are good Christians, many Friends among them, who do not see it as you do. How do you reconcile this?
I have known many homosexual Friends in whom the Holy Spirit moved powerfully.
Jesus in Matthew 19:4 is saying that where God has paired people off and made 'one person' of them, that isn't an arrangement that human beings should break up.
I can see for myself that God has made people ( and other creatures) male hetero, female hetero, and otherwise.
Where God has clearly bound a couple of guys together, so that everyone who knows them sees this as belonging together, I wouldn't want anyone breaking that up, any more than I'd like somebody interfering between me and my wife. (There's also that part about 'doing unto others.')
Clearly, teaching the doctrines of human beings as Commandments of God is a 'no-no.' It seems to be an honest mistake which human beings are prone to fall into. There's nothing in there that says we should take anyone out and stone them over this.
But if the Bible clearly teaches anything at all-- It's that God is available, and willing to answer, so far as we are willing and able to listen. Where the clarity of the texts is in question, that would seem the best way to address this, yes?
Forrest, in this instance, the clarity of the texts are not in question. The bible is very clear on this subject.
The fact that homosexual acts are sinful is beyond question, if we believe the bible to true.
Bruce, there are a wide variety of theological beliefs among the various sects of Christianity, even among Friends. However among Christians and within Friends, the majority would agree with me on this subject. We must always preach the truth in love.