Wednesday, March 28, 2007

If Jesus was Jewish, It Follows That . . . .

Back where I normally teach, there's an evangelist who preaches on the green as students walk by to and fro from class. His preaching is the usual revivalist mixture of solid Biblical truths, conservative talk-radio politics, theatrical gestures, heretical End Times teachings , and American small town mores. My impression is that most (but not all) Christian students on campus find him sort of embarrassing, and most (but not all) of the non-Christian students find him sort of entertaining. As I pass by, I often hear their cat-calls, among which I remember are the following:

"Jesus was Jewish! He was a Jew, not a Christian!"

Another is:

"Jesus never said anything about homosexuality!"

These are also common "refutations" of Christianity in the campus newspaper. You have probably heard both of these points before.

As I was reading Mark recently, however, I realized that these two statements cannot both be true. If Jesus was (and is) in fact Jewish, then He said something about homosexuality. Only if He was not Jewish, could we say that He didn't say anything about homosexuality.

In Mark 7, we read:

And he called the people to him again and said to them, "Hear me, all of you, and understand: There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him." And when he had entered the house and left the people, his disciples asked him about the parable. And he said to them, "Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?" (Thus he declared all foods clean.) And he said, "What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person."

This passage occurs right after a discussion of the Law and the Jewish traditions. Jesus clearly has on His mind the question of the interpretation of the Law. First (in the part not cited) he criticizes the Pharisees for adding to the law, while denying the fourth/fifth commandment ("Honor your father and mother"). Then he adds in private (because this is dynamite to the Jewish community of which He was indeed a member), that while the Mosaic food laws are in some sense relative and non-binding, other laws speak against what comes out of the heart are binding and always will be. Among them is the law against "sexual immorality/fornication" (porneia).

Now what does He mean by porneia? Given the truth that Jesus was/is indeed a Jew and speaking in the context of assessing the Mosaic Law, there is only one possible answer to that question. He meant by it all those practices defined as sexual immorality in Leviticus 18 and 20 -- which include homosexuality, along with various forms of incest and bestiality. If Jesus was a Jew (but only in that case), then His words cannot be interpreted except as including homosexuality within "sexual immorality" -- that "sexual immorality" falls within all the other listed sins that come out of the heart is patently obvious. Unlike violating the food laws, these sins are ones that Jesus declares still defile a person.

So if Jesus is Jewish, then he did speak about homosexuality.

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