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Sexuality and Christian belief (Was: Homosexuality and the Bible)

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The issue is that we don't really believe -- I don't really believe -- that all sins are equally bad. We are all in various stages of denial/acquiescence/repentance in terms of our favorite or least favorite besetting sins, including the fact that we may vigorously deny that those besetting sins are even sins at all. I know I've been there before. And I want to be able to account for that as I relate with those with whom I disagree about homosexuality. I also want to admit that I just might be plain wrong, and that according to my lights this is where I currently come down on the issue, but that my lights have been known to shine fairly dimly. In other words, I want to extend a lot of grace, because that's certainly what I need myself.

Knowing you, I'm fairly certain that you'd agree with that, Denes. I think this is very challenging indeed. None of it changes the fact that I look forward to hearing Jennifer Knapp's new album.

Thank you for the benefit of the doubt, Andy. Sincerely. I do agree with you, in all of the above. And I'm just as likely to justify my own sinful behavior as anyone else. And I'm just as much in need of confrontation, and genuine repentance, and forgiveness, as anyone else. Not that it matters, but I truly look at Jennifer Knapp, and while I acknowledge that her pursuit of homosexual activity is sinful, and her denial of that fact is spiritually deadly, I truly - in my heart of hearts - think, "but at least she's not as bad as me." And I truly believe that Christ offers her grace, just as He offers me grace, and that I should extend grace to her as well.

The difference for me, not between you and me but between me and 'progressive' views of sin, is that I believe that God's Word is a part of that Grace. That loving confrontation is part of that Grace. And that even church discipline is part of that Grace.

Greg P, mock it if you'd like, but I'm not the one who came up with disfellowshipping, Jesus is. Your beef is with Him, not with me.

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What you are quoting is one modern Bible translations interpretation of that word and that interpretation is rife with problems, as I'm sure even conservatives would acknowledge.

Well, they wouldn't acknowledge that at all. The section on homosexuality in Richard Hay's Moral Vision of the New Testament is a good place to go to get a sense of the history of scholarship on this word.

I'm in the group that says Romans 1 was describing the orgiastic, pagan temple prostitution of the day.

I recommend a survey of even just contemporary commentaries on this section. Flipping back through about 8 from the past few years, you will see none that deviate from the typical line of thought. This doesn't mean it isn't correct, but I just point this out to say that this idea isn't taken seriously by people who have spent a lot of time on the passage. The one notable exception is Dale Martin's essay arguing that the term refers to sex in exchange for money. I haven't seen that essay referred to very often either. Frankly, it isn't convincing at all.

All this is to say, scholarship on these specific texts doesn't have much to offer someone trying to argue that Paul doesn't condemn homosexuality. Hays has a good, pastorally-minded alternative that marshals other evidences to moderate how Paul has been misinterpreted in the past.

Edited by M. Leary

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If I treated gluttony as a disfellowship-worthy sin, that would not in any way make a difference to your view, would it? Your concern is not with the spiritual health of gluttons, or with my consistency of discipline, but with legitimizing homosexual behavior. And that's what I don't believe Scripture will allow you to do.

It is all about holding you to your conservative theological views so, yes, consistency is without question the issue. If you told me that you personally confronted gluttonous members of your church regarding their behavior and threatened repeat offenders with disfellowshipping, I would without question tip my hat in respect, despite my personal disagreement. Such a position would be a consistent application of the "sin is sin" belief and as such, worthy of respect.

I don't think scripture addresses the issue of innate sexual orientation at all. In fact, scripture doesn't address a lot of sexual issues; what to you do with people born with ambiguous genitalia or hormonal, intersex disorders? There are no nice, neat verses for these people, friends. I am not convinced that the anti-gay verses typically cited, speak to the same issue that we are discussing today. In the words of Fee, "Scripture cannot mean what it never meant" and this is a perfect example in my opinion.

The position that conservatives are stuck with is that homosexuals have "chosen" this path and that the decision to succumb to homosexuality is a besetting sin no different than lying or adultery and needs to be repented of. One of the basic problems with this is that while millions and millions of liars and adulterers are able to repent and embark on a new path, homosexuals seem unable to do so. Like the quadriplegics at a Benny Hinn crusade, they are commanded to get up and walk straight-- and man o man, do many try!-- but they just can't. Re-orientation therapy doesn't seem to do it either. Apparently this gay thing is more insidious than crystal meth.

The one notable exception is Dale Martin's essay arguing that the term refers to sex in exchange for money. I haven't seen that essay referred to very often either. Frankly, it isn't convincing at all.
I totally disagree. Every argument I've ever heard for defining the Greek word arsenokoitésbegins by breaking the word down into two parts (Arseno meaning man and koite meaning bed ) and from here immediately make the 20th century leap into the issue of homosexuality.

Martin addresses this by saying:

This approach is linguistically invalid. It is highly precarious to try to ascertain the meaning of a word by taking it apart, getting the meanings of its component parts, and then assuming, with no supporting evidence, that the meaning of the longer word is a simple combination of its component parts. To "understand" does not mean to "stand under." In fact, nothing about the basic meanings of either "stand" or "under" has any direct bearing on the meaning of "understand... Thus, all definitions of arsenokoités that derive its meaning from its components are naive and indefensible. Furthermore, the claim that arsenokoités came from a combination of these two words and therefore means "men who have sex with men" makes the additional error of defining a word by its (assumed) etymology. The etymology of a word is its history, not its meaning"
Edited by Greg P

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The position that conservatives are stuck with is that homosexuals have "chosen" this path and that the decision to succumb to homosexuality is a besetting sin no different than lying or adultery and needs to be repented of. One of the basic problems with this is that while millions and millions of liars and adulterers are able to repent and embark on a new path, homosexuals seem unable to do so. Like the quadriplegics at a Benny Hinn crusade, they are commanded to get up and walk straight-- and man o man, do many try!-- but they just can't. Re-orientation therapy doesn't seem to do it either. Apparently this gay thing is more insidious than crystal meth.

To be fair, I know of very few prominent evangelicals who still promote the "homosexuality is a choice" idea anymore. That was certainly the dominant line of thinking ten or twenty years ago, but I don't think so now. Although there is vast disagreement across the board about what actually causes/contributes to same-sex attraction, I don't know of many widely known leaders who still claim that same-sex attraction is simply a "choice." I think the party line now is, "you may not have a choice about who you're attracted to, but you do have a choice about how you handle that/respond to it." Which is a whole other can of worms.

FUN FACT: I'm listening to a Pet Shop Boys song called "Red Letter Day" while writing this post. It includes this lyric:

"But for all of those who don't fit in

Who follow their instincts and are told they sin

This is a prayer for a different way..."

Edited by morgan1098

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This thread is open for now, but we will close it if we feel we need to.

Please be gracious. :)

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I totally disagree. Every argument I've ever heard for defining the Greek word arsenokoitésbegins by breaking the word down into two parts (Arseno meaning man and koite meaning bed ) and from here immediately make the 20th century leap into the issue of homosexuality.

I don't actually ever hear that. One of the first things that gets taught in the Greek classroom is what we call the "root fallacy," because it hinders the process of correctly learning even basic vocabulary. Like I said, it is worth at least getting you bearings in current discussion about these issues in Paul, there is some great stuff out there that doesn't have to rely on oddball lexicography. I would be happy to whip up a quick bib for you.

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The position that conservatives are stuck with is that homosexuals have "chosen" this path and that the decision to succumb to homosexuality is a besetting sin no different than lying or adultery and needs to be repented of.

The (rather different) teaching of the Catholic Church.

One of the basic problems with this is that while millions and millions of liars and adulterers are able to repent and embark on a new path, homosexuals seem unable to do so. Like the quadriplegics at a Benny Hinn crusade, they are commanded to get up and walk straight-- and man o man, do many try!-- but they just can't. Re-orientation therapy doesn't seem to do it either. Apparently this gay thing is more insidious than crystal meth.

Thought experiment: How is the cast of this paragraph affected if we replace "homosexual" (and cognate terms) with "pedophile" and cognates)?

Pre-emptive check: This is solely a question about the experience of attraction on the part of the pedophile and the homosexual.

Nota bene all the things that are not implied in this question, such as [a.] any assumption of moral equivalence of homosexual acts and acts of pedophilia; [b.] any suggestion that acceptance of homosexuality or homosexual acts necessarily entails or is a slippery slope leading to acceptance of pedophilia or acts of pedophilia; [c.] any implications whatsoever about the actual or desirable legal statuses of acts or relationships of a homosexual or pedophilic nature; etc.

(Was I explicit enough about all this? We shall see.)

Edited by SDG

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To be fair, I know of very few prominent evangelicals who still promote the "homosexuality is a choice" idea anymore. That was certainly the dominant line of thinking ten or twenty years ago, but I don't think so now.
Really? I think many, if not most, evangelical leaders in the States still maintain the position that gays choose--albeit unwittingly-- to have homosexual attractions and that these attractions largely stem from early childhood development issues/traumas. The bottom line is that it can be repented of and the individual can learn to be attracted to the opposite sex. (See: Dobson)

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Maybe someone can point Ryan to some of the old threads concerning Peter's "current identity"? Don't believe there's room on this shelf for another Cannes of Wurms.

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Peter is Eastern Orthodox. I think I can say that our respective traditions (Orthodox and Catholic) enjoin similar (not identical) approaches to the transmission of divine revelation, for which we look to the word of God in sacred scripture and sacred tradition entrusted to and appropriated by the Church, especially in the Fathers and the Councils. (Peter, does that work for you, at least in a rough and ready way? Ryan, is that enough for present purposes?)

Edited by SDG

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To be fair, I know of very few prominent evangelicals who still promote the "homosexuality is a choice" idea anymore. That was certainly the dominant line of thinking ten or twenty years ago, but I don't think so now.
Really? I think many, if not most, evangelical leaders in the States still maintain the position that gays choose--albeit unwittingly-- to have homosexual attractions and that these attractions largely stem from early childhood development issues/traumas. The bottom line is that it can be repented of and the individual can learn to be attracted to the opposite sex. (See: Dobson)

Yes and no. How does someone choose something unwittingly? Dobson and others do tend to ascribe same-sex attraction to childhood traumas, but this is not the same thing as declaring homosexuality to be a "choice," is it? I don't know if he believes this now, but a few years ago Dobson even said that one of the causes of male homosexuality might be the failure of testosterone to "spike" in the womb during a critical stage of development. That might or might not be scientifically sound, but it's certainly not saying that homosexuality is a choice. In fact, it's the opposite of that.

I'm not defending Dobson (far from it), but I do wonder where some people get the idea that conservative evangelicals are still offering the simplistic excuse that "homosexuality is a choice." I honestly haven't heard that in a while. If anything, the thinking seems to be, "It's not a choice, but it's still a sin." Which in many ways is even harder to defend than "it's a choice."

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Not got time to really weigh in on this one much, other than to say I'm still a bit on the fence on this one, but these days much more on Greg's side than the other side.

On the Romans passage, I sorta agree with Peter that it's about Roman-Greek societies, but not that it's universal,. precisely because it seems to be describing what has happened to them - they were idolatrous, and that the result of that was that they practised homosexuality. But these were "straight" people who turned from their natural desires to homosexual practice. Or something. I'm a bit rusty on it.

Also (as I recall) arsenkoite, is a word Paul appears to coin. This might mean that the etymology argument is more valid than would normally be the case, but on the other hand it's strange that Paul doesn't use the word that was in common usuage for homosexuality. Or something. As I say, rusty.

I know what Mike is saying, but I expect that the majority of those commentaries are Evangelical commentaries, firstly cos I know that's where Mike is broadly speaking, but secondly because Romans is a very popular book in Evangelical circles, so there's an imbalance in the commentaries written on it.

Think that's about all. Might post more tomorrow.

Matt

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To be fair, I know of very few prominent evangelicals who still promote the "homosexuality is a choice" idea anymore. That was certainly the dominant line of thinking ten or twenty years ago, but I don't think so now.
Really? I think many, if not most, evangelical leaders in the States still maintain the position that gays choose--albeit unwittingly-- to have homosexual attractions and that these attractions largely stem from early childhood development issues/traumas. The bottom line is that it can be repented of and the individual can learn to be attracted to the opposite sex. (See: Dobson)

An article that was instrumental in my development of my perspective on homosexuality was one that was published by First Things (fairly mainstream I'd say) in 1994. It definitely did not oppose the position that homosexuality was more than a "choice".

Many gays argue that they have no choice, that they could not be otherwise than they are. Such an assertion can take a variety of forms—for example, that "being gay is natural for me" or even that "God made me this way."

We cannot settle the dispute about the roots—genetic or environmental—of homosexual orientation. When some scientific evidence suggests a genetic predisposition for homosexual orientation, the case is not significantly different from evidence of predispositions toward other traits—for example, alcoholism or violence. In each instance we must still ask whether such a predisposition should be acted upon or whether it should be resisted. Whether or not a homosexual orientation can be changed—and it is important to recognize that there are responsible authorities on both sides of this question—we affirm the obligation of pastors and therapists to assist those who recognize the value of chaste living to resist the impulse to act on their desire for homogenital gratification.

The article seems to be too old to exist on the current incarnation of the First Things webpage, but it's still available from the Internet Archive: http://web.archive.org/web/20080402011645rn_1/www.firstthings.com/article.php3?id_article=4429

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I know what Mike is saying, but I expect that the majority of those commentaries are Evangelical commentaries

Oddly, they weren't all eerdmans/baker/zondervan. Same thing with Kasemann, Jewett, Dunn, etc... I was surprised.

Edited by M. Leary

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Kasemann's was 1973 I guess, so perhaps not something you'd expect to find much on. Are not Jewett and Dunn still relatively conservative (I've only read small bits and pieces of their work). Still surprising though.

Matt

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I'm not defending Dobson (far from it), but I do wonder where some people get the idea that conservative evangelicals are still offering the simplistic excuse that "homosexuality is a choice." I honestly haven't heard that in a while. If anything, the thinking seems to be, "It's not a choice, but it's still a sin." Which in many ways is even harder to defend than "it's a choice."

What is your thinking on pedophilia? Is it a choice? Or is it not a sin? Or does the same sort of difficulty you speak of apply here as well? (N.b. previous pre-emptive check.)

Edited by SDG

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I'm not defending Dobson (far from it), but I do wonder where some people get the idea that conservative evangelicals are still offering the simplistic excuse that "homosexuality is a choice." I honestly haven't heard that in a while. If anything, the thinking seems to be, "It's not a choice, but it's still a sin." Which in many ways is even harder to defend than "it's a choice."
There are several places online where you can find Dobson's official position on homosexuality. The Southern Baptist Convention has also repeatedly stated that homosexuality's cause is not genetic or hormonal, but the result of environment (maternal issues, abuse, trauma, etc..) and as such can be repented of just like any other sin. It's true that the actual word "choice" is often carefully removed in these position statements, but that's more political than theological, IMO.

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I'm not defending Dobson (far from it), but I do wonder where some people get the idea that conservative evangelicals are still offering the simplistic excuse that "homosexuality is a choice." I honestly haven't heard that in a while. If anything, the thinking seems to be, "It's not a choice, but it's still a sin." Which in many ways is even harder to defend than "it's a choice."

There are several places online where you can find Dobson's official position on homosexuality. The Southern Baptist Convention has also repeatedly stated that homosexuality's cause is not genetic or hormonal, but the result of environment (maternal issues, abuse, trauma, etc..) and as such can be repented of just like any other sin. It's true that the actual word "choice" is often carefully removed in these position statements, but that's more political than theological, IMO.

Because "environment/nurture" and "choice" are more or less interchangeable concepts? If I expose my kid to secondhand smoke all his life and in his teens he develops lung cancer, that was his choice? You seem to be riding roughshod over a pretty material distinction.

The thesis that there is no genetic or hormonal component to the experience of same-sex attraction is not one that will really fly today. But neither is the thesis that it's 100 percent genetic and hormonal, and environment, nurture and socialization are non-factors. The thing is complicated.

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Sigh.

Our past discussions (which I linked to in our past discussion on Gay Marriage) have disappeared. It would have saved so much time.

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What is your thinking on pedophilia? Is it a choice? Or is it not a sin? Or does the same sort of difficulty you speak of apply here as well? (N.b. previous pre-emptive check.)

Oh, I believe it's a sin. But it might be a psychological disorder relating to issues of control rather than merely a sexual thing, much in the way male-on-female rape is more about domination and control than sex. But this is all getting way over my head. With pedophilia you're introducing the idea of consent, which doesn't apply in adult relationships.

I'm not sure I totally embrace the conservative evangelical line of thinking on the homosexuality issue. I grew up believing that the Bible unequivocally condemned homosexual behavior, and now I'm sitting on the fence. I'm still a sola scriptura guy, but in my limited reading on this topic I've discovered some strong, if not totally persuasive, arguments that allow for a different biblical interpretation. I brought up the "choice" issue merely to clarify what I feel is the dominant conservative thinking (again, that I don't necessarily agree with) because I think Greg's "conservatives say homosexuality is a choice" statement was inaccurate.

There are several places online where you can find Dobson's official position on homosexuality. The Southern Baptist Convention has also repeatedly stated that homosexuality's cause is not genetic or hormonal, but the result of environment (maternal issues, abuse, trauma, etc..) and as such can be repented of just like any other sin. It's true that the actual word "choice" is often carefully removed in these position statements, but that's more political than theological, IMO.

I understand what you're saying. But I think believing homosexuals can "change" is not the same thing as saying that homosexuality is a choice. Or at least, I think that's what conservative evangelicals are saying.

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Thanks for clarifying, Morgan.

With pedophilia you're introducing the idea of consent, which doesn't apply in adult relationships.

Perhaps, though others will contest this. In any case, my question is about the experience of desire, not the morality of actions. Greg P wrote:

One of the basic problems with this is that while millions and millions of liars and adulterers are able to repent and embark on a new path, homosexuals seem unable to do so. Like the quadriplegics at a Benny Hinn crusade, they are commanded to get up and walk straight-- and man o man, do many try!-- but they just can't. Re-orientation therapy doesn't seem to do it either. Apparently this gay thing is more insidious than crystal meth.

The burden of my present line of inquiry is simply to refute reasoning from "the experience of these desires is persistent and apparently irreformable" to "these desires must be healthy and appropriate and must admit of morally legitimate means of satisfaction." The presence of a potential line of objection against the pedophile acting on his desires (e.g., the alleged incapacity of children to give morally meaningful consent) that may not apply to the homosexual acting on his desires does not alter the fact that both have the experience of persistent and apparently irreformable desires.

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SDG wrote:

: Peter, does that work for you, at least in a rough and ready way?

Yep.

FWIW, I would add to this that there was a period between my "sola scriptura evangelical" phase and my conversion to Orthodoxy, where I basically rejected "sola scriptura" (not least because it is never mentioned in scripture itself, and is therefore a self-defeating proposition) but I wasn't sure where to go from there. For a while I was part of a "post-evangelical" community, and through that community I became friends with a gay evangelical Anglican who has been fairly involved in the controversy within his church over the blessing of same-sex unions; when the Jennifer Knapp story came up this week, I e-mailed him about it and sent him links to the stories. I eventually became Orthodox for various reasons that go beyond the purview of this thread -- and as it happens, I do subscribe to Orthodox teaching on this issue -- but I am still sympathetic to non-Orthodox friends of mine who find themselves in the middle of this debate. And I will say that one thing I noticed in my "post-evangelical" days was how a lot of the conservative arguments around this issue fell back on the idea that we couldn't just toss aside nearly 2,000 years of tradition on this point (even though we had already done so when it came to the episcopate, or the ordination of women, etc., etc.); apparently the "sola scriptura" approach wasn't enough even for THEM.

Andy Whitman wrote:

: The issue is that we don't really believe -- I don't really believe -- that all sins are equally bad.

FWIW, I wouldn't frame the issue as one of some sins being more or less "bad" than other sins; I would tend to say that some sins have bigger consequences than others, both where one's personal spiritual health is concerned and also where relationships within community are concerned. And I think an argument can plausibly be made that sexual partnerships are both profoundly personal and profoundly communal, so how we define or redefine our understanding of them will have big, big consequences on a number of fronts.

mrmando wrote:

: But, just to try to get maximum juice out of this line of thinking: If Jesus thought homosexuality was bad, he didn't have to say so, because Leviticus had already said so.

Of course, one must also keep in mind that Jesus ministered to fellow Jews, for whom the laws of Leviticus apply, and not to Gentiles, for whom the laws of Leviticus do NOT necessarily apply. (And as we can see throughout Acts and Paul's epistles, the Jewish laws continued to apply to Jewish Christians for at least that first generation or two, even if they did not apply to Gentiles. Although, hmmm, the letter that the Council of Jerusalem sent to the Gentile Christians in Acts 15 -- the letter that establishes the bare minimum requirements for non-Jews who wish to join the Christian faith -- does specify that the Gentiles must avoid sexual immorality, doesn't it? Then again, it also specifies that they shouldn't consume blood, but pretty much nobody complains nowadays if you order your steaks rare or medium rare. So, hmmm.)

Greg P wrote:

: I don't think scripture addresses the issue of innate sexual orientation at all. In fact, scripture doesn't address a lot of sexual issues; what to you do with people born with ambiguous genitalia or hormonal, intersex disorders?

Well, some people do point to that line in Matthew's gospel where Jesus refers to people who have been "born eunuchs", for whatever that's worth.

: Every argument I've ever heard for defining the Greek word arsenokoitésbegins by breaking the word down into two parts (Arseno meaning man and koite meaning bed ) and from here immediately make the 20th century leap into the issue of homosexuality.

FWIW, I am intrigued by Joe Dallas's argument that Paul did not merely invent this word out of whole cloth, but based it on the Greek translation of the Levitical laws found in the Septuagint. In other words, Paul is essentially harking back to the OT here.

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Sigh.

Our past discussions (which I linked to in our past discussion on Gay Marriage) have disappeared. It would have saved so much time.

Well, there is this.

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Darrel Manson wrote:

: Our past discussions (which I linked to in our past discussion on Gay Marriage) have disappeared. It would have saved so much time.

FWIW, Darrel, the first of those threads does show up at Archive.org, or at least part of it does.

Oh, and so does the fourth thread.

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Of course, one must also keep in mind that Jesus ministered to fellow Jews, for whom the laws of Leviticus apply, and not to Gentiles, for whom the laws of Leviticus do NOT necessarily apply.

Right, one problem with "Jesus was silent on X" arguments is that they ignore the fact that Jesus himself was part of a social/cultural/theological context that was not silent on X. Jesus' approach to Jewish teaching was a mixed bag: he wanted to liberalize some of it, conservatize some of it, and leave some of it just as it was.

On a tangent, just how far do you take the "Jesus ministered to fellow Jews" argument? Are there any teachings attributed to Jesus himself (as distinct from common Jewish teachings in Jesus' day) which we might reasonably construe as inapplicable to Gentile Christians?

Although, hmmm, the letter that the Council of Jerusalem sent to the Gentile Christians in Acts 15 -- the letter that establishes the bare minimum requirements for non-Jews who wish to join the Christian faith -- does specify that the Gentiles must avoid sexual immorality, doesn't it?

Right, that passage, and others in the NT that pick up ideas from the Torah, might give us some guidance on which parts of the Torah are still relevant for Christians. At least that's how I've always understood it. The charge is often leveled that Christians interpret Leviticus "arbitrarily," but I don't think that is the case with most sincere Christians I know. I think most sola scriptura Christians would say that the NT, not the individual Christian, is the primary arbiter for deciding how to interpret the OT. Catholic/Orthodox Christians would say that there are additional arbiters.

Then again, it also specifies that they shouldn't consume blood, but pretty much nobody complains nowadays if you order your steaks rare or medium rare. So, hmmm.)

Well, both that prohibition and the one against "meat offered to idols" had to do with certain pagan cultic practices regarding animal sacrifice, did they not? In our culture, we can be fairly confident that our steaks don't come from a cow used in pagan rituals, even if we order them rare. Sexuality, however, is still very much a relevant concern.

(I imagine someone has tried to argue that the "sexual immorality" in Acts 15 also refers exclusively to pagan cultic practices ... I dunno for sure.)

Edited by mrmando

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