The Bible and homosexuality: No matter what our opinion, we are all very much aware of the division in the Church and in society over this topic. Sometimes it’s hard for me to determine if it’s really at the forefront of the media, as it seems, or if it’s rather the fact that I’m so interested and immersed in the issue. But it truly seems to be discussed with greater frequency now than ever before. People feel more comfortable sharing thoughts, experiences, and opinions; and if there’s one thing that people with opinions have, it’s passion. In today’s post, I’m going to suggest that we all have valid reasons for believing what we believe… otherwise, we wouldn’t feel so strongly about it.
After posting a tweet yesterday inviting readers to submit their testimony, I received a response from a gentleman quoting I Corinthians 6:9-11. He stated that “gay” and “Christian” were contradictory terms. This opinion does not surprise or shock me, primarily because it was the view I held for the first 25 years of my life. It is, in fact, a valid opinion from the perspective of a biblical literalist. Most people with this viewpoint believe that “the Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it”. Today, I’m going to list some reasons why I gave up the label of a biblical literalist.
If I’m honest with myself, my real quest for theology started when I began grappling with my sexuality. However, even after I reached peace and reconciliation between my orientation and my relationship with God, my thirst for truth continued. I began to research the Bible using the historical-critical method—an approach designed to better understand the culture and original meaning behind a text. For me, this meant temporarily putting aside my inclination to read the Bible devotionally, and instead, read it in light of history and scholarship. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. This is an ongoing process for me, and I continue to discover things that blow any of my residual biblical literalism to bits. Here are just a few:
We do not have the original text for any of the books of the Bible. For many years, I held to the belief that the Bible was 100% inerrant in its original languages, even though we had obvious discrepancies in the English translations. However, the problem lies in the fact that we do not have the original texts. All we have are copies of the copies of the copies of the copies of the copies, etc. In most instances, all we have are manuscripts written centuries later (yes, centuries!). The original texts have not been preserved.
There are more discrepancies in known manuscripts than there are words in the entire New Testament! [Bart Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus, pg. 10] Some have criticized this statement by Dr. Ehrman because not all of the discrepancies are extremely significant (ie: a word misspelled here or there). However, there are many differences that are quite significant (some of which we will take a look at later). Of our known manuscripts to date, there are at least 400,000 variants in the text. So how is it that we can claim inerrancy when there are so many contradictions in our manuscripts? (Reading the array of our biblical manuscripts is kind of like watching a gigantic game of “Telephone”.)
The Gospels were not actually written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. This is a widely accepted belief among scholars today. The book titles were added much later, and the authors wrote the books under pseudonyms. Most scholars believe that the unidentified authors wrote under a well-known name in order to present information that they deemed as important. (Let’s face it, if you were going to write a book about [oh, let’s see…] Elvis—wouldn’t it sell better if it were written by Lisa Marie or Priscilla than some John Doe off the street? The Gospel writers claimed names of people who were either disciples of Jesus or companions of Paul.)
The Gospel accounts contain some irreconcilable differences between them:
•Where was Jesus the day after his baptism? In Matthew (3:16-4:1), Mark (1:10-12), and Luke (3:21-4:2), he went off immediately into the wilderness and was temped by the devil for 40 days. If you read John, the author explicitly says that he saw Jesus the next day (1:26-35). Jesus gathered his disciples, performed the miracle of turning water to wine, and thus began his ministry.
•What was the genealogy of Jesus? Matthew (1:1-17) and Luke (3:23-38) are the only Gospels that record Jesus’ family tree. Both are traced back through Joseph’s Jewish ancestors. However, in each account, the names of Joseph’s father, grandfather, great-grandfather, and great-great-grandfather are different. In Matthew, it goes from Joseph to Jacob to Matthan, to Eleazar, to Eliud. In Luke, it goes from Joseph to Heli to Mathat to Levi to Melchi.
•How did Judas Iscariot die? In Matthew, he hanged himself. After taking the thirty pieces of silver given to him in exchange for his betrayal of Christ, Judas feels remorse. Just before his suicide, he goes to the chief priests in the Temple and tries to return the money, telling them that he has betrayed innocent blood. The priests then decide they cannot put the silver back into the Temple treasure, because it was “blood money” and it was tainted. Instead, they use the money to purchase a potter’s field. It is because the field was purchased with Judas’ blood money that it is “called the Field of Blood to this day” (Matt. 27:8). However, in Luke’s account of the event in Acts, Judas never went to the priests to return the silver. In fact, he used the money to purchase the potter’s field himself, as a “reward for his wickedness”. There, he “fell headlong, his body burst open and all his intestines spilled out” (Acts 1:18-19). It seems that according to Luke, the place was called “Field of Blood” because Judas had a gory death there.
•Who went to the tomb after Jesus’ resurrection? John said it was Mary Magdalene (20:1). Matthew said it was two women, Mary Magdalene and another woman named Mary (28:1). In Mark’s account, it was Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome (16:1).
•What was seen at the tomb? Matthew said an angel rolled the stone away while the women were there (28:2), yet Mark said it had already been rolled away when they arrived(16:4). Matthew said there was an angel at the tomb (28:5), Mark said there was a young man (16:5), and Luke states that there were two men (24:4). Which was it?
•What were the people at the empty tomb told? Mark said they were to pass a message on to the disciples, and tell them that they should go to Galilee where Jesus would meet them (16:7). In Luke, they are told to “remember what Jesus told them in Galilee”—that he would die and be raised again (24:7).
•Did the people visiting the tomb tell anyone about what they saw? Matthew says they went and told the disciples (28:8). Mark specifically says they didn’t tell anyone (16:8).
Paul’s statement about women being silent in the church was not found in our earliest manuscripts. Most scholars believe this verse in I Corinthians was added by a scribe much later.
I and II Peter claim to be written by Peter, yet in the book of Acts, Luke tells us that he was “unschooled” and illiterate. Almost unanimously, scholars agree that I and II Peter was written under a pseudonym. Upon examination of the literary style, the author of these books had to have been a highly educated, Greek-speaking person.
Scribes would evidently sometimes add, omit, or change scripture to support their own doctrines and traditions. A good example of this occurs in Matthew 17:21: “However, this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting”. The words “and fasting” were added by scribes of the ascetic tradition, who placed a high value on abstinence from worldly pleasures.
The story of the adulterous woman is not found in the earliest manuscripts. It is now evident that this story was added much later. It may be a story passed down from oral tradition, and eventually added where it seemed most appropriate.
The last 12 verses of Mark are not found in the earliest manuscripts. These verses include this Gospel’s account of the Great Commission, and Jesus’ ascension (16:9-19).
These examples are a minuscule tip of a colossal iceberg. The discussions on this topic could truly be endless. We must ask ourselves: are these differences important? That answer will be different for each person. For me, the historical-critical method brings about some very important questions—and among the most significant: How do we read the Bible? Not many would argue—not even the non-religious—that the Bible is the most influential book of Western civilization. It is my opinion that the Bible should be read as a product of humanity. As we’ve seen from the above discussion, even the biblical authors themselves didn’t agree on some key points. They all had different perspectives, based on their own culture and tradition. The Bible is a beautiful and diverse account of humankind’s interaction with God, and our struggle to understand Him. And perhaps that’s exactly what we are still doing today…