What The Bible Really Says About Same-Sex Marriage
Washington State is set to become the seventh state to legalize gay marriage. To usher in the event, Rabbi Mark S. Glickman has produced a column in The Seattle Times, entitled, “What the Bible really says about same-sex marriage.”
Rabbi Glickman should have called his piece “What the first five books of the Bible say about same-sex marriage,” because after mentioning that “The Christian Bible, as you may know, is longer than my Bible,” and then going further to explain that “many who invoke the Bible in the same-sex marriage debate begin with quotes from the Torah,” he finally gets to his point: out of the “5,888 verses in the Torah . . . homosexual behavior is mentioned in just two of them. . . . That’s it.”
There you have it folks. Never mind the fact that one verse comes between a command not to indulge in child sacrifice and another command not to have sex with animals. Never mind the fact that the other verse comes with a warning that the penalty for homosexual acts is death. What matters to the rabbi is the simple fact that everything the Bible has to say about same-sex marriage is completely contained in just two verses.
Presumably the rabbi studied the Hebrew Scriptures at some point to earn his professional title. He is surely well aware that the Bible — even those same first five books of “his” Bible — has much more to say on the subject.
“Sodomy,” for example, comes from the Hebrew name of a town which God utterly destroyed because of its citizens’ propensity for homosexual rape. (See Genesis 19 in the rabbi’s Bible.) For thousands of years virtually every Bible scholar, Jew and Christian alike, agreed homosexuality played a central role in God’s decision. Among Christians one reason is because the New Testament book of Jude says Sodom was punished in part because its residents went after “strange flesh.” Modern revisionists like to say this could mean simple adultery, but Genesis specifically says the men of Sodom demanded sex with Lot’s male guests, and that is certainly what Jude has in mind.
Jude mentions only the sexual act, not the rape. Of course no serious scholar would suggest that means Jude wants us to believe rape is okay. It just means what it says: homosexuality is not okay. Jude doesn’t tell us rape is evil, because he assumes it’s obvious.
Similarly, we need to pay attention not only to what the Bible says in some cases, but also to what it does not say. Rabbi Glickman observes that homosexuality is specifically mentioned in “just two” verses in the first five books of the Bible. Depending on who’s counting (Jews, Protestants or Catholics) there are more than 31,000 other verses in the Bible. Also, by some counts there are over 5,000 unique characters in the Bible. Yet none of those verses mentions same-sex marriage, and none of those characters are said to be in one. Homosexual acts are mentioned (and condemned in every case) but homosexual “marriage” is not. If the Bible really means us to assume it’s okay, wouldn’t it be mentioned favorably at least once?
Since Rabbi Glickman seems to believe God approves of same-sex marriage because the Torah contains “just two” verses specifically prohibiting homosexual acts, one wonders how the rabbi feels about Judaism’s famous Ten Commandments. After all, they are also only specifically mentioned twice in the rabbi’s Bible. (See Exodus 20, and Deuteronomy 5.)
And isn’t twice enough? If one does actually believe in a God capable of destroying entire cities because of disobedience — as presumably a rabbi does believe, although these days one never knows about the clergy — then isn’t it a little dangerous to suggest disregarding a direct command given by the Master of the Universe not just once, but twice? Especially when one of those commands came with a warning that the penalty is death? Imagine a criminal on trial for his life: “Your honor, you have no right to apply the death sentence in my case because the legal code only mentions my offense two times.”
Good luck with that.
The rabbi’s position isn’t even Jewish, or at least it doesn’t agree with rabbinic tradition. His is a religion based not only on the Torah, but also on the Talmud, a massive collection of volumes containing thousands and thousands of rulings and judgments which observant Jews try hard to follow. All of those thousands of rules can be traced back to just 613 commands, or mitzvot, found in the first five books of the rabbi’s Bible. If one assumes a similar ratio of Torah laws to Talmud traditions, those two commands the Rabbi Glickman mentioned should expand into dozens of additional rules against same-sex acts. (In fact that is the case, as Rabbi Dr. Nachum Amsel explains in his excellent essay on the subject of Judaism and homosexuality.)
Although Seattle’s Rabbi Glickman didn’t go there, it has become popular to bring up a few of those 613 mitzvot in arguments for same-sex marriage. If one relies on the Bible as one’s guide in a matter (goes this argument) then consistency requires it to determine every matter. This means anyone opposed to same-sex marriage on Biblical grounds should also never touch a football because they’re made of “unclean” pigskin, for example.
Our Orthodox Jewish readers are no doubt nodding at this point, because they do believe the laws of kashrut — keeping kosher — still apply, just like the prohibition of homosexual acts. But it’s true Orthodox Jews make exceptions in some cases but not in others. For example, while the Bible does prescribe the death penalty for homosexual acts, no sane Jew today would apply that penalty.
We cannot speak to the Jewish reasons for such exemptions, (or “inconsistencies” as same-sex marriage fans would say) but we can explain why Christians don’t apply some Torah laws to modern life, while retaining others.
Christians believe the laws of Torah are meant to be divided into two categories. Some are universal and eternal, applying to everyone for all time. Others were local and temporary, intended to apply to Israel until the Messiah came. The first category is about how people were designed to live on earth. The second category illustrated how people would one day live with God. The first group of laws will remain in force until evil is removed from earth and they become irrelevant. The second group of laws has become irrelevant already, because the Messiah came and took their place in human hearts forever.
Space precludes a complete explanation of how Christianity distinguishes between these two kinds of laws. Here it is enough to say homosexual acts remain prohibited in part because they are explicitly forbidden in both the Hebrew Scriptures and in the New Testament, while the laws surrounding kosher foods were explicitly lifted in the New Testament.
Although the Bible doesn’t specifically forbid same-sex marriage, we know God is opposed to it because the Bible does specifically forbid homosexual acts. But notice throughout this column we have been careful to focus on homosexual acts, and not on homosexuals. We draw that vital distinction because the Bible teaches us that God is very clearly in favor of homosexuals.
Indeed, God is in favor of all sinners, regardless of what sin tempts us most. Gay and straight, drunk and sober, violent and peaceful, greedy and generous, adulterous and faithful, selfish and selfless; God loves all of his people no matter what tempts us, and what does not. God doesn’t demand perfection from us to earn his love. His love is ever-present and always available to us, no matter what we do. But it is a fact of life directly connected to basic logic that we cannot fully accept God’s love, while simultaneously defying him. Common sense insists that if we really do love and respect God, we will at least try to do what he says.
Since all of us are sinners of some kind, there are only three possible responses to this problem. We can acknowledge our sinfulness and approach God on his own terms without excuse. We can ignore our sinfulness and ignore God. Or we can deny that what we do is sinful and demand that God approach us on our own terms.
That last option is popular with “religious” people who want God’s love on their own terms, instead of on his. It is both the modern response to homosexual temptation, and the ancient response to the first temptation ever. We see it in the Garden of Eden when the serpent asks, “Did God really say, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden’?” Of course, technically, God didn’t put it just that way. So Eve, rather than responding in the spirit of God’s love, relied on that technicality to justify defiance, exactly as the serpent hoped she would. And heaven help us, we’re still doing that today.
Just one more thing in parting:
According to the rabbi’s Bible, when God warned that first couple not to eat from that particular tree or they would die, he did not warn them twice.