Bryan Fischer
On Newsweek, shellfish, and gay marriage
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By Bryan Fischer
December 10, 2008

In an article attacking the time-honored understanding of marriage as the union of one man and one woman, a feature article in the current issue of Newsweek magazine betrays a common misunderstanding of Scripture.

It rehearses the oft-repeated canard that Old Testament prohibitions against homosexual behavior can be ignored because the modern church ignores other prohibitions (e.g., against eating shellfish) found in the same sections of Scripture.

This represents a failure to understand, in Christian thought, the profound difference between the Old Testament, or Old Covenant, and the New Testament, or New Covenant.

Only those moral standards that are renewed under the terms of the New Covenant remain binding today. The rest have been set aside, according to the New Testament, with the new arrangement for living that has come in Christ.

As the writer of Hebrews says (in Hebrews 8:13), referring to a prophetic passage from Jeremiah, "In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete." This obsolescence of the Old Covenant is why Christians, for example, do not practice animal sacrifice though they were obligatory in Old Testament times. Christ has become the one sacrifice for all sins for all time.

We know, however, that the Ten Commandments remain in force, since, with one exception, they are reaffirmed on the pages of the New Testament. (The only one of the Ten set aside is the command to observe the Sabbath; Paul gives Christians permission in Romans 14 to observe it if they wish, but points out that many Christians believe that, under Christ, every day is a holy day.)

But the prohibition against eating shellfish, for example, is specifically set aside by Christ. As the gospel writer Mark points out, when Christ said, "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," he "thus ... declared all foods clean (Mark 7:15, 19)."

Paul adds, speaking of food, "For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer (1 Timothy 4:4-5)."

However, the prohibitions against homosexual behavior found in Genesis and Leviticus are reaffirmed under the New Covenant in passages such as Romans 1 and 1 Corinthians 6 so we know they remain in effect for today.

The Newsweek article is simply flat wrong when it says that the Bible never proscribes lesbianism. Romans 1:26, in a discussion of "dishonorable passions," says, "Their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature."

Further, in 1 Timothy 1:10, we are told that, under the terms of the New Covenant, one of the appropriate uses of civil law is to restrain "men who practice homosexuality."

By the way, the next phrase in that verse is a prohibition against "slave traders." If this one restriction had been observed by the Founders, we could not possibly have had a problem with slavery.

The American form of slavery would have been impossible without blacks who captured their fellow Africans and sold them to white slave traders who in turn transported them for sale to American shores. If this one prohibition had been honored in American history, slavery as we know it in the U.S. would have been impossible, and we would have been spared the enormous moral stain of slavery and the cataclysm of the Civil War.

Don't ever let anyone tell you that the Bible permitted American slavery. It most emphatically does not.

Back to our main theme, an analogy may help. Nations often have occasion to revise treaties between them. When these treaties are revised, they often drop elements that were present in former treaties, at which point those former elements lose their legal force.

Only those provisions which are carried forward and renewed in the new treaty remain in effect.

In a similar way, the Old Testament represents God's former treaty with the human race, while the New Testament represents his new and improved one. Only those elements from the Old Covenant which are reaffirmed in the New remain in force.

Or you may think of the Scriptures as a Constitution. When we amend our Constitution, as we occasionally do, we often nullify previously binding elements. For instance, we revoked the provision that put the choice of U.S. Senators in the hands of state legislatures, and revoked the provision that inaugurated the era of Prohibition. The rest, however, remained unchanged and in force.

In a similar way, the New Covenant represents the amended version of the original constitution God established with humanity under the terms of the Old Covenant.

The definition of marriage one man, one woman we are first given in Genesis 2 is reaffirmed by Jesus in Matthew 19 and Paul in 1 Corinthians 7. Therefore it too remains the biblical standard for today.

The fact that the patriarchs often did not live up to this ideal does not invalidate the ideal, it simply validates the biblical assertion that all men have sinned and come short of the glory of God. In fact, the prerequisite to becoming a Christian in the first place as acknowledging that there is timeless biblical standard of morality and that we have miserably failed to observe it.

Bottom line: the prohibition against eating shellfish is no longer in effect, but the prohibition against homosexual behavior and homosexual marriage still is.

© Bryan Fischer

 

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