In this part of my response to Tobias Haller’s book Reasonable and Holy and in the next part I am going to tackle a couple of arguments Haller mounts. I think these arguments lack strength so my response could be taken in two ways: dismissing the arguments (end of story) or reconsidering the arguments (beginning of making them stronger). Naturally I recommend the second way of receiving my response! But at the outset I want to recall where my last post went in terms of appreciation of strengths of the book, noting that some quite reasonable points can be made and questions raised about what the church’s response is to same sex desire when framed in terms of the church and St Paul’s understanding of marriage being (among other things) a remedy for sexual desire (1 Corinthians 7:9). The highway forward for a ‘reasonable’ approach to understanding today’s same sex sexuality issues in relation to Holy Scripture lies here (I suggest) and not elsewhere in the book.
Naturally Haller and the book’s readers are interested in what Jesus had to say, whether by implication or explication, about same sex sexuality. This is mainly discussed by Haller in Chapter 11 (pp. 121-148). Haller’s conclusion is that Jesus (a) said nothing about same sex sexuality (b) if he had he would have treated it like he treated other moral issues such as the dietary laws and, in essence, this treatment boils down to the Golden Rule. But to get there Haller explores the meaning of the word porneia in a way which is controvertible and downplays some of the things which Jesus did say which can be reasonably construed as saying something about same sex sexuality either by speaking generally about all sexual behaviour or offering clues as to what he would have said if asked a direct question.
An important text in relation to Jesus’ teaching about the Law of Moses is Matthew 5:17-20. Strangely this is not discussed in Chapter 11 but it is relevant to what Chapter 11 discusses because it is Jesus speaking about the Law, upholding it, and supporting what Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount where in relation to some laws Jesus speaks in a manner which intensifies the demands of the Law: do not murder also means do not hate (5:21-22); do not commit adultery also means do not lust (5:28). With respect to the latter Haller does have a comment to make, p. 109, Chapter 10, but that comment says nothing about Jesus upholding the Law of Moses. The point to draw out here is not that Matthew 5:17-20 and related parts of the Sermon on the Mount are the final word of Jesus on the Law – there is much more to say about Jesus and the Law, as we explore what Jesus said about dietary laws, the Sabbath, and the summary of the Law. Rather the point is, noting 5:17-20 in association with 5:28, we cannot presume that Jesus would have said anything different about (say) Leviticus 18:22. If we are going to conclude that Jesus would have said something different if asked a direct question about Leviticus 18:22 we need to specifically engage with Matthew 5:17-28, not to avoid discussion of it.
Indeed we could go quite a lot further and put everything Jesus said about marriage, divorce, adultery, lust, the Law of Moses, eunuchs together and reasonably draw this fair conclusion: Jesus taught that sexual intercourse should take place within marriage between a man and a woman and not outside such marriage. Note I am not asking Haller or any reader here to agree that this is the incontrovertibly true summary of Jesus’ teaching; but I am suggesting this is just as reasonable a conclusion to draw as any other. Jesus was (in terms of the use of the word today) conservative about matters to do with sex!
[to be continued with specific discussion of porneia]
The N.T. Wright Festschrift
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