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Homosexuality and the Old Testament: Why Christians, for and against, need to throw these arguments away

Updated on November 29, 2012
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Defining a Testament

Dictionary.com gives us a few definitions (http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/testament?s=t&ld=1119), but the one we're looking for is there. "A covenant, especially between God and humans." That's a bit further down the list. The first definition of testament is "Law." Some of you probably knew that all ready, and some of you probably didn't. Testament isn't a term we really use anymore, and because of the Bible, too often it's simply regarded as some kind of religious term that has something to do with Jesus. This kind of true, but doesn't really capture what a New Testament really means. Within the context of the Christian religion, Jesus and his actions have a great deal to do with why we have a New Testament, but Jesus himself is not a testament. The definitions of old and new are a little more familiar to us, so when we say something is an old agreement versus a new agreement, we understand what that means. An old law replaced by a new law is a concept that all of us can comprehend and that's exactly what the Old versus the New Testament is supposed to do. The New Testament replaces the Old Testament. It is a new covenant between God and man to replace the old one. Theologians give numerous reasons for this. For instance, a great deal of the Old Testament contains laws that were laid down not for moral reasons, but instead to preserve the Jewish culture. Other laws of the Old Testament were provided as health precautions that have become outdated. But, no matter what the reason, there is one fact that cannot be denied under any condition. The Old Testament was replaced by the New Testament, and when that happened, the old law ceased to apply.

So why study the Old Testament at all?

Just because the law of the Old Testament no longer applies doesn't mean it's useless. Actually, there were some pretty good laws in there. The most famous, the Ten Commandments, are still tremendously useful to the Christian Religion. These laws outline some of the most important laws required for a society to function, such as laws against stealing and murdering. Beyond this, the Old Testament contains contains books of the prophets, which don't proclaim laws, but instead tell of what God had planned for the future, preserve important stories in Jewish history, and in some cases, like the Psalms, simply to praise or pay homage to God.

It's definitely a good idea not to murder. Now, you can present a moral case for killing in self defense, or killing under this or that circumstance, but that's missing the point. While it would make for a fun discussion, let's just stick to what's important here, and that's that murder is usually a pretty bad thing. When the New Testament replaced the Old Testament, that didn't mean that murder was no a longer bad thing. This should be obvious. However, it does mean it can no longer be used as grounds for justifying a Christian stance against murder. The difference isn't horribly subtle, but it's one that must be understood and one that must stop being ignored. There's plenty of stuff in the New Testament that can justify a position against murder. The Golden Rule alone takes care of most of the moral law by which Christians should abide.

So that's why we still have and still study the Old Testament. It's a source of Jewish history, it has some good advice, it has important things other than laws, and it's pretty important to understand the Old Testament before moving on to the New Testament. What it is not, however, is a book that can be used as sole justification of arguments for or against any stance we want to make within Christianity.

But you just said if it was wrong then...

Yes, it's true, just because we went from the Old to the New Testament didn't mean that things which were intrinsically immoral are no longer intrinsically immoral. Things that were immoral stayed immoral. The problem is we don't really know for sure which laws were made because they addressed things which were immoral, or because they were to preserve the culture, or because they were to protect the Jewish people, or a variety of other reasons. Things that are clearly not immoral were called abominations, and that's pretty important to keep in mind.

In the tradition of Judaism the law has changed over time as well. They don't have a New Testament and they don't believe that Jesus sealed that covenant with his death on the cross. Instead, the Jewish tradition has changed its laws over time as various rabbis and intellectuals over the centuries have examined the reasons for given laws and tried to decide if they still apply. This is why Reform Jews can eat shellfish, for example.

That's really important to understand, because it shows us more of the value of the Old Testament, and furthers why we can't use it as justification for arguments as Christians. It's one thing to look back at the Old Testament and say, "why do you suppose that of all things was a law," and quite another to say, "That's what the Old Testament says, so that's the rule." The second example there is just plain out.

"Because God said so" doesn't work anymore

God said a lot of things in Leviticus, and the majority of them we don't follow. By majority, I mean huge and vast majority. When's the last time you went to a stoning (well, at least one that involved rocks)? The point here is this; there are arguments both for and against homosexuality that can be made for every passage which mentions it in the Old Testament. But just saying "God said in the Old Testament not to do this," is not grounds to apply it to modern Christian law. It doesn't matter if you're for it or against it, what matters is that you understand the Old Testament is not something we can use by itself to claim something is immoral. The combination of reason, understanding, and New Testament arguments needs to be the basis for arguments about Christian morality. The argument as to whether homosexuality is okay within the context of Christianity is something every one of us is free to discuss, but when someone makes an Old Testament argument, we've all got to realize, by the rules of the religion itself, we have to throw it out.

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