Leviticus 18:22 condemns same-sex activity. But who cares? After all, Leviticus condemns things like eating shrimp. So is there any legitimate reason to accept parts of Leviticus as still binding, while treating other parts as obsolete?
You’re listening to Shameless Popery with Joe Heschmeyer, a production of Catholic Answers.
Welcome back to Shameless Popery, I’m Joe Heschmeyer. I want to talk today about the old law and what its role is for Christians. Is the Old Testament law still binding, the Law of Moses? So, historically people say there’s 613 laws in the Law of Moses. That number is Maimonides, it’s kind of controversial whether that number is even accurate or not. But needless to say, there are arguably hundreds, although the exact number may be debated. But hundreds of different rules and regulations, things that you should do or in many cases not do in the Law of Moses. And the question becomes, for Christians, are we still bound by that? Are we bound by any of that? What’s its role? And now, that conversation historically has come up in a lot of different contexts. One of the first places it came up was, should we still circumcise converts to the faith?
Because that was a big deal. Another is, well, should we worship on Saturday or Sunday? But these days, if I had to guess the number one place this debate seems to come up, it’s should we listen to what the book of Leviticus has to say about homosexuality? Because the book of Leviticus is very clear that homosexual sex is forbidden. And a lot of people who are in favor of or okay with homosexual sex say, “Okay, sure it says that. But the book of Leviticus says a lot of other things that we as Christians or you as Christians don’t hold to. So, isn’t it a bit hypocritical to focus on this one area, this one area you’re not tempted to, but then ignore everything it says about something like eating a bacon cheeseburger that you are tempted to? It certainly looks hypocritical.” Now, there’s a good answer to it, but I want to make sure we at least first hear the objection.
Because I think it’s a valid objection if all you’ve ever heard is because Leviticus says so, because the Bible says so. So, here’s Matthew Vines. Matthew Vines, Harvard educated, smart as a whip, progressive Christian coming from a Protestant perspective explaining why he’s okay with homosexual relationships and sex, and why he doesn’t think they’re contrary to the Bible for Christians. And he gets to Leviticus, and he just basically says it doesn’t apply anymore. Now, this came out like 10 years ago. Oh look, I wasn’t making videos back then, but I think this argument is a good articulation of an argument I’ve heard many times, and I wanted to give a good version of it before I responded to it. I didn’t want to respond to the bad half misspelled Facebook version. I wanted to actually give a really coherent, articulate, well thought out presentation of the idea, and then say why I think that idea is dangerous and wrong. So, before I get to why I disagree, let’s start with what Vines has to say, and part of what he’s got to say I think I’m actually going to agree with. But here he is.
In the year 49 AD, early church leaders gathered at what came to be called the Council of Jerusalem, and they decided that the old law would not be binding on Gentile believers. The most culturally distinctive aspects of the old law were the Israelites complex system, Israeli’s complex dietary code for keeping kosher, and the practice of male circumcision. But after the Council of Jerusalem’s ruling, even those central parts of Israelite identity and culture no longer apply to Christians. Although it’s a common argument today, there’s no reason to think that these two verses from the old law in Leviticus would somehow have remained applicable to Christians even when other much more central parts of the law did not.
So, I want to start with that claim because that’s a really important claim. He’s saying, “Well look, these were really important for Israelite identity and culture.” And I want to start by saying he’s dead on, and in a way that I think we often miss when we’re talking about the Book of Moses or the Law of Moses, the Old Testament law, that a lot of what we’re dealing with there is not a moral code as such. It’s a series of rules and regulations that help to create a culture and an identity. So, if you look at something like you’re not going to eat shrimp, you’re not going to eat pork, you’re going to circumcise your sons, you’re not going to mix fabrics, you’re not going to work on the Sabbath, a lot of what’s going on there is helping to create a distinctive people.
And there are really important moral reasons why God wants to create a distinctive people, but those things aren’t themselves moral actions. I hope that makes sense. Think about it a little bit like the dress code at your work. In the company handbook, it’s going to have some moral laws. Don’t steal from the company. It’s also going to have here’s the uniform we wear, or some other rules and regulations that create a distinctive look, or a feel, or here’s when everybody gets to work, it creates a culture and environment. And so, a lot of what’s happening in the Mosaic Law is not actually saying this thing is morally good, or this thing is morally evil. A lot of what’s happening in the old law is, as Vine says, creating a national identity and a distinctive culture for the Israelites. And that’s going to be really important because that is going to get totally busted open in the New Testament.
And that’s going to be really shocking for a lot of people coming from a Jewish background. And if you don’t understand that, then it’s not going to make sense when you read in Acts 15 that there are all of these Jewish Christians who are fighting to keep circumcision, and fighting to keep the kosher laws, because you think, “Why in the world would you want to keep the kosher laws and circumcision? That’s such a heavy burden.” And in fact, that’s one of the points that the New Testament authors regularly are making. “Guys, this is a heavy burden. You should feel free from this,” but it was creating a distinctive culture and identity at a time when Israel was often oppressed and often a minority in some other country, whether it’s the Roman Empire, or whether it’s under the rule of the Babylonians, or whoever it is, this is a way of preserving a distinct identity.
And I think you see a variation of that even today, that Jewish people can keep this incredible identity even when they’re interspersed among countries all over the world, because they have a common code, a common set of practices, a common set of even ways of dressing, and acting, and behaving, all of that stuff, those cultural markers, those are not bad things. But those things are busted open with Christianity. Why? Because, as we’re going to see, Christianity is not limited to one ethnic group, not limited to one culture, that this fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecy God makes to have a house of God for all peoples. Well, that gets fulfilled, that now all peoples are invited in, and so those old distinctive Jewish customs are thrown out. And that was painful for a lot of people as a transition, and understandably so.
We’ll get into all of that, but Vines is right to see that. One of the areas in which Catholics and Protestants, when we talk about faith and works often I think miss the boat, is that we imagine that works of the law means something like good works. And overwhelmingly that’s just not the case. When you look at how St. Paul talks about works of the law, he’s focused primarily on circumcision. By extension, we could also talk about things like the complex dietary kosher laws. These are not of themselves moral actions. Paul is not saying Jewish people think that they are more morally upright because they help more old ladies cross the street. Paul is responding to Judaizers who are appealing to the old covenant for salvation. And so, we are so often right now, when we read these passages, reading them through the lens of modern Catholic Protestant debates, 16th century Catholic Protestant debates, and the fight against Pelagianism back in the fourth century.
And that’s just not going to get us the best read of what it is that’s actually meant by works of the law. That the Judaizer controversy in the first century is actually a distinct kind of argument, a distinct kind of battle. But that battle is all about how binding is the Old Testament? And so, it’s actually that battle we want to focus on, not what’s the role of faith and works, it’s what are the works of the law? What is the role of the law? What are we actually talking about here when we talk about the Old Testament, and what’s its relationship to Christianity today? Because that was a really important thing early Christians had to figure out. And right away, you’re going to get two wrong answers, just to highlight kind of where we’re going to go. One wrong answer is what I’ve already mentioned, the Judaizers, you have to keep the entire old law.
The other wrong answer is at the other extreme. Marcion, and what’s called the Marcionites. And they said, “Yeah, the Old Testament is evil. In fact, it’s a different God who made the Old Testament than the New Testament. The Old Testament is evil, it’s all just dead works, and it’s made by an evil God. And the New Testament is here to liberate us from the Old Testament.” And Christians responded to both of those and said, “That’s not it. That’s not the right relationship between the New Testament and the Old Testament. That’s not the right relationship between the law and the gospel.” So, with that said, let’s go back to Vines because he’s going to continue this argument by pointing out these other areas that we just don’t listen to Leviticus, and he is going to give some particular instances.
So, while it is true that Leviticus prohibits male same-sex relations, it also prohibits a vast array of other behaviors, activities, and foods that Christians have never regarded as being prohibited for them. For example, chapter 11 of Leviticus forbids the eating of pork, shrimp and lobster, which the church does not consider to be a sin. Chapter 19 forbids planting two kinds of seed in the same field, wearing clothing woven of two types of material, and cutting the hair at the sides of one’s head. Christians have never regarded any of these things to be sinful behaviors because Christ’s death on the cross liberated Christians from what Paul called the yoke of slavery. We are not subject to the old law.
So, that’s the argument in a nutshell, that we are just free from the old law. Now, the obvious problem with that should be that comes dangerously close to kind of Marcionitism, this heresy that the Old Testament and the New Testament have different authors. And why do I say that? Because why would God go to the trouble of creating the old law if it was irrelevant? If it was evil or bad, or to be just thrown out? That, at the end of the day, fails to really accurately grasp the nuanced complexities of the law and its ongoing effect on Christians. So, I’d just say that should strike us as a bad answer. But nevertheless, I think it should also strike us as a good objection in that he’s just pointed out several areas in which, as a Christian I would say, “You’re right, I love shrimp. I might want to cut my hair really weird. I’m fine with that. I think God’s fine with that. So, why do I think those things are okay but I don’t think something like homosexual sex is okay?”
And we’re going to get into that. But I want to highlight one other thing that I think has been kind of an undercurrent through Vines’ argument, and it’s this. He treats it as if the moral case against homosexual sex is simply God forbade it, and that made it evil. That it was fine before, but then Leviticus comes along and then God outlaws it. And so, now it’s no longer allowed. And now, there are some things as we’re going to see that can kind of fall under that category, whether you drive on the left side of the road or the right side of the road. But there are other things that aren’t wrong because God says so. God says so because they’re wrong.
And this is a really important point to understand. One way to frame it would be, could God have said the opposite? Could he have said heterosexual sex is immoral and everyone has to have homosexual sex? The Catholic answer to that would be no, He couldn’t have done that because that would be internally incoherent and inconsistent with His own goodness. And we’ll have to delve into why that is, but the argument that God could just outlaw something good and order something evil is called volitional. If everything is just dependent on God’s will and that’s it, there’s nothing beneath it. And if you have a volitional view of God, then it doesn’t really mean anything to say that God is good. And here’s what I mean by that, because God could order you to torture and kill every innocent person you meet.
And you’d have to say, “Well, that’s good because God says so.” And so, good has no more meaning than just God says so. And so, to say God is good is just to say that God does what he wants to do. And I want to flag that because this misconception about God is tremendously harmful for areas well afield of same sex stuff. For instance, there’s a really good article I believe in Christianity Today that was looking at why pro-lifers tended to be at the upper intellectual echelons overwhelmingly Catholic, and Protestants, who are so good at showing up at the front lines, going and praying outside of abortion clinics and so many other areas, they’re really underrepresented among pro-life judges, among pro-life legal theorists. And so, what’s going on? And the argument this author, and I should have the article in front of me but I don’t, the argument the author makes is that so often the Protestant pro-life case is look at this Bible verse that says you’re fearful and wonderfully made, or God knit you in the womb.
And that can be really persuasive if you’re trying to persuade another convicted Christian that the pro-life case is true, but it doesn’t work at all if you’re trying to persuade someone who isn’t Christian, or someone who is trying to figure out what the national law says. That those arguments are positively unhelpful because they reinforce the idea that Christianity is just trying to … Or excuse me, that the pro-life movement is just trying to impose Christianity on the nation. And so, pro-choicers love that kind of argument. “Oh great, you’re quoting Bible and verse? Well, let me point out that you don’t want to live under the Quran, so you can’t make us live under the Bible.” That’s where that argument goes. So, it’s a really unhelpful way of presenting an argument to an un-Christian people. And increasingly, I think it’s fair to say in the U.S. and throughout much of the West, we’re dealing with un-Christian, post-Christian, unconvinced at least, Christians. That people who are not willing to just say, “Well, if you can quote me chapter and verse, I will just accept it.”
No, they want to know, “Why should I believe what the Bible says?” And if we can’t say anything more than, “Because the Bible says,” I think we’re in trouble. So, like I said, that’s a much bigger issue. It’s an issue of how do we persuade people to believe in the Bible? How do we persuade people to believe in Christianity? It has to do with the pro-life movement, it has to do with all sorts of moral issues. If you think God is simply volitional, then I think you, you’ve risked having a really intellectually shallow and unpersuasive version of Christianity. But now I want to turn squarely back to the particular issue of same sex attraction and same sex sexuality. And I want to quote here West Wing. I know this is an even more dated reference than Matthew Vines’ talk, but look, I wasn’t doing a video podcast 10, 20 years ago. And so, I’m finally catching up. I mean, I’m quoting the Bible, which is older than either of those. But here’s West Wing talking about the same issue, and making some of the same arguments in a maybe more dramatic way.
I like how you call homosexuality an abomination.
I don’t say homosexuality is an abomination, Mr. President, the Bible does.
Yes, it does. Leviticus-
Chapter and verse. I wanted to ask you a couple of questions while I had you here. I’m interested in selling my youngest daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:17. She’s a Georgetown sophomore, speaks fluent Italian, always cleared the table when it was her turn. What would a good price for her be? While thinking about that, can I ask another? My chief of staff, Leo McGarry, insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly says he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself, or is it okay to call the police? Here’s one that’s really important, because we’ve got a lot of sports fans in this town. Touching the skin of a dead pig makes one unclean, Leviticus 11:7. If they promise to wear gloves, can the Washington Redskins still play football? Can Notre Dame? Can West Point? DOes the whole town really have to be together to stone my brother John for planting different crops side by side? Can I burn my mother in a small family gathering for wearing garments made from two different threads? Think about those questions, would you?
All right. So, hopefully what that at least highlights is the inherent danger of just making your argument no better than here’s chapter and verse, that you have to actually be able to go deeper than that. And that’s hard. It’s harder to actually say, “Well, why does the Bible say this is wrong?” Now, I’m not going to get into all of the ins and outs. I want specifically to highlight here a threefold distinction in how Christians have historically approached the law, because I’m mindful that a lot of this from the outside looks like hypocrisy. And I want to be really clear that this is not. Now, you’re free to think that even afterwards if you want to, but that Christians have long had a very good sense that, hey, when the New Testament talks about the law, there are times that it speaks about the law as this kind of binding ceremonial thing.
And there are other times where we hear that the entire law is summed up in love God and love neighbor. Well, that doesn’t go away. We should still love God and love neighbor. So, the law is actually talked about in a kind of nuanced way in the Old Testament, or excuse me, in the New Testament. And so, Christians reflecting on this identified three types of law. And a lot of this is going to be intuitive, I think, but it’s helpful to have it kind of spelled out or clarified. So, those three types of law are the moral law, the judicial law, and the ceremonial law. So, the moral law is exactly what it sounds like. This is good or bad. The ceremony and judicial law, I’m going to have to spell out. But Aquinas has a commentary where he looks at Romans 7:12 in which St. Paul says that the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, and just, and good.
And Aquinas’ argument is yes, but different parts of the law, those apply to each of those three things. So, the ceremonial law is about making you holy because the ceremonial law, as we’re going to see, is about regulating the worship of God. And so, the point of that is how do I offer right worship to God? The judicial law, as we’re going to see are the laws governing man’s relationship with his neighbor and they’re the laws of the nation, in this case, the laws of the nation of Israel, and they’re focused on justice. How do I render to my neighbor what is owed to him? It’s not focused on how do I become holy in the sight of God? It’s not even focused on how do I become a morally upright or virtuous person, it’s just if I have a debt I’ve got to repay it.
You could be unvirtuous. You can be unholy and borrow 20 bucks and still pay it back. The judicial law’s looking at that, it’s looking at justice. And the moral law, finally, is looking at goodness in the sense of moral goodness, virtue. So, the commandments of God are holy, ceremonial law, and just, judicial law, and good, moral law. So, let’s unpack what each of those three are, beginning with the moral law. St. Thomas Aquinas points out that in every law, some precepts, meaning some parts of the law, derive their binding force from the dictative reason itself, because natural reason dictates that something ought to be done or to be avoided. And these are called moral precepts since human morals are based on reason. And he’s going to give a Bible verse in support of this because St. Paul is going to look at how the gentiles keep this part of the law, or at least strive to. They don’t do it perfectly, but they’re not keeping the kosher laws. They’re not keeping circumcision.
But there is a part of the law, the moral law, that the Gentiles know about and actually strive to keep. And so, in Romans 2, Paul says it like this. He says, “It is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. When gentiles who have not the law do by nature what the law requires, they are a law to themselves even though they do not have the law.” So, this is what someone’s called the law written on the heart, and this is sometimes called natural law, but it’s the idea that there’s part of the law that you already know, and you don’t need God to tell you, and you don’t need the government to tell you, and you don’t need anybody really to tell you because you already know it.
I’ll give you an example. Speed limit laws. Now, there’s a part of speed limit laws that are imposed by the government. These would be judicial loss. The government says, “On this street it’s 45.” But even if you’re driving down a road, you’ve never been down and you don’t see a speed limit sign, you know, and you can’t help but know, that you need to drive safely, that you can’t drive recklessly. The need to drive safely is part of the moral law. How to drive safely, what that looks like in a particular road, what the speed limit is, those kind of questions, even whether you drive on the left or the right side of the road, those things are not part of the moral law. Those things build upon the moral law, and they’re going to be what we call the judicial law. Those things you need to know the law, and there needs to be lawgiver to give you the law.
That part has to be given by an authority in the case of national law, the state, local, federal government. In the case of divine law, God, as the divine lawgiver. But apart from that, even if you’re a Gentile who’s never heard of God, you’ve never heard of the Law of Moses, you don’t know any of this stuff, there’s some parts you already know because God has already revealed it to you and it’s clear from the level of reason alone. Now, I find this really fascinating, because so often the debate between Atheists and Christians comes down to, well, can you be good without God? And what they mean is, well, can you live by the moral code? And in one sense, if you mean can you know the moral law without knowing God? Aquinas would say yes. And St. Paul would seemingly say yes as well in Romans 2, that you can have the law written on your heart, and in fact, this is one of the things that leads people to God.
They find a law written on their heart they did not give to themselves, and using reason they realize it must have been given by a higher lawgiver. That’s the moral law. But as I already kind of hinted, there are limits to the moral law. The moral law can tell me I should give everyone what their due is, but it doesn’t automatically tell me what’s an appropriate rate of interest to charge for a loan, or what are property rights in this area, or how fast can I drive on the highway here, or anything like that. Those questions, which are important questions for how I live with my neighbor, are not automatically clear from the moral law alone. So, those are going to require a lawgiver. So, that brings up the judicial and the ceremonial law.
So these, Aquinas says, are the precepts, the rules that derive their binding force not from reason itself, because in themselves they don’t imply an obligation to do or not do something, but instead they derive their binding force from some institution, divine or human, and he’s going to then divide those. So, we are looking specifically at those laws that come from God. So, this is true. So, you’re going to have laws, judicial laws particularly, that are coming from the government. But Aquinas isn’t dealing with that here. He acknowledges that exists, but we’re dealing with the divine lawgiver here, we’re looking at the Law of Moses. So, we’re looking here just at laws given by God.
And among the laws given by God, there are also things that he gives, as divine lawgiver, that relate to man’s relationship to man, that’s the judicial precepts, or man’s subordination to God, the ceremonial precepts. So, to be sure that we’re keeping those really clear, these are rules that don’t derive their force from reason alone. These are not just ones you can sit in your room and say, “What is the appropriate way to offer divine worship to God?” Now, from reason alone you can say, “I am a created being. I owe an infinite debt of gratitude to my creator.” The moral law will get you that far. But if you then say, “Well, how could that debt ever be repaid? How can I offer praise and worship to God?” Those questions you can’t answer from reason alone. They take a lawgiver.
And again, I already gave some other examples of my interactions with my neighbors. How do I know how to treat them justly? How do I know how to treat them with the respect they are due? And pretty quickly it’s going to take some kind of clarity from God, or from the state, or from somebody to say, “Well, how do we do this in an organized way to actually treat my neighbor justly?” So, I’ll give the Sabbath as an example. The Sabbath is partly an issue of the moral law, because there is this innate sense that we need to set some time aside for nothing other than the praise and worship of God. That I need to live for something more than just my immediate gratification.
And this is something that religions throughout the world have recognized. So, you have different religions that have different holy days, but the sense that there ought to be some kind of holy day, the sense that there ought to be some kind of time set aside for God, that’s a very close to universal sort of idea. People from reason alone have gotten that far. But whether it’s Friday, Saturday, Sunday, some other time, those things are less clear. And so, with the Sabbath, you have a foundation in the moral law, and then you have ceremonial law, here’s how to rightly honor God, built upon it. God has to reveal the ceremonial law to us. And so, He reveals to Israel, “I want you to worship on Saturday.” Okay? Clear enough. That Saturday part is ceremonial law.
You won’t find that in nature. You won’t find that in reason alone. But the need to give some time to God, you’ll find that in nature, you’ll find that in reason alone. And so, that aspect is a moral law. I mention that to say ceremonial law and judicial law build upon moral law, but go beyond it. So, hopefully that’s clear. Just like the state setting the speed limit is building upon the moral duty to drive safely, and giving a particular expression to it, the Sabbath is giving a particular expression to the need to honor and worship God.
So again, the three types are moral law, judicial law, ceremonial law. So, the next question then is, well, is it still binding? What is still binding? And so, once you have that threefold distinction, I hope it becomes clear that the moral law is still binding. That’s why something like the prohibition against homosexual sex, which we view as part of the moral law, is still binding. There’s several other sexual regulations in Leviticus and elsewhere, and anything that looks like God is just saying this thing is wrong and always has been wrong, that’s going to be part of the moral law. Whether it’s sexual stuff, whether it’s how you treat your neighbor, those kind of things. Anything that’s an expression of this is just wrong, or this is just right, those things, that’s a big red flag that it’s probably part of the moral law. If it’s part of the moral law, it’s still binding.
Now, why is it still binding? It’s still binding because it’s part of the law written on the human heart. That the Law of Moses has gone away for Christians. But in as much as the Law of Moses was pointing out that deeper law written on the human heart, that both Jews and Gentiles know about, as St. Paul says in Romans 2, the law written on the human heart doesn’t go away. So, you can’t just say, “Hey, the 10 commandments say not to murder. They say not to steal. They say not to lie under oath. But now we’re Christians. The Law of Moses doesn’t apply anymore. I’m going to go murder, and steal, and then lie about it under oath.” It doesn’t work like that, and it doesn’t work like that because those are expressions of the moral law. So, the moral law is still binding.
That should be hopefully clear as to why, that it’s an expression of what we know from reason alone is right or wrong. God is reminding us and revealing to us things we should already know. The ceremonial law is not binding anymore. So remember, the ceremonial law existed in large part to create an ethnic distinctive cultural identity for Israel, and that was great, but that purpose was to prepare them for the Messiah. And so, when the Messiah comes and the doors of the church are open to the Gentiles, the need to create a non-Gentile people goes away. We want the Gentiles and the Jews to intermingle now, as Christians. And so, the ceremonial law goes away because its purpose is fulfilled. It’s not abolished because it was evil of itself, it’s that it’s been fulfilled. And so, the analogy I’d give here is think about something like you’ve got guests coming, and your mom says to you, “You got to clean the house because the guests are coming.”
She doesn’t tell you explicitly, “You need to stop when the guests get here,” but if you’ve got half a brain, you should figure out, “When the guests arrive I don’t keep doing that.” And Jesus makes references to this. For instance, the Pharisees and the disciples of John the Baptist fast, but Jesus’ disciples don’t fast. And when Jesus is asked about this, he says, “Well, you don’t fast while the bridegroom is present.” In other words, fasting was a way of preparing for the arrival of Jesus. When Jesus is there, you don’t continue to fast. Well likewise, the ceremonial law existed to prepare Israel for Jesus. That’s what it’s ultimately about. And so, all of the old ways of worshiping God, and the temple, and everything else, all of this stuff gets fulfilled. The ceremonial law was about preparing people for Jesus. Now, what about the judicial law then?
Well, it’s not binding of itself. Here’s what I mean by that. Remember, the judicial law is binding not because of reason alone, but because God acting as divine lawgiver gave it to the nation of Israel. Well, the nation of Israel is no longer around. And so, in that sense it’s not binding anymore. But Aquinas points out that it would still be binding if some other law gave giver, the Kingdom of France decides, “Hey, we really like this part of the Mosaic Law. We want to reimpose, no usury, or no whatever. Maybe we’re going to outlaw something that the Law of Moses governs, and we’re not doing this to create a distinctive people to prepare for the Messiah, because the Messiah’s come. We’re just doing this because the relationship of man to neighbor is important to regulate.” And so, Aquinas says this law is not binding by itself, but a lawgiver could look at it for inspiration for how to govern modern people.
And so, the idea there is really simple, that at different times in different places judicial law changes over time. That the laws of any country change over time, and the laws may have been fine in the past but as new circumstances arise, you need new laws. That’s true here as well, that God doesn’t give the judicial law for all times in all places. He gives the judicial law for that time and that place. And so, it’s not that it’s evil, it’s not that it’s bad, it’s not that we repudiate it in that sense. It’s simply that it’s no longer applicable. For instance, when the United States of America broke away and declared independence from the United Kingdom, we were faced with this question. What parts of British law still apply? And so, a lot of what we call the common law, the way courts interpreted things, we continued to use.
There were other things, for instance paying taxes to the king, that we obviously didn’t use. And so, there’s that sense of, okay, new people, new laws, you might still look to the old people and the old laws and draw from that for inspiration. You may just carry some of those laws over, you may borrow and adapt them, but you’re not automatically governed by them, but nor are they evil to borrow from. Hopefully that’s clear. So, that’s a threefold distinction then. You’ve got the moral law, which is just an expression of what you should already know is right and wrong, and that’s still binding. You’ve got the ceremonial law, and that’s how does God want to be worshiped? And that changes between how he wanted to be worshiped before the coming of Christ, and while the temple was standing, and how he wants to be worshiped now with the coming of Christ.
There’s a very clear shift that we see in the New Testament, because Christ fulfills Old Testament worship. The new temple is the body of Jesus. John 2 and several other places are really clear about this. You’ve got a new temple, a new set of ways of worshiping God. And then the judicial stuff has to do with the nation state of Israel, and the kingdom of Israel, and that no longer exists. And so, what we take from that is going to be a matter of discretion. So, those are the three types of law. That’s why it’s not really hypocritical to say, “Hey, you guys don’t keep the judicial and ceremonial law, but you do insist on the moral law.” It’s like, well yeah, that’s how we’ve always understood Christianity’s relationship to the law, and for good reason, because that’s the way the New Testament presents Christianity’s relationship to the law.
Now, there’s one last question I haven’t addressed here, but it’s maybe worth addressing. And it’s this. Why should we believe that same-sex sex is a violation of the moral law? In other words, are there any good reasons to believe that this is wrong, that don’t come down to God says so, or the Bible says so? And the answer to that is yes. So, this takes an understanding of the human person, and it takes an understanding of the human person in this sense. If I said, “What’s your respiratory system for?” I’m betting you could tell me, it’s for breathing. It’s right there in the name, respire. If I said, “What’s your circulatory system for?” I’m betting you could tell me that it’s for moving stuff around with your blood, getting oxygen and nutrients throughout the body, circulating them through the body. It’s right there in the title.
If I said, “What’s your reproductive system for?” Some of you are going to pretend to be very confused and say, “What do you mean what’s it for? It’s for whatever I want it to be for. How could you say it has a purpose?” Well, it’s right there in the title. It’s for reproduction. Now, in the same way that something like the digestive system is for digesting food, but it’s not bad that food tastes good. It’s great that food tastes good, but we don’t just eat because food tastes good. Ultimately, food tastes good to encourage us to eat so we’ll digest it and get lifesaving nutrients. Likewise, sex feels good not as an end to itself, but to entice us to do this thing that’s necessary for the survival of the species. In other words, it’s fine, it’s good if you enjoy sex, just as it’s fine and good if you enjoy eating, but don’t assume that the pleasure is the end for itself.
And so, someone who is bulimic, or someone who they eat, they enjoy the flavor, and then they spit out the food or they throw it up, we would say, “Hey, you’re corrupting this natural action. You’re actually separating the pleasure from the reason the pleasure exists, and you’re doing harm to your own body in that way.” Well, when we talk about the reproductive system, this is going to be true as well, because the really remarkable thing, and the thing that really is frankly awe-inspiring, is that the reproductive system is the only system of the human body that’s incomplete. And what I mean by that is, I don’t have a reproductive system, I have half of one. My wife has the other half. And that’s true of all of us. You have half of a reproductive system, and it takes two people to form one system. That the act of reproduction takes two people of opposite sexes.
This is not some bigoted decision by some government. This is literally inscribed in nature. And so, if you understand the relationship of sexual union with reproduction, which is not to say that every time you have sex you have to get pregnant, just like every time you eat you don’t have to have the greatest nutritional benefit. No. But nevertheless, that’s still the innate consequence, or end, or purpose of the act. Well so, with that, once you understand the relationship between sex and reproduction, then the union between man and woman makes sense, and a lot of other things start to make sense as well. Suddenly it makes sense why we have marriage. Suddenly it makes sense why we have all of these rules governing who you can have sex with, laws against adultery, laws governing all sorts of stuff like that, because you don’t want people starting families willy-nilly with five different women, and then you’ve got a bunch of broken families.
So, if you understand the relationship between sex and reproduction, a lot of stuff falls into place. A lot of stuff that heterosexuals do wrong, it becomes very clear they’re doing wrong, but it also becomes clear that two members of the same sex can’t do the things sex is made for. They’re just incapable of having sex. Again, not because the Bible says so, because nature says so, because this thing that you can literally just look at the natural world and say, “Okay, that’s not possible.” And so, it’s a violation of the dignity of the body to misuse the body in that way, in a way other than how it was created, in a way other than how it’s designed, in a way that other than what it’s built for, what it’s made for. And so, that would be the argument, that this is why we understand it to be a violation of the moral law, that it’s not homosexual sex is wrong because Leviticus says so. It’s that Leviticus says so because homosexual sex is wrong.
So, I want to just lay that out because I think that’s a different and stronger version of the argument than a lot of people have heard. And I think once you understand that argument, you’ll see why Matthew Vines and West Wing, and so many others are just not really addressing it at all, because the moral argument from Leviticus is much stronger on homosexuality than something like eating shrimp that’s obviously not innately contrary to nature, obviously not against natural reason, and obviously not something that’s still binding under the new law.
Final point, I want to make it just very, very clear, this is not just Aquinas saying this. If you go back and look at the Book of Acts, for instance in Acts 10 when Peter’s invited to the house of Cornelius, he has this vision. God shows him all these ritually unclean foods that he’s now permitted to eat, and it’s very clear that the kosher laws are no longer binding. So, Matthew Vines’ presentation, he acts like the Council of Jerusalem just arbitrarily decides to get rid of the Mosaic Law. That’s not what’s happening. The ceremonial and judicial aspects of the Mosaic Law are no longer binding because God makes it clear they’re not binding anymore, but the moral law is still binding.
So, that’s what I’ve got. I hope that’s helpful. Please feel free to comment and say a prayer for me, and I will pray for you. God bless.
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