On Gay Boy Scouts & My Christian Faith

As the Boy Scouts just decided to allow gay scouts but will still keep the ban on gay scout leaders, first of all, let me just say it takes guts to make a decision that doesn’t fully satisfy the desires of either side.

I know that many of my fellow Christians will immediately begin their ban on Boy Scouts for approving of such blatantly sinful behavior.

But let me say, regardless of your position on the sinfulness of gay sex: until the Boy Scouts of America ban every boy who openly sins, this is the most Christian decision they could have made. That is, if standing for justice and fairness is included in what it means to be Christian. If not, well then, I am not sure I want to be one.

And then there is that nagging question: why does someone sins disallow them to belong to a group?

Ironically, in the same chapter of Leviticus Christians use to show that homosexuality is an “abomination” to God, we have this: “When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him. The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt.” (Lev. 19:33-34)

Even those idol-worshiping (<–that’s a sin condemned hundreds of times throughout the Bible by the way) foreigners were to be loved as though they were God’s chosen people. If you are so convinced that the Boy Scouts are a Christian organization who should live by Christian principles, then perhaps we should acknowledge them as “aliens living with us.” We do not kick them out. We do not go find a new land. We live among them and love them as ourselves.

To be honest, I am typically embarrassed to admit how much time I spent as Boy Scout, doing those, let’s admit it, somewhat dorky things we Scouts did. But today, I am proud to be a Boy Scout and am proud that their Christian foundations led them to this decision.

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3 Christian Arguments Against Gay Marriage & Why They’re Inconsistent

In full disclosure, I am a Christian who supports gay marriage. An evangelical even. I’m also a professor of philosophy & ethics. That means, at least in part, I’d like to think I think pretty logically. So when I hear some of the arguments from Christians as to why they are against gay marriage, I often scratch my head. These are 3 arguments that, if taken to their logical conclusion, end in inconsistency, at best, and hypocrisy, at worst. At least, in my opinion.

1. The “It’s a Sin” Argument

This is probably the most popular. The argument is this:

I believe gay sex/marriage is morally wrong because the Bible is against it.
I do not think the government should allow what I believe to be morally wrong.
Therefore, I do not think the government should allow gay sex/marriage.

The problem with this argument is that it’s hypocritical. How so?

According to this argument, if I am going to be against gay marriage, I should also be against the freedom of religion.

Why? Because the freedom of religion says that anyone can worship any god they choose in this country. And what does the Bible have to say about worshiping other gods? Well, let’s put it this way, there are 11 instances (if we’re really generous) against gay sex and over 250 instances where idolatry is condemned. Oh yeah, and pretty much all of Israel is destroyed because of it. So, you’re okay with allowing our country to endorse something condemned over 250 times in our Bible but not something condemned 11 times? Of course, the main difference is that the former affects you & benefits you while the latter doesn’t. Sounds like textbook hypocrisy.

2. The “The Bible is Clear that Marriage is Between A Man & A Woman” Argument

Many people like to start in Genesis, as though God creating Adam & Eve and telling them they’re perfect for each other, now go have sex (which, interestingly, we aren’t told they do until after they are kicked out of the Garden), is somehow the beginning of the institution of marriage. But if the Old Testament counts as what God had in mind for marriage, gay marriage might be more at home there than in our culture. After all, the most common pictures of marriage we have are

One Husband + Many Wives (Polygamous Marriage) – This list includes Lamech, Abraham, Jacob, Esau, Gideon, Saul, David, Solomon, Rehoboam, Elkanah, Ashur, Abijah and Jehoiada. There are a lot more but they were the “bad guys” so I’m assuming they don’t count as much.

One (Dead) Husband + One Widowed Wife + One Brother-In-Law (Levirate Marriage) – the brother-in-law of a deceased husband should impregnate (Ruth & Gen. 38:6–10) the widow so that she has an heir.

One Husband + One Wife + One Slave – Abraham, the Father of our Faith (Gen. 16:1-6) & Jacob, his grandson (Gen. 30:4-5).

One Husband + One (or more) Wife + Some (or hundreds) of Concubines – Nahor (Gen 22:4), Abraham (Gen. 25:5-7), Jacob (Gen. 35:22

Do you notice how many of these are from the same book as Adam & Eve? What gives? Why don’t these count as “foundations for modern marriage”? After all, the Fathers of our Faith practiced almost all of them, with not a word of condemnation from Genesis.

But that’s not all. If we follow the law, which, after all says that gay sex/marriage is an “abomination to God,” then we should also adhere to the following laws regarding marriage.

One Husband + One Prisoner of War – Deuteronomy 21:11-14

One Rapist Husband + One Victim Wife – Deuteronomy 22:28-29 describes how an unmarried woman who had been raped must marry her attacker.

Of course, there is also monogamous, heterosexual marriage in the Bible, especially if you like arranged marriages.

3. The “Procreation Argument”

This argument is as follows:

Marriage was intended for procreation (making babies)
Gay sex/marriage can’t produce babies
Therefore, gay marriage is wrong.

Welp, okay then, time to condemn those poor couples who can’t or won’t have children.

What’s my point? I guess it’s that unless we are willing to be an opponent of the freedom of religion, to account for which examples of marriage in Genesis we should still hold to today, or deem illegitimate the couples who cannot have kids, we shouldn’t use these arguments.

Is Jonah Historical? The Overview (Part 1 of 5)

I have finally caved. In the following posts I am showing my cards for why I don’t think we have to read Jonah as a historical account and that doing so might actually be going against the author’s intention.

And in case you’re wondering, no, not one of my reasons includes a lack of faith or anti-supernatural bias. In fact, that accusation is how this conversation started (see here and here). So, to those of you who don’t care (which if experience tells me anything, is about 90% of you), I am sorry. I will try to post a few other things this week as well so that you don’t completely check out.

I avoid putting on my nerdy biblical studies hat when possible, but this week will be an exception. I will try to keep it simple but thorough. And given people’s atrocious attention span online, I will split it up into five, yes 5, parts (some of you have just decided it’s not worth it) that will be posted throughout the week.

This first post will simply give you my 3 broad reasons and each subsequent post will look at these reasons with more detail. The last will then deal with the two biggest objections: the historical Jonah mentioned in Kings and Jesus’ mention of the “sign of Jonah” in the New Testament.

The Way It’s Written (Textual Style): the first reason I don’t think Jonah is meant to be historical is the highly stylized way it is written. There are various rhetorical devices that are used to make nice, neat, points. None of these exclude historical writing, of course, but when you put them all together the book begins to look a lot less like non-fiction and a lot more like stylized fiction with a specific purpose.

The Way It Borrows (Intertextual Cues): Another reason I am suspicious of reading Jonah historically is because it borrows from and mirrors other books of the Bible in several interesting ways. Again, this doesn’t exclude historicity since most of the biblical writings are shaped according to certain purposes and often borrow from one another. But, along with the other evidence, this does play a role for why I do not read Jonah historically.

The Point It Wants to Make (Textual Shape): In all other prophetic books, the prophet is speaking the Word of the Lord in a time of crisis, either political or theological (mostly both). But this is a book about a prophet not speaking the Word of the Lord at first and then being upset by the outcomes of that word later. In Jonah, the prophet looks like a foil for the author to make a bigger point. Jonah looks symbolic, or technically speaking, like a metonymy. And as such, the point of the book looks theological, not historical.

Of course, I could be wrong on all three accounts. But aside from the evidence of whether or not it is historical, in these posts I also want to challenge the deeper question: why are we so insistent that it is? What assumptions are we bringing to the Bible that keeps us from even entertaining the question? What keeps us from the “perhaps”?

In the next post, we will delve into the way it’s written (textual style).

Textual Variant & the Sabbath

Interestingly, but not surprisingly, the NIV has smoothed over a difficulty in Genesis 2:2 with a “possible” reading.

The NIV reads: “By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work.”

The ESV reads: “And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done.

The Hebrew reads: וַיְכַל אֱלֹהִים בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי, מְלַאכְתּוֹ אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה; וַיִּשְׁבֹּת בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי, מִכָּל-מְלַאכְתּוֹ אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה.

The problem is that the ESV is more accurate. To translate the bet-preposition as “by” is a stretch. To translate wayekal as a pluperfect (“he had finished”) is also a stretch. Even more of a stretch is to translate bayom as “by…day” in the first instance and then translate the exact same phrase only 5 words later “on…day.” Why does the NIV do this?

Well, because God is supposed to be resting on the seventh day, not finishing up his work. The same language is used in Exodus 20:10 and even explictly says that God made heaven and earth in six days. So what do we do?

Well, rather than trusting in all of these stretches Ronald Hendel in his apologetic for a critical edition of the Hebrew Bible called The Text of Genesis 1-11: Textual Studies and Critical Edition suggests taking the textual variant found in the Samaritan Pentateuch, Septuagint, Syriac Peshitta, and Jubilees 2:16 and replacing “seventh” with “sixth.”

Now, typically I am skeptical of taking textual variants but Hendel makes a good case for it.

1. “…to posit that scribes or translators changed the text independently in three (or four) textual traditions is extremely unlikely, given our cognizance of the numerous shared readings in G, S, and Syr.” Also, G of Genesis is known for conserving the Vorlage so that reading “sixth” for a Proto-G is warranted. So then, it is better to argue for a common root than independent traditions.

2. So the question must now be settled on text-critical grounds. While typically the harder reading is to be accepted, in this case there is another plausible motive for why “sixth” could have given rise to “seventh.” Verse 2 can be split up in this way:

בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי מְלַאכְתּוֹ אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה
בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי מִכָּל-מְלַאכְתּוֹ אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה.

“With the exception of the stylistic variation of mkl in v 2b, the two sequences are identical but for the variation of [“sixth”] in the place of [“seventh”]. It is entirely possible that a scribe could have miswritten [“seventh”] in lace of [“sixth”] in the first clause, triggered by anticipation of the parallel in the second clause. This would be an accidental assimilation by anticipation” (33).

So the difficult reading is chalked up to scribal error. I like it, mostly because that’s the best explanation I’ve heard so far.

Aliens & Genesis

I am currently writing a paper on the literary connections between the two creation stories found in Genesis. I am not at all interested in whether they come from two different sources (with a great redactor) or whether they are from one source, it makes no difference to me. Anyway, I have finally found the answer in a book entitled The Lost Tribes From Outer Space. Apparently Elohim was the creator God who created hominids and evolution and the whole bit and then this strange new guy, YHWH, came from outer space and created Jews (Adam & Eve) to colonize the earth. This also explains why Jews have been persecuted for so long, they aren’t human! “their oppression is like the process of rejection that sometimes occurs in organ transplants” (19-20). That also explains why YHWH gets so ticked off about intermarrying, it’s obvious that Aliens (Jews) shouldn’t intermarry with lowly humans.

Whew, and I thought the enigma between Genesis 2:3 and Genesis 2:4 would never be solved…

OT Thoughts – Exodus (Part 7

Old Testament thoughts is a weekly post where we’ll be looking at some interesting aspects of some Scripture from the Hebrew Bible (what Christians call the Old Testament). Right now, we are looking at the first two chapters of Exodus.

Where did Moses get his name from? The text itself says that the etymology of his name is כִּי מִן-הַמַּיִם מְשִׁיתִהוּ (lit. because from the water I drew him)But there are a few slight problems with saying that Pharoah’s daughter named him “Moses,” “Because I drew him from the water.” First, the probability of Pharaoh’s daughter naming the child with a Hebrew name is slim for two reasons. The first is that naming him with a Hebrew name would give away his identity as a Hebrew…and remember, her Dad is killing Hebrew boys at the moment. The second reason it’s improbable is that she’s not Hebrew! It’s not very likely at all that she would have known Hebrew. The conquoring country rarely learns the language of the conquored country. Secondly, the term itself is more easily taken from the Egyptian noun ms ‘boy, child’ as a cognate of the Egyptian verb msỉ ‘to bear, beget’ and appears in such names as Ptahmose, Tuthmosis, Ahmose, and Harmose.

But then why did the Jewish author record the Hebrew etymology and not the Egyptian etymology of the name? To say that it was obviously due to the ignorance of the author of the Egyptian derivation misreads the purpose of the text and certainly isn’t obvious, contra Durham.

On the contrary, it is quite possible (and likely) that the purpose was theological and literary. Naming in the whole of the Old Testament was a highly theological and literary enterprise and is used by the writer on more than one level and for more than one purpose. “Moses’ name meant for the Israelites (and therefore for God, whose Spirit inspired the writers) that he was drawn out of water and would draw them out of water” (Peter Enns, Exodus, 64-65).

So maybe it’s not the validity of the answer that should cause worry but whether or not we are even asking the right questions. There is much more meaning, for the reader today and especially for the ancient Jewish reader, in the Hebrew etymology of the name than in the Egyptian, not that the Egyptian etymology shouldn’t be recognized. The problem comes when we start thinking that the only thing that is truly “meaningful” is modern notions of history and “what really happened.”

But the origin of the name of Moses seems to be an intentional foreshadowing. This foreshadowing in the name of Moses as one drawn out of the water only to later himself ‘draw’ his people out of the water is also supported by the placing of Moses “in the reeds” (בַּסּוּף)in 2:3 and “in the midst of the reeds” (בְּתוֹךְ הַסּוּף)in 2:5. And later he will in fact lead God’s people through the “sea of reeds” (יַם-סוּף).

Then there is a final, broader connection that comes by way of the overall structure of the stories. Just as Moses begins outside of the house of Egypt (raised in the court of Pharaoh), then enters the house of Israel, then is dealt harshly by Pharaoh who tries to kill him and then chases him out, so goes the story of Israel in Egypt (cf. the story of Joseph and Exodus 1:1-14:31).