Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Leave Scripture Out of It

In 2013’s Pauline Paradoxes Decoded, a self-described “world famous cryptographer” named Michael Wood — whose Wikipedia entry remains surprisingly perfunctory for someone “world famous” — announced his discovery that “When his writings are properly translated, it’s clear that Apostle Paul not only did not condemn homosexuals, but he openly defended them against the religious views of his day”.

How did Wood do it? He “clarified” the “meanings” of “key words”.

Translation: He rewrote the verses that offended him.

The Fine Art of Clarification

“Clarifying” is a handy trick used regularly by folks who like to have their cake and eat it too. It’s usually necessitated by passages of scripture so clear and unequivocal that the only way around them is to change the actual meanings of the words:
  • Passages like: “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”
  • Passages like: “The law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine.”
  • Passages like: “For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.”
In other word, passages of scripture so stunningly unambiguous in their natural sense and obvious interpretation that the only way to be rid of them is to change our definitions entirely.

Paving the Way for the Big Embrace

That the ‘new meaning’ Wood uncovers is not offered solely in the service of more accurate translation but intended to advance a particular social agenda is evident from his own words: He says these “newly-clarified meanings of key words … pave [the] way for more churches to embrace homosexual members”.

Whew. That’s a relief. There are definitely not enough churches out there that embrace homosexual members.

Oh … wait.

Disclaimer Time

Time for a disclaimer, I can see: I am not suggesting for a second that Christians should single out homosexuality as the worst sin in scripture; that we should be unloving to gays we meet in our neighborhoods and workplaces; that we should turn up our noses at those who are suffering from AIDS or cheer it on as the “retribution of God” against sinners; or that we should be insensitive to or dismissive of desires and predispositions — genetic or otherwise — that others experience and we don’t.

I am definitely suggesting that practicing homosexuals … wait, there IS no other kind of homosexual, actually; if you’re not practicing, you’re no longer, or never were, homosexual, since scripture knows nothing of the concept of ‘orientation’. In the Bible, homosexuality is an act, not an identity.

Sorry for the digression. What I’m saying is that practicing homosexuals cannot and should not expect acceptance as ‘members’ (Wood’s word) of local churches that pay any attention at all to what scripture says, any more than those who insist on practicing adultery, sexual immorality, thievery, drunkenness, lying or anything else the word of God clearly condemns.

Failing and Practicing

Notice I say “insist on practicing”. People slip. Most of us, particularly the author, fail regularly in various ways. And when we repent, we are forgiven, as both the Lord and the apostles clearly taught. As to their relationships with other believers, I cannot see how a person who sins sexually and repents is any different from a person who sins in any other way and repents, though there are often physical and emotional repercussions from sexual sins that are not so easily forgotten by the sinner, of course.

When you come to scripture with an agenda you will never find truth.

And even when you change the meaning of words, you still can’t extinguish truth.

Cryptography vs. Translation

Let’s say Michael Wood is right, and that the word translated “men who practice homosexuality” actually refers to pederasty rather than homosexuality between “consenting and loving adults”, as he would have it. That’s a big concession to make, and I personally am not prepared to make it, considering that in one corner of the ring we have Michael Wood, ex-cryptographer, and in the other corner we have every single Bible translator since the dawn of time.

But let’s indulge the conceit for a moment. How does that work out exactly?

See, scripture doesn’t countenance casual sex between men and women any more than it countenances casual sex between men, even if both are between “consenting and loving adults”. The evidence of that is in the very passages Wood is seeking to explain away. Is he going to redefine every word in those passages? He doesn’t even try.

There is no scenario under which unmarried couples of any kind get to sleep together and go to church together and be considered in “good standing” with respect to the word of God. The fruit of the Spirit of God, we’re told, is self-control.

Oh, but we’re talking about “married” homosexuals, we’re told.

No, we’re not. And even if we were, history shows that once a church makes that sort of concession, the next step of the advocates will be to challenge that restriction too.

The Real Impact

In fact, per Statistics Canada, the number of same sex couples in 2011 stayed under 1% of couples in even the most metropolitan areas of Canada. (I note the statisticians neatly avoid addressing the number of same sex couples in redneck country, presumably because it’s microscopic.) Of this less than 1%, 32.5% were “married”.

So, as of 2011, less than 1/3 of 1% of couples in even the most urban areas were married homosexuals. The number of those actively seeking to attend local Christian churches has to be markedly smaller than even that.

To be fair, if Michael Wood has truly discovered that the “real” meaning of the apostle Paul’s teaching about homosexuality is that it’s perfectly fine for practicing committed homosexual couples to fellowship with local churches, it shouldn’t matter a whit if we have to scour Alberta from Medicine Hat to Fort Vermilion to find one. If Wood is right, bring ’em all in, I say!

Except that changing a word in 1 Timothy or 1 Corinthians doesn’t get rid of Romans 1. It doesn’t get rid of Leviticus. Hacking down a few trees doesn’t get rid of a forest. It just makes it a more disagreeable place to take a walk.

There’s just way, way too much clear teaching in scripture about most subjects to erase it by redefining a few words.

A Gentle Suggestion

I have a suggestion, not just for advocates of homosexuality but for everyone who would like to find support and justification for their favourite sin:

Leave scripture out of it, please.

Nobody’s stopping you starting your own religion that vaguely resembles Christianity, based on whatever teachings or combination of teachings you’d like, and discarding any traditional values you don’t. We’re remarkably tolerant about such things these days. You can probably even get charitable tax breaks.

Nobody’s stopping you from holding politically motivated or personally motivated opinions or even from advocating for them.

Nobody’s stopping you doing whatever you like, in fact … except when you try to do it in the church of God.

Alternatively, if you really want to enjoy the word of God in the company of genuine believers, be prepared to accept some restrictions and limitations on your behaviour and lifestyle choices, even if it’s a bit hard to take. I do. All Christians do.

But if you insist on adding to or subtracting from the word of God, a very solemn penalty attaches, prefaced with the words “outside are … the sexually immoral”.

Leave scripture out of it. For your own sake. Please.

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