Homosexuality, Shrimp, Slaves, and Poor Hermeneutics

All those who have attempted to discuss the biblical stance on homosexuality have inevitably encountered persons who note that if we wish to apply the OT law concerning homosexuality we are also bound to observe the laws relating to mixed garments, unclean foods, and the like.  Their argument runs something like this:

‘If you apply the OT legislation concerning homosexual behavior – that is, a man shall not lie with a man as with a woman, than you have to stop eating shrimp and you have to stop wearing garments of mixed fabrics’.

The problem with this argument is that it fails to distinguish moral law from ritual law.  As such, and as a failure to understand genre, category, and purpose, these arguments are flawed and inappropriate.

Unfortunately, too few of those engaged in discussions about biblical texts have the necessary skills or training to understand their own lack of understanding.  Which is exactly why such discussions never go anywhere.  Those unable to or unwilling to recognize that moral law is one thing and ritual law another will never, in 100 lifetimes, grasp the biblical text.  Their hermeneutical method is skewed and they can’t see it.


19 thoughts on “Homosexuality, Shrimp, Slaves, and Poor Hermeneutics

  1. Drew Tatusko 15 May 2012 at 11:41 am

    Another way to look at it is that it’s a slippery slope and a logical fallacy. If A then B, C, and D MUST follow. There is no established evidence that this is the case. This is true even if all of the laws were in the same category. Therefore, we have a consistent philosophical problem to go with the hermeneutical problem. Add both together and we have a hot mess. This goes for liberals as well as conservatives who do the same thing.


    • Jim 15 May 2012 at 11:42 am

      there are all kinds of logical, exegetical, theological, and heremeneutical fallacies in the entire debate.


  2. Jon Hendry 15 May 2012 at 8:51 pm

    “The problem with this argument is that it fails to distinguish moral law from ritual law.”

    Eh. Still seems to me like picking and choosing, dressed up in sophistry. The anti-gay “moral laws” just happen to be consistent with prejudices that remain viable, while other “moral laws” are ignored because they’re plainly absurd.

    I’d be more impressed if as much energy were put into arguments against mixed fabrics. At least *that* would clearly not be motivated by prejudice.


    • Jim 15 May 2012 at 8:56 pm

      if you’re unfamiliar with the distinction between moral law and ritual law, see acts 15.


  3. Joseph Kelly 16 May 2012 at 7:26 am

    Is the proscription regarding child sacrifice in Deuteronomy 12:31 moral or a cultic in nature?


    • Jim 16 May 2012 at 7:27 am



      • Joseph Kelly 16 May 2012 at 7:34 am

        I would agree. Doesn’t this suggest, though, that one can’t simply say “recognize the distinction?” Does the fact that the moral and cultic laws are not always separate not complicate the hermeneutical issue?


        • Jim 16 May 2012 at 7:36 am

          yes but the shrimp issue is CLEARLY ritually oriented and the ‘man shall not lie with man’ moral (even if also applying to cultic prostitution)


          • Joseph Kelly 16 May 2012 at 7:47 am

            I would argue that the issue is “clearly ritually oriented” because it does not overlap with contemporary moral concerns, not because we have some kind of scientific (even if not-quite-objective) measure for whether Israel considered a particular law cultic or moral. The truth is, we don’t understand Israel’s objection to shrimp, though we do have some intriguing proposals by the likes of Douglas, Milgrom, Houston, etc. The mechanism(s?) of defilement are not always moral, or not at least our morality, and as such I would be hesitant to suggest that homosexuality is “clearly” morally oriented. Of course, these interpretive questions don’t presuppose the hermeneutical conclusions. They do, however, dictate the kind of hermeneutical discussion that should be taking place, and I don’t think suggesting one law is purely moral fits that discussion.

            But you may disagree, and that is fine. That is why we dialogue.


            • Jim 16 May 2012 at 7:56 am

              i do disagree- i think it is a tad absurd to suggest that morality and sexuality aren’t interconnected. hence, that moral (and maybe even ritual) prohibitions in the hebrew bible should be taken seriously theologically. the dismissive attitude towards such texts (which don’t fit into modern wants and wishes) says far more about modern viewpoints than biblical texts.

              furthermore, i’m constantly astonished that people with faith convictions are willing to jettison biblical moral teachings when it suits them. what the pagans do with the bible is of no interest to me. what believers do, that’s what counts.

              now whether you’re a believer or not i have no idea. my point is that believers are obliged by their very connection to the faith community to take their sacred texts seriously. dismissiveness and accomodationism are illegitimate hermeneutical methodologies.


  4. […] Jim West pull off his trick? May 17, 2012 tim No comments Jim West has a post which he seems to think defuses one common argument used in debates about issues like gay marriage. […]


  5. Paul Williams 18 May 2012 at 8:08 am

    ‘Those unable to or unwilling to recognize that moral law is one thing and ritual law another will never, in 100 lifetimes, grasp the biblical text. Their hermeneutical method is skewed and they can’t see it.’

    I think part of the problem is that the Torah as such does not distinguish ritual laws and moral laws as you do. They are all of a piece (eg Deuteronomy 11). The distinction is a peculiarly Christian (Pauline?) one, not found in the teaching of Jesus, who apparently upheld ALL of the Law and taught his disciples to do the same.

    Towards the end of his ministry, according to Matthew…

    Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, ‘The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practise what they teach.”

    So by implication Jesus approved of the death penalty for homosexuality, apostasy and adultery, cursing your parents etc.

    Maybe your hermeneutical method is skewed and you just can’t see it 🙂


    • Jim 18 May 2012 at 8:37 am

      perhaps i’m overly influenced by paul. that’s a possibility. but your statement concerning jesus’ view of those various legislations is what we call an ‘argument from silence’- a logical fallacy.

      the equal argument could be made that since jesus said nothing about homosexuality he held the same view as paul. or rather, paul learned it from jesus.

      instead of arguing on the basis of evidence that doesn’t exist, let’s stick to what we do have, shall we? hence, the OT is contra- same sex sex. so is paul. so was paul’s jewish environment.

      as i am prone to say, absence of evidence is evidence of NOTHING.


      • Paul Williams 18 May 2012 at 10:53 am

        It’s not an argument from silence at all. I have given you actual substantial evidence of Jesus’ view on the Law. Jesus opposed homosexual practice – so do you (for what its worth, I agree with you both). But your grounds for opposing homosexual practice are very shaky at best.

        You need to face the problem that the Torah AS SUCH does not distinguish ritual laws and moral laws as you do. They are all of a piece (eg Deuteronomy 11).

        So the basis of your argument is very weak and not grounded in the teaching of Jesus.


        • Jim 18 May 2012 at 10:59 am

          your argument is based on what you believe jesus to have believed without any basis in scripture. please demonstrate where jesus dealt with the problems described in leviticus 18:22. you certainly have ‘general principles of jesus and the law’ in support of your supposition, but that’s all you have. to take the next step and put words in jesus’ mouth which he did not utter is eisegesis.

          further, paul is absolutely clear on the subject, so why one would wish to turn to jesus, who is silent on the subject, and away from paul is ‘special pleading’.

          and finally, the early church DID distinguish between ritual and moral law (it’s plain, again see acts 15). so the argument i have offered is based on

          1- a solid reading of paul.
          2- an accurate reflection of early church practice vis-a-vis ritual v. moral law.
          3- the supposition that jesus held the same view as reflected in the early church and paul (the weakest bit, admittedly, because like your entire argument, it is based on silence).

          finally, and this should be noted, not everything we as christians believe has to find its source in jesus. so whether or not opposition to homosexual practice is or is not present in jesus makes no difference. it is found in paul. it is found in the old testament. that’s sufficient.
          all in all that’s hardly a weak case.


          • Paul Williams 18 May 2012 at 11:15 am

            The problem you have is your approach to the 613 commandments of the Law. It seems to many (and to me) that your hermeneutic is extremely tenuous when it comes to homosexual practice. You reject great swaths of the Law, for example the food laws, but Jesus is reported to have upheld them. And you would presumably reject other so-called ‘non-ritual’ laws too:

            ‘When people who are fighting injure a pregnant woman so that there is a miscarriage, and yet no further harm follows, the one responsible shall be fined what the woman’s husband demands, paying as much as the judges determine.
            If any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.’

            Exodus 21.

            But you uphold the prohibition on homosexual practice. Your argument is inconsistent and unscholarly. But I agree – on other grounds – that homosexual practice is a sin.


            • Jim 18 May 2012 at 11:27 am

              my position accurately reflects the practice of the church for nearly 2000 years. my argument is perfectly consistent and sound and whether or not you grasp it or understand it isn’t something i can change. you, and the ‘many others’ which you reference as supporters of your view are free to think what you like. it simply won’t change the facts.

              it is amusing, though, that you disregard paul and leviticus in your blind fixation on jesus and it is also amusing that you don’t really address my three points. rather, you skip over them because you only have one pony to ride.

              oh my- i’ve just looked at your blog! you aren’t even a theologian or biblical scholar! yet another dilettante.


  6. Drew Tatusko 18 May 2012 at 11:38 am

    Further Jim, a problem in a lot of Protestant readings is the complete jettisoning of any oral tradition that came out of the first century emergence of Christianity through its first 8 centuries in particular when the great councils occurred. How that message and those practices were passed down is of vital importance to Christians today. By Christians I mean those who believe according to the Nicean Creed even if the shorter Apostles’ creed is used (ok I’ll let filioque go). The transmission of the meaning of marriage is very clear in the nature of marriage as a mystery expressing the nature of the Trinity and a foretaste of the union of Christ and His church. Let’s also not forget that the synoptic accounts we have were most likely influenced by Pauline theology as well. To say that it’s one or the other is to set up a false relationship between Paul and Jesus. Finally, to say that Paul supported same sex marriage at all sets up a lot of creative and strange assertions that don’t make much sense. What we do with that information is another issue. But it is what it is.


    • Jim 18 May 2012 at 11:41 am

      right drew- i think there has been more misrepresentation of paul’s view on the matter than anything or anyone else. the kind of twisting and obfuscation necessary to make paul ‘gay friendly’ boggles the mind and presses credulity to the breaking point.

      but it’s natural for many supporting the unsupportable to attempt to drive a false wedge between paul, jesus, the church, and the OT.

      as i said before, i’d respect someone more who said ‘i have no biblical warrant for my view of homosexuality and i’m not seeking any biblical justification’ than i do for people who misread and eisegete.


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