Would Jesus approve of gay marriage?

I don’t like to argue politics on this blog. For one thing, I don’t know enough about politics to pull that off. But also, it’s nearly impossible to discuss it without people getting heated and uptight, or alternatively, deleting the comments of everyone who can’t keep a civil tongue, neither of which I like to do. I prefer the serene vibe.

The purpose of this post, then, is not to argue whether or not gay marriage should be legal, but only to rebut some pro-gay-marriage arguments that appear to misunderstand or misrepresent the teachings of Jesus in the scriptures.

The arguments are basically these:

1. Jesus never mentions homosexuality in the Gospels, therefore either (a) he didn’t think it was wrong, or (b) if it’s wrong, it’s such a trivial sin that it wasn’t worth his while to mention it.

2. Jesus made compassion more important than adherence and obedience to religious dogma or morals, therefore he would approve of gay marriage rather than let gay people suffer the pain of being forbidden to marry.

As to the first, as mentioned in a prior post, Jesus never made any changes to the moral law except when he made it stricter. Therefore it’s unlikely that he would loosen or eliminate a moral requirement. But even if he did, it’s highly unlikely that he would do so merely by being silent about it. He had no fear of confronting the religious authorities of his day, and when he disapproved of them he let them know in no uncertain terms.

Regarding Jesus mentioning homosexuality, I would argue that he didn’t waste time teaching things that people already knew, but rather taught those things which they either didn’t know, or which they seemed to need a reminder of based on their behavior. Thus, he loathed hypocrisy, and confronted and condemned it whenever it crossed his path. The number of times he condemns hypocrisy (a lot) is a reflection of the number of times he encounters it.

By contrast, he only addresses adultery once because, well, he only encounters it once. When he does address it, he doesn’t teach that it’s a sin because everyone already knew that. And while he rescues the woman caught in adultery from stoning (the penalty prescribed under the Law), he doesn’t change the moral doctrine on adultery, by teaching that adultery is fine. He simply points out the hypocrisy of those who would presume to carry out the prescribed penalty; and then tells the woman to “go and sin no more”.

From these examples it seems to follow that he never mentions the sinfulness of homosexual sex because (1) he never encounters it, and (2) it’s something, like the immorality of adultery, which the people were clear on and therefore didn’t need to be taught.

As to the second argument above, I would agree that Jesus considered compassion more important than observance of the Law – that is, the Law of Moses or the Mosaic Law – but not more important than righteousness.

His specific criticism of the religious authorities was that they would bend over backwards to make sure the letter of the law was fulfilled in every particular, while acting in a manner exhibiting indifference to the demands of righteousness and compassion. Thus, the scribes and Pharisees would neglect the care of their aged parents by claiming that their money was “corban”, or consecrated to God, and therefore not available to them. In this way they put on a show of obeying the Law, while disobeying the direct commandment to honor their fathers and mothers. (Mk. 7:1-13.)

The way the subject arose was that the scribes and Pharisees were criticizing Jesus’ disciples for not washing their hands before eating. This really ticks Jesus off and he lets them have it for honoring God with their lips while their hearts are far from him, and “teaching as doctrines the precepts of men” (Mk. 7:7).

Jesus never condemns obedience to the Law, but he hates it when people obey the Law while neglecting moral righteousness. The Law is not about righteousness per se, but about ritual cleanness and uncleanness. It’s about what you have to do in order to participate in the sacrificial and other religious rituals prescribed under the Law. It’s wrong to disobey these things because God commanded the Israelites to carry them out. But it’s wrong for that reason alone, and not because of any unrighteousness inherent in, for example, eating the meat of animals with cloven hoofs, or touching a dead body.

Jesus’ message is that he’s more concerned about things that are inherently righteous or unrighteous, than about ritual cleanness or uncleanness. Thus, it’s far more important to feed the hungry and care for widows and orphans than to wash your hands before eating. A good Jew should do both, but to do the latter while neglecting the former is, for him, the height of hypocrisy.

The story of the woman caught in adultery (Jn. 8:1-11) again provides a point of illustration:

“The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, ‘Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such. What do you say about her?'”

Jesus, of course, says that the one who is without sin should cast the first stone. Do we not, then, have it straight from Jesus’ mouth: Sexual sins don’t matter since we’re all sinners anyway? Doesn’t this show that the real sin is persecuting those who commit sexual sins?

But look at how the story ends:

“Jesus looked up and said to her, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ She said, ‘No one, Lord.’ And Jesus said, ‘Neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again.'”

Jesus’ command “do not sin again” has two implications: First, that her sin was really a sin; and second, that she must stop it.

What, then, is the lesson of the story? I would suggest that one lesson is that, again, righteousness is more important than adherence to the Law.

Note that the scribes and Pharisees say to Jesus, “[I]n the law Moses commanded us to stone such.” They’re eager to comply with the letter of the Law, like good Jews. But do they care about righteousness? Jesus thinks not. Therefore he tests them: “Oh, you care about righteousness, do you? In that case, let whoever is righteous among you cast the first stone.” When he puts it that way, they fail the test. If they really cared about righteousness, wouldn’t at least one of them be righteous himself, and therefore worthy of casting a stone? They were all eager to stone someone for a violation of the Law, but all admitted that they were no more righteous than she was.

Whereas Jesus’ actions do serve the cause of righteousness. In what way? By telling the woman, “Sin no more. I don’t condemn you [to death], but you must repent of your sins. You cannot keep behaving unrighteously.” He has compassion towards her by sparing her from stoning, but only so that he can bring her to repentance. Thus, both his compassion and his reproof serve the cause of righteousness. If she had died, the cause of righteousness would not have been advanced; but by saving her life, he is able to encourage her not to continue in unrighteousness, but to act righteously thenceforth.

Note, therefore, that adherence to the Mosaic Law is the thing above which Jesus is elevating compassion. And it’s not compassion per se that he is elevating, but righteousness generally. Jesus hates it when people are sticklers for complying with the letter of the Law, while being indifferent to righteousness. How much more horrified would he be at the idea of jettisoning righteousness altogether for the sake of compassion?

Indeed, it’s a mistake to believe that Jesus would consider it compassionate to leave sin uncorrected. Sins are what he has come to save us from. What is compassionate about abandoning someone to his sins without trying to correct him?

“I tell you, … unless you repent you will all likewise perish.” Lk. 13:5. Why would he want us to perish?

“[After healing a lame man], Jesus found him in the temple, and said to him, ‘See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse befall you.'” Jn. 5:14. Why would he want something worse to befall us?

“Jesus answered them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, every one who commits sin is a slave to sin.'” Jn. 8:34. Why would he want us to be slaves to sin?

“Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” Lk. 13:3.

Did Jesus put compassion ahead of righteousness?

Someone argued recently that Jesus would have approved of gay marriage because he put “compassion for people ahead of adherence to religious dogma.” This is just a quick rebuttal to that argument, which I plan to elaborate on in a subsequent post.

When people say things like that, I can’t help wondering whether they’ve read the whole New Testament or only certain parts. Jesus may have put compassion ahead of religious dogma, but not ahead of righteousness:

“For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” Mt. 5:20

He lists adultery and other sexual immorality along with murder and theft as things that make a man unrighteous:

“And he said, ‘What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.'” Mk. 7:20-23

He ate and drank with sinners, but for the sake of bringing them to repentance:

“And the Pharisees and their scribes murmured against his disciples, saying, ‘Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?’ And Jesus answered them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.’” Lk. 5:30-32

He taught that it’s better to pluck your eye out than to let it cause you to sin, since sin sends you to hell:

“’And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, “where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.”’” Mk. 9:43-48

Of course Jesus was compassionate and merciful. Otherwise he would not have been incarnated, healed the sick and the lame, and suffered and died on the Cross. But all of this was for the purpose of calling sinners to repentance, as he makes abundantly and repeatedly clear.

Jesus’ silence on homosexuality

A couple of times in the past week I have come across the argument that since Jesus doesn’t mention homosexuality in the Gospels, he must have thought there was nothing wrong with homosexual sex. This is just a quick rebuttal to that argument. I will have more to say about it in a subsequent post.

Jesus also didn’t mention kidnapping, child abuse or racism. Should we conclude that those things are fine with him? He also didn’t talk about murder, except when he said that being angry at your brother, and insulting him, and calling him a fool, is the same as murder and makes you liable to hell. (Mt. 5:21-26)

Jesus didn’t make any changes to the moral law as the Jews already understood it. The exceptions are when he makes the moral law even stricter, for example when he says that Moses allowed divorce but that “it was not that way in the beginning” (Mt. 19:8) and that “he who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery” (Lk. 16:18); or when he says that not only is adultery a sin, but that when you even look on a woman with lust you’re committing adultery in your heart (Mt. 5:27-28), and that if your eye causes you to stumble in this way then you should pluck it out rather than burn in hell (Mt. 5:29).

There is a Latin proverb to the effect that silence implies consent. My interlocutors take this to mean that since Jesus didn’t condemn homosexual sexual activity, he must have approved of it. This is to project modern sensibilities on the people of Jesus’ time; to assume that what we take for granted is what Jesus takes for granted, so long as he doesn’t state otherwise. But if Jesus’ silence implies consent, it would imply consent to the prevailing morality of the time — unless he states otherwise. He has no fear of speaking out against the prevailing paradigm when he disapproves of it. In the case of Jewish sexual morality, he does no such thing.

In light of this, it would not be warranted to conclude that because Jesus didn’t mention homosexuality, his intention was to overturn the traditional Jewish prohibition of homosexual sex.