Reasonable and Holy – A Review

Let me get one thing straight right at the start. I really wanted to like this book. I did, I truly did. I was looking forward to getting my hands on a book written from a liberal perspective on human sexuality that would give me some fresh insights into thinking Biblically about the issue. How then does Tobias Haller intend to do this when the opening major argument of this thesis is to undermine the Word of God?

There are times l have to confess that the utility of Scripture in helping us better to understand our current situation may be approaching its limit. Over the last thirty years l have seen texts tossed back and forth, twisted and stretched beyond their capacity, or shrunk to insignificance. When I consider how little the Scripture actually says about the presenting issue, and how much of what it says is in a limited vocabulary of half-a-dozen Hebrew and Greek words – some so rare they are only understood by conjecture, others capable of a range of figurative and liberal application – and then take account of the energy of the debate, I begin to wonder at Scripture’s ever providing us with a settlement to the matter.

Still, Scripture is a “given” – indeed it is a gift; but it is a gift that requires unwrapping, and some assembly, and batteries are not included. Contrary to those who assert the doctrine of sole scripture, the Scripture does not (indeed cannot) interpret itself, although we may use one portion of Scripture better understand another. But Scripture does not stand alone, apart from reason, the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and the record of the church’s wrestling with those sometimes difficult texts.

Haller then proceeds to give us some guides to Scripture interpretation which include,

7. It must be concluded that the words of a scriptural text or texts, however compelling, cannot in every circumstance be received by the Church as authoritative. Even if the Church has no authority to abrogate “commandments which are called Moral”- unlike its jurisdiction in “ceremonies and rites” (Article VII) – the true moral significance of any commandment is not simply given but must be discerned.
8. Thus, for the Church’s judgment of the morality of actions and dispositions to be authoritative, it is insufficient simply to condemn those things that are condemned anywhere in Scripture, or to approve those things that are somewhere approved.
9. Faithful interpretation requires the Church to use the gifts of “memory, reason, and skill” (BCP 370) to find the sense of the scriptural text and to locate it in its time and place. The Church must then seek the text’s present significance in light of the whole economy of salvation. Chief among the guiding principles by which the Church interprets the sacred texts is the congruence of its interpretation with Christ’s summary of the law, the new commandment, and the creeds. (Matthew 22:37-40; John 13:34).

In some sense this is a brilliant presentation of the suppositional foundations of the revisionist position, but they cause a number of questions to be asked. How do we know when something is or isn’t authoritative? What is this overarching “whole economy of salvation” which Haller speaks of? Why has Haller elevated the Summary of the Law, the New Commandment and other things to such a height? On what authority? How does he even know they are authoritative?

It strikes this reader, rightly or wrongly, that Haller begins his book by setting up a paradigm of “We need to work very hard to know what we can take from the Bible as authoritative” and then uses this paradigm to support his argument. Take for example the claim that,

how little the Scripture actually says about the presenting issue, and how much of what it says is in a limited vocabulary of half-a-dozen Hebrew and Greek words-some so rare they are only understood by conjecture, others capable of a range of figurative and liberal application

This is just palpable nonsense. We know perfectly well what arsenokoites means. It has been demonstrated time and time again that there is a consistent interpretation of the meaning of this word through the early church and Rabbinic thought of the same period. Notions that other greek texts imply a different meaning have been demonstrated incorrect.  Perhaps that’s the reason Haller never even begins to seriously discuss the meaning of that word in all his 176 pages.

But ultimately what is so frustrating is that Haller assumes that which he wishes to conclude, as this snippet from the end of chapter seven demonstrates.

That he would have joined them in condemning a male who persisted in the “passive” role may be what he was alluding to in his use of malakoi (l Corinthians 6:9) is certainly possible. But Paul did not directly address the concept of life-long, faithful, mutual, monogamous same-sex relationships between adults. Moreover, Paul is not with us at this moment, and the responsibility falls upon us to make the best use of what we have not only inherited from him, but accumulated in the centuries since he wrote.

It is this references to “life-long, faithful, mutual, monogamous same-sex relationships between adults” that is so frustrating. Haller assumes that these are good and then argues that since they are, the passages in Scripture that condemn all homosexual practice must by definition be incorrect, since we know that “life-long, faithful, mutual, monogamous same-sex relationships between adults” are good. The danger of this approach is clear to see – one could easily do the same for “life-long, faithful, mutual, monogamous incestuous relationships between adults”. A really interesting exercise to undertake is to read the opening half of Haller’s book, where he defines the goods of marriage and shows how they can be seen in and applied to monogamous same-sex couples, and to replace every reference to homosexual couples to monogamous adult incestuous couples. What you are left with is a great case for such relationships.

Of course, Haller is ready for this and he writes,

About this time the “Slippery Slope” argument may be forming in some minds, it not already there. This usually takes the form of, “If you allow same-sex relationships, why not polygamy, incest, or bestiality?” The answer is really quite simple. What we are examining here are same-sex relationships on exactly the same terms and with the same kinds of regulation as mixed-sex relationships: adult consent, no consanguinity, no plural spouses, permanent fidelity, and no animals except as pets.

But isn’t this just a bigotted, fundamentalist, literalist argument, the kind of way of reading Scripture that Haller rejects earlier on? For example, where does he get the idea that no consanguinity is a necessary essential for marriage? Scripture? Did he not write

it is insufficient simply to condemn those things that are condemned anywhere in Scripture, or to approve those things that are somewhere approved

Is it not time that we woke up to the fact that Scripture nowhere explicity condemns life-long, faithful, mutual, monogamous incestuous relationships between adults in the same way it doesn’t, as Haller argues, condemn the same-sex equivalent? I am deadly serious in this argument – Haller does not provide an answer to this question that doesn’t require an objective a priori judgement as to the morality or otherwise of consanguine relationships, yet it is the rejection of another a priori judgement (that the New Testament texts unambiguously condemn all same-sex activity, mutually consensual or otherwise) that is the very basis for his thesis in this book. Remember, rather than jumping straight in and exegeting the key texts, Haller builds an argument by saying how same-sex relationships can demonstrate the same goods as marriages. He then uses these good comparisons to reject the key texts that would otherwise undermine his case (namely, the unambigious condemnation of all same-sex sex). Why should not such a similar argument by used for incestuous relationships? Really, why shouldn’t it? And if you really want to push this case, try taking the re-working of the woman caught in adultery that Haller performs on page 139 and recasting it yet again in the guise of an incestuous pair.

Although I am loath to add to Scripture, the following application of what I’ve said above occurs to me, purely as an imaginative exercise:

Some lawyers came to Jesus and said to him, Teacher, we found two men who have set up household and live together after the manner of a man and woman. Shall we do unto them as it is written in the law of Moses? And he said unto them, For your hardness of heart Moses gave you this law. But it was not so at the beginning, when God made companions for Adam and allowed him to choose the one suitable to him, the one who was most like him. And they said to him, But was not that Eve, the mother of all living? And he said to them, Do not be deceived, the Lord does not see as mortals see’—you lawyers look only to the outside, and do not look to the heart. But God knows what is inside a man, and it is from inside that true love flows. And do you not know that when Jonathan looked upon David his soul was bound to him, and he loved him as his own self, and gave up his life for his friend? David spoke rightly when he said there is no greater love than this. If these two should set up their lives together, what is that to you? Love the Lord your God, and do not judge.

As I say, this is purely imaginative. But it does strike me as in keeping with the gospel.

If you believe that suggesting that Jesus would ever say such a thing is outrageous, how can you possibly support the version Haller presents as a result of the trajectory he has presented in this book?

Now, the impression from all that is that I don’t like any of this book, but that is not strictly true. Where Haller really begins to excite is when he engages the work of Gagnon and others and begins to argue about what the Scripture actually means. We move from the eisegesis of the first part of the book to moments of pure hermeneutic genius. If anything, these morsels of exegesis, particularly over the meaning of porneia and its Hebrew roots, are significant contributions to the work in this area and require a suitable response. The sadness is though that Haller does not engage in the same kind of rigourous analysis of the “key texts” and that leaves one asking why. Is it because Haller knows that if he attempted to discern the exact meaning of arsenokoites in the same manner he approaches porneia, he would end up with a conclusion that contradicted his thesis? I guess this is the disappointment of this book, that Haller is not consistent in his approach throughout, but then he may very well have been forced to reach a different conclusion if he had.

The other thing that is challenging from what Haller writes in the first half of the book is that the relationships that he writes about (life-long, faithful, mutual, monogamous same-sex relationships between adults) are qualitatively comparable to marriage in many ways. Indeed that is part of the reason why Haller writes his book, because in his and other Christians’ lives they have seen obviously similarities between such couples. An honest appraisal by conservatives should be enough to put to rest once and for all the notion that gay relationships are in some sense qualitatively inferior to marriages in their ability to exhibit love (and see Rowan Williams’ The Body’s Grace). But the aim of good biblical theology is not to make Scripture fit that which we observe in life, but rather to conform that which we live to that which we observe in Scripture. The question is ultimately not “do same-sex relationships exhibit the same characteristics as marriages”, but rather, “should Christians exhibit love sexually within these kinds of relationships?” The first question is asked primarily about human experience, the second about Scripture.

And that really is where Haller and I differ. The issue between us is less to do with homosexuality and more to do with who is the real heir of Cranmer and the Edwardian Prayer Book. How do we go about about determining what is Reasonable and Holy in the first place? If we could deal with that, we might begin to move forward.

Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

41 Comments on “Reasonable and Holy – A Review

  1. Hello Peter and all,

    let me emphasise first that I haven't read much of Reasonable and holy, since not much of it is available on Google Books! Keeping that in mind, a ragbag of comments and questions…:

    – is there any chance of you reviewing Gareth Moore OP's A question of truth or Rabbi Steven Greenberg's Wrestling with God and men?

    – could you say a bit more about the "moments of pure hermeneutic genius" you were so taken by – what are Haller's insights on porneia for instance?

    arsenokoites etc. On 'Slavery and Sexuality' part 3, you commended part of Rabbi Steven Greenberg's argument, which I had a go at summarising: "this is the best argument against arsenokoites prohibting all male-male sex that I’ve heard. If arsenokoites only covers sodomy then we have to address other forms of homosexual sex seperately". But in the above review you seem to imply (correct me) that arsenokoites has a much broader meaning, such that Haller would have had to have changed his conclusion had he engaged properly with this word. Am wondering why this is?

    – incest. You write, "Is it not time that we woke up to the fact that Scripture nowhere explicity condemns life-long, faithful, mutual, monogamous incestuous relationships between adults in the same way it doesn’t, as Haller argues, condemn the same-sex equivalent?". But doesn't Leviticus 18:6 give just such a condemnation, given that it rules out all incest? Couldn't it be argued that it's unambiguous in a way that Lev 18:22, for example, isn't?

    – approaching Scripture: you seem critical of Haller for arguing, "it is insufficient simply to condemn those things that are condemned anywhere in Scripture, or to approve those things that are somewhere approved", but isn't that, looked at one way, simply a fair statement of the status quo? For instance, there are very few voices advocating the application of Leviticus 20:13 to men who have sex with men (not that I'm trying to minimise such violence). Or for another instance: it's pretty difficult to argue from Scripture that lending money at interest might be a good, let alone holy, thing to do, but of itself that does not prevent us being part of a system built on it.

    – 'I've said this before, but…' part 727: you make the (looked at one way) brave and honest concession, "An honest appraisal by conservatives should be enough to put to rest once and for all the notion that gay relationships are in some sense qualitatively inferior to marriages in their ability to exhibit love (and see Rowan Williams’ The Body’s Grace)". But as I've noted before (stop yawning at the back), this doesn't cohere with the rest of your position, it seems to me. If committed gay relationships truly do show forth the same quality of self-giving love as do good marriages, why would (or should) folk in them leave to follow a post-gay path, and why should someone single like me (no pushing in the queue) not aspire to be in one? Moreover, how could you then say that same-sex desire is a result of the fall?

    "But the aim of good biblical theology is not to make Scripture fit that which we observe in life, but rather to conform that which we live to that which we observe in Scripture". But that sets up Scripture as giving a 'blueprint' into which everything must be fitted, even in the face of observable experience – I don't think it's too cheap to note that this didn't work well in the Galileo case, for example. And I think it could also be said that it's not a case of trying "to make Scripture fit that which we observe in life", but of, 'if something's a matter of what we can observe, but our observations seem to contradict Scripture, perhaps it's our reading of Scripture that needs revising'…

    End of deluge ;)

    in friendship, Blair

    • Hi Blair,

      Let me try and answer as much as possible of what you've asked.

      Reviewing Other Books – Give me some time…

      Porneia – That would take another lengthy blog post which I haven't got time for at the moment. Perhaps you should get a copy of the book yourself? Needless to say, this is the part of the book where Haller really does good hermeneutics and I'm going to have to go back to my Gagnon and the sources to check out what he's written.

      Arsenokoites and Greenberg – I said "If" the Hebrew of Lev 18:22 only covers anal sex then that would be a good case for arsenokoites i 1 Cor 6 also being just that form of sex. However, in the following essay (S&S 4) I explore what the meaning of malakoi is and why the two words in conjunction seem to pretty much cover all same-sex behaviour.

      Incest – Ah, but the writers of Lev 18:6 didn't know about monogamous, faithful, life-long lving incestuous relationships did they Blair? So obviously these texts don't cover that.

      Do you see my point?

      Approaching Scripture – I think the key to that thorny issue is that Christians are deriving their moral theology from the NT which draws from the OT. Yes, the Law had a death penalty but the new covenant never demands human life in response to sin. OK, actually it does – it demand's Christ's life and that's the whole point. The Law has absolute justice to maintain holiness, the Covenant in Jesus' blood has grace to provide forgiveness and restoration for all sinners.

      I've said this before – Oh yes you have!!! All I'm doing in those last paragraphs is going back to the fundamental disagreement in this debate. Unlike Haller et al, I simply don't read Hooker (and I honestly believe that to read Hooker the way Haller et al do you have to ignore key parts of Ecclesiastical Polity) as saying all sources of authority are equal. Time and time again Hooker gives Scripture primacy, then tradition, then reason. Reason is a useful theological tool, but only when it doesn't contradict Scripture. God's revelation is uniquely reliable in a way the human mind and heart is not.

      • Hello Peter,

        thank you for that. I'll try and be brief ;)

        – "Perhaps you should get a copy of the book yourself?" – well, indeed, but I'm also fairly short of time, and money, so as you've noticed I was trying to get you to post the juiciest morsels so I don't have to order one :)

        – "I said “If” the Hebrew of Lev 18:22 only covers anal sex then that would be a good case for arsenokoites i 1 Cor 6 also being just that form of sex. However, in the following essay (S&S 4) I explore what the meaning of malakoi is and why the two words in conjunction seem to pretty much cover all same-sex behaviour".

        With all due predictability… in the first place, there's no way 'malakoi' and 'arsenokoitai' could cover "all same-sex behaviour" as whatever their meanings, there's no women involved. Second, in S&S part 4 you honestly admitted in the conclusion that it isn't entirely clear what sexual act 'malakoi' might refer to, so there isn't watertight argument for reading the 2 words in conjunction. Then again, if it were accepted that 'arsenokoitai' links back to Leviticus 18:22 so only refers to anal sex between men, it could be read in conjunction with 'malakoi' and you'd have a reading not a million miles from the 'standard' conservative one… though I guess there would be objections to thus limiting the meaning of the words, but what might such objection be based on?

        – yes i get the point :) …but if Leviticus 18:6 is an absolute prohibition it doesn't matter whether or not the writer(s) knew of committed etc etc incestuous unions, does it… I realise that echoes what some would say about same-sex sex, but I've said too many times that there's good reasons to argue that there is no absolute prohibition in Scripture….

        – don't fully understand how your penultimate paragraph links to what i wrote but I think I'm being slightly dense…

        – am not remotely equipped to argue about Hooker with you, but would just say that I'm not sure it's a question of saying "all sources of authority are equal". And as Fr J said below, Scripture has to be interpreted – which is where the human mind and heart come in, n'est ce pas?

        – still don't see how it can be coherent to accept the observation that committed gay relationships can show forth the same quality of love as good marriages, while holding that same-sex desire is a result of the fall… but maybe it's uncharitable of me to push the point.

        in friendship, Blair

  2. Thank you, Peter, for these thoughtful comments. I am glad you found at least parts of the book helpful. I wish you would address, however, the primary thesis that the church has the authority to set aside or ignore biblical commandments, even those that appear in both testaments. That is a fundamental issue, I think, and perhaps that is a fundamental disagreement between us.

    All blessings for a Holy Lent.

    • Hi Father,

      Thanks for coming and commenting. I promise you I will try to do that for you, but it may have to wait till at least Friday as the next 60 hours are furiously busy.

    • "the church has the authority to set aside or ignore biblical commandments"

      That depends on the *type* of command, doesn't it?.. Not even the most fundamentalist literalist would attempt to argue that the church should enforce obediance to a very localised NT command such as "When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas…" 2 Tim 4:13, but I hope that not even the most liberal would suggest the church can set aside the command “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.”

      Jesus' approach to the Law was "fulfillment" – hence giving extremely absolute interpretations of moral and ethical commands (eg Matt 5-7) since moral and ethical law is based on the nature of God (and on humankind being made in His image: "… from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’" Mk 10:6). But on the same basis He happily set aside religious practices, due to his fulfilment of the OT sacrificial system, and did away with ritual purity regulations as the human kingdom was replaced by the ultimate spiritual one, the Kingdom of God (see John 4:21-24 which finishes "God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.")…

      Hence: "He said to them, “Then do you also fail to understand? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile, since it enters, not the heart but the stomach, and goes out into the sewer?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.)" Mark 7:18-19. And Paul, as a Jewish convert, could make a clear distinction between types of OT law, amplifying the moral: "The body is meant not for fornication but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body." 1 Cor 6:13 but setting aside the ritual/purity: "Therefore do not let anyone condemn you in matters of food and drink or of observing festivals, new moons, or sabbaths." Col 2:16

      How can the Church claim authority to change the moral and ethical law in the area in the area of human relationships – I don't think it can without moving away from the Christian revelation of the nature of God.

      In areas that our Lord and His Apostles set aside OT Law (ritual, purity and civil precepts) the Church may be able to do so too, though we should be wary of ignoring the principles behind those laws. But where He and they reaffirmed, and even strengthened, OT moral and ethical laws (and they did this on sexual and relational behaviour) the Church certainly has no authority to abrogate them.

  3. David, I devote a considerable amount of time in the book addressing the concern you raise. The first problem is that the relatively modern distinction between the two categories of law you describe is not in itself Scriptural, though one can argue that changes made "between the testaments" generally fall into the classes you describe. I explore a number of changes in the law based on a very close reading of the laws as written, interpreted within the Scripture, and applied, with some variation, to the Christian context. There are more issues at play than simply moral and ritual/purity. Perhaps most importantly there are laws given particularly for Jews, which Gentiles are not called upon to obey. I explore that at some length, including the requirements of the Jerusalem Council.

    But my larger point concerns the post-apostolic church: there are many "moral and ethical" laws on which the church has made changes from the biblical era of both testaments, and the apostolic or even patristic era. I examine a number of them at some length in the book. The question I raise is, "Are these laws more like the presenting issue (same-sex marriage, btw, not "homosexuality"!) than not, and if so, why? and what can be done?) The question I seek to address is, By what means does the church make such judgments, and can the same mode of judgment be applied to the presenting issue?

  4. The Scriptures are quite clear on the subject of homosexuality.

    That gays have this to deal with instead of say, gluttony, is a very difficult burden. But it is their burden.

    We welcome gay people in our church, as we welcome all other sinners.

    But as we do not allow sinners to advocate and flaunt their sin, we do not allow homosexuals to do so, either.

  5. Tobias, thank you for your reply. I was not, essentially, pointing to various categories of Law – though I would dispute your suggestion that these distinctions are purely modern or that they are not made in NT (just using different language, as I think you agree).

    However, the fixed points that determine whether or not an OT Law (or for that matter a NT command or instruction) can be changed are, in my assessment, not the previous religious laws but the nature of God (and by implication the nature of humankind as the image of God) and the revelation of God's salvation in Christ.

    Similarly I certainly see the Jerusalem council as a key point in determining the Judaizing question, but it was not the fixed point from which the Church decided the issues of freedom from OT laws etc. The words of Christ in Mark are more likely the source of the abrogation of food laws, and Paul saw this as applying to Jewish as well as Gentile Christians – in Galatians for instance – and especially in Romans 14.

    I look forward to reading your book in due course. However, I am sceptical about any approach that attempts to draw parallels with other issues that the Church is purported to have changed its moral stance on subsequent to the Primitive Church. The usual suspects in liberal argumentation tend to be interest on loans (an OT civil law that applied only to fellow Isrealites), slavery (again disapproved of in the OT for Israelites and only tolerated in the NT.. probably cos half the eastern Roman Empire were slaves), women's roles (NT instructions on which appear to be primarily culturally based rather than moral) and maybe eating prawns (which was abrogated by the words of Christ… the repeated referal to this by many liberals shows just how closely many don't read the Bible, or understand the NT!) Did you cover anything new?

  6. David, I do address many of these issues. I think you are overly permissive in your reading about usury, and mistaken on slavery. (The Law mandates Jewish slave-holding as a sign of their deliverance and God's blessing, in both Law and Prophets.) I document both of these at some length. I'm with you on prawns, but the more important issue is the eating of blood: not at all in the same class as the dietary regulations, and a "creation ordinance" consistently addressed in the law and prophets, and upheld by the Council. The church had its reasons (in the West) for removing the prohibition. Close reading is indeed important, as is an argument that actually addresses all of the evidence and not just a few selected verses!

    I also note the inconsistencies between Paul's take on some issues re the Council. And I also address the question of what may or may not be, as you say, "primarily culturally based rather than moral," and who is empowered to make such decisions. Remember, Paul places the submission of women in a "created order" context, with "natural" implications when he addresses the matter in 1 Cor 11. I address the question as well of laws that "apply only to … Israelites."

    More importantly from a theological perspective, I also address the issue of the "image of God" at great length, and suggest that arguments against same-sex relationships that attempt to make use of a particular understanding of what that means (a relatively recent understanding to be sure) are doctrinally problematical from an Orthodox perspective both in terms of Christian anthropology and the doctrine of the Incarnation.

    I hope you have an opportunity to explore the book, and I welcome comments at the blog dedicated to further discussion. Thanks again, and a blessed Lent.

  7. Thanks Tobias, very interesting.. Eating blood certainly was banned in the Mosaic law, so it is not surprising that it comes up in various places in the Law and Prophets. However, I certainly disagree with you that the Jerusalem Counsel meant to ban all Christians at all times and places from eating blood. The Council was addressing "believers of Gentile origin in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia" in their context – with Jewish communities and converts. I guess something similar to their instructions would be applicable to Christians in Muslim countries today. But it is highly unlikely that they understood it to be absolute since Paul, having specifically sought unity and their advice on these matters was soon writing to Rome, Galatia etc that all foods were ok really(!), and that one should just restrict oneself if it would offend a weaker Christian. Similarly it isn't compatiblewith Mark (ie Peter) saying that Jesus himself "declared all foods clean." Mark 7:18-19

    I suppose that it is necessary for liberals to attempt to establish development, rather than consistency and flexibility, in the OT and NT in order to allow changes beyond the scope of what the Scriptures teach? However, I am with those scholars who point out that seminal developments only occur due to a new self-revelation of God. And that, even then, morality doesn't really change as it's based on the character of God.

    The weight of the statement that humankind is made in the image of God is lost on many modern / post-modern thinkers: it's not just you and me as individuals who are made in the image of God but also us in our (genetic) *families* our friendships and all humankind as a race. So ‘God made them male and female.’ means a lot more than that male and female individuals are both the image of God. Barth makes these kinds of points when he discusses our sexual nature – meaning our need for relationship (not necessarily sex!!) It means that Male and female are the complementary types of human – I enjoy recent scientific publications that have measured datat that shows that women are not just feminine men, for instance:

    In the context of this fundamental need for complementarity (rather than just compatibility) it is easier to see why God sees sex as sinful unless the human relationship is permanent and exclusive and also has the proviso that it is between a man and a woman.

  8. Dear David, not to belabor the point (it is Ash Wednesday! — I'm between services…) but the blood prohibition predates the Mosaic Law and goes back to creation (Adam and Eve and their heirs were to be vegetarians; only with Noah is permission to eat meat allowed, and then only without blood.) So this was not understood by the Council or the early church (or by Eastern Orthodoxy to this day!) to be a merely local or dietary matter. It is in an entirely different class. Augustine developed the "out clause" for the West, which was to look at the surmised purpose of the ban, table fellowship with Jews, and there being little intercourse between Jewish and Christian believers by that time, he felt the law had lapsed in scope.

    As I address the "complementarity" thesis advanced by Barth and other since, at length in the book, I won't add more here. Naturally, I do not accept your thesis concerning the "need" for complementarity (and, did you know, research also shows that the brains of some gay men are also different from straight men? and that there are many people who are genetically and biologically intersex?), or your assertion concerning what God thinks about these matters. I am rather more content to do a close reading of what the Scripture actually says and addresses, and be a bit more precise as to how widely I apply the Word of God.

    • …'research also shows that the brains of some gay men are also different from straight men'

      There is also some research on whether this is 'cause' or 'effect' of homosexual behaviour. I think we have a long way to go before we can make a claim like that.

      • Jill, I didn't address cause or effect, simply the fact of the brain anatomy. It may also be true that women's brains are different due to "female behaviour." I don't know if anyone has ever studied that.

        Ultimately, I find the discussion on the etiology of sexuality to be beside the point in any case. Things are not moral or immoral because they are biological, or cultural. They are determined to be moral on the basis of a systematic moral theology — of which there are several different schools of thought.

        • You didn't address cause or effect, but you did bring it up – for what purpose? To try to convince that homosexuality is an inherent characteristic? Yet you now say etiology of sexuality is beside the point – well, I agree here, but then why bring it up?

          There have been many studies of women's and men's brains (left-brain and right-brain) and – hey – we are different!

          But this is all by-the-by. I don't want to sidetrack this thread. I just felt that should be challenged.

          • Jill, I did not "bring it up" — David did in the post above, and I was responding to that claim. I was trying to demonstrate that such biological matters are irrelevant to the moral issues. Whether one's sexuality (whatever it is) is "inherent" or not is no clue to whether ones actions given that sexuality are moral or not.

            And everyone is different to everyone else in many ways, and like them in many ways. Again, not really a moral point, just a fact.

            • My bad – I beg your pardon, I hadn't read David's link. This phenomenon is something I am quite interested in, and am often inciting to my husband as an explanation of why I can't read a map and why I have no sense of direction! (Among many other character flaws!)

  9. Interesting analysis, Peter. I largely agree, particularly given the example you give of life-long, loving, consensual incestuous relationships. I also appreciate the point you make, which of course you've made before, that it is a fallacy to say that same-sex relationships cannot exhibit the same degree of love as marriages (perhaps even more in the case of David and Jonathan!), but that this does not answer the underlying question about the place of sex in such relationships and whether or not they are to be viewed as identical to marriage.

    A few questions do come up for me, however:

    1) You said, “The aim of good biblical theology is not to make Scripture fit that which we observe in life, but rather to conform that which we live to that which we observe in Scripture.” If I’m understanding you correctly, I think I agree, but the caveat would be that scripture must be interpreted. Classical Anglican theology upholds the ultimate authority of scripture, but the scripture must be read in the context of reason and tradition. As Bishop Peter Gunning put it in a 1662 sermon, “For that the leaving of every man to make anything of any text, upon any device out of his own head… to the opposing of any constantly received doctrine or practice of the Church Universal… leaves all bold innovators which can but draw away disciples after them, to be as much lawgivers to the Church by their uncontrollable law-interpreting, as any Pope or enthusiast can or need pretend to be.” Would you agree that tradition and reason are necessary tools for the interpretation of scripture? If not, why not?

    2) Again, stemming from the same quotation, Blair makes the point above that there is such a thing as observable experience which should cause one to re-evaluate their reading of scripture. While I think this is often pushed way beyond its limit by liberal scholars, there is some truth here, is there not? Yes, we evaluate our experience in the light of what the Bible teaches us, but if and when we make discoveries through our experience that contradict our understanding of what the Bible teaches, don’t we have to at least explore the possibility that we’ve been misunderstanding the Bible, in addition to exploring the possibility that we've misunderstood our experience?

    3) Given how heavily Haller quotes from Jewish sources of interpretation, I wonder how much you think a Christian interpretation of scripture can or even must square with Jewish midrash?

    All of that being said, I look forward to seeing your response to Haller’s thesis that the Church may retain or dispatch with certain laws so long as the law of love, as interpreted by Jesus, is the paramount consideration. Personally, I find this thesis to be powerfully interesting and, like most heresies, partially true. But I’ll refrain from saying more until you’ve had a chance to respond.

  10. Briefly (as I am off out shortly for the rest of the day).

    The blood issue is very easy to answer. Abstinence from blood was commanded to the Hebrews because of the symbolism of the atoning death of Christ – "The life is in the blood". The sacredness of blood as that which contains life was a foreshadowing of the blood that would be spilt on the cross by Jesus. As with many aspects of the Mosaic Law which are symbolic and foreshadow the work of Christ (i.e. *all* the cultic worship of the priests at the altar), once Jesus' blood was spilt for us on the cros, the prohibition on consuming blood ceases to have any prophetic purpose since the act it prophesied had now come to be. Of course, the early church (and Acts 15 / Galatians) is full of the tension between Gentile converts and Jewish believers, and the prohibition in Acts 15 on blood can be seen in that context (and remember, the communication from the Council of Jeruslam is not to do with what is and isn't moral but rather how these two different ethnic groups of Christians can compromise to live side by side as they discern what the life of grace is). As the church became predominantly Gentile the need to abstain from blood became unneccesary.

    Compare this to other commands from the Council of Jerusalem on sexual activity which are repeatedly picked up and emphasised by the Epistlers. This helps us see which aspects of the Acts 15 communications were non-negotiables (sexual immorality) and which were temporary requests, the need for which would pass in time.

    • """Abstinence from blood was commanded to the Hebrews because of the symbolism of the atoning death of Christ – “The life is in the blood”. The sacredness of blood as that which contains life was a foreshadowing of the blood that would be spilt on the cross by Jesus. As with many aspects of the Mosaic Law which are symbolic and foreshadow the work of Christ (i.e. *all* the cultic worship of the priests at the altar)

      Nonsense. One can understand why evangelicals feel the need to reduce the Jewish Scriptures to Christ-analogy bingo, but it manifestly is imposing subsequent ideologies *on* a text in a way that gets called silly eisegis when liberals do it (c.f., in contrast, a few millenia of rabbinical tradition). This isn't a million miles away from the attempted 'explanations' of OT dietary laws on health grounds, or the idea that Judaism lacks a concept of Grace.

      • Yes, it reminds me of the “discovery” made by the author of the Epistle of Barnabas. Abraham pursued the kings with 318 servants, which in Greek numerals is τιη. Do you see the tremendous significance of this? The last two letters, ι and η, point to the name of Jesus (’Ιησους), and the τ represents the cross of Jesus, which it resembles in shape. The soi-disant Barnabas declared this to be one of the most valuable pieces of instruction that he had ever communicated.

        • Tempted, in all seriousness, to ask you to define 'about'! If all reality itself (including, surely, language?) is infused (or whatever term you would use) with symbolic references to Christ then surely its an exegetical error to over-analogise any OT reference to blood, (or nails, or shepherds, or Kings, or death, or light, or any other hundreds of words that are the natural vocabulary in describing *aspect* of Our Lord or His ministry?) It's also curious that an exegetical approach seemingly mandated by Orthodoxy is also very much the stuff of "Death of the Author", Writerly text, "What does it mean to *you*?", modernist approaches to mere literature. Afterall, an Omniscient Being could surely make 'history' as allegorical as any other genre/mode of experience, so the modern evangelical division into 'laws' 'history' 'poetry' etc etc is hardly convincing.

          And surely part of the point of the OT dietary laws is that they are *not* explicable in a modern sense. They indicate a relationship, where Israel obeys (or should!) God's requirements, rather than requiring (or even deigning to speculate on) a list of reasons why (e.g.) pork and shellfish are bad. The latter is modern, flesh-y thinking. If (say) keeping Kosher improved someone's relationship with G-d then it's surely as much 'moral' as it is 'ceremonial' or 'symbolic'.

  11. We have also, as I think I’ve mentioned before, the angel Gabriel’s greeting to the Virgin Mary, which in the Vulgate is “Have gratia plena”. Do you notice that “Have” (or “Ave” in classical Latin) is Eva(h), the Latin equivalent of Eve, backwards? This wonderful reversal of “Eva’s” name is commemorated in v. 2 of the ancient Latin hymn, “Ave maris stella”:

    Sumens illud Ave

    Gabrielis ore,

    Funda nos in pace,

    Mutans Hevae nomen.

      • Well, Peter, whoever wrote the hymn "Ave maris stella" didn't think that THEY were being silly, and obviously a lot of other people didn't think so either, because that hymn has continued to be sung for about thirteen centuries since it was written, and there are some very beautiful choral settings of it, e.g. by Palestrina and Grieg. There are a number of English versions of it, one of which goes, in part: "Eva's name reversing, 'stablish peace below." Makes you cringe, doesn't it? I'm glad to say that I haven't heard it sung for some years now.

          • Well, Peter, I'm not really trying to prove anything. I'm just trying to say that I'm extremely sceptical of attempts to read into the Bible things that the text doesn't actually say, even if the resulting interpretations are hallowed by centuries of tradition. I go along with the principle enunciated by Fr John Wijngaards, MHM, that no biblical text (or any other text) can say more than its human author intended to say.

            • I realise that you need to undermine the inspiration of all Scripture in order to defend your positions, but it is disappointing that this leaves you unable to acknowledge the over-arching beauty of how everything God has revealed points to his Son. It should be obvious to anyone who is serious about letting God speak through his

              Word that He is not limited by any human frailty.

              • But the *readers* of Scripture are human, and therefore by definition limited in ways that God is not, surely? Also, you, Peter, think your approach is elevating Scripture in relation to the more localised approach. Other think , myself included, that such an approach is self-evidently vulgar and simplistic and therefore hardly one most naturally suited the glories of Scripture itself. Disagreements on this issue can exist in good conscience, and hardly indicate an attack on Scripture *itself*. Although I would say that, although it would be nice if the record of history validated Sola Scriptura notions on Scripture having self-evidently moral and simple meanings available easily to all, it very much has not. And acknowledging reality is a good idea even if it – or especially if! – it contradicts particular theological notions that float one's boat.

            • """"I go along with the principle enunciated by Fr John Wijngaards, MHM, that no biblical text (or any other text) can say more than its human author intended to say.

              Finnegans Wake?

              • Sorry, Ryan, that cryptic comment is lost on me. I might understand it if I’d ever read “Finnegan’s Wake”, but I haven’t. (I dimly remember reading “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man”, although I don’t think I ever finished it.)

                Fr John Wijngaards is (or was – I’m not sure whether he’s still alive) a Dutch RC priest and a Mill Hill Missionary. The principle that he enunciated seems to me an eminently sound one. Once we allow that a biblical text can have a meaning in addition to that which its human author intended (which itself can often be difficult enough to decide), then that meaning might be anything whatsoever. I think that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was right when he compared this way of interpreting the Bible to “the ciphers which some ingenious critics have detected in the plays of

                Shakespeare”, and remarked that a creed based on it “could only be the mother of a thousand heresies.”

                • A Portrait… is excellent. Joyce might be an arch-modernist but the evocations of Religious Joy, when Stephen becomes a devout Catholic and contemplates ordination, is superb.

                  Finnegans Wake was deliberately designed to attack and reinvent the conventions around language, meaning that more modern scholars have unsurprisingly found references that could not have been intended by Joyce.

                  But arguing from authorial intent is generally considered a fallacy – with good reason! Authors can change their minds on texts, and a good variety of them are known to be mad, bad, and dangerous to know, meaning that one can hardly treat their statements (in, e.g., letters) as Holy Writ. And 'reality' is complex with a variety of potential meanings that can be derived from it – and art is *at least as good* as reality.

                  But you make some good points about the Bible. Many is the evangelical who's looked at 'but blood is the life thereof' passages and expounded on Jesus giving us new Life. I'd argue that such a reductionist approach is just as inane as the parody I posted (is the fellow who gets a tent-peg in the skull in the OT functioning in a Christ-analogy? If not why not? etc)

    • I always liked the bit on Judas going and hanging himself. Clearly, it evidences the destructive nature of sexual sin; note the parallel between 'hanging' and the phrase 'well-hung' which we might well now use in reference to the sort of person who would get lots of sex. One thinks of the "I made my own house be my gallows" characterisation of Judas' hanging, known for thousands of years. Also note that Judas' hanging is bad, and with a rope, meaning the opposite of it must be not bad, therefore good. Clearly the opposite of soft rope is a hard cross, so one sees that even in the very Gospels there is Christ-symbolism everywhere…indeed, the very cross consists of a parallel and a horizontal beam, indicating that Jesus suffered like mere earthly humans, whilst the parallel beam indicates Our Lord's post-crucifixion reality of rescuing the OT prophets from Hell before going literally up as he Ascends to the Father.Note that a rope hanging down, in a noose, looks like a snake, so here we see a clear parallel between Judas and the Snake (Satan) in Eden, apt as the symbolism sustained by the Incarnation moves towards the "Final Act" of metaphorical – but wholly literal – Redemption, where the Tree of Knowledge is superseded by the Tree of Life, which is The Cross, Crosses famously coming from Trees, which are made of wood, which rhymes with "Jewed", the Jews calling for Our Lord's crucifixion and so unwittingly serving the Divine Plan …..


      Anybody can knock off stuff like that all day wrong. I'd maintain you have to be perversely ahistorical to take such an approach to the scriptures, even if people get an understandable (although, frankly, almost Gnostic)religious joy in the shout of spiritual BINGO!

      • There's a clear difference between the kind of allegorical nonsense you are spouting and asking serious questions about how Christ is foreshadowed in the Law and Prophets that he himself fulfilled. The only person you are showing up is yourself.

        • Parody is indeed exactly that, but I note that you ignored the more serious points above (beginning "Tempted"; is all reality 'about' Jesus in a way that doesn't entail over-analogizing Scripture? Doesn't language bear the effects of The Fall? If not why not? etc)

          Also 'foreshadowing', as literary technique, in no way entails passages that are PRIMARILY symbolic or allegorical in meaning, so one can agree with the idea of foreshadowing (Scripture obviously is a grand narrative of sorts, not a collection of short stories!) and still find the old Christ-analogy bingo readings wholly ridiculous ( evidenced in the readings of millenia of rabbinical tradition). And of course any good Protestant would agree that a fallacious reading approach is a fallacious reading approach, irrespective of whether it was coined five years ago in L.A., 100 hundred years ago in Rome, or 700 years ago in Jerusalem.

  12. Dear Peter,

    The comments seem to have wandered considerably both from your review and my book! Let my just flag one issue, raised by Fr. J., concerning my use of early Jewish and rabbinic sources. My aim in doing so was primarily to address assertions by folks like R Gagnon that Jesus, or Paul — as 1st century Jews — would "naturally" have understood certain terms in certain ways. Taking up that assertion, I actually examine the Jewish texts contemporary with the time of Jesus , texts from the period preceding his earthly ministry, and subsequent texts from that tradition that purport to record a rather lively rabbinical dialogue from the early centuries of our era. And after that examination, I find that the assertion does not "cover the evidence." I certainly have not neglected the early Christian material — but it is another thing to address issues (such as Jesus and the Apostles addressed) that are tied up with fine points of Jewish law, without consulting a few good Jewish lawyers! In this I am following in my birthday saint Jerome's checking some of his translation from Hebrew with contemporary rabbis.

    On the blood matter: your exegesis is well within a patristic style even if it conflicts with what the Fathers actually said on the subject. My chief objection would be that as the prohibition on blood is antelapsarian, and is therefore a sign not of the Fall, but a sign of the state of humankind in its innocence, that it is hard to see how removing the blood prohibition would jibe with Christ's restorative role. On the contrary, I think it could be argued that abstention from the blood of animals is all the more appropriate for those who have been saved by the blood of Christ. My point is that abstention from blood is a part of the church's tradition, still supported as late as Wesley (there's an evangelical view!), included in the canons, and used in the early church as a defense against accusations of infanticide. ('How could those who do not even drink the blood of beasts be conceived of as drinkers of the blood of infants?' Eusebius, Eccl Hist 5.1)

    Thanks again, and all blessings.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.