How is gay sex unnatural?

Over at the Christian blogsite The Gospel Coalition, Kevin DeYoung offers some provocative, timely thoughts on why the arguments for gay marriage are persuasive, also presenting rebuttal from a traditional point of view and recommendations for how to better engage the issue. I recommend the whole thing. In the course of it, he makes a striking cursory comment: “…we need courage not to just say what the Bible says, but to dare say what almost no one will say–- that gay sex is unnatural and harmful to the body, . . .”

WoweeZoweeCourage is good. And it is also good to be aware of what is heard when someone says that “gay sex is unnatural.” In our soundbite and meme-based culture, what actual content do those four words communicate? It turns mostly on the term unnatural. Does one mean:

–not practiced in the wild (except, you know, by Bonobos and all the other animal species among which gay sex is actually found)?!

–contrary to something being au naturale (you know, the way clothes are unnatural)?!

–not according to the normal workings of nature (the way that spectacles and air conditioning are unnatural)?!

–“weird” and “gross”?!

In other words, how could calling gay sex unnatural ever be taken seriously?!

One way to understand something as “unnatural” is to go against some essential characteristic of some thing, especially in its final (purposive, goal-directed) characteristics. Here the thing under consideration is human sexuality, or the sex act itself. And to stop a particular tape from running, I should clarify that the purpose in view for sex isn’t children. Children are a primary fruit of sex in general, but not its telos or goal in the sense that could be understood as an essential characteristic. Rather, the goal of human sexuality is complementary union–that is, the joining together of two beings who are sexually differentiated (male and female). When sex is ‘diversified’ in its use in a way that violates this principle of the unity of two sexually differentiated beings, this is understood as an unnatural use. Traditionally, gay sex has been considered unnatural in that it goes against the purpose of human sexuality, which is complimentary union. That is how I take it.

Some may recognize that as some quick and dirty philosophical analysis for a truth believers came to believe by way of a sacred text. Genesis says that the two shall become one flesh, and the two it is picking out are male and female, that is, differentiated by their sexuality.

Only some accept the authority of sacred text, and perhaps fewer are interested in reflection about human sexuality along traditional lines, even if its only as deep as I got above. As far as I can tell, for gay sex to be “unnatural” entails the presence of teleological characteristics in nature. It means that sex was given to us with a purpose. In other words, it implies a traditional philosophy of nature. And that’s not necessarily how most people think of sex. So, calling certain types of sex unnatural requires some background (as well as courage).


Yes, Yeshua “did” Hanukkah


John 10 features Yeshua arguing in the Temple, proclaiming Himself to be one with the Father, explaining that His sheep hear His voice. Its an amazing passage; check it out! As a sidenote, John 10:22 is often cited to establish that Yeshua celebrated Hanukkah. But some doubt that basis. After all, it doesn’t say that Yeshua “did” any specific holiday thing (other than of course showing up in the Temple). Where is His official Spinning of the Dreidel and His Eating of the Latkes with Applesauce? For that matter, where is His Festive Parody of a Carly Rae Jepsen song (“here’s a menorah/ so light it maybe”?). How do the mere mentions that it was the Feast of Dedication and that Yeshua was at the Temple in Jerusalem give believers such high confidence that Hanukkah is actually a “Jesus-thing”? After all, John also mentions “winter”– so too the Feast could have been mentioned as just another time-marker. Perhaps a little skepticism makes sense.

As to why He would be in Jerusalem Temple at the time of the Feast of its Dedication, well that certainly does require explaining if He wasn’t celebrating Hanukkah. Yet some commentators (Calvin) allude to such an explanation: being there was simply expedient or convenient. This idea is a little bit like how a minority of religious Jews (Lubavitch, for example) do not personally believe that there can be a valid State of Israel before the arrival of Mashiach. Nevertheless, they still “show up” there and bless Israelis. They do so as a convenient way to show love toward all Jews and to reach those who have come to settle the land (though they disagree with the decision to settle). So on this theory, Yeshua showed up because it was simply a good opportunity to speak to His people, though He Himself didn’t identify with this particularistic, nationalistic celebration of Jewish military victory.

The problem is that this doesn’t take into account Hanukkah’s real significance. It is not always appreciated the importance of Hanukkah to ordinary Jews in Yeshua’s day– not just political but spiritual. The retaking of the Temple from foreign desecrators was understood by all to be an act of God (a miracle). Moreover, it was still the most recent memory of divine intervention, only about two hundred years back, less than the time from the signing of the Declaration of Independence to now, or a little more than the time from the Emancipation Proclamation. The Hanukkah drama increased as the ruling dynasty itself fell into apostasy and the people were once again under foreign rule. Remembering the original heroic struggle gave a foretaste of what God will do in the future in redeeming His people finally and forever.

One bit supporting this that I find interesting is the use of names in Yeshua’s neighborhood. As Richard Bauckham notes in his book Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, the most popular names of 1st century Israel known from literature and inscriptions (which match the names used in the New Testament) most often owed their popularity to the Maccabees. With a notable few exceptions (which I believe include Yosef and Ya’akov), parents picked the names of Maccabees and the Hasmonean dynasty (Judah, Miriam, Eleazar/Lazarus, Yochanan, Matityahu, Yehoshua/Yeshua, Shimon, Yonaton, Salome), and not, for example, Adam, Eve, Seth, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Moses, Elijah, David, Jeremiah, Isaiah, Malachi or other obvious choices from the Bible. The story of Hanukkah was a deep part of the common Jewish worldview– the worldview of Yeshua and the Apostles.

Sure, this doesn’t “prove” that Yeshua did Hanukkah, but we would need some evidence to suggest Yeshua would have held shockingly exceptional beliefs about not celebrating Hanukkah (to contrast with the earlier analogy, that is what we do have in explicit teachings of some minority opinions that the state of Israel is not legit before Moshiach comes– Israel’s popularity and convenience as a base of operations to other Jews notwithstanding). But no evidence that Yeshua held those opinions exists. On the contrary, Yeshua never shirked from the understanding that His people had a covenant-relationship with God, rooted in the Torah, which was proved by Divine acts throughout history (John 4:22).

So, it may be more accurate that to say that we know Yeshua celebrated Hanukkah because we know that He participated in the common Judaism of His day. And John 10:22 simply underscores and reminds us of this. Happy Hanukkah!

Tagged , , , , ,

If you fast, may it be easy (and meaningful)

Here is Rav Matt’s well-put idea of reversing the traditional Yom Kippur custom. I like it; it leads to good reflection. If we just go through the motions then this custom of wishing for others a fast as easy as possible could lose its meaning altogether. Also, I am now curious about the origin of the custom of wishing tzom qal (“[have] an easy fast”) for Yom Kippur. I spent only a few minutes looking, but if you find out please put it in the comment box.

So, ishave an easy fast something which needs push back? Should we instead wish difficulty for people who plan to hunger and thirst? Is asceticism and personal suffering ever the point of fasting?

For example, there are folks who could get a migraine by completely avoiding food and drink, but they still want to fast to the best of their ability. Should I at least pray that their fast is easy, not only meaningful and challenging? One might think that a migraine is but another affliction that could eventually bring such people closer to God. But doesn’t it seem pretty uncaring not to wish their ease, since migraines are unusually miserable?

But here’s the rub: if we pray against suffering when it happens in a large degree (migraines), why not suffering to a lesser degree (cramps and aches)? In other words, just how much personal misery is actually implied by the command such that we should look to deny anyone an easy fast? That question is rhetorical as any answer would be arbitrary. The point isn’t to feel lots of pain but to abstain and focus on our relationship to God; the pain is only meant to be a by-product of that lack. Thus, I suspect that the custom to wish an easy fast is actually a rather good thing and complements the text. The greeting still means that there will be a fast, a self-denial, an affliction; it is not saying “don’t have a fast.” The idea is “may your self-denial not cause you needless suffering.” And that’s a biblical and caring wish.

Yeshua, Modern Scholarship, and the Credibility of Torah

Here we have Dr. W.L. Craig answering and counseling (link currently down) a history major on why he should drop the silly notion of a Yeshua-Horus parallel. It gets interesting half-way through, where he concludes that in contrast to the discredited scholarly trend of the late 1800s to put Yeshua in a pagan mythological context, “when you read Jesus against a Jewish milleu, the credibility of the Gospels has been tremendously enhanced… ” He remembers a conversation with Prof. James Crossley at University of Sheffield:

I asked him “Why do you think it was that this approach to Jesus in German theology used this pagan mythology as the interpretive grid for Jesus, when it is so obviously wrong.”  And he said it is because of German anti-Semitism.

… all of the sudden the light went on for me. I thought… This is exactly the same sort of anti-Semitism that led to National Socialism in Germany right up through the Second World War… they wanted an Aryan Jesus!  They didn’t want a Jewish Jesus. And so New Testament theology was derouted into interpreting Jesus in the framework of these pagan religions, which is a total distortion of who Jesus really was. So I would encourage you that you just divest yourself of this point of view. Its utterly outmoded among scholars….

Of course, he’s not saying because some idea is outmoded, you shouldn’t believe it. Nor is he saying that because it came from anti-Semites, you shouldn’t believe it. Instead, he already gave a brief argument as to why the theories have been rejected: parallels are completely spurious when considered in light of primary sources, and even where a parallel could be shown, this does nothing to show a causal connection. Still, a friend who watched the video observed: “Anti-semitism in the milieu of Julius Welhausen and his contemporaries… Who would have thought!”  This got me thinking about the comparison.

Julius Welhausen was was not the first to argue that the Torah should be torn into pieces– that is, deconstructed according to various layers assembled over centuries, through an evolutionary (and completely naturalized) history– but his work using that approach was landmark. However, as my friend alludes to, it has also been shown that at the height of German criticism of Torah, antisemitism was at play– among other problematic assumptions, in my opinion.

Though both the deconstruction of a Mosaic Torah and the deconstruction of Jesus find their origins in a largely anti-semitic scholarly world, this does not tell us whether either is true or false. I don’t myself believe most of the conclusions of this kind of Torah-criticism. But it has a bit more plausibility than attempts to base Yeshua in pagan mythology. This is not because of something inherently better about the New Testament, but stems from temporal distance; we are much closer in time to the events of Yeshua’s life and the Jewish movement which proclaimed him than we are to the events laid out in the Torah. Often apologists claim 600,000 witnesses as unique proof of the Torah, but the problem is that this claim doesn’t come through a series of independent accounts (unless you deny Mosaic authorship), but through the one Torah. The New Testament presents different (indeed, differing) witnesses and attestation, which are pristine in the context of late antiquity. Thus, it is difficult to imagine Dr. Craig attempting to show similar disdain in a public Q & A towards critical approaches which treat Torah history as legend (though he believes in the Torah as sacred Scripture and history). My impression is that a scholar who doubts the existence of Moses doesn’t put herself outside the realm of serious discussion. Whereas, Professor of New Testament and very liberal critic Bart Ehrman has recently written a book which debunks the theory that Jesus is a pagan copy-cat legend. That’s how off the map the idea is.

I can’t help but find this situation interesting when you consider the approach of some whose mission it is to try to argue people out of faith in Yeshua, with the assumption that they are helping them embrace and live the Torah. I have noticed that they frequently dip into this well of pagan-origins conspiracy theories in service of Judaism. As one person who uses this approach even admitted to me: “when you are in a war, any grenade will do.” But I am convinced this is helping the wrong “team” in such a case. Certainly from a Jewish perspective it is strange to argue against Yeshua based on a largely uncritical acceptance of pagan parallel theories, when these theories were originally concocted by Jew-haters. In the long-term, it is bad history and due to its kitchen sink skepticism it also works against a positive case for the Torah. Only naiveté and bias could redeem an acceptance of the Torah if one is willing to buy into the sort of criteria required to believe that Yeshua is based on mythological pagan characters.

Trust in the historical Yeshua stands against the tide of pop-skepticism, and as such undergirds faith in the earlier Torah history of the Jewish people. Rejecting Yeshua on grounds tainted by anti-semitism does not strengthen Judaism.

I am going to get super serious soon

but until then you should check out

Yahnatan, who made a funny

Miri’s cupcake sweepstakes

Did I leave anyone out? That you should have a good time with your friends. 


Coming this August: AMF

Traditionally, in the minds of the masses, AMF stood for a chain of successful bowling alleys. But all this must change, because those three letters have a higher purpose.

Picks for AMF

Continue reading

Chosen, People (Part 3 – interwoven plan for Jews and Gentiles)

His third and final subquestion is:

3. Does God have a separate plan for Israel apart from the Church?

The question inverts the order of the biblical narrative. It should be asked: Does God have a separate plan for the Church apart from Israel? The only good answer is no, since to be a believer in the Messiah of Israel connects you to the people of Israel. There is no plan for the church outside of its connection to Israel. As long as you keep the narrative in order, supersessionism is unnecessary for there to be a unified plan. 

Many believe that God has a continuing covenant with Israel, separate from the Church. This is usually base[d] passages like Romans 9-11, although the context is often ignored. In Romans 2:28-29, for example, the Apostle Paul defines ‘Jew’.

“A person is not a Jew who is one only outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a person’s praise is not from other people, but from God.” (Romans 2:28-29)

This polemic by Paul is directed toward a person who already bears the name ‘Jew’. He is arguing that for those who are already Jewish, the real point of being Jewish is an internal spiritual calling, not simply an outward identity. It is disastrous to take this passage as making gentiles into spiritual Jews. I know that because in the debate proper, Sizer emphatically denies that he is erasing Jewish and Gentile identity, yet to take this passage to define what it means to be a “Jew” does just that. Since he thinks of being Jewish as otherwise being a race, it is easy to see why he would fall in that trap. A dichotomy between a “racial” Jew and a “spiritual” Jew makes sense for the supersessionist (they are indeed so far apart). God was not working with mere races nor with disembodied spirits, but with actual peoples.

That is why in Romans 9, the term ‘Israel’ is limited to those who acknowledge the Lord Jesus.

“It is not as though God’s word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham’s children. On the contrary, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” In other words, it is not the natural children who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring.” (Romans 9:6-8)

However, he gives this one sense of believing Israel which puts it in the category of those descended from Israel. Note that the “child of the promise” was still a natural child born of Abraham, but he was also of the promise. So it is not an exclusive disjunctive. This is in line with Romans 2, and does not abolish the normal sense of “Israel” as being a national people.

In the letter to the Philippians, Paul explicitly identifies the church as the true ‘circumcision’ (Phil. 3:3).

It is not explicit or implicit. He identifies “We” as the circumcision, which far more likely means himself and those others, who, unlike “the mutilators,” put no confidence in the flesh, i.e. do not seek to circumcise Gentile believers for their salvation. Circumcision of the heart (a metaphor for spiritual renewal in God) is what truly matters for all people (Jer. 17:6). “The church” is not in view. He is not dissociating Jewish circumcision from true circumcision.

This is entirely consistent with the Old Testament, where, as we have already seen, citizenship of Israel was open to all ‘those who acknowledge me’ (Psalm 87:4).

This is definitely an interesting Psalm to use.

Psalm 87:1 By the sons of Korah, a psalm, a song, whose foundation is in the holy mountains. 2 HaShem loves the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob. 3 The most glorious things are spoken of you, O city of God, Selah. 4 I mention Rahab and Babylon to those who know me, and behold there are Philistia and Tyre, with Cush, “This one was born there.” 5 But of Zion it can be said, “Man after man was born in her,” and He, the Most High, maintains her thus. HaShem will count, when He records nations, “This one was born there,” Selah. 6 But singers as well as flute players, all my wellsprings are in you [O Zion].

This is the Art Scroll Stone Tanach, and it is a plausible translation of the Hebrew. It is a Psalm which holds up “Zion” as the great center of the earth. Interpretations differ, but what are the grounds to make it out to say that “citizenship of Israel was open to all ‘those who acknowledge me.’”  It does not include Rahab and Babylon, Philistia and Tyre, and Cush in the definition of Israel or Zion, or counts them as born in Zion such that they should become part of the definition. They don’t become citizens of Israel. Rather it lavishes praise on Zion, because it is the city of God. The psalm brings other locations – even enemy states of Israel, like Philistia and Babylon – into the picture without denigrating them, but it doesn’t use other locations as a means to redefine or spiritualize Israel. This is in line with the case that God does not have a separate plan for the body of Messiah apart from Israel.

Romans 9-11. Of course God has not rejected the Jewish people. His covenant purpose for them, as with every other race, has always been ‘that they may be saved’ (Romans 10:1),

Great! Yet Scriptures present a far more developed covenant purpose for Israel other than spiritual salvation of its individual members.

to create one people for himself, made of both Jews and Gentiles (Romans 11:26).

Again, let’s recall the two meanings of “[one] people,” as this is a place where Sizer clearly wants to reduce distinct senses. Israel is “[one] people” in the sense of one nation (an extended family with a national-religious identity, if you will). That someone who was of the Nations, a foreigner, could join Israel does not change the fact that such a person would be joining an extended family with a national religious identity. That’s the nation refered to in Romans 11:26, as is clear from the chapter. The New Testament nowhere implies that gentiles must become Israelites to be a part of the saved people (the Church); but rather they join a multi-national commonwealth of Israel.

The second larger meaning of people (in Sizer’s usage and drawn from NIV paraphrases) is supra-national, that of a people drawn from many peoples (clearly what Messiah does). Israel (who are a people in the first sense) is distinct from the Gentiles (various nationals, who are of peoples in the first sense as well). In Messiah they are unified in the second sense: to speak of one people (in the second sense) from the Jewish people and all other peoples is true in its own right. But it does damage to read that sense into Romans 11, since the distinction between peoples are crucial to Paul’s argument.

God’s covenant purposes are fulfilled only in and through Jesus Christ. This is most fully explained in Ephesians 2.

“Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” … remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one … His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.” (Ephesians 2: 11-16)

Citizenship is used throughout, as he is meaning it to imply by it identity as a member of the people of Israel, but an alternative (and I think, better) translation is “the commonwealth of Israel” (so NASB, ESV, KJV, RSV). The Gentile believer’s membership within the commonwealth maintains the close connection to Israel while at the same time maintaining the ordinary distinction between Israel and the Nations which is so plain throughout the Scriptures (the distinction is as ordinary as the distinction between men and women!). Paul’s implication that gentiles become part of the commonwealth of Israel, and are thus closely connected to the God of Israel in Messiah, anticipates what was invisioned by Isaiah 56, in which all peoples (nations) connect to the God of Israel in God’s House (the Temple). The way in which one posits “citizenship in Israel” will depend on whether one is ready to drop a false notion of replacement (certainly, Paul had Roman citizenship, but he was not of the people of Rome or the people of Italy or anything like that). In the kingdom of Messiah, all who trust in the God of Israel are citizens of Israel’s commonwealth. That is consistent with and dependent on the biblical notion of the chosenness of the Jewish people.

To summarise, in the New Testament we are told explicitly that the promises were fulfilled in Jesus Christ and in those who acknowledge Him as their Lord and Saviour. God’s blessings come by grace through faith, not by works or race (Ephesians 2:8-9).

“Fulfilled” does not mean ended.

“The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. Scripture does not say “and to seeds,” meaning many people, but “and to your seed,” meaning one person, who is Christ… There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:16, 28-29).

Yet, men and women, while in one spiritual family of Messiah, nevertheless have distinction in gender and calling. Israel and the Nations are one in the spiritual family of Messiah, but the national identity and multinational (Gentile) identity also remains.

It is not an understatement to say that what is at stake is our understanding of the gospel, the centrality of the cross, the role of the Church, the nature of our missionary mandate, not least, to the beloved Jewish people.

He’s right. And the inability of supersessionist theology to provide an adequate theory to the above matters underlines the crucial importance that it be revised and repented of.

Chosen, People (part 2)

In Part 1 I noticed a problem with the way that supersessionists approach this term “chosen people” in advancing the argument that the only chosen people are Christians: they mean something different by “people.” Usually in the Bible, “a people” means “a nation,” but when applied to “Christians” it means a non-national grouping which is unified in some other way (by faith in the Messiah). Thus, there aren’t two chosen peoples, they just mean something else, and that’s cool. But the problem is that this new sense replaces the usual sense of “people”  (nation), leading to the denial that the “chosen” language worked out in the Hebrew Scriptures (Deut 7, etc.) really applies to the Jewish people. Let’s continue: Continue reading

Chosen, People (part 1)

Today was Purim, a celebration that God preserved the Jewish people from destruction (Esther 9:23). I’ll celebrate with a text-argument party. Some say that the Jewish people isn’t God’s Chosen People, and that the Church is the “True Israel.” This is known as supersessionism. I’ll be using something Stephen Sizer (in bold) prepared for a TV debate, mostly as a foil. Now, I haven’t bothered with his book-length critiques of Christian Zionism, etc., and in some ways Sizer is a problematic choice. But I do feel that in such tight, debate-ready statements there is already a lot to consider and unpack, especially because his presentation captures the way people think about these questions. For ease I’ll break it down in into parts. Continue reading

Messer and the Hebrew Roots Marketplace

And besides being wise, the Kohelet also imparted knowledge to the people. (Ecclesiastes 12:9)

Is touching here the issue, or something else?

The time for commenting on Ralph Messer has passed (for the sad story and good reactions you can go here, here, here and the updates at the bottom of that link). Yes, it stinks that he lavished praise on a religious leader who abused his power through sexual misconduct, and yes, though the semantic and factual errors take a second place to that, those give plenty reason to embarrass and offend (and for some, amuse). The misuse of sancta was grotesque. He did apologize in a later video for offending various groups, but then he doubled down and offered a confusing defense (he was taken out of context with all the errors (as it turns out he wasn’t), he was invited to talk to Christians who know nothing (will consider this below), the Torah scroll was unkosher and just a gift to a man, and anyway, it is okay to touch it. also something about juju curses). This is all old national news.

I am glad that he clarified that he is “not Messianic,” and that mainstream (and even non-mainstream) Messianic groups have clarified that they have no association with him. However, I still wonder: what can I learn from his example?   Continue reading