As time marches on, Scripture — particularly the teachings found in the Old Testament — diverge more and more from a modern, secular worldview. The answer to that growing divide, it seems, is to reshape the Bible into our culture’s own morally relativistic image.
Over the weekend, The New York Times ran an op-ed by Idan Dershowitz, a self-proclaimed biblical scholar. In the piece titled, “The Secret History of Leviticus,” Dershowitz claims earlier versions of the biblical book actually “permitted sex between men.”
At the center of Dershowitz’s grievance is Leviticus 18, in which the Lord said to Moses, “Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable.” But by the article’s end, Dershowitz, with the help of what he described as “a little detective work,” had found a way to entirely bypass biblical teaching against same-sex relations.
According to him, Leviticus was compiled over a long period of time and contains words from “more than one writer.” In fact, he argues the section in question “was added by a comparatively late editor, perhaps one who worked more than a century after the oldest material in the book was composed.”
“An earlier edition of Leviticus, then,” he reasoned, “may have been silent on the matter of sex between men.”
But I think a stronger claim is warranted. As I argue in an article published in the latest issue of the journal Hebrew Bible and Ancient Israel, there is good evidence that an earlier version of the laws in Leviticus 18 permitted sex between men. In addition to having the prohibition against same-sex relations added to it, the earlier text, I believe, was revised in an attempt to obscure any implication that same-sex relations had once been permissible.
But Dershowitz’s piece makes no mention of the fact that, in the New Testament, the Apostle Paul offers an even stronger condemnation of sexual immorality — regarding both men and women — in his letter to the Romans.
“Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another,” Paul writes. “Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.”
In a blog post critical of Dershowitz’s column, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Albert Mohler explains why Paul’s repetition of Old Testament principles regarding sexuality is so fundamental to the interpretation of Scripture.
“Crucial moral teachings of the Old Testament Holiness Code that are binding upon us are repeated, and often amplified, in the New Testament,” Mohler argues. “Christians may eat shrimp without sin, for example, but are fully bound by laws against any sexual activity outside of marriage, the covenant union of one man and one woman.”
Mohler furthermore questions the logical thrust of Dershowitz’s claims. If the “original” writings in Leviticus didn’t prohibit homosexuality, contrary to the current text, how can it be proven the earliest manuscripts did contain prohibitions against “incest and bestiality, for example.”
In today’s morally squishy society, it’s proving increasingly difficult to say anything is inherently, absolutely objectionable. After all, in May, a TEDx speaker described pedophilia as a “natural” sexual orientation not unlike heterosexuality.
While the speaker, a medical student, admitted pedophilic actions “will end in a disaster,” she argued it’s incumbent upon the general population to accept those deviant inclinations as legitimate sexual desires that must remain dormant. But for how long? How can one describe something as “natural” and at the same time forbid its practice.
Carried out to its logical conclusion, particularly in this morally relativistic era, it’s not a matter of if we will step away from godly understanding of sexuality. Rather, the question is when and how far will we walk.
Dershowitz ends his article tellingly: “One can only imagine how different the history of civilization might have been had the earlier version of Leviticus 18’s laws entered the biblical canon.”