Misunderstanding the Old Testament

A friend of mine recently posted the following picture on Facebook:

OT NonsenseI took it upon myself to try and respond to the misunderstanding exemplified by this picture. I’ll post the response below for the benefit of anyone who may be interested in reading it. You may notice that it isn’t as detailed or as precise as my usual writing. Therefore, since I have written on these topics before, I’ll include a link to an article that I did on the book of Sirach.

Here’s my comment:

Due to time/energy constraints, I’m going to write this briefly and I’m mostly going to make biblical allusions, not quotations.

Firstly, there’s the question of how Christians are supposed to approach the Mosaic Law. Luckily for me, there is a connection between this and the question of homosexual marriage. There are some allusions to the Mosaic Law in the Gospels, but I think that the clearest references (clearest in terms of meaning) are those found in Acts of the Apostles and the Letter to the Galatians. In the Acts of the Apostles, Peter has a dream in which he sees a platter full of unclean (by Mosaic standards) animals. Then, he hears the voice of God telling him, “Slaughter and eat.” Peter refuses, saying that he will not touch unclean food. This is repeated three times, and on the third time, the voice of God says, “What I have made clean, you will not call unclean.” After that, Peter informs the Apostles of his dream and they decide to allow newly-converted Christians to eat foods that were formerly forbidden. 

Why the change? St. Paul explains it pretty well in the Letter to the Galatians. Essentially, what he says is that God revealed himself gradually to the Jews, not all at once. For them, the laws served the purpose of preparing them to receive the Messiah. However, once the Messiah arrived, there was no longer any need for the Law. Upon further examination, some of which will be clarified later, it becomes clear that the laws can be categorized. Some of them expressed timeless moral truths, such as the Ten Commandments. Some were merely hygienic. Others were meant to moralize the Jews. (Which makes a lot of sense out of some of the more horrid-sounding laws, for example, that rapists be required to marry their pregnant victims. Sounds awful for the bride right? Well, of course, but this was a means of holding a man accountable for his actions. Now, instead of having a woman and a child with no economic means of support, Israelite society now has a man who will have to spend the rest of his life embracing the consequences of his actions and providing for a woman he wronged and a child he brought into the world.)

Then, there’s the question at hand. What does all of this have to do with homosexual marriage? Well, the New Testament makes very few mentions of homosexuality, and only mentions sexuality of any sort a handful of times. However, there is one passage that is very relevant here. Here is a bit from the beginning of Matthew 19 (The capital letters are quotations from the Old Testament):

Some Pharisees came to Jesus, testing Him and asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason at all?”4And He answered and said, “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning MADE THEM MALE AND FEMALE,5and said, ‘FOR THIS REASON A MAN SHALL LEAVE HIS FATHER AND MOTHER AND BE JOINED TO HIS WIFE, AND THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH’?6“So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.”7They said to Him, “Why then did Moses command to GIVE HER A CERTIFICATE OF DIVORCE AND SEND her AWAY?”8He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way.9“And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”

Jesus makes it clear that some of the Mosaic Laws were made out of political expediency. However, God had not intended marriage to be as it was under that law. (In other words, all of the Old Testament allusions in your photo above are irrelevant.) So then, to find out how marriage was “supposed to be” according to Jesus, what we have to do is go back to “the beginning” or Genesis. There, we find a man and a woman in a lifelong commitment. So then, according to the Christian view, as derived from the Christian approach to the Bible, a marriage is supposed to be between a man and a woman and there is to be no divorce.


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About mattd4488

My name is Matt. I am currently a doctoral student at the Catholic University of America. My specialization is in Christian Ethics / Moral Theology. My aspiration is essentially to be a "translator" who makes the ethical tradition of Catholicism accessible to the lay secular world.
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12 Responses to Misunderstanding the Old Testament

  1. Thank you for sharing the meme. Beautiful photos, and a good point well made.

    You see, divorce is condemned in the words of Jesus himself- and why quote Matthew, rather than Mark from whom Matthew got the words, and who gives no exemption for adultery? Some say that Jesus’s allusion slightly further on to “eunuchs born eunuchs” is to gay men, who are thereby unable to have sex with women. Some imagine that it is extremely important to have the Bible unequivocally condemning gay sex, and so deny that, I have not assessed all the evidence- but the argument is there.

    So, where are the crowds protesting against divorce?

  2. mattd4488 says:

    As a Catholic, I believe that both Matthew and Mark wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, so, on this subject, I think who got the words from whom is unimportant. Matthew wasn’t just copying Mark down rote. He had his own theological purposes. I quoted Matthew and not Mark because I was more familiar with Matthew’s presentation of this point.

    I don’t think that the part about eunuchs is referring to gay men; that seems like a bit of a stretch.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if there have been crowds protesting divorce when it was made easier to do in the past. However, not all Christians are against divorce (mostly just Catholics, it seems) and, since Catholics are in the minority in this country, there won’t be as many people opposed to it. Furthermore, and more fundamentally, the existence of divorce does not alter the character of marriage, just weakens it. Same-sex marriage does change the character of marriage. Furthermore, the crowds gathered in protest of same-sex marriage went to protest and unprecedented change in federal law. Crowds gather in Washington for such things all the time.

  3. Your friend obviously has no concept whatsoever of the Scriptures. Following is line of reasoning, there would be nothing in the Bible that is of value. He is in effect arguing for a literalistic fundamentalism that is found only among the most strict Hasidic Jews.

  4. mattd4488 says:

    w00t! Thanks :) Maybe a vocation talk? Being a religious layperson.

  5. thomas devine says:

    Mat

    You are an inspiration. The work you do in the bookstore is evangelical. How many saints were the people opening the door to visitors. You have an opportunity to advise people looking for books, CDs, etc. Good luck at CU.

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