So we are now three posts in to my response to Daniel Helminiak; so far we’ve seen blatant logical fallacies, and some pretty fancy eisegetical gymnastics, but we’re not through yet! This train wreck continues on for another couple of paragraphs, so we’ve still got some work to do.
Today we’re going to look at Helminiak’s attempt to tie Romans 1:24-27 to the Old Testament Law, and see if that boat can actually carry him where he wants to go.
In this passage Paul is referring to the ancient Jewish Law: Leviticus 18:22, the “abomination” of a man’s lying with another man. Paul sees male-male sex as an impurity, a taboo, uncleanness — in other words, “abomination.” Introducing this discussion in 1:24, he says so outright: “God gave them up … to impurity.”
But Jesus taught lucidly that Jewish requirements for purity — varied cultural traditions — do not matter before God. What matters is purity of heart.
“It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles,” reads Matthew 15. “What comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.”
Or again, Jesus taught, “Everyone who looks at a women with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). Jesus rejected the purity requirements of the Jewish Law.
In calling it unclean, Paul was not condemning male-male sex. He had terms to express condemnation. Before and after his section on sex, he used truly condemnatory terms: godless, evil, wicked or unjust, not to be done. But he never used ethical terms around that issue of sex.
Helminiak’s argument is this: Paul uses the term “unclean”, which is a reference to the Levitical purity laws; we all know that Jesus has set the believer free from the keeping of the purity laws, so therefore, we don’t have to take Paul seriously here, since the purity Laws have been abrogated.
First, in order to make this argument work, Helminiak must deal with Matthew 5:17-18. Herein Jesus explicitly states that He did not come to abrogate the Law or the Prophets, but to fulfill them, and that in fact, not the slightest stroke of the Law would be set aside until the end of time. It’s not such an easy thing to get around Jesus’ own teaching regarding His relationship to the Law. This does not mean that we may use the Law as a means of self-justification; however, it does mean that we need explicit warrant to claim the abrogation of a specific section of the Law.
Second, Helminiak must prove that this particular section of the Levitical code is in fact part of the ceremonial law that reaches its fulfillment in Christ. I would categorically agree that there are certain ceremonial/cultic laws in the Old Testament that prefigure Christ, and that are set aside with his advent. Some examples would be Passover, and the laws regarding ritual cleanliness. However, there is no good reason to assign the prohibitions against homosexuality to the category of ceremonial law. They do not anticipate the person and work of Christ in any sense whatsoever. Moreover, the fact that homosexuality was to receive the death penalty in Israel places these prohibitions in the sphere of other moral offenses punishable by the Jewish civil magistrate, not in the sphere of temporary ceremonial legislation.
The predominant character of the laws found in Leviticus 18-20 is moral, and their content is generally recognized as binding today (for example, prohibiting incest, adultery, child sacrifice, slander, etc.). Therefore the context doesn’t support the automatic dismissal of the prohibitions against homosexuality as strictly ceremonial. Helminiak must produce a viable criterion for distinguishing between moral and ceremonial laws, or else abandon his argument.
We have New Testament warrant for discontinuing obedience to the sacrificial system. However, the Scriptures never alter God’s revealed law regarding homosexuality, but leaves us under its full requirement (cf. Deut. 8:3; 12:32; Matt. 4:4).