lamb-leftWhat the Bible Really Says by J. R. Hyland
From Humane Religion

Chapter 18: SEXUAL SINS

It was not only in regard to the Samaritans that the teachings of Jesus defied conventional ideas of morality and righteousness. He also said that prostitutes were closer to entering God’s kingdom than those who thought the scrupulous observance of various rites and rituals were proof of their virtue.

Jesus made that statement to the chief priests and scribes during a trip to Jerusalem that turned out to be the last week of his life. The day before, he had driven out of the Temple those who were buying and selling animals for sacrifice, totally disrupting the preparations for the killing of the Passover lambs. This had so infuriated the religious leaders that “the chief priests and the scribes tried to find some way of doing away with him; they were afraid of him because the people were carried away by his teaching.”[1]

But the next day he was back again, speaking to the crowds that gathered around him in the Temple. And he said that those who were thought to be pious and serving God were not necessarily doing God’s will; that giving the appearance of piety and devotion was no guarantee of righteousness or redemption. The religious leaders were heckling him as he spoke, trying to get him to say something for which they could report him to the authorities. Finally, Jesus became exasperated and for the moment, stopped speaking in parables. He spoke quite plainly to those who were harassing him, telling them they were incapable of even recognizing a prophet when one was sent to them by God. And then he said “I tell you, the tax collectors and the harlots will be making their way into the kingdom of God before you.”[2]

That statement was as startling in the time of Christ as it would be today. Telling the priests and scribes that prostitutes were closer to God than they were infuriated the self-righteous. Prostitutes were considered pariahs and although their sins were not a solitary vice, the men who used them to satisfy their lust usually remained respected members of the community.

This was not the first time Jesus rejected conventional attitudes regarding sexual sins. Unlike John the Baptist, who was so outraged at illicit sex that he lost his life  because of it. Christ never seemed particularly disturbed by the sexual involvements of the people with whom he came in contact. Months before, when he was in Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles, the religious leaders had brought a woman taken in adultery to him. The story of that woman, who was about to be stoned to death by the self-righteous men of her community, is reported in the Gospel of John.

“(Jesus) came again into the temple and all the people came unto him; and he sat down and taught them. Then the Scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman who had been taken in adultery; and when they had set her in their midst. They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses in the law commanded us that such should be stoned; but what sayest thou? This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him.[3]

Because Jesus fraternized with those considered sinners, the pious men who were about to kill the woman thought he might say she should be set free - a rejection of Mosaic Law that would guarantee reprisals. But instead of answering their question, he posed a challenge to them: “Let he that is without sin among you let him cast the first stone.”[4] The Bible reports that one by one they withdrew and seeing that all who had condemned the woman were gone, Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn thee; go and sin no more.”[5]

Although religious leaders past and present, seem to be particularly offended by the breaking of sexual taboos, Christ made it clear that this hierarchical system of sin was man-made. The sexual sins for which man demanded death were no different than other kinds of sins for which there were lesser--or--no--penalties.

This was not a new teaching. Seven hundred years before the birth of Christ, the prophet Hosea equated the sin of adultery with being unmerciful, untruthful or lack-ing knowledge of God. “Hear the word of the Lord, ye children of Israel; for the Lord hath a controversy with the inhabitants of the land, because there is no truth, nor mercy, nor knowledge of God . . . (but) swearing, and lying, and killing, and stealing, and committing adultery.”[6]

And in a direct refutation of the Mosaic Law, which called for the death of adulterers, the Bible reports that God told Hosea to restore his constantly adulterous spouse to a position of respect and honor. “The Lord said to me, ‘Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another and is an adulteress . . .So I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver and about a lethak of barley. Then I told her, ‘You are to live with me many days; you must not be a prostitute or be intimate with any man, and I will live with you.”[7]

The Prophet Hosea was also told that the sexual sins of women, always treated as the greatest disgrace to the societies in which they lived, were not seen that way by the Lord. Why should they be singled out for divorce and punishment, while the men who solicited their services did not suffer the same penalties?

“Hear the word of the Lord, you children of Israel, for the Lord has a controversy with the inhabitants of the land . . . I will not punish your daughters when they play the harlot nor you daughters-in-law when they commit adultery for the fathers and husbands themselves go aside in order to be with women who prostitute themselves for gain and their sacrifice at the alter with harlots who surrender their chastity..”[8]

The men of Christ’s time were familiar with the oracles of Hosea, but the gospel story of the woman taken in adultery makes it obvious that they had ignored the prophets of love and restoration, of kindness and forgiveness. Instead, they chose the violence of stoning a woman to death.[9]

And now, many centuries after the death of Christ, even the widely known story of his rescue of the adulterous woman has done little to change the attitude of those who continue to be scandalized by sins of the flesh but are undisturbed by sins of social injustice or a lack of mercy and compassion.

Because Jesus did not single out sexual sins as a target of his indignation, contemporary Christian leaders who are outraged by such sins had to find a source for their denunciations elsewhere in the New Testament. They found it in the words of St. Paul, who never met Jesus.

In his letter to Timothy, Paul wrote: “We know that the Law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious . . .for adulterers and perverts, for slave traders and liars and perjurers and for whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine. . .”[10]

Although liars and perjurers still abound both within and without the Christian community, those vices do not receive the emphasis given to same-sex sins referred to, above, as perversions. And although Paul’s letters take up more than half of the space given over to the New Testament, out of that huge body of work only two sentences even allude to homosexuality. [11]

Like the letter to Timothy, a letter that Paul wrote to the church at Corinth is also used to denounce sexual transgressions. “Do you not know that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers shall inherit the kingdom of God.”[12]

Sermons that denounce fornicators and homosexuals are very well received in Christian churches. But although the same scriptural verse excoriates swindlers, liars,  and the covetous, those vices are rarely condemned from the pulpit; it is easy to understand why they are not.

The word “covetous” that Paul used is also translated as “greedy” in the New Testament. (The Amplified Bible calls it “greedy grasping.”) And in a Christian cul-ture in which the Prosperity Gospel is constantly preached, it is not surprising that sermons opposing “greedy grasping” are so rare.

The Prosperity Gospel teaches that the resurrected Christ has been given all power in heaven and on earth and wants to bless his followers by making them healthy and wealthy. That, is fact, this is their right as Christians. It is a contemporary restate-ment of the age-old belief that wealth is a sign of God’s favor. And for Christians who have been converted to the Prosperity Gospel, it overrides the fact that Jesus said it would be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. He also warned against “the deceitfulness of riches.”[13]

Although Christ’s attitude toward sexual sins was one of forbearance and forgive-ness[14] this did not characterize His attitude toward those whose greed had eroded any sense of responsibility for the downtrodden. He related a parable in which a man who lacked such concern ended up in hell.[15]

The story Jesus told was about a beggar named Lazarus[16]  who lay in the street out-side the gate of a wealthy man’s house, hoping to get some leftover food from the garbage that was thrown out each day. As the master of the house came and went about his daily business, he paid no more attention to Lazarus then he did to the hungry dogs that he passed by outside his gate.

Eventually both men died. Lazarus went to be with the Patriarch Abraham, in a place where righteous Israelites expected to share an inheritance in the world to come. But the rich man, Dives,[17] went to hell.

In telling of the repercussions that resulted from Dives’ lack of concern for the suffering of the beggar, Jesus was continuing in the tradition of prophets like Isaiah and Ezekiel who warned that the dire consequences men said would come upon a nation because of sexual immorality, were actually the result of sins of social injustice.[18]

Jesus addressed the religiously observant of His day about their priorities; “Alas for you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You who pay your tithe of mint and dill and cumin and have neglected the weightier matters of the Law- -justice, mercy, good faith! . . You blind guides! Straining out gnats and swallowing camels!”[19]

But such messages are ignored. In spite of the prophets and in spite of the Christ who forgave sexual sins but said that the man whose wealth blinded him to the plight of the poor would be consigned to a hell of his own making, human beings continue to be more interested in condemning sexual sins than they are in confronting the sins of the greedy.

[1]  Mark 11:18 JB

[2]  Matthew 21:31

[3]  John 8:2-6  KJ

[4]  John 8:7 KJ

[5]  John 8:7 - 11 KJ

[6]  Hosea 4:1, 2  KJ

[7]  Hosea 3:1-3 NIV (lethak = about 10 bushels or 330 liters)

[8]  Hosea 4:1, 14  AMP

[9]  Leviticus 20:10,. But the Law did not specify stoning, which involving the same king do violence as a lynching.

[10]  I Timothy 1:9, 10  NIV

[11]  Even that is a matter of debate among scholars. The Greek word arsenokoites has been variously translated as abusers of themselves with mankind; perverts; homosexuals, catamites; sodomites. The word is only used twice in the NT, an anomaly in itself, and its actual meaning is debated by scholars.

[12]  I Corinthians 6:9, 10 NAS

[13]  Matt 13:22  NAS

[14]  Luke 7:36-50; John 4:13, 26; John 8:11 TEV

[15]  Luke 16:19-31 TEV

[16]  No relation to the Lazarus who was raised from the dead.

[17]  The man’s name is not mentioned in the Bible, but he has been traditionally called ‘Dives’  (Latin for “rich man”)

[18]  See this book, chapter 2 on Sodom

[19]  Matt 23:23, 24  JB

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