Thursday, March 13, 1997


This is an excerpt from my book, Two Sexes, One Flesh: Why the Church Cannot Bless Same-Sex Marriage (Solon, Oh.: Latimer Press, 1997). Used with permission.

CHAPTER 2: Thinking Biblically about Marriage
By tracing marriage back to the purposes of God in creation, the Bible views marriage as an institution ordained by God for all people and not as a special revelation for Jews and Christians only. At the same time, Jews look to the Torah and Christians to the Old and New Testaments to constitute their own understanding and to clarify secular understandings. Until very recently, Jews and Christians almost universally would have found the idea of same-sex marriage unthinkable. It simply would not fit their understanding of the biblical worldview.

But then up until recently, Jews and Christians would have found issues of no-fault divorce and in vitro fertilization unthinkable. An appeal to biblical data alone is not sufficient to establish doctrine or prohibit innovation. We must ask whether the particular kind of teaching found in Scripture about the nature and morality of marriage is of a sort to be changed by some developing insight or some new human discovery.

In this chapter, I shall argue first that although there is no text that says “No same-sex marriage,” the Bible does present marriage in a form incompatible with homosexual unions. Second, I shall argue that the kind of moral principle underlying the biblical understanding of marriage and sexuality is not susceptible to revision and that therefore biblical sexual norms are binding on the Church today and in the future. Third, I shall examine the ways liberationists try to revise or reject biblical teaching.

The Argument from Silence

“The Bible has nothing to say about same-sex marriage. No single text can be adduced to prohibit or endorse such a practice.” This observation appears to have relieved some proponents of same-sex marriage from the necessity of justifying their position from Scripture. I will argue, to the contrary, that the general moral principles of the Bible lead clearly to the proscription of same-sex marriage. This is the way the Church has consistently (though often tacitly) interpreted the Spirit’s voice speaking through Scripture.[1]

Sounds of Silence
The silence of Scripture can be just as telling as its explicit word. There are principles of reason built into the fabric of the cosmos, human nature, and the Bible that speak with all the authority of a Mosaic command (cf. Psalm 19:1-4). Over against those Puritans who winnowed Scripture for every “rush or straw” of moral instruction, Richard Hooker argued that certain moral duties were “biblical” without requiring a proof-text.[2]

The force of an argument from silence depends very much on the subject matter involved. Scripture, for instance, has nothing to say about lovemaking techniques. Neither does it speak about artificial contraception. Nor about wife-beating. Yet it would be an error to infer from the Bible’s silence that these cases are equivalent. In the case of sexual technique, the silence of Scripture is a warrant for free and prudent personal decision by each couple. Contraception is a more complex question. Contraception thwarts the biblical mandate of procreation for particular acts but not necessarily for marriage as a whole. In this case, the silence of Scripture may not be so much indifferent as arguable. Prohibition of spouse abuse, on the other hand, follows necessarily from the foundational law of equity and Jesus’ Golden Rule (Exodus 21:20-27; Matthew 7:12).

So even though the Bible says nothing directly about these modern issues, some practices can be prohibited with assured biblical warrant. Such is the case with same-sex marriage. The moral logic of such a prohibition goes like this:

1. The Bible, both Old and New Testaments, defines marriage essentially as a monogamous union of man and woman, and without exception condemns non-marital sexual acts as immoral (Genesis 2:25; Deuteronomy 22:28-29; Hebrews 13:4; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11).
2. The Bible, both Old and New Testaments, consistently declares that homosexual acts are unnatural, illegal, and immoral (Leviticus 18:22; Romans 1:18-32).
3. Therefore, according to biblical norms, same-sex marriage is impossible and same-sex activity immoral.

This logic informs the 1991 Statement of the Church of England’s House of Bishops:

There is, therefore, in Scripture an evolving convergence on the ideal of lifelong, monogamous, heterosexual union as the setting intended by God for the proper development of men and women as sexual beings. Sexual activity of any kind outside marriage comes to be seen as sinful, and homosexual practice as especially dishonorable. It is also recognized that God may call some to celibacy for particular service in his cause. Only by living within these boundaries are Christians to achieve that holiness which is pleasing to God.[3]

The total absence of any treatment of same-sex marriage in the Bible confirms its impossibility as a Christian option. That the present “dialogue” is even taking place is a sign not of new fields of biblical insight but of breaking boundaries (cf. Ephesians 5:3).

No Wholesome Examples
The Bible communicates its worldview not only by propositions but by examples.[4] The Bible gives no examples of erotic love between persons of the same sex at all. Homosexual advocates have tried to enroll David and Jonathan and Ruth and Naomi as same-sex models.[5] These examples actually hurt the case for same-sex marriage by showing the depth and variety of non-erotic loves possible outside marriage. David and Jonathan are two married men who are strong friends, not “lovers”; and Ruth is a woman who risks her reputation in order to preserve the family line of her husband and mother-in-law.

The Bible is not reluctant to show a variety of heterosexual marriages, which are hardly the stereotypical “Ozzie and Harriet” relationships. Strong, godly wives are found from Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, down to Elizabeth, Priscilla and Eunice. Corrupt couples from Samson and Delilah to Ananias and Sapphira are also noted. Scripture gives examples of couples like Hannah and Elkanah, and Zechariah and Elizabeth, who experience childlessness as a loss without in any way delegitimating their marriages. Finally, the Bible commends examples of men and women who respond to a call to single abstinence or to the circumstances of widowhood: Deborah, Jeremiah, Paul, and Lydia. But despite this variety, the Bible does not even hint at the possibility that a formal marriage between people of the same sex could serve as a model, good or bad. Same-sex marriage simply does not appear on the biblical radar screen.

Jesus’ Implicit Teaching on Same-Sex Marriage
Not only is Scripture silent about same-sex marriage: Jesus himself said nothing explicitly on the subject. This is not surprising, given the fact that no one in the first century was even dreaming of such an innovation. Nevertheless, Jesus set out for his disciples in the Sermon on the Mount a method of working from the general and original principles of God to particular issues (Matthew 5:17-48).

Specifically, Jesus’ way of answering the Pharisees about divorce forms a close analogy with our contemporary dispute.

And Pharisees came up and in order to test him asked, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife?” He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce, and to put her away.” (Mark 10:2-4)

Jewish tradition had come to regard the “Mosaic exception” (Deuteronomy 24:1-4) as a legal principle allowing divorce at the will of the husband. Jesus refuses to accept the exception as a rule:

“For your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder.” (Mark 10:5-9)

Jesus’ reply to the Pharisees moves logically from premise to conclusion:

1. He grounds the two-sexes-in-one-flesh institution of marriage in God’s original creation and thus in his changeless will for human fulfillment.
2. He reminds them that the Mosaic exception was a concession to sin, hardly justifying indiscriminate use.
3. He argues that since the marriage bond is God’s institution prior to the Law, it is not subject to mere legal dissolution.
4. Basing his teaching on the unchangeable character of marriage, he forbids divorce to his disciples.

The setting of this passage in Matthew’s Gospel suggests that the apostolic Church pondered carefully the implications of Jesus’ marriage teaching. First of all, the apostles understood marital fidelity to be a challenge to a “higher righteousness” equivalent to the call to lifelong celibacy (Matthew 19:10-12). Secondly, they distinguished between the absolute form of Jesus’ prohibition of divorce and the pastoral truth that “unchastity” breaks the marriage bond (Matthew 19:9).[6] Thus they allowed divorce in some circumstances. Finally, they understood Jesus’ principle of two-sexes-in-one-flesh as abolishing polygamy, concubinage, and levirate marriage, even as Judaism continued to tolerate them (cf. Matthew 22:23-33).

The Pharisees posed the question whether one man could be married to two women. Today homosexual advocates ask: “Is it legitimate for a man to marry a man, or a woman to marry a woman for any cause?” Could we not formulate the Lord’s reply by analogy with his reply to the Pharisees?

“Have you not read that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female, and 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’? So they who become one flesh are two sexes, male and female. Since therefore God has united distinct sexes, let no one unite the same sexes.”
In the chapters that follow, I shall seek to follow Jesus’ method by surveying biblical teaching from Genesis through the Law to the unique Christian significance of marriage as a type of Christ’s covenant with the Church.

Can Biblical Sexual Norms Be Revised?

If it can be established that the Bible, reasonably construed, prohibits same-sex marriage, does this settle the question? What kind of authority does the Bible have over the Church’s moral teaching?

The Sources of Biblical Authority
All Anglicans admit to a certain “primacy” in the way Scripture functions in the Church.[7] This primacy is explicit in several of the Church’s classic formularies:

Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought necessary to salvation. (Article VI of the Articles of Religion, in Book of Common Prayer, page 868).
The Church hath power to decree Rites or Ceremonies, and authority in Controversies of Faith: and yet it is not lawful for the Church to ordain anything that is contrary to God’s word written, neither may it so expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another. (Article XX, Book of Common Prayer, page 871).

“I do believe the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God, and to contain all things necessary to salvation.” (“Ordination Vow,” Book of Common Prayer, page 526)[8]

The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament as “containing all things necessary for salvation,” and as being the rule and ultimate standard of faith. (Chicago/Lambeth Quadrilateral, Book of Common Prayer, page 877)
These Anglican formulations of biblical authority make several important points:

· the Bible is a verbal revelation, “God’s word written,” which contains inherent authority over the Church and its members;
· the Bible tells the story of salvation, and as a “rule and ultimate standard of faith,” it also contains doctrinal and ethical norms that can be “proved”;
· the Bible’s revelational unity applies not only to the Old and New Testaments but extends to the Church today in its life and councils.

Contemporary “reader-response” criticism of the Bible has alerted us to the various ways the Bible shapes the mind of the believer. The Bible is not simply a law book or a doctrinal textbook, but it is that too.[9] When it does speak normatively, whether explicitly or implicitly, the primary response of the Christian and the Church is to obey its teaching.[10] The institution of marriage and sexual norms are just such normative teaching, which led the bishops of the Episcopal Church to the following conclusion in their 1977 Pastoral Letter:

It is clear from Scripture that the sexual union of man and woman is God’s will and that this finds holy expression within the covenant of marriage. Therefore this Church confines its nuptial blessing to the union of male and female.[11]

Revising Biblical Authority
How is it possible, given the Anglican formularies and the plain meaning of the texts which speak of marriage and homosexuality, that the issues surrounding homosexuality should be so controverted? The reason has to do with another approach to authority that can be labeled “revisionist.”[12] Revisionists begin from the assumption that “the Bible has since the eighteenth century been dethroned as a document of propositional authority.”[13] They see Scripture as a “mass of strange delights which we may wish and take” – or even refuse if we so choose.[14] The Bible, they contend, contains religious insights and metaphors, some good and some bad, strung together in a story or “narrative.” The core authority of this story lies in its testimony to human liberation and the evolution of religious consciousness modeled on the purported radical spirituality of Jesus. Given the vast diversity of historical contexts and theological viewpoints found in the Bible, the idea of “proving” doctrine or establishing moral norms directly from specific texts of Scripture is considered at best naive and at worst fundamentalistic.

Does the Core Hold?
The marginalizing of biblical moral norms in the Episcopal Church was recently confirmed by the Righter Court when its majority claimed that

doctrine is not found but rather is grounded in Holy Scripture. Holy Scripture is the story of our relationship to God. It is not at heart a rule book of doctrine or discipline. It is a foundation on which and by which all doctrine and tradition are to be tested.[15]

According to the Court, “Core Doctrine” refers to the bare bones of the Christian story.[16] The Church is free to reconfigure any other doctrine, which would include all morals and institutions like the family. The Court did admit that certain uncontested moral matters like adultery, theft, and assault might be grounds for disciplinary action, but not homosexual practice.[17] But why, one wonders, should they single out adultery for proscription, especially in a society in which many marriages are abusive or dead?[18]

Once the doctrinal tether has been cut, Scripture sails free like a loose balloon, wafted along a general story line by the wind of the Spirit. Thus, in the view of Bishop Frederick Borsch,

[t]he stories and allied material of the Bible provide the sense of direction – the signposts – which enables disciples to experience God’s presence in the world and to learn of his purposes. They offer a source of power to do his will. At the same time they free Christians from being bound to any absolute authority other than the Spirit of God made best known in Christ to whom the Bible points. Nothing else can be required as necessary for belief and faithful living.[19]

The “liberating” of the Spirit from the authority of the text opens the door to various forms of libertinism, ancient and modern. In addition, it allows Church leaders to impose their own agenda or their own ambiguities without the need to justify them from the exegesis of Scripture. Many positions are now justified with little or no evidence that the proponents have wrestled with the Word.[20]

Abstracting Form from Content
From the earliest times, the Church has had to resist those who held the form of religion while denying the binding power of its content (cf. 2 Timothy 3:1-5). Contemporary revisionists who “support” their view of homosexuality from the Bible tend to divorce general forms from the specific content of biblical teaching. William Countryman, for instance, in his oft-cited book Dirt, Greed, and Sex, consistently distinguishes abstractions like purity, property, or inclusivism from their embodiment in specific teaching, even applying them against the plain sense of the text. Countryman’s logic works like this:

· The content of moral norms as a part of biblical purity codes, and of marriage norms as a part of family property codes, is irrelevant to modern Christians. But the strangeness of the form of these ancient codes serves to “relativize the present” and opens us up to new attitudes and practices.[21] Once liberated by the Gospel, the forms of purity and property are filled by new content.
· Purity now has nothing to do with avoidance of specific practices, such as masturbation, non-vaginal heterosexual intercourse, bestiality, polygamy, homosexual acts, and erotic art and literature. Purity now has to do with an attitude toward sex as a “blessing of creation” received as part of the kingdom of God.[22] Because Countryman has emptied created order and the kingdom of God of any traditional content, his ethic ends up as an extreme version of the ethic of intimacy.[23]
· Property, now separated from a specific social order, is defined as ownership of oneself or one’s body. What does this understanding do to marriage as an exclusive, two-sexes-in-one flesh institution? Countryman admits that “marriage creates a union of flesh, normally indissoluble except by death,” but in the same breath he commends pre- and post-marital sex, cohabitation, no-fault divorce, adultery, and prostitution.[24] Marriage, it appears, is only one of several possible fleshly unions which the individual may endow.

Another way of divorcing form and content is by proof-analogies (to coin a phrase).[25] Countryman, for example, draws an analogy between Jesus’ declaring all foods clean (Mark 7:19) and the idea that all sex acts may also be clean.[26] This analogy is particularly strained, since in the same passage Jesus teaches that fornication begins as an evil imagination that defiles a person when it is acted out (Mark 7:21-23).[27] In a recent essay, Countryman draws an analogy between the decision of the Jerusalem Council to take the Gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 15) and “deliberate departures from scripture and tradition” by the contemporary Church.[28] Once again, the analogy is merely formal. The Jerusalem Council did not deliberately depart from Scripture, but became convinced that Paul’s call and ministry fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies and thus was not a departure from Scripture (Acts 15:15-18).[29]

The Slavery-Women-Gays Analogy
The proof-analogy of “slavery-women-gays” is cited by some revisionists today as if it were virtually canonical. The argument for the analogy is stated rather baldly by the Canadian bishop, Michael Ingham:

We no longer believe women should be silent in church. We no longer believe in the divine right of kings and rulers, nor in the institution of slavery, nor in the prohibition against usury, nor in the slaughtering of scapegoats, nor in the beating of children with rods. All these we find in Scripture. But they are not God’s Word. They are the words of an ancient culture. And an increasing number of us believe that the exclusion of gay and lesbian people falls into the same category.[30]

The problem with the slavery-women-gays analogy is that it mixes very different institutions and practices and makes a number of unwarranted claims about what the Bible teaches.[31]

· Slavery, unlike marriage, is not a creation ordinance but has existed because of the hardness of the human heart. The Old Testament makes permanent enslavement of one Hebrew by another impossible (Leviticus 25:39-40); and in the New Testament Paul counsels the slave-owner Philemon to release Onesimus “as a beloved brother” (Philemon 16). In the case of slavery based on skin color, the appeal to Scripture by American slave-owners was a total rationalization based on a distorted reading of “the curse of Canaan” (Genesis 9:24-27). The fact that the Bible treats slavery as a possibility that must be endured (cf. Esther 7:4) does not constitute a justification for holding slaves, but rather a touch of realism.[32]
· The relationship of women and men is much more complex. The Bible clearly teaches that men and women share the same humanity and the same eternal inheritance. It also teaches that they are distinct sexes, intended to be joined in marriage. Marriage participates both in the original creation order and in the fallen order of sin where the husband “rules over” his wife. In contrast to slavery and certainly homosexuality, Scripture consistently commends the created structure of heterosexual marriage, even as the New Testament offers a vision of male and female roles redeemed in Christ (Hebrews 13:4; Ephesians 5:21-33).
· Homosexuality is treated in Scripture as a disordered orientation to the Creator and creation, and both homosexual and heterosexual fornication are considered immoral acts. The Gospel offers justification through the blood of Christ to all sinners: to those who repent of immoral acts and to those who wrestle with the “sin that dwells within us” (Romans 7:17-23). But nowhere does Scripture give the slightest hint that the Gospel offered freely to Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female, can legitimate a sexual relationship outside of heterosexual marriage.

The slavery-women-gays analogy is logically strained and is preferred as a rhetorical weapon for guilt by association, caricaturing traditionalists as racists, sexists and now “heterosexists.” A failure though it is, the analogy is an important indicator of the difference between those who view the Gospel as an abstract principle of liberation and those who define liberation in terms the Bible itself specifies, i.e., the redemption of sinners through the atoning death of Jesus Christ on the Cross, and the restoration of the original creation order in Christ.[33]

Rejecting Biblical Authority

Christopher Seitz notes a distinction between those rejecting a biblical teaching because they cannot find it plainly stated and those “recognizing the Bible’s plain sense on this issue and saying that it does not matter….”[34] Countryman’s method of revisionism loses the specific trees of biblical teaching in the forest of abstraction. Other scholars take the more direct approach of rejecting biblical authority entirely. This approach is strikingly illustrated in a series of quotations by Presbyterian scholars writing in a political context within their Church similar to that which Episcopalians face prior to the General Convention:[35]

It must be admitted that the standard biblical texts – seven in all – that either mention or may allude to homosexual practice are uniformly negative about it. In this negativity they reflect the heterosexist bias prevalent in the ancient Near East. Christian ethical decisions cannot, however, rest on those seven texts... (Choon Leong-Seow, page 26)

On a fundamental level ... the Old and the New Testaments have a common assumption about marriage and society. Both operate on the assumptions that persons draw their fundamental societal identity as members of a family.... If this is, broadly speaking, the biblical perspective on social institutions, it differs markedly from a dominant perspective of modernity. The option to return to preindustrial, patriarchal societal norms is neither viable nor desirable for modern communities of faith.... (J. Andrew Dearman, page 64)

It is thus our responsibility to recognize the male source of all the New Testament writings as we seek to uncover and understand anew its words, its good news, and its demands.... If we sense a negative perspective on what we know God “called good,” it is our task to unmask that negativity, rather than to accept it as infallible, unquestionable truth. (Elizabeth G. Edwards, page 82)

Sexual identity, as well as sexual role, is no longer defined on the basis of genitals. The modern invention of sexuality has superseded the natural fact of sex and has been constituted as a “principle of the self”.... Consequently, none of the texts of the Bible’s two testaments that deal with sexual deviance can or should be related to what today is being called “homosexuality.” Moreover, as a result of the inauguration of the rule of God and its eclipse of the Levitical purity code, all pollution systems and their attendant ethical norms have been canceled. (Herman C. Waetjen, pages 112-113)

My goal is not to deny that Paul condemned homosexual acts but to highlight the ideological contexts in which such discussions have taken place. My goal is to dispute appeals to “what the Bible says” as a foundation for Christian ethical arguments. It really is time to cut the Gordian knot of fundamentalism. (Dale B. Martin, page 130)

What is common to all these statements is a tacit admission that the Bible says one thing, but contemporary Christians cannot responsibly choose to accept its plain teaching. Frankly, we must consider these scholarly judgments and recommendations with considerable suspicion.

· In their casual labeling of Scripture as having a “heterosexist bias” and of opponents as being fundamentalists, they reveal the “politically correct” bias of their own academic coterie.
· They make modernity into a monolithic Zeitgeist before which the Church is helpless, while neglecting the tensions and disagreements within modernity itself, such as the tension between individualism and community.
· They employ a law/gospel hermeneutic not only to the Old Testament levitical texts but to the New Testament ethical injunctions in such a way as to belittle the revealed truths granted to the Jewish people and the apostles.

It is hard to imagine what doctrine or practice could not be justified, or denied, if the spirit of the age were the only Advocate and Guide.


“Two sexes, one flesh” is the clear teaching of the Bible and of our Lord himself in matters of human sexuality. But does that matter? We have traced two very different attitudes toward biblical authority. One attitude seeks to understand and obey the Bible as God’s word to his people yesterday, today, and forever. The other attitude finds the biblical worldview embarrassing and offensive and seeks to salvage the Bible by radically reinterpreting it or simply calling it wrong.[36]

The issue of same-sex marriage poses one of the clearest examples of this clash of attitudes. Only the most strained argumentation can lead one to conclude that the biblical authors would permit, much less endorse, same-sex marriage. If the bishops and other leaders of the Church cannot say No to this clear contradiction of biblical norms, then it is hard to believe they will ever be able to use the Bible credibly in moral decision-making.

Is there any room for a principled dialogue based on the Church’s sources of authority? What kind of ground rules would be necessary for a serious debate to take place? The recently proposed “Appeal for a Moratorium” on gay ordinations and heresy trials may offer such a framework for dialogue (see pages 93-96). Liberationists, however, are not likely to have any desire to pause for twenty years of dialogue. They would almost certainly see such a political compromise as a moral compromise of the rights of homosexuals. Therefore we expect to see a political rather than a biblical and theological resolution to the issue of same-sex marriage in the Episcopal Church (see Chapter 6). Whether liberationists have the power to pass their agenda within the Church we cannot say. What we can say is that they have no authority to do so, for all authority comes from the God whose inspired Scripture cannot be broken (John 10:35).


[1] It is not difficult to think of other tacit assumptions, e.g., prohibition of sadomasochism, pornography, or prostitution. Episcopal liberationists, however, are already thinking the unthinkable in these areas as well. See Carter Heyward on sadomasochism, in Touching Our Strength: The Erotic as Power and the Love of God (San Francisco: Harper, 1989) 109; and L. William Countryman on pornography and prostitution, in Dirt, Greed, and Sex: Sexual Ethics in the New Testament and Their Implications for Today (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1988) 245, 264-265.
[2] The Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity I.3.3.
[3] Issues in Human Sexuality: A Statement by the House of Bishops of the General Synod of the Church of England, December, 1991 (Harrisburg, Pa.: Morehouse, 1992) 18. For detailed biblical argumentation supporting this conclusion, see Gordon J. Wenham, “Attitudes to Homosexuality in the Old Testament,” Expository Times 102 (1991) 359-363; and Richard B. Hays, “Relations Natural and Unnatural: A Response to John Boswell’s Exegesis of Romans 1,” Journal of Religious Ethics 14 (1986) 184-215.
[4] Similarly, the liturgy describes marriage by the lessons it chooses and by allusions to biblical figures. The Prayer Book services of 1549 and 1552 made particular reference to Adam and Eve, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, and “Tobie and Sara” as examples of godly marriages. The Orthodox “crowning” of bride and groom is particularly vivid:
Be exalted like Abraham, O Bridegroom, and be blessed like Isaac, and multiply like Jacob, walking in peace, and keeping God’s commandments in righteousness.
And you, O bride: Be exalted like Sarah, and exult like Rebecca, and multiply like Rachel; and rejoice in your husband, fulfilling the conditions of the law, for this is well-pleasing to God.
See John Meyendorff, Marriage: An Orthodox Perspective (Crestwood, N.Y.: SVS Press, 1975) 129.
[5] E.g., Tom Horner, Jonathan Loved David: Homosexuality in Biblical Times (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1978) 26-46.
[6] Most scholars consider the “Matthean exception” allowing divorce to be redactional. But if so, it is not necessarily contrary to Jesus’ original intention. The stark Markan form of Jesus’ teaching (Mark 10:2-9) serves to confront readers with the unequivocal character of the call to discipleship. By including the Matthean version in the canon, the apostles clearly believed that the Spirit was leading them to emphasize another, pastoral dimension implicit in Jesus’ teaching.
[7] Reginald H. Fuller, “Scripture,” in Stephen Sykes and John Booty, eds., The Study of Anglicanism (London: SPCK, 1988) 83-85.
[8] J. Robert Wright, “The ‘Official Position’ of the Episcopal Church on the Authority of Scripture: Historical Development and Ecumenical Comparison,” in Frederick H. Borsch, ed., The Bible’s Authority in Today’s Church (Harrisburg, Pa.: Trinity Press International, 1993) 44-47, argues that the Episcopal ordination vow is a direct continuation and application of the Scripture principle embodied in Article XX.
[9] See John Goldingay, Models for Scripture (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), esp. Part II, “Scripture as Authoritative Canon.”
[10] See my essay, “Reading the Bible as the Word of God,” in Borsch, ed., The Bible’s Authority in Today’s Church, 151. Cf. the conclusion on homosexual practice by Richard B. Hays, The Moral Vision of the New Testament: A Contemporary Introduction to New Testament Ethics (San Francisco: Harper, 1996) 399: “I think it prudent and necessary to let the univocal testimony of Scripture and the Christian tradition order the life of the church on this painfully controversial matter.”
[11] “Pastoral Letter” in the Journal of the General Convention (1979) B-226.
[12] Of the four views of the Bible analyzed in The Bible’s Authority in Today’s Church, I argue (pages 203-210) that they boil down substantially to only two views, classical and revisionist.
[13] See Christopher R. Seitz, “Repugnance and the Three-Legged Stool: Modern Use of Scripture and the Baltimore Declaration,” in Reclaiming Faith: Essays on Orthodoxy in the Episcopal Church and the Baltimore Declaration (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993) 87.
[14] The reference to a “mass of strange delights” comes from George Herbert’s sonnet, “The Holy Scriptures (I).” There is a profound difference between Herbert’s understanding the richness of Scripture as an invitation to move from the truth to the whole truth, pondering the mysteries of revelation while abiding by its plain sense, and the current liberationist eclecticism, which is quite willing to declare parts of the Bible wrong.
[15] “Righter Opinion,” 7.
[16] While the term “Core Doctrine” was an innovation by the Righter Court, the distinction between a minimal core and maximal adiaphora goes back to Latitudinarian bishops like Edward Stillingfleet (1635-1699). See Henning Graf Reventlow, The Authority of the Bible and the Rise of the Modern World (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985) 229. The Court defined the following as Core Doctrine: “God in Christ fulfills the scripture. God became incarnate in Jesus Christ. Christ was crucified. Christ was buried. Christ rose again. Christ was exalted to God. God gave us the gift of the Holy Spirit. There will be a day of judgment. Therefore repent.” These bare bones have indeed been picked virtually clean. It is hard to imagine that any bishop could not find a way to affirm this much. And that was, of course, the point of the Righter decision: no more doctrine trials.
[17] “Righter Opinion,” 14.
[18] Cf. “Righter Opinion,” 10.
[19] Frederick Borsch, “All Things Necessary to Salvation,” in idem, ed., Anglicanism and the Bible (Wilton, Conn.: Morehouse Barlow, 1984) 224. For a similar argument, see L. William Countryman, Biblical Authority or Biblical Tyranny (rev. ed.; Valley Forge, Pa: Trinity Press International, 1994) 24-60.
[20] The refusal of the Righter Court to relate the biblical teaching on homosexuality to Christian morality was typical of this trend. Although the Presenter bishops who charged Bishop Righter with false teaching offered a comprehensive summary of the biblical consensus on homosexuality, Bishop Righter’s counsel ignored the biblical evidence almost entirely. Likewise, in their Opinion the Court majority did not dispute the meaning of the texts as presented by the Presenters, but relegated the biblical evidence to the limbo of “traditional teaching” and mentioned that this teaching is being tested “by what some believe are new understandings about sexuality, especially homosexuality.” (“Righter Opinion,” 12). The concurring judges also ignored the Presenters’ case, asserting that “there is silence” on the normative status of heterosexuality in Scripture (page 32). Only Bishop Fairfield in dissent (pages 39-44) reviewed the biblical texts as relevant to the case, concluding that “this scriptural evidence stands by itself.”
[21] Countryman, Dirt, Greed, and Sex, 237-239. His reference to a biblical “pattern worth applying to the present situation” (page 239) is a tip-off to the priority of form over content.
[22] Countryman, Dirt, Greed, and Sex, 243, 265-266.
[23] Note, e.g., that Countryman (Dirt, Greed, and Sex, 251) sees individualism as an irreversible fact of modern life.
[24] Countryman, Dirt, Greed, and Sex, 261-265.
[25] Conservatives are often accused of “proof-texting,” as if citation were a sin. Many revisionists, however, are as arbitrary in their manipulation of analogies as the worst fundamentalists are at proof-texting. There may be apt and inept proof-texts and apt and inept analogies, the proof residing not in the form but in the content.
[26] Dirt, Greed, and Sex, 86.
[27] It is the act of fornication, not just the impurity of motive, Jesus is condemning here. This was certainly the way the apostles understood Jesus’ teaching when they made avoidance of fornication part of the church’s rule of life (Acts 15:28-29; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11; Galatians 5-19-20; Ephesians 5:3-5; Colossians 3:5; Hebrews 12:16; Revelation 2:14-21; 21:8; 22:15).
[28] “Finding a Way to Talk: Dealing with Difficult Topics in the Episcopal Church,” in Our Selves, Our Souls and Bodies: Sexuality and the Household of God, ed. Charles Hefling (Cambridge, Mass.: Cowley, 1996) 11-12.
[29] Cf. Hays, Moral Vision, 399: “Only because the new experience of Gentile converts proved hermeneutically illuminating of Scripture was the church, over time, able to accept the decision to embrace Gentiles within the fellowship of God’s people.”
[30] “For God So Loved the World: Welcoming Gays, Lesbians and Heterosexuals into the Anglican Church of Canada,” an address at St. Leonard’s Church, Toronto, Sept. 27, 1996 [taken from the Internet].
[31] Cf. Hays, Moral Vision, 389; and David L. Thompson, “Women, Men, Slaves and the Bible: Hermeneutical Inquiries,” Christian Scholars’ Review 25 (1995-96) 326-349. Episcopal theologian Russell Reno has criticized what he calls “the Selma analogy” in an unpublished paper. He comments:
On the basis of these three striking differences between racist beliefs and a moral rejection of homosexuality, I think we can reject the claim that overcoming our social censure of homosexuality is morally equivalent to overcoming racism. Racist beliefs are irrational. Condemnations of homosexual acts can have a rational basis. Racism judges the whole person as inferior and is thus amenable to “consciousness-raising.” Condemnations of homosexuality judge individual acts to be immoral and thus less susceptible to “consciousness-raising.” Racism appeals to radical distortions of Christianity. Condemnations of homosexuality have a degree of support from the Bible and a great deal of support from the tradition.[32] Those claiming sexual liberation as a justice issue have been remarkably reticent about condemning other human rights violations against Christians today, including actual slavery in some Muslim countries.
[33] Cf. Oliver O’Donovan, Resurrection and Moral Order: An Outline for Evangelical Ethics (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986) 13-15. In his new book, The Desire of the Nations: Rediscovering the Roots of Political Theology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), O’Donovan demonstrates that a biblical theology respectful of the great tradition of the Church can give a comprehensive explanation of politics in our post-Christian situation in history.
[34] Seitz, “Sexuality and Scripture’s Plain Sense: The Christian Community and the Law of God,” Harvest 6/1 (July/Aug. 1996) 31.
[35] Biblical Ethics and Homosexuality: Listening to Scripture, ed. Robert L. Brawley (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1996). We note causa honoris one essay in this volume by Ulrich Mauser that upholds biblical teaching. The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church U.S.A., meeting in July 1996, did not follow the direction suggested by the rest of these essays. In passing, I would draw attention to an older volume by Otto Piper, titled The Biblical View of Sex and Marriage (New York: Scribner’s, 1960) 58-64. Otto Piper was Professor of Biblical Theology and Ethics at Princeton Theological Seminary, and his classic book was the standard Protestant text on marriage from the Forties to the mid-Sixties. It is a token of the marginalizing of the biblical theology movement and of the mainline churches that Piper’s book is long out-of-print and his views replaced by those in the Brawley volume.
[36] For the image of modern theology as a salvage operation, see Van A. Harvey, The Historian and the Believer: The Morality of Historical Knowledge and Christian Belief (New York: Macmillan, 1966) 104.

Have a comment? Please send it via email.

Follow-ups from Stephen

There are no follow-ups to this post at this time.