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About the Bible

Which of the Bible's moral teachings
are still valid today? All...most...some?

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The status of biblical moral teachings today:

The Mosaic Code in the Hebrew Scriptures (a.k.a. Old Testament) contains 613 requirements and prohibitions that believers were expected to obey. The Christian Scriptures (a.k.a. New Testament) add more.

There exists disagreement about which are still valid today.

bulletInvalid: Christians today generally believe that most of the 613 instructions were only applicable to Jews and/or were only significant in ancient times. That is, modern-day Christians can safely ignore them:
bulletExamples of prohibited actions included the eating of shrimp and pork; the wearing of clothing made of a mixture of textiles (like a polyester-cotton blend in today's fabrics); men cutting their beards; receiving a tattoo; sowing a lawn using a variety of species of grass seed; allowing disabled persons to enter the temple; allowing an illegitimate child -- or his/her descendents for many generations -- to enter the temple, and hundreds of others.
bulletExamples of required actions included ritual sacrifice of animals in the Temple; executing some hookers by burning them alive; a man paying the father of an unmarried virgin 50 shekels of silver if he rapes her; observing certain specified seasonal days of observance, resting from Friday at sundown to Saturday at sundown, etc.
 
bulletValid: The Bible also contains requirements and prohibitions of a moral and ethical nature that most Christians believe are still valid today. For example, among the Ten Commandments:
bullet#5: requires one to honor one's parents
bullet#6: prohibits killing or murdering other humans (interpretations differ)
bullet#7: prohibits adultery.
bullet#8: prohibits stealing.
bullet#9: prohibits perjury.
bullet#10: prohibits coveting other people's possessions. This commandment is a bit shaky today because it includes as possessions a man's wives, children, and slaves.
 
bulletUncertain: Many Christians are uncertain about the validity of other biblical requirements and prohibitions. Their status is actively debated within Christian circles. There is often a division within the religion on conservative/progressive lines.

Four examples are:
bulletThe book of Proverbs contains many passages requiring parents to beat their children with a rod as the preferred method of discipline. Yet many modern-day studies involving tens of thousands of people have found a correlation between spanking children and adult problems including clinical depression, anxiety, drug addiction, alcoholism, etc. Many Christian parents have abandoned the Bible's teaching and stopped beating, hitting, or spanking their children.
bulletThere are six passages in the Bible -- often referred to as the "clobber" passages -- that are interpreted by most conservative Christians as condemning all forms of same-sex sexual behavior. Many progressive Christians believe that these passages condemn rape, bestiality, sexual abuse of children, heterosexuals going against their basic nature and engaging in same-sex orgies, etc; they are believed to be unrelated to today's loving, committed same-sex relationships between two homosexuals and/or bisexuals.
bulletThe Bible has many conflicting rules concerning divorce. The Hebrew Scriptures teach that a man could freely divorce his wife. In the Christian Scriptures, one passage has Yeshua of Nazareth banning divorce entirely; in another, he allows divorce in case of sexual immorality. Paul did not allow Christian couples to separate or divorce. However, he did allow a Christian spouse to separate or divorce if the other spouse is a non-Christian and has left. The result is a wide diversity of opinion about divorce in Christian circles.
bulletThere are several biblical passages that condemn transsexual behavior. However, many Christians note that they were written millennia before gender identity and other aspects of human sexuality were actively studied scientifically; they doubt the validity of these passages. 

A comment by Episcopal Bishop J.S. Spong:

John Shelby Spong is an author and retired bishop of the Episcopal Church, USA.  "KJ" from Minnesota, a subscriber to Spong's weekly Emails, 1 asked him why the media frequently describe the anti-gay position as biblical while describing the those in favor of equal rights for persons of all sexual orientations as being against Bible teaching. Bishop Spong responded:

"...secular journalists ... tend to accept uncritically the oft-repeated Evangelical Protestant and Conservative Roman Catholic definitions that the Bible is anti-gay. If these people were honest, they would have to admit that the Bible is also pro-slavery and anti-women."

"There is also a widely accepted mentality that if the Bible is opposed, the idea must be wrong." 2

Bishop Spong criticizes the belief that just because the Bible condemns a practice, it must be forbidden it in today's culture. The condemnation might have been intended to refer to only a single culture and/or a single era. It may not be valid a few millennia later, halfway around the world.

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In support of the authority of the Bible:

Many believers accept the entire Bible as authoritative:

bulletThey believe that God inspired the authors of the Bible to write  inerrant text -- free of error.
 
bulletThey often refer to the Bible as the Word of God, implying that nothing in the Bible violates the will of God for humanity. Since God does not change his mind, biblical standards remain valid today.
 
bulletThey note that since God has not see fit to have extensions to the Bible created, the historical Bible must be equally valid for for modern-day cultures and for the cultures when it was created.
 
bulletMany Christian denominations and congregations refer to the status of the Bible in their statement of belief. For example, the Kingston Gospel Temple in Kingston, ON, Canada states:
"We believe the entire Bible is the inspired Word of God and that men were moved by the Spirit of God to write the very words of Scripture. We believe the Bible to be without error, entirely applicable to life situations, and necessary for Christian growth." 3
bulletIn 2 Timothy 3:16-17, Paul is said to have written: 
"All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness. That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works." (King James Version)
The official canon of the Christian Scriptures (New Testament) did not exist when 2 Timothy was written either circa 50 CE (according to many conservative Protestants) or circa 125 CE (some six decades after Paul's death, according to many progressive Christians).  Thus, the above passage was probably intended to only refer to the Hebrew Scriptures. However, most conservative Protestants assume that the verse refers to the entire Bible.

Many results flow from a firm belief in the authority of the Bible. One is that any biblical passages that are interpreted as opposed to same-sex behavior -- including that by loving  homosexuals and/or bisexuals in a committed relationship --are still valid today. This motivates many Christian to oppose equal rights for gays, lesbians, and bisexuals -- including the right for same-sex couples to marry -- as the most important religious concern of the early 21st century.

However, assuming that the validity of biblical statements continues to the present time is not without problems. A few examples are:

bullet

Human slavery was condoned, regulated, and never condemned by the Bible, yet is rejected as profoundly immoral today.

bullet

Government by dictatorship or theocracy was condoned, and yet is rejected today.

bullet

Women were treated as property in the Bible and increasingly as equal to men today.

bullet

Numerous passages imply or state that punishment for sinful behavior can be transferred from the guilty party/parties to the innocent -- a moral concept that is almost universally rejected today.

bullet

Execution in the Bible was typically done by stoning people to death or burning them alive -- practices that are considered barbaric today.

bullet

The Hebrew Scriptures contain many references to genocides, including some ordered by God; none are criticized as immoral. Yet genocide and other crimes against humanity are often considered the most serious criminal actions today.

Thus, a good case can be made that just because the Bible says that some behavior is required or condemned, the passage may not be valid today.

References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. J.S. Spong, "A new Christianity for a new world," at: http://www.johnshelbyspong.com/
  2. J.S. Spong, "The struggle among Episcopalians," Email Newsletter, 2009-JAN-28, at: Online at: http://jackiesmagic.blogspot.com/.
  3. "IDENTITY@KGTchurch," Kingston Gospel Temple, at: http://kgtchurch.org/

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 Home page > Christianity > Bible passages > Bible homosexuality > here

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Copyright © 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Original posting: 2009-JAN-31
Latest update: 2009-JAN-31
Author: B.A. Robinson

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