Context is Everything

Mark Woods and I agree on one point, when studying the Bible, context is everything.  Mr. Woods suggests that certain prohibitions to the Jewish nation in the book of Leviticus regarding their diet, attire, how they cut their hair, and other strictures, appear alongside the denunciation of homosexuality, and since for one reason or the other these practices have fallen into desuetude, shouldn’t we consider the prohibitions against homosexuality outdated.

In a recent article entitled Context Is Everything with the Bible, Mr. Woods wants to set the record straight.  Admitting that he has not read the Bible much since his days in Sunday school, he says he finds the Old Testament “a complex, confusing puzzle.”  Yet undaunted, he presses on to correct those who have spent the better part of their life reading and studying a book they revere as being the Word of God.

I do not claim to fully understand the purpose of the dietary laws, or why a garment with mixed material is prohibited, etcetera.  From the context, many of these practices were forbidden because they were linked to idolatrous practices by the former inhabitants of the land (Leviticus 18:24, 27-29, 30).  Idolatry is still a concern, but manifests itself not so much in what we eat and wear, but is reflected in what we spend our time and resources on.

Like others on the issue of homosexuality, Mr. Woods seems fixated on Leviticus 18:22.  Had he given more attention to the immediate context, he would have discovered two verses before that, in verse 20, adultery is condemned, and in the very next verse, verse 23, bestiality is forbidden.  These respective practices are collectively referred to as abominations in verse 26.  If what Mr. Woods suggests is true, then cheating on your spouse and having sex with animals is okay also, because they are just as obsolete as homosexuality.

Mr. Woods makes the point that the Bible “devotes many more words to mildew growing in houses than it does to gays living in them. Yet these few verses are what keep getting circled, highlighted and pointed to in 2012.”  The New American Standard Bible uses the term leprosy instead of mildew.  Leprosy was a debilitating, deadly disease with no cure, which could colonize and be transmitted from inanimate objects.  It would not be unusual for God to give detailed instructions addressing it.

Nevertheless, Mr. Woods suggests the fact that more is written about “mildew” than homosexuality makes homosexuality insignificant by comparison.  Should we consider anything God says as insignificant?  When Jesus rebutted the temptation by the devil to turn stones into bread, He replied, “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God (Matthew 4:4).”  Since the New Testament had not yet been penned, Jesus was speaking of the Old Testament, and shows His conviction in the significance of “every word.”

Jesus was later asked “which is the great commandment in the Law?”  He responded by quoting Deuteronomy 6:5 which enjoins us to love God with all our being.  Jesus says “This is the great and foremost commandment (Matthew 22:37-38).”  He goes on to say “The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:39).’”  This quote from Leviticus 19:18 is the only place this phrase appears in the whole of the Old Testament.  In Jesus’ opinion these seven words rank second in significance only to loving God.  In the eyes of Christ, their scant appearance did not mitigate their significance.

It is also the verse in the Bible that the Golden Rule “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is based.  You may recall President Obama’s belief in same-sex marriage was informed by the Golden Rule.  If that is true, one must assume God either forgot what he said in chapter 18, or changed His mind when He got to chapter 19.  President Obama and Mr. Woods evidently agree on context; pick what you like and disregard the rest.

Christians do not hate homosexuals.  It is their love for others that motivates them to warn their neighbors about self-destructive practices.  The rant of Charles L. Worley referred to by Mr. Woods is as much of a misrepresentation of the Christian perspective as his woeful attempt at explaining biblical context is.      I am sure God has more to say about this subject, but His final comments will be reserved for another day.  The context of biblical truth includes all the Bible has to say that bears on any given matter.  When it comes to interpreting the Bible, context is everything, as long as you understand everything in it is the context.


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