Email on Homosexuality & Adultery & The Law's Capital Punishment
Sam's Email June 23, 2013
How do you deal with Christians who ask you: "If you uphold the Law, do you also the uphold the law for stoning the adulterer and stoning the man who sleeps with another man? - Leviticus 20:10" (I assume many Paulinists are Paulinists because it helps them avoid this potentially sensitive question.)
So I want to know how an authentic Jesus-following jew would approach the same question. Maybe you don't recognize the current Israel as the real Israel, so you're answer is similar to Muslims? Or perhaps you approach it differently.
Thanks for reading.
My Reply June 24, 2013
Well, to implement the Mosaic Law as a civil system of a nation, it must be put in place in toto. The example you provide is a perfect illustration why.
1. The crime in the Law is a man laying with a man as he would a woman -- penetration of the pelvic region but in an act known as sodomy. (FYI There is no crime in the Law to have sexual relations between a woman and a woman, so the crime between men was not the sexual feelings but a specific action between men.)
2. The nature of these crimes are private acts.
3. The law requires 2 eye witnesses. No circumstantial evidence was allowed. Knowledge from a confession could suffice. Lev. 5:1 (eye witness or know.) So unless one did this sodomous act in public, the crime is not punishable by law. It is still a crime, but the law is not able to punish it. The Law then serves only as a threat and may deter some crimes otherwise not punishable. Of course, those who confessed their crimes before 2 witnesses would be punished even for private acts no one could possibly otherwise know about.
4. The screening process of the Sanhedrin before a trial commenced is the 2 eye-witnesses had to be found without sin. What does "without sin" mean?
The law had disqualification provisions for sin, such as the husband himself could not testify against a wife alleging adultery if he was guilty of adultery. Once the screening process was complete, the trial began. Then when it was over the 2 eye-witnesses who were found to be without sin had to throw the first stones. Why? So that if it later proved they lied to procure a death sentence, the law could now treat them as murderers, and sentence them to death for causing a capital execution. This rule is crucial because it naturally causes people not to make frivolous accusations.
(This is what Jesus encountered with the woman caught in adultery. The crowd were not following the Law, and Jesus piqued their conscience by asking "you who are without sin throw the first stone." He was implying the 2 eye-witness rule was not being followed, and the 2 eye-witnesses "without sin" were not present, and the group action was unlawful.)
In the US, we do not follow the 2 eye-witness rule nor the punishment of untruthful eye-witnesses with the same penalty that would apply to the matter that they testified in, even death itself.
The Sanhedrin records of ancient Isreal for a 900 year period reveal only 1 capital execution, so rarely could the Law punish capital crimes due to the 2 witness rule. (You may wonder why there were not more executions, such as for murderers which often would not be in private. In that regard, remember murderers could flee to cities of refuge, and be immune from prosecution -- a self-executing penal system. This cut down on executions.)
Now the fact is there is no modern state that has adopted the Mosaic law currently from top to bottom. So I would not advocate any single law to be adopted from the Mosaic law as a civil-state's law unless all the law -- with its protecton of the accused from being tried without 2 eye-witnesses (which insulates purely private acts from prosecution), and strict punishment of false witnesses -- is adopted in toto.
A death penalty for adultery or sodomy would be too severe in consequence on a routine basis if circumstantial evidence were permitted, as is the case in the US and Europe. Nor should witness testimony be trusted unless they are under a severe penalty if they manipulated the system to kill someone.
Thus, without a present state adopting in toto the Mosaic Law, a Christian who obeys Christ to "teach the law" -- whom Jesus says is the "greatest in the kingdom of heaven" (Matt 5:19), we need to teach what the law says ... but to go no further. So there is no command prohibiting homosexual feelings. Only Paul has that command or implication (whom my website www.jesuswordsonly.com reveals is not an inspired voice). The Bible restricts its law to man-with-man and only for sodomy (penetrating the pelvic area like a man would lie with a woman).
There is no prohibition in the Law for sexual feelings / coveting between the same sex, or any intra-gender act other than sodomy / lying with a man like you would a woman.
I think that is how a Christian Jew or frankly any Christian obedient to Christ would have to answer your question.
PS I have always been heterosexual. Thus, I am not saying homosexual feelings are good or permissible. I am only saying that they are not prohibited in the Law given Moses.
On this score, sometimes one's conscience might be as important a guide as to right or wrong as a written law. How did Job know what was right or wrong prior to the Law given Moses? Conscience. There is always this other layer of prohibition we must listen to. For example, Isaiah 30:21 refers to the importance of the conscience: "And thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, This [is] the way, walk ye in it, when ye turn to the right hand, and when ye turn to the left." John tells us likewise the Holy Spirit will guide us in truth, and not just the written word. See 1 John 2:27.
But be wary: your emotions (i.e., the heart) unlike the conscience of which Isaiah speaks can be "desperately wicked," so our heart may lie against the truth our conscience teaches us. This is why our first recourse is always to the inspired word of God for direct and the most reliable guidance, and to not act upon pure emotions.
Sam's Reply June 25, 2013
Thank you very much for that detailed response. It clarified your position quite well. It's not often you hear the Jewish interpretation of the laws in Leviticus (at least here in America). They're actually quite sensible for the most part.
I also wasn't aware that Paul had a different (and stricter) interpretation of Leviticus either. That explains a lot.
My Reply June 25, 2013
I would say Paul is looser, not stricter.
For Paul's words violate the Law by exceeding it -- which only a true prophet (which was not Paul) can expand. The Bible commands no additions:
2 Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the Lord your God that I give you. (Deut 4:2 NIV)
Thus, Paul is clearly looser -- applying his own sense of right or wrong, adding to God's word. Jesus often condemns adding to God's word such as the command to wash hands. (Matt 15:6.) Jesus calls these unnecessary burdens imposed by the Pharisees that they did nothing to help people bear. No wonder Paul continued to count himself a Pharisee 14 years into his Christian walk -- "I am a Pharisee" Acts 23:6.
So Sam, Paul is looser, not more strict, just as the Pharisees who Jesus depicted as looser in following the law by adding to it.
How Christians Should Treat Homosexuals
For our advice that we cannot judge homosexuals based upon supposition of private acts they commit, which in fact may not violate the Law; and that Jesus commands us to socialize with persons even if we think they are sinning (although here we cannot even prove they are, even from a confession), see my discussion at this link.