Today we are concluding our sermon series based on Adam Hamilton’s book, Making Sense of the Bible, as we look at some challenging passages of scripture found in the New Testament. The author addresses several areas and I will be exploring three of those questions often raised concerning scripture: Can the gospel accounts of Jesus be considered reliable? How do we address the question of women as church leaders? How does the Bible view those who identify themselves as homosexual? (Again, as a caveat, I will tread lightly on these areas recognizing the adult nature they can present.)
While our focus is on the New Testament this week, there are some passages that are referenced in the New Testament from the Old so we will be looking at these as well. First, can the gospel accounts of Jesus be considered reliable? We talked about the gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The first three – known as the synoptic gospels, are extremely similar often accounting for the same events in identical manners. This reference I have used since seminary, The Gospel Parallels, puts the entire books of Matthew, Mark, and Luke side-by-side so we can see the similarities and differences. I’d like us to look at the other accounts of Jesus’ triumphant entrance into Jerusalem that we celebrate today as Palm Sunday. The Matthew account was read for us, so let us turn to Mark 11:1-11. The accounts are very similar, yet when we look at the account in Luke 19:28-39 we see some differences. Luke does not include the palms. Luke notes that it was the disciples who were crying out, “Hosanna!” not the crowd. We find this kind of disparity throughout the synoptics so how can they be trusted as reliable?
Recall that the gospels were written sometime between 65 and 90 AD, somewhere between 35 and 60 years after the time of Jesus. How’s our memory? Who here has been with your significant other for 35 years or greater? Mark and I will celebrate our 35th anniversary in September but we dated for 5 years before we were married. There are stories told within our family over that time period that were profound, yet we remember them differently. Mark remembers the panic when the minister refused to start the wedding without our marriage license in hand (it was back at the apartment.) He remembers some very interesting details that I don’t remember at all. I remember things from that day that maybe he doesn’t. My father was very ill but insisted on walking me down the aisle. I remember how he set his determined stance and did just that – others just remember crying with joy.
35 years is a long time. The fact that the gospels agree as much as they do bears credence to their reliability. Each of these authors was reflecting on the profound affect Jesus had, and considered their potential readers to present compelling accounts of the Son of God. Each believed Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah and proceeded to present accounts that would lead readers to the same conclusion.
While I haven’t talked about the gospel of John, we did note that it is considered the more spiritual gospel; therefore getting actual events in precise detail was not the focus of this author. John gives us the glimpses of the nature of Jesus, while including accounts of miracles and encounters not included in the other gospels. Yet all four gospels speak of miracles, teachings, radical hospitality, and Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. With all this said, I do believe we can consider the gospel accounts of Jesus to be reliable and profound for us to study and incorporate into our lives today.
The next question to consider is wrapped in a rather bold and sometimes controversial statement: “Women need not apply.” There are three passages of scripture that are always used to prevent women from holding leadership positions, particularly in the church, and all of these come from Paul’s letters. Let’s take a look at the first one in 1 Corinthians 14:33-35. [Read] Huh. How is it that the United Methodist Church has appointed women pastors here for some time? And how do we reconcile these instructions with Paul’s own practice of placing women in leadership roles in the churches he established? In another of his letters, Galatians 3:28, Paul makes his famous statement promoting the egalitarian nature of the gospel – “There is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, for all you are one in Christ Jesus.” We are faced with quite a quandary here.
If you spend any time reading scripture you will become acutely aware of the patriarchal nature of these readings. In 1 Timothy 2:13-14, after Paul states it is shameful for women to speak in church, he notes this reason: “For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.” Let’s go back to the creation stories in Genesis 1 and Genesis 2. In Genesis 1, the account is egalitarian – men and women were created together. “There is no patriarchy. They were created at the same time, and neither was given dominance; they were partners in subduing the earth. And God saw that it was good” (Hamilton, pg. 258.) [Refer to Genesis 1:27] In Genesis 2, Adam is formed first then Eve. Genesis 2:18 – “I will make him [Adam] a helper as his partner.” That word ‘helper’ has been misunderstood. The Hebrew word is ezer which indicates a strong individual coming to the aid of someone weaker. It is used to describe God twenty-one times in the Old Testament. It is used twice to refer to Eve.
Everything changes chapter 3 when sin enters the picture. From this point on, a patriarchal way of life was initiated. As we see this as an archetypal story, we put ourselves into the story. Part of the consequences of sin is the induction of a patriarchal society. We don’t have to look very far to see this playing out even today. How many times have we seen women abused at the hands of their spouses or boyfriends? Men are killed by their spouses or girlfriends about 7% of the time – for women it is close to 40%.
Yet consider the fact that Jesus entered the world in order to reverse the curse of sin and death. Jesus came to restore the beauty of communion with God. Jesus came to correct all the wrongs initiated by all the times we have submitted to the ugliness of sin. “Jesus came to reverse the curse of Eden. Part of that curse is the subordination of women.” Jesus came to return to God’s will of partnership rather than patriarchy. Recognizing the lens with which these scriptures were written in Paul’s letters, and considering our own hermeneutics, “…is it not time to recognize that Paul’s words about women remaining silent do not reflect God’s timeless will for the role women are to play in the church” (Hamilton, pg. 260.) [other explanations noted]
Finally I wanted to address the question of how the Bible views homosexuality. In order to do that we must return to the Old Testament. Moses laid out the law concerning same-sex sexual activity in Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13. In both cases these relations were considered an ‘abomination.’ Yet there are two accounts in the Torah of men lying with men as with a woman. Neither addresses two men (or women) seeking to share their lives together as companions. The first account is in Genesis 19 with the story of the city of Sodom. If you read this story carefully you will see two things – first is the clearly patriarchal norms, and second the act being described has nothing to do with a loving relationship but violence through sexual acts. These acts were for dominance and power in order to humiliate the men or women who would be violated.
It is possible Moses was condemning this act, or another pagan ritual, when issuing this law. Temple prostitution most likely involved sexual acts during pagan worship ceremonies. Moses was in fact speaking out against idolatry. This practice was also not what we see today as a loving relationship between same sex partners. Considering these acts are noted as an ‘abomination’ we have to consider other things that were also considered abominations – eating pork, rabbit or any seafood that does not have scales – our whole motto of “Maryland is for crabs” is in jeopardy! We need to use caution when quoting scripture that may work to exclude anyone from experiencing a meaningful relationship with Jesus Christ.
When we reviewed Acts chapter 15, we noted that much of the law was set aside for Gentiles rather than placing too heavy a yoke for them to bear. However, Paul seems to take up the issue of homosexuality in Romans 1:26-27. [Read] While set in the backdrop of speaking out against pagan worship, these verses seem to point to condemning idolatry. Yet there was another practice that Paul may have been addressing – pederasty. In Paul’s time, sexuality for boys was seen on a spectrum. Some fell on the masculine end of the spectrum while others fell on the effeminate side. Mature men were utilizing the practice of taking effeminate boys as students and lovers, a practice we would still condemn today.
So where does this leave us? The Bible does not seem to address a loving committed relationship between same sex partners. Jesus never spoke about it either. And we have these confusing scriptures that may in fact be addressing something very different than what we see as homosexual relationships. Once again we need to carefully interpret scripture. [Read page 273-274, 279]
It is pretty clear throughout this series that I have not given you definitive answers to some of these tough questions. I have and continue to encourage you to read and study scripture in order to gain a better understanding of God, the biblical authors, and ourselves as we read and wrestle with scripture together. It is also clear that we can worship together in this sanctuary and hold very different views of what is acceptable and what is contrary to the will of God. As we move forward as this body of Christ known as Mayo United Methodist, let us continue to open our hearts, our minds, our understanding to what God is calling us to do in order to stay in love with God, share that love with others, and make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Amen.