The Bible as a timeless moral text
I have encountered a fair number of Christians recently who are determined to see the Bible as a timeless moral text which states moral truths for all the ages. The most common example of this is the idea that "homosexuality is wrong, because the Bible says so." In this post I have one point I would like to make: It's not as simple as that.
According to the bible it is...
wrong to eat shellfish (eg Lev 11:9-12),
wrong to wear clothing made of two different materials (eg Lev 19:19),
okay to have slaves (there are rules and regulations regarding its institution in the OT and nothing in the NT attacks it as an institution),
okay to commit genocide (eg many times in the OT with Israel on the warpath),
wrong to have long hair if you are male (l Cor 11:14),
wrong to have uncovered hair when praying if you are female (1 Cor 11:5),
right for men to kiss on the lips when they meet (eg Rom 16:16)
right that if a man is caught raping a woman that they be forced to marry and never allowed to divorce (eg Deut 22:28-29)
right to offer sacrifices (instituted in the Torah)
wrong to offer sacrifices (eg Jer 7:21-22, Amos 5:22-25)
Are they all timeless moral truths?
Several of the early church fathers tried to explain why it was that God had instituted the sacrifical system in Leviticus only to get rid of it again after Jesus. The best explanation they came up with was that God didn't like sacrifices but that sacrifices had been around long before the Mosaic Law (which is true). Thus God, over time, decided to wean Israel off sacrifices - firstly by strictly regulating their existing practices with the Mosaic Law, then by condemning them often through the prophets and finally abolishing them entirely with the destruction of the temple.
What is interesting here is the understanding that what God says at one time isn't necessarily a moral truth for all generations. Some modern authors have used similar reasoning to explain the genocides in the bible - back then it was a dog-eat-dog word and if God's people hadn't fought and killed to survive they would have been wiped out. The commands to slaughter other nations were necessary for their own survival - unfortunate morally, but necessary.
Once this sort of reasoning is accepted, we can see that what is morally okay at one time might not be morally okay at another. Just because God says something is right or wrong at one point in history does not make it right or wrong for all times and places in history.
In the previous post I looked at Jesus' statement on divorce and concluded that just because Jesus said that, it did not necessarily mean that divorce is wrong in all cultures and times. It wasn't as simple as that.
So, if the Bible says homosexuality is wrong, does that necessarily mean that homosexuality is wrong for all cultures and all times and places? It's not as simple as that.