“Is it the case that the New Testament does not hold Christians accountable for the sexual ethics of the Old Testament?
A concrete answer can be found in the New Testament itself.”
recent book was released by pro-LGBT author and professing Christian Matthew Vines entitled God and the Gay Christian. Vines is the founder and leader of the Reformation Project which seeks to advocate for the moral and religious position that one can be both gay and Christian. In his book, Vines offers various arguments and examines various passages of Scripture that attempt to demonstrate that being gay and Christian are compatible since the homosexual behavior of today is nothing like the homosexual behavior of the Old and New Testament times.
One of Vines’ arguments concerns the Levitical laws of the Old Testament and how they do not apply to Christians today. Listen to Vines’ assertions:
“First, I’d like us to consider the reason why Christians don’t follow all the laws we see in the Old Testament, from its restrictions on food to its rules about clothing – and many more, including the death sentence for rebellious children. And then I’d like to look at the Old Testament prohibitions of male same-sex intercourse, as we seek to discern whether and why Christians should follow them today.”
While Vines acknowledges that the law was not imposed on the Gentiles for salvific purposes, Vines does not seem to understand the reason behind the laws in Leviticus. He rightly rejects the use of the law in order to be saved, but he does not at all acknowledge the law as a revelation of the nature and character of God, especially his holiness and the standards for holiness in the law of God.
When God first gave the law, he did not give the law with the intention to Israel that if they obeyed them, he would save them. Rather, he had already saved them out of Egypt. Their salvation had already been accomplished. Hence, the order of the giving of the law was first salvation, then law. You can see this in Exodus 19:4-6 in which God says to Moses,
“You ourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all people, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.”
The Ten Commandments and the further exposition of those laws would be given to the people in Exodus 20 and on. The big picture to see from these verses is that God gave the law to Israel in light of their redemption. The law was not given in order to be saved but because they had been saved. Hence, the purpose of the law was that the people of God might know how to live in the light of their redemption. It was to know how to live in the presence of a holy God who was in their midst in the tabernacle. The Levitical laws came to be known as the “holiness code.” They taught the people what it meant to be holy before God. Some of the strange laws, like the food laws and such were meant to bring out not merely the religious differences between Israel and the surrounding cultures, but the moral, cultural and social differences that the people of God were to exhibit in the midst of a pagan world. Some of these laws are not followed today because they no longer represent the idea of being different from the world. For instance, the food laws; refraining from certain foods today does not say to the world, “I’m God’s” like it would have in the Old Testament.
The core of the holiness code has not ceased to function. Peter himself still exhorts Christians from Leviticus to “be holy for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:15-16 cf. Lev. 11:44; 19:2; 20:7, 26; 21:8, I Thess. 4:7). The law still reveals to Christians how to be pleasing to God. Christians do not believe that following the law is what makes one acceptable to God. It is Christ alone and his righteousness and full obedience and fulfillment of the law that makes us acceptable. Vines seems to be arguing against the New Testament corruption of the use of the law as a means of salvation among the Jews. That is, the apparent belief of the Jews in Jesus’ time about the use of the law was that it was obedience to the law that made one righteous before God. In one sense, Vines is correct that Jesus is the end of the law, but Vines doesn’t deal with the biblical purpose of the law as it was first revealed. As such, his interaction with Leviticus completely misses the purpose of the holiness code, including the sexual morals of the Old Testament. That is, he is not grasping the bigger picture of the place of the law in redemptive history.
The sexual morality of the Old Testament could easily be summed up in the commandment "Do not commit adultery." "Adultery" is broadly defined as engaging in sexual intercourse outside of the defined bounds of marriage. Marriage was defined by God in Genesis 2:24 as between a male and female. The laws in Leviticus concerning sexual immorality are simply an exposition of what it means to not commit adultery. The prohibitions included the commands not to be sexually involved with
· close relatives
· one's mother or step-mother
· one's sister, step-sister, or sister-in-law
· one's aunts (biological or through marriage)
· one's your granddaughter
· one's daughter-in-law
· both a woman and her daughter
· a ritually unclean woman
· one's neighbor's wife
· an animal or beast
· a man as one would with a woman
Vines argues that these laws, in particular the law against homosexual sex, are not applicable today because the relationships of today are not like they were in those times.
Is it the case that the New Testament does not hold Christians accountable for the sexual ethics of the Old Testament? From what we have seen from the original intention of the law as how to live in the light of salvation, we must answer that the sexual ethics of the Old Testament are still valid for God’s people. A concrete case can be made for this from the New Testament itself.
In 1 Corinthians 5, the apostle Paul confronts the Corinthian church about sexual immorality that is taking place in the church and is even boasted by the Corinthians. Listen to the first few verses.
“It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father's wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you.
For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing. When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.” (v. 1-5)
Apparently, a church member at Corinth was sleeping with his stepmother. We should first note that for Paul to charge the Corinthians with sexual immorality, there is a presupposition about what sexual morality is. What is Paul’s standard for charging this man with sexual immorality? It is the Levitical and Deuteronomic laws of the Old Testament.
Several laws in the Old Testament are actually referenced here.
“You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father’s wife; it is your father’s nakedness.” (Leviticus 18:8)
“If a man lies with his father’s wife, he has uncovered his father’s nakedness; both of them shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them.” (Leviticus 20:11)
“A man shall not take his father’s wife, so that he does not uncover his father’s nakedness.” (Deuteronomy 22:30)
“Cursed be anyone who lies with his father’s wife, because he has uncovered his father’s nakedness. And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’” (Deuteronomy 27:20)
On the basis of the sexual ethics of the Old Testament, Paul condemns this sexually immoral member of the church of Corinth. While we are free from the law in terms of earning our salvation, we are not free from the law in terms of holiness in our own lives (1 Pet. 1:16).
The main point we need to understand is that Paul – the same Paul who said that we are free from the law – still uses the law in such a way to point out sin in the church. It is critical that we see that Paul’s moral basis is rooted in Leviticus 18. If we are to follow Vines’ methodology that the sexual ethics of the Old Testament do not apply to situations today because the Old Testament knew nothing of sexual orientations, and was concerned more with dominance and patriarchy, would Vines’ consistently argue that if this son and stepmother were in love, that the Bible does not speak to their situation? In the larger picture, consider the various laws mentioned above and what other sexual practices and orientations would be acceptable. Should incest suddenly become an acceptable Christian lifestyle? Should beastiality? What about pederasty? If we follow Vines’ exegetical methodology, none of the sexual practices in Leviticus would be sinful so long as your sexual orientation and motives are not lustful and you are in a committed relationship to your partner.
The reasoning for punishment of this church member is in accord with Old Testament, namely to “purge the evil from your midst” (Deut. 13:5, 17:7, 12; 22:21, 22, 24). However, the penalty prescribed in the Old Testament was ordinarily death for such practices, while here it is excommunication. He is to be expelled out of the visible church and considered to be under the discipline of the church and even treated worse than an unbeliever. He is to be treated as one who has turned his back on the church, the faith and the Lord.
“Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” (v. 6-8)
For whatever reason, the Corinthians were boasting that they were “affirming” such a member of their church. Perhaps they felt it wasn’t their place to judge this member. Whatever the case, Paul catches them in their boasting over this state of affairs. He tells them that their negligence in addressing this is not good in order to shock them to the reality of their sin and situation (Lest any heterosexual readers want think they may boast over homosexual behavior, let us not forget that Paul is confronting heterosexual sin in particular here!). He was not being a bigot as one would normally be charged with today for speaking against the personal sexual practices of people today.
A common argument from the LGBT community, and from adulterous heterosexual professing Christians, is that sex is a private matter. That is, sex does not hurt anyone. However, here the apostle Paul says that the immorality of one can lead to the judgment of the entire community. This is what he means when he says, “Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?” Sin is never a private matter. Sex is not a private matter. In the community of the people of God, the acts of one can bring judgment on the whole. This is what theologians have called “corporate solidarity” in which one person can stand as a representative for the whole. This was the case with Adam, whose sin was not a private matter but affected whole human race. In Joshua 7, Achan’s sin of keeping the “devoted things” brought judgment on the rest of God’s people.
Rather than live sinful and negligent lives before God and each other, the Apostle calls the Corinthians to holiness by telling them to purge the old leaven and live out the newness that is theirs in Christ. Paul appeals to Passover imagery to make his point. Just as the Israelites had to rid their homes of leaven before they could sacrifice their Passover lamb (Exo. 12:15), these Corinthians were encouraged to rid their lives of their old ways in the light of the already offered sacrifice of Christ, our true Passover meal. Paul encourages this community to holiness through celebration of the work of Christ. Sexual immorality is what characterized their old lives and it has no place in their new life in Christ.
Paul concludes this section of his letter by saying,
“I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. ‘Purge the evil person from among you.’” (v. 9-13)
Rather than single out one particular kind of sin, Paul expands what else can function as “leaven” in the body of Christ. These include the sexually immoral of all sorts as defined in the law of God. Should there be any questions of what a sexually immoral act is, the law of God is to be referenced as Paul clearly did. Other sins include greed and swindling, which are both forms of idolatry. People greedy for gain who are willing to do anything to “swindle” people for their own gain reveal that they serve possessions and not God. Likewise a professing Christian who lives in perpetual drunkenness and various other sins are to be excluded from fellowship in the church. Paul’s point is clear: being a Christian means breaking away from the old sinful ways of living. Matthew Vines cannot advocate such a position with his application, or rather, eradication, of the law of God in the church.
The law of God still has a place for the people of God. Indeed, the new covenant was not meant to do away with the law. Rather, it was meant to put the law in our hearts and not merely on tablets of stone (Jer. 31:31-34). Vines’ approach to the sexual ethics of the Old Testament amount to nothing more than the sneer, “Did God actually say?” that Satan used to cause the fall of man back in the garden (Gen. 3:2). The methodology of Vines would open Pandora’s Box of sin for humanity. Vines’ interpretive approach leaves no way to hit the moral brakes in the life of any person. In essence, instead of changing ones actions, they would merely be called to have the right motives and the right orientation for their lifestyle. There is no place for repentance and holiness in this approach. We can only conclude, that it is not Christian and the Bible exhorts us to not associate with such a one. This discipline is necessary that they may consider the seriousness of their sin and that by being expelled from the church they might come to see their spiritual condition is outside of the kingdom of God and if they continue in their lifestyle, they will be excluded from the new heavens and new earth as well (cf. Rev. 21:8).
The gospel is the issue. The gospel comes to us and confronts us in our sin and calls us to life out of it. The more we lessen our sin, the more we cheapen the grace that it takes to save us. Paul calls us to be appalled at our sin. We must not be negligent with open sin in the church or in our homes. We must purge the evil from our midst. Our motivation is the cross. There is where Jesus Christ died in the place of sinners and for sinners. In light of his sacrifice on our behalf, we should find motivation to live holy lives. May we all rid our lives of the leaven we see in them. May we all lovingly help others in the body of Christ to see the leaven in all our lives and lead each other to repentance and invite everyone to celebrate Christ, our Passover with sincerity and truth.
 LGBT stands for “Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender.”
 Matthew Vines, God and the Gay Christian, (New York: Convergent Books), 2014.
 One of Vines’ argument is that homosexual behavior of the Old and New Testament eras was about power, lust and dominance. Today’s homosexual behavior seeks “loving and committed relationships” and hence, Vines’ concludes, the Bible does not at all reference the homosexual behavior of the modern era.
 Vines, 78.
 Vines, 79.
 All citations from ESV Bible unless otherwise cited.
 Especially Leviticus 17-26.
 Vines, 79-80.
 “The bottom line is this: The Bible doesn’t directly address the issue of same-sex orientation – or the expression of that orientation. While its six references to same-sex behavior are negative, the concept of same-sex behavior in the Bible is sexual excess, not sexual orientation. What’s more, the main reason that non-affirming Christians believe the Bible’s statements should apply to all same-sex relationships – men and women’s complimentarity – is not mentioned in any of the texts.” (Vines, 130.)
 “In Jewish circles, the wording wife of his father meant “stepmother.” (Simon J. Kistemaker, Exposition of the First Epistle to the Corinthians , New Testament Commentary, (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1993) 156.
 “Second Temple Judaism regularly replaced execution with excommunication when applying these texts to their communities.” From Roy E. Ciampa and Brian S. Rosner, “1 Corinthians” in Commentary on the New Testament use of the Old Testament, ed. G.K. Beale and D. A. Carson, (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic), 2007, 707.