Homosexuality, the Death Penalty and the Old Testament. . .

Monday, October 14th, 2013

I read with some interest the recent interchange between Adam Hamilton, pastor of the Church of the Resurrection, and Rob Renfroe, the President of Good News on homosexuality which appeared in the May/June issue of Good News magazine. Most of the exchange followed fairly predictable lines which one would expect. However, it was the final response by Hamilton that caught my attention. Hamilton closed his final response by pointing out the passage in Leviticus 20:13:

“If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death…”

Hamilton argues that both Renfroe and he are in agreement that the second part of the verse concerning stoning someone to death for a sin is culturally bound, since no Christian – even Renfroe – is advocating that homosexuals or anyone else be stoned to death. Therefore, the only difference between Renfroe and Hamilton, he concludes, is that Hamilton considers both parts of the verse to be culturally bound and not applicable for today, whereas Renfroe regards only the latter part of the verse to be culturally bound.

This blog is not about the issue of homosexuality, although that was the presenting issue between Hamilton and Renfroe. I am more interested in Hamilton’s exegetical method and how we read all kinds of passages like this in the Old Testament. First of all, it is a matter of the biblical record that the moral demands of the New Testament are higher than those of the Old Testament. If, for example, the act of adultery is regarded as “porneia” in the Old Testament, the very act of looking at a woman with lust is regarded as “porneia” in the New Testament (Matt. 5:27, 28). Many such examples could be given. Second, even if we put the first point aside, it is important to understand the reason the New Testament does not command Christians to stone sinners. It is not because of a relaxation of the moral demands of God, nor even, quite frankly, because of any relaxing of the consequences of sin.

On the contrary, the New Testament teaching is that we do not put sinners to death because Christ has already been put to death for every act of human sinfulness. It is in the face of Christ that we see the full extent of how God’s mercy meets God’s righteousness. It is not that “stoning” is culturally bound and therefore we can draw a red line through it. It is not because God has now relaxed the consequences of sin. Rather, it is that Jesus Christ has already borne the full penalty of our rebellion against God and neighbor on the cross. Just as we say, “Christ died for us” so we could also say, “Christ was stoned for us.”

To use the grace of God to nullify the judgment of God demonstrates a misunderstanding of the Christian gospel. When we try to take away or diminish the judgment of God we actually diminish the cross where Jesus bore the penalty we deserve. Leviticus 13, as with the whole of the Old Testament Law, is not vacated by Christian faith. Rather, it is fulfilled by Jesus Christ who said, “For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished” (Matt. 5:18).