Jesus, binding, loosing, and Biblical sexual ethics

I was reflecting on Jesus’ words regarding divorce the other day. Jesus was asked point blank how he felt about it. His answer draws on the ideal situation presented in Genesis 2. It is God who has pronounced that a man and a woman become one flesh when joined together, therefore we shouldn’t rush to undo that. Nevertheless, Jesus is quick to point out that humanity doesn’t always function according to the ideal, so God shows that the divine meets us where we are and grants that the ideal is not always possible where humanity is involved. So God allows divorce.

A thematically similar thing happens in the Hebrew scriptures. The patriarchs all had more than one wife. Or concubines. Or slaves with which they acted married. None of them even came close to Genesis 2 ideals.

Then there is King David. Validated as a man after God’s own heart, even though he was an adulterer, a bigamist, and had a ton of concubines. Far far away from the Genesis 2 sexual-relational ideal.

Now to switch gears a bit. There is a Hebrew concept of Torah interpretation called “binding and loosing”. This is the process by which Rabbis interpret certain laws to be more important than others and give instruction on whether to keep them or break them in certain circumstances. Jesus does this, for example, when he teaches that it is lawful to heal or rescue a donkey on the Sabbath.

Therefore when Jesus tells his followers that whatever we bind on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever we loose on earth will be loosed in heaven, he is giving us permission to make interpretive judgements about scripture, and that God, at least on some level, will honor those calls.

Given these things, I believe it is appropriate to reconsider our stances on homosexuality. Nowhere in scripture does God advocate doing away with the Genesis 2 ideal of marriage because of the hardness of the human heart. But what is validated is making a person’s sexuality a non-issue as we strive towards God together. God honored the binding and loosing of marriage and divorce, sexuality and multiple partners. I advocate that we honor the sexual-relational ideal of Genesis 2, but for our time, allow a person’s sexuality to be a non-issue while we get on with the business of weightier matters, much in the same way God did with David, the Patriarchs, and those who divorce. A sort of “doing good on the sabbath”. Loving others and treating them with respect is weightier than a sexual purity law, at least according to every example in the Bible. Except Ezra. But he was a jerk.

0 thoughts on “Jesus, binding, loosing, and Biblical sexual ethics

  1. Rod of Alexandria

    If this is the case, then there is no point in not having a law at all. I don’t think it is that easy to interpret the notion of “binding and loosing” with the current Hebrew concept. We have to think in historical context. How recent is this rabbinic notion of “binding and loosing” and how do we know for sure what kind of Judaism Jesus practiced? That is my main issue with the argument of this post.

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  2. Optimistic Chad

    Quite to the contrary, the process of binding and loosing does not in any regard seek to do away with any part of the law. Instead, it advocates making some laws weightier or less weighty than others. My suggestion (or a suggestion submitted for discussion) is that the sexual ethics in the Bible are often considered less weighty than many other laws in the Bible by God. And what might that mean for a consideration of sexuality for our day.
    As to whether or not this “binding and loosing” was typical of Jewish thought during Jesus’ day, I want to say yes. I have read that this is the case, but as of now, I can’t remember my sources. I will look into this further.

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  3. Leo Boller

    With your binding and loosing, and choosing to do good, even if it means letting go of some ‘pesky rule’, is a little stretchy. Healing (clearly, something ‘good’), even when a pesky rule about the Sabbath might prevent it is not the same as blessing sexual desires by bringing them into a blessed union. Is homosexuality the ‘good’ thing in your example, or is it the ‘pesky rule’?

    Suppose a homosexual (in an earnest attempt to conform with what his church/parents/society taught him was ‘natural’) marries a woman. After some time, he recognizes the various differences that make his spouse act like a woman, his own interest in sexual partners of his own gender, and that the whole time, he was ‘living a lie’. Is it okay for him to divorce her? If she marries again, wouldn’t he be causing her to commit adultery? What if they had children? Would that change anything, or should consider how important it is to him to be true to himself, instead of being true to his wife, children (if any) and even his and her relatives, before he ‘looses’ his wife and family from those bonds that he agreed to leave on?

    Homosexuality or other inclinations aside, how often do we ‘live a lie’ by doing things just because it’s what she wants, without regard to how we feel or what we desire? How about stuffing our desires to serve our Savior in all that we do, even though it means repulsive, disgusting and perverse activities such as loving our neighbor, changing a diaper, ‘quilting’, kissing a mother-in-law, or any number of awful things we really do not want to do?

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    1. Optimistic Chad

      I was not advocating blessing or endorsing or assenting to something we consider non-biblical. In this case, I was advocating that the weightier issues of unity, service, love, kindness, peace outweigh the sexual practices of any particular person or group, the same way God did in the scriptures. Even if we conclude that homosexuality is perverse, it is certainly not more so than straight adultery. And even an unrepentant lifestyle of immorality does not disqualify someone from contributing. Of course, there are others for whom this is not an issue. They see homosexuality as normative and within biblical norms. It is a complex argument, but I wanted to recognize that for some, this isn’t even an issue. I unfortunately, am not there yet.

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      1. Optimistic Chad

        But to your point, I like what you said about doing things that we are uncomfortable with. I would never advocate breaking a covenant without dire reasons. So if a homosexual marries and has children, I feel for the sake of covenant and the children, unless there is abuse, etc… I would like to see them stay married.

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  4. Jennifer

    “How about stuffing our desires to serve our Savior in all that we do…”

    Leo, that’s a powerful point. I suppose I idealize what it means to be “born again.” I’d like to think that even those who struggle with homosexual tendencies, would (gradually) be liberated from their desires once they repent and come to faith in Christ.

    With regard to sin in general, I’d like to think that once we are liberated of old desires, we will be given completely new ones in exchange.

    While I of course believe in the power of the Holy Spirit to transform, renew, and restore, I recognize — as the apostle Paul recognized, that so long as we are in the flesh, we will *always* struggle with sin and temptation: some sins in greater degree than others. We will not be totally free of sin, or our “bodies of death” until our earthly lives end.

    That being said, I realize now that just because my desires haven’t been totally transformed, God’s standards are still the same. I am called to live a life of Christ-like righteousness, *in spite* of how I “feel.”

    I may not “feel” love for an enemy, but am I still called to love him. (Love after all, fare more than a mere emotion.) I may not “feel” like changing a diaper, but I am still called to serve with joy. (And the other examples Leo gave.)

    We can take this further. In terms of marriage, after a few years, one may not be as “in love with” or “passionate” about their spouse, but they must still remain faithful. One may come to find the “Christian walk” far more mundane or tougher than they had initially thought, but that is no excuse to turn back.

    Feelings change, but our commitment to Christ must be permanent, because His commitment to us is eternal and unchanging!

    * And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” ~ Mark 8:34

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