The Logical Flaw in the Anti-Gay Hermeneutic

08 May

Pretty much the entire “Biblical” case against homosexuality can be found in 7 verses.  The traditionalists build their case based on these verses and a worldview based on Creationism and Adam & Eve.

I have written extensively about each of the seven passages before (here) and about the importance of good Biblial hermeneutics (here), so I will not delve into those details again here.

Suffice it to say, based on good hermeneutics (that is, the proper interpretation and application of scripture), I think the best (that is, most faithful) reading of the text is that God does not condemn anywhere loving, committed, monogamous, life-long, Christ-centered gay relationships.

Most certainly, there are certain same-sex relationships and practices that are condemned in the scriptures.  For instance, homosexual rape is condemned.  As is the inherently abusive relationship between adult men and young boys.  Scripture is clear in condemning these and I think, for the most part, even today, we all agree in those condemnations.

But in order for the traditionalists to build a case against all homosexual relationships and against all homosexuals, they rely on a logical jump going from the specific example to the universal principal.

This is a dangerous, and I think logically flawed, jump that is designed to simply be self-affirming of the position the traditionalists are trying to argue for — that is, this is classic eisegesis, not good exegesis.

Here is how the argument goes:

Scripture condemns X-specific behavior.

Therefore, scripture condemns all X-general behavior

That is:

Scripture condemns homosexual relations between free men and slave boys (X-specific).

Therefore, by implication, scripture condemns all homosexual relations (X-general).

Of course, the logic is self-evidently flawed:

Scripture condemns heterosexual adultery (Y-specific).

Therefore, by implication, scripture condemns all heterosexual relations (Y-general).

In the New Testament, all we have are specific examples of things that the writer (usually Paul) condemns.  In the Old Testament, we have narratives that generally condemn specific behavior.

We also have the Levitical Holiness Code that condemns all homosexuality, but it comes in a a section that (a) Christians universally agree is not binding under the New Covenant (except for gays, apparently) and (b) includes other prohibitions that we totally ignore (wearing clothes made of mixed fibers, dietary laws, laws about menstruation and the stoning of disobedient children, etc).

Much is also made of Romans 1 in regard to the more universal argument.  But in Romans 1, Paul is using homosexuality as a rhetorical example to essentially lure his listeners (traditionalist Jews) into his argument about universal grace; he is not, in and of itself, making a theological argument or claim about homosexuality.

Paul simply picks an example for his audience that he knows will resonate culturally. Homosexuality was considered evil and disgusting by religious Jews of the day.  Today, if speaking to a Muslim population and trying to make the same argument, Paul might well choose an example of a Muslim teen, who listens to Western music, dresses in western clothing and drinks and chews and runs with women who do too.  To this hypothetical modern audience, this teen man would clearly have brought condemnation upon himself!  (Ahhh yes… Paul’s point precisely… that we all have!!!!!).  But none of this would speak to Paul’s feelings about — let alone God’s feelings about — this young Muslim teen who listens to American music.  All we learn is what his audience thinks about such things… not what God thinks.

Suffice it to say, Romans 1 says nothing about what God thinks about homosexuality.

The final place where traditionalists make their biggest logical error is again with the specific-to-general logical jump.

Much is made of Adam and Eve as being the model married couple.  And of course, God created them and brought them together in sexual union that the two will become one.  

I affirm that this is, in fact, a beautiful picture of marriage and that God created marriage and intends us to live in this kind of “one flesh” relationship.  It reveals something about the creativity and beauty of God… that we are most human when we are in intimate community together with another.

And, the traditionalist will often remind us that God created “Adam & Eve” not “Adam & Steve”, as if this makes clear that the relationship/marriage we are talking about must be heterosexual.

This is the specific example to universal principle logical jump:

Adam was male and Eve was female (X-specific).

Therefore all unified (married) couples for all time must be male and female (X-general).

The problem with this logic, of course, is that we being very selective about WHICH X-specific factors matter and which ones don’t.  In fact, we choose based entirely on the conclusion we are trying to create — the essence of bad exegesis.

For example:

The male was named Adam and female named Eve (X-specific).

Therefore all unified (married) couples for all time must be named Adam and Eve (X-general).

We rightfully reject this argument, reasoning that the names of the two people involved are not the relevant factor.

We could make the same argument based on a number of factors and variables: race (both Adam and Eve were semitic people, presumably), height, age, hair color, relationship to each other, etc etc.  But we tend to dismiss all of those issues and then make gender the key “big idea” of this passage.

But why?  It is certainly not emphasized in the text.  There is little discussion of gender.  The emphasis is on community and unity, on intimacy and family unit.  Things that are reflected in the Holy Trinity.

The text emphasizes relationship, compliment, partnership.  Not gender.  But we conclude, based on our own pre-supposition about what marriage must mean, that the key component of this model that is universal is gender.

But there is neither a logical nor textual reason to conclude this.

Now some will argue that this is a slippery slope to, for example, polygamy.  They argue, that if the model isn’t one man and one woman, why can’t it be one man and two women?

Well, one answer is that this particular text makes it dificult to make the argument because the author actually makes the specific-to-general argument explicit (as opposed to, the claim that it is implicit, which we have now debunked).

“This is why the two shall become one.”

We get specific example (two become one) and then it is repeated as a general universal principle.  It is not a logical jump, but an explicit teaching of the scripture.

Okay, the naysayer will grant.  No polygamy.  But what about marrying animals or adults marrying children or such…

(The argument goes that if we take the position that the Genesis narrative is not primarily about gender, it opens the doors to lots of other “bad” behaviors we want to ban).

Well… there are certainly other Biblical (and even non-Biblical)
principles at play, such as the Great Commandment to love one another and to love God.  So we have grounds for rejecting relationships that are not based on mutual love (a child in an abusive relationship cannot reciprocate freely that love… same with an animal.) Of course, Biblical-folk must be a bit careful here because, by our modern standards, the relationship between Joseph (probably at least 20 years old and perhaps several years older) to Mary (at most 13 or 14, possibly younger) would be scandalous and illegal.

But we recognize that societal standards have changed we understand the narrative in its historical context.

So, in conclusion:

First, before we can use the Adam-Eve model as a hammer to beat gay people with, we must first make the case that the universal teaching of that narrative is about gender.  I don’t think anyone can realistically make that argument.

Second, when we look at the other passages, all we see is very specific condemnation of very specific types of relationships and behavior.  There is not warranted grounds to universalize that teaching/ethical claim — or at least, the burden of proof is on those who want to make these universal. 

Finally, some will ask, can I find any positive examples of gay marriage or relationships in the Bible?  The answer is possibly (or maybe here), but not definitely.  But that is not the point.  We don’t need to find examples of marriage in the Bible with two working parents, with three kids, who drive mini vans.  Those aren’t the key factors… work, children, jobs or transportation.  The key factors are love, partnership, unity in the flesh, etc.  So I have models to follow in the scripture… the same ones you do.

As someone who loves the Bible, believes it to be the inspired word of God, believes it to be authoritative and instructive, and believe that it testifies to and reveals the Living Word of God (Jesus), I believe that we must respect the scriptures.  When we make them say more than they do — or manipulate them to coincide with our own pre-conceived conclusions — we do as muc damage to them as when we take things out and ignore its basic teaching.  The logical flaw of specific-to-general reasoning runs the danger of adding into the text that which is not there. (Rev 22:18-19)


1 Comment

Posted by on May 8, 2012 in Uncategorized


One response to “The Logical Flaw in the Anti-Gay Hermeneutic

  1. Ben Dubow

    May 11, 2012 at 2:12 am

    Bruce, I do not argue from silence but from content.As the inspired word of God, I trust that it says precisely what it is supposed to say. If Paul (or God) wanted to use a word that referred unequivocally to all homosexuality, he could have/would have — the choice not to is itself part of the doctrine of inspiration.Paul uses specific words to talk about specific things. When you then universalize those words, you are adding to the scriptures — something scripture says is as destructive as taking away from the scriptures.



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