Protodeacon Feldman’s Old Testament

Up here in Canada, where the winters are cold and the liberal propaganda relentless, we are just concluding Pride Month. But, as a wise person recently said to me, at the Orthodoxy in Dialogue website it is always Pride Month. It was not surprising therefore to read there yet another piece promoting the ecclesiastical legitimation of homosexual activity entitled, “LGBTQ+ In Our Churches” by Protodeacon Theodore Feldman (at left), who serves under Fr. Arida at the OCA Holy Trinity Cathedral in Boston.

The piece contains little that is new, and one is tempted to simply dismiss the whole thing as yet another reissue of the same tired arguments always trotted out on Facebook to legitimate homosexuality and subvert the Church’s Tradition. One cannot rush to refute every piece of ideological inanity one finds online, since most of us already have full-time jobs. Some of the arguments the Protodeacon uses in his piece are so irrelevant as to be almost content-free, such as his argument from our worship that since at the Chalice we confess that we are chief among sinners we cannot exclude anyone from receiving Holy Communion there. The fact that we are all sinners is true, of course, but is irrelevant to the issue at hand, which is of whether homosexual activity is sinful and whether the one approaching the Chalice has repented of the sin and is striving to resist it.

More interesting and worth responding to are the Protodeacon’s comments about the use of the Old Testament. He writes: “The Old Testament book of Leviticus includes many commandments that we do not keep—for example, do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material (19:19), do not trim your beard (19:27), do not sacrifice an ox outside the camp (17:3-4), render ‘an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth’ (24:19-20). Those who cite 18:22 and 20:13 (do not ‘lie with a male as with a woman’) as prohibitions against homosexuality pluck them from a whole that we no longer countenance. In doing so—in selecting those commandments that they consider applicable to our culture—they confess to discerning how to apply Scripture to our lives. But then we may contest their discernment and counter that these verses, like the others, do not make sense in our culture. We cannot anyway recover the intent of these two verses from Leviticus. The Hebrew words here that are often claimed as targeting homosexual behavior appear nowhere else in the Old Testament. And so they are impossible to translate reliably. We can recover neither their proper meaning, nor their intended target, nor their context in a society so far removed from our own as to make even ordinary daily activities incomprehensible.”

This brings up two questions: 1. What does the text referring to homosexuality in Leviticus 18:22 mean, and 2. Is it applicable to us in the Church today?

We first examine the question, “What does Leviticus 18:22 mean?” It is odd for the Protodeacon to say “The Hebrew words here that are often claimed as targeting homosexual behavior appear nowhere else in the Old Testament. And so they are impossible to translate reliably.” It is simply not so, and one wonders if perhaps the Protodeacon is mixing up the Hebrew of Leviticus 18:22 with the Greek arsenokoitai of 1 Corinthians 6:9—though the meaning this latter is still clear, since here Paul simply creates a word using the words found in the Septuagint version of Leviticus 18:22. But let us examine the Hebrew of Leviticus 18:22, which the Protodeacon says uses words which “appear nowhere else in the Old Testament”.

The Hebrew word there usually translated “male” is zakar, and is the same word used in Genesis 1:27, where it is paired with the word translated “female” and refers to the two genders which God made: “male and female He created them”. The word in Leviticus 18:22 usually translated “woman” is ishah, the same word used in Genesis 2:23 and refers to the woman who was created from the man: “she shall be called Woman [ishah] because she was taken out of Man [ish]”. The Hebrew word in Leviticus 18:22 usually translated “lie” is shakab, and is found also in Deuteronomy 22:22, where it described the adulterous act of one lying with another man’ wife. The Hebrew word in Leviticus 18:22 which describes this forbidden homosexual act is to’ebah, usually translated “abomination”. The word is often found in the Old Testament, such as in Deuteronomy 7:26, where is describes pagan idolatry. The Hebrew words used in Leviticus 18:22 therefore are in fact found throughout the Old Testament, and their meaning could scarcely be clearer.

The meaning is so clear, in fact, and so unwelcome (at least to certain people such as the Protodeacon) that some have tried to evade the force of it by suggesting that this text prohibited not homosexuality per se, but only when it was found in certain idolatrous contexts. Thus the rendering of Leviticus 18:22 in the so-called “Queen James Bible”: “Thou shalt not lie with mankind as with womankind in the temple of Molech: it is an abomination” (italics mine). It hardly needs pointing out that the text itself offers no suggestion that the sin was so narrowly contextualized or that it contains no reference to a temple of Molech. A comparison of a similar prohibition in the next verse suggests exactly the opposite. Leviticus 18:23 reads, “And you shall not lie with any beast and defile yourself with it, neither shall any woman give herself to a beast to lie with it; it is perversion”.

The “Queen James Bible” translators want us to imagine that homosexual acts were only proscribed if committed in a temple of Molech but were presumably just fine if committed in an Israelite tent. Would they also suggest that acts of sexual bestiality were similarly proscribed only in such idolatrous locales, but were fine in an Israelite barnyard? The context is clear that the reason for the proscription was the same in both verses: “it is perversion” (Hebrew tebel, used also in Leviticus 20:12 to describe incest with one’s daughter-in-law).

There is nothing for it: Leviticus 18:22 forbids sexual relations between two men, describing it as an abomination. The “target” of this verse was anyone who was tempted to commit a homosexual act (or, in Leviticus 18:23, an act of bestiality); its “context” was the Israelite community in covenant with God, who demanded sexual purity from His covenant people.

The second question which the Protodeacon’s piece brings up is: “Is this text applicable to us in the Church today?” Here the Protodeacon’s lack of expertise with the Old Testament becomes more apparent, as he throws into the mix a number of disparate verses with no attempt to understand their varied contexts. His basic point, worthy of Marcion, seems to be that because certain precepts in the Old Testament no longer directly apply to us today as they did to the Israelites (such as the prohibition about trimming beards, which he cites with no concern for its original context) that anything which we dislike in the Old Testament can be thrown into the dumpster.

It is clear that certain commands in the Old Testament presupposed a theocratic covenant community in the Iron Age; it is also clear that certain other commands are eternally and universally applicable. Some of the latter include the necessity of monotheism (Exodus 20:3), a concern for the poor (Deuteronomy 15:7-11) and the prohibition of murder (Exodus 20:13). These things should not be considered as “plucked from a whole that we no longer countenance”. They make perfect sense in our culture—as does the prohibition of homosexuality. It is not true that this prohibition of homosexuality “does not make sense in our culture”, but only that it is emphatically unwelcome in our culture—which is something entirely different.

The question about “discerning how to apply (Old Testament) Scripture to our lives” and deciding which Old Testament prohibitions are directly applicable (for some are indirectly applicable, such as the prohibition of muzzling an ox while it threshes; see 1 Corinthians 9:9) is not decided on the arbitrary basis of which ones we happen to like. It is done on the basis of how the Old Testament material is used by the writers of the New Testament. Thus, for example, the Old Testament precept forbidding the eating of pork is no longer applicable because the apostles, following their Lord, insisted that all food is now clean for us (1 Timothy 4:3, Romans 14:14, Mark 7:19). But the Old Testament precept forbidding homosexual acts is still applicable because the apostles such as Paul clearly condemned homosexual acts in Romans 1:26, saying that they were “against nature”, παρα φυσιν/ para physin, a passage whose meaning is clear, notwithstanding the Protodeacon’s attempt to sweep it under the rug by jumping from Romans 1 to Romans 2 as if the latter somehow cancelled out the former.

Further, our traditional exegesis of the apostolic material is confirmed by examining how the Church has always understood it—viz. as condemning all homosexual acts regardless of their context. To suggest that the Holy Tradition is silent on the matter is nonsense, as any quick perusal of patristic writings will attest. Dismissing the unanimous consensus of the Fathers on this matter as if it were simply their “opinions growing out of their own cultural context, but not out of Christ’s word” is breathtakingly irresponsible. But it does reveal the central difference between the Fathers and the Protodeacon: for the Fathers, the witness of Scripture was paramount and authoritative; for the Protodeacon, what is paramount and authoritative is the view held by our secular culture.

Ultimately the issue is not about this or that text of the Old Testament, or even about the texts of the New Testament. It is our willingness to oppose the views of our secular culture if they contradict the consistent witness of the Church. The secular world’s view of LGBTQ+ is radically incompatible with the word of Christ and the teaching of His Church. One therefore has to choose a side. The Protodeacon has chosen his. We must choose ours.

24 comments:

  1. Father, bless!
    What a refreshing surprise to read truth and sanity in 2019. It is frightening to live in a time when even clergy are attempting to sweep anything they don’t like aside. I served a unit of Clinical Pastoral Education last summer, where I was reviled as a dinosaur by my fellow chaplains because I did not encourage homosexuality and gender dysphoria among mentally troubled teens. I am comforted by this post, because it reminds me that I am not crazy. There are others who see what is happening. Thank you for the boost to soldier on into these days of insanity!

    1. I am not aware of any such action, but my little mission in Langley, B.C., Canada is far away from Boston, and I am very out of the American loop.

      1. That’s okay, it seems several Archdioceses’ top brass are out of their respective loops as well. Shh! don’t want to awaken anyone.

  2. Amen, Fr. Lawrence.
    It appears some Bishop or Patriarch has some discipline to do. Not for me to say, of course. But we ARE watching. We converts did not leave the apostate West to watch EO be watered down and then ruined. Please, OCA, no tolerance for this, none!
    Thank you, Father, for YOUR vigilance.

  3. Fr. Farley and Father Peck,

    When someone realizes that the Leviticus mainly addresses (and confirms the soteriology of Orthodoxy) death, how it makes you unclean, how you self-destruct, how you fail at becoming – then the logic, and here I would give Natural Theology some credit on this topic, of homosexuality, bestiality, incest, rape, and so forth becomes quite clear. When someone bleeds they are unclean and unfit for sacred space (in the OT a woman’s menstrual cycle). If you are leprous you expose the decay/degeneration/the no-Shalom of the body and you are unclean. When a man and woman have intercourse they are unclean for a period of time because life left the body, a kind of death occurred. But all of these are innocent of a moral element they just made you unfit to be in the presence of God until a sacrifice was made or a period of cleansing. The life in the blood of the sacrifice covered your lack/loss of life.

    But to willingly violate the commandment to offer sacrifice, or to brazenly enter God’s presence while being knowingly unclean would have been the equivalent of asking for a death sentence. So the biological was innocent but needed sacrifice or cleansing but the moral something different: punishment, banishment, restitution…

    Then with everything from homosexuality to having relations with your mother – the homosexual community really seems to ignore the plethora of other boundaries put on sexual relations in the Bible including self-abuse, lust, fornication, mutual self-giving versus self-centered, coerced, or forced relations – these actions do not fall under the category of only unclean but brazenness and since Yahweh’s portion, His land and people, could contaminate the land and risk judgment or removal of the presence of God with their sin without sacrifice or ridding the pollution, something had to be done to keep the land free of corruption.

    But in the OT, and here is where the point is indisputable, moral sins had no sacrifice only punishments. There is no sacrifice for adultery, for killing, for rape, for your bull mauling your neighbor’s kid – there is only the death penalty or restitution or banishment.

    In the New Covenant, there is forgiveness of moral sin in Christ’s sacrifice which makes the New so much superior to the Old and all things which made a person unclean (with some exception: things like consuming blood) no longer do because of the Resurrection. We do not tell a cancer patient not to come to the Eucharist. But we do tell non-repentant sinners not to come because now that we are Temples, the new sacred space God intends to inhabit by His Spirit, the Eucharist will either clean you or kill you – either gradually sanctifying or gradually hardening (and this can happen instantly as well).

    But all of this fit our Tradition and soteriology. Death is the great enemy with Satan as the former lord over death. Death is defeated and the uncleanness which needed sacrifice is unnecessary because all will be raised, but the moral sin, the brazen wantonness of the flesh, “those who live according to the flesh will die” unless their sin is mortified and starved.

    And in the same way that actual physical death made you unclean, moral sin leads to physical death because our body and soul and mind are all intertwined in a way that you cannot separate the will from the soul – your biological death in Adam makes you unclean until Christ’s resurrection, but the will affects your body and soul in such a way that it may kill you in such a way that you cannot recover, “fear Him who can kill both soul and body…”. You can recover from biological cleanness due to Resurrection but you cannot recover from the need for holiness apart from lifelong repentance, faith, and love –from your moral failures originating in the will, from failing to follow the trajectory God has given us to Himself, from truly believing that if Christ was raised we will be raised, and living as dead to sin and alive to God. These do not fall under the clean/unclean categories of Leviticus.

    To dice up Leviticus and really the soteriology of the Church into separate categories, and quite intentionally I might add – I swear he must have borrowed from various atheist websites – is pointless drivel but I’m sure that’s enough to sell someone bent on believing what they have already determined to believe.

    God bless you,
    Matt

    1. Interesting thoughts Mat. The Eucharist can be served to a cancer patient because they are clean and pure in their faith. Have I heard you correctly? And are you saying a woman or a man who have had intercourse in wedlock or otherwise are unclean and cannot enter “sacred” space with other people who have abstained from sexual activity…until they have abstained for the prescribed amount of time?

  4. Your two counterpoints on the scriptures are convincing, to me at least. And his final point about being “the chief of sinners” is just silly (if his point were valid it would spread to invalidate everything the church does!).

    But you don’t mention his other point, which concerns me. He argued that we mercifully allow divorced and remarried people to partake even though that is technically adultery. This is a common argument against our stance against homosexuality: that we show mercy to the heterosexual versions of the same sins we condemn when they are homosexual. This is a valid point, in my opinion, though I think it too is based on some squishy definitions.

    Ultimately our acceptance at the chalice is not dependant on the way we classify our sexual attraction. LGTBQ people ARE welcome, as are adulterers. But they are welcome because of their repentance and humility. A divorced man who has remarried may approach saying “I am an adulterer, and the chief at that. But I know that I was meant to be otherwise. Even though I cannot undo what I have done and I will always remain an adulterer, I will strive to live otherwise”. The problem is with our ownership of the sin. To be an adulterer means I have committed adultery. It does not mean that I must commit adultery because my nature gives me no other options. A homosexual man is one who is attracted to other men. It does not necessarily follow then that they must act on that attraction, just as a straight man must also deny himself. The label may always apply, but it need not define one’s identity before God. I am an arrogant man, I would even argue it is according to my very nature. But I must fight against that spiritual cancer even though that cancer is technically “me”. Our nature is corrupted. This is why we need salvation. And we may receive it at the altar when we approach asking for the medicine to heal our souls. It does no good, and should be denied, when we approach asking for medicine we are not truly taking.

    1. I do take your point and completely agree with you. Those who have initiated a divorce have also sinned, and require repentance. I did not deal with this in my blog, since the topic is a large and complicated one and would need more space to be adequately dealt with than in my response to Protodeacon Feldman’s piece. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to clarify and add this point.

  5. This cleric has misrepresented the Orthodox Christian faith in public. He has scandalized the faithful. It can’t possibly be that his bishop is unaware of this. Once this might have been dealt with over a few months. In 2019 it was made public and visible the world over in a matter of hours. I think the bishop should deal with it in a matter of days at most. Will the bishop be partof the scandal or the cure? His job is clear.

  6. The very labels and concepts of “LGBTQ Christian” or “gay Christian” or “homosexual Christian” are not only not Orthodox Christian, they are not Christian in any true and Catholic and Apostolic sense at all. They represent a corrupt and alien spirit to Orthodoxy and the Orthodox Church. They must be categorically denounced and rejected, not embraced and celebrated.

    To any Orthodox Christians or any other Christians who have embraced this false identity, I beseech you:

    Do not believe the lies of Satan. Do not accept the delusions and distortions of those who have forsaken the true God and abandoned the wisdom of Christ and the Scriptures. You are not “gay” or “homosexual.” You were not “born this way.” You are men and women created in the image and likeness of GOD! You were all designed by Him for everlasting life in His Kingdom. You struggle with carnal temptations and spiritual passions, like every single man and woman since the fall of Adam and Eve. In other words you are human.

    Sin does not characterize you. Passions do not define you. Do not self-identify with any sin or any passion. You are not your sin. If you are a Christian and believe that Jesus Christ is Lord, the Son and Word of the living God, True God of True God, the Redeemer and Saviour of all mankind, then you must reject and abandon the “gay” or “homosexual” identity or label. “You are not your own; you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

    You are a man or a woman made in the image and likeness of GOD. A creature that must continually cling to Christ and walk the narrow road that leads to salvation. A human being that can become divine and holy through God’s grace, Christ’s love, and the power of the Holy Spirit, through the intercession of the Saints, and help from prayers and the holy sacraments, worship, and practices of the Holy Orthodox Church.

    – Fr. Ioannes Apiarius

  7. “Would they also suggest that acts of sexual bestiality were similarly proscribed only in such idolatrous locales, but were fine in an Israelite barnyard?”

    Actually, yes, very soon they will be making this argument. This “slippery slope” is not a fallacy if every single sequence of the argument is actually true. Any wonder why these two adulterous acts were so closely juxtaposed? To do so is to act as a beast, for the Lord says “Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin.” (John 8:34)

  8. I find your arguments far off the Mark! You quote scripture and make your case to denounce homosexuality based upon those caught in adultery. You say that divorced people or adulterers are welcome at the table as long as they repent. You seem to forget, that until recently the Church did not allow divorcees at the table in Protestant and Roman Catholic denominations. Maybe Orthodoxy was different. In the other traditions, a divorcee who remarried was trapped in adultery. A divorcee who remarried was guilty of committing adultery. The divorcee could only go and sin no more if they remained single without the love and support of a spouse They were trapped. Therefore I think you have all missed the mark. Jesus did not condemn the Woman Trapped in Adultery nor does he trap the eunuch or the homosexual to remain like a noisy gong in a loveless life without a loving spouse a helpmate ( 1 Cor 13.) Rather Jesus liberates adulterers and the LGBTQ+ from a life of sin that the temple police and chief builders of the temple reinforce when they judge sin by the Law of Moses rather than by the Love, the FIRE that no amount of water can extinguish (SOS 8)and the GRACE of God that forgives and welcomes those the Father of the Law and Oral Tradition judges sinners (Luke 7:35-50).

    1. Actually my argument says nothing about adultery, but is entirely based on the condemnation of homosexuality found in Lev. 18:22 and accepted by the apostolic church in such verses as Romans 1:26-27.

      1. Yes. When people lie about their sexual lives and try to hide their love for another human being, they are full of deceit! Passion for an object or the ungodly desire to acquire people as sexual toys or slaves to satisfy body appetites devoid of LOVE or respect for the person is dehumanizing! (Romans 1:25-26) And yes it would be wrong and an abomination to lie with a man as you would a woman if you thought the same way about the man as you did the woman. God wants people to choose their loved ones and cherish only them and treat animals with respect as well (Leviticus 18:22).

        1. What is prohibited in the text is the action itself; the attendant feelings of love are irrelevant to sinfulness of the action. It is important to read the text through the cultural lens of its time, and not through the lens of our own modern concerns.

          1. You make a valid point. The cultural lens of the time do alter how people down through the ages read the texts. Perhaps that is why John the Baptist and Jesus came. What do you think? Perhaps God wanted people to pay attention to the attendant feelings of love people should have toward God, neighbour and one another. I know your argument did not include adultery. I brought up the issue of adultery because I think it sheds light on “attendant” feelings of love. The whole adultery story sheds light on the attitude of sin and sexual and social intercourse that had crept into the culture of Jesus’ day and persists today. As you say, people adhering to the Leviticus Code, focus on what the body does and not what the HEART wants or what the whole person chooses–the attendant feelings. People adhering to Leviticus put themselves in the mind of God at that time of history. And God at that time…said if any man should lie with a man as a woman that would be an abomination. Did women have a say back then? What about the Levite and the Concubine Judges 19?

          2. The large lacuna in your reasoning is the Church, which Paul describes as the pillar and bulwark of the truth. The Church has always taught that homosexual acts are sinful, regardless of the person’s feelings. It is an error to separate Christ from His Church, as if the Head could be separated from the Body. We access the teaching of the Church first in the Epistles, and these are unanimous and emphatic that homosexual acts are sinful.

  9. I agree wholeheartedly with you Father Lawrence. It is an error to separate the Church from her Bridegroom. When the early church meeting in Chloe’s household was divided on the issue of who to follow, it was Paul who put Chloe and her household straight (1 Corinthians 1: 13) . People were not living as one holy apostolic household of faith. They were divided. Paul asks. “Was Paul crucified for you? Later Paul writes these words to the faithful in Galatians 2:20. “I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.”

    In Romans 1:26…Paul admonishes those who say they are Christ’s followers who are not living by faith in Christ. Paul says God has given them dishonourable passions, because they are not loving one another as Christ loves. They are loving the Creature, the Creation, rather than the CREATOR.

    Celibate people are welcome to participate in the Eucharist. Celibacy is unnatural and in their loneliness, many [not all] may pervert their natural inclination to love and marry and exchange it for what is not natural for them.

    Paul values marriage…the idea of living and being physically intimate within a covenant. So much so, Paul endeavors to make “brides” for Christ (2 Corinthians 11: 2.) Paul instructs living people to honour and give their living bodies honourably, to one another willingly and eagerly with the same kind of CHERISHING LOVE their Father in Christ has for their Mother in Christ…and their Elder Brother in Christ has for his Beloved.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *