On December 20, 2013, conservative biblical scholar Dr. Michael Brown appeared on the (now defunct) CNN’s Piers Morgan show to debate the homosexuality issue as it related to the comments that were made by one of the stars of the television show Duck Dynasty, who stated in an interview that homosexuality is a “sin.”
When Morgan asked if Brown could point to a single instance of Jesus himself denouncing homosexuality Brown responded that he could cite not one but three examples. The examples that he cited are as follows: According to Matthew 5 Jesus “did not come to abolish the law of the Torah, but to fulfill.” This is a reference to the Old Testament book of Leviticus in which homosexuality is condemned. The second verse that was cited was Matthew 15, where according to Dr. Brown, Jesus said that “all sexual acts committed outside marriage defile the human being.” The third example that Dr. Brown cited was Matthew 19, in which it is recorded that Jesus said that “marriage as God intended it is the union of one man and one woman for life.” Conservatives were quick to declare Dr. Brown’s appearance on the show a decisive victory for their cause. Conservative bloggers also used the occasion to mock Piers Morgan for being “schooled.”
However, there are problems with the examples that Brown cited. For example, in Matthew 19 Jesus is not talking about homosexuality, but rather he is specifically talking about an issue that is related to marriage and divorce. Here is the context:
Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?” “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
In this passage Jesus used an example of a man and a woman simply because that is the most common form of marriage, not because he was making a statement about homosexuality. Therefore in that particular verse Jesus was actually advocating for the institution of marriage itself.
The second example that Brown cited references “sexual immorality.” Here is how the verse appears:
For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them.
In this passage Jesus does not cite homosexuality as sexual immorality; although he does cite “adultery.” In this case, sexual immorality could pertain to other issues, such as rape, bestiality, and incest. Therefore, the assertion that “sexual immorality” includes homosexuality is an unwarranted assumption.
Also, according to Dr. Brown: “all sexual acts committed outside marriage defile a human being.” If this is true then it seems that he would actually be inadvertently making a case for gay marriage.
It is at this point that a traditional Judeo-Christian fundamentalist would cite the Old Testament in order to reinforce the claim that homosexuality pertains to sexual immorality. The reference to homosexuality is found in Leviticus 18.22, in which we are told that Yahweh (i.e. “Jehovah”) considered homosexual acts to be “detestable.” However, in the very same book of the Bible, Yahweh also decreed that his followers must not cut the hair on the sides of their head, nor trim the edges of their beard (Leviticus 19.27). Nor could they “wear clothing woven of two kinds of material,” or plant their fields with “two kinds of seed.” (Leviticus 19.19). They were also instructed not to eat pigs, which would include bacon and ham, and seafood that do not have “fins and scales,” such as crabs and lobster (Leviticus 11.7-10). In this case, one must wonder how many conservative Christians, including Dr. Brown himself, are guilty of violating these out-dated infractions?
Furthermore, in the very same book of the Bible Jehovah not only ordered a blasphemer to be stoned to death (Leviticus 24.23) but affirmed the law: “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” (Leviticus 24.20); both of which are practices that Jesus overturned (in Matthew 5.38 and John 8.7).
The final passage that Dr. Brown cites is the following:
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.
In order to understand this passage in the book of Matthew it is necessary to understand the book of Matthew itself. Biblical scholars have conceived a “Two Source Theory” concerning the history of the authorship of the gospels of the New Testament. The first source has been traced to Mark, who was not one of the original disciples. Besides the Gospel of Mark the other original source material that scholars believe that the gospel authors, such as Matthew and Luke, have drawn from is the so-called “Q” material (From the German word Quelle, meaning “source”). Even though the original Q source has yet to be found, most biblical scholars agree that it must have existed. Although the author of the book of Matthew is attributed to the disciple of the same name, scholars know that it is actually a pseudopigraphic document (meaning that it was attributed to someone other than the actual writer) that was submitted by an anonymous scribe at a later time. It is evident that the author of this book used the Gospel of Mark, as well as the original Q source, as a reference, which he then infused with the interpretation that was becoming popular during the time in which it was written—that is, the interpretation that had been promoted by Paul. (This may be what scholars refer to as the “M source,” which seems to have been based on an oral record). What must be understood is that Paul was not one of the original disciples. In this case, we can expect this record not to be as accurate as the others.
The truth is that the alleged utterance of Jesus that is recorded in Matthew 5.17-18 is in neither the earlier Gospel of Mark, nor in the original Q source; nor is it in any other gospel for that matter. This is because these words that were attributed to Jesus were added at a later time.
Some might make the case that the information that is found in Matthew 5 derives not from Paul but from Peter, who was one of the original disciples; however, according to the gospels themselves, Peter never fully understood the teachings of Jesus and was scolded several times by Jesus himself because of his ignorance (in John 18.10-11, Matthew 16.23, Matthew 15.15-16, and Matthew 14.29-31). When, or if, Jesus ever called Peter the cornerstone “rock” of the future Christian movement—which only appears in the book of Matthew (16.18)—it was a statement that was clearly based on Peter’s optimistic disposition—which is indeed the context of the statement—rather than his mental comprehension.
Indeed, the book of Matthew is filled with errors. For example, in John 21.16 Jesus referred to Simon Peter as the “son of John”; but in Matthew 16.17 he is referred to as the “son of Jonah.” Likewise, in the book of Luke it is reported that Joseph was the son of Heli, who was the son of Matthat, the son of Levi, etc. (Luke 3.23); but in the book of Matthew it is reported that Joseph was the son of Jacob, who was the son of Matthan, the son of Eleazar, etc. (Matthew 1.15). Mark 7.26 reports that one of the women who sought out Jesus was a “Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia”; but in Matthew 15.22 she is said to be from Canaan. In Luke 11.1 it is reported that Jesus delivered the Lord’s Prayer only to the disciples; however, in Matthew 5 he is said to have delivered the Sermon on the Mount before the multitudes. Likewise, in Luke 23.39 only one of the criminals who was crucified next to Jesus insulted him, while the other one accepted Jesus as the Messiah; but in Matthew 27.44 both of the criminals “reviled him.” Also, in Mark 10.19 it is recorded that Jesus instructed the people to “honor your father and mother”; but in Matthew 10.35 we read that Jesus had come to cause “division” between a “man and his father, and a daughter against his mother.” The book of Matthew not only contradicts information that is recorded in the other gospels, but there are even passages in the book of Matthew that contradicts itself! For example, in Matthew 5.22 Jesus says do not call someone a fool; but in Matthew 23.12 he calls the Pharisees “blind fools!” Likewise, Matthew 10.5 and 15.24 report that the gospel was only to be reported to “the lost sheep of Israel”; but in Matthew 12.17-21 and 28.19 the gospel was to be spread to the gentiles. Also, Matthew 1.17 lists fourteen generations between Abraham and David; while Matthew1.2 lists thirteen. This is because the account that is recorded in the book of Matthew is the least accurate of all the gospels. Therefore, the previously cited passage, in which Jesus is reported to have claimed that he did not come to abolish the old laws, cannot be considered to be accurate. Furthermore, Jesus actually did attempt to abolish, or at least challenge, some of the laws that were enacted in archaic times. Some might make the case that God is perfect and therefore corrections would not have been necessary, but according to the Bible itself , Yahweh was capable of regretting his own actions (Genesis 6.6, 1 Samuel 15.11, 2 Samuel 24.16, 1 Chronicles 21.15, Jeremiah 42.10).
Of course, these findings differ with the claims made by devout conservative fundamentalists who adamantly assert the idea that the Bible is completely “inerrant.” What must be taken into account is that these were documents were both written and interpreted by man, and even a zealous Judeo-Christian traditionalist must admit that man is an imperfect being. Indeed, distinguished New Testament scholar Bart D. Ehrman, presents a compelling case in his work: Misquoting Jesus and Forged (and others), that the Bible is actually filled with the mistakes of man. His work reminds us that no original copies of the Bible exist, and that the copies that do exist are not only from centuries later, but contain many differences that were both unintentional mistakes, as well as intentional edits and editions that were committed by the scribes.
Therefore, Dr. Brown not only did not take the dubious history of the book of Matthew into account, but he made unsubstantiated assumptions and even misinterpreted scripture.
The fact is that consenting adults who engage in intimate and loving relationships are not evil. Indeed, according to the teachings of Jesus the Christ himself, it is what is inside a persons heart that either saves or damns the soul. In this case it is the discrimination, the persecution, the hatred, and the violence that is being directed at homosexuals that is the real “sin.”