Last week we looked at the arguments from Matthew Vines on how the primary sin assigned to Sodom and Gomorrah shifted over time from inhospitality to same-sex acts. This week we look at James Hamilton Jr.’s response to Matthew’s arguments.
One thing I realized while writing this post was that I did not introduce you to Matthew Vines in the last post. I am going to fix that in the previous post and will start these posts with a little background info on the authors.
About James Hamilton Jr.
James M. Hamilton Jr. is professor of biblical theology at Southern Seminary and preaching pastor at Kenwood Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky. He is the author of What Is Biblical Theology?: A Guide to the Bible’s Story, Symbolism, and Patterns, God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment: A Biblical Theology, Revelation: The Spirit Speaks to the Churches and God’s Indwelling Presence: The Ministry of the Holy Spirit in the Old and New Testaments, with multiple forthcoming titles. (Taken from God and the Gay Christian?: A Response to Matthew Vines (Conversant) (Kindle Location 1014). SBTS Press. Kindle Edition.)
The chapter in God and the Gay Christian?: A Response to Matthew Vines that Hamilton is responsible for is entitled How to condone what the Bible condemns: Matthew Vines takes on the Old Testament. Hamilton’s chapter covers Vines’ approach to interpreting the Old Testament as a whole and does not necessarily address every point Vines made about the Sodom and Gomorrah story. I will begin with Hamilton’s overall response to Vines’ interpretative approach to the Old Testament and then attempt to pull out the information that is most applicable to the Sodom and Gomorrah story.
Does the Bible really say…?
Hamilton begins his response by stating what he feels is the primary goal of Matthew’s book:
Matthew Vines doesn’t throw his knockout punch at the beginning of his book but at the end: “As more believers are coming to realize, [affirming same-sex relations as moral ] is, in fact, a requirement of Christian faithfulness” (178).
With these words, Vines hopes to send to the mat, down for the count, the view held by the people of God ever since God made them male and female and said “the two shall become one flesh” (Matt 19: 4– 5; cf. Gen 2: 24 LXX ). The Law of Moses clearly prohibits same-sex relations (Lev 18: 22; 20: 13 ), and that prohibition is reinforced in the New Testament (Rom 1: 26– 27; 1 Cor 6: 9– 10; 1 Tim 1: 10). (Kindle Locations 184-187)
Hamilton then goes on to critique the method in which Matthew attempts to accomplish his goal:
Vines employs an old, subtle strategy, asking “Did God actually say?” (Gen 3: 1). Calling for a re-examination of the Bible’s teaching, Vines doesn’t come out swinging but wooing. He wins sympathy by telling his own heart-wrenching story of not wanting to admit his own same-sex attraction. His father even told him the day he “came out” was the worst day of his life. With readers softened up by sentiment and compassion, Vines asks them to reconsider the Bible’s teaching. (Kindle Locations 189-191)
Vines, according to Hamilton, uses the same tactics that others before him have used to dismiss Biblical prohibitions that they didn’t like. That common approach is accomplished by:
- Isolating a small number of texts that speak directly to the issue;
- Extracting those texts from the wider thought-world in which they fit, replacing it with contemporary standards and expectations;
- Using “evidence” that supports the case, whether that entails the reinterpretation of a few words or appealing to purported historical backgrounds that informed the author of the text but are irrelevant today; and
- Making pervasive use of logical fallacies: forcing false choices, assuming conclusions, making faulty appeals to authority, making false analogies, etc. (Kindle Locations 198-202)
In sum, Hamilton believes that Vines mishandles the Biblical texts and imports false historical backgrounds in order to create a world that supports his view, but would have been foreign to the biblical authors.
The Old Testament’s View of the World
Hamilton argues that Genesis 1-3 sets the “story-world, the setting and moral parameters, of the Bible’s narrative and our lives” (Kindle Location 225), in that:
- God made the world. (Gen. 1-2)
- Prior to human sin, everything was good. (Gen. 1:31)
- “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Gen. 1:27)
With this, Hamilton asserts that “regardless of what people in other ancient societies may have thought about the inferiority of women, those who embraced Genesis 1 believed that men and women are equal in human dignity because God made male and female in his own image (Gen 1: 27)” (Kindle Locations 238-239). Hamilton believes this is important because Vines continually wrote about the idea that in ancient times women “were thought to have less value” (p. 91 of Vines book). In addition, Hamilton believes that “what took place when God presented the woman to Adam in the Garden of Eden (Gen 2: 22– 23) is understood as normative for all humanity in Genesis 2: 24: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” (Kindle Locations 247-249)
This idea is reiterated by Jesus in the New Testament in Matthew 19 when Jesus is asked about divorce. Jesus quotes Genesis 1:27 and 2:24, which Hamilton argues as Jesus (God) reiterating the norm for mankind as male and female. Hamilton this part up like this:
When Vines argues against the idea that Genesis 1– 2 teaches that procreation is a fixed standard for marriage (137 –41), and when he argues that sexual complementarity is not required for the one flesh union (144– 48 ), he sets himself against the understanding of Genesis 1– 2 articulated by Jesus of Nazareth. (Kindle Locations 253-255).
Hamilton continues to drive the point that marriage and moral relationships were ordinances of God in the garden before sin and should be the “moral norm for all humans at all times in all places” (Kindle Location 261).
This foundation is important because it sets the stage for how Genesis 19, Leviticus 18 and 20, and other passages are understood.
Sodom and Gomorrah
With the foundation of Genesis 1-2 in place Hamilton proceeds to briefly address the Vines’ claims about the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. Vines claims that “the Bible never identifies same-sex behavior as the sin of Sodom, or even a sin of Sodom” (p. 75 of Vines book). Hamilton rebuffs this argument:
Read in context, the commands against same-sex relations in Leviticus 18 and 20 mesh perfectly with the moral order of creation presented in Genesis 1– 2, correctly interpreted by Jesus in Matthew 19: 4– 5. This indicates that Moses meant for the intentions of the men of Sodom to be viewed as flagrant violations of God’s created order, as can be seen from the way later biblical authors interpret Genesis 19. (Kindle Locations 278-281)
With regard to Vines claim that no one interpreted the sin of Sodom as a same-sex violation until Philo (1st century) and most only spoke of inhospitality and violence, Hamilton states: “rape is obviously a violation of what God intended, but that does not mean that the same-sex aspect of Sodom’s sin was not also a violation of God’s intention” (Kindle Locations 284-285).
Hamilton attempts to bolster his argument by tying together verses in Ezekiel and Leviticus. In Ezekiel 16:48-50, Ezekiel relays God’s judgement on Jerusalem and elaborates on the sins of Sodom, “Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. They were haughty and did an abomination before me. So I removed them, when I saw it” (ESV). Hamilton points out that the word for abomination in Hebrew is toevah, which is in the singular and is only used in Leviticus in the singular in verses that speak of same-sex acts. In Hamilton’s mind this solidifies the idea that the abomination of Sodom was same-sex acts.
***Note – If you are studying along in your Bible (which you should be!) you may notice that your translation uses a plural term instead of a singular one. For example:
- “They were haughty and did detestable things before me.” – NIV
- “She was proud and committed detestable sins.” – NLT
- “Thus they were haughty and committed abominations before Me.” – NASB
- “They were haughty and did detestable things before Me.” – HCSB
If you want to decide for yourself whether the singular or plural is correct try using an Interlinear Bible to research the term toevah.***
Hamilton wraps up his comments on Sodom and Gomorrah by briefly mentioning Vines’ argument about Jude 7 and “strange flesh”. Vines argues that Jude 6 and 7 go hand-in-hand; that the mention of “angels who did not stay in their position of authority” and the “strange flesh” the men of Sodom pursued are one in the same. Hamilton counters with the fact that “the Genesis narrative refers to the angels as “men” (Gen. 18:22), and that is how the inhabitants of Sodom designate them as well” (19:5).
As you can see, Vines reads and interprets the Scriptures one way and Hamilton another. Hamilton puts a large amount of stock in a literal reading of Genesis 1-2 and toevah being singular. This is why it is so important for you to study the verses, the words, and the cultural context for yourself. It is a hard, time-consuming endeavor but it is well worth your efforts.
Next time we will look at what Daniel A. Helminiak has to say about Sodom and Gomorrah.
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