For both myself and the gay pastor on the panel, one of the questions was the opposite side of the same coin. Both of us believe in the Bible. Both of us are attempting to teach the Bible to people. Both of us maintain the importance of a God honoring lifestyle. Yet, on this issue, we are completely opposite in interpretation and practice. The question that was asked of each of us boils down to this: how can you take part of the Bible and apply it and not the whole?
For him, of course, the focus of the question was on the fact that there are scriptures that speak against homosexuality. Some of them are quite strong.
For me, the focus was on holding to the scripture on this issue and others, but not following all of the Levitical law or even some things within the New Testament; women speaking in church as an example. (1 Corinthians 14:33-35).
This is a sticky and multifaceted issue and one that many books have been written about. To fully answer it in a forum or a blog post is impossible to cover it exhaustively. However, there are a couple of key points to consider in the application of scripture that I can cover here.
First is the understanding that the Bible is a progressive revelation of God. This simply means that God took several centuries using about 40 men in three languages on 3 continents to reveal Himself in written form. God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Yet the way He revealed Himself was a little at a time. What we see of God in the Old Testament was setting the stage for the New Testament. Things in the Levitical law were there to show mankind the need for God and the futility of attempting to acheive holiness through human efforts. That is how Jesus could be true to the intent of law and show the next step in God’s plan. If you have ever heard a preacher say that Jesus “fulfilled” the law, that is what is meant. He brought the Levitical law to a conclusion as the final sacrifice for the sins of mankind past, present, and future.
Second is that the Bible was written through people. Each one with a context and a personality and a perspective. That is how scholars can tell who wrote what even when no specific credit is given. The Psalms of Asaph and the Psalms of David can be distinguished by the personality of the writings for instance. We believe the Bible to be inspired, “God-breathed” as stated in 2 Timothy 3:16. God did not write it with His own hand. Instead, people were inspired by the Holy Spirit of God to write it. There are things that are in scripture that must be looked at in the context of the writer, the audience, and the culture and then weighed against the rest of scripture for final exegesis. One example would be the masculine tenses used consistently in scripture for people. In the male dominated society of those times, it would allows be “he” and never “she” in the context of instructing people. Today we would use much more gender neutral terminology.
When we are applying scripture to our lives, we must know the intent of what is written. That can only be known in study and by knowing all of scripture to see the full revelation of God. It is always troublesome to take one verse or short passage and build a string belief on that alone. We must understand it within the cultural context, author context, historical context, and weighed in context with the rest of scripture. Yes, it is a lot. But there are many great sources of commentary and study helps available. Not too mention that the closer we get to God in personal relationship and seek Him through His Word, the more understanding we gain from Him.
The real key is to let scripture shape us and not us try to shape scripture to our sensibilities and preferences.