Are Jesus’ words culturally relevant? In today’s Bible reading in Matthew 19, we are faced with Jesus’ statements on very hot contemporary topics in the Christian Life: divorce/remarriage and sex/gender.
Upfront, I want to apologize for this long post. It is by far the longest I have ever written. But like with all of my devotionals, I hope you will find this one helpful, encouraging, and applicable.
Admittedly, I can be quite political in my Social Media posts. But I don’t like to get political in my preaching or Bible teaching. I really don’t. But the Bible is culturally relevant. It continues to speak to today, even on cultural and political issues, and especially on moral issues.
Under the Old Covenant, Moses permitted divorce under just a few situations. (Deuteronomy 24:1–4) Requiring that a divorce certificate be given had a couple of purposes: it restricted the reasons why a husband could put away his wife; he couldn’t just divorce her because she burned the toast. If you remember the story of Jesus’ birth, Joseph considered putting away Mary. He would have justification to do so if she had been unfaithful during their betrothal/marriage. Given that she was pregnant, it would be obvious — apart from an immaculate conception — that she had been with another man. Also, given the cultural situation of the day, giving a divorce certificate gave rights to a divorced wife that she didn’t otherwise have. Just like the command of “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” was a way God limited His people, divorce did the same.
Jesus’ statements on divorce spoke specifically to the Old Testament teachings on divorce. He was not addressing modern, American “no-fault” divorce.
Jesus’ comments on divorce were right in line with the Old Covenant. Nothing Jesus ever did, broke the Old Covenant; instead, He fulfilled it.
“Don’t think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or one stroke of a letter will pass away from the law until all things are accomplished.”
Matthew 5:17–18 (CSB)
The second cultural hot topic that Jesus addressed in today’s Bible reading is sex/gender.
“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that he who created them in the beginning made them male and female, and he also said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’?
Matthew 19:4–5 (CSB)
Going back to Genesis 1:27, Jesus points out that God created mankind with two sexes/genders. A person is born either a male or a female. Period.
One of the reasons God created two sexes/genders is for procreation. Sexuality, as God created it, was to be a part of us, but it wasn’t all of us. That’s one key area where modern culture has gone off the rails. If you remove God from the equation, you’re going to come up with the wrong answer.
If you remove God from the equation,
you’re going to come up with the wrong answer.
When Moses penned the Pentateuch (the First Five Books of the Old Testament), and when Jesus and Paul addressed sexuality in the New Testament, there were no categories of “sexual identity” (the sex you “identify with”) and “sexual preference” (the sex of the person/people to whom you are attracted). Neither was there a category of “gender fluidity” (the idea that someone’s sexual identity or sexual preference can change).
The Bible doesn’t address these categories, because they were unknown at the time. Similarly, the Bible doesn’t address the topic of nuclear energy. These categories of understanding and discussion didn’t exist at the time.
So what do you do with those who claim to not “identify” with the sex/gender they were assigned at birth? And what do you do with those who claim they are attracted to someone of their own sex/gender?
If one is to believe that the Bible is true because it is God-breathed it (literally “expired” in 2 Timothy 3:16), that the Bible is completely authoritative, and that the Bible is relevant for all time, these questions must be answered with a Biblical answer.
And while the Bible doesn’t address the issues of “identity” and “preference”, the Bible is very clear about behavior. The Bible consistently condemns homosexual sexual behavior. Some have twisted the Biblical treatment of the subject to say that God only condemns homosexuality when it is disrespectful and otherwise “not loving”. Or they dismiss the authority of the Bible outright. Either that or try to insist that those statements are “culturally conditioned” to the Biblical times and do not apply today.
Although this has been the longest post I’ve ever written, I don’t want to write a dissertation on the topic of the Bible and homosexuality. Kevin DeYoung very clearly and quite exhaustively addressed the issue in his What Does the Bible Really Teach About Homosexuality. Note: I highly recommend this book to anyone, from straight to LGBTQ+ because this is an issue that every Bible-believer should be well-versed in. This is too important of a cultural issue to withdraw from the conversation.
The issues of “identity” and “preference” are not addressed by the Bible, but there are applications we can — and should — make of clear Bible verses on closely-related issues.
Take a look at Matthew 19:12.
“For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.”
Eunuchs are mentioned several times in the Bible. In Acts 8, Dr. Luke tells us about a eunuch from Ethiopia, a man who is quite influential and is actually in charge of the nation’s treasury. We know that the king’s eunuch helped to prepare Esther and other young women to prepare for meeting the king. (Esther 2:3)
Jesus comments here that some were eunuchs from birth, some were made eunuchs by men, and some made themselves eunuchs for the Kingdom of heaven. Eunuchs were men who had been castrated. I don’t think it would not be out of line to include in this label those males who had been born with disfigured and otherwise dysfunctional genitals. It would be safe to define a eunuch as a male who could not perform sexually like most other men. As such, they lived their lives accordingly — in celibacy.
Given that the Bible consistently condemns homosexual behavior, would it be out of the question to apply Jesus’ comments about eunuchs to those who are “same-sex attracted”? Could we not apply Jesus’ words to encourage same-sex attracted individuals to pursue a life of celibacy, just as unmarried heterosexuals should?
Regardless of whether they feel that they were “born that way”, everyone makes choices based on their preferences: whether it’s drinking coffee with cream and sugar vs. straight black, or whether it’s to have sexual relations outside of marriage with someone of the opposite sex … or of the same sex.
Sex outside marriage — heterosexual or homosexual — and drunkenness are condemned by the Bible, without regard to “desire” or “preference”. And even if someone were to be born an alcoholic, every alcoholic decides to take that first drink, and every drink since.
I hope you have seen how the Bible applies to issues that it does not directly address. The Bible is relevant to your life and mine.
When you come to Bible passages you don’t like, you need to ask questions of the Bible text. Ask other believers what they see in the passage. Look at the passage. Ask what it says.
Only after you see what it says should you can ask how it applies. Don’t make the mistake of asking “What does it mean to you?” before you answer, “What does it say?” and “What did it mean back then?”
These are basic principles of reading, studying, and understanding the Bible. It is crucial to understand these principles and to apply them every time you read and study your Bible.
This devotional was originally published on May 1, 2019.
* Chapters covered in today’s reading: