Monday, October 26, 2009

Biblical Theology and Pornography?

I have yet to add some OT and NT Theology resources, but this is a draft of a sample I am producing for MDIV students. As part of every seminary praxis course, students do some phase of research toward a single pastoral issue of their choice almost every week of the course. In the first seven weeks they interpret a wide spectrum of biblical passages in their original context. This sample then relates to Week 8 of each course, where they try to systematize a biblical theology.

Here is my unfinished sample:
I. Old Testament Theology

Old Testament sexual ethics seem to fall into two broad categories: prohibitions relating to social consequences and prohibitions relating to purity consequences. Both of these are decidedly external in orientation, which is to say, Old Testament sexual ethics are primarily oriented around concrete actions and concrete consequences. As such, Old Testament texts assume without question that an individual can in fact keep such prohibitions, and the consequences of such actions are relatively straightforward, often even perfunctory.

Social Consequences
The primary sexual prohibition in the Old Testament in this regard is against adultery. Various rationale are given by Old Testament scholars, including calling into question who inherits property (Goodfriend), disgrace to a man and his family (Whybray), violation of another man’s property, etc. Disgrace and dishonor to one’s self and one’s family would seem to stand at the heart of prohibitions against prostitution. The shame did not, however, seem to apply primarily to the man visiting to the prostitute but to the person doing the prostitution (Tamar, Lev. 19:29).

The idea that a man might not be able to avoid committing adultery—or any of the sexual taboos of the Pentateuch—is completely foreign to the legislation. And interesting picture into intentionality is the legislation of Deuteronomy 22:23-27. Here if a woman is betrothed to another and a man lies with her, the consequences for her depend on whether she is thought to have cried out for help. If she is thought to have cried out for help, only the man is stoned. If it is thought that she did not cry out, then only the man is put to death.

Purity Consequences
The “holiness” legislation of the Pentateuch assumes that sexual sins bring impurity because they violate the order of things. One cannot “uncover the nakedness” of a close relative by sleeping with his wife, nor can one sleep with an animal or a man with another man without violating the order of things. The impurity such actions bring is greater than other actions that bring impurity, and death is the usual punishment.

In general, matters of impurity often seem to supersede even intentionality. That is to say, not only is unintentional defilement not a legitimate excuse for sin, but impurity with its consequences take place regardless of intent. In the case of sexual defilement, however, we seem to find the same assumption that a person might avoid such sin.

Divine Implications
By and large, the Old Testament does not theologize in relation to sexual sin. In the Ten Commandments, all the commandments are part of the covenant with the LORD. Accordingly, there is a general connection between sexual prohibition and Israel’s relationship with God. But the Old Testament does not “psychologize” this relationship in terms of psychological impact on a person. Similarly, the Old Testament does not individualize these prohibitions in the sense of a “personal relationship” with God—the focus is much more on Israel’s relationship as a whole with God and whether or not one should be included within Israel. Sexual ethics are thus a “package deal,” part of the overall social and purity expectations of Israel, even though sexual sin is considered more “dangerous” and potentially defiling to Israel than some others.

The passage in Genesis 2:24 about a man leaving father and mother and becoming one flesh with his wife is never referenced again in the rest of the Old Testament. Its significance derives from the New Testament use of it rather than from its prominence in Old Testament theology per se. In Genesis it is an expression and description of how ancient society actually functioned rather than a prescription Genesis was urging on its audience. What is distinctive about the Genesis passage is the story of Adam and Eve as an etiology or “origin story” of marriage as it was practiced at the time.

II. New Testament Developments
Unlike some other areas (e.g., Sabbath observance; sacrificial law), we cannot find any instance in the New Testament where a sexual prohibition from the Old Testament is countermanded. Indeed, on the subject of divorce, the New Testament actually makes a prohibition where the Old Testament had little. Adultery remains sinful behavior from which the New Testament fully expects a person to abstain. 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 baldly state that individuals such as adulterers, those who practice homosexual sex, or those who commit other forms of sexual immorality “will not inherit the kingdom of God.” Since Paul is addressing Christians, he clearly implies that Christians cannot participate in such activities and be “saved” in the end.

In fact, like the Old Testament, Paul seems to consider the significance and consequences of sexual sin among Christians greater than other sins, simply given the way he responds to them. He may address issues like disunity and in-fighting more often than sexual sins, but he does not generally urge expulsion from the community in such cases. Yet when a man was sleeping with his step-mother in 1 Corinthians 5, he insists that the individual in question be handed over to Satan (5:5). Visiting a prostitute similarly defiles the body of Christ by joining Christ to the kingdom of Satan (1 Cor. 6:15-20).

Our study has shown consistently that Paul did not expect sinful behavior to typify the life of a believer. This notion is largely built off of a misinterpretation of Romans 7 ripped from its overall context in Romans 6-8. Nor in Philippians 3 does Paul forget is sinful failures from the past but what from a human perspective would be human accomplishments. James 3:2 recognizes the fact that we will always make mistakes, even mistakes that wrong others, and 1 John 1:8 and Romans 3:23 make it clear that no human is without sin in general. But the consistent testimony of the New Testament is that intentional, concrete sin can be avoided, indeed that God enables individuals to escape such temptation (1 Cor. 10:13).

The main development in the New Testament on this topic has to do with the movement toward interiority. The Old Testament legislation on sexual ethics is almost entirely, perhaps entirely directed toward concrete action. The Jesus tradition, particularly that of Matthew 5, moves the issue decidedly toward interior intent, in addition to the remaining concrete prohibitions. To be sure, Matthew 5 does not seem to be talking about passing thoughts but, more likely, internal acts of will, decisive intent such that, given an opportunity without consequence, one would commit the act. The fundamental principles involved would seem to be that 1) action is a function of heart and 2) the ultimate orientation of the heart must be toward love of one’s neighbor and, indeed, one’s enemy.

Another key expansion of at least some of the New Testament is the growing consideration of the woman. In the Old Testament, adultery is an offense against a man, not a woman. A man who visits a prostitute was not understood to commit adultery. An exception appears in Malachi 2:13-15, where the LORD laments that Israelite men were abandoning the wife of their youth, although even here a concern for marrying foreign wives may stand in the background (cf. Mal. 2:11, 15).

Jesus’ teaching on divorce seems to follow in the tradition of Malachi and seems to give such a strong prohibition of divorce that takes the woman into consideration. Matthew 5 treats divorce immediately after adultery and introduces the subject in a way that may imply it is an extension of the discussion of adultery. If so, divorce becomes a kind of legalized way of committing adultery.

III. The Trajectory of the Kingdom
In general, the two Jesus principles we mentioned above tend to radicalize the issue of sexual ethics. On the one hand, the fundamental ethic to “love neighbor and enemy as self” sets sexual ethics on a radical trajectory of consideration toward others. Then the principle that virtue is a matter of the heart first also radically changes the ethical equation.

With regard to pornography, we are dealing with concrete acts. One takes external action to surf the web or seek out pornographic materials. We will need to consider questions of addiction later in our study to be sure, but we are left with no question but that a person in normal human terms can choose to get rid of such materials or set safeguards in place such that any act toward pornography is avoidable. We find no biblical support for any sense that a person of a normal human state of mind cannot help but view something like pornography.

The question of loving one’s neighbor primarily puts pornography into violation of one’s spouse if married. The question of the heart raises an equally serious issue, can one’s heart be disposed lovingly toward the opposite sex while viewing pornography? Does the use of pornography in some way involve the cheapening of the opposite sex as an object of desire? These are questions for further study.

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